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Please Fasten Your Seatbelts

seatbeltWe all know that seatbelts save lives.  Why the Swedish inventor of the three-point seatbelt, Nils Bohlin of Volvo , didn’t get one of the Nobel Prizes for his invention, given the number of deaths his invention has prevented is something of a mystery.  He did get a medal of some sort during his lifetime and was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame, so that does give him some of the recognition he deserves.

However, there are those idiots who still don’t wear seat belts. One wants to bang the heads of these idiots against a wall until they see sense, except that (a) this would result in a serious assault charge and (b) if they keep on not wearing seatbelts, they’re going to bang their own heads against the steering wheel, dashboard or worse one of these days.

Car manufacturers don’t like their vehicles featuring on the fatal crash list, so they are taking steps to make sure that we are fastening our seatbelts – and they’re providing better ones, too, with most modern vehicles having three-pointers all around the vehicle, including the middle seat at the back.  They also take steps to make sure that you actually wear the seatbelts they have so thoughtfully provided.  Back in the 1970s, the manufacturers flirted with the idea of a system that refused to start the engine unless the driver was safely buckled in, but this was banned by the US Congress in 1974 – goodness knows why.

Most cars prefer to have a seatbelt warning light of some description.  In some vehicles, this applies to the driver’s seat only; in others, the system considers the front passenger and/or the rear seats.  The warning system usually flashes lights or beeps until the buckle clicks home properly. The variety that involves the driver’s seat is the simplest.  After all, a car will always have a driver if the engine is on and the vehicle is moving; it doesn’t always have front passengers.  The driver-only versions start flashing and beeping if the key is in the ignition and the engine is on or some similar indication that you’re not just sitting there with the engine off waiting for your daughter’s ballet lessons to come to an end… or watching a romantic sunset from the front seat with a significant other.

The systems that throw a hissy fit if the passengers don’t buckle up usually have some sort of pressure or weight sensor in the seats. After all, nobody wants a warning light to go off to tell you to buckle in a non-existent passenger.  These are pretty sensitive, too.  You don’t need much weight to make the seat think that it’s got a passenger on board. For a parent, these are a godsend, as you know straight away if little Jason has got bored during the trip to Grandma’s and has undone the seatbelt while fiddling with it. If the seat belt comes undone, on goes the little warning light.

The only drawback with the passenger detection systems is that they think any weight at all is a passenger, as happened to my mother when out shopping in her Subaru Outback .  Mum grabbed a few litres of milk and some other goodies, and plonked them on the front seat beside her as she drove off.  However, the weight of two 2-litre milk bottles was enough to make the passenger seat detector throw a wobbly and (in her words) scream at her.  As Mum was now on the road, she wasn’t in a position to reach over to the far side of the vehicle and grab the seatbelt to plug it in and shut the warning system up.  She could, however, reach the milk bottles and sat there trying to shove the bottles off the seat and into the footwell, the alarm screaming at her all the time.  Talk about trying to drive while distracted! Just as well she wasn’t trying to shove eggs around as well…

One also wonders what would happen with other loads carried on the back seat.  We’ve all done this, haven’t we?  Don’t we all toss our bags and coats into the back of the sedan? What about the cat carrier when taking Tiddles to the vet?  Thankfully, a lot of warning lights for the rear seat don’t make noises at the driver but just have a little light.  However, given the trend towards having more safety systems in our cars – and a good trend, too – it probably won’t be long until rear seat passenger detection systems start beeping at us as well. When this happens, we’ll all have to do the following:

  • Put things in the boot or in the footwell;
  • Get car seat harnesses for the dog;
  • Plug the seatbelt in before placing a load that can’t be buckled in onto the seat (e.g. that large houseplant that’s too tall for the boot and/or the cat carrier.

And, of course, we need to keep wearing our seatbelts.  No excuses – buckle up!