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Deanie Wimmer reportingSeat belts save lives -- that's the message of many public safety campaigns. But a Utah couple has a seat belt warning because their daughter was almost strangled by one.
Manufacturers have improved seat belt technology so that automatic retractors will restrain a child or car seat. But if a child gets tangled in the seat belt, it can suck them in until there's no more slack.
Nine-year-old Abby Cooley said, "All of a sudden it started getting tighter and tighter." She was playing around with her seat belt while the family was parked curbside at the airport. She wrapped it around her neck, and it started retracting. "I was kind of scared, wondering what would happen," she said.
Abby's twin sister, Grace, says, "I just opened the door and screamed, ‘Mom, Dad, Abby's choking.'"
Their mother, Rebecca, said, "There was the seat belt wrapped around her neck, and her face was purple."
They frantically tried to release the belt but discovered the anchor strap in their car had no release button.
"The skycap came and sliced the seat belt just as she was starting to go unconscious," Rebecca said.
Vern, Abby's father, said, "It's not a very fun thing to have to do CPR to your own child, but we put her on curbside and started to check her pulse, and she wasn't breathing at that point."
She came to and recovered fine. Relief turned to concern, though, when they started hearing friends and neighbors with similar scares. In one case, a seat belt was constricting so tightly across a boy's waist, the release button wouldn't work. A case in Virginia proved fatal.
Janet Brooks, with Primary Children's Medical Center, said, "Unfortunately, devices that are life-saving devices can also be life-threatening devices."
Safety advocates stress these cases are rare and shouldn't discourage parents from using seat belts.
The Cooley family is appealing to Toyota to change the design for this seat belt, which they liken to a hangman's noose. They're also urging every family, no matter what kind of car they drive, to add one thing to the glove box.
"Everyone should have something sharp in their car that could cut a seat belt, because really, any seat belt this could happen on," Rebecca said.
A spokesperson for the Highway Safety Office says to Stay Safe, you should read your owner's manual and, because this risk does exist, if you're not using a seat belt, if a car seat is there, or you don't need it, buckle it and put it out of reach.