Seat Belt Injury

Seat Belt Injury

Car accidents are part of day-to-day life. In 2020 alone, there were over 5.2 million motor vehicle collisions on United States (U.S.) roadways, with 35,766 fatal incidents and more than 1.5 million leading to injuries.

“Seat belts, so we can be safe.” While this line from the Nickelodeon kid’s show Dora the Explorer might seem straightforward, its significance cannot be overstated.

After all, these safety straps reduce the risk of death and serious injury from a motor vehicular mishap by 45% and 50%, respectively. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) projects that seat belt use has resulted in 374,276 saved lives between 1975 and 2017.

Unfortunately, although seat belts are crucial in safeguarding drivers and passengers during motor vehicle accidents, the protection these tools offer isn’t without complexities.

Yes, they’re designed to protect car occupants during crashes. However, seat belts can also cause injuries. The types of injury you can sustain from using safety belts can range from minor ones like skin abrasions to substantial bodily harm such as internal organ damage.

This article explores the intricacies of seat belt injuries, examining the types of damages a seat belt can cause in a car collision, prevention strategies, and the legal aspects of seeking compensation.

Did you sustain a seat belt injury from an auto accident? If so, you may be eligible for a personal injury claim. Visit for legal advice from experienced personal injury attorneys across the U.S.

Understanding Seat Belt Injuries

Did you know that 47% of fatal car accident victims weren’t wearing their seatbelts?

This statistic highlights the importance of safety tools, such as shoulder straps and lap belts, in preventing injuries and deaths from motor vehicle crashes.

But have you ever wondered how these instruments can save you during a road mishap? To answer how seat belts work in a car crash, imagine you’re cruising at 60mph on a highway.

Now, as you’re admiring the scenic view of the American roadways, listening to your favorite music on the radio, a car suddenly swerves in front of your vehicle, and you collide. What do you think will happen next?

Physics tells us that the sudden force of the impact will propel you and other vehicle occupants forward. In other words, the abrupt change in momentum will launch you toward your car’s front instrument cluster or through its windshield.

Seat belts prevent these scenarios by keeping you in your seat. These safety restraints accomplish this function via two systems, which are the following:

  • Car-activated system: This system activates during a sudden stop. It locks a metal bar to a toothed gear on the belt spool, preventing the straps from unwinding.

  • Belt-activated system: Conversely, the belt-activated system utilizes a mechanism to catch the belt spool’s toothed gear and stop its spinning motion after a sudden jerk.

Unfortunately, these systems restraining you in your set can cause injuries via force transmission during a collision. And the more violent the car crash, the higher your odds of sustaining seat-belt-related injuries outside seat belt marks. 

Statistics and Trends in Seat Belt Injuries

According to a 2018 BMC (BioMed Central) Public Health study, seat belt use can increase lumbar spine injury severity, neurological deficit, and fatality. This study also indicates that chest and spinal injuries occur less frequently for un-belted individuals.

So, does this mean it’s better not to wear a safety strap? No. Seat belts save lives and prevent severe injuries.

As mentioned, you have a higher chance of sustaining thoracic and spinal damage when wearing a safety strap like a shoulder belt. However, you have lower odds of getting a severe head injury like brain lesions and abdominal injury when wearing one.

That said, the ability and effectiveness of seat belts to protect you hinges on how you use them. In the same 2018 study, the data suggests that improper seat belt use can cause intra-abdominal and spinal detriments.

It’s worth noting, however, that crash types can significantly affect whether you get a seat belt injury and the type of injury you sustain. For instance, renal damage is more likely to happen in a frontal and side auto collision.

Checking for Injuries After a Car Accident

A motor vehicular mishap can be a traumatic experience. But while worrying about your potential vehicle repair costs is understandable, there’s a critical step you must take in the aftermath of a crash— checking for injuries.

Assessing yourself or others involved in the road accident for potential injuries is essential in ensuring you receive prompt and appropriate medical attention.

Here’s a quick guide on verifying your and others’ physical well-being following an auto collision associated with seat belt use:

  • Immediate communication: If you or anyone involved in the accident experiences abdominal pain, chest pain, or neck pain, you must alert paramedics or the emergency department. Doing so can help determine the severity of your potential injuries.

  • Provide details: You must supply information about the crash to assist medical professionals in understanding your possible injuries. These details include the speed of the collision and whether you lost consciousness.

  • Get a diagnosis: It’s easy to spot some car accident injuries, such as lacerations and perforations. However, other damages may not be as easily noticeable. Get an X-ray, CT scan (computed tomography scan), ultrasound, or blood sample analysis to assess potential internal injuries thoroughly.

