These days the name Volvo is synonymous with automotive safety and this year marks the 60th anniversary of the one innovation that’s done more than any other to establish that link in the public consciousness…the three-point safety belt.
Now such a familiar part of everyday life for most people around the world it’s hard to imagine just how revolutionary the invention was when developed by Nils Bohlin back in 1959.
But one thing that requires no imagination is the enormity of the contribution this seemingly so simple device has made to road safety since Volvo took the decision to leave the patent open and make it available to all vehicle manufacturers to us free-of-charge.
Even in the age of advanced technology, where airbags, moving object detection and collision avoidance systems are now commonplace in cars, trucks and vans, the ‘humble’ three-point safety belt is an ever present and underpins everything.
It’s estimated that more than one million lives have been saved since drivers and their passengers first started pulling their seatbelts over their shoulders.
As Anna Wrige Berling, Volvo Trucks’ newly-appointed Traffic and Product Safety Director, explains, “There is no safety system that comes even close to the seat belt in terms of saving lives, and the three-point safety belt has protected more people in traffic accidents than any other safety device.”
In the UK, the wearing of three-point seat belts in cars became compulsory in 1983 but it was not until October 2001 that all goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes were required to have seat belts fitted to the driver’s seat and all forward-facing passenger seats.
Yet despite the very clear and indisputable evidence that wearing seatbelts saves lives, there were still far too many instances of drivers neglecting to clunk and click. This prompted the mandatory introduction of seatbelt reminder systems in 2014.
Even now though, it has been found that too many truck drivers still neglect to use this simple device and in many parts of the world seat belt usage among heavy truck drivers and co-drivers is unfortunately still far too low.
“This is clearly a waste of lives as the records shows that there would be so many fewer casualties if all drivers used their belts,” said Berling, adding, “The Volvo Trucks Safety Report 2017 clearly shows that half of all truck drivers killed in traffic accidents would have survived if they had been wearing their seat belt.”
According to Volvo it appears that a number of myths around the wearing of seatblets still persist: that a seat belt is dangerous in rollover situations, it crushes your clothes or it is uncomfortable to wear. Many others mistakenly believe that there is no need for a belt in a truck, due to the size of the vehicle or the airbag alone will prove sufficient protection for the driver.
But as Berling continues, “The facts are clear: Using the belt is crucial in trucks. For example, in a rollover accident the belt can help protect the driver from being jammed between the truck and the ground.”
The seat belt is also vital at low speeds in city traffic, where most road accidents occur, since what is not always appreciated is that the force of a 30mph collision is equivalent to that encountered by a person falling from the third floor of a building.
Martin Tomlinson, Head of Media and Product Demonstration at Volvo Trucks UK & Ireland, said, “Although we have safety belt reminders in our trucks, ultimately it is the drivers themselves who must realise the risks they are taking when they drive without wearing their safety belt.
“Virtually all our entire systematic safety approach is by-passed if the belt does not get the chance to hold the seat occupant securely in place during an accident. This applies equally if the driver is thrown around inside the cab or is thrown out of the cab if the truck rolls over.”
In addition to the three-point safety belt, another Volvo innovation is celebrating a major anniversary in 2019. Volvo Trucks’ Accident Research Team (ART) is celebrating 50 years of research into safety issues, having been founded to investigate and gain knowledge about truck accidents that resulted in physical injury.
To a large extent, the work of the ART laid the foundations for Volvo Trucks’ highly-respected reputation for safety. Since 1969, thousands of investigations have led to the formation of a unique information base. At the same time, co-operation with other countries and public authorities has resulted in the high-level exchange of scientific information, leading Volvo’s research to contribute to the safety of commercial vehicles all over the world.
“We’ve come a long way in the area of passive safety in trucks,” says Anna Wrige Berling, who led Volvo Trucks’ ART from 2008-2013. “However, our focus is now on active safety and on accident prevention, because we know, not least, that the human factor is the cause of many accidents.”
She added, “We are sharing our traffic safety findings widely and have offered our knowledge and expertise to universities, research laboratories and partner organisations. Whenever traffic safety is discussed, we want to participate. This helps us learn even more about the issues, the potential solutions and how to design the trucks of the future.”