While most people think that all seatbelts provide the same level of protection, over a half a century of experience has illustrated that not all seatbelts are equal. Seatbelts and seatbelt systems come in as many variations as there are automobile manufacturers. Each manufacturer's seatbelts meet minimum federal requirements, but some unfortunately contain serious manufacturing and design defects. In fact, there are many seatbelt designs that provide far superior protection than those that only meet minimum federal requirements.
Seatbelt buckles can also be defective in design. Some seatbelt buckle designs are prone to inadvertent release at exactly the moment when they are needed most - during a crash. Other buckle designs contain a critical flaw that exposes the release button causing it to be unbuckled without the user knowing. Still other buckle designs fail to properly latch leaving the user thinking they are restrained when they are not. Whenever any one of these several buckle defects are present, it might appear that a person was not belted during an accident even though they were.
There are also safety devices that help seatbelts work better, like seatbelt pre-tensioners that are triggered by the same sensors that fire airbags. There are emergency locking belt retractors that keep slack from forming in a seatbelt during a crash. While most manufacturers have some car and truck models that have these safety features, they are often only offered in higher priced models or only installed in certain seating positions even though testing shows that these designs can prevent serious injuries.
For decades the car companies have known that seat belt fit and geometry is an important part of vehicle safety during rollovers. This is especially true in SUVs which are far more prone to rollover than other vehicles. One way to achieve a better fitting seatbelt is to mount them into the seat itself rather than to the roof pillars of the vehicle. That way, even if the vehicle is upside down, or the roof pillars bent, the person remains restrained in the seat. Even though that particular and more effective seat design was examined and tested by several manufacturers, it was only used in a very limited number of models.
Also, occasionally defects occur during the manufacturing process of seatbelt system components. In one such case, an entire lot of seatbelt buckles was manufactured with a chemical missing from the plastic material that made up the cover. Over time the plastic began to degrade causing the buckle plastic to become brittle and break. The pieces that broke off became lodged in the buckle mechanism making it impossible to properly secure the seatbelt.
If you have suffered serious injuries as the result of a defective seat belt, please contact a skilled New Jersey auto product liability attorney at Blume Forte at (973) 635-5400 immediately.
If you need to consult a New Jersey personal injury attorney, you need to contact Blume Forte Fried Zerres & Molinari. The initial consultation is always free.