driver wearing seat belt

What are the Types of Automotive Seat Belts?

Cars are inherently risky. But just because something presents hazardous situations doesn’t mean people avoid it. So safety features are put in place to reduce if not eliminate risks on the road. Much like a helmet is to a motorcycle, seat belts are to cars.

Seat belt use has grown in the last several years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). From 2014 through to 2022, seat belt use rose to 11 percent at 89.6 percent. Compare this percentage to the 10 percent seat belt use in the ’80s. Automotive seat belts save lives and more people recognize that today.

Seat belts come in different varieties; some are specific to certain vehicles and others don’t offer as much protection.

History of Seat Belts

The story of the different types of belts goes back to the 18th Century or, more precisely, it’s associated with George Carley’s name. He was a British engineer who designed seat belts to ensure air pilots’ safety. However, this innovation developed throughout the years. Firstly, the seat belt was redesigned by Edward G. Claghorn to keep taxi passengers safe. 

Then, in 1959, Nils Bohlin, a Volvo engineer, designed the well-known three-point car seat belt. Since then, all the automotive seat belt types involved, including sash, lap, four, five, and six-point belts. 

Scientists have stated that these seat belts can decrease the car accident fatality rate by more than 50% for all car occupants. Moreover, a 2003 study states that 60% of car occupants who were victims of fatal car accidents would have survived if they had used any type of seat belt.

Types of Car Seat Belts

five point automotive seat belt racecar
Photo by Wade Lambert on Unsplash

1. Automatic Seat Belt

Automatic seat belts in cars and other vehicles were developed in the 1980s and 1990s. During this period, the companies experimenting with automatic seat belts were Volkswagen and Volvo. However, automatic seat belts were conceived and fully developed as a countermeasure to the decreased usage of manual belts in the USA in the 1990s. 

Nonetheless, the automatic seat belt has a simple definition: a seat belt that automatically moves into a position when you close an adjacent door. Even though automatic seat belts offer various advantages, such as general compliance with traffic rules, it also has major disadvantages. The two most important ones are leaving the car occupant without protection when the door opens and decreased awareness of the importance of seat belts. You can find automatic seat belts in older car models, such as Buick, Chevrolet, Chrysler, and Honda.

These no longer exist because their design did not offer sufficient protection to drivers. Although the concept sounds like a smart one, these retractable seat belts were clunky to operate. Instead of the one-second, pull and click function, it ended up becoming a two-step bothersome process.

But automatic seat belts in cars weren’t just inconvenient to drivers. Their presence made drivers and passengers forget to use the lap belts; one such case fatally injured a woman who was driving a 1988 Ford Escort. The woman’s husband, however, survived with serious injuries because he used both seat belts. The automatic belt was eventually replaced by airbags.

2. Lap Belt

Lap seat belts are what you’d use in airplanes, but some older model vehicles have them. These belts are designed to keep passengers from hurtling out of a vehicle. But because they merely kept people in cars “seated,” no protection was made against head or torso impact during a crash.

They were introduced in the ’30s, and in the ’50s, the American Medical Association of House Delegates managed to get lap style belts installed in all vehicles. It wasn’t until accidents proved lap belts were not providing adequate protection that they were phased out of most cars.

Another popular seat belt design is the lap-type seat belt. A lap belt is a protective belt that you secure to the framework of the seat and fasten over your lap. The lap belt is the first-ever “seat belt.” Edward J. Claghorn designed the lap belt to keep passengers safe in taxis. However, this type of seat belt has multiple disadvantages. Some of the more crucial ones that have an impact on the severity of the injuries are the unevenly distributed impact force, the danger of lower back injuries during a collision, and comfort issues. Nonetheless, lap belts can decrease the serious injury rate by 53%.

There are numerous examples of these automotive seat belt types in coaches, on airplanes, and in the back seats of our cars. Moreover, you can find lap belts in more older car models.

3. Belt in Seat (BIS)

The belt-in-seat system is a 3-point lap and shoulder belt. But unlike the conventional three-point harness seat belt, the BIS system attaches to the seat instead of the vehicle structure.

4. Three-Point Seat Belts

A mentioned, the history of the three-point seat belts goes back to 1959. The Volvo engineer, Nils Bohlin, demonstrated the benefits of the three-point seat belt by conducting a study with 28.000 traffic accidents in Sweden. 

Studies have shown that car occupants who use a three-point seat belt will have 60% fewer chances of obtaining severe injuries and 41% less chance of fatal injuries. Volvo even says that their three-point seat belt has saved more than 1.000.000 lives so far!

Nonetheless, the three-point seat belt is the most commonly used and has a distinctive Y-shape. The three-point seat belt is also called “the vertical seat belt” because it goes across the driver’s lap and shoulder, and you buckle it at the side. This belt also has advantages over other seat belt types, such as equal force and impact distribution, flexibility, and easy manipulation.

5. Five-Point Seat Belt

This belt features two shoulder belts, one lap belt and one belt between the legs. The buckle is in the center. This kind automotive protection is specific to race car drivers and children. So you’ll find the five-point seat belt in race cars and in child safety seats.

6. Harness Belts

The harness belt is a type of seat belt that you attach all over your body – your legs, arms, and torso. There are 1-point, 2-point, and multipurpose harness seat belts. Engineers originally developed them for aviation and parachuting purposes but later introduced them to sports cars and racing. 

We use harness belts for many purposes, from construction and parachuting to sports racing and aerial transport. Their main advantage is the grip and guaranteed decrease of impact, but they keep you immobile and unable to react if necessary.

