HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. -- Everyone knows seat belts save lives.
But a Highlands Ranch mother and her daughter recently learned that same belt, used incorrectly, could put a child's life in danger.
Last week, Mary Eppolito and her 9-year-old daughter Briana pulled into a parking lot, and Briana tried to climb out of her seatbelt, putting the lapbelt over her legs before unbuckling. She found her chest and neck trapped.
"I opened the passenger rear door," said Eppolito, who said the seatbelt was in locking mode, tightening around Bri's chest and neck with every move. "The lap strap had moved up in front of her, so she was kind of in a noose-type situation with the seatbelt. It was enclosed around her, and I could not undo it."
Seatbelt entanglements are a serious danger for children, according to Amber Rollins with KidsAndCars, a nonprofit dedicated to keeping children safe in and around cars. Rollins says at least 11 children have been strangled to death by a seatbelt in a vehicle since 1990, and many more have been injured.
"This is one of those dangers most people would never think about," said Rollins. "It's one of those many reasons why children should never be left alone unattended inside a vehicle."
Fortunately, for 20 years, Eppolito has carried an emergency tool in her car for breaking windows and cutting seatbelts.
"This edge of the tool has a blade in it," she said. "I really don't know what I would have done, to be honest with you, I'm just very thankful that the tool was with me. Every parent should have one."
Now, she wants to alert others, and she is buying similar tools for all her family members.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warns: "Seat belt entanglement can happen in the blink of an eye. Never leave your children alone in or around a vehicle for any reason."
Here are more safety tips from the NHTSA:
- Do not let children play in or around cars.
- Always ensure children are properly restrained.
- Teach children that seat belts are not toys.
- Be aware that some seat belts have a retractor that locks if pulled all the way out.
- If a child has an unused seat belt within reach, buckle unused seat belts. Pull the seat belt out all the way to the end without yanking. Then, feed the excess webbing back into the retractor.