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US teen snaps spine due to incorrect seatbelt position

View profile for Pauline Smith
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I read in the media this week the story of 13 year old Matthew Parks of Louisiana, who suffered a "Chance fracture" to his spine when his family's vehicle was involved in an accident, and ended up in a ditch in August this year.  Matthew was wearing a seatbelt, but instead of having the crossover shoulder strap in the correct position, he had tucked this under his arm, as it felt more comfortable. The impact of the collision caused Matthew's upper body to jerk forward, snapping his spine and leaving him on the brink of being paralysed. This type of traumatic spine fracture is named after the British Radiologist G. Q. Chance who first identified this type of lumbar fracture in 1948. As a result of the fracture, Matthew's liver, spleen, kidneys and pancreas were also badly damaged. After 3 days of intensive medical treatments to restore function to his internal organs, Matthew underwent surgery to insert a rod and metal screws into his back to stabilise the spine.

Matthew is making a remarkable recovery, and has learned to walk again, but has to wear a body brace and is still undergoing regular physiotherapy. His mother is trying to raise public awareness of the dangers of not wearing seatbelts but also of being sure that, when worn, they are secured in the correct position.

It is 30 years ago this year since Britain brought legislation into force requiring all drivers to wear seatbelts. The law was extended further in 1991 making it a legal requirement for passengers to also belt up. Statistics show that you are twice as likely to die in a car crash if not wearing a seatbelt, and also that the highest ratio of people who failed to adopt the "clunk click every trip" philosophy are drivers aged 17 - 34. Incidentally this age group also has the highest accident rate.

It simply doesn't make sense not to use a seatbelt correctly, even for short, and familiar journeys. Someone not wearing a seatbelt is breaking the law, and drivers are subject to on the spot fines, if caught. The Government website, provides helpful information and you can also view a reconstructed accident which shows the effects of a crash on a victim, both wearing and not wearing a seatbelt.

So remember - belt up (correctly!) - it could save your life.

By Pauline Smith, personal injury team