September 17, 2002

Inventor of three-point safety belt to be inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame

Akron, Ohio – Nils Bohlin, a retired engineer for Sweden’s Volvo Car Corporation, will be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) during a ceremony in Akron, Ohio on September 21st. His achievement is a safety feature found in every vehicle manufactured today, 43 years after its invention: the three-point safety belt.

Bohlin will be among 16 inventors inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame this year.

According to the Volvo Car Corp. Traffic Accident Research Team, the three-point safety belt reduces the risk of injury or death in automobile accidents by 75 percent. It is believed to have saved as many as one million lives since its development.

In 1959, Volvo introduced the patented three-point safety belt in European markets. By the mid-1960s, its use and availability became widespread in North America. Today, nearly 70 percent of Americans buckle up and 49 states have safety belt laws. One hundred percent is the goal by most safety organizations and lawmakers.

The induction ceremony will be broadcast on select U.S. public television stations. Bohlin, who currently resides in Sweden, will be unable to attend. His sons, Gunnar and Hakan Ornmark, will accept the award on his behalf.

Bohlin began his career in engineering in the mid-1950s in the Swedish aviation industry, designing efficient ejector seats. At the time, safety belts in cars were anchored behind the car seats, strapped across the body, with the buckle placed over the abdomen. Unfortunately at high-speed crashes, this design allowed the body to move, and with the awkward position of the buckle, the belt itself could cause injury to body organs.

Based on his experience designing ejector seats, Bohlin understood the limitations of restraint devices and turned his attention to restraining the human body as safely as possible under extreme movements. In 1958, Volvo recruited Bohlin as the company’s first safety engineer, and shortly thereafter, he translated his ideas into reality.

“I realized both the upper and lower body must be held securely in place with one strap across the chest and one across the hips. The belt also needed an immovable anchorage point for the buckle as far down beside the occupant’s hip, so it could hold the body properly during a collision,” Bohlin said. “It was just a matter of finding a solution that was simple, effective and could be put on conveniently with one hand.”

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