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A seat belt, also known as a safety belt, is a vehicle safety device designed to secure the occupant of a vehicle against harmful movement that may result during a collision or a sudden stop. A seat belt functions to reduce the likelihood of death or serious injury in a traffic collision by reducing the force of secondary impacts with interior strike hazards, by keeping occupants positioned correctly for maximum effectiveness of the airbag (if equipped) and by preventing occupants being ejected from the vehicle in a crash or if the vehicle rolls over.
Seat belts were invented by English engineer George Cayley in the early 19th century, though Edward J. Claghorn of New York, was granted the first patent (U.S. Patent 312,085, on February 10, 1885 for a safety belt). Claghorn was granted United States Patent #312,085 for a Safety-Belt for tourists, painters, firemen, etc. who are being raised or lowered, described in the patent as "designed to be applied to the person, and provided with hooks and other attachments for securing the person to a fixed object."
In 1903, French inventor Gustave-Désiré Leveau invented a special kind of seat belt.[vague]
In 1911, Benjamin Foulois had the cavalry saddle shop fashion a belt for the seat of Wright Flyer Signal Corps 1. He wanted it to hold him firmly in his seat so he could better control his aircraft as he bounded along the rough field used for takeoff and landing. It was not until World War II that seat belts were fully adopted in military aircraft, and even then, it was mainly for safety reasons, not improved aircraft control.
In 1946, Dr. C. Hunter Shelden had opened a neurological practice at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, California. In the early 1950s, Dr. Shelden had made a major contribution to the automotive industry with his idea of retractable seat belts. This came about greatly in part from the high number of head injuries coming through the emergency rooms. He investigated the early seat belts whose primitive designs were implicated in these injuries and deaths. His findings were published in the November 5, 1955 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in which he proposed not only the retractable seat belt, but also recessed steering wheels, reinforced roofs, roll bars, door locks and passive restraints such as the air bag. Subsequently in 1959, Congress passed legislation requiring all automobiles to comply with certain safety standards.
American car manufacturers Nash (in 1949) and Ford (in 1955) offered seat belts as options, while Swedish Saab first introduced seat belts as standard in 1958. After the Saab GT 750 was introduced at the New York Motor Show in 1958 with safety belts fitted as standard, the practice became commonplace.
Glenn Sheren of Mason, Michigan submitted a patent application on March 31, 1955 for an automotive seat belt and was awarded US Patent 2,855,215 in 1958. This was a continuation of an earlier patent application that Mr. Sheren had filed on September 22, 1952.
However, the first modern three point seat belt (the so-called CIR-Griswold restraint) used in most consumer vehicles today was patented in 1955 (US Patent 2,710,649) by the Americans Roger W. Griswold and Hugh DeHaven, and developed to its modern form by Swedish inventor Nils Bohlin for Swedish manufacturer Volvo—who introduced it in 1959 as standard equipment. In addition to designing an effective three-point belt, Bohlin demonstrated its effectiveness in a study of 28,000 accidents in Sweden. Unbelted occupants sustained fatal injuries throughout the whole speed scale, whereas none of the belted occupants were fatally injured at accident speeds below 60 mph. No belted occupant was fatally injured if the passenger compartment remained intact. Bohlin was granted U.S. Patent 3,043,625 for the device.
A 2-point belt attaches at its two endpoints.
A lap belt is a strap that goes over the waist. This was the most commonly installed type of belt prior to legislation requiring 3-point belts, and is primarily found in older cars. Coaches are equipped with lap belts, as are passenger aircraft seats.
Until the 1980s, three-point belts were commonly available only in the front outboard seats of cars; the back seats were only often fitted with lap belts. Evidence of the potential of lap belts to cause separation of the lumbar vertebrae and the sometimes associated paralysis, or "seat belt syndrome", led to progressive revision of passenger safety regulations in nearly all developed countries to require 3-point belts first in all outboard seating positions and eventually in all seating positions in passenger vehicles. Since September 1, 2007, all new cars sold in the U.S. require a lap and shoulder belt in the center rear seat. Besides regulatory changes, "seat belt syndrome" has led to tremendous liability for vehicle manufacturers. One Los Angeles case resulted in a $45 million jury verdict against the Ford Motor Company; the resulting $30 million judgment (after deductions for another defendant who settled prior to trial) was affirmed on appeal in 2006.
