Designed to hold passengers firmly in their seats in event of a crash so that they will not be thrown violently against the car interior, a newly developed safety belt for automobiles may eliminate injuries attributed to this cause in 1938.
Seat belts had been around, if infrequently used, since the 19th century. Many street cars had lap belts in the 1930s, but few people used them. These early lap belt models kept passengers from flying out of the car but did nothing to protect their heads or torsos.
The Wisconsin born Nash Motors became the first company to offer seatbelts in 1949. Charles W. Nash started the company in 1916 after purchasing the Kenosha-based Thomas B. Jeffery Company, a bicycle-turned-automobile factory. Nash opened plants in Milwaukee and Racine as well as in Arkansas; and by the 1920s, Nash was one of the nation’s bestselling car companies.
Seatbelts aroused heated debate despite increasing scientific research in the 1940s and 1950s affirming their value in saving lives. Among the arguments put forth against seatbelts was that they could cause internal injuries; that they prevented easy escapes from cars submerged in water; and that devices frequently failed. All were disputed by researchers but opposition remained fierce.
It wasn’t until the late 1950s that an engineer at Volvo devised the three-point seat belt most of us are familiar with today. This new model secured the chest and hips with a single belt. These seatbelts became mandatory in all new United States vehicles in 1968.