Driver was terrified by “exploding” car seat belts

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Driver was terrified by “exploding” car seat belts

16th September 2010

An Edinburgh woman has told of the terrifying moment when her car seat belts "exploded" as she was driving to work.

Jane Blackley said she had no idea what had happened when there was a loud bang inside her Peugeot 307cc as she made her way to Edinburgh from her partner Gordon's home in North Berwick on the morning of 26 February this year.

"It was before rush hour and I was setting off to go to work," said Miss Blackley, 44. "Thankfully I hadn't gone too far from Gordon's and I was only travelling at around 20 miles per hour because I was on a residential street," she said. "All of a sudden there was a really loud bang and it felt as if something had hit me hard in the chest.

"I instinctively braked and the car cut out and came to a dead stop," said Miss Blackley. "I was terrified. There was smoke in the car but I had absolutely no idea what had happened."

Miss Blackley, of Willowbrae, said she examined her car but could not see any visible damage or any reason why it would not restart. "I called the breakdown service and thankfully a mechanic came out to me," she said. "He had a look at the car and said that some kind of an electrical fault had activated the front seat belt pre-tensioners and the roll bars in the back of the car."

Pre-tensioners, which are mainly found in newer vehicles, are designed to pre-emptively tighten a seat belt in a collision to prevent the occupant from jerking forward. Like airbags, pre-tensioners are triggered by sensors in the car's body, and most use explosively expanding gas to drive a piston which retracts the belt. Likewise the car's 'roll-over hoops' are only supposed to activate if the car is involved in an accident and rolls over.

"I couldn't believe it," said Miss Blackley. "They just went off, with a very big, loud and smoky bang."

"There was no warning light, no alarm or anything, just an explosion. I'm lucky I was only driving along a quiet residential street," she said. "If I'd have been on a busy motorway when it happened, I dread to think what might have happened."

When Miss Blackley reported the incident to Peugeot, the car maker refused to repair the vehicle or pay the £3,300 repair costs, as her 04-reg vehicle was no longer covered by warranty. As she continued to suffer pain in her chest and ribs, Miss Blackley discussed the circumstances of the incident with Jerard Knott, a personal injury specialist with Fentons Solicitors LLP.

"Jane's story is terrifying, and the consequences of what could have happened if the car had malfunctioned in a busy main road are too chilling to contemplate," said Mr Knott. "While exploding seat belts sound like something out of a film, we have found that a number of other drivers have reported similar issues with their vehicles," he said.

"The UK Vehicle & Operator Services Agency is now looking into the exact cause of the problem with Jane's vehicle, and we believe there may be many other drivers out there who have suffered a similar problem," said Mr Knott. "Some will have escaped uninjured and may have just paid for the repairs, but others might have suffered similar injuries to Jane and gone uncompensated.

"As Jane launches her fight for compensation against Peugeot, we are keen to hear from any other driver who has experienced a similar ordeal," he said. "We are hoping anyone who might have been involved in an incident involving faulty pre-tensioners or electronic safety features - particularly drivers of the Peugeot 307cc - will come forward."

Can you help?
If you have suffered a similar problem to Jane Blackley, or if you have any information which you think could help, please contact Jerard Knott at Fentons Solicitors on 0161 684 6619 or e-mail jerard.knott@fentons.co.uk