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Can Seat Belts Cause Accidents or Injuries on Children?

Dan is a licensed electrician and has been a homeowner for 40 years. He has nearly always done his own repair and improvement tasks.

Are seat belts always safe?

Are seat belts always safe?

Seat Belts and Safety

There are few people today that would doubt that seat belts save lives, but can they be dangerous as well? Are there valid safety concerns in using a seat belt?

Well, of course there are concerns; nearly everything in our lives can be dangerous to some degree. The rubber band your newspaper is rolled in can be dangerous if used for the wrong purpose, but who is going to use a seat belt for anything but securing themselves in the seat of a car?

Surprisingly, the question is a valid one and one of the reasons is that seat belts aren't always used for the purpose for which they are intended. The following story is a true tale of a frightening experience a grandmother and granddaughter that are close to this writer had with a seat belt. Please continue, then, and ask yourself if it could happen to you and what you can do to prevent it.

A True Story of a Seat Belt Near Accident

The story begins with a grandmother and her 7-year-old granddaughter setting out on a long drive. The weather was terrible with snow and ice covered roads, but that is not unusual where they live and Grandma was used to it. Both were belted into the car, and their little dog accompanied them.

A few miles outside of town a bad truck accident had closed the freeway, stalling traffic. Grandma decided to take the dog for a short walk to relieve himself and, with the dog on a leash, made a few rounds of the car. Safe enough; she took the keys, locked the car doors and would never be more than a few feet from the car.

Upon returning, Grandma shook the snow off, put the dog on the front seat and settled in for what looked like a long wait for the road to be cleared. A small voice from the back seat spoke up "A little help here, please?"; turning around Grandma found that the little girl had unhooked her seat belt and idly looped it around her neck but could not get back out of the loop. Every move served only to tighten the belt and she couldn't get it back over her head.

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Without too much concern, Grandma got back out of the car and proceeded around to open the door where her granddaughter sat, on the other side of the car. Her nonchalance quickly disappeared when she realized just what the problem was and how tight the belt was getting; she quickly grabbed the belt where it disappears into the car and tried to pick the girl off the seat with her other hand to provide slack. The child was already being pulled off the seat, though, and Grandma couldn't get her any higher without letting go of the belt. Further struggles only tightened the belt as the retract mechanism continued to draw it in with every bit of slack produced even though grandma was doing her best to prevent it. By this time the girl could not breathe and was able to produce only small gurgling sounds—no speech at all.

Grandma's frantic waving with her free arm managed to attract the attention of a nearby truck driver, who got out of his truck and ambled overseeing the problem he asked if she wanted the belt cut. Grandma tried to say there was a knife in the front seat, but the truck driver simply whipped out a pocket knife and quickly cut the belt.

There was no lasting damage from the incident (outside of needing a new seat belt), but there were broken blood vessels all over the girl's eyes from being strangled. The pressure from that seat belt must have been tremendous to cause that kind of damage as well as preventing the girl from breathing. Had Grandma stayed outside with the dog just a few more minutes, the results could have been far different.

Preventing Similar Accidents

Very occasionally one hears of seat belts that won't release and need cut, usually because of a malfunction of the device itself and usually without any danger to the person. This example, though, is different. The belt did exactly what it was designed to do and the hazard was not from defective equipment. It existed because a child, bored and inattentive, wrapped the belt around her neck. Who would ever foresee such a thing happening? And yet it did.

I very often carry my young grandchildren in my own car and, upon hearing of this, I promptly put a knife (a box cutter in my case) in the glove compartment. I didn't wait a day or a week; I went to the toolbox, got the knife and put it in the car. I also ordered a seat belt cutter to store in my car.

The grandma in the story had just such a tool, and the location she chose to keep it—the driver's door pocket—seems very reasonable. She just didn't take it with her for a seat belt problem and unless she was to release the belt to continue to retract she could no longer reach the tool she so desperately needed.

The moral of the story is to have the tool and to have it in hand whenever it even might be needed. Please keep a knife of some kind, whether the box cutter mentioned or one of the more useful tools intended to facilitate getting out of a car (the ones shown will also break window glass if the door won't open). They are inexpensive and could save your life or the life of your loved one.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Dan Harmon

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