Seatbelts 'have saved a million lives'Volvo celebrates 50 years of the three-point belt

13 August 2009

The three-point seatbelt is 50 years old

The three-point seatbelt is 50 years old

The three-point seatbelt is 50 years old this week and Volvo, the company that designed it, claims it has already saved a million lives.

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Various types of restraint were put through safety tests in the early days of motoring, but it wasn’t until 1959 that Volvo safety engineer Nils Bohlin patented the three-point belt we use today.

Volvo quickly made the design available for other carmakers to copy, and began fitting the seatbelts to two of its own production cars as standard. Uptake was slow at first but, 50 years on, the seatbelt is one of the most important car safety features for drivers around the world.

Seatbelt stats

Modern research shows that wearing a seatbelt can increase the chances of surviving an accident by as much as 50%. And it's thought that in 2005 alone, some 11,700 EU drivers survived road accidents because they were wearing seatbelts.

Peter Rask, managing director of Volvo Car UK, said: 'For the majority of motorists, clicking the seatbelt into place is as much a part of the ritual to beginning a car journey as starting the engine.

'That makes it easy to forget its lifesaving potential. However other safety systems, such as airbags, are designed to work in conjunction with seatbelts, so it remains the most important safety device in any modern car.'

Seatbelt use became mandatory for front-seat occupants in 1983, and all children had to be strapped in by 1989. By 1991, it had become compulsory for all back-seat passengers to buckle up, too.

Volvo's safety plans for the future

Volvo pedestrian safety system

From 2010 new Volvo cars will be able to detect and avoid pedestrians

In the most modern vehicles seatbelts work alongside a growing raft of other safety equipment to protect occupants and to prevent accidents from happening at all. has a City Safety system that cuts in and activates the car's brakes if it thinks it is going to collide with the car in front.

And the Swedish carmaker is also planning to introduce another similar system in March 2010 aimed at reducing accidents involving pedestrians. The new Collision Warning system alerts the driver if a pedestrian steps into the path of the car, and will put on the car's brakes if the driver fails to do so. 

Volvo is continuing its research into new safety technologies to help it achieve its 2020 Vision - an aspiration that nobody should die or be injured in a new Volvo car by that year - by monitoring real cars. 

Ordinary vehicles in various European countries have been fitted with data collection systems that will gather information about driver behaviour over the next three years. This will be used to tailor safety developments to make them as effective as possible. 

For more on the latest production car safety innovations like electronic stability control, seatbelt pre-tensioners and active head restraints, check out our guide to the best car safety features


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