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Jammed Seatbelts

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"Bah, seat belts. They kill because they hate."
Black Mage, 8-Bit Theater

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.

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.

For those not in the military though, 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, dazed, or at worst, be killed in an accident. For those still concerned about being trapped, mounting an escape tool (which combines an easy to use seat belt cutter with a hammer designed to easily shatter tempered glass car windows) in the car and wearing the belt is a much safer idea. 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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    Comic Books 
  • In Factoid Books' "Big Book of Urban Legends" they take a look at this belief, with a Framing Device of a hitchhiker telling a driver that he never wears a seatbelt, since he's heard so many stories about people being trapped and burning up in crashes. Shortly afterwards, the car crashes and the hitchhiker flies through the windshield and off a cliff. The driver smugly thinks that that'll teach him to not wear a seatbelt. Then the car explodes.
  • Daredevil: In Born Again, the Kingpin tries to kill Matt Murdock this way, justified in that the buckle is chemically treated to be unopenable.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Happens to a character in Crash. The car is about to go up in flames, too.
  • 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.
    • Also happens to Evan in Kimberly's premonition in Final Destination 2. Even worse: his car has already burst into flames and she can only watch as he screams and struggles.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Subverted in Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Ethan Hunt gets one after crashing his helicopter on a mountainside, leading to an Oh, Crap! when he sees the other crashed helicopter (which he had just rammed with his own) rolling down the mountain towards him. As the impact knocks his own helicopter down a crevasse, the seatbelt comes in handy.
  • 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.
  • Rush depicts the Real Life crash of Niki Lauda at the Nürburgring track. The five-point seatbelt is focused on before the race begins, and in the crash, Lauda struggles with it while burning alive. The other drivers who come to rescue him manage to pop the catch.
  • In The Thieves, Pepsee is trapped in a sinking police van after she is accidentally handcuffed to the inside of the van.
  • Rogue gets caught in a burning truck this way at the beginning of X-Men, and has to be rescued by Cyclops, who breaks the buckle open with an Eye Beam. 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 Rogue has trouble putting on her seatbelt in an airplane, and subsequently gets sucked out of it.
  • Thunderball. After landing a plane in the water, minor villain Angelo Palazzi realises that he is stuck while the plane sinks. Since he planned to land in the water he has an air supply, so he isn't to disturbed. When main villain Largo arrives Palazzi signals Largo that he is stuck. Largo pulls a knife, and cuts Palazzi's air supply, leaving him to drown.
  • Wonder Woman (2017). This is why Diana has to save the life of Steve Trevor after he crashes into the sea off Themyscira. The biplane breaks up around him, but Steve's legs are trapped by the steering column, and he's drowning when Diana dives into the water and effortlessly pulls the column free.

    Live-Action TV 
  • CSI: In "Bloodsport", one Victim of the Week is a woman who is Trapped in a Sinking Car by a jammed seatbelt, and who drowns after she accidentally shoots a man who is attempting to rescue her.
  • Farscape. In "Die Me, Dichotomy", Aeryn Sun drowns because the seatbelt on her ejector seat jammed—ironically due to the same incident that forced her to eject in the first place.
  • 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. That and there typically isn't anything to hit on a frozen lake.
    • On particularly treacherous looking ones, the drivers may even open their doors.
  • 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 Fridge Logic 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.
  • In The Sopranos episode "Full Leather Jacket", 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.
  • Supernatural: Any spirit, demon, etc. that traps a victim in a car will have the power to cause all the locks to jam shut.
  • Vera: In "Silent Voices", Joe has to dive into a reservoir to save a woman Trapped in a Sinking Car. It takes several attempts for the two of them to get the seatbelt open.
  • 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?"

  • The Chuck Berry song "No Particular Place To Go":
    Can you imagine the way I felt
    When I couldn't unfasten my safety belt

  • 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.
  • In the Hidden Object Game Nightmare Realm from Big Fish Games, a toddler is trapped in her car safety-seat by a jammed strap. Luckily the seat itself did its job, and the little girl was unharmed by the accident that got her stuck.

  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • In All Hail King Julien Julien's plan to pilot a robot about to self destruct over a cliff and jump out just before he does is hampered by a seat belt.
    Julien: Timo! What is this thing around my waist?
    Timo: It's a safety belt, your majesty!
    Julien: News flash, I don't feel very safe right now because I'm strapped to an exploding dinosaur!!
  • 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.
  • In King of the Hill episode "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.
  • 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 Brothers 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 buckled up in a non-moving car.

    Real Life 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • People who still refuse to wear seat belts often cite the possibility of being trapped in a car after an accident as a reason.
  • Per the trope description, first responder kits frequently include sturdy shears explicitly to cut jammed belts when extracting people from vehicles.