Almost 20,000 Lives a Year Are Saved by 2 Basic Safety Features

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Safety features in cars are more common than ever before. Today, most new cars come with safety technology that will notify you if you are veering out of your lane or reversing toward a hazard. Some cars with this technology will even brake for you if they sense an oncoming collision. These high-tech options are meant to prevent as many car accidents as possible.
But of all the safety equipment out there, the two items responsible for saving the most lives are still airbags and seatbelts. Together, they save almost 20,000 lives a year.
A close-up of a black car dashboard indicates that the car's airbag safety feature is on in blue text.
Safety features on cars have come a long way over the years | Twenty20

A short history of seat belts

The seat belt has been around longer than the automobile. According to AAA, it was first invented in the late 1800s to keep glider pilots attached to their contraptions. Edward J. Claghorn patented the first passenger seat belt on February 10, 1885. His design was implemented in New York City to keep tourists locked into their taxis.
Seat belts slowly made their way into automobiles as the industry evolved, but they didn’t undergo any monumental changes until 1959, when Swedish engineer Nils Bohlin invented the three-point belt for Volvo.
Bohlin’s invention made waves in the industry with its ingenuity and added safety, while Volvo’s choice to give the design to other manufacturers for free made seat belts widely available to all customers. When Bohlin died in 2002, his invention had already saved over a million lives.
Laws around seat belts began in 1961 when Wisconsin mandated that all cars have seat belts for their front seats. Other states followed suit and in 1968, the federal government made seat belts mandatory in all new cars. Today, every state except New Hampshire requires adults to wear seat belts.

A shorter history of airbags

Airbags have less of a history than seat belts do, but they’ve been around longer than you might think. According to Consumer Affairs, the first "safety cushion assembly for automotive vehicles" was patented by John W. Hetrick in 1953.
Hetrick’s idea caught on, and over the next two decades, automakers like Ford and Mercedes experimented with different versions of his invention. In 1967, Mercedes began introducing airbags to their cars.
The safety feature made its way into all types of make and model throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, but it wasn’t until March 12, 1990, that the first recorded accident between two vehicles occurred in which an airbag deployed to protect each driver. By 1998, airbags were mandatory features in all new cars.

Which car safety feature saves more lives?

Airbags and seat belts have both made cars much safer than they were before, but the feature responsible for the most lives saved is still the seat belt—by a long shot.
The Insurance Information Institute reports that airbags saved at least 2,790 lives in 2017 alone. In the same year, seat belts reportedly saved 14,955 lives.
Wearing your seat belt decreases the likelihood of dying in a car accident by 45%. If you’re riding in a pickup truck, that percentage rises to 60. So the next time you hop in your car, buckle up and thank Mr. Bohlin for helping you arrive alive.