A seat belt, also known as a safety belt, is a vehicle safety device designed to secure the occupant of a vehicle against harmful movement that may result during a collision or a sudden stop. A seat belt functions to reduce the likelihood of death or serious injury in a traffic collision by reducing the force of secondary impacts with interior strike hazards, by keeping occupants positioned correctly for maximum effectiveness of the airbag (if equipped) and by preventing occupants being ejected from the vehicle in a crash or if the vehicle rolls over. When driving, the driver and passengers are travelling at the same speed as the car. If the car suddenly stops or crashes, the driver and passengers continue at the same speed the car was going before it stopped. A seatbelt applies an opposite force to the driver and passengers to prevent them from falling out or making contact with the interior of the car.
- 1 History
- 2 Types
- 3 Technology
- 4 Experimental
- 5 In rear seats
- 6 Child occupants
- 7 Reminder chime and light
- 8 Legislation
- 9 Mass transit considerations
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Seat belts were invented by English engineer George Cayley in the early 19th century, though Edward J. Claghorn of New York, was granted the first patent (U.S. Patent 312,085, on February 10, 1885 for a safety belt). Claghorn was granted United States Patent #312,085 for a Safety-Belt for tourists, painters, firemen, etc. who are being raised or lowered, described in the patent as "designed to be applied to the person, and provided with hooks and other attachments for securing the person to a fixed object."
In 1911, Benjamin Foulois had the cavalry saddle shop fashion a belt for the seat of Wright Flyer Signal Corps 1. He wanted it to hold him firmly in his seat so he could better control his aircraft as he bounded along the rough field used for takeoff and landing. It was not until World War II that seat belts were fully adopted in military aircraft, and even then, it was mainly for safety reasons, not improved aircraft control.
In 1946, Dr. C. Hunter Shelden had opened a neurological practice at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, California. In the early 1950s, Dr. Shelden had made a major contribution to the automotive industry with his idea of retractable seat belts. This came about greatly in part from the high number of head injuries coming through the emergency rooms. He investigated the early seat belts whose primitive designs were implicated in these injuries and deaths. His findings were published in the November 5, 1955 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in which he proposed not only the retractable seat belt, but also recessed steering wheels, reinforced roofs, roll bars, door locks and passive restraints such as the air bag. Subsequently, in 1959, Congress passed legislation requiring all automobiles to comply with certain safety standards.
American car manufacturers Nash (in 1949) and Ford (in 1955) offered seat belts as options, while Swedish Saab first introduced seat belts as standard in 1958. After the Saab GT 750 was introduced at the New York Motor Show in 1958 with safety belts fitted as standard, the practice became commonplace.
Glenn Sheren of Mason, Michigan submitted a patent application on March 31, 1955 for an automotive seat belt and was awarded US Patent 2,855,215 in 1958. This was a continuation of an earlier patent application that Mr. Sheren had filed on September 22, 1952.
However, the first modern three point seat belt (the so-called CIR-Griswold restraint) used in most consumer vehicles today was patented in 1955 U.S. Patent 2,710,649 by the Americans Roger W. Griswold and Hugh DeHaven, and developed to its modern form by Swedish inventor Nils Bohlin for Swedish manufacturer Volvo—who introduced it in 1959 as standard equipment. In addition to designing an effective three-point belt, Bohlin demonstrated its effectiveness in a study of 28,000 accidents in Sweden. Unbelted occupants sustained fatal injuries throughout the whole speed scale, whereas none of the belted occupants were fatally injured at accident speeds below 60 mph. No belted occupant was fatally injured if the passenger compartment remained intact. Bohlin was granted U.S. Patent 3,043,625 for the device.
The world's first seat belt law was put in place in 1970, in the state of Victoria, Australia, making the wearing of a seat belt compulsory for drivers and front-seat passengers. This legislation was enacted after trialing Hemco seatbelts, designed by Desmond Hemphill (1926–2001), in the front seats of police vehicles, lowering the incidence of officer injury and death.
A lap belt is a strap that goes over the waist. This was the most commonly installed type of belt prior to legislation requiring 3-point belts, and is primarily found in older cars. Coaches are equipped with lap belts, as are passenger aircraft seats.
