One of the newest YouTube sensations is a young 3-year-old boy who apparently likes to wake up to music by Nirvana. As of posting, the video had more than 1 million hits.
This video has gotten lots of coverage – including The Daily Mail and a number of US network television outlets. However, none of the stories mention the child's seat belt. The video clearly shows the toddler in need of a booster seat with the seat belt improperly cutting across the child's neck (rather than across the child's chest and shoulder).
Child Sleeping With Seat Belt Across Neck
The belt position doesn't get any better when the child wakes up:
Belt Position Does Not Improve When Child Wakes
Based on the comments to the video and to their credit, the child's brother and sister who took the video appear to now understand the danger their little brother was in because of the placement of the seat belt. Many siblings (and even parents) don't understand the dangers of improper seat belt positioning until it's too late.
The Safety Record blog in November 2011 noted a study that showed significant seat belt misuse among children ages 4 to 9 years old. The study showed that, among drivers securing children ages 4 to 9 in seat belts, 78% reported improper belt fit. Of that, improper shoulder belt fit accounted for 44% and improper lap belt position for 62% (amount totals great than 100% because in some instances both shoulder and lap belt fit improperly).
This seat belt geometry defect affects what has become known as the "forgotten child" – the group of children who have outgrown the five-point child safety seat, but are too small for seat belts. This group of children need a proper booster seat to achieve proper seat belt fit.
According to The Safety Record, the study's findings were consistent with laboratory evidence that showed incorrect belt positioning is commonly the result of a mismatch between child body proportions and rear seat belt geometry.
Even at age 9, most children's thighs are too short to sit in most vehicle rear seats without slumping. The slumped postures invariably lead to poor lap belt fit. In regard to shoulder belt positioning, the discomfort associated with having the belt against the face or neck can trigger the child to put the belt under their arm or behind their back. Putting the belt under the arm or behind the back is a much more serious belt fit problem than a belt that rides too close to the face or neck because these positions result in greater travel of the torso, compression of the abdomen, and stress on the spine as the body comes to a stop in a crash.
The study concluded that caregivers "may not be aware of proper seat belt positioning for the lap and shoulder belts or may not understand the serious and potentially permanent injuries that result from improper seat belt fit."
Seat belts will save lives, but only if they are worn — and only then if they are worn properly. Most drivers and passengers never think about proper seat belt fit (or seat belt geometry). Most simply assume if the seat belt is buckled, it will automatically protect you. Seat belts must fit properly in order to be effective.
The lap belt portion must fit snugly across the body structures of your hips. For three-point (or lap/shoulder) belts, the shoulder portion must be snug against your chest and cross at your shoulder. A few vehicles on the road today are equipped with seat belts mounted inside the seat back itself — known as "integrated seat belts" or "all belts to seat". These belts provide the safest fit and geometry. Most other vehicles at least provide adjustable shoulder belts (although the range of adjustability may vary). Make sure to adjust your shoulder belt so that it fits properly. Never let the seat belt cross over your neck and never tuck the shoulder belt behind you.
Consider these general guidelines that apply to virtually all cars.
1. A seatbelt that isn’t worn is completely ineffective. This is stating the obvious, but far too many people choose not to use the seatbelts installed in their vehicles. Wearing a seatbelt greatly reduces the risk of severe injury and death in the majority of accidents.
2. The lap belt must be worn low and snug across the hips with the shoulder portion snug against the chest. Any device, action or seat position that creates slack in the seatbelt (such as a reclined seat, putting the shoulder portion behind your back or under your arm, or holding the shoulder portion away from your body) reduces its effectiveness and creates an increased risk of injuries. Additionally, if the lap belt is allowed to creep up into the stomach area, severe internal injuries could result if you are involved in a crash.
3. If your vehicle has an adjustable seatbelt restraint system, make sure it is adjusted to keep belts away from your face and neck. Many modern cars have adjustments that allow you to change the geometry of the belts – particularly the shoulder belt. Consult your owner’s manual to determine if your vehicle has this feature and make sure you have made proper adjustments for maximum safety and comfort.
4. Use booster seats for children. Most restraint systems are designed for adults and may not fit children well. Instead of allowing children to ride with shoulder harnesses behind their back or under their arm, have them use a booster seat which allows them to “fit” the restraint system better. This provides not only increased comfort, but also increased safety.
5. Do not place the shoulder strap behind your back. Some passengers place the shoulder strap behind their back for comfort reasons. However, you should never do this. Placing the shoulder belt behind your back leaves your upper torso — including your neck, face and head — completely unrestrained during a collision. In addition, placing the should strap behind your back can alter the lap belt geometry and make the lap belt less effective.
6. Consider seat belt design when riding in a vehicle. Not all seatbelt systems are created equally. Proper seatbelt design is critical to occupant safety and bad belts can actually make injuries worse. Most drivers simply assume putting a seat belt on automatically makes you safer. However, car companies have known for decades that poorly designed seat belts — like lap belt only designs or seat belts that do not fit correctly — will make injuries worse. Lap belt only designs cause the upper portion of your body to jack-knife forward in a frontal collision. Jack-knifing in this way will cause severe internal damage (likely to your liver, stomach or bowel) and may even break your back and sever your spinal cord, causing paralysis. Poor belt geometry will permit your torso to slam into the shoulder belt, causing severe damage to your heart and lungs. Geometry that permits the shoulder belt to cross at your neck may also lead to paralysis or death in even a minor frontal collision.
Bad Belts Make Things Worse
Defective seat belts — those with bad geometry, poor fit or other bad designs — will make injuries worse in an accident. Most drivers simply assume putting a seat belt on automatically makes you safer. However, car companies have known for decades that poorly designed seat belts — like lap belt only designs or seat belts that do not fit correctly — will make injuries worse. Lap belt only designs cause the upper portion of your body to jack-knife forward in a frontal collision. Jack-knifing in this way will cause severe internal damage (likely to your liver, stomach or bowel) and may even break your back and sever your spinal cord, causing paralysis. Poor belt geometry will permit your torso to slam into the shoulder belt, causing severe damage to your heart and lungs. Geometry that permits the shoulder belt to cross at your neck may also lead to paralysis or death in even a minor frontal collision.
Many safety experts consider the seatbelt the most effective safety feature in your car. In order to make sure it is effective, it must be worn the correct way – and at all times.
- Hilarious video of sleeping toddler air drumming to Nirvana before he wakes up and fully rocks out [Daily Mail Reporter]
- Study Shows Seat Belt Misuse Among 4 to 9 Year Olds [The Safety Record]
- Why Use Booster Seats? [Washington State Booster Seat Coalition]
- Ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety take the guesswork out of selecting boosters most likely to provide good lap and shoulder belt fit in a range of vehicles [IIHS]
- Did You Know… How You Wear You Seat Belt Can Be As Crucial As If You Wear Your Seat Belt?
- Buckle Up For Winter Driving Safety
(c) Copyright 2012 Brett A. Emison
Follow @BrettEmison on Twitter.
Brett Emison is currently a partner at Langdon & Emison, a firm dedicated to helping injured victims across the country from their primary office near Kansas City. Mainly focusing on catastrophic injury and death cases as well as complex mass tort and dangerous drug cases, Mr. Emison often deals with automotive defects, automobile crashes, railroad crossing accidents (train accidents), trucking accidents, dangerous and defective drugs, defective medical devices.