The seat belt is now a normal facet of everyday life in most countries. Many of us get into a vehicle and belt ourselves in without even thinking about it. There was, however, a time before seat belts existed. Even in the modern world, some people still refuse to wear one. Where did the idea of seat belts come from, why did we begin wearing them, and what can they do for us?
The History: When was the seatbelt invented?
Vehicular safety has come a long way since Carl Benz patented the first motorized car in the late 1800s. After the one-cylinder engine had its first successful run in 1879, Benz went on to see great commercial success. The motorized vehicle was such a novel concept that most people didn’t consider the dangers at first.
Back then, life in general was more dangerous. Many modern medicines and medical procedures didn’t exist. Neither did many of the safety measures we have today, including seat belts. Over time, it became obvious that riding in a motorized vehicle came with a degree of risk. People began to look at ways of mitigating those risks.
It’s difficult to pinpoint who exactly invented the seat belt. There were many contributors. Engineer George Cayley created one of the first seat belts for use on a glider in the mid-1800s. Lap belts were added to many vehicles in the 1930s, but they were rarely used.
Over the following two decades, the belts became a subject of controversy. There was concern they might trap people in vehicles or cause internal injuries. Research showed that the safety measure saved lives and did far more good than harm, but it took people a while to warm up to the idea.
In the early 1950s, Dr. C. Hunter Shelden came up with the concept of the retractable seat belt. The doctor of neurology, who worked in Pasadena, California, became concerned about the injuries he was observing in his patients. Dr. Shelden believed many of these injuries were the result of a flawed design strategy. He proposed adding various safety measures to vehicles, such as roll bars and reinforced roofs. He also suggested adding a retractable lap belt. This would ensure that people remain secured in their seats, but it didn’t offer any protection for the head or torso.
Americans Roger W. Griswold and Hugh DeHaven patented the first three-point belt in 1955, but Swedish engineer Nils Bohlin has also received credit for the invention. The Bohlin design is what we see in most modern vehicles today. Bohlin’s research showed how the three-point belt could protect someone during a car accident.
The first belt mandate was enacted in 1970 in Victoria, Australia. Although there was opposition, similar laws were introduced across the United States throughout the latter part of the 20th Century. Today, all states aside from New Hampshire require the use of seat belts for adult front-seat occupants. Several of these states require belts for all vehicle occupants, including children.
The Benefits: What Can a Seatbelt Do for You?
You know seat belts can protect you in the event of a car accident. You may not have considered the extent of a seat belt’s value.
1. You’re Held in Place
This is the primary and most obvious benefit of belting yourself in. Car wrecks create an intense amount of force. If you aren’t secured in your seat, holding on or bracing yourself won’t make much difference. You could be thrown from the vehicle, which will likely result in serious injuries or death.
2. You’ll Protect Your Passengers
Many people don’t realize that unrestrained passengers or objects can cause injuries. If you aren’t belted in, you could tumble around the inside of the car during the crash. Not only will this increase the likelihood of receiving an injury yourself, but it could also result in passenger injuries. You can’t always avoid injuries caused by an external impact or roll. You can easily increase your odds of staying safe by belting in.
3. You’ll Increase the Likelihood that Your Airbag will Save You
Airbags are another effective safety measure. However, they’re designed to be used alongside seat belts. Don’t count on the airbag alone to save you. Without being properly belted in, you’re still at risk for being thrown from the vehicle.
4. You’ll Avoid Legal Issues
If the safety benefits haven’t convinced you to wear your seat belt, perhaps the threat of legal troubles will. Many American states have belt mandates, and some charge hefty fines if you’re caught riding beltless. You could also end up with a violation on your driving record. Considering belting in is quick and easy, going without is simply not worth the risk.
5. Your Insurance will be Cheaper
If you’re caught without a belt, your insurance company will receive a report of the violation. This could give them reason to believe you’re a high-risk driver. If they believe that, they’ll take advantage of the opportunity to raise your rates.
Going beltless could also result in losing your insurance coverage in the event of an accident. If you were not wearing your seat belt, your insurance company may refuse to reimburse you for damages.
6. You’ll Have a Strong Personal Injury Case
If you’re injured in an accident that wasn’t your fault, you can contact a personal injury attorney to begin a lawsuit. Unfortunately, even the most qualified lawyer is going to have a difficult time making your case if you weren’t wearing your seat belt. This is especially true if you live in a state that requires the usage of seat belts. The opposing legal team will argue that your injuries resulted from or were worsened by the fact that you were beltless. Your lawsuit will most likely be thrown out.
The Myths: Are There Any Potential Dangers or Downsides to Wearing a Seatbelt?
There are numerous myths about seat belts that have been circulating since the belts were invented. Although the attitude of the public has shifted over time to be more accepting of the safety measure, many are still skeptical.
Myth: You’ll Get Trapped in the Car
Crashing into the water and getting trapped by the seat belt is a common fear. If this is something you worry about, you’ll be glad to learn that a belt is more likely to save you than trap you. In any crash, there’s the possibility that you will be knocked out. If this happens during a crash into water, the chances of drowning will be much higher. If you’re belted, you’ll be more likely to remain conscious and therefore better able to remove yourself and your passengers from the water.
It’s rare for seat belts to become stuck, but you still might worry about the possibility. If so, there is a small and affordable tool you can get to keep in your car. The tool, which is available from many online vendors for less than $10, includes a razor that can quickly cut the belt in an emergency. Some versions of this tool also include a small, pointed instrument that can shatter a window.
Myth: You Don’t Need a Seat Belt on a Quick Drive
Most car accidents occur within a few miles of home. The length of the trip doesn’t matter. You should always belt up when riding in the car regardless of where you’re going.
Myth: Seat Belts Cause More Injuries than They Prevent
In certain accidents, it’s possible to receive injuries from the pressure created by the belt holding you in place. However, any accident serious enough to cause such injuries would almost certainly result in a more tragic scenario if you weren’t belted. The benefits of wearing a seat belt far outweigh any potential risks.
The Statistics: What Do the Numbers Say About Seatbelts?
- In 2019, seat belt usage was 90.7 percent. This shows that attitudes have shifted, and most people now belief that belting in is an effective safety measure.
- Of the more than 37,000 people killed in car accidents in 2017, 47 percent of them were unbelted.
- It’s estimated that almost 15,000 lives were saved by a seat belt in 2017.
- Correct belt usage has been shown to reduce the risk of fatalities in front-seat passengers by 45 percent.
The Assistance You Need: What Should You Do if Injured in a Car Accident?
Despite belting in and driving carefully, there’s still a possibility you will be injured in a wreck. If you were in a car wreck in or around the area of Huntsville, Texas, we have car accident lawyers ready to help to help. Haney Paschal & Romoser, P.C. has been representing clients in Walker County and surrounding areas for decades. We understand this is a difficult time for you. Let us stand by your side and fight. Please contact us today. We will help you get the compensation you deserve.