University of Minnesota Professor James J. (Crash) Ryan was the inventor of and held the patent on the automatic retractable lap safety belt. Ralph Nader cited Ryan's work in Unsafe at Any Speed and in 1966 President Lyndon Johnson signed two bills requiring safety belts in all passenger vehicles starting in 1968.
Until the 1980s, three-point belts were commonly available only in the front outboard seats of cars; the back seats were only often fitted with lap belts. Evidence of the potential of lap belts to cause separation of the lumbar vertebrae and the sometimes associated paralysis, or "seat belt syndrome", led to progressive revision of passenger safety regulations in nearly all developed countries to require 3-point belts first in all outboard seating positions and eventually in all seating positions in passenger vehicles. Since September 1, 2007, all new cars sold in the U.S. require a lap and shoulder belt in the center rear seat. Besides regulatory changes, "seat belt syndrome" has led to tremendous liability for vehicle manufacturers. One Los Angeles case resulted in a $45 million jury verdict against the Ford Motor Company; the resulting $30 million judgment (after deductions for another defendant who settled prior to trial) was affirmed on appeal in 2006.
A "sash" or shoulder harness is a strap that goes diagonally over the vehicle occupant's outboard shoulder and is buckled inboard of his or her lap. The shoulder harness may attach to the lap belt tongue, or it may have a tongue and buckle completely separate from those of the lap belt. Shoulder harnesses of this separate or semi-separate type were installed in conjunction with lap belts in the outboard front seating positions of many vehicles in the North American market starting at the inception of the shoulder belt requirement of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208 on 1 January 1968. However, if the shoulder strap is used without the lap belt, the vehicle occupant is likely to "submarine", or slide forward in the seat and out from under the belt, in a frontal collision. In the mid-1970s, 3-point belt systems such as Chrysler's "Uni-Belt" began to supplant the separate lap and shoulder belts in American-made cars, though such 3-point belts had already been supplied in European vehicles such as Volvos, Mercedes, and Saabs for some years.
A 3-point belt is a Y-shaped arrangement, similar to the separate lap and sash belts, but unitized. Like the separate lap-and-sash belt, in a collision the 3-point belt spreads out the energy of the moving body over the chest, pelvis, and shoulders. Volvo introduced the first production three-point belt in 1959. The first car with three-point belt was a Volvo PV 544 that was delivered to a dealer in Kristianstad on August 13, 1959. However, the first car model to feature the three-point seat belt as a standard item was the 1959 Volvo 122, first outfitted with a two-point belt at initial delivery in 1958, replaced with the three-point seat belt the following year. The three-point belt was developed by Nils Bohlin who had earlier also worked on ejection seats at Saab. Volvo then made the new seat belt design patent open in the interest of safety and made it available to other car manufacturers for free.
The BIS is a three-point harness with the shoulder belt attached to the seat itself, rather than to the vehicle structure. The first car using this system was the Range Rover Classic. Fitment was standard on the front seats from 1970. Some cars like the Renault Vel Satis use this system for the front seats. A General Motors assessment concluded seat-mounted 3-point belts offer better protection especially to smaller vehicle occupants, though GM did not find a safety performance improvement in vehicles with seat-mounted belts versus body-mounted belts.
BIS type belts have been used by automakers in convertibles and pillarless hardtops, where there is no "B" pillar to affix the upper mount of the belt. Chrysler and Cadillac are well known for using this design. Antique auto enthusiasts sometimes replace original seats in their cars with BIS-equipped front seats, providing a measure of safety not available when these cars were new. However, modern BIS systems typically use electronics that must be installed and connected with the seats and the vehicle's electrical system in order to function properly.
4-, 5-, and 6-point
Five-point harnesses are typically found in child safety seats and in racing cars. The lap portion is connected to a belt between the legs and there are two shoulder belts, making a total of five points of attachment to the seat. A 4-point harness is similar, but without the strap between the legs, while a 6-point harness has two belts between the legs. In NASCAR, the 6-point harness became popular after the death of Dale Earnhardt, who was wearing a five-point harness when he suffered his fatal crash; as it was first thought that his belt had broken, and broke his neck at impact, some teams ordered a six-point harness in response.
Aerobatic aircraft frequently use a combination harness consisting of a five-point harness with a redundant lap-belt attached to a different part of the air craft. While providing redundancy for negative-g maneuvers (which lift the pilot out of the seat); they also require the pilot to un-latch two harnesses if it is necessary to parachute from a failed aircraft.
