In 1968, the National Highway Safety Bureau mandated installing seat belts in every vehicle sold in the United States, providing added protection for every driver and passenger involved in crashes. However, while the safety feature is vital to injury protection, seatbelt failures have caused severe injuries and death in many accidents.
Were you severely injured in a seatbelt accident, or did you lose a loved one through a wrongful death caused by another’s negligence? The personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC can ensure that your family receives the financial compensation they deserve for their damages. This web page will review seat belt injury statistics compiled from leading data aggregators.
Contact our seatbelt failure lawyers at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone call) or through the contact form today to schedule a free consultation. All information you share with our law office remains confidential through an attorney-client relationship.
National Safety Council  research shows that over 27 million Americans do not buckle up for road safety when driving or occupying a motor vehicle. Data from 2016 reveals that 262 children between 8 and 12 years of age died in automobile accidents, and approximately half of those killed were not wearing seat belts.
More people between 5 years and 34 years of age in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes than are killed by any other contributing factors. Statistics show that adults 18 to 34 years old are less likely to wear seat belts than adults 35 years and older.
National Seat Belt Injury Statistics
Decades ago, the NHTSA recommended automakers manufacture seat belts with a combination lap and diagonal design to reduce the risk of lumbar flex and fractures when just wearing a lap belt alone. However, the diagonal design has increased the rate of injuries to the sternum, upper abdomen, and ribs.
Seat belt trauma to the abdominal area can lead to small bowel perforation. Some trauma has led to severe injury of the spine and intra-abdominal contents.
Other national seat belt injury statistics and facts include:
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data reveals that 90.7% of all drivers and passengers used a seat belt in 2019, which is the highest seat belt use percentage on record
- In 2017, 14,955 lives were saved and passenger vehicle accidents by car occupants using seat belts
- A seat belt did not restrain about 47% of the 22,215 passenger vehicle drivers and passengers killed in 2019
- Data reveals that seat belts save lives where use reduces severe crash-related injuries and fatalities by about half for drivers and passengers
- The 18 to 24-year-old age group ranked first in seatbelt accident injury rates among all adult age groups
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stats reveal that seat belts could have saved the lives of 2549 people during car accidents
- Data reveals that more American drivers and passengers wear seat belts in states with enforcement seat belt laws
- In 2019, 31% of all traffic accident fatalities involved children 0 to 4 years of age who were not restrained in child safety seats or booster seats
- In 2019, 24% of all motor vehicle fatalities involving adults over 74 years of age occurred when the victim was not wearing a seat belt
- Until 1984, there was no law requiring the use of the seat belt until New York State initiated a mandatory seat belt use requirement
- Approximately 58% of all traffic accident fatalities in 2019 involving 25 to 34-year-olds occurred when the victim was not wearing a seat belt
- Driving without a seat belt claims more lives of drivers and front-seat passengers than any other contributing factor, including drunk or distracted driving
- Many states enacted secondary seat belt laws, meaning that police officers could not stop and ticket a driver if they did not wear a seat belt unless they were being pulled over for a primary traffic violation
- Safety stats reveal that in 2019, 78.8 % of passenger vehicle occupants who survived a car crash were restrained by a seat belt, lap belt, booster seat, or child safety seat
- National Safety Council car accident fatality data reveals that 50.55% of all males involved in an automobile accident in 2019 died not wearing seat belts, compared to 39.54% of all females
- Approximately 55.2% of all traffic accident deaths of drivers and passengers not wearing seat belts occurred at night in 2019, and 39.28% occurred during the daytime
Seat Belt Use
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, airbags installed in passenger vehicles do not provide sufficient protection to prevent severe injuries or death if the occupant is not buckled up.
Wearing a seat belt improperly, like lowering the strap under the arm, places passenger vehicle occupants at risk of severe injury or death. Other seat belt statistics and facts include:
- In 1964, only a small number of cars manufactured in the United States had installed lap-type seat belts as standard equipment, a decade before wearing seat belts was the law in some states
- Front seat passengers and drivers wearing a seat belts reduce their chance of a fatal injury by 45% and moderate to critical injuries by half
- Drivers and front-seat passengers who wear a seat belt while riding in a light truck can reduce their risk of fatal injury in an accident by 60% and suffering a moderate to critical injury by 65%
- The three-point seat belt restraint system installed in all of today’s vehicles could cause injuries to the thoracic cage involving the clavicles (collarbones), sternum, and ribs during auto crashes
- Proper seat belt use minimizes the potential risk of being ejected from the vehicle in a severe crash
- Data shows that wearing seat belts is the single most effective action a vehicle occupant can do to protect themselves in an accident
- Seat belts protect passenger vehicle occupants against distracted, aggressive, and impaired drivers
- Airbags were designed to work in unison with wearing a seat belt, not to replace the need to wear the restraint
- The forceful impact of an exploding airbag can severely injure or kill a driver or passenger who did not wear a seat belt
Primary seat belt enforcement laws have reduced the risk of fatal injury every year. The Washington DC Naval Safety Center recommends developing an automatic habit to put on seat belts to prevent accidents and occupant deaths.
Defective Seat Belts
Since 1966, automakers selling vehicles in the United States have issued more than 1000 seat belt recalls due to design flaws and unexpected failures. All passenger vehicles, light trucks, vans, and SUVs manufactured today have installed seat belts in a lap and diagonal configuration that hold the occupant’s lap and torso in place.
A defective seat belt during a car crash can create devastating results, where the victim suffers severe injuries or dies. The lives of accident survivors who were catastrophically injured are often changed forever.
A failing seat belt could eject the occupant from the vehicle during a rollover accident, causing neck injuries, spinal cord damage, and paralysis. Many victims harmed by a defective seat belt must live their lives with quadriplegia, tetraplegia, or paraplegia.
Other devastating defective seat belt statistics and facts include:
- Statistics reveal that defective seat belts can cause severe injuries to the head, abdomen, chest, spine, pelvis, and extremities
- Even a minor car crash can damage a seat belt, which is not often recognized until the broken seat belt severely injures the victim during the second accident
- Defective seat belt usage could cause severe injuries, including a pinched nerve, whiplash, internal bleeding, organ damage, and friction burns
- Motor vehicle crashes where at least one other occupant wearing a seat belt was injured could be a sign of a defective seat belt. Other signs might include:
- A person was injured in a vehicle accident from a loose-fitting seat belt
- An injured driver or passenger was found not wearing a seat belt when they had been wearing one just before the accident
- The seat belt webbing after the accident appears worn or ripped
- A minor crash caused severe injuries when the victim was wearing a seat belt
- An occupant wearing a seat belt was ejected from the car or truck during an accident
- The driver or front-seat passenger contacted the windshield on impact during the collision
- The driver or passenger suffered severe injuries or died when the other passenger vehicle occupants had less severe injuries
More than a thousand seat belt recalls have been issued by numerous automakers, including Ford Motor Company, Honda, General Motors, and Toyota. Unfortunately, most recalls were initiated years after many Americans suffered horrific injuries and death caused by defective safety restraints.
Detecting Seat Belt Problems
While seat belts save lives, defective or broken seat belts often go undetected until after an accident occurs. The flaws might occur during the design, manufacturing, or installation of the seat belt when the vehicle was built or repaired. Common seatbelt defects include:
- False latching– The seatbelt may appear to be operating correctly and securely but does not fully engage when necessary.
- Inertial unlatching– While automakers claim that inertial unlatching does not occur, research has proven that the impact force occurring during an accident can cause specific seat belts to become unlatched.
- Webbing defects– Any defective webbing material used to construct a seatbelt could fail during the tremendous force of a catastrophic accident, leading to severe injuries or death.
- Retractor failures – The seat belt design includes a retractor that locks and holds the driver or passenger in place. When the retractor fails or releases excess slack webbing, the restrained occupant could be at risk of fatal injury.
- Improperly mounted systems– Seat belts are installed with adjustable anchor systems to create the best seat geometry, minimizing the risk of fatal injury during an accident. However, the effectiveness of a seat belt can quickly diminish when the anchor and seat belt do not function as designed.
Seat Belt Syndrome Injuries
Seat belt syndrome is the collective term for all severe injuries in car accidents by victims who use a vehicle restraint system. Not all seat belt syndrome injuries are caused by malfunctioning or defective restraint devices.
Typical seat belt syndrome injuries include:
- Abdominal pain– Prolonged or acute abdominal pain after an automobile accident involving internal or muscular injuries could be caused by blunt force trauma from the seat belt during the crash.
- Abnormal bowel movement – A seat belt can cause internal bleeding during an accident that is often challenging to detect. Typical symptoms include bloodier dark stool and abnormal bowel movements involving diarrhea and constipation.
- Midsection bruising– The forceful impact in a vehicle accident can cause ecchymosis damage to the body’s midsection that contacts the seat belt during the crash. Typical bruising can be seen on the abdomen and torso as a belt shape pattern. Some severe midsection injuries could lead to numbness, blood clots, or other severe complications.
- Loss of motion– The tremendous force of a seat belt holding the driver or passenger in place puts tremendous pressure on the body’s nervous system, leading to a loss of motion, paralysis, spinal cord damage, or injury to the brain, nerves, or vertebra.
Malfunctioning Seat Belt Injuries
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), thousands of people suffer severe injuries or lose their lives every year due to a defective or malfunctioning seat belt. Statistics and facts show that approximately three million people are injured annually because of seat belt failure.
The most common injuries caused by a malfunctioning seat belt include:
- Brain Bleed– A defective seat belt may cause traumatic brain injuries during a car crash when the victim’s head hits the steering wheel, dashboard, windshield, or side window.
- Internal Hemorrhaging– A malfunctioning seat belt could cause internal hemorrhaging from blunt force trauma caused by exploding airbags, damaging blood vessels that allow blood to leak into the body cavities, leading to an ecchymosis hematoma.
- Abdominal Aorta Aneurysm– Any injury from the seat belt could cause an abdominal aorta aneurysm, leading to deadly internal bleeding when blood flow is restricted to the lower part of the body.
- Ruptured spleen– Severe impact during an automobile accident can rupture the spleen requiring immediate surgical repair or excise.
- Pneumothorax and broken ribs– A punctured lung causes a severe threat to any car accident survivor when a sharp object, broken rib, or piece of glass punctures the lung, requiring immediate medical attention.
- Respiratory difficulties– A crushing blow to the lungs and heart can cause significant respiratory problems, making breathing challenging.
- Shoulder injury or dislocation– Malfunctioning lap-shoulder belts can cause severe injuries to the shoulder’s soft tissue upon impact, tearing muscle fibers and tendons in the shoulder, leading to extreme pain and discomfort.
- Severe whiplash– A properly functioning seatbelt is designed to hold the occupant in place against the back of the seat during an accident. A loose-fitting seatbelt could significantly worsen a whiplash injury, causing significant damage to the neck and shoulder muscles.
- Chest and sternum– The blunt force trauma caused by a sudden stop can impact the sternum and chest when contacting the seat belt during the accident. Trauma to the chest or sternum could cause a severe medical condition requiring immediate attention.
- Abrasions and lacerations – Many accident victims have an imprint of the seat belt across the shoulder, chest, and abdomen after an accident, leaving painful cuts and scrapes. These injuries need medical attention to prevent a developing infection.
- Bulging or herniated discs, muscle pain (myalgia), and sciatica– Any traumatic injury when wearing a seatbelt during an accident could cause damage to vertebrae discs, spinal column, or compressed/inflamed the sciatic nerve. These injuries typically cause pain to the foot, calf, thigh, lower back, and buttock.
- Bowel and mesenteric trauma– Any penetrating blunt trauma occurring in a motor vehicle crash could cause a mesenteric hematoma, active bleeding from a laceration, or various bowel injuries, including an injury to the rectum, colon, ileum, jejunum, duodenum, and stomach.
