More than half a century ago, Volvo came up with a safety innovation so excellent that it eventually landed in every single vehicle, and it’s still in your car today.
It’s the three-point seatbelt!
On July 10, 1962, the United States Patent Office issued patent number 3043625 to Nils Bohlin, a Swedish engineer, for a three-point safety belt designed for use in road cars. The belt was straightforward, consisting of two straps that met at the hip and secured both the upper and lower body.
During this time, seatbelts were not mandated (and wouldn’t be until a federal law was enacted in 1966, starting in the 1968 model year), and seatbelts that did exist were typically just lap belts, offering no upper-body protection. Bohlin’s three-point seatbelt took him less than a year to design, and Volvo introduced the technology to its cars in 1959, the same year that Bohlin filed for his patent in the US.
The point of this new design, Bohlin writes in the patent, “is to provide a safety belt which, independently of the strength of the seat and its connection with the vehicle in an effective and physiological favourable manner, retains the upper as well as the lower part of the body of the strapped person against the action of substantially forwardly directed forces and which is easy to fasten and unfasten.”
Instead of sitting on the patent and licensing it out to other automakers for a big ol’ chunk of change, Volvo opened up the patent so that any automaker could incorporate it into vehicles. The automotive industry took the idea and ran with it, and it proved so safe and popular that derivatives of Bohlin’s original design are still in use today.
Back in 2009, Volvo estimated that more than 1 million people have been saved by the three-point seatbelt. That number has obviously risen since then, and they all have Volvo and Nils Bohlin to thank for it.