Forget ELTs, Got Seatbelts?

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I don’t know if you bothered to click on the video linkfor yesterday’s coverage of NASA’s crash work on ELT performance. It’s worth watching. But the part I’m most interested in occurs at 1:47. I’ve taken the liberty of re-editing the video and placing it in a viewer here.

Note how ineffective the single shoulder harness of the copilot crash dummy is. He basically slips out of the restraint laterally and careens well forward into what little flail space the 172 has. And just guessing, but I suspect that harness was properly snugged up and the lap belt was low, just as we are all supposed to do but often don’t.I don’t think that would have been a head injury on the glareshield, but it was close. It certainly could have been a neck injury. And as GA impacts go, that wasn’t especially energetic. The accident record is replete with crashes worse than this. Hell, my good landings don’t look much better.

The point is, the footage is about as good an argument for aftermarket dual shoulder harnesses as I can imagine. There are a number of these on the market and the STC and approvals exist to install them in about any type of aircraft. We have them in our Cub. When one of the partners told me he doesn’t use them because he can’t reach the carb heat knob, I allowed as how that’s like not wearing a motorcycle helmet because it’s too hot. I made a little stick for reaching the knob and now I always wear the harnesses.

I have tried to develop some accident data on the frequency of injuries or fatals cause by either lack of belt use or ineffective belts. It’s a murky area; the NTSB summaries aren’t always clear on this. But one thing I have noticed is that there are more incidents of belts failing, very likely because they’re original equipment and owners just don’t want to spend the money to replace them because they don’t look that bad. That’s understandable, but it’s also irrational. Next to that thing between your ears, good seatbelts may be the single most important piece of safety gear in the airplane.

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