Embrace Life

On this Day:

In 1983, in an effort to reduce driving deaths, a new law in the UK required drivers and front-seat passengers to wear seatbelts. However, it has not been a ‘click and forget it’ path forward for seat belt proponents.

Seatbelts were invented by English engineer George Cayley to use on his glider, in the mid-19th century.

In 1946, Dr. C. Hunter Shelden opened a neurological practice at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, California. In the early 1950s, Shelden made a major contribution to the automotive industry with his idea of retractable seat belts. This came about from his care of the high number of head injuries coming through the emergency room. He investigated the early seat belts whose primitive designs were implicated in these injuries and deaths.

Nash was the first American car manufacturer to offer seat belts as a factory option in its 1949 models. They were installed in 40,000 cars, but buyers did not want them and requested dealers to remove them. The feature was “met with insurmountable sales resistance” and Nash reported that after one year “only 1,000 had been used” by customers.

Ford offered seat belts as an option in 1955. These were not popular, with only 2% of Ford buyers choosing to pay for seatbelts in 1956.

To reduce the high level of injuries Shelden was seeing, he proposed, in late 1955, retractable seat belts, recessed steering wheels, reinforced roofs, roll bars, automatic door locks, and passive restraints such as the air bag. Subsequently, in 1966, Congress passed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act requiring all automobiles to comply with certain safety standards.

Glenn W. Sheren, of Mason, Michigan, submitted a patent application on March 31, 1955, for an automotive seat belt and was awarded US Patent 2,855,215 in 1958. This was a continuation of an earlier patent application that Sheren had filed on September 22, 1952.

However, the first modern three-point seat belt (the so-called CIR-Griswold restraint) used in most consumer vehicles today was patented in 1955 U.S. Patent 2,710,649 by the Americans Roger W. Griswold and Hugh DeHaven.

Saab introduced seat belts as standard equipment in 1958. After the Saab GT 750 was introduced at the New York Motor Show in 1958 with safety belts fitted as standard, the practice became commonplace.

Vattenfall, the Swedish national electric utility, did a study of all fatal, on-the-job accidents among their employees. The study revealed that the majority of fatalities occurred while the employees were on the road on company business. In response, two Vattenfall safety engineers, Bengt Odelgard and Per-Olof Weman, started to develop a seat belt. Their work was presented to Swedish manufacturer Volvo in the late 1950s, and set the standard for seat belts in Swedish cars. The three-point seatbelt was developed to its modern form by Swedish inventor Nils Bohlin for Volvo—who introduced it in 1959 as standard equipment. In addition to designing an effective three-point belt, Bohlin demonstrated its effectiveness in a study of 28,000 accidents in Sweden. Unbelted occupants sustained fatal injuries throughout the whole speed scale, whereas none of the belted occupants were fatally injured at accident speeds below 60 mph. No belted occupant was fatally injured if the passenger compartment remained intact. Bohlin was granted U.S. Patent 3,043,625 for the device.

The first compulsory seat belt law was put in place in 1970, in the state of Victoria, Australia, requiring their use by drivers and front-seat passengers. This legislation was enacted after trialing Hemco seatbelts, designed by Desmond Hemphill (1926–2001), in the front seats of police vehicles, lowering the incidence of officer injury and death. Mandatory seatbelt laws in the United States began to be introduced in the 1980s and faced opposition, with some consumers going to court to challenge the laws. Some cut seatbelts out of their cars.

Observational studies of car crash morbidity and mortality, experiments using both crash test dummies and human cadavers indicate that wearing seat belts greatly reduces the risk of death and injury in the majority of car crashes.

This has led many countries to adopt mandatory seat belt wearing laws. It is generally accepted that, in comparing like-for-like accidents, a vehicle occupant not wearing a properly fitted seat belt has a significantly and substantially higher chance of death and serious injury. One large observation studying using US data showed that the odds ratio of crash death is 0.46 with a three-point belt when compared with no belt. In another study that examined injuries presenting to the ER pre- and post-seat belt law introduction, it was found that 40% more escaped injury and 35% more escaped mild and moderate injuries.

The effects of seat belt laws are disputed by those who observe that their passage did not reduce road fatalities. There was also concern that instead of legislating for a general protection standard for vehicle occupants, laws that required a particular technical approach would rapidly become dated as motor manufacturers would tool up for a particular standard that could not easily be changed. For example, in 1969 there were competing designs for lap and three-point seat belts, rapidly tilting seats, and airbags being developed. As countries started to mandate seat belt restraints the global auto industry invested in the tooling and standardized exclusively on seat belts, and ignored other restraint designs such as airbags for several decades.

As of 2016, seat belt laws can be divided into two categories: primary and secondary. A primary seat belt law allows an officer to issue a citation for lack of seatbelt use without any other citation, whereas a secondary seat belt law allows an officer to issue a seat belt citation only in the presence of a different violation. In the United States, fifteen states enforce secondary laws, while 34 states, as well as the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, enforce primary seat belt laws. New Hampshire lacks both a primary and secondary seat belt law (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

A boy and a girl met at a seatbelt convention.

Somehow they just clicked…

Second, a Song:

Here is “Embrace Life – always wear your seat belt” – a video by Sarah Alexander/Daniel Cox/Sussex Safer Roads Partnership courtesy of SurreySaferRoads and YouTube.com. I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“A lot of the people who keep a gun at home for safety are the same ones who refuse to wear a seat belt” – George Carlin

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Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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