The purpose of locking retractors is to provide the seated occupant the convenience of some free movement of the upper torso within the compartment, while providing a method of limiting this movement in the event of a crash. Most modern seat belts are stowed on spring-loaded reels called "retractors" equipped with inertial locking mechanisms that stop the belt from extending off the reel during severe deceleration. There are two main types of inertial seat belt lock. A webbing-sensitive lock is based on a centrifugal clutch activated by rapid acceleration of the strap (webbing) from the reel. The belt can be pulled from the reel only slowly and gradually, as when the occupant extends the belt to fasten it. A sudden rapid pull of the belt — as in a sudden braking or collision event — causes the reel to lock, restraining the occupant in position.
A vehicle-sensitive lock is based on a pendulum swung away from its plumb position by rapid deceleration or rollover of the vehicle. In the absence of rapid deceleration or rollover, the reel is unlocked and the belt strap may be pulled from the reel against the spring tension of the reel. The vehicle occupant can move around with relative freedom while the spring tension of the reel keeps the belt taut against the occupant. When the pendulum swings away from its normal plumb position due to sudden deceleration or rollover, a pawl is engaged, the reel locks and the strap restrains the belted occupant in position. Dual-sensing locking retractors use both vehicle G-loading and webbing payout rate to initiate the locking mechanism.
Pretensioners and webclamps
Seatbelts in many newer vehicles are also equipped with "pretensioners" or "web clamps", or both.
Pretensioners preemptively tighten the belt to prevent the occupant from jerking forward in a crash. Mercedes-Benz first introduced pretensioners on the 1981 S-Class. In the event of a crash, a pretensioner will tighten the belt almost instantaneously. This reduces the motion of the occupant in a violent crash. Like airbags, pretensioners are triggered by sensors in the car's body, and many pretensioners have used explosively expanding gas to drive a piston that retracts the belt. Pretensioners also lower the risk of "submarining", which occurs when a passenger slides forward under a loosely fitted seat belt.
Some systems also pre-emptively tighten the belt during fast accelerations and strong decelerations, even if no crash has happened. This has the advantage that it may help prevent the driver from sliding out of position during violent evasive maneuvers, which could cause loss of control of the vehicle. These pre-emptive safety systems may prevent some collisions from happening, as well as reducing injury in the event an actual collision occurs. Pre-emptive systems generally use electric pretensioners which can operate repeatedly and for a sustained period, rather than pyrotechnic pretensioners, which can only operate a single time.
Webclamps clamp the webbing in the event of an accident, and limit the distance the webbing can spool out (caused by the unused webbing tightening on the central drum of the mechanism). These belts also often incorporate an energy management loop ("rip stitching") in which a section of the webbing is looped and stitched with a special stitching. The function of this is to "rip" at a predetermined load, which reduces the maximum force transmitted through the belt to the occupant during a violent collision, reducing injuries to the occupant.
A study demonstrated that standard automotive 3-point restraints fitted with pyrotechnic or electric pretensioners were not able to eliminate all interior passenger compartment head strikes in rollover test conditions. Electric pretensioners are often incorporated on vehicles equipped with precrash systems; they are designed to reduce seat belt slack in a potential collision and assist in placing the occupants in a more optimal seating position. The electric pretensioners also can operate on a repeated or sustained basis, providing better protection in the event of an extended rollover or a multiple collision accident.
The inflatable seatbelt was invented by Donald Lewis and tested at the Automotive Products Division of Allied Chemical Corporation. Inflatable seatbelts have tubular inflatable bladders contained within an outer cover. When a crash occurs the bladder inflates with a gas to increase the area of the restraint contacting the occupant and also shortening the length of the restraint to tighten the belt around the occupant, improving the protection. The inflatable sections may be shoulder-only or lap and shoulder. The system supports the head during the crash better than a web only belt. It also provides side impact protection. In 2013, Ford began offering rear seat inflatable seat belts on a limited set of models, such as the Explorer and Flex.
Seatbelts that automatically move into position around a vehicle occupant once the adjacent door is closed and/or the engine is started were developed as a countermeasure against low usage rates of manual seat belts, particularly in the United States. The first car to feature automatic shoulder belts as standard equipment was the 1981 Toyota Cressida, but the history of such belts goes back further.
