Manufacturers' distrust of 80's drivers led to ridiculous seat belt designs


If you have even the tiniest amount of experience driving early 90's cars, you have probably encountered some variant of the automatic seat belt. According to "Buckling Up," the Dole decision in 1984 began the phase in of automatic restraints for passengers after finding that only a quarter of drivers were using their seat belts. With air bags being too expensive, auto makers began designing wacky automatic seat belt systems and producing media to promote seat belt use. Buick even tried to promote seat belt use by adding a feature that allowed for the driver to lock in slack to the belt, making it both more comfortable and useless.


Anti-seat-belt sentiment was rampant to the point of many people believing that wearing a seat belt was actually more dangerous in a crash. Chevy decided that the solution, demonstrated in this 1990 Lumina, was to keep the belts latched at all times. Chevy's engineers seem to have been inspired by stepping through a spider web when designing these seat belts, which is less than ideal. Other approaches included Honda's preferred method of automatically strapping you to the seat when you turn the key. While annoying, the system at least worked, except for the fact that the lap belt still had to be manually fastened, leading to most drivers ignoring the point of the three point restraint.


Eventually, airbags were made a requirement and the days of automatic seat belts were behind us.

Related: How The Police Check If You're Wearing Your Seat Belt