A History Of Seatbelts And Why We Need Them

You’ve heard it a million times since you started driving lessons: “Don’t forget to buckle up.” It’s such a quick and simple task, yet millions of drivers never strap in. The history of seatbelts doesn’t look good, but it’s getting better due to awareness. According to the CDC, out of 21,022 passenger vehicle deaths in 2014, more than 53% of passengers aged 13-44 years we’re not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash. And for the 2.3 million injured in car accidents in 2013, the total medical costs topped $45 billion.

These are alarming statistics, yet they won’t do the job. State governments have been involved with enforcing seatbelts for some time now, even marketing campaigns have pitched in. Frankly, that might be the ticket to making motorists aware of seatbelt importance.

Click It or Ticket - A History of Seatbelts

The History of Seatbelts

New York was the first state to sign into law seatbelt enforcement, and that wasn’t until 1984. “The thing that started to get people to buckle up in large numbers was simply having state laws with a minimal fine of $25 or $50 for not buckling up,” said Mike Ciccone, senior director of crashworthiness evaluations at Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Prior to saving 12,082 lives in 2014, where did the seatbelt begin? Below is a timeline detailing important milestones of the restraint device, courtesy of Geico.com.

1885: The U.S. Patent Office issues the first seatbelt patent.

1949-50: Nash Motors Company offers lap belts in certain car models.

1959: Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin invents the first three-point safety belt in Sweden by combining the lap belt and shoulder strap into one continuous belt that could be buckled with one hand. The invention’s open patent allows other manufacturers to adopt the game-changing design.

1968: The first federal law regarding seatbelts—called the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards—is passed, requiring all new cars sold in the U.S. to feature lap or shoulder belts in the front seats and lap belts in the back seats.

1984: New York passes the first “primary enforcement law,” in which a police officer can pull over and ticket a driver just for not wearing a seatbelt. Thirty-four states now have primary enforcement laws, while 15 states have secondary laws, which means drivers pulled over for another reason can receive a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt. The fear of getting ticketed led to a quick jump in seatbelt usage for those states, which meant fewer deaths and injuries. People pay more attention to primary laws, and buckle up more. According to IIHS, if all states with secondary laws had primary laws instead, their passenger deaths would decrease by 7 percent.

1993: North Carolina’s “Click It or Ticket” campaign, which involved TV ads and billboards highlighting the cost of getting pulled over, dramatically increases seatbelt use from 65 percent to 81 percent. A decade later, the “Click It or Ticket” campaign goes national.

2015: States with primary enforcement laws report seatbelt usage at 91 percent, and states with secondary enforcement laws (or no law at all) report seatbelt usage at 79 percent.


Seatbelts were made for your protection, and they’ve been proven to save lives. Make it a good habit to obtain by strapping-in before even starting your car. Don’t pull away until all passengers are buckled in as well. Trust us – saving a life is well worth the 2 seconds it takes to put on your seatbelt.