The Death of Lap Belts

As of September 2, 2007, according to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 208, all new cars must be equipped with lap & shoulder seatbelts. This is part of a three-year phase out, which began in 2004, of the lap belt-only arrangement that can be found in the rear seat of many vehicles. The federal government passed this amendment to help reduce the number of serious injuries suffered by the occupants using lap belts (usually children).

A lap belt secures only the lower body during an automobile accident. Left vulnerable are the neck, back, and spinal cord. Injuries usually occur when the body is thrown forward at the waist, known as “jackknifing.” In fact, if the impact is severe enough, the spine can be pulled apart or crushed against the lap belt.

It is disconcerting that it took this long for these dangerous belts to be eliminated from motor vehicles. In June 1986, General Motors, admitted in a press release that studies had confirmed that lap-shoulder belts offered the best protection. This was ten years ago. Meanwhile, the majority of the vehicles on the road will continue to have this dangerous lap belt in the backseat. Hopefully, most parents have heard about the danger of these seatbelts and choose to put their children in lap and shoulder harness belts only. For most soccer mom, all-American type families, I’m sure this is mostly true. These folks are typically buying new or close to new cars with all of the modern accessories and are educated about the risks their children face in cars generally, and specifically with respect to lap belts. But I worry about the single parent of limited education, fighting to make ends meet who is unaware of the risks or cannot afford to have the car retrofitted. With all due respect to General Motors who I think is otherwise a fine company, couldn’t they have saved lives and avoided these problems by doing the right thing 10 years ago?

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