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Henry Ford II on seat belts

'Mr. Boyd [Alan S. Boyd, Nation's First Transportation Chief], who retired in 1993, returned to Washington in 2017 for a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Department of Transportation. He told a crowd of 500 dignitaries that soon after taking office in 1967, he had received a call from Henry Ford II, chief executive of Ford Motor at the time, who told him that American motorists didn't want and would never use safety belts in their cars.'

He died Sunday, aged 98.

Seems like a reasonable assessment based on seat belt usage during the late 1950’s and 1960’s.

The widespread use of seat belts started in the 1990’s with local enforcement (forced by federal requirements).


Our 57 Ford Fairlane 500 had seat belts but I think they were a luxury option on that car and not standard on other models. Our 58 Chevy didn’t have them. I think by 61 most cars had them as standard. You could always have them installed, just weren’t standard. When got my 59 Pontiac in 68, I had to buy the belts at the parts store and have them installed at the gas station, so I think GM was maybe a little behind Ford.

I don’t know what’s going on but in the last month two people have been killed in the county not wearing belts. Car rolls and they get ejected.

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Indeed: " Front airbags, side-impact protection and three-point safety belts. They’re all standard equipment on most of today’s automobiles.

But back in the 1950s and very early 1960s, not even seat belts were standard. Sexy styling, not safety, is what sold cars.

The industry even had a motto: ‘Safety Doesn’t Sell.’ It was a long-held belief that seemingly was proved when a 1956 attempt by Ford Motor Co. to sell a package of innovative safety features called ‘Lifeguard Design’ failed miserably. Chevrolet ate Ford’s lunch in 1956. The motto stuck for decades."…
“That didn’t go unnoticed by Henry Ford II. He reportedly quipped: ‘McNamara is selling safety, but Chevrolet is selling cars.’”


Thank you to hiker16 for locating that article. I had read something similar in a magazine published in the 60s.
If I remember correctly factory seatbelts became mandatory around ‘64
But people did not use them.
I know I did not use them until I got a CJ5 with vinyl doors.

Lap belts didn’t become standard equipment until–I think–'64 or '65. Our '63 Plymouth didn’t have seatbelts, but Chevron was running a nationwide promotion featuring front lap belt installation for a really low price, so my father took advantage of that.

Our '66 Galaxie 500 came equipped with lap belts, but I think that they were only in the front. The Federal law mandating lap belts for both front and rear didn’t take effect until 1968.

My '71 Charger was the first vehicle I drove that had shoulder harnesses in the front, and the design was really bad. They didn’t retract, and if you didn’t want them dangling in the door opening, you had to fold them and stow them above the window with clips that were provided. It was such a PIA to stow and to un-stow them that I rarely used them, and instead relied on the separate lap belts.

The biggest problem with the Charger’s shoulder harnesses was that they didn’t have an inertia reel mechanism, and if you leaned forward they didn’t yield. As a result, it was impossible (at least for me…) to reach the e-brake release when I had the shoulder harness attached, so needless to say, I rarely used them.

My 64 Pontiac had seatbelts but they were an option, not standard. They became mandetory in '68 in the US. Apparently some states, Wisconsin for one, required them in '62.

NH doesn’t have an adult seat-belt law. We had a law for children under 12, then later revises for children under 18. And NH has the lowest seat-belt usage of any state. I’ve seen people drive up from MA on rt 93, then when they cross the border - they unbuckle their seat-belts.

IMHO…if you’re injured in an accident and you weren’t wearing a seat-belt, then insurance companies can deny you coverage.

Lap-belts could cause more damage then no seat-belt. The lap-belt would hold your body in place, but you upper torso would bend forward causing your head to hit the dash or steering-wheel…or causes major back injuries. First few cars I drove only had lap-belts. Wasn’t until the 80’s that I owned a vehicle with a shoulder harness. My Highlander not only has belts with shoulder harnesses, but also at least 10 air-bags.

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Well, isn’t the state’s slogan… Live Free and Die…?


Yup…and they do (die).



That’s just… Baffling. It’s not like it’s a straitjacket. Once it’s on you don’t even know it’s there.

The cynical side of me just says those guys are taking the seat belts off as a middle finger to “gubmint overreach.”


My oldest friend from my undergraduate years has flirted with Libertarianism–on and off–for several years. He fastens his seatbelt, and then sits on it–rather than wearing it–because “wearing it is uncomfortable”. Yeah, I really believe that sitting on it is more comfortable than wearing it… NOT.

At the age of 73, he is still doing battle with his long-dead parents and the restrictions that they placed on him as a child, and as a result, he fights any kind of regulation, even if violating it could kill him.

Logic has nothing to do with his decisions, it seems.


There are still people that being thrown clear in an accident is safer.
In Florida motorcycle helmets are optional. You see people riding motorcycles no helmet, wearing shorts and flip-flops.

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Sometime back in the late '50s, Buick’s Chief Engineer was interviewed by either Popular Science or Popular Mechanics (I subscribed to both publications, so I don’t recall which one it was), and he was questioned on a variety of topics–including seat belts.

When asked if he thought that seat belts should be used, his rambling response included what he (allegedly) did when driving his Grandchildren in his car:
If I think I’m going to be involved in an accident, I call out “Hands!”, and they know to brace themselves against the dashboard.

This leads to the inevitable question…
Was Buick’s Chief Engineer ignorant of the concept of inertia, or was he just expressing GM’s corporate denial of the importance of seatbelts?


By the time I was a teenager I started wearing a seat-belt. Had to wear a seat-belt learning how to drive (my dad and Drivers-ed - no laws yet). By the time I got my license I was uncomfortable if I WASN’T wearing a seat-belt. To this day if for some reason I didn’t put my seat-belt on - within a minute I realize something doesn’t feel right…and then I put my seat-belt on.

I don’t understand the logic of people not wearing a seat-belt. And I really don’t understand the logic of parents NOT making sure their kids are in a seat-belt. Every once in a while I’ll see a car with kids in the back seat and the kids standing up on the seat. It’s absurd.


Tom McCahill advocated “heading for the basement”, when you saw you were going to crash, dive to the floor under the dashboard.
Of course most of Toms’ advice is long outdated.

Maybe he’s into wedgies too.

I had a childhood friend whose father died in a low speed impact. They were pulling into a parking spot on ice in the 1960s, and the car slid into a brick wall at like 5 to 10 mph. The father slid into the steering wheel. He composed himself, got out to inspect the front end and keeled over. By the time the EMTs got there, he had died of internal injuries.


That is why the Tucker automobile featured a spacious area under the dashboard for the passenger to dive into. Definitely outdated, but at least somewhat safety aware for the time.

And really was not that good at the time either .