Volvo invented it and clunk-clicking has saved, it is reckoned, over a million lives.  

The three-point seat belt – which is reckoned to save 300 UK lives per year – celebrates its 50th birthday today.

Volvo takes the credit for developing the lap-and-shoulder belt and bringing it to market in 1959. It was developed by engineer Nils Bohlin – who had worked previously on developing a catapult ejector seat for pilots. Volvo sensibly decided against keeping the belt to itself and allowed other car makers to share the know how.

Until that point, the best car makers could offer was a two-point, lap only belt. The improved protection offered by Volvo’s invention is reckoned to have saved over a million lives.

It became the first manufacturer to fit three-point front belts in its cars and they featured in models from 1963 onwards. Other makers quickly followed suit, although manufacturers were not compelled to fit belts of any type as standard in cars sold in Britain until 1965.

Safety experts say that wearing a seat belt increases your chances of surviving a serious collision by 50%. But even so, the British government didn’t move until 1983 to make the wearing of front belts compulsory.

Now, nine out of 10 drivers regularly wear seat belts, which makes us among the most safety conscious drivers in Europe. Figures for our counterparts in Italy suggest many more don’t bother. Research by the Department for Transport, however, indicates that in the UK, 565 people die in accidents per year not wearing belts and, in 2007, over 300 of those might have survived had they been belted in.

Stephen Jury


August 13, 2009

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