Car accidents can be life-altering events, and even seemingly minor collisions can have long-lasting consequences. One such consequence that often goes unnoticed until it’s too late is seat belt syndrome.
While seat belts undoubtedly save lives by preventing ejections and reducing the severity of injuries, they can also cause injuries of their own.
What is seat belt syndrome?
Essentially, seat belt syndrome is a set of injuries that occur due to the force exerted by a seat belt during a car accident as it restrains the body of a driver or passenger against their seat. The force of that restraint coupled with the vehicle’s sudden deceleration can cause fractured ribs, damage to internal organs (including the liver, spleen, kidneys and intestines), bruising to the heart and spinal fractures or herniated discs.
Unfortunately, the initial injury may look like nothing more than a few “bad bruises” where the seat belt had crossed the victim’s body – and adrenaline or shock can mask the pain. That means victims sometimes think that they have nothing more to worry about than a little soreness and don’t seek medical treatment right away.
Seat belt syndrome can quickly turn deadly, so anybody who has been in a car wreck (especially if they were hit from behind) should seek an immediate evaluation by a doctor. They should also be on the alert for signals that their condition is worsening, including:
- Chest pain or heart palpitations
- Abdominal pain, tenderness and/or swelling
- Difficulty breathing or just a general sense of breathlessness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weakness or numbness in their lower extremities or “saddle” area
- Blood in their urine or stool
To be clear: You don’t want to stop wearing your seat belt. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), proper seat belt use reduces the chances of a fatal wreck by 45% among drivers and their front-seat passengers, and they reduce the risk of serious injury by half. However, seat belt syndrome remains a serious and often overlooked consequence of car accidents too. If you’ve been hurt, by a seatbelt or otherwise, it’s wise to find out more about what it takes to obtain fair compensation for your losses in the wake of a crash caused by another’s negligence or intentional actions.