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How Effective Are Seat Belts and How Did They Come About?

When you are involved in a car accident, the seat belt is one of our strongest defenses against severe injury. The CDC says that usage of seat belts “is the most effective” approach to prevent the loss of life and decrease the chance of injuries in collisions. In fact, over half of fatal victims from the age of 13 to 44 were not using a seat belt during a car accident. The invention has been a standard for a long time and is proven to work, but how did we get them anyway?

Here’s a quick history lesson of how the seat belt in a car came to be.

The beginning of the seat belt started in the late 1800s, when an English engineer named George Cayley initially made the invention to keep a person who piloted his gliders safely in their seats. But, it was an American by the name of Edward J. Claghorn who made the very first patented seat belt in February 1885 with the intent of keeping passengers inside cabs in New York City safe. From then on, seat belts would gradually begin to appear in vehicles made by manufacturers to assist anyone inside a car to remain safe. Back then, driving safety was less of a worry.

Despite the fact that the seat belt was created in the 1800s, it wasn’t until around the middle of the 1930s that a group of American doctors started testing lap belts and noticed how effective they were, prompting manufacturers to include them in all automobiles. Then, this was taken a step further by the Sports Car Club of America who mandated the use of lap belts in competitive driving events in 1954. Then, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) established a Motor Vehicle Seat Belt Committee the next year. Seat belts were initially used by race car drivers to help prevent major internal injuries before the everyday commuter began to adopt them.

The three-point seatbelt, which was created by Swedish engineer Nils Bohlin in 1958, was the major innovation in contemporary seat belts. Before this, all automotive seat belts were just two-point lap belts that were buckled over the belly and strapped across the torso. This new three-point design was intended to aid in the stabilization of both a driver’s or passenger’s lower and upper body. What made it so great was that it was both simple and helped prevent injury well. After Volvo started using it,  other automobile manufacturers followed. In the half century since Bohlin introduced the new design, it’s said to have saved the lives of over 1 million people.

Seat belt sales soared once the safety advantages gained traction among the general public in the United States. They would be available as an option from car manufacturers and were even supplied at local gas stations.

It wasn’t until 1966 that the seat belt became mandatory in all American automobiles. First-world nations would follow suit in the mid 1970s, mandating the use of seat belts in automobiles. After the adoption of the seat belt became so widespread, laws would quickly become enacted that required anyone inside a vehicle to wear seat belts all the time. The first law was in 1970 in Victoria, Australia. The same laws were enacted in the United States around the time the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 was made.

After laws mandated car makers to add seat belts to all vehicles, passengers didn’t have to wear them, legally. Though the National Ad Council had an ad campaign running for over two decades, urging people to “buckle up”, it wasn’t until the 1990s that states began to pass laws that would fine drivers for not wearing them. Today, every state has enacted a seat belt legislation.

Where does the seat belt go from here? Well, in the early 2000s, Ford unveiled an inflatable safety belt, which included a shoulder belt with an airbag that would inflate instantly in the event of an accident. Other automakers are working to improve the comfort and convenience of seat belts for drivers.

Still, to this day, people are injured in car accidents, which unfortunately happen. A car accident lawyer can assist in navigating any claims a driver or passenger may have in an unfortunate situation such as this.

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