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Nils Bohlin, 82; Swede Invented Lifesaving 3-Point Car Safety Belt

September 27, 2002|From Associated Press

Nils Bohlin, the inventor of the three-point seat belt, a standard safety device in most cars that is credited with saving up to a million lives worldwide, has died. He was 82.

Bohlin died Saturday in Ramfall, Sweden, after suffering a heart attack earlier last week and a stroke in May, family members said.

The lap-and-shoulder belt invented by Bohlin was introduced by car maker Volvo in 1959. Its use is now required by law in many countries.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that three-point seat belts reduce the risk of deaths in car crashes by at least 45%.

Born on July 17, 1920, in the central Swedish city of Haernosand, Bohlin developed ejection seats for Swedish aircraft maker Saab before joining Volvo as a safety engineer in 1958.

Seat belts at the time used a single strap with a buckle over the lap, a design that risked injury to body organs in high-speed crashes.

Bohlin sought to find a simple, comfortable alternative that would protect both the upper and lower body. His three-point solution allowed occupants to buckle up with one hand, using one strap across the chest and another across the lap. The buckle was placed next to the hip.

"In a way, my design works as much because the belt is comfortable for the user as it does because it is safer," Bohlin said earlier this year, after learning he had been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in the U.S.

"The pilots I worked with in the aerospace industry were willing to put on almost anything to keep them safe in case of a crash, but regular people in cars don't want to be uncomfortable even for a minute," he said.

Bohlin was to have been honored by the National Inventors Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Akron, Ohio, on the day of his death. His two stepsons attended the ceremony in his place, organization spokeswoman Rini Paiva said.

"His seat belt is everywhere. It's become a standard," Paiva said. "Everyone has a story about how the seat belt saved the life of someone they know."

A Volvo research team recently estimated that Bohlin's invention had saved 1 million lives.

Bohlin received numerous awards and was elected to the International Safety and Health Hall of Fame and the Automotive Hall of Fame, both based in the United States. In 1995, he received a medal from the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences.

He retired in 1985 and lived for the last 10 years with his wife in Ramfall, 125 miles southwest of the Swedish capital, Stockholm.

In addition to his two stepsons, Bohlin is survived by his wife, three children and 11 grandchildren.

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