Volvo's Three-Point Safety Belt Celebrates 50 Years of Saving Lives
NORTH RYDE, AUSTRALIA – August 11, 2009: Thursday 13 August marks the 50th anniversary of the life-saving V-shaped three-point seat belt, invented by Volvo Engineer Nils Bohlin in 1959, and Volvo’s visionary open patent which granted free use of the design to all other car manufacturers.
The design is as obvious as it is intelligent. Easily fastened with one hand, it secures the seat’s occupant in place with a belt across the chest and another across the hips - a vast improvement on the previous two-point waist restraint.
Today, the simple ‘click-clack front-and-back’ has been recognised worldwide as the most widely used and significant safety innovation in the automobile's more than 120 year long history. It is estimated that more than a million people owe their lives to the seat belt, and it has saved many times that number of people from serious injury. It is also recognised as one of the eight patents to have the greatest significance for humanity during the hundred years from 1885 to 1985.
“The decision to release the three point seat belt patent was visionary and in line with Volvo’s guiding principle of safety,” says Alan Desselss, managing director of Volvo Car Australia. "It's why we like to say there's a little bit of Volvo in every car."
Research indicates that vehicle occupants have a 50 per cent better chance of surviving a crash, if they are wearing a seat belt, reducing the risk of fatalities and serious injuries from collisions. Most countries have now legalised the use of seatbelts for all drivers, although seat belt use in some areas is as low as 3.8 per cent.
The real breakthrough in legislation actually came from Victoria, which was the first state worldwide to draw up legislation in 1970 requiring not just the fitting of seat belts, but also their actual use. In the first year of law, traffic fatalities in the state dropped by 18 per cent. New South Wales followed with similar legislation a year later and today, everyone but taxi drivers are legally required across Australia to wear seatbelts front and back.
“The seat belt was the first really effective step in tackling car safety," says Robert McDonald, Head of the NRMA Insurance Research Centre. "The compulsory adoption by Australia in the 1970s and subsequent high usage rate has saved thousands of lives on our roads."
The future of the seatbelt is constantly evolving. Volvo is exploring ways to improve their design and make the process of wearing a seat belt easier and even safer. A four point attachment is under discussion as is a motorised belt that tightens the belt and places the driver in the right position in potentially hazardous situations.