Seat belt use undoubtedly saves lives, but it’s also possible to sustain seatbelt injuries after being in a car crash. Knowing the symptoms of seatbelt injuries can enable you to seek medical care when you need it and take care of your injuries so you can get back to everyday life. 

The most common type of seatbelt is the three-point seat belt, which covers your shoulder, chest, and lower stomach area. 

During a crash, the force of impact goes into your body and the areas where the seat belt rests become blunt trauma sites. There’s a high likelihood that those trauma sites will be injured. The severity of the injury depends on how intense the accident was. 

Keep reading to learn about the seven most common seatbelt injury symptoms and what to do about them. 

4 Types of Seatbelts

There are four types of seatbelts, including three-point, lap belt, motorized, and harness seatbelts. The three-point seatbelt is most commonly used in newer models, but the other three can be found in older cars, many of which are still around.

  • Three-point seatbelts go over your shoulder and chest, and have a lap band across your waist.
  • Lap belts come with an adjustable strap that goes across your lap. Lap belts are usually seatbelts for the middle seat in the backseat and are used to secure car seats.
  • Motorized seatbelts consist of two straps, one being a retractable lap belt that buckles near the hip. The other strap is retractable and comes from the inside of the seat. Once buckled in, it rotates back and forth on the edge of your body while the car is moving. Motorized seatbelts were never popular and were only ever used in front seats.
  • Harness seatbelts are found in high-end sports cars for added safety at high speeds. The harness ranges from four to six points. 

7 Seatbelt Injury Symptoms

  1. Neck injury/whiplash – Whiplash is the most common neck injury associated with car accidents. It happens when the force of the crash causes the neck to go backward and forward suddenly. Whiplash is most likely to occur from a rear-end accident, although it is possible in any car accident.
  2. Chest and shoulders – Your chest and breastbone are direct points of impact in a head-on collision, and they protect your lungs, heart, spleen, and liver, all of which are at risk for injury after impact. 
  3. In extreme crashes, your first and second ribs can get fractured from the shoulder harness. This injury can pierce the carotid and subclavian arteries, leading to severe bleeding. 
  4. If you’ve been in a car crash and have difficulty breathing or feel chest pain, seek medical care immediately, as these are signs of potentially fatal injuries. 
  5. Seat belt sign – A “seat belt sign” refers to a seatbelt-shaped bruise on your body. The contusion or abrasion will go across your chest and abdomen and is a sign of internal injuries. You should still seek medical care to rule out injuries, even if you’re not in pain. It very well may save your life. 
  6. Seat belt syndrome – Seat belt syndrome includes a seat belt sign, but the potential for injury is broader, including the spine and abdominal organs. You’ll notice bruises and abrasions horizontally across your body and at a 45-degree angle from your hip to the opposite shoulders. 
  7. Symptoms include muscle strain around the abdomen, weakness in legs, dizziness, blood in urine or stool, inability to use the restroom, vomiting or coughing up blood, difficulty breathing, and abdominal, hip, or rib pain. 

These injuries are life-threatening, so seek medical care right away:

  • Intra-abdominal organs – Chest organs are protected by bones, but intra-abdominal organs aren’t, making them more susceptible to severe injuries. An accident with serious force can cause intestinal injuries, including intestinal perforation, ruptured bowel, and seromuscular tears. 
  • Abdominal, soft tissue, and underlying organ injuries don’t always surface immediately. So, if you feel pain hours or days later, you should seek medical care. 
  • Bones and other musculoskeletal structures – Seat belt fractures, or chance fractures, happen more frequently with lap belts than with three-point belts, but they still occur. These fractures are from forceful spine flexion, where the spine bends toward the abdomen and then extends out again.  

If you notice back pain immediately or in the days following an accident, you should go to the doctor to see if you have a musculoskeletal fracture. 

  • Lacerations – This injury usually occurs in older cars without updated seat belts. These seat belts are thick and brittle, easily lacerating you when the strap locks up during a collision. 
  • How deep the cut goes depends on how severe the accident was. But no matter how shallow or deep the cut is, there’s always the chance for infection, so it’s essential to treat the wound so that it heals properly. Treating the wound will also help prevent scarring. 

As you can see, seat belt injuries in car accidents can be deadly, so it’s crucial to call 911 when you’ve been in an accident immediately. This important step in the car accident process is there for a reason – it saves lives. 

While these injuries can be severe, seat belt use can prevent far worse injuries and even death by preventing you and your passengers from being ejected from the vehicle. A person not wearing a seat belt is 30 times more likely to be ejected, and three-fourths of ejected passengers die from their injuries. 

We recommend always wearing a seat belt and calling 911 if you’re in an accident so your injuries (if you have any) can be treated as quickly as possible.

Flickinger Boulton Gooch & Robson Can Help

If you’ve been in a car accident and sustained an injury from seatbelt use, Flickinger Boulton Gooch & Robson can help. We’ve spent the past 20+ years representing personal injury victims and come with 150 years of combined experience among all of our lawyers. As a result, we have the expertise you need for your personal injury case. We offer free case evaluations to help you better understand what you’re dealing with and how we can help. So call us at 801.500.4000, or fill out the form on our website to get started with your free case evaluation today.