Although we’ve been driving around in motor cars since the 1890s, seatbelts are a comparatively recent invention. In 2019, getting in the car and putting your seatbelt on is something we do automatically, without thinking. But have you ever stopped to consider the history of these lifesaving accessories?

Invented by Volvo

Perhaps not surprisingly given the Swedish brand’s reputation for putting safety first, Volvo was the first company to patent the three point seatbelt design in 1959. However, designer Nils Bohlin decided that the invention was too important in terms of safety to keep secret. Volvo opened up the patent and let other manufacturers copy the design. The three point seatbelt quickly became standard across all makes and models of car. Industry experts estimate that Volvo’s clever invention has saved a million lives across the globe.

Australia Makes them Compulsory

In 1970, the state of Victoria in Australia was the first part of the world to make seatbelt wearing compulsory for drivers and passengers travelling in the front seat. The UK was very slow to follow suit. It was not until 31 January 1983 that all drivers and front seat passengers had to use seatbelts. In 1989, the law was extended to cover all back seat passengers too, in vehicles fitted with rear seatbelts.

Manufacturers Added Seatbelts in the 60s

The fact that it didn’t become law to have to use seatbelts is even more surprising given that in 1965 the UK passed a law stating that seatbelts had to be installed on all new cars. In that year, testing of seatbelts was added to the MOT test too. However, for another 18 years, seatbelt use was an optional extra. As far back as 1974, the “clunk, click every trip” campaign encouraged drivers to belt up.

Rules about Seat Belts

In the UK all new cars have to be fitted with a belt for each seat. The legislation does not require belts to be fitted to older cars which predate the law. Belts are tested during the annual MOT test. Testers will test each belt by clipping it into the buckle, then pulling to make sure it doesn’t come loose. They will also check that the belt is easily released when pressed and that the belt is in good condition without fraying or wear. They’ll also pull down on the belt to make sure the mechanism locks, ensuring that in an accident you won’t be catapulted forwards.

Penalties for Seatbelts

If you notice a problem with your car’s seatbelt, don’t wait until the next MOT inspection to get it fixed. Replacing a seatbelt isn’t a big job but it’s something that needs to be done by the professionals, not an enthusiastic amateur. If you choose not to wear your seatbelt, then you risk being stopped by the police. You can be fined up to £500 for not wearing your seatbelt, and also £500 for children under the age of 14 not wearing theirs. If you can’t use a seatbelt for medical reasons, you’ll need an exemption certificate from the GP.


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