The Death of Lap Belts

As of September 2, 2007, according to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 208, all new cars must contain lap & shoulder seatbelts. This is part of a three-year phaseout, which began in 2004, of the lap belt-only arrangement found in many vehicles’ rear seats. The federal government passed this amendment to help reduce 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, it can pull apart or crush the spine against the lap belt.

It is disconcerting that it took this long to eliminate these dangerous belts from motor vehicles. In June 1986, General Motors admitted in a press release that studies confirmed that lap-shoulder belts offered the best protection. This was ten years ago. Meanwhile, most vehicles on the road continue to have this dangerous lap belt in the backseat. Hopefully, most parents have heard about the danger of these seatbelts and put their children in lap and shoulder harness belts only. For most soccer moms, all-American type families, this is mostly true. These folks are typically buying new or close to new cars with all the modern accessories and know the risks their children face in cars, including lap belts. But I worry about the single parent of limited education, fighting to make ends meet, unaware of the risks, or cannot afford to have the car retrofitted. 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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