What Type of Seat Belt is the Safest?

car seat for baby
Photo by
Erik Mclean on Unsplash

No safety feature is foolproof, but some may be better than others. One transport commission indicates that lap and shoulder belts reduce the risk of serious or fatal injuries, better than if the car had only a lap belt. The NHTSA also indicates that this seat belt may offer better protection.

But this combination of seat belts, like the BIS system and the three point seat belt, may not be enough. Just because the car you’re considering has these auto belts installed doesn’t guarantee absolute safety for the driver and passenger vehicle occupants when a collision occurs.

The safest seat belts must:

  • Lie snugly and not feel loose front seat passengers and the back seat
  • Have a belt pretensioner that prevent forward movement during a crash
  • Have adjustable anchorage points that allow the belt to be comfortable on the chest and not a strain on the neck
  • Have webbing clamps that keep passengers firmly in their seat

A new car may also have an indicator that warns the driver if other passengers have not buckled up. Seat belt reminders ensure every drive sets off on a safe note.

Buckle Up for Highway Safety

Automotive technology has improved the efficacy of seat belt. For example, some front seat passengers benefit from belts engineered to work alongside air bags. This allows them to be in seating positions that prevent further injuries. A belt tensioner embedded in the seat belt tighten around passenger vehicle occupants.

Other innovative vehicles feature inflatable belts that reduce injuries. These belts deploy over the passengers’ torso and shoulder when a crash happens. A car sensor triggers the release of cold compressed gas and expands across the passenger.

Of course, no seat belt is effective if you aren’t going to buckle up.

Seat belt reminders are good, but perhaps the best way to go about this safety feature is to instill the practice as routine when going for a ride. This is especially when you have child passengers. Your vehicle isn’t likely to be the only vehicle they’ll be riding in, e.g., carpooling. So if the car they’re riding in isn’t as safety-minded as you are, they will forget to wear the belt.

Seat belts save lives and reduce the risk of severe injuries. Teach its value to your family. And practice what you preach by buckling up when you get behind the wheel.

Seat Belt Laws and Regulations

Every country and state has laws and regulations on seat belt usage. In France and the UK, for example, everyone in the car must wear a seat belt. Front and back seat belts are also compulsory in Denmark and Sweden.

In the USA, all states, except New Hampshire, mandate a front-seat belt, while some states even oblige all car occupants to wear a seat belt. In 2021, the national seat belt usage rate was 91%. In Europe, this figure is even higher – 95%! 

These figures are a result of the law enforcement methods like CCTV/traffic cameras and regular penalties. Moreover, there’re educational campaigns for raising seat belt awareness. One such program in the USA is the Click it or Ticket Campaign.

Common Seat Belt Myths and Misconceptions

People associate the automotive seat belt types with various myths and misconceptions. The following are the most frequent ones that can have a serious impact on the collision outcome and injuries:

  • No need for a seat belt when driving at low speeds – Not true! Even a slight accident can result in serious injuries, like neck and vertebrae fractures.
  • Not wearing seat belts has an impact only on me.
  • I won’t be able to get out of the vehicle if it ends underwater or catches fire – These accidents make up less than 1% of the overall number.
  • There’s no need for a seat belt if there’s an airbag available – Also, not true! Engineers design airbags to protect buckled car occupants, not unbuckled ones!
  • Passengers in the back seat don’t need seat belts.

Innovations in Seat Belt Technology

The types of seat belts are constantly growing. In recent years, smart-seat belts were introduced, including airbag seat belts. These innovations are here to improve the vehicle’s safety features and the automatic response during a collision. 

For this purpose, manufacturers utilize technologies such as Attention Retention Systems (ARS) and Intelligent Ignition Systems (IIS). They also utilize the 5G technology for the production of high-tech and smart car seat belts.

Furthermore, companies are starting to manufacture seat belts made from 100% polyester because of the material’s stretching and tearing features. We can also notice the increased usage of automotive seat belt types like five and six-point belts.

How to Choose the Right Seat Belt for Your Vehicle

In most cases, you don’t get to choose the right seat belt for your vehicle because you order and buy it with an incorporated type of seat belt. However, here’re some tips on how to choose the right seat belt:

  • Make sure the belt is adjustable for all ages
  • Check the grip, the buckle, and the webbing
  • Cleaning car seats – first! Checking the dimensions and materials – second!
  • Asses the vehicle performance and speed capability
  • Consult automotive experts and professionals, etc.

There’re many ways to choose the right seat belt. Nonetheless, the most effective one is to check out the vehicle model’s original belt and stay consistent with its design and performance characteristics.

Final Words

The automotive seat belt types are different from one another in design, force distribution, and positioning. However, all types of seat belts significantly increase survival chances and reduce the risk of severe car crash injuries.

The seat belt sector is constantly growing. There’re more technological innovations in this sector than ever before! Nonetheless, countries also adjust their laws and regulations. That’s why seatbelts are currently mandatory in almost any country!

FAQs About Automotive Seat Belts

1) Is it worth investing in automotive seat belts?

Yes, seat belts can save lives and significantly decrease the risk of severe car crash injuries. Moreover, investing in smart seatbelts is a clever financial move!

2) What are the different types of car seat belts?

There are lap, sash, harness, smart belts, and two, three, four, five, and six-point seat belts.

3) What is the difference between a Type 1 and Type 2 seatbelt?

Type 1 seat belt allows only pelvic restraint, while the Type 2 seat belt offers both upper torso and pelvic. The Type 2 seat belt is safer than Type 1.

4) Are 2-point seat belts legal?

In some countries, these types of seat belts are the minimum safety requirements, while in others are outlawed. 

5) What materials are used in manufacturing seat belts?

In the past, companies used nylon. Nowadays, almost all automotive seat belt types are made from polyester.

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