The documents described below, listed and summarized in chronological order with new postings on top, may be accessed in pdf format by clicking on the links highlighted in each summary. Additional documents in the Lap Belt Restraint collection will be made available on this website in the future.

Documents Posted November 29, 2005

1961 - In a lecture entitled "The Value of the Automobile Safety Belt," a leading Swedish researcher and educator states that the lap-only belt "does not comply" with requirements for an adequate restraint system because "it does not maintain the occupant in an upright position, it does not protect the head and thorax, and it does not hold the vital parts of the body together within the car during an accident." Thus, he says, "It has not been considered as a safety belt in Sweden."

1962 - A California physician with an interest in aerospace medicine, in his paper "Are Seat Belts Enough?" in December 1962, urges "delethalization" of automobile interiors, including provision of "a shoulder strap-lap belt combination" which "reduces the decelerative load on the car occupant." Calling it a "step upward" from the lap belt, he observes that "the torso harness prevents the 'secondary collision,' the term applied to the collision of the occupant with the interior of the car..."

1965 - Two accident researchers, evaluating lap seat belt effectiveness in a presentation to a safety conference, question whether lap belts can provide "additional protection (beyond ejection control) inside the car through reducing or preventing contact with interior objects...substantial further improvements will probably require the use of upper body restraint in addition to pelvic restraint."

1965 - Chrysler's chief engineer gives a presentation on "Recent Developments in Car Design for Injury Reduction" on October 27, 1965, in which he suggests that "as a next step" up from lap-only belts "the motorist adopt the shoulder belt in this fashion - a simple single diagonal belt in addition to the lap belt." He provides graphics of various belt designs and options.

1965 - Three physician-educators in New York State, in The Automotive Safety Belt: In Saving A Life May Produce an Intra-Abdominal Injury", presented to the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, October 14-16, 1965, report on "cases of intra-abdominal injuries resulting from wearing a lap-type safety belt" and conclude that "use of a shoulder harness in conjunction with the lap belt might have prevented many of these injuries."

1966 - Two researchers at Wayne State University and a third at General Motors author an extensive technical paper documenting sled test runs to examine impact dynamics of occupants with various belt systems. The paper, presented at a safety conference, describes the "effect of distributing the force [of the impact] over a greater part of the body by means of the combined lap and diagonal chest belt...For the 10 mile per hour, lap belt only run, the total force on the lap belt is approximately 1400 pounds, while for the 10 miles per hour, lap and diagonal chest, the total lap load is approximately 900 pounds. For the 20 mile per hour, lap belt only run, the total lap belt load was approximately 3500 pounds, while the lap belt load for the [lap] seat belt and diagonal chest belt condition was 2000 pounds. Thus, in addition to minimizing or eliminating impact forces to the vehicle interior, the combined restraint system appreciably reduces the forces in the lap belt."

1967 - In a May 1967 paper, two physicians at the University of Michigan Medical Center report on patients presenting with "a new pattern of spine injury" involving the lap belt, which "focuses collision forces on the pelvis and lower torso. Identifying the injury as a Chance fracture, they conclude, "It is likely that these injuries would not have occurred if the patients had been wearing shoulder-type seat belts."

1967 - An internal Ford engineering memo dated September 19, 1967 concludes that "a properly worn, 3-point [belt] system clearly protects the occupant better than a lap-belt-only system." It points out that the three-point system "has been demonstrated to offer much greater protection to the vehicle occupant than does a single lap belt alone, since it prevents injuries from jackknifing."

1968 - A group of physicians at the University of Michigan Medical School, in "Lap Seat Belt Injuries; The Treatment of the Fortunate Survivor", state that while lap belts have prevented traffic fatalities, "with the use of this protective device, however, certain characteristic traumatic lesions have occurred in some cases." They address "the possible prevention of such injuries by a combination of a cross-chest strap and lap belt..." Graphics demonstrate the jackknifing action of occupant bodies over lap belts in frontal impacts, including those permitting violent head contacts with vehicle interior structures.

