It didn't hit me right away. But when Nils Bohlin's son told how his father's invention had affected his life, I realized how much I, too, owe the late Volvo engineer.
Bohlin, the inventor of the three-point safety belt, was one of five men inducted into the European Automotive Hall of Fame in Geneva last week.
The other inductees did big things:
- Charles Rolls and Henry Royce collaborated to found one of the world's best-known luxury brands.
- Pierre Dreyfus ran Renault for two decades, from 1955 to 1975.
- Carl Hahn made the VW Beetle a star in America. Later, as CEO, he built the Volkswagen group into a multibrand powerhouse.
Hahn accepted the honor in person. It's engaging when someone of that caliber whom you've known is honored.
But it's even more so when a person being recognized has touched your life.
Bohlin's grown son accepted the honor on behalf of his father, who died several years ago.
He told how a few years after his father's death, he drove a Porsche into a stone wall. Bohlin's son said he would have died but for the three-point belt he was wearing.
It was a touching moment in an industry that doesn't often get emotional.
I immediately flashed back to a cold December night almost 16 years ago, when an oncoming car crossed the center line and totaled the Buick LeSabre I was driving.
The car had one airbag - which, in conjunction with the seat belt, saved my life.
My wife, who was riding in the passenger seat without an airbag, suffered a cracked sternum and broken collar bone as the shoulder belt cinched her in place.
Our two young sons, who were in the back seat, emerged with only bruises - at the points where Nils Bohlin's invention held them snug.
It would be tough to estimate how many lives Nils Bohlin has touched all over the world in the past 40 years.
But he clearly deserves to be in the hall of fame. And, believe me, I was happy to be there to see it.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]