There is no mistaking that seat belts save lives. However, due to their design as active restraints and the force often involved in auto collisions in West Virginia and elsewhere, they may also cause drivers and passengers serious injuries or death.

The collective group of injuries caused by seat belts in motor vehicle accidents is termed seat belt syndrome. According to an article from StatPearls Publishing LLC, seat belt syndrome involves musculoskeletal and visceral injuries such as lacerations to the liver or spleen, mesenteric or bowel tears, pulmonary contusion or myocardial contusion. Fractures to the lumbar or cervical spine, clavicle, ribs or sternum may also result due to wearing a seat belt during a wreck.

The potential lasting effects and outcomes for people who suffer these types of injuries depend on factors including the type of injury involved and how quickly it is diagnosed and treated. Fractures with minor or no associated neurological damage, as well as mesentery or bowel injuries that receive timely operative treatment, may recover with minimal lasting effects. If not diagnosed early, however, mesentery and bowel injuries may be fatal.

According to a case series published in the International Journal of Surgery Case Reports, during a motor vehicle accident, the body may continue to move forward at the same speed as the car was traveling, despite a sudden deceleration or stop. Consequently, the seat belt may create a fulcrum effect across the abdominal wall’s soft muscles, cause compression with the vertebral column or create a sharing force.

Diagnosing seat belt syndrome injuries may carry challenges for physicians. Sometimes, the tenderness or pain caused by a seat belt injury may be attributed to bruising of the abdominal wall and further testing to check for intra-abdominal injuries may not be performed. In other cases, the injuries may not present immediately, which may affect people obtaining potentially life-saving medical treatment.