2017-06-22 01:19:57 UTC
In Robert Heinlein’s _The Puppet Masters_, agent Sam Nivens is sent into Zone
Red, the part of the United States controlled by parasitic alien “slugs”, for a
quick recon before a planned attack to seize communication facilities. Sam
finds that the slugs are vastly more numerous than estimated, contrives to
get one of the slug-controlled humans alone, kills the slug, and attempts to escape
with the freed host for interrogation:
A limp man is amazingly hard to lift; it took me longer to get him up and
across my shoulders than it had to silence him. He was heavy. Fortunately
I am a big husky, all hands and feet; I managed a lumbering dog trot toward
the car. I doubt if the noise of our fight disturbed anyone but my victim’s
wife, but her screams must have aroused half that end of town. There were
people popping out of doors on both sides of the street. So far, none of
them was near, but I was glad to see that I had left the car door open.
I hurried toward it.
Then, I was sorry; a brat who looked like the twin of the one who had given me
trouble earlier was inside fiddling with the controls. Cursing, I dumped my
prisoner in the lounge circle and grabbed at the kid. The boy shrank back
and struggled, but I tore him loose and threw him out-straight into the
arms of the first of my pursuers.
That saved me. He was still untangling himself as I slammed into the driver’s
seat and shot forward without bothering with door or safety belt. As I took
the first corner the door swung shut and I almost went out of my seat; I then
held a straight course long enough to fasten the belt. I cut sharp on another
corner, nearly ran down a ground car coming out and went on.
I found the wide boulevard I needed-the Paseo, I think-and jabbed the
take-off key. Possibly I caused several wrecks; I had no time to worry about it.
Without waiting to reach altitude I wrestled her to course east and continued
to climb as I made easting. I kept her on manual as I crossed Missouri and
expended every launching unit in her racks to give her more speed. That
reckless and illegal action may have saved my neck; somewhere over
Columbia, just as I fired the last one, I felt the car shake to concussion.
Someone had launched an interceptor, a devil-chaser would be my
guess-and the pesky thing had fused where I had just been.
I find it interesting that Heinlein expresses the uncomfortable feeling that I
get from being in a moving car without my seat belt fastened, even though
seat belts were not even standard in American cars for more than a decade
after the story was published. Granted, it was a flying car, but note that
Sam is almost thrown out of his seat due to sharp turn while still on the
ground. I recall that my family’s 1961 Ford Falcon did not have seat belts
when we first got it.
I found with a brief Google search that a seat belt was used in 1849 for
George Cayley’s glider, Wilbur Wright used a seat belt in their 1908
airplane, and that Barney Oldfield used a safety harness in the 1922
Indianapolis 500. By the 1950s many people, for example neurologist
C. Hunter Shelden, were advocating seat belts for private automobiles.
The Sports Car Club of America required them for competitors in
1954, and they were available as an option for Ford and Buick in 1956.
Nils Brolin invented the three-point seat and shoulder belt for Volvo,
and they became standard equipment for Volvo in 1959. Belts became
required in new cars in all states by 1965.
Is Heinlein known to have been a seat belt advocate in the 1950s?