Whatever Happened to the Automatic Seatbelt?

Have you ever wondered why some designs stay around forever while others hit a peak of apparent ubiquitousness before vanishing into obscurity?  If you were a driver (or even a passenger) in the 1980s, then you remember the automatic seatbelt.  Some drivers loved them while others loathed them.  For those who can’t (or choose not…

Have you ever wondered why some designs stay around forever while others hit a peak of apparent ubiquitousness before vanishing into obscurity?  If you were a driver (or even a passenger) in the 1980s, then you remember the automatic seatbelt.  Some drivers loved them while others loathed them.  For those who can’t (or choose not to) remember them, these seat belts would automatically slide into place across a person’s chest when the car started.  The hope was that this would cut down on driving-related fatalities as it would clearly result in greater seatbelt use.  However, there were some important design flaws that cut its life short.

  • One of the most glaring flaws was that they were very difficult (or sometimes impossible) to adjust. This made them difficult and uncomfortable for anyone who was not at the manufacturer’s ideal height, so people would disconnect them and only use the manual straps that went across the lap.  This resulted in worse injuries than before.
  • They were often incompatible with side airbags, which became mandatory a few years after they were introduced.
  • Auto manufacturers hadn’t considered the design requirements in other countries. Canada, for instance, had safety requirements that prohibited the use of automatic seatbelts.  This severely limited the exportability of any car that had them.

By not considering diversity of customers, future potential design changes, and global economies, automatic seatbelts were doomed to failure.  While they were an innovative and interesting idea for improving motor vehicle safety, the design was not implemented very well.  Drivers simply preferred the traditional seatbelts even if they took more time and effort to use.  At StudioRed, our designers ensure that all potential factors are considered before a new design is released.

Share This