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Column originally published Jan 4, 2005

It Is Important To Put On Seat Belts Properly

Question: Our teenage son was recently involved in a car accident. He was going out with a group of friends, and he was in the passenger seat next to the driver. Instead of putting on the seatbelt properly, he only had the lap belt in place and he put the shoulder belt behind him. None of his friends wore their seatbelts. It wasn’t a serious accident, but our son’s intestines ruptured, and he required surgery to remove part of the small intestines. His friends were all very lucky, and none of them suffered any serious injury. Since the accident, our son has refused to wear the seatbelt. We want to understand how he could suffer this injury. We know that he should wear the seatbelt, but we just don’t know how to convince him.


You have said it very well, his friends were very lucky to escape serious injury. Your son, unfortunately, did not put on his seatbelt properly, and as a result, suffered what is called ‘lap belt injury.’ He definitely should wear the seatbelt every time he rides in a car, and he needs to put it on properly.

Research has repeatedly shown that seatbelt saves life and reduces injury. Statistics from Transport Canada estimated that since 1989, the increased use of seatbelts has saved almost 3,000 lives, avoided over 60,000 injuries, and saved about 5 billion dollars in social and health care costs. It is more than lives and dollars. Whenever a person suffers serious injury or death, there are the lost dreams as well as pain and suffering of friends and families.

This is exactly why seatbelt is mandatory in all provinces and states in North America. Unfortunately, the law is not always enforced as it should be. A recent study in Prince Edward Island showed that close to a quarter of drivers and passengers are not wearing their seatbelts. At the same time, many fatal injuries are the result of occupants being thrown out of the car because they didn’t wear the seatbelt.

Another important thing to know is that many people don’t put on their seatbelts properly, resulting in serious injuries when they are involved in accidents. All motor vehicles are equipped with seatbelts, and most recent models have shoulder and lap belts for the middle seat in the back row. Shoulder and lap belts are more effective in injury prevention than lap belts alone.

The shoulder belt helps to spread the force of collision over the bones in the shoulder and chest, therefore prevents serious injury to internal organs. The lap belt spreads the force over the hips and pelvic bones. When worn correctly, seatbelts are very effective and many lives have been saved, including my own life, because I have been involved in several serious accidents. However, if they are worn improperly, seatbelts themselves can cause injury, as in the case of your son.

The shoulder belt should go over the shoulder and across the chest. It should not touch the neck. If a child is too small for the shoulder belt to be properly secured, a booster seat should be used. Putting the shoulder belt behind the body is absolutely wrong, and asking for trouble. Without the protection of shoulder belt, the whole body can slide forward during an accident, leading to more serious injury.

The lap belt should go across the hips and below the abdomen. Unfortunately, many people are not aware of the proper position of lap belt. In an accident, if the lap belt is over the abdomen, the force of collision would impact the internal organs and spine, resulting in serious injuries and sometimes death.

The best way to put on shoulder and lap belts is to pull the seatbelt far enough so that the belt is across the chest and hips, and insert the metal piece into the buckle until you hear the snap. Then, push down the lap belt to make sure it is below the abdomen, and pull the shoulder belt upward to tighten the belt. This is especially important so that the lap belt cannot slip upward onto the abdomen.

If you are shopping for a new car, you may want to find one that has the seatbelt pretensioner. This pretensioner mechanism locks the shoulder belt as soon as the car detects that a collision is taking place, before the occupant’s body starts to move forward. This is another safety feature that can prevent injury.

However, no technology will work unless one uses the seatbelt, and puts it on properly. Your son should not blame the seatbelt for causing his injury, and his friends’ good luck cannot be relied upon either. You may want to show him this column, and with some caring discussion from both parents, hopefully he can understand and change his attitude.

Any parent who wants to get additional information about seatbelt safety can check out the following website: