Back in 1958, most Americans wouldn't have been caught dead wearing a seat belt. That was mostly because safety belts were optional equipment in every car sold in the U.S. and drivers were suspicious of the things.
Just one year later, though, Nils Bohlin of Sweden invented and patented a three-point safety belt system that Volvo immediately made standard on its Amazon model. Variations on that system are still being used today in virtually every modern car.
Volvo, as you might expect, is pretty proud of itself, bragging that Mr. Bohlin is personally responsible for saving a million lives and that the three-point safety belt is Volvo's most important innovation and "almost certainly the most important invention in the whole history of traffic safety." Hmm. Maybe, but what about the, um, stop sign? Or double yellow line? Just saying. Then again, Volvo says the German patent office called the three-point belt one of the eight patents that had the greatest importance to mankind between 1885 and 1985. Surely that's now been trumped by 24-7 cable news networks.
Regardless, if you want to celebrate 50 years of safer driving with Volvo, chill the beer, fire up the grill and watch the video after the break. There's some great historical footage including one of a crash test with a live person as well as, more importantly, gratuitous footage of a girl in short shorts. Hit the jump to watch the video and read the full press release from Volvo.
Happy Birthday to Volvo's Three-Point Seat Belt
ROCKLEIGH, N.J., (August 12, 2009) - Over 1 million people are celebrating their birthday this year thanks to a Swedish engineer whose cleverness led to an evolutionary technique to make a simple passenger restraint system: the three-point seat belt, the single most effective life-saving device ever used in road transportation.
In the U.S., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that each percentage increase in seat belt usage would save 270 lives a year. Studies by the Global Road Safety Partnership in Europe show that another 7,000 lives would be saved if every European Union (EU) country had the same usage statistics as the top-performing countries. The potential is even greater in parts of Africa, Asia and South America where the number of vehicles is increasing very quickly. Think of how many more birthdays could be had with just a simple 'click', more birthday cakes, candles, and happy faces.
"We all know we should buckle up, but very few understand the forces involved in an accident," states Adam Kopstien, Manager, Product Safety & Compliance at Volvo Cars of North America. "An unbelted 160-pound man, hitting a tree at about 30 miles per hour is subject to approximately 150 G's (gravity-force) or an impacting force of around 12 tons. To put that into perspective, a jet fighter pilot performing a tight turn is subject to 9-12 G's (gravity-force). That's why it is so critical for people to wear their seat belts."
Seat belts save lives, that's a given. The reality is some people believe an airbag will save their lives. Airbags are Supplemental Restraints Systems (SRS) and are meant to aid a seat belt but not act as the primary restraint in a collision. An unbelted occupant increases the risk of impacting the steering wheel or dashboard or being ejected through the windshield. Nothing protects better than a three-point seat belt.
How to calculate impacting body weight:
This example is an approximation of impact forces transmitted to the human body. In general, this assumes a car hitting a tree at 30 mph with a 160-pound driver.
* Belted with belt webbing that is elastic: 20 Gs (gravity-force) meaning the driver now weighs 1.6 tons
* Belted with belt with no elasticity in the webbing: 30 Gs, which equals 2.4 tons.
* Unbelted: 150 Gs equaling 12 tons.
DIY calculations: Weight times G force. 160 pounds times 20 Gs equals 3,200 pounds (1.6 tons)
"August 13th is our three-point seat belt's 50th. We are very proud to have added so many birthday candles to so many people's birthday, even those who have never driven our cars" comments Kopstein. "We are very proud that there is a little bit of Volvo in all cars."