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Seat Belt Entanglement

buckle unused seat belt
seat belt entanglement

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.

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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:

How can you prevent this terrible thing from happening to your child?

buckle unused seat belt
  1. Keep your cars locked so your children do not play in cars, at least without supervision.
  2. Teach your children seat belts are not toys.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 August 2019. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

© alancrosthwaite | depositphotos
© amie durocher


  1. About 6 years ago my then 4 year old was seated & buckled up in my parked car. She unbuckled the seat belt and pushed her arm under it so it went around her neck. When I attempted to loosen it, it only got tighter and tighter. I ended up in quite a panic but luckily we were right outside our house and I ran inside, grabbed some scissors and cut the belt. She was fine but I was utterly horrified at how easily it happened, all because of the locking mechanism (a supposed “safety feature” which I wasn’t familiar with at the time) in our new Mazda’s safety belts which prevents the belt being loosened. You have to let the belt go right back in before you can pull it out again, which is impossible if a child is trapped in it.

    I can’t understand why they don’t come with an auto-release button for emergencies like this. I was reminded of the incident this week because we finally got around to replacing that safety belt. (As an aside, it cost us $450.) I do wonder how frequently this type of thing happens without being reported as I never got around to reporting it at the time.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. It is powerful for others to hear actual stories from parents. Some sort of auto-release sounds like a good idea. Are you familiar with the work does with changing regulation?

  2. I too had an issue. I parked my car in the driveway of my daughter’s playdate’s house and stepped out for less than 5 minutes to pick her up, leaving my 8 year old son in the third row of my 2011 Honda Odyssey. After helping my daughter with shoes and a jacket she ran out in front of me then told me my son was screaming. I thought he was screaming because he was upset with me. I returned to find my son with a red face, streaming tears and holding on to the seat yelling, “Mom! I can’t breathe! The belt’s around my neck! Help me!” Indeed my son’s neck was entangled in the second row middle seat belt. Trying to remain calm I tried to release the belt at the anchor point attached to the left side of the seat with the male end of the buckle but it could not reach because the belt had retracted too far and locked. I tried to get him to turn to untangle but the belt was too tight and continued to retract and lock further with any additional movement. I ran back to the front door of the house, banged on it and yelled for a pair of scissors. Scissors in hand I ran back to the van. The other mother ran behind me, saw my son entangled (now pale-faced but still breathing) and watched me cut the seat belt to release him. The belt was so tight the capillaries around his eyes, on his face and neck had burst leaving red spots. Red lines were evident around his neck and a bruise the size of a half dollar where the belt had twisted was visible. He did not require medical attention as he did not loose consciousness. The next day I explained the situation to the school principal and nurse; his teachers followed suit. While the buckle is used to release the belt at its preliminary anchor point there also needs to be something on the side of the seat itself that can be used to release it instead of or in addition to the actual buckle itself. That way if it locks the belt can still be released.

    1. Wow Amy. That must have been really scary! Thank you for sharing your experience. It is great when we can share our experiences to help prevent other parents from having to go through it.

  3. We bought a Mazda CX-5 last year. My son Sean aged seven managed to get the rear righthand seatbelts tangled around him.

    It was not anchored but the strap was wrapped around his waist and the more he moved it got worse because the belt retracted further into lock mode.

    Eventually he could barely breath we were in full panic mode. I ran into a restaurant where they borrowers me a pair of scissors to cut him loose.

    Who would have expected known this could happen.

    1. We’re so glad your experience ended OK. It’s certainly not something many people think about. Thank you for sharing your experience for other parents!

    2. The same thing just happened to my six year old son! I could not believe how in the world he managed to get stuck in such a way without the seatbelt being buckled down. He was buckled in safely the whole car ride, then when he unbuckled the clip he was unable to get out. It was looped around his waist too and just as you had said, the more he moved, the tighter the belt retracted. I had to end up cutting the seatbelt too. Have you found out how this happened??

