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Automatic seat belts: Wikis


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Automatic seat belt in a Honda Civic

Automatic seat belts are seat belts that automatically close over riders in a car.



Automatic seat belts were created to circumvent vehicle occupants' failure to use manual seat belts.

The 1972 Volkswagen ESVW1 Experimental Safety Vehicle presented passive seat belts.[1] Volvo tried to develop a passive three point seatbelt. In 1973 Volkswagen announced they had a functional passive seat belt.[2] The first commercial car to use automatic seat belts was the 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit (available in 1974).[3]

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,[4][5] despite strong lobbying from the auto industry.[6] From the other side, Adams was attacked by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who said that the 1983 deadline was too late.[7] Soon after, General Motors began offering automatic seat belts, first on the Chevrolet Chevette,[8][9] but by early 1979 the VW Rabbit and the Chevette were the only cars to offer the safety feature,[7] and GM was reporting disappointing sales.[10] (By early 1978, Volkswagen had reported 90,000 Rabbits sold with automatic seat belts.[3]) 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.[11]

In 1981, Drew Lewis, the first Transportation Secretary of the Reagan Administration, influenced by studies done by the auto industry,[12] "killed"[13] the previous administration's mandate;[14] the decision was overruled in a federal appeals court the following year,[15] and then by the Supreme Court.[13] In 1984, the Reagan Administration reversed its course,[16] though in the meantime the original deadline had been extended; Elizabeth Dole, then Transportation Secretary, proposed that the two passive safety restraints by be phased in in 1986.[13]


One problem identified with the automatic seat belt is that they do not work well with child safety seats. When driver side airbags became mandatory on all passenger vehicles in model year 1994, most vehicles stopped offering automatic seat belts. The biggest exception is the Ford Escort/Mercury Tracer, as well as a few other models, which continued using automatic safety belts along with dual airbags in the 1995 and 1996 model years.

Types of automatic seat belt systems

  • Manual lap belt with automatic shoulder belt — When the door is opened, the shoulder belt moves from a fixed point on a track mounted in the door frame of the car to a point at the end of the track. Once the door is closed, and the car is turned on, the belt retracts along the track to a fixed position at the other end of the track. The lap belt must be fastened manually (if equipped). A drawback of this system is that many users forget to fasten the lap belt. A special seat belt modification is needed to use child seats in the front seats in vehicles fitted with this type of safety belt system. A subset of this type are shoulder belts that are fixed to the door of the vehicle, and don't slide. The manual lap belt is the same as in the retractable belts.
  • Automatic Shoulder and Lap Belts — This system was mainly used in older General Motors vehicles, though it can also be seen on older Honda Civic hatchbacks and Nissan Sentra coupes as well. 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 retractors travel down the door. The maneuver required to slide out from these seat belts is awkward, and likely to knock off glasses if the person is wearing them. However, the seat 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. Any child safety seats in vehicles using this type of automatic seat belts used must be installed by a dealer.


  1. ^ Experimental Safety Vehicle
  2. ^ PDF, Safety sells, Page 50
  3. ^ a b "Passive-Belt Activity". The New York Times. 1978-03-26.  
  4. ^ "Airbags, seat belts to be mandatory in every car by 1983". Daily Collegian. 1977-07-01. Retrieved 2009-12-03.  
  5. ^ "Air Bags, Automatic Seat Belts". Los Angeles Times. 1977-10-04.  
  6. ^ Stevens, William K. (1977-07-01). "Auto Industry Expresses Reluctance, Resignation Over Air Bag Mandate". New York Times: p. 18. Retrieved 2009-12-03.  
  7. ^ a b Hair, Marty (1979-02-23). "Crusade Continues, But The Intensity Has Mellowed". Boca Raton News: p. 8C.,4536924&dq=automatic-seat-belts&hl=en. Retrieved 2009-12-03.  
  8. ^ "GM Offers Automatic Seat Belts". Chicago Tribune: p. 8. 1978-06-27.  
  9. ^ "GM's Automatic Seat Belts Go on Chevettes". Los Angeles Times. 1978-06-27.  
  10. ^ "Sales of Automatic Seat Belts Disappointing, Chevrolet Says". Toledo Blade: p. 1. 1979-02-23.,3431567&dq=automatic-seat-belts&hl=en. Retrieved 2009-12-03.  
  11. ^ Girard, Penny (1978-08-31). "Study Finds Automatic Seat Belts, Airbags Save Lives". St. Petersburg Times: p. 1.,3431567&dq=automatic-seat-belts&hl=en. Retrieved 2009-12-03.  
  12. ^ Brody, Jane E. (1981-12-09). "Personal Health". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-12-03.  
  13. ^ a b c "Middle Lane: Bags, Belts, and a Loophole". TIME. 1984-07-23.,9171,952435,00.html#ixzz0YgSxo3UC. Retrieved 2009-12-03.  
  14. ^ "Automatic seat belt, airbag rules dropped". Chicago Tribune: p. 1. 1981-10-24.  
  15. ^ "Automatic seat belts ordered". Spokane Chronicle: p. 28. 1982-08-04.,760646&dq=automatic-seat-belts&hl=en. Retrieved 2009-12-03.  
  16. ^ "US to require airbags or automatic seat belts". Chicago Tribune: p. 1. 1984-07-11.  


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