Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The Invention of Seat belts

The seatbelt seems such a trivial thing, mealy a piece of cloth and yet the humble seatbelt has come a long way, and has had a huge impact on today's society. While seatbelts do occasionally contribute to serious injury or ¬death, nearly all safety experts agree that buckling up dramatically increases your chances of surviving an accident. According to the NHTSA, seatbelts reduce the risk of death for a front seat car occupant by about 50 percent.

Rear seatbelts are essential to save the lives of the passengers sitting in the front seats as well as saving the lives of the rear seat passengers. An adult who is not wearing a seat belt will be equivalent in weight to a small elephant as he or she flies through the air when the vehicle comes to an abrupt stop. Imaging a small elephant crashing into the headrest, it's easy to understand how rear seat passengers can kill people in the front of the car when you look at it in these terms and yet research shows that 24 per cent of people admit they sometimes don't wear a seat belt when travelling in the back

Seat belts were invented by George Cayley in the 1800's but they didn't find their way in to cars until later. Volvo was the first manufacturer to install seatbelts into their Vehicles in 1849. These seat belts were lap belts, a belt with two attachment points. The lap belt; as the name suggests, rests on the wearers lap, restraining the wear across the thighs. The Lap belt would prevent the wear from being thrown from the car in a collision, however their main upper body would still be very mobile and the occupant would be thrown around the inside of the car, often impacting on the windscreen or dashboard. (The so called second impact) Additional the seatbelt wearer risked injury to body organs as the body was flung forward onto the belt.

The lap belt was followed by the Sash Seat Belt. The sash seatbelt had three attachment points, the two previously seen in the lap belt and a further belt that came from one side of the lap belt and up over the opposite shoulder like a Sash. The sash belt was popular in the 1960's. The idea behind the sash belt was that the sash would prevent the wearer from being so mobile; however the sash was of limited use because the adjustable strap meant that the wearer could easily slip out from the seatbelt during a collision.

Nils Bohlin a Swedish inventor and engineer working at Volvo in Guttenberg invented the 3 point safety belt in 1958. This was the first modern seat belt and one that you would recognize today and it is a safety device that is fitted in most cars. Nils Bohlin's lap-and-shoulder seat belt innovation was introduced into Volvo vehicles in 1959.

Despite Bohlins car seatbelt sounding very similar to the sash seatbelt, Bohilins seatbelt was revolutionary. Bohlin worked on the premise that a seatbelt's job is to spread the stopping force across sturdier parts of your body in order to minimize damage.
''I realized both the upper and lower body must be held securely in place with one strap across the chest and one across the hips,'' Mr. Bohlin once said. ''The belt also needed an immovable anchorage point for the buckle as far down beside the occupant's hip, so it could hold the body properly during a collision.” The position of the buckle often caused severe internal injuries in high-speed crashes.

Volvo estimates that the seat belt has saved more than one million lives in the last 40 years.

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