The 1972 Volkswagen ESVW1 Experimental Safety Vehicle presented passive seat belts. Volvo tried to develop a passive three point seatbelt. In 1973 Volkswagen announced they had a functional passive seat belt. The first commercial car to use automatic seat belts was the 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit.
Automatic seat belts received a boost in the United States in 1977 when Brock Adams, United States Secretary of Transportation in the Carter Administration, mandated that by 1983 every new car should have either airbags or automatic seat belts despite strong lobbying from the auto industry. Adams was attacked by Ralph Nader, who said that the 1983 deadline was too late. Soon after, General Motors began offering automatic seat belts, first on the Chevrolet Chevette, but by early 1979 the VW Rabbit and the Chevette were the only cars to offer the safety feature, and GM was reporting disappointing sales. By early 1978, Volkswagen had reported 90,000 Rabbits sold with automatic seat belts. A study released in 1978 by the United States Department of Transportation claimed that cars with automatic seat belts had a fatality rate of .78 per 100 million miles, compared with 2.34 for cars with regular, manual belts.
In 1981, Drew Lewis, the first Transportation Secretary of the Reagan Administration, influenced by studies done by the auto industry, "killed" the previous administration's mandate; the decision was overruled in a federal appeals court the following year, and then by the Supreme Court. In 1984, the Reagan Administration reversed its course, though in the meantime the original deadline had been extended; Elizabeth Dole, then Transportation Secretary, proposed that the two passive safety restraints be phased into vehicles gradually, from vehicle model year 1987 to vehicle model year 1990, when all vehicles would be required to have either automatic seat belts or driver side air bags. Though more awkward for vehicle occupants, most manufacturers opted to use less expensive automatic belts rather than airbags during this time period.
When driver side airbags became mandatory on all passenger vehicles in model year 1995, most manufacturers stopped equipping cars with automatic seat belts. Exceptions include the 1995-1996 Ford Escort/Mercury Tracer and the Eagle Summit Wagon which had automatic safety belts along with dual airbags.
- Manual lap belt with automatic motorized shoulder belt — When the door is opened, the shoulder belt moves from a fixed point near the seat back on a track mounted in the door frame of the car to a point at the other end of the track near the windshield. Once the door is closed and the car is started, the belt moves rearward along the track to its original position, thus securing the passenger. The lap belt must be fastened manually.
- Manual lap belt with automatic non-motorized shoulder belt — This system was used in American-market vehicles such as the Hyundai Excel and Volkswagen Jetta. The shoulder belt is fixed to the aft upper corner of the vehicle door, and is not motorized. The lap belt must be fastened manually.
- Automatic shoulder and lap belts — This system was mainly used in General Motors vehicles, though it was also used on some Honda Civic hatchbacks and Nissan Sentra coupés. When the door is opened, the belts go from a fixed point in the middle of the car by the floor to retractors on the door. Passengers must slide into the car under the belts. When the door closes, the seat belt retracts into the door. The belts have normal release buttons that are supposed to be used only in an emergency, but in practice are routinely used in the same manner as manual seat belt clasps.
Automatic belt systems generally offer inferior occupant crash protection. In systems with belts attached to the door rather than a sturdier fixed portion of the vehicle body, a crash that causes the vehicle door to open leaves the occupant without belt protection. In such a scenario, the occupant may be thrown from the vehicle and suffer greater injury or death.
Because many automatic belt system designs compliant with the US passive-restraint mandate did not meet the safety performance requirements of Canada—which were not weakened to accommodate automatic belts—vehicle models which had been eligible for easy importation in either direction across the US-Canada border when equipped with manual belts became ineligible for importation in either direction once the US variants got automatic belts and the Canadian versions retained manual belts. Two such models were the Dodge Spirit and Plymouth Acclaim.
