Automatic seatbelts also known as motorized seat belts have been installed in 10,000’s of vehicles. Most automatic belts come with a manual lap belt that the driver or front seat passenger must remember to also belt. Some automatic belt came only with a shoulder belt with no manual lap belt. These automatic safety belt system have killed 100’s and will continue until they are all recalled and fixed.
As early as the 1950’s the auto industry tested airbags and found them superior to automatic belts of that period as a result of their inferior performance; automatic belts were not seriously pursued until the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) took steps in 1969 to require airbags to all motor vehicles. The industry immediately switches gears and argued against airbags. This switch contradicted market studies by the manufacturers that showed consumers preferred airbags to automatic belts. Automatic belts were a cheaper form of passive restraints rather than an airbag. Simple automatic belt systems cost $50-$200 less than airbag systems.
The first to sell automatic seat belts was Volkswagen, with the 1975 VW Rabbit, which had a door-mounted automatic shoulder belt (BUT NO LAP BELT). Immediately the injuries began. Upon front impact, the occupant’s torso slipped under belt, but the head and necks catches on the shoulder belt, essentially “clothlining” the occupant, causing broken necks, spinal cord injuries and death. Unfortunately, some automakers, including Hyundai, continued to equip vehicles with shoulder only belts up through 1989 with the Hyundai Excel. Later many automakers included a manual lap belt with the automatic shoulder belt. The problem with this “improvement” was most consumers forgot to wear the manual lap belt and while some didn’t even know there vehicles had them. The injuries to the occupants continued, as more and more of the automatic shoulder belts with no lap belts, began to appear in many of the late 1970’s and into the 1990’s. As the DOT pushed forward with the passive restraint rules, the automakers concentrated on developing automatic belts that were easier to use but were less protective and less expensive than air bags.
As automatic belts came into use, their defects and failures became apparent. Automatic shoulder belts with separate manual lap belts had very low lap belt use rates because the automatic feature of the shoulder belt engaging lulled occupants into forgetting to buckle their lap belts. The more cumbersome door-mounted belts were often detached by the users rendering them ineffective. The shoulder-strap-only belts often caused serious neck injuries and even decapitated occupants; and door mounted belts completely failed to protect when doors opened in crashes, as they do 10% of the time. The failures of automatic belts are showing up in a growing number of personal injury lawsuits that will soon grow into a flood.
Congress finally killed automatic belts. In an amendment to the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991. Congress required all new cars to have full-front seat airbags by September 1, 1997, with light trucks and vans having them by September 1, 1998.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured as a result of a automatic shoulder belt with or without a manual lap belt, then you may have a right to file a products liability case against the manufacturers of these dangerous seatbelts. Please call for a free confidential consultation at 1-800-883-9858