Where do seatbelts come from?
The trusty three-point seatbelt has been a crucial part of vehicle manufacturing.
A Swedish chap by the name of Nils Bohlin wondered how he could make a long-lasting difference in the automotive world. So he then stopped wondering and got cracking, which brought us the V-type three-point safety belt in 1959. Fast forward a good few years and every production car out there by law, has to have them installed and will probably be this way for the future, well, for now at least. So, he did make a difference in the automotive world as it turns out. Well done Mr Bohlin.
2019 marked the 60th anniversary of Bohlin's finding and one well worth celebrating, of course. The Swedish car manufacturer decided to put the occupant first, which at the time was not a priority for many carmakers.
The Volvo president at the time was Gunnar Engellau who was an engineer himself and sadly, suffered a personal loss where a relative had passed away. Partly as a result of the two-point belt design; which was not even, by law - required. This loss hit home and fueled Engellau to approach Nils and get him away from SAAB, who at the time was a rival manufacturer. They would collectively work on a better solution to improve road safety as we know it today.
It was time to get to thinking
The two major issues were clear with the 2-point belt. Firstly, the upper body wasn't secure leaving them susceptible to much more severe head, chest and even spinal injuries and not to mention crushing internal organs. The second issue was that they weren't very comfortable so in turn, resulted in no one wanting to wear them. Which rendered them useless in the end.
Thanks to Bohlin, these were made much more comfortable and bearable let alone easier to use. Even with this brand new invention and innovative solution, it took six years to get a minority of Swedes to wear them.
Now an operation like this requires immense amounts of money, development and marketing. Volvo had gone through great lengths to state facts why the seatbelt is effective and why it should be worn. Unfortunately, this won't be enough and Volvo knew this. Something traumatic and emotional would have to happen that would spark people to wear them, this they also knew.
Although seatbelt usage did increase, it wasn't a significant amount in 1965, however, in 1975 it was an amount of 90% of users and in 10 years. That's not bad. This reminds us that it takes just one person to go above and beyond to provide something mindful to society and profound.
Unsplash.com | Maxim Hopman
So how would they get it capitalised?
Well, they decided to patent these designs; to protect any pesky-stealing corrupt businessmen from taking their ideas. So, Volvo being in this position they had a choice - they could charge a large sum of money or make sure their cars are the safest out there by retaining exclusivity.
Amazingly, they did neither of those. Instead what they did was made the patent available to all. They gifted the designs to competitors and achieve the goal they set out - to save lives.
How they succeeded.
The 3-point safety belt has saved 374,196 lives from 1975 through 2017. Further stats on this is not available as yet. This makes the safety belt as we know it today one of the most important inventions in the history of the automobile.
Today, it's law pretty much everywhere around the globe to wear a safety belt. A scientific study by Bohlin, published in 1967, he had covered 28 000 traffic accidents in which he deduced that people who weren't wearing their safety belts sustained fatal injuries. Remarkably, of the 37 511 people involved in those accidents, no one wearing a 3-point safety belt had died, unless travelling at high speeds of course.
Consider the insurance savings. Billions since 1959 to the millions of circumvent deaths and injuries. By 1978, Engellau had grown Volvo to a record $1B. They were peaking too with over 40 Million vehicles produced in the year. This could have, of course, made or broke the company. For them though, safety outweighed potential profits by a long mile.
It's always an uphill battle
In 1950, American Magazine referred to "The death seat" whereby road fatalities for front passengers and drivers was a crisis. Not so much rear passengers as they had the seats to stop them. So it was since this headline showcased that Volvo's solution sprung to life. Now of course at the time of this article, seat belts weren't a thing yet so they would have had to wait a bit trying to do anything about it.
1996 marked 37-years of the invention and yet 32% of U.S citizens were still refusing. People can be opposed to change even with the best intentions in mind. Famously Princess Diana of Wales was not wearing a seat belt during her fatal cash in 1997. Experts believe, if she had worn it, would have saved her life. Interesting fact; she always wore her seat belt, however, on this occasion she decided not to. Why that is, we'll never know. The one occupant that survived had worn his seat belt.
The night of the fatal accident which involved Princess Diana
New York made it mandatory to wear a seat belt in 1984. First among 50 states. Of course, devil's advocate was at play with the argument being "seat belts would have an adverse effect on fatalities, by encouraging careless driving." This, however, was disproved.
Bohlin went on to lead new projects at Volvo which also included the design of "SIPS" (Side Impact Protection System) This of course pressured competitors to be innovative and invent some bits of their own. Eventually, seatbelts became not only legal but the norm; an innovation we all should be thankful for. We should be sure to remember Bohlin and Volvo's goodwill. If it weren't for them, we might not be where we are today in the automotive world.
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