The Seat Belt - Volvo's leading safety invention - celebrates its 60th anniversary

This year marks 60 years since Volvo first introduced the three-point safety belt – an invention that has proven to be one of the world´s most important traffic safety innovations. Indeed, it’s estimated that more than one million lives have been saved worldwide since the very first Volvo drivers pulled Nils Bohlin´s innovative three-point seat belt over their shoulders back in 1959.
The Seat Belt - Volvo's leading Safety invention - celebrates its 60th anniversary
To put on the safety belt takes only a few seconds, but it can save your life.

If it is possible to own a word, Volvo owns the word ‘Safety’. It is one of our three core values and a significant part of our DNA that is built into our brand heritage and culture. As such, although the seat belt design was patented, the company decided the patent was to be left open, making it available to all vehicle manufacturers to use free-of-charge. This rather unconventional decision was made in the greater interest of public safety, to ensure that everyone, independently of whether they drove a Volvo vehicle or not, could be safer in traffic. This decision has now proved to be very beneficial to the world.

As Anna Wrige Berling, Volvo Trucks’ newly-appointed Traffic & Product Safety Director, explains. “There is no safety system that comes even close to the seat belt in terms of saving lives, and the three-point safety belt has protected more people in traffic accidents than any other safety device.”

A history of safety within Volvo
Nils Bohlin, an aircraft engineer who originally worked for Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget (SAAB) on ejector seats and other pilot rescue systems, developed the modern three-point belt in 1942, at a time when pilots and racing drivers wore safety harnesses.

Transferring to Volvo in 1958 as a safety engineer, Nils Bohlin knew an effective belt must absorb force across the body, yet be so easy to use that even a child could buckle up. Therefore, his ingenious solution took the form of a combined lap belt with a diagonal belt across the chest.

The first vehicle fitted with the new three-point seat belt was a Volvo PV 544 delivered to a dealer in Kristianstad, Sweden on August 13th 1959. The first car to feature the new three-point seat belt as standard was the 1959 Volvo 122, although by 1963 all Volvo cars came equipped with front seat belts. In the UK, the wearing of three-point seat belts in cars became compulsory in the UK in 1983.

Seat belts have been fitted as standard on all Volvo trucks in the UK and Ireland since 1990, although it was not until October 2001 that all goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes were required to have seat belts fitted to the driver’s seat and all forward-facing passenger seats.

A life-saving innovation, but not always used
To encourage the use of seat belts, Volvo and other vehicle manufacturers have developed reminder systems, which alert occupants that seat belts aren’t being worn and since 2014 these systems have become mandatory.

However, bearing in mind the safety factor, it has been found that too many truck drivers still neglect to use this simple device and in many parts of the world seat belt usage among heavy truck drivers and co-drivers is unfortunately still far too low.

“This is clearly a waste of lives as the records shows that there would be so many fewer casualties if all drivers used their belts,” declares Anna Wrige Berling, adding, “The Volvo Trucks Safety Report 2017 clearly show that half of all truck drivers killed in traffic accidents would have survived if they had been wearing their seat belt!”

Volvo Trucks Safety Report 2017:

So what are the reasons that a seat belt is not used? It appears that myths persist including claims that a seat belt is dangerous in rollover situations, it crushes your clothes or it is uncomfortable to wear, live long in the mind (and social media). Many others mistakenly believe that there is no need for a belt in a truck, due to the size of the vehicle or the airbag alone will prove sufficient protection for the driver.

As Anna Wrige Berling continues, “The facts are clear: Using the belt is crucial in trucks. For example, in a rollover accident the belt can help protect the driver from being jammed between the truck and the ground.”

The seat belt is also vital at low speeds in city traffic, where most road accidents occur, since what is not always appreciated is that the force of a 30mph collision is equivalent to that encountered by a person falling from the third floor of a building.

As Martin Tomlinson, Head of Media & Product Demonstration at Volvo Trucks UK & Ireland, explains, "Although we have safety belt reminders in our trucks, ultimately it is the drivers themselves who must realise the risks they are taking when they drive without wearing their safety belt. Virtually all our entire systematic safety approach is by-passed if the belt does not get the chance to hold the seat occupant securely in place during an accident. This applies equally if the driver is thrown around inside the cab or is thrown out of the cab if the truck rolls over."

Accident Research Team
This year Volvo Trucks’ Accident Research Team (ART) is celebrating fifty years of research into safety issues, having been founded to investigate and gain knowledge about truck accidents that resulted in physical injury. To a large extent, the work of the ART laid the foundations for Volvo Trucks’ highly-respected reputation for safety.

Since 1969, thousands of investigations have led to the formation of a unique information base. At the same time, co-operation with other countries and public authorities has resulted in the high-level exchange of scientific information, leading Volvo’s research to contribute to the safety of commercial vehicles all over the world.

“We’ve come a long way in the area of passive safety in trucks,” says Anna Wrige Berling, who led Volvo Trucks’ ART from 2008-2013.. “However, our focus is now on active safety and on accident prevention, because we know, not least, that the human factor is the cause of many accidents.”

The ‘Zero Accidents’ vision 
It is well known that Volvo Trucks has a vision of zero accidents and believes that truck manufacturers, traffic authorities, infrastructure planners, other experts and drivers around the world need to work together to achieve a safer traffic environment.

With extensive experience from working with both active and passive safety issues within the Volvo Group´s product development, advanced engineering and research organisations, Anna Wrige Berling brings in-depth knowledge of traffic safety issues to her new position.

Anna has investigated traffic accidents on-site and compiled traffic safety data for use in future product development and had a prominent role in the communication of Volvo’s safety offering to the transportation industry, as well as representing Volvo in external traffic safety forums. She has also been managing the area of Traffic Situation Management within automated driving at Volvo Trucks and holds a Master of Science in Engineering Physics from Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden.

As Anna Wrige Berling concludes, “We are sharing our traffic safety findings widely and have offered our knowledge and expertise to universities, research laboratories and partner organisations. Whenever traffic safety is discussed, we want to participate. This helps us learn even more about the issues, the potential solutions and how to design the trucks of the future.”

LINK to roll-over film on YouTube.
LINK to press release as PDF.