Defective Seat Belts: A Threat to Life
In 2012, of the more than five million vehicular accidents all across the US, 2.2 million drivers and passengers required treatment in emergency departments , while more than 30,000 lost their lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), had all drivers who got involved in road accidents been wearing a seat belt, then the number of deaths and injuries may have been cut by about half.
Seat belts (should be a combination of shoulder and lap belts to be truly effective) are crash-safety devices that keep vehicle occupants from sustaining serious or fatal injuries during crashes by preventing their bodies from colliding into a vehicle’s hard interior surface or with another passenger, or from being thrown out of the car.
Despite being designed to provide protection better than any other automobile accessory or device since the 1950s, seat belts cannot totally immunize anyone from getting injured in a collision. One reason can be the very strong force created during impact (such as the force created when two speeding vehicles collide); another can be due to defect in design or material, causing serious injuries or death during road accidents rather than saving lives.
In 1995, defective seat belts from Takata Corporation of Japan caused the recall of 8,428,402 vehicles in the US, most of these vehicles being Japanese-built. The seat belt’s buckle was discovered to be latching and then automatically releasing, releasing during accidents, or failing to latch. In November of 2015, Tesla Motors Inc. decided to recall its entire all-electric Model S fleet due to a single incident wherein its sedan’s seatbelt assembly broke. Besides these two flaws in design or material, some of the other defects that were commonly reported about seat belts included:
Lap-only belt designs. The rear seat of most US cars never included the shoulder belts cars until the late 1980′s. Lap belts never really do a good job of providing protection as these caused more injuries and death during accidents;
Retractor failure. When a retractor does not lock during an accident, excessive seat belt webbing is released, causing seat belt “slack” which, in turn, can result to serious or fatal injuries;
Ripped or torn webbing. Seat belt webbings are strong enough to withstand the effects of collisions; thus, these do not rip or tear easily. Poor material or flaws in weaving, however, can render the webbing to be less strong than it should be; and,
False latching and inertial unlatching. False latching happens when the latch plate feels and appears latched when, actually, it is not. Even the least amount of force can cause a falsely latched buckle to release the latch plate.
Inertial unlatching, which millions of vehicles are susceptible to, happens when the seat belt automatically unlatches during collision.
Seat belts becoming the cause of injury or death can only be the result of error committed because of carelessness or negligence. Due to this behavior, what has been intended as a safety device has become a threat to life. Defective seat belts are products of negligent manufacturers and, under the tort law, innocent victims are given the right to seek compensation from parties whose actions unjustly cause injuries to others.