"Bah, seat belts. They kill because they hate."
Any vehicle that crashes, rolls or sustains any damage in a chase will have jammed seatbelts, trapping the occupants. Similarly, door locks and window cranks will jam (or motors will burn out for electrical versions), leaving a trapped person pounding helplessly at the suddenly-unbreakable glass until they die or are rescued.
This being Truth in Television
has lead to the creation of rescue hooks, devices that can both cut seatbelts and break windows without risking injury to the user's hands. Some, such as the HawkHook, take it further and add features such as wire strippers and bottle openers
Sadly enough, fear of this happening is a main reason (besides laziness and general apathy) why people don't buckle up when they drive (although this varies from country to country) leading to numerous unnecessary deaths
. Some units in the U.S. military have it as standard operating procedure not
to wear seatbelts in aquatic areas due to this.
Not only are you in general more likely to be saved by a seatbelt than killed by one that jams, even in the specific situation
where you need to get out in a hurry (e.g. due to falling off a bridge into water) and the second or so it takes to remove your seatbelt counts, it's still better to be wearing a seatbelt, because if you're not, you're more likely to be unconscious or dazed
. That said, a character dying or nearly dying due to a safety device is too deliciously ironic an idea for some writers to pass up (see Failsafe Failure
Not only a Trope Examined by the MythBusters
, but Top Gear
as well. (Richard panicked more than Adam, btw.)
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- Rogue gets caught in a burning truck this way at the beginning of X-Men. Wolverine, who was not wearing his, gets thrown a good twenty feet out through the windshield and is only saved from serious injury or death by his unbreakable bones and Healing Factor. In the second film she has trouble putting on her seatbelt in an airplane, and subsequently gets sucked out of it.
- Final Destination A car stalled on train tracks has one seatbelt jam, trapping the occupant until the very last minute. Possibly justified, since every death in the series is set up in a Rube Goldberg style relying on a series of coincidences.
- Happens to a character in Crash. The car is about to go up in flames, too.
- Happens to the character of Ray Embrey in Hancock, as his car is about to be hit by a train approaching the railroad crossing where he halted on the rails and is jammed in by other cars in front and back. Partially subverted when Ray Embrey at least can wind down the driver window in an attempt to escape. Played straight when his seatbelt jams and the doorhandle breaks off in his hand.
- No Mercy (1986). Richard Gere plays an undercover cop posing as a hitman, who's contracted to kill a Cajun gangster by a New Orleans businessman. As they're negotiating the deal the gangster turns up with his mooks. The cop dives out of the car but the businessman's seatbelt jams for no apparent reason, and he promptly gets blown up by a rifle grenade.
- Law Abiding Citizen. One of the protagonist is trapped inside her vehicle as the cars of her colleagues explode around her, waiting for her inevitable death. This is implied to be due to the same sabotage that blew up the other cars.
- Gravity. Mission Control warns that a cloud of debris is heading towards the space shuttle. The female protagonist is strapped to the shuttle's claw arm and has trouble freeing herself (being inexperienced in zero-G conditions) and is still attached when the debris cloud hits, severing the arm and sending her spinning off into space.
- In The Thieves, Pepsee is trapped in a sinking police van after she is accidentally handcuffed to the inside of the van.
- Goose in the first Mad Max film has this happen to him when the pickup he's driving crashes thanks to Johnny's throwing of a wheel through the windscreen. This is especially bad, considering what happens to him next.
- In Farscape Aeryn Sun drowned in a frozen lake because the seatbelt on her ejector seat jammed - ironically due to the same incident that forced her to eject in the first place.
- Supernatural: Any spirit, demon, etc. that traps a victim in a car will have the power to cause all the locks to jam shut.
- Happens twice in an episode of NCIS. A Navy lieutenant's seatbelt jams in an experimental robotic car as it suffocates her to death with exhaust. Later, the same thing happens to Abby, who manages to escape with Gibbs' help. Turns out the seatbelt jamming was intentional: a killer had programmed the car to jam the seatbelt and re-route exhaust through the air conditioning system.
- This raises the question of why the car was capable of locking down the seatbelt in the first place. There was no reason for it to be able to lock.
- and, more importantly, why it was able to REROUTE THE EXHAUST. Engine fumes and breathing air do NOT mix in a normal car. That'd be suicidally stupid.