Automatic belt systems also present several operational disadvantages. Motorists who would normally wear seat belts must still fasten the manual lap belt, thus rendering redundant the automation of the shoulder belt. Those who do not fasten the lap belt wind up inadequately protected by only the shoulder belt; in a crash without a lap belt such a vehicle occupant is likely to "submarine" (be thrown forward under the shoulder belt) and be seriously injured. Motorized or door-affixed shoulder belts hinder access to the vehicle, making it difficult to enter and exit—particularly if the occupant is carrying items such as a box or a purse. Vehicle owners tend to disconnect the motorized or door-affixed shoulder belt to alleviate the nuisance of entering and exiting the vehicle, leaving only a lap belt for crash protection. Also, many automatic seat belt systems are incompatible with child safety seats, or compatible only with special modifications.
Research and development efforts are ongoing to improve the safety performance of vehicle seatbelts. Some experimental designs have included:
- Criss-cross Experimental safety belt presented in the Volvo SCC. It forms a cross-brace across the chest.
- 3+2 Point Seatbelt: Experimental safety belt from Autoliv similar to the criss-cross. The 3+2 improves protection against rollovers and side impacts.
- Four point "belt and suspenders": An experimental design from Ford where the "suspenders" are attached to the backrest, not to the frame of the car.
In rear seats
|This section requires expansion. (June 2014)|
In 1955 (as a 1956 package), Ford offered lap only seat belts in the rear seats as an option within the Lifeguard safety package. In 1967, Volvo started to install lap belts in the rear seats. In 1972, Volvo upgraded the rear seat belts to a three-point belt.
As with adult drivers and passengers, the advent of seat belts was accompanied by calls for their use by child occupants, including legislation requiring such use. Generally children using adult seat belts suffer significantly lower injury risk when compared to non-buckled children.
The UK extended compulsory seatbelt wearing to child passengers under the age of 14 in 1989. It was observed that this measure was accompanied by a 10% increase in fatalities and a 12% increase in injuries among the target population. In crashes, small children who wear adult seatbelts can suffer "seat-belt syndrome" injuries including severed intestines, ruptured diaphragms and spinal damage. There is also research suggesting that children in inappropriate restraints are at significantly increased risk of head injury, one of the authors of this research has been quoted as claiming that: "The early graduation of kids into adult lap and shoulder belts is a leading cause of child-occupant injuries and deaths."
As a result of such findings, many jurisdictions now advocate or require child passengers to use specially designed child restraints. Such systems include separate child-sized seats with their own restraints and booster cushions for children using adult restraints. In some jurisdictions children below a certain size are forbidden to travel in front car seats."
Reminder chime and light
Social and historical context
At the time seat belt reminder systems were conceived of and becoming popularized (the 1970s), the field of psychology was undergoing a major shift. In fact, “in the last half of the twentieth century, applied psychology outstripped the academic, research-oriented psychology that had dominated for so many years.” As a result, psychologists were less and less carrying out their careers in academic settings, opting more for work in applied areas. The involvement of psychologists in organizations like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), then, makes sense, as psychologists during this time were eager to apply what they had learned during their training in real world settings. Additionally, the automotive industry was likely eager to encourage the involvement of psychologists for reasons previously discussed, but also as a reflection of the changing times; psychology was growing in prominence and reputation. The locomotive industry in the U.S. really took off in the 1800s, but the rise of applied psychology in the late 1900s could explain why, up to that point, nobody had thought to use psychological concepts to enhance motor vehicle safety.
It’s also interesting to note that the automotive industry had a rough time in the 1970s. The Vietnam War hit the American economy hard, leaving all industries struggling to maintain consumers. The 1970s brought along increased gas prices due to an oil crisis that left many Americans and Europeans unable to buy fuel for the cars they did own. Along with the oil crisis came a concern about the environmental effects of gas and emissions, and the realization that oil was not a renewable resource as a result of the environmentalist movement of the decade. There was also an increased concern for the safety of drivers, which possibly stemmed from the concern about safety in the workplace that came to the forefront of the early 1970s when President Nixon signed OSHA. To top it all off, insurance rates were rising as well. The 1970s is noted for being a tumultuous time in the history of the United States, as the U.S. was war-torn and the country saw the struggle of minority groups for equal rights. At a time when the automotive industry was struggling to make advances and appease consumers, perhaps the integration of a seat belt safety system made for a good way to do both, offering the unsettled citizens of America a little peace in the process.
