Volvo celebrates golden anniversary | seatbelts | CAR news

Published: 12 August 2009

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the three-point seatbelt. It was patented by Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin in 1959, but the Swedes magnanimously opened up the tech to other car makers as they saw the real-world safety benefit of seatbelts in all cars.

The design was so effective that in Germany the patent registrars listed it in the top eight inventions which have made an impact from 1885 to 1985.

How does the three-point seatbelt work?

‘Both the upper torso and the lower part of the body had to held securely in place,’ noted Bohlin. Seatbelts had to be ‘simple and efficient’ as most people buckle up with only one hand.

The three-pointed belt idea, using a lap and torso belt, had been trialled in the USA but with little success – it tended to damage the soft organs during emergencies. Bohlin’s design was far improved, with the diagonal strap across the chest rather than the stomach. In 1969, the ‘inertia-reel mechanism’ was introduced, which made the safety belt even more effective.

Amazingly, before Bohlin came to work for Volvo, his job was to find a way to throw people from vehicles by designing an ejector seat for pilots!

What next for the seatbelt?

The idea of rally-style four- or five-point harnesses has been discussed for a while. Although this system is safer when the car rolls (among other advantages) there are some disadvantages. They’re way more fiddly to strap up and more expensive, to boot.

But there will be innovation. Illuminated strips could be sewn in to the belt to make them easier to find by night. And why can’t the buckle rise out of the seat when sat upon? Some manufacturers are developing inflatable belts, which would incorporate mini airbags to spread accident forces.

>> Click ‘Next’ to see a list of all the key safety milestones

>> One of the best innovations of the past 50 years? Click ‘Add your comment’ and sound off


1944 Safety cage
1944 Laminated windscreen
1959 Three-point safety belts in the front as standard
1960 Padded instrument panel
1964 Prototype of the first rear-facing child seat is tested in a Volvo
1966 Twin-circuit triangular (three-wheel) backup braking system
1966 Crumple zones
1967 Seat belts in the rear
1968 Head restraints front
1969 Three-point inertia-reel safety belts in the front
1972 Three-point safety belts in the rear
1972 Rear-facing child seat and child-proof door locks
1972 Volvo Experimental Safety Car (VESC)
1973 Energy-absorbing steering column
1974 Energy-absorbing bumpers
1974 Petrol tank relocated for enhanced safety
1978 Child booster cushion for children
1982 Under-run protection
1982 Door mirrors of wide-angle type
1984 ABS, anti-locking brakes
1986 Brake lights at eye level
1986 Three-point safety belt in the middle of the rear seat
1987 Safety belt pre-tensioner
1987 Driver's airbag
1990 Integrated booster cushion for children
1991 SIPS, side impact collision protection
1991 Automatic height adjustment of front safety belts
1993 Three-point inertia-reel safety belt in all seats
1994 SIPS, side-impact airbags
1997 ROPS, Roll-Over Protection System convertible (C70)
1998 WHIPS, protection against whiplash injuries
1998 IC, inflatable curtain,
1998 DSTC, Dynamic Stability and Traction Control
2000 Volvo Cars Safety Centre inaugurated in Göteborg on 29 March
2000 ISOFIX attachments for child seats
2000 Two-stage airbag
2000 Volvo On Call safety system
2001 Volvo Safety Concept Car (SCC)
2002 RSC, Roll Stability Control
2002 ROPS, Roll-Over Protection System SUV (XC90)
2002 Lower cross-member at the front - protection system for oncoming cars
2002 Development of virtual "pregnant" crash-test dummy
2003 PACOS - Passenger Airbag Cut-Off Switch
2003 IDIS, intelligent system for driver information
2003 Patented new structure at the front reduces collision forces
2003 Bangkok's Traffic Accident Research Centre (TARC) is inaugurated
2004 BLIS, system for information about the offset rear blind spot
2004 DMIC, door-mounted side airbag for convertibles
2005 Presentation of Volvo's co-driver system
2005 Multi Lock, combined alcolock and lock for the safety belt and key for speed restriction (research project)
2006 ACC, Adaptive Cruise Control
2006 Personal Car Communicator (PCC)
2006 Collision warning with brake support
2006 Active Bending Lights (ABL)
2007 Integrated two-stage child booster cushion
2007 CWAB, Collision Warning with Auto Brake
2007 Driver Alert Control
2007 Lane Departure Warning
2008 Alcoguard
2008 Pre-Prepared Restraints
2008 City Safety, low speed collision avoidance
2009 Adaptive Cruise control with queue assist
2009 Collision Warning with full auto-brake and pedestrian detection