Seat Belts: A History and An Idea by Ryanne Howard

What we’ve always had…cars with seat belts in them. Original Photo by Ryanne Howard.

Seat belt safety is an unknown concept in American culture today. Our TVs are constantly barraged with “Don’t Drink (or Text) and Drive” PSAs, however not enough time is devoted to just how important seat belts are and how many lives they save. According to the National Safety Council, seat belts “saved more than 75, 000 lives from 2004 to 2008”. This invention is constantly being taken for granted however; the history behind the seat belt is a curious adventure.

Nils Bohlin Source:

Nils Bohlin was a Swedish engineer and inventor who created the modern three-point lap and shoulder seatbelt in 1959. Before 1959, there were seat belts but the only people who regularly used them were race car drivers. These “two-point belts strapped across the body, with a buckle placed over the abdomen, and in high-speed crashes had been known to cause serious internal injuries,” according to This Day in History. When Bohlin was hired by the Volvo Car Corporation in 1958, he wanted to change this fact and create a seat belt that would protect against quick deceleration and the injury that resulted because of this. Bohlin was not new to engineering with safety in mind. He’d recently made “ejector seats” for fighter airplanes during the 1950s and had later turned his attention to the four-point harnesses used in airplanes. However, he knew that to create a seat belt as he thought was proper, would have to be different.

After a year of hard work, Bohlin had created the three-point seat belt that was put into every Volvo car in 1959. This technology didn’t stay with the car company; instead Volvo decided to release the design to all car companies in the interest of safety. Since 1968, all American automobiles are required to have this seat belt in their cars. This design has proven to be easy and effective and when asked to comment on his invention, Bohlin remarked that, “It was just a matter of finding a solution that was simple, effective and could be put on conveniently with one hand.”

The Create and Innovate team seeks to do the same thing. So far, we have sketched out two ways we could improve upon the seat belt that Bohlin made in 1959, and allow a person to lie down.

Sketches of our ideas. Original Photo by Ryanne Howard.

This figure shows one of the ideas that we are tossing around. What if the seat belt didn’t move, but the seat did? The idea behind this would be that it would save us time in designing the seat belt and it would be nice if it were possible to just lean back and have a seat belt that would have the same design but would allow a little more extension. However, this wouldn’t be a good solution because the seat would probably bump into the front seat and not allow you enough room. One of my team members pointed out to me that although this would have been a good idea, it wasn’t possible that we could modify a car so drastically on our own without a better knowledge of engineering. I agreed with her. Even more, from a biomedical standpoint, I don’t feel as if it would be wise to create a seat like this. It seems like the likelihood of injury would be even greater laying down like this. Since my group have tried to address even problem that could arise with each different design, we decided we need help. Recently, we sent out interview questions to nine people (through email or through verbal conversation) with children (since children are usually the ones who lay down in cars) so that we could get data back and analyze how our ideas would be taken by the public. We are awaiting the results of that.

Overall, the Create and Innovate team is moving towards the stage where we’ll soon create a prototype! But first, we have to continue to do some research so that we can properly make our invention as best we can.

Trying to lie down in a car…Very uncomfortable Source:

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