Seat Belts - History of Seat Belts

Seat Belts

Although a standard in today's vehicles, seat belts are a relatively new invention. First designed by Edward Calghor in the mid 1800s, seat belts were only for the occasional use by people, like painters or firemen, who needed to be raised or lowered from a high location. Because of the specific nature of these safety belts, it took another sixty years before the design was improved for use in transportation.

In 1911, pilot Benjamin Foulois desired a device for his aircraft that would hold him firmly in his seat. He enlisted a local saddle shop to design a seat belt for him. It was a huge hit, but took almost twenty years before seat belts were common in United States aircraft. By World War II, however, every U.S. military plane was equipped with a seatbelt.

It wasn't until the early 50s before the idea of seatbelts in automobiles was proposed. Dr. C. Hunter Shelden, a neurologist by trade, was growing weary of the increasing number of head injuries presenting in the emergency room after automobile accidents. He wrote an article in the November 1955 edition of the Journal of American Medical Association introducing a model for retractable seat belts, and proposed the idea of roll bars, door locks, and airbags to help prevent injury from accidents. During the same year, the automobile industry leader Ford began offering seatbelts as an option to car buyers.

In 1955, Roger Griswold and Hugh DeHaven patented the modern three-point seatbelt design familiar today. Following the invention, the Swedish car manufacturing company Volvo employed Nils Bohlin to research the design further. He studied around 28,000 car accidents and eventually patented a more advanced version of the three-point system, which is still used today. In a stunning grand gesture, Volvo made the seatbelt design freely available to anyone in the world.

By 1959, congress began regulating automobile safety standards, and by 1968 required all new American automobiles to be built with seatbelts. In 1970, Victoria, Australia became the first place in the world to require the wearing of the seatbelts in a moving vehicle. Although once rare, seat belts have evolved to become a necessity for safe transportation. The national highway traffic safety administration predicts that seat belts save over 11,000 lives in the United States each year. As more advanced automobiles are created, seat belts will remain a staple, providing security, safety, and control for the countless drivers and passengers riding in one of the many transportation methods of the day.

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