Nature of the problem
In 1970, police collected data demonstrating a total of 40,000 people involved in car crashes during a time when seat belt use ranged from merely 12% - 15%. In North America, cars sold since the early 1970s have included an audiovisual reminder system consisting of a light on the dashboard and a buzzer or chime reminding the driver and passengers to fasten their belts. Originally, these lights were accompanied by a warning buzzer whenever the transmission was in any position except park if either the driver was not buckled up or, as determined by a pressure sensor in the passenger's seat, if there was a passenger there not buckled up. However, this was considered by many to be a major annoyance, as the light would be on and the buzzer would sound continuously if front-seat passengers were not buckled up. Therefore, people who did not wish to buckle up would defeat this system by fastening the seat belts with the seat empty and leaving them that way. To combat this dangerous habit, in 1971 the NHTSA adopted an "occupant protection option” for vehicles built between August of 1973 and August of 1975. This option operated on an interlocking system, meaning that the car would not start until all the front seat belts were secured. However, the public did not care for this system either. Many customers found ways to evade or even disable the system, and as a result of this reaction, in 1974 Congress prohibited the NHTSA from mandating safety requirements for vehicles. Congress, instead, took on the responsibility to require that the “driver's seating position be equipped with a seat belt warning system that activates, under circumstances when the driver's seat belt is not buckled, a continuous or intermittent audible signal for a period of not less than 4 seconds and not more than 8 seconds, and a continuous or flashing warning light for not less than 60 seconds after the ignition switch is turned on”. This technology is referred to as a “seat belt reminder system”, or SBR system, and has been used as the standard of vehicle safety since the mid-1970s.
Later on, some manufacturers began replacing buzzer-based warning systems with a chime system, including the seat belt warning system; the idea was that the chimes were "gentler" than the buzzer. The first U.S. car model to offer this system was the 1976 Cadillac Seville, and this system eventually replaced the buzzer system by the early 1990s. In the mid-1990s, an insurance company from Sweden called Folksam worked with Saab and Ford to determine the requirements for the most efficient seat belt reminder, and implemented technology based on these requirements in the late 1990s. A defining characteristic of this new technology was that “the warning became increasingly penetrating the more seconds the seat belt hadn't been worn”. Additionally, according to the NHSTA (2009), various automobile manufacturers are currently pushing to implement enhanced seat belt reminder (EBSR) systems into their products. EBSR systems take the federally mandated system, as well as the Swedish SBR system of the 1990s, even a step further by integrating an even more persistent warning system when occupants are not belted. EBSR systems “range from very simple displays (e.g., flashing icon) to complex, multistage systems triggered by driving status (e.g., speed, travel distance) and feature multiple types of visual, acoustic, voice, and possibly even haptic (tactile) displays, as well as interlocks, delays, or limitations on some aspect of vehicle performance”.
Today, the belt warning light may stay on for several minutes after the car is started if the driver's seat belt is not fastened, although the chime/buzzer will sound for only a few seconds when the key was turned to the "on" position.
In Europe and some other parts of the world, most modern cars include a seat-belt reminder light for the driver and some also include a reminder for the passenger, when present, activated by a pressure sensor under the passenger seat. Some cars will intermittently flash the reminder light and sound the chime until the driver (and sometimes the front passenger, if present) fasten their seatbelts.
SBR systems and EBSR systems employ the psychological concept of the two-factor theory of learning, or the two-factor theory of avoidance. In the mid-20th century psychologists were so enamored with the learning theories proposed by Pavlov (classical conditioning) and Skinner (operant conditioning) that they were seen as practically universal. However, critiques of learning theory during this time proposed that neither classical nor operant conditioning accounted for the entirety of the conditioning process. It was Hobard Mowrer who introduced the two-factor theory which focused on the relationship between classical and operant conditioning. To demonstrate his theory, Mowrer conducted experiments with rats using a shuttlebox, or a box divided into two compartments that could be jumped over to reach the next compartment. Rats were shocked following the sound of a buzzer, the unconditioned stimulus, which evoked a sense of fear and pain, the unconditioned response. After a few trials, eventually the rats associated the sound of the buzzer with the pain and fear of the shock, and even when the shocks were taken away the rats responded to the buzzer (now the conditioned stimulus) with fear. At this point in Mowrer’s experimentation, he had examined the tenets of Pavlov’s classical conditioning. But then Mowrer delved into Skinner’s operant conditioning as well, noting that the rat had learned to react to its environment differently; it learned an adaptive response. At the sound of the buzzer, the rat learned to jump over the barrier to escape the shock and reduce its own fear as a means of negative reinforcement, the strengthening of a behavior via the removal of an unpleasant stimulus.
