LEGAL GUIDE
Written by attorney Chad Devin Points | Dec 2, 2010

Why Lap Only Seatbelts are Dangerous, Even Deadly

Why Lap-Shoulder Belts? The lap-shoulder belt is far more effective than a lap-only belt because a crash results in rapid deceleration, but an occupant continues to travel at the vehicle's original speed at the moment of impact. The lower torso of the occupant with a lap-only belt is restrained; however, the upper torso is unrestrained. As a result, the occupant "jack-knifes" which can cause serious injury. Obviously, the head or chest can hit an object in front of the occupant. Less obvious, and potentially more serious, are the injuries caused by the lap belt itself. Children are especially vulnerable. With the advent of front and side airbags, the government and industry are educating parents that children are safest when buckled into the rear center seat. However, the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration ("NHTSA") requires just a lap-only belt for this seat. Common Injuries Related to Lap-Only Belts 1. Catastrophic injuries such as paralysis and even death; 2. Contusions to the abdominal wall, kidneys and bladder; 3. Ruptures of the mesenteries, small intestines, bladder, aorta, spleen and uterus; 4. Fractures of the ribs, pelvis and lumbar vertebra; and 5. Intra-abdominal injuries caused by the compression of the lap-belt against the spinal column. The auto industry worldwide has known about the safety benefits of lap-shoulder belts for years. Despite this, the industry has fought against consumer groups, the NHTSA and others regarding installing the safer belts. As early as 1980, Joan Claybrook, the director of NHTSA, wrote to nation's automobile manufacturers, requesting that "rear seat 3-point belts should be afforded for additional protection to rear seat occupants."

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