Volvo's Three-Point Safety Belt Celebrates 50 Years of Saving Lives


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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[1] 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[2].

“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[3].

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."

Volvo's Three-Point Safety Belt

  • Volvo shared patent with all car manufacturers
  • Estimated to have saved over one million lives globally
  • Victoria the first state worldwide to legislate seat belt fitment and usage
  • 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 recognized 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 recognized as one of the eight patents to have the greatest significance for humanity during the hundred years from 1885 to 1985[2].

    “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 legalized the use of seat-belts for all drivers, although seat belt use in some areas is as low as 3.8 per cent[3].

    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 seat belts front and back.

    The future of the seat belt 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 motorized belt that tightens the belt and places the driver in the right position in potentially hazardous situations.

    Note to Editors
    [1] Estimate by Volvo based on general and in-house statistics on accidents and belt usage.

    [2] According to German patent registrars. This honor is shared with patent-holders such as Benz, Edison and Diesel

    [3] In the US today, only 83 percent of front-seat passengers use their seat belt even thought seat belt legislation is enforced in all states except for New Hampshire. On the island of Sakhalin in Russia, safety belt use is as low as 3.8 per cent, and only 23 per cent of Costa Rican and South Korean drivers used seat belts up until legislation enforcements in the mid 2000’s.

    Volvo Cars’ work to ensure the very highest occupant protection

    Based on a relatively simple but highly effective mechanical design, the three-point safety belt, Volvo Cars has developed a high-tech safety system that provides the best possible protection for the car’s occupants. The examples in the list below show the journey – so far – from that groundbreaking innovation in 1959 onward:

    1959

    Three -point safety belt in the front, a Volvo innovation

    1967

    Safety belts fitted as standard, rear

    1969

    Three -point inertia-reel safety belts, front

    1971

    Seat belt reminders, front

    1972

    Three -point safety belts, rear

    1986

    Three -point safety belts, rear middle seat

    1987

    Mechanical belt pre-tensioner

    1991

    Automatic height adjustment for safety belts, front

    1992

    Pyrotechnical belt pre-tensioners, front

    1993

    Three -point inertia-reel safety belts in all seats

    1996

    Force limiters in safety belts, front

    1999

    Pyrotechnical belt pre-tensioners in all seats

    1999

    Force limiters in hip belts, front

    2003

    Seat belt reminders in all seats

    2003

    Pyrotechnical belt pre-tensioners for hip belts, front

    2003

    Adaptive force limiters, front

    2007

    2-level force limiters for children and adults respectively, rear

    2008

    Adaptive force limiters for low-speed impacts (PRS), front

    Volvo Safety

    In 1927 Volvo’s founders Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson stated that: “Cars are driven by people. The guiding principle behind everything we make at Volvo therefore, is – and must remain – safety.”

    Volvo’s philosophy today is still very much focussed on safety but is also driven by other principles such as the environment, innovation, quality, design and in creating cars that are as exciting to look at as they are to experience.

    Every Volvo puts into practice over 80 years of 'know how' in developing safe vehicles. Volvo’s models have, over the years, been equipped with an ever growing list of safety solutions from crumple zones, safety cages, airbags and whiplash protection to systems for dynamic stability and driving control. In particular, Volvo has led the way in safety innovation, preventing accidents and injuries and continually pushing the boundaries. This is evident in its Mobility 2020 Vision, that no occupant of any of its vehicles will be seriously or fatally injured by the year 2020.

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