driver wearing seat belt

What are the Types of Automotive Seat Belts?

Cars are inherently risky. But just because something presents hazardous situations doesn’t mean people avoid it. So safety features are put in place to reduce if not eliminate risks on the road. Much like a helmet is to a motorcycle, seat belts are to cars.

Seat belt use has grown in the last several years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). From 2014 through to 2022, seat belt use rose to 11 percent at 89.6 percent. Compare this percentage to the 10 percent seat belt use in the ’80s. Automotive seat belts save lives and more people recognize that today.

Seat belts come in different varieties; some are specific to certain vehicles and others don’t offer as much protection.

The Types of Car Seat Belts

five point automotive seat belt racecar
Photo by Wade Lambert on Unsplash

1. Automatic Seat Belt

These no longer exist because their design did not offer sufficient protection to drivers. Although the concept sounds like a smart one, these retractable seat belts were clunky to operate. Instead of the one-second, pull and click function, it ended up becoming a two-step bothersome process.

But automatic seat belts in cars weren’t just inconvenient to drivers. Their presence made drivers and passengers forget to use the lap belts; one such case fatally injured a woman who was driving a 1988 Ford Escort. The woman’s husband, however, survived with serious injuries because he used both seat belts.

The automatic belt was eventually replaced by airbags.

2. Lap Belt

Lap seat belts are what you’d use in airplanes, but some older model vehicles have them. These belts are designed to keep passengers from hurtling out of a vehicle. But because they merely kept people in cars “seated,” no protection was made against head or torso impact during a crash.

They were introduced in the ’30s, and in the ’50s, the American Medical Association of House Delegates managed to get lap style belts installed in all vehicles. It wasn’t until accidents proved lap belts were not providing adequate protection that they were phased out of most cars.

3. Belt in Seat (BIS)

The belt-in-seat system is a 3-point lap and shoulder belt. But unlike the conventional three-point harness seat belt, the BIS system attaches to the seat instead of the vehicle structure.

4. Three Point Seat Belt

Also referred to as the Y-shaped belt, this belt combines shoulder belts with lap belts. The buckle is placed in the center of the Y. The placement of the buckle and the construction of three point seat belts reduce the force to the shoulders, pelvis and chest when a collision occurs.

5. Five-Point Seat Belt

This belt features two shoulder belts, one lap belt and one belt between the legs. The buckle is in the center. This kind automotive protection is specific to race car drivers and children. So you’ll find the five-point seat belt in race cars and in child safety seats.

What Type of Seat Belt is the Safest?

car seat for baby
Photo by
Erik Mclean on Unsplash

No safety feature is foolproof, but some may be better than others. One transport commission indicates that lap and shoulder belts reduce the risk of serious or fatal injuries, better than if the car had only a lap belt. The NHTSA also indicates that this seat belt may offer better protection.

But this combination of seat belts, like the BIS system and the three point seat belt, may not be enough. Just because the car you’re considering has these auto belts installed doesn’t guarantee absolute safety for the driver and passenger vehicle occupants when a collision occurs.

The safest seat belts must:

  • Lie snugly and not feel loose front seat passengers and the back seat
  • Have a belt pretensioner that prevent forward movement during a crash
  • Have adjustable anchorage points that allow the belt to be comfortable on the chest and not a strain on the neck
  • Have webbing clamps that keep passengers firmly in their seat

A new car may also have an indicator that warns the driver if other passengers have not buckled up. Seat belt reminders ensure every drive sets off on a safe note.

Buckle Up for Highway Safety

Automotive technology has improved the efficacy of seat belt. For example, some front seat passengers benefit from belts engineered to work alongside air bags. This allows them to be in seating positions that prevent further injuries. A belt tensioner embedded in the seat belt tighten around passenger vehicle occupants.

Other innovative vehicles feature inflatable belts that reduce injuries. These belts deploy over the passengers’ torso and shoulder when a crash happens. A car sensor triggers the release of cold compressed gas and expands across the passenger.

Of course, no seat belt is effective if you aren’t going to buckle up.

Seat belt reminders are good, but perhaps the best way to go about this safety feature is to instill the practice as routine when going for a ride. This is especially when you have child passengers. Your vehicle isn’t likely to be the only vehicle they’ll be riding in, e.g., carpooling. So if the car they’re riding in isn’t as safety-minded as you are, they will forget to wear the belt.

Seat belts save lives and reduce the risk of severe injuries. Teach its value to your family. And practice what you preach by buckling up when you get behind the wheel.

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