The world’s greatest innovations
Nov 24, 2016
Number one: The seat belt
Now, we know what you’re thinking, a seat belt – how very beige and unexciting. Perhaps, yes. But also, no.
In fact, no, no, no, no, no.
Before that durable strip of woven polyester was added to car seats, there was nothing stopping people in said vehicles from disastrously obeying the laws of physics.
Volvo – good, solid Volvo – came up with the three-point belt design in 1959. In an act of enduring human generosity, the Swedish company didn’t have the three-point patented so as to encourage other carmakers to include the new safety feature.
A few years earlier, in 1955, American motor manufacturer Ford under the insistent leadership of Robert McNamara, had begun offering lap-only belts, but only as optional extras. McNamara has been credited as the seat belt pioneer…however, he later became US Secretary of State for War and was responsible for the loss of 1.5 million lives on both sides in Vietnam. He’d probably be drawing about even by now.
By the 1970s the seat belt had become established. On January 31, 1983, they had become compulsory for front seats in the UK and in 1991 for back seats. In America, the law is imposed state by state. New York State became the first in the US to get its motorists to belt up in 1984. Today, New Hampshire is the only US state where the law does not require drivers to wear a seat belt. Yes, you read that right.
In India, a seatbelt has been compulsory in most states, front and back, since 2002. Sri Lanka did the decent thing and made its citizens safer in 2011.
More than 400 lives are lost in the UK annually because the deceased was not wearing a seat belt. In the US, more than 4,000 people are killed when a simple strip of woven fabric would have made the critical difference between getting well soon and with the deepest sympathy.
Seat belts: A very good idea. Especially if you’re wearing one.
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