Friday, June 8, 2012

A Brief History of Seatbelts

The seatbelt is one of the great inventions of the last century. With this simple addition to cars, millions of lives have been saved. It is now the law in Canada and most of the United States that people must "buckle up" while in the car.
When I say that the seatbelt is one of the greatest inventions of the last century, I should clarify that seatbelts in cars and specifically the 3 point seatbelt are the great inventions. The first seatbelt was actually invented in 1885 for people being raised or lowered off the ground. And in 1911, Benjamin Foulois invented a seatbelt to attach to his saddle while riding a horse. It wasn't until the early 1950s, when Dr. Hunter Shelden made significant contributions to the retractable seatbelts and other car safety measures were cars equipped with properly working seatbelts. In 1958, the first car with standard seatbelts was released by the Swedish company Saab. Saab proved to be leaders on this as other car manufacturers soon followed.
The modern seatbelt is made of webbing fabric and has 3 points, one on each side of the lap, and one above the driver's left shoulder. This is proven to be the safest design in seatbelts over several studies. The 3 point was invented in 1955 by Roger Griswold and Hugh DeHaven. Volvo, who have developed and maintained the image of the safest automobile manufacturer in the world, furthered the design and put it into their 1959 vehicles.
Seatbelts still aren't worn by many people in all parts of the world. Why is that? Studies definitively show that seatbelts reduce deaths in car accidents where cars are traveling under 60 miles per hour a huge amount, almost eliminating them. So the science is pretty bulletproof. Is it because cars are seen as a removal of constraints of non-mechanized transportation, so people don't want to have to constrain themselves all over again? Lots of people who grew up without seatbelts find them uncomfortable as well. While younger generations seem to put seatbelts on and accept them as a part of riding in cars. Maybe the problem is the physics behind seatbelts is too abstract for some people, therefore they cannot visualize or perceive properly how much safer wearing a seatbelt makes them while driving.
In any case, seatbelts have greatly improved the safety of people across the world and deserves to be celebrated as innovation in its truest and best sense.

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