SBR systems and ESBR systems work in essentially this same way. Two-factor theory of avoidance is echoed in daily behaviors such as seat belt use. People experience the noise (unconditioned stimulus) of an SBR system, or even the more advanced and diverse haptic, visual, or acoustic warnings of the ESBR system, when they do not buckle their seat belt. For most people, this noise produces an emotional reaction: aggravation or annoyance, or perhaps even the fear of a fatal crash (unconditioned response). After failing to secure the seatbelt multiple times, the individual will begin to pair the noise (now the conditioned stimulus) with the aggravated or fearful emotions. The individual then learns an adaptive response to the SBR system, and secures the seat belt to get rid of the unfavorable emotions. The securing of the seat belt acts as negative reinforcement. Thus, in theory, SBR systems and ESBR systems work to strengthen the behavior of wearing a seat belt by encouraging individuals to get rid of the unpleasant stimulus to which they have become conditioned. Thus demonstrating the work of Mowrer in that we see a combination of both classical and operant conditioning at play.
The transition from the occupant protection option of the 1970s to the current SBR system has shown significant increases in seat belt use. As previously noted, the early 1970s saw a seat belt use percentage of between 12% and 15%. In 2001, Congress directed the NHSTA to study the benefits of technology meant to increase the use of seat belts. The NHSTA found that seat belt usage had increased to 73% since the initial introduction of the SBR system by Congress. Additionally, automotive manufacturers have conducted their own studies. In 2002, Ford demonstrated that seat belts were used more in Fords with seat belt reminders than in those without one: 76% and 71% respectively. In 2007, Honda conducted a similar study and found that 90% of people who drove Hondas with seat belt reminders used a seat belt, while 84% of people who drove Hondas without seat belt reminders used a seat belt. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that the use of a seat belt reduces an individual’s chance of fatality in a car crash by 50%, it would seem that the SBR system is doing its part to protect lives in automobiles.
Despite copious amounts of evidence that the SBR system increases seat belt use, there are those who still believe the automobile industry can do better. Thus, much modern research has been focused on the potential of the ESBR system. In 2003, the Transportation Research Board Committee, chaired by two psychologists, reported that EBSR systems have the potential to save an additional 1,000 lives a year. According to the committee’s research, an EBSR system that is much more persistent than what is federally mandated could increase seat belt use by up to five percentage points. The study cited research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for Ford on their new Beltminder system which “chimes intermittently for up to five minutes, sounding for 6 seconds then pausing for 30, if a driver fails to buckle up. It increased seat belt use by 5 percent”. Additional research strengthens the push for EBSR systems. Farmer and Wells (2010) compared “driver fatality rates per vehicle registration per year to otherwise identical vehicle models with and without enhanced seat belt reminders” for the years 2000 – 2007. They found that “driver fatality rates were 6% lower for vehicles with enhanced seat belt reminders compared with vehicles without enhanced belt reminders”. Thus, while seat belt reminder systems, both enhanced and not, appear to increase seat belt usage, it also seems that, the more aggressive the system, the more likely an individual is to buckle up. Interestingly, this finding contradicts the happenings in the 1970s, wherein people became frustrated with the occupant protection option and Congress stripped the NHTSA of their right to regulate motor vehicles as a result.
A couple of ethical concerns can be raised when considering the SBR system. Initially, there may be a conflict of interest where the research is involved. As has already been mentioned, the NHTSA includes members who are practicing psychologists. Conducting sound research for the NHTSA may be compromised when the organization is signing a psychologist’s paycheck. There is always the possibility that a specific automotive company may take advantage of a psychologist’s abilities in a way similar to the high number of psychologists that are employed by the Department of Defense. While it is likely that there are plenty more members of the APA working for the Department of Defense than there are working for the NHTSA, ethics may become conflicted during research or testing in this capacity. Additionally, the tension between Congress and the NHTSA may exacerbate this potential for conflict. The NHTSA does not believe there was any scientific grounding in Congress’ 1974 decision to ban them from regulating the safety features of motor vehicles. Using psychological science as a way to increase the safety of drivers or even yield sound research may walk too close to the line of exploitation should the NHTSA desire to one-up Congress and demonstrate their value as a decision-making organization.