What Are the Different Seat Belt-Related Injuries?

As mentioned, wearing a seat belt during a motor vehicle accident can sometimes cause injuries. Understanding these seat belt-related damages is essential in recognizing potential risks and seeking timely medical attention.

So, let’s shed light on the common seat belt injuries you may encounter following an auto mishap.

Injury to the Chest and Shoulders

If you wear your safety straps correctly, your chest— specifically your breastbone— becomes the direct impact point in a head-on car collision. This area protects vital internal organs, including your heart, lungs, spleen, and upper liver.

Unfortunately, an injury to your thoracic and sternum regions, such as first and second rib fractures, can negatively affect the delicate organs mentioned. For instance, they may cause vascular injuries, such as when fractures pierce major blood vessels.

Seat Belt Sign and Seat Belt Syndrome

Shoulder straps and lap belts keep you in place during a car crash. However, they can leave bruises and abrasions, otherwise known as seat belt signs, across the area they made contact with, such as your chest and abdomen.

If you see these seat belt signs following a motor vehicle collision, you must seek immediate medical assistance, as they indicate a high chance you received internal injuries.

That said, if your skin abrasions and bruises accompany lumbar spine and abdominal organ injuries, then you have seat belt syndrome. Either way, visiting your nearest emergency department and consulting medical professionals is best.

How Often Are These Conditions Accompanied by Injuries?

Bruising and skin abrasions don’t always indicate that you have internal or visceral injuries. However, 2023 research shows a 30% chance that you do when you have seat belt signs.

Moreover, other studies show that you’re four to eight times more likely to have chest and abdominal injuries if there are strap marks on your body following a motor vehicular accident.

In other words, seal belt signs and seat belt syndrome don’t always mean you sustained a severe injury. However, if a collision is violent enough to leave you with bruises and abrasions, it’s likely to cause internal damage.

How Long Does Seat Belt Syndrome Last?

The duration of seat belt syndrome can vary significantly between individuals, depending on their natural healing factor and how soon they sought after and received medical treatment.

That said, bruising and abrasions generally heal within a couple of days, sometimes weeks. However, if you have other more substantial injuries like fractures or internal organ damage, expect recovery to range from several weeks to a few months.

Injury to Intra-abdominal Organs

Unlike with your chest area, bones don’t protect your abdominal wall and surrounding internal organs. Therefore, they’re significantly susceptible to seat belt-related damage.

In a car collision, the impact force can lead to intestinal perforation, ruptured bowel, seromuscular tear, and soft tissue injuries. Unfortunately, these injuries aren’t noticeable immediately. So, be wary of abdominal pain.

Injury to the Bones and Other Musculoskeletal Structures

Depending on your vehicle’s safety strap type, some injuries may occur more than others. One of these damages is seat belt fractures or chance fractures.

Seat belt fractures are the byproduct of a violent spine flexion followed by a spine extension, which often happens if you have a lap belt. In other words, it occurs when your spine bends towards your abdomen and whips back.

Contusions and Abrasions

A car’s seat belts prevent occupants from jumping out of their seats from the impact of a car collision. These mechanisms are effective at accomplishing this job. However, depending on the situation, they may need to do so violently.

Safety belts may rub against your skin as they try their utmost to fulfill their function. Unfortunately, this process may result in painful cuts, scrapes, and lacerations.

Seat Belt Safety for Adults

Do you drive a car for work? Do you use your motor vehicle to carry your household’s groceries? Regardless of the reason you travel through the winding roads of the U.S., you must ensure seat belt safety.

The following sections discuss tips and tricks for properly using your automobile’s safety straps, including things you must do and some you should avoid when you’re pregnant.

The Top Things You Should Know About Buckling Up

  • Wear your seat belt: Clicking your shoulder and lap belts in place is a no-brainer. Yes, they can cause injuries during car accidents. However, they significantly reduce the odds of fatality, such as when you’re ejected from your vehicle.

  • Airbags don’t replace safety straps: You may think that with modern car safety features like airbags, you won’t need to wear your seat belt. Unfortunately, the rapid activation of airbags can result in injury, sometimes even death.

    In other words, airbags and seat belts work together and aren’t meant to replace the other. For context, a 2018 study shows that using both mechanisms reduces car crash fatality by 67%.

  • There are proper ways to wear a seat belt: Although wearing a seat belt may seem straightforward, there are correct and incorrect ways to fasten yourself to your seat.

