50 Years of Three-Point Safety Belt
But the safety belt saves life. It does it every once in a while and millions of drivers out there can confirm it. It rescues people ever since the '50s when Mercedes started selling a model with a two-point seatbelt as standard. Things evolved fast and automakers knew that a two-point safety belt wasn't enough to reduce injuries or prevent passenger from being thrown out from the vehicle.
Yes, that sounds kinda funny, but the first result of a frontal impact was, in the early years of the automotive industry, the driver "flying" out of the car. And statistics show that approximately 75 percent of people who are thrown out of vehicles in accident die in the process.
So, here we are on August 13, 1959 when Volvo, a brand often praised for all kind of safety innovations, rolls out the first car featuring a three-point safety belt as standard. It was a Volvo PV544 the first model that came with such a safety feature as standard, and was delivered to a Volvo dealer in
Basically, a three-point safety belt was more efficient than a two-point one because it spread out energy over the upper side of the body, including chest, pelvis and shoulders, while keeping the head (and the face) away from hitting the steering wheel.
Three-point seatbelts quickly became standard on most cars but only for the front passengers. Until the '80s, most vehicles were still using two-point belts on the rear seats until safety regulators around the world decided to make three-point versions mandatory on every seat of a car.
Today, after almost 50 years since they first saw daylight as a standard feature, the three-point safety belts still look basically the same. There are still two fixed points on the B-pillar while the seatbelt socket is mounted between the two front seats. The working principle is also similar to the one of the early three-point seatbelts but this basic safety equipment actually underwent a major transformation, not necessarily visible to the naked eye.
Probably the best example to demonstrate the way the seatbelt evolved is to discuss about the complex safety system which comprises several features contributing to the overall protection of both the driver and the passengers.
And this is not the single example. More advanced systems, including Mercedes' Pre-Safe, establishes a strong connection between the seatbelt and other safety features, each of them aimed at protecting the passengers. To give you an idea, in case the crash sensors detect than an impact is imminent, it buckles up the seatbelts, adjusts the seats in the proper position to minimize – or avoid, if possible – injuries, closes the windows and even prepares the braking system. All of these to reduce, as much as possible, damages but, more importantly, to avoid injuries.
The safety belt is still in the center of all safety systems. How useful would such a technology be if the car hit an obstacle but the driver wasn't restrained in the seat?
Fighting against people perceptions
Unfortunately, not everyone is using the safety belt. Why? We don't know for sure but the human perceptions are probably the main reasons for the thousands of deaths we see every year. Deaths that could be very well avoided if the occupants of the cars involved in the accidents wore the seatbelt.
But they all forget that safety belts are extremely efficient in the city where most accidents occur. And more importantly, even if they happen at relatively low speeds, say 50 or 60 km/h, the impact is much more powerful on the body than they might expect. Moreover, in case the airbag – if there's one – deploys (and the airbag opens at a speed of about 300 km/h), it restrains the body in the seat and protects the face from being hit by the airbag.
Even if authorities around the world established several campaigns to convince people that safety belts are only good for our safety, usage is still low in certain areas. Because of this, automakers had their very own attempts to make drivers more familiar with the safety belt.
During the '60s, Volvo debuted a campaign across the United States that showed Americans the benefits of wearing a three-point seatbelt. Furthermore, most car manufacturers around the world designed special audio and visual notification that remind drivers and passengers to buckle up the seatbelt.
Unfortunately, a lot of people died in road fatalities because they didn't use the safety belt. According to various researches, in Europe, this basic safety element is said to reduce deaths by as much as 40 percent. Additionally, in 2005, around 11,700 drivers made it alive from severe accidents because they had the safety belt on.
Russia is by far the negative leader of the chart, although things might be different now. A report conducted in 2005 showed that only 3.8 percent of drivers in the Island of Sakhalin in Russia were wearing the belt while, at the opposite pole we can find France, Germany, Sweden, Australia and Canada where around 90 to 99 percent of drivers use it.
Things are worrying in the United States too where no less than 15,689 people didn't wear the safety belt and died in car accidents in 2007. Figures dropped 12 percent last year when no-seatbelt fatalities accounted for 55 percent of all accidents (13,874).