August 13th marked the 50th anniversary of the three-point seatbelt. Invented by Nils Bohlin, a Volvo engineer at the time, the seat belt revolutionized safety inthe automotive industry. Previously, other two and three point seat belt systems were used in vehicles but failed to protect occupants in a variety of crashes.
Using some ingenious solutions to problems found in other systems, Bohlin successfully produced the seat belts we all use today. Volvo, seeing the importance of the invention and the effect it had on occupant safety, claimed the invention but did not limit others from utilizing the design. Within a few years of its public release, almost every automotive company was providing the three point design standard with their vehicles.
The effect has been astounding. The British Government has estimated the design has saved over a million lives in accidents. The seat belt not only protects occupants from head on collisions, but also from rear-enders and roll-overs.
With such a simple, effective device which prevents serious injury or death, it’s no surprise that states have made seat belt use required. In Tennessee, Section 55-9-603 applies to almost all drivers in the state:
55-9-603 (a) (1) No person shall operate a passenger motor vehicle on any highway, as defined in § 55-8-101, in this state unless the person and all passengers four (4) years of age or older are restrained by a safety belt at all times the vehicle is in forward motion.
If caught in a vehicle without a seat belt, the offender is stuck with a fine, $10 at minimum. There’s a separate statute, 55-9-602, which requires drivers to ensure that children in their car are properly restrained:
(a) (1) Any person transporting any child, under one (1) year of age, or any child, weighing twenty pounds (20 lbs.) or less, in a motor vehicle upon a road, street or highway of this state is responsible for the protection of the child and properly using a child passenger restraint system in a rear facing position, meeting federal motor vehicle safety standards in the rear seat if available or according to the child safety restraint system or vehicle manufacturer’s instructions.
(2) Notwithstanding § 55-9-603, any person transporting any child, one through three (1-3) years of age weighing greater than twenty pounds (20 lbs.), in a motor vehicle upon a road, street or highway of this state is responsible for the protection of the child and properly using a child passenger restraint system in a forward facing position, meeting federal motor vehicle safety standards in the rear seat if available or according to the child safety restraint system or vehicle manufacturer’s instructions.
Drivers liable under this statute will suffer a $50 fine.
Despite the law, and despite common sense, almost 1 in 4 drivers in Tennessee are not buckled up. It doesn’t matter how safe your vehicle is, how good of a driver you think you are, or how uncomfortable you think seat belts are, that’s no excuse. Accidents happen, and when they do, you don’t want to be without your seat belt on. Time and time again, deaths occur because the occupant was not buckled up. Although not admissable at trial the jury will figure out that you were not wearing your set belt and reduce your recovery, because your negligence may have increased the severity of your injury.
50 years later… buckle up!