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Federal regulators are often slow to mandate safety equipment

The vast majority of car accidents in Oklahoma and around the country involve some sort of human error, but features that could prevent them, such as forward collision warning and automatic braking systems, are not standard equipment on most cars sold in the United States. While carmakers have vowed to make automatic emergency brakes standard on all of their vehicles by 2022, it is not because federal regulators have asked them to do so. According to road safety advocates, the government is often slow to act when potentially life-saving safety equipment becomes available.

A Consumer Reports journalist used the example of seat belts to make this point recently. He pointed out that seat belts were first developed in the 1950s, but it took government regulators more than 10 years to require vehicle manufacturers to fit them as standard equipment. Experts believe that seat belts have saved the lives of more than 300,000 road users since 1960.

Since their initial introduction, seat belts have evolved into sophisticated safety devices. Pretensioners tighten seat belts during emergencies to restrict movement, and load limiters release some of this tension to prevent seat belt-related injuries. The benefits of seat belt pretensioners and load limiters are well-established, but not all carmakers offer them. Those that do often use them to protect drivers and front-seat passengers only.

Oklahoma residents who are injured in car accidents caused by reckless drivers may pursue civil remedies, but the damages they are awarded could be reduced under the state’s comparative negligence law if they were not wearing a seat belt at the time. Experienced personal injury attorneys may study police accident reports to determine whether or not comparative negligence claims are likely, and they could consult with trauma specialists to determine what role a seat belt could have played.