    Note that the shoulder strap must be secured across your chest’s center and away from your neck. It must also never go behind your back or under your arm. The lap belt must rest across your hips. However, it must not go over your stomach.

  • Like clothes, seat belt fit is crucial: Did you know that seat belts aren’t one-size-fits-all? Although most safety straps follow a standard width size of 1.85”, you can ask your dealer for custom measurements via extenders.

    You can also purchase aftermarket seat belts, which let you tailor your straps specifically to you. Retrofitting custom seat belts is also ideal if you have an older or classic car.

Seat Belt Suggestions for Pregnant Drivers and Passengers

Wearing a seat belt when pregnant can be complicated and requires several other considerations. After all, a seat belt-related injury can threaten your well-being and the safety of your unborn child.

First off, while safety straps can lead to other injuries, including those to your abdominal region, they significantly lower the chances of sustaining severe damages and death from a motor vehicle accident. In short, buckle up through all stages of your pregnancy.

As cited, ensure your seat belt is away from your neck and runs across your chest, ideally between your breasts. That said, you must remove any belt slack and secure the lap strap below your belly.

You should also adjust your seat. If you’re pregnant, you must keep your belly as far away from the steering wheel as possible while keeping an upright position.

However, the most critical recommendation is to seek medical attention if you get into a road mishap. Yes, seat belts keep you protected, but they can also cause injuries, some of which aren’t immediately noticeable.

Myth vs. the Real Deal

The concept of seat belts is relatively straightforward: wearing one reduces the risk of sustaining injuries and dying from an auto accident. Despite this simple premise, however, various myths surround seat belt use and safety.

Let’s shed some light on what’s real and what’s not, shall we?

If Your Car Has Airbags, You Still Need to Wear a Seat Belt. Myth or the Real Deal?

As mentioned, airbags don’t replace seat belts. Even on its own, the latter lowers mortality by 45%. But by using a combination of the two, you’re 67% more likely to survive a motor-vehicular collision.

Can Seat Belts Trap You in a Fire or Under Water?

Contrary to movie and T.V. show depictions, it’s highly unlikely for safety straps to jam or trap you in a car accident involving fire and water. You’re only ever in danger in these incidents if the collision renders you unconscious, which seat belts prevent.

Seat Belts Are Unnecessary If You’re Not Going Far or Not Traveling Fast. Myth or the Real Deal?

The longer you stay on the road and the faster you go, the higher the chance you’ll get into a road mishap. So, does that mean you don’t need a seat belt if you’re driving slowly to a nearby location? No.

You may be surprised, but according to recent data, the most fatal car crashes occur at 40mph or slower speeds within 25 miles of the drive’s starting point. In other words, it doesn’t matter where or how fast you’re going. You should wear your seat belt whenever you hit the road.

Can a Seat Belt Can Hurt You in a Crash?

If you’ve reached this point in the article, it’s evident that seat belts can cause bodily harm. However, this fact shouldn’t dissuade you from wearing safety straps. After all, these safety features do more good than bad.

Wearing a Seat Belt Is Unnecessary When You’re in a Pickup Truck. Myth or the Real Deal?

Driving a larger, heavier vehicle, such as an SUV (sport utility vehicle), pickup, or van, gives you a better shot at surviving a collision versus driving smaller automobiles like sedans and sports cars.

However, this doesn’t mean you don’t need to wear a seat belt. While having a bulkier automobile reduces the chance of sustaining a fatal injury from a crash, wearing safety belts further lowers this number by 60%.

Men Are the Least at Risk. So, It’s Not As Essential for Guys to Wear Seat Belts. Myth or the Real Deal?

Based on analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), females are more likely to receive injuries or perish in car accidents than males. However, more men than women sustain fatal injuries in motor vehicle accidents.

In short, automobile mishaps aren’t exclusive to one gender. And while you have higher odds of surviving a collision if you’re a man, you also have a higher chance of getting into a fatal one, highlighting the significance of wearing a seat belt.

Explore Your Knowledge of Seat Belt Safety

Suffice it to say that you should wear safety straps whenever you get in a car, regardless of whether you’re the driver or a passenger. But if you’re still not convinced you should, here are some interesting facts about seat belts you need to know.

Every State Has at Least Some Kind of Seat Belt Law

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2019 data, 49 out of 50 U.S. states have a mandatory seat belt law. New Hampshire is the only state that doesn’t implement seat belt-related regulations.

Do understand, however, that these laws can vary significantly from state to state.