- There was a background plot in an episode of The West Wing where some woman whose husband had died because he wasn't wearing a seatbelt was trying to sue the president for pointing out in a speech (as an example of a situation where the benefits outweigh the risks) that sometimes seatbelts jam, claiming that this was what had led her husband not to wear one. Sam spent the episode arguing that Bartlet should come out in favor of a national seatbelt law to counter the bad publicity. Bartlet wasn't having it.
"Today's cars are safer than they've ever been. They've all got airbags, they've all got seatbelts, and they're all crash-tested from here to Tuesday. All that's left is personal behavior and bad luck, and, I'm not responsible for either one. And Sam, if Mrs. Landingham was here right now, she'd say the exact same thing. You know what I'm saying?"
- In The Sopranos Sean Gismonte and Matthew Bevilaqua try to kill Christopher by shooting him from a car. When Christopher starts shooting back, Matthew exits the car and gets away, but Sean gets tangled up in his seatbelt. Unfortunately for him, this makes him a pretty easy target.
- Appears in Gottlieb's Rescue 911, where "Jaws of Life" requires rescuing a motorist trapped in his car.
- Lampshaded in The Curse of Monkey Island. After a catastrophic ship failure, Guybrush makes it to shore and discovers his friend Wally also survived the experience, stating that he's fortunate to have not been wearing his seatbelt, as it allowed him to be thrown clear. This actually references an event from when George Lucas was younger-he was in a car crash and his seatbelt failed, allowing him to be thrown clear from a crash that would have killed him had the alleged safety device held him in place.
- Black Mage in 8-Bit Theater at one point refuses to buckle up, only to be knocked about when their airship "The Deathtrap" crashed. The twist here is that Black Mage was right. He was thrown clear of the crash, a simple Feather Fall spell away from landing entirely unscathed (and he was, until a Giant landed on him), while the rest of the Light Warriors were trapped in the burning wreck, until one of Red Mage's plans actually worked to free them.
- Inversion: In the Futurama episode "Roswell That Ends Well", Bender refused to buckle himself into the space-ship's seat because "those things cost more lives than they save." Mere seconds later, the ship crashes, sending only Bender flying.
- Lampshaded in an episode of The Simpsons:
Lisa: "Doesn't this car have seatbelts?"
Homer: "Seatbelts, pff! They kill more people than they save!"
Lisa: "That's not true; you're thinking of airbags!"
- The Venture Bros. has a slightly different version where the person was just unable to get out of a car he was hiding in (which later exploded), and the other person inside even asked why he buckeled up in a non-moving car.
- In King of the Hill "Hank Gets Dusted", Dusty Hill gets his beard trapped in his seatbelt during a crash up derby which his car is in flames and other cars are about to hit him. Hank has to rescue him by cutting his trademark beard.
- Truth in Television: The Ford Pinto, aka "the barbecue that seats four", had poorly reinforced doors, meaning they could jam in an accident.
- America's Dumbest Criminals records a few times when car thieves, chased by the police, were unable to get out of the car because they hadn't figured out how to open that car's seatbelt.
- A 999 episode showed a couple who had gone on Safari and had their car engine catch on fire. They had locked the car doors in protect themselves from the animals, but in trying to escape, they found the electric locks wouldn't open. After trying conventional means to unlock the door and failing, the husband desperately started belting the steering column with both his hands. Crazily, one belt actually opened the locks and the couple were able to escape. A real life version of Percussive Maintenance.
- In the first season of Ice Road Truckers it's specifically noted that when driving big rigs over frozen lakes and rivers, drivers remove their seatbelts to bail more quickly. With a 15-20 MPH speed limit, injuries due to impacts aren't really a concern anyway.
- Apparently, in some plane crashes, some people die because they forget that plane seatbelts work differently from car seatbelts (and can't see to open them due to darkness or smoke), and consequently can't get out before the plane explodes. That's why you're told how to work a seatbelt in the safety briefing on every flight.
- Power seatbelts, an option available on some cars in the early 1990s. An electrical failure would render the seatbelts inoperable. As a result, all cars so equipped would also feature a manual emergency release. Most people pressed the emergency release button once and never used the seatbelt again, changing a feature designed to increase seatbelt usage into a device that reduced it.
- Many modern seatbelts have brakes on the winding mechanism (intended to prevent whiplash) that can come on at inconvenient moments, preventing you from reaching things and occasionally causing the belt to dig into your neck.