U.K.’s Sheila’s Wheels Launches ‘Female-Friendly’ Seatbelt

February 2, 2006

Sheila’s Wheels, a U.K. insurer that specializes in automobile insurance for women, announced the launch of the “world’s first female-friendly seatbelt.” The bulletin notes that “top engineers have designed a new device that prevents the belt strap causing discomfort across the chest and aims to get more female drivers buckling up.”

“92 percent of women admit to tampering with or not wearing their seatbelt due to the discomfort it causes whilst driving,” the bulletin noted. The company collaborated with MIRA, the internationally known firm of automotive engineers, “to transform the traditional seatbelt design and cater for women’s curves.”

Sheila’s Wheels said its research on the subject “revealed that it shouldn’t be a case of ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to seatbelts. One in five women complained of discomfort across the chest when they were buckled-up – especially those with larger breasts.”

The company concluded that this “‘discomfort’ is potentially endangering the lives of female motorists.” It published the following findings on the subject:
– almost a quarter (23 percent) reduce the effectiveness of their seatbelt by slipping it under their arm whilst driving;
– more than one in eight (14 percent) have failed to buckle-up at all;
– over half (55 percent) have adjusted their belts to make them more comfortable.

The bulletin described this technological breakthrough as the “‘S-Clip’: a simple device that changes the route of the belt to take it down the middle of the chest – directly between the cleavage – instead of cutting across the breasts. This adjustment minimizes flattening of the chest and rubbing on the neck.”

A crash test has verified the new seatbelt’s safety features. Lisa Bingley, project engineer at MIRA explained: “Women come in all shapes and sizes and it’s great that seatbelt comfort can now be seen in a similar way to a bra or a dress fitting. We hope this device aids women to wear their seatbelt in the correct manner in more comfort.”

Sheila’s Wheels said it “hopes that this research and ‘S-Clip’ concept may become a more permanent solution and is currently speaking to car and restraint manufacturers.”

Spokeswoman Jacky Brown explained: “Women are putting themselves at risk by not wearing their seatbelt properly, or worse still, failing to buckle-up at all because they aren’t comfortable in the driving seat. We hope that by highlighting this problem, manufacturers will look into more long-term design solutions to improve seatbelt comfort for women. In the meantime, we urge female motorists to make sure they always wear their seatbelt, and wear it properly – no matter how much it digs into their neck or chest.”

The bulletin also gave the following background on Sheila’s Wheels: It was launched in October 2005 “to offer women drivers cheaper car insurance and product enhancements including £300 [$530] handbag cover – for bags stolen from the car – competitive breakdown recovery rates, a dedicated counseling line run by trained professionals to help customers cope with driving issues such as road rage, and a network of female-friendly mechanics.”

Ed. Note: There’s an ongoing controversy in the U.K. over whether men or women are the safest drivers. Despite disparaging comments on its TV spots, which are frequently described as “cheesy,” Sheila’s Wheels is something of a breakthrough initiative on the part of women drivers, who do, at least in the U.K., have lower accident rates than their male counterparts. One does wonder, however, what process is involved in selecting “female-friendly mechanics.”

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