For instance, in states like Alabama, where seat belt use is primary, law enforcement can stop and issue you a ticket for not wearing one. On the other hand, California requires occupants under 16 to use appropriate car seats or booster seats.

Consider consulting a law firm to determine your state’s specific seat belt laws. If you’ve been in a car crash and want to see whether you qualify for a personal injury claim, visit

Do You Know How Many Unbuckled Vehicle Occupants Died in 2021?

According to a 2021 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 26,325 car occupants died in motor vehicle crashes. Interestingly, almost half of these fatalities involved occupants not wearing a seat belt.

Correctly Wearing a Seat Belt Cuts Fatal Injury Risk by 45% for Front-seat Passengers

Buckling in takes no time. The few seconds you spend clicking your seat belt in place and ensuring you’re properly wearing it lowers your risk of dying in a car collision when you’re a front-seat passenger by 45%.

Should You Use Your Seat Belt on Long Trips or Short Trips?

Although data suggests that more fatal crashes happen at lower speeds traveling short distances, you must always wear your seat belt. Doing so significantly reduces the odds of sustaining severe and mortal injuries, regardless of where you’re going.

What Is the Best Defense Against Drunk Drivers on the Road?

In its 2021 report, the NHTSA stated that drunk driving is responsible for one in three auto fatalities. While you can’t control other drivers’ behavior, you can avoid becoming a statistic in a motor vehicle mishap by correctly wearing your shoulder straps and lap belts.

When Does Child Restraint Use Fall by 40%?

Did you know you’re the most significant influence in shaping your child’s development? Therefore, it makes sense that child seat belt use drops to 40% when you don’t wear car restraints.

How Many Lives Did Seat Belts Save in 2017?

In 2022, 91.6% of Americans wear their seat belts. While 26,325 car accident fatalities the year before helped increase seat belt use, the approximately 14,955 lives these safety mechanisms saved in 2017 contributed significantly.

What Percentage of Passengers 14 Years and Younger Were Killed in Traffic Crashes?

According to the NHTSA’s 2021 report, of the 42,939 traffic fatalities, 1,184 were children aged 14 and younger. Notably, 40% of these child passenger deaths were not wearing their seat belts.

Fact Check: Seat Belts As the Best Protection in Car Crashes

Modern vehicles are safer than previous models. After all, they come with advanced safety features like electronic stability control, which assists you in maintaining control of your car during spin- and plow-outs, and driver assistance, which uses artificial intelligence to run the vehicle.

However, seat belts are the most effective safety measure in the history of the automobile, reducing severe crash-related injuries and fatalities by almost half.

Seat Belt Safety for Tweens

“Tweens” generally refer to children between the ages of 8 and 12. It’s the development stage where people are too old to be “children” yet too young to be teenagers.

You’ll want to transition your children from a booster seat to an adult seat belt during this stage. Doing so enforces seat belt use and safety. Here are some tips to accomplish this task:

It’s Non-negotiable: Tween Seat Belt Safety

Parenting can be challenging and busy. With your plate full raising your children and providing for them, teaching them about the significance of wearing a seat belt is often left by the wayside.

However, seat belt safety is non-negotiable. Consistently remind your children about the benefits of using safety straps and caution them about the dangers of not buckling up.

Most importantly, never assume your kids are wearing their safety straps. Your responsibility as a parent is to ensure they’re firmly strapped to their seats and wearing them correctly.

Be the Role Model: Ensuring Your Tween Buckles Up Every Ride

As mentioned, child seat belt use drops to 40% when their parents don’t wear theirs. So, you must make an effort to set a good example.

Show your children that it’s critical to properly wear restraints, regardless of whether you’re taking a short trip to the grocery store or a cross-country adventure for vacation.

Back Seat

Seat belts reduce front-passenger deaths by 45%. But does this mean you can forego snapping your shoulder and lap belts in place when you’re riding in the back seat?

The short answer is no. Nearly 60% of back-seat car occupant fatalities in 2021 involved passengers who didn’t wear their seat belts. In other words, seat belt use applies to all passengers.

Treatment or Management

You must seek medical attention immediately if you’re involved in a motor-vehicular accident. This step applies regardless of whether you see signs of injury, as some damages may be internal.

Note that the treatment you’ll need depends on your sustained injury, highlighting the significance of prompt communication with medical professionals.

For instance, vascular, visceral, and spinal damages will require hospital or trauma center admittance. At the same time, rib, sternum, and soft tissue injuries may require pain management.

Differential Diagnosis

The diagnosis procedure also varies depending on the severity of the car accident, more specifically, the impact force. After all, as cited, while some injuries may be apparent, such as bruises and abrasions, others may be hiding beneath the surface.

