Are you asking what is seat belt entanglement and what does it have to do with my child?
Seat belt entanglement is when a child is being strangled by a seat belt. And it can be deadly.
Let’s start from the beginning. Kids, well, are kids. And they tend to bore easily and find a toy in anything nearby. When they are riding in a car and have access to an unused seat belt, they may start to play with it.
It can happen to the best of us. We are a two car seat technician family and still we found our son (pictured) playing with the middle seat belt left down and empty by one of his older siblings. He obviously tired of his shoe and managed to reach the seat belt with his foot and pulled it toward him. (We caught it on camera for education purposes and fixed our oversight.)
Now you may be asking sure, pulling it out, playing with it; but how does a child strangle himself with it?
Here’s where the problem is: the child plays with the seat belt and wraps his neck with it. Then the mechanics of the seat belts plays a role.
The majority of seat belts have a locking mode that is activated when the seat belt is pulled all the way out from the retractor at which time the belt no longer moves in and out. This feature is designed for car seat installations. In instances when the child plays and pulls the seat belt all the way out activating the locking feature, the seat belt only gets shorter and the child can be strangled.
It is very difficult to free a child from the seat belt when this happens. No amount of pulling will get the seat belt loose. In most cases scissors, a knife or a seat belt cutter is needed to free the child entangled in a seat belt.
One parent who experienced entanglement around the child’s waist got their child free by turning the child upside down. So depending on where seat belt is wrapped around the child, changing the position could loosen it enough to get out.
Here are a few examples of seat belt entanglement:
- A 5 year old in critical condition after being strangled by a seat belt as mom drives down I-95.
- A writer in the New York Times Magazine describes his own experience where his 3-year-old son was nearly strangled to death.
- Several police officers who happened to be near by saved an 8 year old boy in New York from dying.
- A 8 year old boy in Massachusetts was nearly hanging from the ceiling, his mom stopped the car and had to find scissors to cut him out of the seat belt by that time unconscious.
How can you prevent this terrible thing from happening to your child?
- Keep your cars locked so your children do not play in cars, at least without supervision.
- Teach your children seat belts are not toys.
- Make sure any unused shoulder belts within reach are buckled and switched to locking mode by pulling the seat belt all the way out then tighten so the seat belt lays flat against the seat. This includes the seat belt in the child seating position, if you are using LATCH to install the car seat.
- Keep a seat belt cutter handy just in case.
Read about another common seat belt injury: seat belt syndrome.
We want to know, has your child tried to play with a spare seat belt ? Share your comments below.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
Copyright 2021 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.
We originally published this post in May 2013. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.