A "sash" or shoulder harness is a strap that goes diagonally over the vehicle occupant's outboard shoulder and is buckled inboard of his or her lap. The shoulder harness may attach to the lap belt tongue, or it may have a tongue and buckle completely separate from those of the lap belt. Shoulder harnesses of this separate or semi-separate type were installed in conjunction with lap belts in the outboard front seating positions of many vehicles in the North American market starting at the inception of the shoulder belt requirement of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208 on 1 January 1968. However, if the shoulder strap is used without the lap belt, the vehicle occupant is likely to "submarine", or slide forward in the seat and out from under the belt, in a frontal collision. In the mid-1970s, 3-point belt systems such as Chrysler's "Uni-Belt" began to supplant the separate lap and shoulder belts in American-made cars, though such 3-point belts had already been supplied in European vehicles such as Volvos, Mercedes, and Saabs for some years.
A 3-point belt is a Y-shaped arrangement, similar to the separate lap and sash belts, but unitized. Like the separate lap-and-sash belt, in a collision the 3-point belt spreads out the energy of the moving body over the chest, pelvis, and shoulders. Volvo introduced the first production three-point belt in 1959. The first car with three point belt was a Volvo PV 544 that was delivered to a dealer in Kristianstad on August 13, 1959. However, the first car model to feature the three point seat belt as a standard item was the 1959 Volvo 122, first outfitted with a two-point belt at initial delivery in 1958, replaced with the three point seat belt the following year. The three point belt was developed by Nils Bohlin who had earlier also worked on ejection seats at Saab. Volvo then made the new seat belt design patent open in the interest of safety and made it available to other car manufacturers for free.
The BIS is a three-point harness with the shoulder belt attached to the seat itself, rather than to the vehicle structure. The first car using this system was the Range Rover Classic. Fitment was standard on the front seats from 1970. Some cars like the Renault Vel Satis use this system for the front seats. A General Motors assessment concluded seat-mounted 3-point belts offer better protection especially to smaller vehicle occupants,[dead link] though GM did not find a safety performance improvement in vehicles with seat-mounted belts versus body-mounted belts.
BIS type belts have been used by automakers in convertibles and pillarless hardtops, where there is no "B" pillar to affix the upper mount of the belt. Chrysler and Cadillac are well known for using this design. Antique auto enthusiasts sometimes replace original seats in their cars with BIS-equipped front seats, providing a measure of safety not available when these cars were new. However, modern BIS systems typically use electronics that must be installed and connected with the seats and the vehicle's electrical system in order to function properly.
Five-point harnesses are typically found in child safety seats and in racing cars. The lap portion is connected to a belt between the legs and there are two shoulder belts, making a total of five points of attachment to the seat. A 4-point harness is similar, but without the strap between the legs, while a 6-point harness has two belts between the legs. Such harnesses can cause paralysis or other severe injury in a vehicle rollover when retrofited to vehicles not designed for their installation and not having sufficient strength to prevent roof collapse during rollover and are used mainly in racing. In NASCAR, the 6-point harness became popular after the death of Dale Earnhardt, who was wearing a five-point harness when he suffered his fatal crash; as it was first thought that his belt had broken, and broke his neck at impact, some teams ordered a six-point harness in response.
Aerobatic aircraft frequently use a combination harness consisting of a five-point harness with a redundant lap-belt attached to a different part of the airframe. While providing redundancy for negative-g maneuvers (which lift the pilot out of the seat), they also require the pilot to un-latch two harnesses if it is necessary to parachute from a failed aircraft.
