Everybody knows that seat belts save lives. But most people take them for granted each and every day as they get into their cars and strap themselves in. Seat belts have a long history and have been through many changes. Many kinds of seat belts have been developed for different situations and different types of vehicles. In most cases, seat belts prevent serious injuries, but at times they can fail. Overall, seat belts are one of the most important and necessary inventions of modern times.
History of Seat Belts
The invention of the seat belt is credited to George Cayley in England. Cayley was heavily involved in the study of flight and made many attempts at building flying machines. He invented the seat belt to hold his pilots in place on his gliders. The seat belt was patented in the United States by Edward J. Claghorn in 1885. At the time, seat belts were only used in flight attempts.
It was in the 1920s and 1930s that doctors began adding seat belts to their cars and began encouraging others to do the same. Groups formed to advocate car makers to include seat belts as a standard feature and by the 1950s, most car makers were including a lap style seat belt in the front seats of most vehicles. During the following decade, states began requiring that cars come equipped with seat belts.
Since the 1960s, seat belts have evolved and become safer. At the same time, laws have changed from requiring cars to have them to requiring all passengers to actually use them. As of 2009, almost every state requires seat belts to be worn at all times.
Types of Seat Belts
The most common and safest seat belt for adults riding in vehicles is the three-point belt. It has a chest strap and lap belt all in one. It is generally found in the front seats of most cars and the back seats of more and more makes of cars. The lap belt holds down the passenger while the chest strap keeps the person from flying forward, hurting the neck or hitting the head. The lap and chest belts work best when used together.
Children are safest in the five-point harness. Straps are anchored at each hip, over the shoulders and between the legs. This is the safest harness for children under the age of 8. Race car drivers also use this because it is by far the safest restraint.
Passenger aeroplanes use the two-point belt, commonly called a lap belt. Pilots often wear a five point harness. Pilots of fighter jets wear an even more complex seat belt with a six- or seven-point harness.
Seat Belts and Children
Children are safest in a five-point harness car seat. The car seat should be restrained in the car using the LATCH system, which is legally required to be in all cars made and sold after 2002 in the United States. The car seat is attached to hooks embedded in the seat frame with clamps that will not come undone in an accident.
Children over age 4 are sometimes put into a booster seat that helps prevent injuries during a crash. When seat belts lock during a crash, they get very tight and could injure a child. The booster seat helps to position the three-point belt in a way that does less damage to a child. Still, children under age 8 are safest in a car seat with five-point harness and the LATCH system.
Seat Belt Successes
Each year at least 16,000 people who have been in car crashes would have died if it had not been for the seat belt. It has also been found that nearly 5,000 people who die in car crashes each year would not have died if the seat belt had been worn. Buckling up is one of the easiest things to do, and it saves lives every day. Many states have campaigns to encourage people to buckle up, including slogans such as "Drive Alive" and "Arrive Alive."
Seat Belt Failures
Seat belts do not always work. Seat belts are most likely to fail when they are needed the most—during a rollover. Chrysler's Gen3 car seat, installed in many models from 1994 to 2003, has failed in rollovers but has not been recalled. This car seat is in all Chrysler Minivans, making it even more important to use the LATCH system rather than the seat belt to restrain children.
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