CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Researchers at the University of Virginia say current seat belts are not made to protect nearly 110 million Americans. That's a third of the nation's population, and that's how many people are considered obese.

Researchers tell NBC29’s Madison Carter that, according to field data, obese people have a significantly higher risk of injury and fatality in a car accident.

UVA Center for Applied Biomechanics says seat belts are supposed to catch us when the sensors detect an impact. But the belt has limits.

Belts currently are designed to limit injury for people with an “average” weight and height. That's somewhere around 5'9" and 170 lbs. with minimal belly fat.

“The thick, abdominal, fatty tissue prevents the seat belt from engaging with the bony structure of the pelvis. So the force applied from the seat belt to the body causes a change to the shape of the belly first then captures the body with a delay,” said mechanical engineer Hamed Joodaki.

The updated technology would change seat belts so the feature that detects an impact, their detection sense holding a larger mass. Then, it would adjust the amount of force applied to the body if it needs to be restrained in an accident.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is sponsoring this research. When it's complete - in about a year - the results will be published, and hopefully distributed to car manufacturers to help develop a safer seat belt technology.