1968 - A General Motors of Canada engineer, in a talk on "Current Automotive Safety Features" in May, 1968, before the Canadian Highway Safety Council, discusses the lap-only and lap-shoulder belt and concludes, "The lap-shoulder belt combination offers the possibility of greater protection by restraining the upper torso and thus reducing the chance of occupants striking the car interior in forward impacts."

1968 - Two surgeons from the University of Rochester School of Medicine describe the nature of seat belt injuries in a lecture before the Twenty-Eighth Annual Session of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, Oct. 18-20, 1968. They conclude that "the three-point belt has been the most effective restraining device in attenuating occupant injury. No deaths have been reported in collisions up to 60 mph..." The lap belt "exposes the user to injury to the lumbar spine...the passengers may flex freely at the time of impact. These injuries occurred with front end collision, and rarely were seen with other restraints. Unique to the lap belt is the bilateral transverse fracture of L2 or L3 described by Chance. Additional visceral injuries due to the lap belt were due to direct violence, generally from an ill-placed belt."

1968 - In an extensive review of belt performance data and published in August, 1968, five researchers evaluate the pros and cons of lap-only, lap-shoulder and other belt restraint systems. The conclude, among other findings, that "a properly worn 3-point restraint system is clearly an improvement over the lap belt."

1969 - In "Abdominal Trauma from Seat Belts," four physicians from two Colorado Medical School surgery departments report in May 1969 on lap belt-related abdominal injuries "due to blunt trauma" and conclude, "The use of the shoulder strap in conjunction with the lap belt substantially reduces the frequency of abdominal injuries."

1969 - A report on a Priorities Seminar held by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's predecessor agency in July, 1969, states in a section on "crash survivability" that "both lap and shoulder belts will be required in rear seat positions for the foreseeable future." It refers to "requirements for full rear-seat belts, at least, in all cars in the foreseeable future..."

1970 - A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on May 7, 1970, would require that new cars manufactured during 1972 be equipped in all seating positions with either passive restraint systems or integrated lap-shoulder belt systems with automatic adjustment and other features not presently provided in most belt systems. The proposed rule never takes effect.

1971 - Three Ford engineers, in a paper entitled"Restraint System Effectiveness" and dated September 21, 1971, comparing a range of passive and active systems and assuming their installation in all positions, find that while the "universal usage of the lap belt only belts in 1969 would have saved 14,900 lives," if "all occupants in 1969 had availed themselves of the present harness configuration...21,600 lives would have been saved."

1973 - In a paper examining crash injury patterns for restrained and unrestrained occupants in Washtenaw County, Michigan, a researcher at the Highway Safety Research Institute of the University of Michigan finds that occupants wearing "torso restraints" (three-point lap-shoulder systems) were "much less likely to have been severely or fatally injured than those with lap belt only or unrestrained."

1973 - Two General Motors researchers report their conclusions concerning the relative effectiveness of various restraint systems in fatal accidents. "If a person wears his lap belt, his potential for fatality reduction is 17%. If he wears his lap-shoulder belt, his potential for fatality redudtion is 31%," they state. They show that the difference is even greater in frontal crashes, which are the greatest share of all crashes: 14% fatality reduction for lap only belt use and 37% for lap-shoulder belt use.

1976 - An Insurance Institute for Highway Safety researcher, in "Estimates of Motor Vehicle Seat Belt Effectiveness and Use..." published in September 1976 [], concludes on the basis of recent data that lap belts "reduced severe injuries only 17 percent in front and front-angle crashes" and "46 percent in side, rear and rollover crashes," while lap-shoulder belts "reduced severe injuries 58 percent in front and front-angle crashes" and "62 percent in side, rear and rollover crashes."

1980 - The outgoing administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations writes a letter to auto company executives urging them to make voluntary improvements to the safety of their products, including offering "rear seat three-point belts...for additional protection to rear seat occupants. They have been offered by Volvo, Mercedes, and a few others for many years as standard equipment." Example of the letter is here..

