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In Alabama, everyone in the front seat of a passenger vehicle must wear a seat belt. Unfortunately, about one in seven people ignore this rule and fail to buckle up.
Below, the safety and injury law experts at Andy Citrin Injury Attorneys explain the importance of seat belts and discuss what you should do when a safety belt malfunctions during a car accident or truck wreck.
Seat belts are a critical part of the safety system in any car or truck. The statistics surrounding unrestrained drivers and passengers are grim:
However, if you’re wondering how a simple strap of nylon can save your life, you’re not alone.
Our cars can come to a sudden stop because of their brakes. However, when you’re traveling in a car and the brakes suddenly bring the car to a stop, the brakes don’t exert any stopping force on you. That’s why you keep moving even though the vehicle stops, and it’s also why you’ll be thrown forward if you’re not restrained.
When you’re wearing a seat belt, you’re attached to the vehicle. The seat belt absorbs your forward momentum and spreads the force across sturdy parts of your body like your torso and pelvis, which can significantly reduce the severity of your injuries in a wreck and even save your life.
Most states today have laws mandating seat belts. Alabama doesn’t require back-seat passengers to wear seat belts, but this exception makes little sense since the back seat isn’t significantly safer than the front seat for an unrestrained passenger. Crash studies show that for teenage and adult passengers, the fatality rates are almost the same for unrestrained front-seat and back-seat occupants. And compared to a back-seat occupant wearing a seat belt, you’re eight times more likely to get injured or die in a crash if you’re sitting in the rear seat unrestrained.
Sometimes, we meet people who suffered catastrophic injuries because they weren’t wearing a seat belt during a car crash. These victims and their loved ones frequently face a lifetime of medical care and financial uncertainty due to their serious injuries.
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For most personal injury claims, Alabama law imposes a standard called pure contributory negligence. This standard says that if an accident victim was even slightly at fault for their injuries, they cannot receive compensation. Thankfully, Alabama law makes a clear exception for cases that involve unrestrained drivers.
If you or a loved one suffered serious injuries in a car accident, you can and should work with an attorney to recover compensation for your injuries, even if you weren’t wearing a seat belt.
Depending on the type of motor vehicle and its purpose, the vehicle may include any of several different seat belt types. Some of the most common types of seat belts include lap belts, sash belts, automatic seat belts, three-point belts, belt-in-seat (BIS), five-point harnesses, and six-point harnesses. However, not all seat belts offer the same level of protection.
Lap belts are the oldest type of seat belt. A lap belt uses an adjustable strap that only goes across the waist. However, the lap belt design fails to restrain your torso, shoulders, head, or neck during a collision. Lap belts are rare in newer cars, although you’ll sometimes see a lap belt in the middle rear seat.
A sash or shoulder belt is an adjustable strap that only goes over the shoulder of an occupant. These belts do a poor job of providing restraint during a crash, and they’ve been almost entirely phased out of existence in newer cars. During a collision, vehicle occupants can easily slide out of a shoulder belt and suffer catastrophic injuries.
Most modern vehicles contain three-point seat belts. A single piece of nylon (or other material) stretches from the occupant’s shoulder, runs across the chest, and ends in a lap belt. When an impact occurs, these belts help spread out the energy of the moving body across the chest, pelvis, and shoulders.
Some vehicles have shoulder belts that automatically move in place to secure the passenger when the vehicle starts. A separate lap belt is usually included, and the lap belt must be fastened manually. Once popular among automakers, automatic seat belts have fallen out of favor somewhat in newer cars.
The BIS is a three-point harness in which the shoulder belt is attached to the backrest. Some studies have shown that this type of belt may provide additional protection during rollover accidents, particularly when a BIS is used to restrain a child between four and eight years old.
A five-point harness is safer than other seat belts but also restricts movement more. This type of seat belt is usually used in child safety seats or in cars used for competitive racing. Some vehicle owners also install five-point harness belts as an aftermarket modification.
A six-point harness is like a five-point harness, but it has an additional belt that goes between the legs. These belts are mostly used in racing and began to gain popularity after the tragic death of race car driver Dale Earnhardt, who was wearing a five-point harness at the time of his fatal crash.
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Sometimes, seat belts fail to do their jobs. When a seat belt fails, it’s important to identify the causes of the malfunction and demand accountability. Sometimes, a crash victim will have product liability claims related to a faulty seat belt in addition to liability claims against a negligent driver.
For example, suppose you were at a four-way stop when another driver failed to yield the right of way and T-boned your car. During the collision, your seat belt broke and you were thrown from the vehicle. Under these circumstances, you might have a claim not only against the reckless driver but also against the companies that designed, manufactured, and installed the defective seat belt.
If you know or suspect that your seat belt failed during the crash that injured you, then you should contact an experienced product liability lawyer right away. Your lawyer will need to act quickly to preserve the seat belt system and the vehicle as evidence.
In any product liability claim, your lawyer should work with a team of engineers and other experts to identify the cause of the product’s failure and determine who was responsible. However, it’s almost impossible to perform this analysis unless you’ve preserved the relevant evidence, so it’s critical to act quickly and contact an attorney as soon as possible.
At Andy Citrin Injury Attorneys, we offer free legal consultations to Alabama crash victims. During your consultation, an experienced attorney from our legal team will listen to your story, review the details of your claim, and talk with you about your rights and options.
Policy impact: Seat belts. (2014, January 21). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/seatbeltbrief/index.html
Unbelted: Adults admit they often skip belts in rear seat. (2017, August 3). Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Retrieved from https://www.iihs.org/iihs/sr/statusreport/article/52/5/1
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.
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