The purpose of locking retractors is to provide the seated occupant the convenience of some free movement of the upper torso within the compartment, while providing a method of limiting this movement in the event of a crash. Most modern seat belts are stowed on spring-loaded reels called "retractors" equipped with inertial locking mechanisms that stop the belt from extending off the reel during severe deceleration. There are two main types of inertial seat belt lock. A webbing-sensitive lock is based on a centrifugal clutch activated by rapid acceleration of the strap (webbing) from the reel. The belt can be pulled from the reel only slowly and gradually, as when the occupant extends the belt to fasten it. A sudden rapid pull of the belt — as in a sudden braking or collision event — causes the reel to lock, restraining the occupant in position. A vehicle-sensitive lock is based on a pendulum swung away from its plumb position by rapid deceleration or rollover of the vehicle. In the absence of rapid deceleration or rollover, the reel is unlocked and the belt strap may be pulled from the reel against the spring tension of the reel. The vehicle occupant can move around with relative freedom while the spring tension of the reel keeps the belt taut against the occupant. When the pendulum swings away from its normal plumb position due to sudden deceleration or rollover, a pawl is engaged, the reel locks and the strap restrains the belted occupant in position. Dual-sensing locking retractors use both vehicle G-loading and webbing payout rate to initiate the locking mechanism.
Seatbelts in many newer vehicles are also equipped with "pretensioners" and/or "Webclamps".
A study demonstrated that standard automotive 3-point restraints fitted with pyrotechnic or electric pretensioners were not able to eliminate all interior passenger compartment head strikes in rollover test conditions. Electric pretensioners are often incorporated on vehicles equipped with precrash systems, they are designed to reduce seat belt slack in a potential collision and assist in placing the occupants in a more optimal seating position.
The inflatable seatbelt was invented by Donald Lewis and tested at the Automotive Products Division of Allied Chemical Corp. Inflatable seatbelts have tubular inflatable bladders contained within an outer cover. When a crash occurs the bladder inflates with a gas to increase the area of the restraint contacting the occupant and also shortening the length of the restraint to tighten the belt around the occupant, improving the protection. The inflatable sections may be shoulder-only or lap and shoulder. The system supports the head during the crash better than a web only belt. It also provides side impact protection. In 2013, Ford began offering rear seat inflatable seat belts on a limited set of models, such as the Explorer and Flex.
Seatbelts that automatically move into position around a vehicle occupant once the adjacent door is closed and/or the engine is started were developed as a countermeasure against low usage rates of manual seat belts, particularly in the United States. The first car to feature Automatic Shoulder belts as standard equipment was the 1981 Toyota Cressida, but the history of the belts go back further.
The 1972 Volkswagen ESVW1 Experimental Safety Vehicle presented passive seat belts. Volvo tried to develop a passive three point seatbelt. In 1973 Volkswagen announced they had a functional passive seat belt. The first commercial car to use automatic seat belts was the 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit.
Automatic seat belts received a boost in the United States in 1977 when Brock Adams, United States Secretary of Transportation in the Carter Administration, mandated that by 1983 every new car should have either airbags or automatic seat belts despite strong lobbying from the auto industry. Adams was attacked by Ralph Nader, who said that the 1983 deadline was too late. Soon after, General Motors began offering automatic seat belts, first on the Chevrolet Chevette, but by early 1979 the VW Rabbit and the Chevette were the only cars to offer the safety feature, and GM was reporting disappointing sales. By early 1978, Volkswagen had reported 90,000 Rabbits sold with automatic seat belts. A study released in 1978 by the United States Department of Transportation claimed that cars with automatic seat belts had a fatality rate of .78 per 100 million miles, compared with 2.34 for cars with regular, manual belts. In 1981, Drew Lewis, the first Transportation Secretary of the Reagan Administration, influenced by studies done by the auto industry, "killed" the previous administration's mandate; the decision was overruled in a federal appeals court the following year, and then by the Supreme Court. In 1984, the Reagan Administration reversed its course, though in the meantime the original deadline had been extended; Elizabeth Dole, then Transportation Secretary, proposed that the two passive safety restraints be phased into vehicles gradually, from vehicle model year 1987 to vehicle model year 1990, when all vehicles would be required to have either automatic seat belts or driver side air bags. Though more awkward for vehicle occupants, most manufacturers opted to use less expensive automatic belts rather than airbags during this time period.
