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Subject: Nils Bohlin, inventor of a better seatbelt

He was 82
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Date Posted: September 26, 2002 12:58:20 EDT

Nils Bohlin, inventor of the three-point safety belt for cars, which is credited with saving countless lives since it was introduced in Europe in the 1950's, died on Saturday in Tranas, Sweden.

The cause was complications of a heart attack he suffered earlier that week and a stroke in May, said his stepson Gunnar Ornmark.

Mr. Bohlin began his career as an engineer designing ejector seats for the Swedish aviation industry in the mid-1950's. At that time, safety belts in cars were strapped across the body, with the buckle placed over the abdomen. The position of the buckle often caused severe internal injuries in high-speed crashes.

In 1958, Mr. Bohlin joined the Volvo Car Corporation as its first chief safety engineer. Using his knowledge of ejector seats, in just under a year he designed a device that would restrain the human body as safely as possible under extreme conditions.

"I realized both the upper and lower body must be held securely in place with one strap across the chest and one across the hips," Mr. Bohlin once said. "The belt also needed an immovable anchorage point for the buckle as far down beside the occupant's hip, so it could hold the body properly during a collision. It was just a matter of finding a solution that was simple, effective and could be put on conveniently with one hand."

Mr. Bohlin retired in 1985.

On the day of his death, Mr. Bohlin joined the likes of Orville and Wilbur Wright, Eli Whitney and 168 others who have been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio. His stepsons Gunnar and Jonas Ornmark had traveled to the United States to accept the award on his behalf.

"Letters arrive all the time, from all over the world, thanking him for his invention; it warmed his heart very much," Gunnar Ornmark said. "He buckled up absolutely every time he got into a car."

Volvo estimates that the seat belt has saved more than one million lives in the last 40 years.

"We believe that he was a great inventor; an inventor with a conscience that made great contributions to road safety," said Victor Doolan, chief executive and president of Volvo Cars of North America. "There is a little bit of Nils Bohlin in every car."

In addition to his stepsons, Mr. Bohlin is survived by his wife, Majbrict, of Tranas; three other children; 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seat belts save more than 11,000 American lives each year.

At the Inventors Hall of Fame induction ceremony, hours after learning of his stepfather's death, Mr. Ornmark continued to spread Mr. Bohlin's favorite message: "Don't forget to buckle up."

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