Seat Belt Syndrome and Seat Belt Injuries - Lee Steinberg Law Firm

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Seat Belt Syndrome and Common Seat Belt Injuries

common seat belt injuries

Key points of the article:

  • Seat belt laws have a long history in the United States and in Michigan.
  • Seatbelts save lives, and wearing one is the most effective thing you can do to protect yourself in a crash. Of passenger vehicle occupants who were killed in 2019, 47% were unrestrained.
  • Seat Belt Syndrome happens when restrained car occupants are propelled at force into their seat belts. The seat belt shaped bruising can indicate internal injuries.
  • No matter the severity of your injuries, connecting with a car and truck accident lawyer in Michigan soon after your crash is one of the best moves you can make. They can assist you with dealing with insurance companies from the start and help settle your claim.

Michigan Seat Belt History and Current Laws

Although seat belts were first invented in the 1800s (to keep pilots strapped into gliders), they took a long time to be commonplace in cars. In 1961, Wisconsin became the first state to mandate that all new cars have seat belts in the front seat. Drivers and passengers weren’t required to actually use the seat belts, but they were there.

In 1968 a federal law mandated that all new cars be equipped with front lap and shoulder seat belts, but it wasn’t until 1985 that states began passing laws mandating that people actually wear seat belts.

New York passed the law first, followed by New Jersey, and then Michigan in July of 1985. Police officers were not allowed to pull cars over simply because of a lack of seat belt use, but if they pulled someone over for another offense, they could be fined for not buckling up.

The importance of wearing a seat belt seems like a no-brainer now, but at the time, many people in Detroit and Michigan (and across the country) were adamantly opposed to being required to wear something that had been proven to save lives. One politician in Michigan’s House of Representatives called the law, “a pretty good lesson in mass hysteria created by a corporate-controlled media,” and the representative who had introduced the bill received lots of hate mail, comparing him to Hitler.

In 2000, Detroit and Michigan made not wearing a seatbelt in the front seat a primary offense, which means that police officers don’t need another reason to pull a driver over — the lack of seat belt usage alone is sufficient. Currently, the fine for this civil infraction is $65.

As of 2021, Michigan’s Seat Belt Law (MCL 257.710e(7)) requires:

  • Drivers and passengers in the front seat to be buckled up
  • Passengers ages 8-15 to be buckled up (no matter where they sit)
  • Children younger than age 4 to ride in a car seat in the rear seat if the vehicle has a rear seat. If all available rear seats are occupied by children under 4, then a child under 4 may ride in a car seat in the front seat. A child in a rear-facing car seat may only ride in the front seat if the airbag is turned off.
  • Children to be properly buckled in a car seat or booster seat until they are 8 years old or 4-feet-9-inches tall. Children must ride in a seat until they reach the age requirement or the height requirement, whichever comes first.

Seat Belts Save Lives

  • Nationally, 90.3% of the people in the United States wear seat belts, according to 2019 U.S. Department of Transportation Data.
  • New Hampshire, with a 70.7% compliance rate, is the only state without mandated use of seat belts.
  • In 2017, 14,955 lives were saved by seat belts in the United States.
  • According to the NHTSA, 47% of passenger vehicle occupants killed in traffic crashes in 2018 were unrestrained.
  • In Michigan, 94.4% of drivers and passengers wear their seat belts, and the director of Michigan’s Office of Highway Safety Planning (OHSP) reports that between 2000 and 2020, 3,454 lives were saved because of the seat belt law.

Common Injuries Caused by Seat Belts in Accidents

Although three-point seat belts have saved countless lives, they can also cause a number of specific injuries that, when taken together, are referred to as seat belt syndrome.

Because of the laws of physics, it is not possible to get rid of momentum in an accident. Without a seat belt, bodies can become projectiles, can be ejected from vehicles (particularly in rollover accidents), and can be damaged in vulnerable areas, such as the clavicles, sternum, and thorax.

With a correctly worn lap belt, the body is restrained in a less vulnerable area: the pelvis. With a shoulder belt, the pressure is on the chest and breastbone as well. In an accident, the body continues its forward momentum at the same rate of speed that the car was going; this is halted by the seat belt.

If you have any of the following injuries, you have what is referred to as “seat belt syndrome.”

  • Bruising across your midsection: After a forceful accident, you may see bruising across your body in the shape of the three-point seat belt. If you haven’t already been checked out at a hospital, it is extremely important that you do so now because there may be internal injuries.
  • Vomiting or coughing up blood or abdominal pain: Let’s face it, anyone involved in an accident will feel a certain amount of pain, but if abdominal pain is prolonged or severe, your internal organs may be injured.
  • Difficulty breathing: There may be damage to your lungs or heart. 
  • Abnormal bowel movements: Blunt force trauma may have lacerated your colon or small bowel. Danger signs are bloody stool or urine, constipation, or diarrhea.
  • Difficulty moving or weakness in your legs: Your lumbar spine or spinal cord may be fractured.

One study in theInternational Journal of Surgery Case Reports discussed several patients with the familiar seat belt bruising sign who developed peritonitis that wasn’t immediately visible in CT scans taken after the accident. Often injuries like these are only discovered through laparotomies. Both doctors and patients need to be hyper-aware of pain and tenderness that lingers or worsens after an accident, especially on patients with the telltale seat belt shaped bruising.

A Detroit and Michigan Car Accident Case Can Be Hard to Handle Without the Help of an Experienced Lawyer

It is possible to be injured by a defective or improperly installed seat belt.

If the seat belt latch doesn’t work properly or if the seat belt concentrates all of the force in one place, causing you to be more injured than you would otherwise have been, you may have a case against the seat belt manufacturer or the car manufacturer.

The major benefit under the Michigan No-Fault Law is the payment of all medical bills related to the accident. This includes the payment for all hospital bills, doctor bills, and rehabilitation bills. If a medical treatment is related to the car accident, it must be paid by the auto insurance carrier responsible for paying the claim. There is no dollar limit, and this is a lifetime benefit.

Sometimes insurance companies cut off medical payments when you still have outstanding medical issues related to seat belt syndrome. If this is the case, contact Lee Steinberg Law Firm.

We will do what it takes to get your auto accident case resolved via settlement, mediation, or trial for the maximum amount allowed under Michigan law.

Call the trusted team at Lee Steinberg Law Firm at 1-800-LEE-FREE (1-800-533-3733) for a free consultation.

Also read: Crash Statistics All Michigan Drivers Should Know