Swedish engineer Nils Bohlin receives a U.S. patent for the three-point, lap-and-shoulder, vehicle safety belt. It's considered one of the most important and widespread safety innovations of all time.
Bohlin designed pilot-ejection systems for Saab Aircraft before Volvo hired him as its first safety engineer in 1958. The automobile seat belts of the time were two-point lap belts that didn't restrain the upper body. In high-speed crashes, the buckle position often caused internal injuries of its own.
Bohlin took just a year to devise, engineer and test a double-strap, triple-anchor design that does restrain the upper body, that buckles securely with one hand, and that places that buckle away from the passenger's soft abdomen. It was simple and efficient.
Volvo introduced the new belt design
in August 1959. It started saving lives almost immediately. Volvo made the design "freely available
" to other car manufacturers and sent Bohlin abroad to promote seat-belt adoption and legislation.
Bohlin received letters from all over the world from thankful car-crash survivors. He delighted in hearing of lives saved by his invention, and there have been plenty of them. Volvo estimated in 2002 that seat belts had already saved more than one million lives
. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that they prevent 100,000 injuries a year just in the United States.
The West German patent office in 1985 cited the three-point safety belt as one of the eight most important patents it had issued in its first 100 years. Bohlin received the Gold Medal of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences in 1995. He was enshrined in the Automotive Hall of Fame
in 1999 and in the National Inventors Hall of Fame
on the very day of his death in 2002.
Bohlin knew he'd been selected and sent two stepsons to the ceremony. He was 82 and died from the complications of a stroke and heart attack. The family assured the world that Bohlin buckled up every time.
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