The seat belt is one of the most basic pieces of safety equipment in cars and has one of the most dramatic impacts on safety and survival in a car accident. In combination with more recent safety innovations like airbags and crumple zones, drivers are safer than ever when they get hit by another vehicle. However, these safety systems only help drivers when they are functioning properly. A malfunctioning seat belt can put drivers and passengers at risk of a serious injury or death.
Vehicles may have defective safety restraints, manufacturing defects, or faulty designs. However, the vehicle manufacturer may not notify drivers of the safety issue until there are multiple reports of injuries from other drivers or if there is a federal investigation of the safety issues. If your vehicle has defective seat belts or other safety problems, The The Lemon Lawyer may be able to get you compensation, replacement, or vehicle repairs.
Seat Belt Systems in Motor Vehicles
Seat belts and safety restraints protect occupants in a vehicle from being thrown about in the event of an accident. A seat belt secures the individual to the seat preventing the individual from impacting the dashboard, windshield, or being thrown from the vehicle in an accident. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2017, seat belts saved almost 15,000 lives.
The seat belt has evolved over the years and most current seat restraint systems have a three-point belt that covers the lap and shoulder and locking retractors. Pretensioners and web clamps tighten the belt to restrict movement in a crash. In some vehicles, these systems tighten when triggered by fast acceleration or deceleration, or movements caused by a vehicle crash.
Most vehicles also have a warning light or alarm that sounds when a driver or passenger is not using a seat restraint. Sometimes having something heavy in a passenger seat can cause the alarm to sound as if a passenger is unbuckled. Alternatively, a failure in the warning system may not alert the driver that someone is not buckled in.
The first federal seat belt law went into effect on January 1, 1968. However, most seat belt laws are regulated by state. In California, all occupants of all ages are required to have a seat belt in all seats. Over 96% of drivers and passengers is California reportedly use seat belts, making it one of the highest rates in the country.
There are a number of areas where defects and malfunctions in the seat restraint system can fail and leave passengers unprotected in an accident. Examples of seat belt problems may include:
- Defective buckles,
- Buckles wearing down over time,
- Defective retractors,
- Metal rubbing on belt webbing,
- Cheap materials breaking,
- Manufacturing defects,
- Faulty designs,
- Welding defects,
- Substandard after-market replacements, or
- Warning light/alarm failure.
Belts Breaking in an Accident
When a seat belt breaks in an accident, the passenger can be thrown against the inside of the vehicle, causing serious injuries or death. Seat belts are supposed to be made from strong webbing that should not break in an accident. However, defects can cause damage to the webbing and increase the possibility of breaking or snapping when force is applied.
One cause of seat belts breaking is through repeated rubbing against a sharp object. This is usually caused by a design defect and may not become apparent until enough time has passed that the wear is noticed. The consumer may not notice the wear and be left unprotected in an accident.
Belts Disconnecting From Vehicle
Faulty parts or design defects may cause the seat belt to disconnect from the vehicle. This was the cause of a massive GM recall in 2014. The recall included the Saturn Outlook, Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, and Chevy Traverse from 2009 to 2014. The subject of the recall was: “the flexible steel cable that connects the seatbelt to the front outboard seating positions may fatigue and separate over time.”
When buckles do not lock into place or become dislodged when under stress, the belt may fail to hold the passengers in their seats, putting them at risk of injury. Faulty buckles were the subject of a Mercedes-Benz recall for certain 2019 vehicles, including the AMG, 4Matic, Cabriolet, Coupe, and Maybach. According to the NHTSA safety recall report, certain seatbelt buckles could be erroneously detected as unfastened. The tensioning system may not be activated in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury.
Examples of Seat Belt Problems
A number of vehicles have had problems with seat belts in a variety of makes and models. Some of these have lead to NHTSA investigations and manufacturer recalls. Seat belt problems have been reported in:
California Lemon Lawyer for Owners With Seatbelt Problems
California's Lemon Law provides protection for vehicle owners under warranty with seat belt and safety restraint problems that could be dangerous. Contact The Lemon Lawyer today to help you understand your rights and options, including getting a refund, returning a faulty vehicle, free repairs or replacement, or other compensation for a defective car, truck, or SUV.