The Seat Belt’s History and Laws by Las Vegas Attorneys

February 4, 2014 | Ed Bernstein
The Seat Belt’s History and Laws by Las Vegas Attorneys Some of us may still remember a simpler time when seatbelts were considered optional, kids roamed the backseat free-range style and putting on a basic lap belt felt like a responsible thing to do.  With today’s stricter seat belt laws, safety testing and enforcement, it’s hard to believe that these “carefree” times are long gone. The seatbelt has a long history that began over one hundred years ago, yet the most important breakthroughs in seatbelt technology have happened in the past 15 years.  The invention of the first seatbelt is credited to a venerable aeronautics engineer, Sir George Cayley, 6th Baronet. This pioneering inventor was born just 10 days after the Boston Tea Party and spent a lifetime designing, testing and inventing. He is credited with building the first successful manned glider - an aeronautic feat of the times. The first seatbelt was designed for this flying machine.  The first patent for a seatbelt was made in America, in 1885. This version of the seatbelt was made with New York taxis in mind - no surprise there. While seat belt legislation varies state to state, the dates of some of the “firsts” in the US can be quite shocking.

Seat Belts, Buckle, Tongue, K12E Seat Belts, Buckle, Tongue, K12E

Seat Belt Laws 

It wasn’t until 1961 that Wisconsin became the first state to legislate that seatbelts be fitted into every car, and they became mandatory in every car only in 1968 when a federal law has passed.  Having a seat belt is one thing, but being compelled to use it is another. 1984 became the year where the front passengers had to legally wear a seat belt. This did not include anyone in the back seat. In some states, only people over 16 were required to wear a seat belt when in the back seat.  This is light years away from the strict seat belt laws we have now, and it’s quite surprising considering that when large, heavy 60s cars crashed, most of the impact landed on the people inside - these cars were designed to survive anything, but passed most of the force of a crash to passengers. The cars back then weren’t that slow, either. This made for a dangerous and deadly driving environment.

What are all the “points”, bells and whistles? 

Two-point - This is your basic lap belt. It might look like something you wear when you’re on an airplane.  Three-point - These are the seat belts that go over your waist and your shoulder.  Four, five and 6 point - These many point seat belts are made for heavy-duty racing - but can also be found in modern child seats.  Automatic seat belts - in the 70s, when seat belt laws weren’t very clear or strict, car manufacturers wanted to make it as easy as possible to “remember” to put a seatbelt on. Along with the futuristic look, automatic seatbelts helped people who forgot to put their seatbelt on - they put themselves on when the doors closed, by sliding along a track.  This was a very popular thing in the 90s when cars had to have either automatic seat belts or driver-side airbags. As you can imagine, automatic seat belts were much cheaper to manufacture and dominated vehicle designs of the period.  Pretensioners - When a car is in a crash and you jerk forward, this is the locking mechanism that locks the system in place and prevents you from flying into the steering wheel. This is a great invention because a lot of people left too much slack on their seat belt to free up their movements. This was comfortable but prevented the seat belt from being effective in the event of a crash. Pretensioners and webclamps made the seatbelts more comfortable and effective. 

We’ve come a long way

The 1930s and 1970 saw a peak when it comes to vehicular deaths per 100,000 registered drivers. This has a lot to do with both attitudes and knowledge, better infrastructure and laws, but also better technology and cars that are built for the safety of the passengers in mind. If you've been injured in a car accident, call your Las Vegas car wreck attorney Ed Bernstein and Associates today at 1-888-235-3090.


Ed Bernstein

Edward M. Bernstein, Esq. is the owner and founding partner of Edward M. Bernstein & Associates, and one of the most recognizable figures in Nevada. Ed is one of state’s premier personal injury attorneys and has hosted The Ed Bernstein Show for over 31 years. He has served the Las Vegas community for decades with dozens of community appointments and terms of service. In the year 2000, he was Nevada’s Democratic nominee for the United States Senate.

Ed received his B.A. from Long Island University in 1971 and his J.D. from Widener University in 1975. Since then, Ed’s professional accolades include numerous publications, honors and awards, court appointments, and has been named one of America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators.