Seatbelt Failure: Causes and Manufacturer Liablity


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Operating an automobile is inherently dangerous such that even the most cautious driver gets into an accident. Seeing the risks involved in driving, car manufacturers opt to include safety features like seatbelts in their vehicles. In a car collision, two collisions usually occur. The first collision is between a car and another car or object. The second collision is between the car occupants and the car interior or ground.

Basically, seatbelt minimizes the occurrence of injury during the second collision. However, not all seatbelts can prevent injuries. In some instances, defectively designed seatbelts can create serious injuries. In fact, poorly designed seatbelts are worse than not having any seatbelt at all.

When Seatbelt Fails

Seatbelts should restrain and protect the car occupants from injuries. However, the sad reality is that millions of cars have defective seatbelts. Expectedly, when seatbelt fails, injury takes place. The following are common seatbelt defects:

  • False latching or Inertial latching
  • Inertial latching happens when the seatbelt unlatches during collision wherein the latch plate is pulled out of the buckle. On the other hand, false latching arises when the latch is not fully engaged when inserted into the buckle.
  • Ripped or torn webbing
  • Torn or ripped webbing means that there is a defect in the webbing itself or a defect in the material used. It may also signify other vehicle defect.
  • Retractor Defect
  • At the moment of impact, the seat belt retractor locks the webbing and holds the occupant in place. However, there are instances when the retractor fails to lock. This phenomenon is called "skip-locking" or skipping.
  • Skipping or skip-locking occurs when the lock bar fails to engage a sprocket tooth when the webbing is loaded.
  • Weak seatbelt geometry

Seat belt anchors are best located on the seat itself. Otherwise, the resulting shallow belt angle can result to excessive excursion which usually occurs during roll over accidents.

Lap-Only Belt Designs

In case of collision, occupants are pushed forward. If the vehicle is only equipped with a lap-only seatbelt, head and spinal cord injuries may occur.

Proper Wearing of Seatbelt

A perfectly designed seatbelt will be rendered futile if not worn properly. The correct wearing of seatbelt will increase the chances of safety. Car occupants should therefore, remember the following:

  • Wear seatbelts as tight as possible
  • The diagonal strap should rest on the shoulder and not on the neck
  • Lap belts should go over the pelvic region

Manufacturer Liability

Car manufacturers must ensure that seatbelts are properly installed and made of strong materials. Otherwise, an injury caused by a defective seatbelt signifies liability on their part. Victims of defective seatbelts may pursue a personal injury case against car manufacturers. A compensation claim may be recovered through the aid of a product liability attorney.

From the author: Car Accident Collision Prevention
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