Chevy’s New Seat-Belt Lock Could Trigger Law Suits

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Chevy’s New Seat-Belt Lock Could Trigger Law Suits; Legal Duty of “Reasonable Care” Redefined by Teen Design 

WASHINGTON, D.C.  (May 22, 2019) –  Chevy’s new seat-belt interlock for teen drivers – part of its “Teen Driver” system which can also limit the vehicle’s top speed – could encourage law suits against other car manufactures which refuse to offer similar protections to parents and their inexperienced young drivers, predicts public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

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The law requires that manufactures take reasonable care to protect foreseeable users of its products, and Chevy's new design shows that seat-belt interlocks, top-speed limiters, and other similar safety measures are "reasonable" - not unreasonably expensive or complex - even for lower priced cars.

That's according to public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who teaches Torts (civil liability including negligence), and has been called "The Law Professor Who Masterminded Litigation Against the Tobacco Industry," and "a Driving Force Behind the Lawsuits That Have Cost Tobacco Companies Billions of Dollars."

Some cars such as Volvo and BMW tout their many safety features, but some of these features may be too expensive - not "reasonable" - for less expensive brands to offer, says Banzhaf.

However, Chevy has now shown that two safety features especially important for many teen drivers - who are disproportionately killed and injured in high speed crashes while not wearing seat belts - can be offered at very low cost, those providing very convincing proof that they are "reasonable" to include.

Banzhaf notes that virtually all modern cars already have on-board computers with built-in speed limiters, so at virtually no cost to parents of teen drivers, the top speed can easily be reset from the typical 130-140 mph (based upon the speed at which tires begin to fly apart) to more reasonable speeds such at 85 mph (or even lower in some situations).

Similarly, virtually all cars already detect when seat belts are not in use, so a simple computer re-programming can sound reminders or alarms to the driver, or even prevent the car from operating until the belts are properly fashioned.

While teen drivers make up only a fraction of all drivers on the road, they still constitute a significant percentage.  All manufactures have a duty to take reasonable care to protect all foreseeable users of their products, so it is certainly reasonably foreseeable that cars by any manufacturer will be driven at times by inexperienced teen drivers.

So, in the future, when teens are injured or killed in high speed crashes which could have been prevented by speed limiters, and the injuries substantially reduced by the use of seat belts, plaintiffs' attorneys are likely to consider adding automobile manufactures to the list of defendants, citing Chevy's program to show that the car's manufacturer did not take reasonable care to protect foreseeable users.

Faced with a needless teen death or a paralyzed young person in a wheelchair, jurors are likely to be very sympathetic to such cases, especially when a judge charges them that the negligence of the teen driver does not excuse the car maker of its own legal liability, says Banzhaf.

Once such law suits are brought, and especially once there is a large verdict, we are likely to see all car makers reprogram their on-board computers to provide similar protection, and for there to be a drastic decline in teen fatalities and serious injuries in high speed crashes, predicts Banzhaf.


Professor of Public Interest Law

George Washington University Law School,

FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,

Fellow, World Technology Network,

Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH),

2000 H Street, NW, Wash, DC 20052, USA

(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418  @profbanzhaf

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