When driver side airbags became mandatory on all passenger vehicles in model year 1995, most manufacturers stopped equipping cars with automatic seat belts. Exceptions include the 1995-1996 Ford Escort/Mercury Tracer and the Eagle Summit Wagon which had automatic safety belts along with dual airbags.
Automatic belt systems generally offer inferior occupant crash protection. In systems with belts attached to the door rather than a sturdier fixed portion of the vehicle body, a crash that causes the vehicle door to open leaves the occupant without belt protection. In such a scanario, the occupant may be thrown from the vehicle and suffer greater injury or death. Because many automatic belt system designs compliant with the US passive-restraint mandate did not meet the safety performance requirements of Canada—which were not weakened to accommodate automatic belts—vehicle models which had been eligible for easy importation in either direction across the US-Canada border when equipped with manual belts became ineligible for importation in either direction once the US variants got automatic belts and the Canadian versions retained manual belts. Two such models were the Dodge Spirit and Plymouth Acclaim.
Automatic belt systems also present several operational disadvantages. Motorists who would normally wear seat belts must still fasten the manual lap belt, thus rendering redundant the automation of the shoulder belt. Those who do not fasten the lap belt wind up inadequately protected by only the shoulder belt; in a crash without a lap belt such a vehicle occupant is likely to "submarine" (be thrown forward under the shoulder belt) and be seriously injured. Motorized or door-affixed shoulder belts hinder access to the vehicle, making it difficult to enter and exit—particularly if the occupant is carrying items such as a box or a purse. Vehicle owners tend to disconnect the motorized or door-affixed shoulder belt to alleviate the nuisance of entering and exiting the vehicle, leaving only a lap belt for crash protection. Also, many automatic seat belt systems are incompatible with child safety seats, or compatible only with special modifications.
Research and development efforts are ongoing to improve the safety performance of vehicle seatbelts. Some experimental designs have included:
In 1955 (as a 1956 package), Ford offered lap only seat belts in the rear seats as an option within the Lifeguard safety package. In 1967, Volvo started to install lap belts in the rear seats. In 1972, Volvo upgraded the rear seat belts to a three point belt.
As with adult drivers and passengers, the advent of seat belts was accompanied by calls for their use by child occupants, including legislation requiring such use. Generally children using adult seat belts suffer significantly lower injury risk when compared to non-buckled children.
The UK extended compulsory seatbelt wearing to child passengers under the age of 14 in 1989. It was observed that this measure was accompanied by a 10% increase in fatalities and a 12% increase in injuries among the target population. In crashes, small children who wear adult seatbelts can suffer "seat-belt syndrome" injuries including severed intestines, ruptured diaphragms and spinal damage. There is also research suggesting that children in inappropriate restraints are at significantly increased risk of head injury, one of the authors of this research has been quoted as claiming that "The early graduation of kids into adult lap and shoulder belts is a leading cause of child-occupant injuries and deaths." As a result of such findings, many jurisdictions now advocate or require child passengers to use specially designed child restraints. Such systems include separate child-sized seats with their own restraints and booster cushions for children using adult restraints. In some jurisdictions children below a certain size are forbidden to travel in front car seats."
In North America, cars sold since the early 1970s have included an audiovisual reminder system consisting of a light on the dashboard and a buzzer or chime reminding the driver and passengers to fasten their belts. Originally, these lights were accompanied by a warning buzzer whenever the transmission was in any position except park if either the driver was not buckled up or, as determined by a pressure sensor in the passenger's seat, if there was a passenger there not buckled up. However, this was considered by many to be a major annoyance, as the light would be on and the buzzer would sound continuously if front-seat passengers were not buckled up. Therefore, people who did not wish to buckle up would defeat this system by fastening the seatbelts with the seat empty and leaving them that way.
By the mid-1970s, auto manufacturers modified the system so that a warning buzzer would sound for several seconds before turning off (with the warning light), regardless of whether the car was started. However, if the driver was buckled up, the light would appear, but with no buzzer. New cars sold in the United States in 1974 and the first part of the 1975 model year were sold with a special "ignition interlock", whereby the driver could not start the car until the seat belt was fastened; however, this system was short-lived. Cars manufactured starting in early 1975 onward had the modified buzzer-warning light system described earlier.
