Automatic seat belts are seat belts that automatically close over riders in a car.

History Edit

Automatic seat belts were created to circumvent vehicle occupants' failure to use manual seat belts.

The 1972 Volkswagen ESVW1 Experimental Safety Vehicle presented passive seat belts [1]. Volvo tried to develop a passive three point seatbelt. In 1973 Volkswagen announced they had a functional passive seat belt[2]. The first commercial car to use automatic seat belts was the 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit [3].

One problem identified with the automatic seat belt is that they do not work well with child safety seats. When air bags became mandatory, most vehicles stopped offering automatic seat belts. The biggest exception is the Ford Escort/Mercury Tracer, as well as a few other models, which continued using automatic safety belts along with dual airbags in the 1995 and 1996 model years. Since then automatic seat belts have not been offered.

Types of automatic seat belt systemsEdit

  • Manual lap belt with automatic shoulder belt — When the door is opened, the shoulder belt moves from a fixed point on a track mounted in the door frame of the car to a point at the end of the track. Once the door is closed, and the car is turned on, the belt retracts along the track to a fixed position at the other end of the track. The lap belt must be fastened manually (if equipped). A drawback of this system is that many users forget to fasten the lap belt. A special seat belt modification is needed to use child seats in the front seats in vehicles fitted with this type of safety belt system. A subset of this type are shoulder belts that are fixed to the door of the vehicle, and don't slide. The manual lap belt is the same as in the retractable belts.
  • Automatic Shoulder and Lap Belts — This system was mainly used in older General Motors vehicles, though it can also be seen on older Honda Civic hatchbacks and Nissan Sentra coupes as well. When the door is opened, the belts go from a fixed point in the middle of the car by the floor to retractors on the door. Passengers must slide into the car under the belts. When the door closes, the retractors travel down the door. The maneuver required to slide out from these seat belts is awkward, and likely to knock off glasses if the person is wearing them. However, the seat belts have normal release buttons that are supposed to be used only in an emergency but in practice are routinely used in the same manner as manual seat belt clasps. Any child safety seats in vehicles using this type of automatic seat belts used must be installed by a dealer.

Cars with automatic seat beltsEdit


  1. Experimental Safety Vehicle
  2. PDF, Safety sells, Page 50
  3. Article that mentions automatic seat belts
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