Observational studies of car crash morbidity and mortality, experiments using both crash test dummies and human cadavers indicate that wearing seat belts greatly reduces the risk of death and injury in the majority of car crashes.
This has led many countries to adopt mandatory seat belt wearing laws. It is generally accepted that, in comparing like-for-like accidents, a vehicle occupant not wearing a properly fitted seat belt has a significantly and substantially higher chance of death and serious injury. One large observation studying using US data showed that the odds ratio of crash death is 0.46 with a three-point belt, when compared with no belt. In another study that examined injuries presenting to the ER pre- and post-seat belt law introduction, it was found that 40% more escaped injury and 35% more escaped mild and moderate injuries.
The effects of seat belt laws are disputed by those who observe that their passage did not reduce road fatalities. There was also concern that instead of legislating for a general protection standard for vehicle occupants, laws that required a particular technical approach would rapidly become dated as motor manufacturers would tool up for a particular standard which could not easily be changed. For example, in 1969 there were competing designs for lap and 3-point seat belts, rapidly tilting seats, and air bags being developed. But as countries started to mandate seat belt restraints the global auto industry invested in the tooling and standardized exclusively on seat belts, and ignored other restraint designs such as air bags for several decades
Some have proposed that the number of deaths was influenced by the development of risk compensation, which says that drivers adjust their behavior in response to the increased sense of personal safety wearing a seat belt provides.
In one trial subjects were asked to drive go-karts around a track under various conditions. It was found that subjects who started driving unbelted drove consistently faster when subsequently belted. Similarly, a study of habitual non-seatbelt wearers driving in freeway conditions found evidence that they had adapted to seatbelt use by adopting higher driving speeds and closer following distances. A 2001 analysis of US crash data aimed to establish the effects of seatbelt legislation on driving fatalities and found that previous estimates of seatbelts effectiveness had been significantly overstated. According to the analysis used, seatbelts were claimed to have decreased fatalities by 1.35% for each 10% increase in seatbelt use. The study controlled for endogenous motivations of seat belt use, which it is claimed creates an artificial correlation between seat belt use and fatalities, leading to the conclusion that seatbelts cause fatalities. For example, drivers in high risk areas are more likely to use seat belts, and are more likely to be in accidents, creating a non-causal correlation between seatbelt use and mortality. After accounting for the endogeneity of seatbelt usage, Cohen and Einav found no evidence that the risk compensation effect makes seatbelt wearing drivers more dangerous, a finding at variance with other research.
Other statistical analyses have included adjustments for factors such as increased traffic, and other factors such as age, and based on these adjustments, a reduction of morbidity and mortality due to seat belt use has been claimed. However, Smeed's law predicts a fall in accident rate with increasing car ownership and has been demonstrated independently of seat belt legislation.
Mass transit considerations
In the European Union, all new long distance buses and coaches must be fitted with seat belts.
Australia has required lap/sash seat belts in new coaches since 1994. These must comply with Australian Design Rule 68, which requires the seat belt, seat and seat anchorage to withstand 20g deceleration and an impact by an unrestrained occupant to the rear.
In the United States, NHTSA has now required lap-shoulder seat belts in new "over-the-road" buses (includes most coaches) starting in 2016.
The use of seatbelts in trains has been investigated. Concerns about survival space intrusion in train crashes and increased injuries to unrestrained or incorrectly restrained passengers led the researchers to discourage the use of seat belts in trains.
- "It has been shown that there is no net safety benefit for passengers who choose to wear 3-point restraints on passenger carrying rail vehicles. Generally passengers who choose not to wear restraints in a vehicle modified to accept 3-point restraints receive marginally more severe injuries."
Seat belts are required by FAA regulations. For general aviation aircraft, it is found in 23.785; for transport category aircraft, it is found in 25.785. The requirements are met when the seatbelt (restraint system) conforms to a Technical Standard Order (TSO), which is TSO-c22f.
- Air bags
- Automobile safety
- Baby transport
- John Stapp
- Passive safety device
- Seat belt use rates by country
- Seat belt use rates in the USA
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