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by Matt Brogan

This Thursday, August 13, will be the 50th anniversary of Volvo’s lifesaving invention, the humble three-point seatbelt.

A patent Volvo readily shared with all car manufacturers, the V-shaped three-point seatbelt, invented by Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin in 1959, has saved countless lives worldwide and has been said by some to be the most significant safety innovation in the automobile’s 120 year long history.

“The decision to release the three point seat belt patent was visionary and in line with Volvo’s guiding principle of safety,” said Alan Desselss, managing director of Volvo Car Australia. “It’s why we like to say there’s a little bit of Volvo in every car.”

Research indicates that vehicle occupants have a 50 per cent better chance of surviving a crash, if they are wearing a seatbelt, reducing the risk of fatalities and serious injuries from collisions.

Most countries around the globe have now legalised the use of seatbelts for all drivers, although seat belt use in some areas is as low as 3.8 per cent.

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Australia can lay its own claim to helping grow the seatbelt’s safety message too with Victoria being the first state worldwide to legislate seat belt fitment and usage.

A breakthrough in automotive legislation, the 1970 decision that required not just the fitting of seat belts, but also their actual use, was a remarkable achievement that in its first year alone saw traffic fatalities in the state drop by 18 per cent.

“The seatbelt was the first really effective step in tackling car safety,” says Robert McDonald, Head of the NRMA Insurance Research Centre. “The compulsory adoption by Australia in the 1970s and subsequent high usage rate has saved thousands of lives on our roads.”

The future of the seatbelt is constantly evolving, and Volvo is exploring ways to improve its design and make the process of wearing a seat belt easier and even safer.

A four point attachment is under discussion as is a motorised belt that tightens the belt and places the driver in the correct position in potentially hazardous situations.

Volvo’s seatbelt milestones:

  • 1959 Three-point front seatbelts introduced
  • 1967 Rear seatbelts first fitted as standard
  • 1969 Three-point inertia-reel front seatbelts launched
  • 1971 Front seatbelt reminders fitted as standard
  • 1972 Rear three-point seatbelts introduced
  • 1986 Rear centre three-point seatbelt first fitted
  • 1987 Mechanical seatbelt pre-tensioner introduced
  • 1991 Automatic height adjustment for front seatbelts
  • 1992 Pyrotechnical front seatbelt pre-tensioners
  • 1993 Three-point inertia-reel seatbelts in all seats
  • 1996 Force limiters in front seatbelts
  • 1999 Pyrotechnical belt pre-tensioners in all seats
  • 1999 Force limiters in front hip belts
  • 2003 Seatbelt reminder function for all seats
  • 2003 Pyrotechnical belt pre-tensioners for front hip belts
  • 2003 Adaptive front seatbelt force limiters
  • 2007 Twin-level force limiters for children and adults respectively, rear
  • 2008 Adaptive force limiters for low-speed impacts (PRS), front



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