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Seatbelts Required on Cars

Many Baby Boomers recall the years when automobiles did not have seatbelts. A 1964 public-service song became a brain-worm: “Buckle-up for safety, always buckle up. Show the world you care, use it everywhere. Buckle-up for safety. When you're driving – Buckle-Up!”

Nonetheless … sometimes, families traveled with a child on a parent’s lap, another child in the middle of the front-seat, three kids in the backseat, and another one lying in the back window ledge!

It was dangerous for all of them. In a crash, passengers could hit dashboards or windshields; or be thrown out, colliding with pavement, trees, or earth.

Politicians dragged their feet when it came to making seatbelt laws, even though it was clear that the restraints could substantially reduce injuries and fatalities.

In the 1950s & early 1960s, some safety-conscious drivers hired mechanics to add seatbelts. Bismarck’s Jaycees-members sold then for less than ten dollars, and service-station mechanics would install two pair for just a dollar fifty.

In 1962 N.D. civic organizations joined a nationwide “Women’s Crusade for Seat Belts,” advocating installation of “these proven lifesavers,” retrofitted into automobile chassis.

Safety advocates urged a “greater use of seat belts,” and U.S. automakers began to provide front-seat lapbelts by 1964, but it took federal legislation to make them required.

It was on this date, in 1965, that every new passenger car in America now had to be “equipped with lapbelt assemblies,” one for the driver and one for a front seat passenger, thereby bringing greater traffic safety to North Dakota.

Further advancements became mandatory in 1968 when Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards required lapbelts or “combination lap and shoulder” belts at “every seating position” of all passenger cars.

By 1971, vans and trucks also had to have lap belts, and bus drivers also had to have a restraint system. Eventually, children got protection by means of car seats; and air-bags came later.

Even though seatbelts became mandatory, some people did not heed the musical call to “buckle up for safety, everybody buckle up.”

And so, in 1993, North Dakota’s legislature approved a compulsory seat belt law requiring drivers and front-seat passengers in most cars and trucks to actually wear their seat belts, exempting “rural mail carriers and the drivers of farm trucks and machinery.” North Dakota voters narrowly approved the seatbelt law in June of 1994.

“Buckling-up for safety” melodically reduced needless carnage on the highways.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM History Department


N.D. Century Code, 39021-41.1. Safety Belts; U.S. Department of Transportation, Traffic Laws Commentary: Laws Requiring Seat Belts, October 1972, Vol. 1, Number 6, p. 1, 3, 6, 8, 34.

“Greater Use of Seat Belts Urged,” Steele County Press [Finley, ND], December 14, 1961, p. 4.

“Seatbelts Supported by Many Clubwomen,” Steele County Press, December 27, 1962, p. 9.

“States Fight Death on Highways,’ St. Cloud [MN] Times, June 14, 1965, p. 9.

“Salute to Service Stations Will Start Here on Monday, Bismarck Tribune, April 27, 1963, p. 1.

Seat Belts Get New Emphasis,” St. Cloud Times, March 3, 1961, p. 4.

“Seat Belt Law Wins Narrowly, Bismarck Tribune, June 15, 1994, p. 1.

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