The three points that saved one million lives


The modern three-point safety belt was perfected by Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin in 1959 – and its patent given for free to the world. The invention has been credited with saving at least a million lives worldwide.

When physiotherapist Margit Engellau met yet another person with a suspected whiplash injury she began to think. In her work at the hospital in Gothenburg she treated people who had been in traffic accidents almost every day. At home, she brought up the idea of better protection for people’s heads with her husband, Gunnar Engellau, Volvo’s president at the time. Soon after, in 1970, headrests became standard in Volvo cars.

To act on an observation like this came naturally to Volvo. The safety mindset has been part of Volvo’s company culture since the beginning. In 1936, Volvo’s founders presented their sales handbook, containing one of the company’s best-known statements, “An automobile is driven by people. The fundamental principle for all construction work is and must therefore be, safety.”

The focus was placed on making sure that every part of every Volvo was designed to be as safe as possible. Safety initiatives took various forms – for example, as far back as the company’s early years in the late 1920s, Volvo was already testing brakes on every wheel of its vehicles.

But perhaps the most important Volvo innovation is the seatbelt. Seatbelts for vehicles had been in use, in one form or another since the mid-19th century. Early versions – like those across laps – helped to keep passengers safe, but there was always room for improvement. Then, in the 1950s, a new safety belt prototype was presented to Volvo. It was handed to engineer Nils Bohlin, who perfected it – and before long, the three-point safety belt was standard in all Volvos. But this was only the beginning.

From Volvo to the world

Bohlin’s version of the seatbelt – according to its patent, “effectively, and in a physiologically favorable manner, prevents the body of the strapped person being thrown forward,” – was effectively gifted to the rest of the industry, and therefore the rest of the world to use, without payment or claims. You can now find it in the majority of vehicles, old and new, regardless of the manufacturer, and its use is enshrined in law around the globe.

Volvo’s long-term vision of reducing accidents involving Volvo vehicles to zero guides the company into the future, with a stream of totally new safety priorities to address. Not least when it comes to groundbreaking technologies like self-driving vehicles – maybe the safest vehicle of the future will have no safety belt at all?

Buckled up or not, one thing is for sure, safety was and always will be Volvo’s number one priority.


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