Preventing Seat Belt Injuries
According to the NHTSA, drivers, and front-seat passengers can practice seat belt safety precautions to minimize the potential injuries caused by a defective or malfunctioning seat belt during a collision. These precautions include:
- Always buckle up with shoulder and lap belts even on short trips
- Drivers should make sure that every passenger has buckled up in their seatbelt in a lap and shoulder belt, even when sitting in the back seat
- All children under 13 years of age should be seated wearing a seatbelt or in a booster seat in the back seat whenever traveling in the vehicle
- Children should not be seated anywhere in the front seat in line with the front airbag that could cause fatal injuries if deployed during an accident
- Place young children in the middle of the back seat when possible because it is the safest area inside the vehicle during a collision
Seat Belt Injury FAQs
Many car accident victims suffer severe injuries from malfunctioning or defective seat belts during an auto crash. Our attorneys have answered some of the most frequently asked questions involving safety belts below.
What Injuries Can Seat Belts Cause?
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the most common injuries caused by a seatbelt during an accident include fractured ribs, bruises, sternum and chest injuries, shoulder damage, dislocations, abdominal soft tissue injury, and herniated discs.
The forceful impact of a crash often leaves back and front-seat passengers and drivers with horrific scrapes and bruises in the pattern of the seat belt, especially when involved in a head-on or rear-end collision.
How Do You Treat a Seatbelt Injury?
All severe injuries caused by a seatbelt during a collision require immediate medical attention. Typically, the rush of adrenaline during an accident could hide many of the symptoms associated with severe injury to the chest, sternum, internal organs, skull, neck, shoulder, and pelvis.
The emergency room doctor will likely use imaging technology to detect the extent of the accident victim’s injuries and damage to the body. The imaging might include CT (computed tomography) scans, MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), sonograms, and X-rays.
How Long Does It Take a Seat Belt Bruise to Heal?
The first signs of a severe bruise or hematoma might not appear until 24 hours to 3 days following the collision. Initial signs of seat belt syndrome injuries could be diagnosed within hours after the accident occurred when the emergency room doctor checks for signs of internal bleeding, neck and brain damage, concussion, or whiplash.
The length of time it takes to heal a seat belt bruise depends on the severity of the injury and its location. Once the bruising has finally subsided, there may be residual problems, including back pain, numbness, shoulder stiffness, and difficulty with coordination and movement.
Can a Seat Belt Break in an Accident?
According to the NHTSA, many injuries are caused by a broken seat belt that fails to restrain the body during a collision. Different components, including the latch and the mesh web, can break during impact, even if the victim was wearing the belt properly.
Manufacturing and installing the restraint and adjusting it too tightly could cause catastrophic injuries during a severe vehicle accident.
How Long After a Car Accident Do You Feel Pain?
Even a minor car accident can cause the body’s adrenaline levels to rise significantly, masking pain and discomfort for hours, days, or weeks following the crash. The accident victim may experience numbness, abdominal pain, headaches, shoulder and neck pain, and discomfort in the back for weeks or months following the crash as the body heals.
Without immediate medical attention or follow-up by a chiropractor, the pain and discomfort could last for months or years. It is always best to have emergency medical technicians transport all car occupants involved in an accident to ensure that they receive the best care and diagnosis of their conditions, especially if an injury has no warning sign.
What are the Dangers of an Untreated Car Accident Injury?
The overwhelming confusion following a car accident can hide a wide range of minor to severe injuries caused by seatbelts that could require immediate medical attention. Many victims want to walk away from an accident, believing that they have escaped the crash injury-free.
Car accident statistics and facts reveal that more than half of all injuries are hard to diagnose and could take days for the symptoms to appear. Refusing medical attention at the accident scene could make it more challenging to receive compensation through an insurance carrier when the time comes to file a claim.
Don’t Be a Statistic. Hire a Seat Belt Accident Injury Attorney Today to Handle Your Compensation Case
Were you injured in a seat belt accident, or did you lose a loved one through a wrongful death caused by another’s negligence? The personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC can serve as your legal advocate to file and resolve a compensation case on your behalf.
Our legal team understands that not all families have sufficient funds to hire an attorney. Because of that, we accept all personal injury cases and wrongful death lawsuits through contingency fee agreements, meaning no upfront fees are required until we have successfully resolved your case.
Contact us today at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone number) or through the contact form to schedule a free case evaluation. Let us begin working on your case today before the statute of limitations expires.
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Resources:  injuryfacts.nsc.org