A Seat Belt History

While most of the seat belt activity has happened in the last few decades, its history can actually be traced back two centuries. People have been making primitive restraints for many thousands of years. It wasn’t until a few decades ago that laws were put in place regarding their use in cars.

Heck, even in the 1980s, only 10% of Americans wore seat belts when in an automobile. Since then, many bills, laws, and technological improvements have occurred in order to make these life-saving devices mandatory.

Seat belts have saved more than a million lives, and are now considered one of the top public health inventions. In fact, 51 percent of the nearly 24,000 people killed in collisions in 2020 were unrestrained, according to the NHTSA. We take safety very seriously here at Hance’s, and see firsthand the destruction that can be caused when people don’t wear restraints.

From afterthought to necessity, here’s a look at the evolution of seat belts.

Mid-1800s

Sir George Cayley invented the first seat belt. He was a rich landowner in Yorkshire, England, and was very curious about aerodynamics and flight principles. He built the first successful manned glider well before Orville and Wilbur Wright took off in a plane. In that aircraft, he added a lap belt so the pilot would be safe. The test flight crashed but the pilot survived.

1885 – First Seat Belt Patent

New Yorker Edward J. Claghorn got the first U.S. patent for an automobile seat belt so they could keep tourists safe when riding in city taxis. This version looked like a climbing harness with straps and hooks.

1922 – Indy 500

Racing pioneer Barney Oldfield asked a parachute manufacturer to design a restraining harness to include in his Indy 500 car. He knew so many drivers who got hurt or died when ejected during an accident.

1959 – Invention of the Three-Point Seat Belt

Swedish engineer Nils Bohlin came up with the concept for the three-point seat belt. He worked for Volvo Car Corporation as a chief safety engineer. Up till then, two-point seat belts were used but they only secured the lap of the passenger and not the chest. The four-point belts used in airplanes were just not suitable for cars. He came up with the three-point seat belt that consisted of one continuous belt.

1961 – Wisconsin is First State to Require Seat Belts

Wisconsin was the first state to require seat belts in the front seats of new cars. The law only applied to their presence, not the requirement to wear them.

1968 – Seat Belts Are Nationally Mandated

This is when the first federal law was created that mandated all new cars have lap as well as shoulder belts, but only in the front seat.

1973 – Introduction of the Seat Belt Interlock Mechanism

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration required all new cars to have a seat belt interlock mechanism, which prevented the car from even starting until the seat belt on the driver’s side was buckled. Congress nixed the law the next year among backlash from Big Brother complaints.

1983 – Seat Belts Get Supreme Court Attention

Ronald Reagan was all about deregulation and when he first took office, he opposed a law that said manufacturers were required to do something against their will. The requirement was revoked.

Enter: the insurance companies. Because they had a vested interest in the safety of passengers, they decided to sued the Reagan administration. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the insurance companies and told the Department of Transportation to re-instate the requirement.

1984 – New York Requires Seat Belts

New York was the first state to require seat belt use, but it only mandated front-seat passengers. Those who did not comply had to pay a $50 fine. Today, it is a law that passengers 16 and older must wear a seat belt in the back seat.

That New York adoption of the law is what prompted most other states to adopt similar laws. New Hampshire is the only state with no law on the books requiring adults to wear a seat belt. The results are clear: the NHTSA says 15,000 lives are saved by seat belts every year in this country.

Contact Hance’s Uptown Collision Center

If you’ve been in an accident that left your car crumpled, we can get it back to pre-loss condition. We can even take a look at the seat belts if necessary. Just schedule an appointment online or call us at 214-214-4730 or 214-225-5966.

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