1986 - The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) publishes an extensive study,"Performance of Lap Belts in 26 Frontal Crashes," on July 28, 1986. On the basis of real-world crashes investigated by the Board and its review of extensive medical, engineering and related literature, it concludes that "in frontal collisions, persons using lap-only belts may not be adequately protected against injury and may sustain additional injuries induced by the belt itself." Noting that such injuries include severe spinal, abdominal and brain trauma, it points out that "lap/shoulder belts provide superior crash protection...and present a significantly lesser risk of induced injury..." It urges manufacturers and federal regulators to move quickly toward providing lap-shoulder belts in all seating positions, both for new cars and for the rear seats of existing vehicles, where children more often tend to be seated, via retrofit rear lap-shoulder belts. The report includes an extensive bibliography of prior published work relating to belt injuries.

1986 - Following up on its July study, NTSB writes a letter to domestic and importer auto companies asking them to take voluntary action, even before federal standards are adopted, to provide lap-shoulder belts in all outboard seating positions, and to work toward providing them also in center seating positions.

1986 - A General Motors analyst publishes an effectiveness comparison of rear lap-only seat belts and front lap-shoulder belts on October 30, 1986. "The average effectiveness of rear lap belt restraints was estimates as (18 9)%, compared to (41 4)% for front lap-shoulder restraints."

1987 - Two Volvo engineers publish a paper"A Three-Point Belt in the Rear Center Seating Position As Accessories,", reporting on tests showing a center-seat lap-shoulder belt design that meets "all demands from regulations and 'in-house' requirements." It lists the "main advantages" of such a belt for center-seat occupants: "Higher safety level in frontal impacts; increased comfort and convenience; better design, compared to a non-retractor lap belt; children prefer this place".

1987 - NHTSA publishes a Preliminary Regulatory Impact Analysis in March 1987 examining the injury-reduction and cost implications of requiring rear-seat outboard three-point lap-shoulder belts. It notes that the three domestic manufacturers have announced their intention to voluntarily install such systems "on most or all of their vehicles over the next few years" and that, "Currently, at least thirteen foreign manufacturers...are installing Type 2 [three-point lap-shoulder] safety belts in the rear seats of some of their passenger cars."

1988 - A House subcommittee holds a hearing into the failure of NHTSA and domestic auto companies to provide lap-shoulder belts in the rear seats of automobiles. The hearing transcript provides an extensive record of views and data provided by the companies, NHTSA, safety advocates and others. Subcommittee members generally are critical of the delay by government and the companies in providing or requiring rear lap-shoulder belt systems. The subcommittee chair points out that although cars manufactured since 1973 have been required to be equipped with anchorage points for fitting rear shoulder belts, they "do not require manufacturers to provide nor install such shoulder straps. That, in turn, has rendered it all but impossible for consumers in many cases to purchase and have installed that life-saving feature."

Assured by an industry representative that the companies are starting to provide rear lap-shoulder belts voluntarily in anticipation of a federal requirement, she states that "it's a little bit slow coming voluntarily if they have had this information for 20 years and they still don't have them in the cars...you haven't assured us that until 1990 virtually every car was going to have this...and yet, when your companies manufacture these cars overseas, they all have the shoulder belt in the back seat. It seems to me that you have a different standard for American passengers...That's not taking care of the safety of the American consumer."

2003 - On August 6, 2003, acting under a Congressional mandate known as Anton's Law, NHTSA publishes a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which (1) recounts the history of the agency's actions concerning rear-seat lap-shoulder belts, beginning with its denial of a 1984 petition seeking a requirement for such belts; (2) notes the agency's eventual rulemaking activity in 1989 leading to required installation of outboard rear-seat lap-shoulder belts, and (3) proposes to require lap-shoulder belts in rear center seating positions. On December 8, 2004, NHTSA publishes a final rule requiring rear center seat lap-shoulder belts, to be phased in between 2005 and 2007. Forty years have passed between this action and the first publication of lap belt injury reports.

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