Disputed inventor of the seatbelt

Engineer Bengt Odelgard, Vattenfall. One of the creators behind the Vattenfall seat belt. Year: 1956

It is widely reported that Volvo invented the 3-point seatbelt:

In 1959, the Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin developed the modern three-point seat belt. Although the design was patented, the company decided the patent was to be left open, making it available to all vehicle manufacturers to use for free. In the interests of safety, Volvo made the new seat belt design available to other car manufacturers for free; it was required on all new American vehicles from 1968 onward. Since 1959, engineers have worked to enhance the three-point belt, but the basic design remains Bohlin’s. At the time of Bohlin’s death in September 2002, Volvo estimated that the seat belt had saved more than one million lives in the four decades since it was introduced. In the United States alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seat belts save more than 11,000 lives each year. (source).

However, Vattenfall (‘Waterfall’), the Swedish multinational power company owned by the Government of Sweden disputes this. They say that they were using 3-point seatbelts much earlier.

Vattenfall started fitting seat belts in its vehicles in 1956. The same year Volvo also began to show interest in installing seat belts in its cars. The reason for Volvo’s change of heart was largely down to chief surgeon Stig Lindgren in Falun. Lindgren was medical advisor to Vattenfall’s vehicle safety group and was acquainted with the newly appointed head of Volvo, Gunnar Engellau. Lindgren presented the idea of equipping cars with seat belts to the Volvo boss. Certain Volvo models came fitted with the ‘Vattenfall seat belt’ as standard in 1958. From 1959, all Volvo cars had a lap-diagonal seat belt as standard, a belt based on the research and development work carried out by Vattenfall. (source)

This is neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things, but I wonder why Volvo is largely credited with the invention of 3-point seatbelts? Is it because they are a better-known company internationally? Is it because their marketing campaigns were so focussed on the safety aspects of Volvo cars?

Vattenfall seat belt commercial from 1958


Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

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