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A Brief History of the Seat Belt

Few car devices or safety accessories are as vital as the humble seat belt. Although decidedly low-tech, the seat belt has saved countless lives and has prevented many injuries. Seat belts keep you in place after a car collision, and therefore prevent you from being tossed around in the car or being ejected through the windshield. In this way, seat belts can help prevent brain injuries, fatalities, spinal cord injuries, and other serious harm. Everyone should wear a seat belt in the car, each time you step into a car.

Seat belts have been around for a long time. Manufacturer Volvo created and used seat belts as early as 1849, although many historians credit the first true seat belts to be the invention of George Cayley in the late nineteenth century.

Seat belts came to the US in 1885. In February of that year, the first US patent for a car seat belt was awarded to Edward J. Claghorn. Claghorn’s seat belt was United States Patent #312,085 and was described as “a Safety-Belt for tourists.” The patent describes this early US seat belt as a safety device that used hooks and other attachments to secure a “person to a fixed object.”
Early seat belts were not very similar to the design of seat belts today. It was not until Swedish inventor Nils Bohlin came up with the idea and design of the three-point seat belt that seat belts became similar to what we are familiar with today. By 1959, Bohlin – who worked for the manufacturer Volvo – had created the lap-and-shoulder three-point seat belt with which we are familiar. This seat belt became standard in Volvo cars by 1959. Bohlin received U.S. Patent 3,043,625 for his seat belt, which was called a CIR-Griswold restraint by some. However, although Bohlin is often credited with developing the first CIR-Griswold restraint, a form of the first three-point restraint was first patented by American inventors Hugh De Haven and Roger W. Griswold.

Over time, seat belts became standard devices in cars around the world. American company Ford began offering the seat belt as an option as early as 1955. The American car company Nash began offering the device as an option in 1949. Swedish car maker Saab made seatbelts standard in 1958 and when the device was featured at car shows by Saab, many other car companies began offering seat belts as a standard safety device in their models as well.

Although seat belts were found in many cars by the 1960s, laws did not reflect the importance of the device. Australia’s state Victoria became the first place in the world to pass a law making seat belts mandatory. The law required front-seat passengers and drivers to wear a seat belt while in the car. The law was passed in 1970. In the US in 1986, both the Senate and the House voted to make seat belts mandatory for all passengers and drivers at all times.