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The History of Seatbelts Explained for Those in Automotive Careers

Seatbelts are essential for keeping drivers and passengers safe in any vehicle. Not wearing them—or not having them at all—is a potential disaster waiting to happen. That said, seatbelts haven’t always been a mandatory component for vehicles. On top of that, there was a considerable amount of resistance from the public at one point. 

Despite this history, the seatbelt is now widely accepted as one of the most basic safety features of a vehicle. But how did this car component come to be in the first place? Let’s take a quick peek at the background story to this very important automotive safety component.

Early History: Starting With Planes Before Entering Automobiles

Although it’s difficult to imagine a time when seatbelts weren’t readily available, it took until the 19th century for the world’s first seatbelt to be introduced to the automotive world. The seatbelt’s first design is attributed to English engineer George Cayley, who came up with his invention in the late 1800s. However, he did not file the first patent for a seatbelt. This was done by New York native Edward J. Claghorn, in 1885. 

While Cayley had designed seatbelts to keep pilots safe while gliding, Claghorn had developed his patent for the safety of tourists while they took cabs in New York. Though Claghorn’s version was nothing more than one strap to be worn on your lap, it did keep passengers and drivers stationary while the vehicle was moving.

The earliest seatbelts only had one strap, rather than the far superior three-point design of today

The Continued Evolution of the Seatbelt, and How They Became Mandatory

While the seatbelt served its purpose in keeping people in their seats while driving, it would take quite some time for it to become a standard safety feature in vehicles. Using seatbelts for safety only started becoming more common during the 1930s. A little later, the racecar industry in the United States would become the first to make wearing seatbelts mandatory to its drivers while racing. Seatbelt use in regular automobiles, meanwhile, would remain an optional feature until the mid-’50s.

Those with automotive careers, and those pursuing them, may be surprised to learn that not everyone embraced the idea of mandatory seatbelts. In fact, it had quite a journey toward becoming legally required for all automobiles. For one, a number of North American consumers had shown public displeasure with the prospect of seatbelts being required by law during the 1970s. In Canada, it took until 1976 for seatbelts to be mandatory in any province, with Ontario being the first.

Despite being mandatory now, seatbelts had faced public resistance many years ago

What Those in Automotive Careers Should Know About Seatbelts Today

As mentioned earlier, the first seatbelt was a simple strap placed across the lap of those in the seat. The much more effective modern three-point seatbelt would not come into being until the late 1950s, when it was invented by Swedish engineer Nils Bohlin. Working for Volvo at the time, Bohlin’s invention would lead to the automaker making these three-point seatbelts a standard safety feature—the first auto manufacturer to do so. 

Nowadays, the seatbelt has become widely viewed by those with auto careers as an important life-saving safety feature for anyone in a vehicle, particularly when an accident happens. As a testament to its effectiveness, Bohlin’s three-point seatbelt design hasn’t drastically changed in any way since its invention, even if certain components have been added to it over time.

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Categories: ATC News, Montreal
Tags: auto careers, automotive careers, careers in the auto industry

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