40 years of seat belt duty – first unloved, then natural

First it was considered as a deprivation of liberty. Today, hardly anyone doubts the usefulness of seat belts.


In the 1960s, the number of cars on German streets doubled. As a result, more accidents with more casualties happened. Formerly, seatbelts were only installed at the request of customers and weren’t very popular. Anyway, they needed improvement in regards to safety: With a pure waist belt, the torso could easily tilt forward, with the shoulder belt there was a risk to simply slip through it.

In 1959 the Swedish engineer Nils Bohlin from Volvo took out a patent for the three-point seat belt, a combination of lap and shoulder belt. The Volvo PV 544 was the first car having the three-point belt as standard equipment for the front seats. On 1st of January 1976, the requirement to wear a seatbelt became mandatory – however, no penalty was imposed in case you didn’t attach your seatbelt. Many car drivers still renounced to wear a seatbelt despite large-scale safety campaigns of the government. One year after the seatbelt use became mandatory, only 39 per cent of the car drivers used their seatbelts.

One main argument of the opponents: The seatbelt would hinder the passengers to leave the car quickly in case of a fire. Others worried about injuries caused by the belt or didn’t like to have creases in their clothes that came from the belts, as they alleged. A lot of people might have seen the seatbelt as a restriction of their freedom.

Ten years after the seatbelt became mandatory, the number of “belt sinners” was still high. Only about 60 per cent did use their seatbelt. Politics dealt with it by introducing mandatory seatbelt use also for the back seats as well as a fine for not wearing a belt.

This became a success. Today, 98 per cent of all car drivers put on their seatbelt. The belt has been recognized as a necessary safety measure, for most people, putting on the seatbelt has become an automatic behaviour. For all other people, there is an effective reminder: the belt beeper.

Read more: Get the hands on the steering wheel – and off your smartphone!

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