Later on, some manufacturers began replacing buzzer-based warning systems with a chime system, including the seat belt warning system; the idea was that the chimes were "gentler" than the buzzer. The first U.S. car model to offer this system was the 1976 Cadillac Seville, and this system eventually replaced the buzzer system by the early 1990s.
Today, the belt warning light may stay on for several minutes after the car is started if the driver's seat belt is not fastened, although the chime/buzzer will sound for only a few seconds when the key was turned to the "on" position.
In Europe and some other parts of the world, most modern cars include a seat-belt reminder light for the driver and some also include a reminder for the passenger, when present, activated by a pressure sensor under the passenger seat. Some cars will intermittently flash the reminder light and sound the chime until the driver (and sometimes the front passenger, if present) fasten their seatbelts.
Observational studies of car crash morbidity and mortality, experiments using both crash test dummies and human cadavers indicate that wearing seat belts greatly reduces the risk of death and injury in the majority of car crashes.
This has led many countries to adopt mandatory seat belt wearing laws. It is generally accepted that, in comparing like-for-like accidents, a vehicle occupant not wearing a properly fitted seat belt has a significantly and substantially higher chance of death and serious injury. One large observation studying using US data showed that the odds ratio of crash death is 0.46 with a three-point belt, when compared with no belt. In another study that examined injuries presenting to the ER pre- and post-seat belt law introduction, it was found that 40% more escaped injury and 35% more escaped mild and moderate injuries.
The effects of seat belt laws are disputed by those who observe that their passage did not reduce road fatalities. There was also concern that instead of legislating for a general protection standard for vehicle occupants, laws that required a particular technical approach would rapidly become dated as motor manufacturers would tool up for a particular standard which could not easily be changed. For example, in 1969 there were competing designs for lap and 3-point seat belts, rapidly-tilting seats, and air bags being developed. But as countries started to mandate seat belt restraints the global auto industry invested in the tooling and standardized exclusively on seat belts, and ignored other restraint designs such as air bags for several decades
Some have proposed that the number of deaths was influenced by the development of risk compensation, which says that drivers adjust their behavior in response to the increased sense of personal safety wearing a seat belt provides.
In one trial subjects were asked to drive go-karts around a track under various conditions. It was found that subjects who started driving unbelted drove consistently faster when subsequently belted. Similarly, a study of habitual non-seatbelt wearers driving in freeway conditions found evidence that they had adapted to seatbelt use by adopting higher driving speeds and closer following distances. A 2001 analysis of US crash data aimed to establish the effects of seatbelt legislation on driving fatalities and found that previous estimates of seatbelts effectiveness had been significantly overstated. According to the analysis used, seatbelts were claimed to have decreased fatalities by 1.35% for each 10% increase in seatbelt use. The study controlled for endogenous motivations of seat belt use, which it is claimed creates an artificial correlation between seat belt use and fatalities, leading to the conclusion that seatbelts cause fatalities. For example, drivers in high risk areas are more likely to use seat belts, and are more likely to be in accidents, creating a non-causal correlation between seatbelt use and mortality. After accounting for the endogeneity of seatbelt usage, Cohen and Einav found no evidence that the risk compensation effect makes seatbelt wearing drivers more dangerous, a finding at variance with other research.
Other statistical analyses have included adjustments for factors such as increased traffic, and other factors such as age, and based on these adjustments, a reduction of morbidity and mortality due to seat belt use has been claimed. However, Smeed's law predicts a fall in accident rate with increasing car ownership and has been demonstrated independently of seat belt legislation.
In the European Union, all new long distance buses and coaches must be fitted with seat belts.
Australia has required lap/sash seat belts in new coaches since 1994. These must comply with Australian Design Rule 68, which requires the seat belt, seat and seat anchorage to withstand 20g deceleration and an impact by an unrestrained occupant to the rear.
The use of seatbelts in trains has been investigated. Concerns about survival space intrusion in train crashes and increased injuries to unrestrained or incorrectly restrained passengers led the researchers to discourage the use of seat belts in trains.
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