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Researchers Find Seat Belts Pose Safety Hazard For Older Drivers

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Seat belts are meant to protect us in car crashes, but for some drivers, they can be harmful.

Drivers aged 85 and older are nine times more likely per mile driven to be hurt in a crash.

Chest injuries are most common and they're linked to the seat belt.

"I remember sitting there and my body was flipping back and forth," said Pam Sohn.

Sohn ended up in a neck brace after a Jeep backed into her car.

Her seatbelt kept her in the seat, but researchers believe it may have contributed to her concussion and back injuries.

"I probably would've went through the window or something the way I was moving around had I not had it on, yeah," Sohn said. "But it didn't do what I thought it would."

The seat belt Sohn and the rest of us use wasn't designed for the 60-year-old's 5'4" frame.

Professor John Bolte, who works at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, would like to see that change.

"If a car can drive today without a person controlling it, why can't we have a safety system that can better respond to saving someone?" Bolte said.

Bolte is using crash tests to study the amount of force needed protect those with more fragile frames, like smaller and older drivers.

The goal is to have seat belts that one day automatically adjust to person they're protecting.

"It's going to take a lot more force to stop me from going into the steering wheel than it would a grandfather or grandmother," Bolte said. "So that force against my thorax is not going to cause a rib fracture in me, potentially, but it is perhaps too much force for someone that is a little older."

Crash tests show how seat belts save lives – with nearly 14,000 people saved in 2015.

But when it comes to older drivers in particular, seat belts are also blamed for a higher rate of potentially serious – even deadly – chest injuries as older drivers tend to be more easily injured in a crash.

Researchers say everyone should wear their seatbelt regardless of age or size.

The seat belt should rest on your shoulder, as the area is much strong than your ribs and gives 10 to 12 inches between you and the air bag.

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