Vehicle safety has come a long way since 1959. Nevertheless, that year was a major milestone in automotive history. In that year, the three-point seatbelt was improved upon by Nils Bohlin, a former SAAB aircraft engineer who spent his early career designing ejection seats (1). After Volvo CEO Gunnar Engelau lost a relative in a car crash, he hired Bohlin as Volvo’s first Chief Safety Engineer.
Contrary to popular belief, Volvo and Bohlin did not invent the first safety belt in a car. The first seat belts typically consisted of a belt strapped across the waist and two Americans, Roger Griswold and Hugh De Haven, patented the first three-point seatbelt in 1951 (2) though the buckle rested in the middle of the occupants abdomen causing severe internal injuries during high-speed collisions. Bohlin greatly improved upon the seat belt by moving the buckle to a safer location, anchoring the belt below the occupant’s waist and simplifying the process of using the seatbelt with its one-handed design. It has been estimated that Bohlin’s seat belt has saved a million lives in its roughly 50 year history. During that time, the standard car seat belt has remained fundamentally unchanged.
The same cannot be said for the automotive seat itself. It has undergone many changes in the past 50 years from the addition of headrests to aid in whiplash protection, lumbar support adjustment, built-in airbags to protect the occupant in a side-impact collision, to the materials used in the seat’s construction to reduce weight and increase driver comfort. A fatigued driver is not a safe driver.
Ford has recently taken the safety aspects of automotive seating a step further with its ECG seat for-in car heart monitoring. Drivers who suffer from heart disease have a 23 percent greater risk of being involved in an accident (3). Initial testing is very promising, showing a 95 percent accuracy during 98 percent of the time the driver spent in the seat. Some emergency medical services already have the capability to send data wirelessly from ambulance to hospital and it is possible that the car seat may soon be able to do the same. It’s an exciting innovation to look out for.
IQPC is hosting its 8th International Conference on Innovative Seating in Bonn, Germany from the 25th – 28th of February, 2013.
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