      1. Without more information I cannot say how your son got entangled in the seat belt. As mentioned in the article if the child gets the seat belt wrapped around and the seat belt gets pulled all the way out and switches to locking mode it will only tighten.

  4. Yes I Also had this happen to me. My daughter was in the third row of my 2017 Chevy Traverse in her booster seat and some how got her neck tangled with the seat belt wrapped around her neck. I was not able to get it loose as it kept on tightening. I had to run in the house and grab scissors to cut her out. It was very frightening.

  5. This happened today with my 4 year old son while I was in the car, i was waiting in a parking lot to pull my car in to get new tires and I heard him in his car seat start crying and saying he was stuck. I looked back and saw his neck was caught in the center seat belt. i got out and tried to pull him out and couldn’t, as it was looped around his neck, so I just held my hand there so he could breathe. I didnt have anything sharp to cut him out , but luckily I was able to yell for the guy in the shop that I needed a knife or scissors to cut the seat belt and cut it. I have never heard of this happening and I was in the car when it happened. My son was just sitting in his seat and it happened so quickly. Im lucky I was somewhere where help was readily available. ALWAYS MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A CUTTING DEVICE IN YOUR CAR. This is the last thing I ever thought could happen and it could happen to anyone, anytime, and anywhere

    1. We are very glad to hear that all is OK. What a scary situation! I know I never thought about the possibility with my older two children, but our third hooked the middle seat belt with his foot when he was rear facing and pulled it out. Very scary. Seat belt cutters can certainly be a handy tool. Again glad everyone is OK after your scare today.

  6. This happened to me yesterday evening as I parked my Chrysler 300 in my garage. I had 3 of my grandkids with me & two of them were in the backseat. The older two kids got out of the car & my 3 year old granddaughter was still in the car whimpering & acting like she wanted out of the car & I told her to just go out the door her brother went out of. She continued to carry on & I got out of the car & opened her door and she was standing in the seat with her seatbelt wrapped around her tiny waist so tight she was stuck and there was no way of getting her out. I yelled @ my husband to help me free her & our only option was to cut the belt off of her. We both tried to free her from the belt but it only got tighter and would not release. It was one of the scariest things ever & we are thankful we had something to cut her free with.

  7. my mom and i use to bring my brothers girlfriend to work (around 8:00am). i usually didnt wake up that early, since i was homeschooled. i was tired so i slept in the car. i forgot to put my belt on, so i put it on. the upper strap bothered me, so i put it in back of me. i woke up and i was still in the car, i unbuckled the belt because it felt strange. it didnt do anything. i screamed for my mom and it was tangled around my waist, she pulled over and she tried to get it over my head or pull it over my legs, didnt work. i couldnt breathe and i was crying, the belt was making a mark on my stomach, luckily we keep scissors in the car, i kept screaming for my mom to cut it but she didnt want to cut it. eventually she did because i was hyperventilating, and i couldnt get the belt over my head. after she cut it i was so relieved. we got a replacement belt. i never slept in the car again. always keep scissors or a knife in your car just incase.

  8. It just happened to me today. On my way to drop off the kids to school.
    My 7 year old got her neck tangled.
    My 13 year old was bringing a pair of scissors to open his ear bugs , I stopped the car and used the scissors to cut the seat belt.
    I can’t tell you how scary this experience was for me.
    Just reading now I’m realizing how often happens,

  9. Hi Amie,

    We just had this happen to my son. The seat belt got twisted around his waist, and no matter how we shifted, shimmied or pulled, we could not get him loose. While he was crying, saying the belt was digging into his side, I found your post looking for any suggestions on how to get him free. I was about to pick up the scissors when my wife came up with a brilliant idea. We just turned him upside down, and the belt came loose! I highly suggest updating your post to recommend people try turning the child upside down if they don’t have a cutter nearby. It could save a life!

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