What Is the ‘Submarine Effect’ in a Car Accident?

two kids laughing in their car seats

Some of the most severe car accident injuries are caused by the so-called “submarine effect.”

Seat belt submarining injuries occur when the force of a collision causes a driver or passenger to slide out from under the lap belt. When this happens, the unrestrained occupant could be thrown about the vehicle’s cabin or could be ejected from the car entirely.

In either case, the victim could suffer severe and potentially fatal injuries. Striking the dashboard, windshield, windows, doors, or other hard surfaces in the vehicle can result in catastrophic injury. Being flung from the vehicle and onto the road could also result in life-threatening injuries.

The seat belt submarine effect occurs when a vehicle suddenly loses momentum. It can also happen if the lower seat cushion in the car isn’t designed correctly, though this has become less common since carmakers have improved their designs in recent years.

To minimize the chance of a seat belt submarine injury, be sure to take the following precautions before driving:

  • Make sure your lap belt fits properly. It should sit low and tight across your lap, with no space between your body and the belt itself.
  • Check to see that your seat cushion is secure and won’t come loose in the event of a crash.
  • If you have small children in the vehicle who are too short to wear a seat belt properly, put them in a booster seat to keep them safe. Submarining is more common among young children.

Consequences of Seat Belt Submarining

Seat belts keep you upright and relatively immobile in a collision, preventing you from hitting your head or other parts of your body against the vehicle’s interior. They also prevent you from being ejected from your seat, which often leads to more severe injuries. As discussed below, the consequences of submarining can be devastating.

Injuries Linked to Seat Belt Submarining

Some of the most common injuries that occur in seat belt submarine accidents include:

  • Severe bleeding
  • Bone fractures
  • Strangulation due to choking on the lap belt
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Injuries to the lower limbs

In the worst-case scenario, the occupants may suffer fatal injuries in a seat belt submarine incident.

Car Accident Injuries and How Our Lawyers Can Help

If you’ve been injured in a car crash, contact the Alabama traffic accident attorneys at Morris, King & Hodge, P.C., right away. We’ll be ready to discuss your accident during a free case evaluation. We can be reached at any one of our three conveniently located Alabama offices, or you can fill out a contact form.

Harvey B. Morris is a lifelong Alabamian who has been practicing law in Huntsville since getting his law degree and passing the state bar in 1966.