If you weigh more than 170 pounds, your airplane seatbelt, and the seat you’re in, may not protect you during a crash. Why? Because airlines are designing safety equipment using federal weight standards from 60 years ago, when body sizes were much smaller, so they may not effectively protect bigger bodies.
Today, the average North American man weighs 194 pounds, and the average woman weighs 165, which means, a lot of passengers are well above the 170-pound design limit. Which drastically raises the risk of equipment failure, injury and death.
Dr. Robert Salazar is the principal scientist at the Center for Applied Biomechanics. And he says that it’s not just the heavyweight passenger who’s in danger, because if their seatbelt fails and launches them across the cabin - or their seatback collapses on the passengers behind them, everybody sitting near them is at risk.
And there’s another issue: Obese passengers often find seatbelts overly-tight and uncomfortable, so they’re less likely to wear them the entire time they’re seated, a safety precaution that’s highly recommended by the FAA, in order to protect passengers in case of unexpected turbulence.
So, what’s being done about it? The Federal Aviation Administration is considering testing airline seatbelts with obese crash-dummies, to make sure they’ll securely hold everyone from a 5-foot, 110-pound woman, to a 6-foot-2, 223 pound man. And since obesity is now considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s forcing airlines to make their seats and seatbelts stronger.