Belted passengers in Massachusetts car accidents could be at increased risk based on weight

Our Boston injury lawyers read with interest an item published recently in the Hartford Courant, which detailed results of a study that found the effectiveness of airbags and seat belts can depend on the sex and weight of the motorist.

Wearing your seat belt is required by law in Massachusetts. What authorities downplay in the quest to get motorists to buckle up (Click it or Ticket, et al.) is that there are accident scenes in which a motorist would have been better off had he or she not been wearing a seat belt. And there are circumstances where an accident impacts two motorists differently — one survives while the other is seriously injured or killed.

The University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, which conducted the study, found that additional technology is needed to protect the largest and smallest of occupants. Of course, we already know and understand that on a most basic level; it’s why we require small children to utilize booster seats and other devices to augment their safety.

But we largely ignore the difference in a crash’s impact on a 100 pound woman or a 300 pound man.

“Based on these results, we know the current system is not optimal,” said Michael Sivak, a research professor who worked on the study.

The study looked at 297,000 crashes from 1998 to 2008, in which at least one occupant was killed. The driver was killed in about half of the crashes and survived in the other half. Researchers then used information about the size of the driver to determine body Mass Index (BMI), which is based on relationship of a driver’s weight to his or her height.

Men with a BMI of 35 to 50 are considered to be seriously obese; a 6-foot man with a BMI of 35 would weigh 258 pounds. With a BMI of 50, he would weigh 369 pounds. Researchers found that obese men wearing seat belts were about 14 percent less likely to die than men of average weight.

However, obese men who were not wearing their belts were about 5 percent more likely to die, apparently because the extra weight forced its way through the airbag, which made airbags less effective.

Researchers found no reliable trends for unbelted women, but found overweight women were more likely to be killed in a crash, as were women who were underweight.

Women lighter than 110 pounds were about 8 percent more likely to be killed in a crash.

Air bags continue to evolve, and beginning in 2007 front airbags are required to take into account the size and weight of the seat occupant under new requirements by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

So far, studies of those devices have not found them to be any safer.

If you have been injured in a Massachusetts car accident, contact Boston Injury Attorney Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment to discuss your rights. Call 877-617-5333.

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