Postoperative and Rehabilitation Care

It’s generally recommended that you avoid driving until all your injury symptoms disappear and until a safety evaluation has been conducted on the automobile involved in the accident. Remember, you can take painkillers or ice packs to manage pain and treat swelling and soreness.

Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

Yes, despite potential injuries, the overall safety that seat belts provide outweighs the risks. Therefore, it’s up to healthcare professionals, such as clinicians, nurses, and pharmacists, to collectively reinforce the importance of seat belt use.

General Motors Recalled Multiple Vehicles for Seat Belt Issues in 2021

Seat belts aren’t perfect mechanisms. However, due to their significance in reducing the likelihood of severe injuries and death from car accidents, installing and using them is mandatory in nearly all states.

Following this rule, General Motors recalled various 2021 car models, as roughly 95,000 automobiles have faulty third-row seat belts. The vehicles recalled include the following:

  • Cadillac Escalade
  • Cadillac Escalade ESV
  • Chevrolet Suburban
  • Chevrolet Tahoe
  • GMC Yukon
  • GMC Yukon XL

“Can I Sue for Seat Belt Syndrome?”

If you experience seat belt syndrome from a car collision, you can file a suit against the at-fault driver for pain and suffering. However, doing so requires you to prove the other party’s fault and that you sustained a severe injury.

Additionally, you can pursue legal action if an auto insurance company refuses to provide benefits related to seat belt syndrome. This process may involve suing for overdue medical bills, attendant care, and lost wages due to your inability to return to work.

“Can I File a Claim for No-Fault Benefits?”

No-fault benefits or personal injury protection (PIP) refer to insurance coverage you can claim if you’re injured following a motor vehicle accident. The primary advantage of purchasing this coverage is that it allows you to file a claim, regardless of who was at fault.

The states that require you to have no-fault insurance include the following:

States that don’t require you to purchase no-fault insurance but offer it as an optional coverage include the following:

You can claim no-fault benefits in any of the mentioned states. However, you only have up to one year after the motor vehicle accident to be eligible for the claim.

If you’re not in a no-fault state, discussing your options with a personal injury attorney is best. Visit for a free consultation from the most suited legal advisor for your situation.

Compensation for Seat Belt Injuries

It’s ironic, but the very mechanisms designed to protect you from injury and death during a car accident can cause unintentional bodily harm. Fortunately, you can receive compensation for your suffering through a personal injury claim.

Sample Seat Belt Injury Settlements and Verdicts

The settlement amount you can receive from personal injury claims hinges on various factors. These elements can include the severity of the accident, who the at-fault party was, the injuries you sustained, and the legal advisor you’re working with.

For instance, a 2020 car accident in California involving a rear-end by a drunk driver and soft tissue injuries led to a $50,000 settlement. On the other hand, a $250,000 settlement was reached in Georgia for an incident involving a rear-end collision by a truck.

In short, the seat belt injury settlements can fluctuate. Expect anywhere from tens of thousands of dollars to six figures, depending on your case’s details.

So, if you want to get the maximum returns for your pain and suffering, you must work with an experienced lawyer who will understand and study the details of your case.

Visit, a valuable resource that lets you match with law firms and legal advisors nationwide specializing in personal injury claims.


  1. Car Accident Statistics For 2023
  2. Seat Belt Statistics
  3. Seat Belts
  4. Seat Belt Injuries From A Car Accident
  5. Seat Belt Injury Symptoms and Treatment After a Car Accident
  6. Seat Belt Injury
  7. Seatbelt use and risk of major injuries sustained by vehicle occupants during motor-vehicle crashes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies
  8. The most common seat belt injuries and what to do about them
  9. What Is Seat Belt Syndrome?: Everything You Need To Know
  10. 5 Most Common Seat Belt Injuries
  11. Seat Belts
  12. Aftermarket Seatbelt Webbing
  13. Here are the ten car models with the highest and lowest death rates
  14. Fatality Facts 2021
  15. Know Your States Seat Belt Laws!
  16. Almost half of passengers killed in 2021 car crashes weren’t wearing seat belts: NHTSA
  17. Drunk Driving Statistics
  18. Interview: Changing Parental Behavior with Behavioral Tools Can Help Children Reach their Full Potential
  19. Traffic Safety Facts
  20. What states have no-fault insurance?
  21. No-Fault States
  22. Seat Belt Injuries in Car Accidents
  23. Verdicts & Settlements

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