June 21, 2024

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Auto Repair Tips

The Evolution of Car Safety Features

Car safety features provide vital protection in an accident, from seat belts and airbags to anti-lock brakes that have saved many lives.

At first, cars were crude machines which could be dangerous to ride in. Safety began to improve with laminated glass windshields being developed that prevented shattering upon impact.

Early 20th Century

Cars of this era weren’t designed with safety as the top priority; rather they were essentially motorized carriages with powerful engines and sporty designs. Seat belts weren’t yet commonplace but padded dashboards and headrests became more widespread over time; manufacturers also switched over to using windshields that weren’t so likely to shatter upon impact.

Governments began mandating crash tests and safety ratings to incentivize car manufacturers to meet high safety standards for passengers, which in turn inspired active safety systems that help prevent accidents from happening such as anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control, helping reduce head-on collision risk by up to 61%.

Mid-20th Century

Beginning in the mid-20th century, government regulations began to change how cars were produced and driven. These included padded dashboards and white reverse lights to aid visibility at night; as well as seat belts which reduced chances of ejecting from their car during an accident.

This period also saw the debut of Citroen C4 and Jaguar XK’s first-lane departure warning systems and Volvo’s pedestrian detection system that triggers brakes when it detects pedestrians. Around this same time, European New Car Assessment Program began conducting crash tests and publishing safety ratings.


Car safety features were once not seen as essential; however, over the past 30 years the accident fatality rate has dramatically dropped due to new equipment and increasingly stringent vehicle maintenance standards.

An important turning point was marked by Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed – a devastating indictment of American auto manufacturers that highlighted how safety had become the centerpiece of vehicle design and marketing decisions. Following its publication, safety issues became the centerpiece of vehicle development and marketing decisions.

The 1970s witnessed NHTSA crash testing cars, with some manufacturers providing airbags as an optional extra. Nils Bohlin introduced his three-point seat belt which strapped both lap and shoulder.


Ford’s Robert McNamara believed manufacturers had an ethical responsibility to study car safety issues and develop protective equipment accordingly; and educate consumers on its importance – his theory being that life protection could help sell more cars; at this time seat belt use was still low.

In Europe, this period saw the introduction of five-star safety rated vehicles, while computer technology advanced exponentially. For instance, Iteris developed a lane departure warning system using visual, audible and vibration alerts to warn drivers when their lane drifted out of its position; Volvo introduced blind-spot sensors and pedestrian detection systems which are helping reduce injuries sustained during collisions.


Car safety technology has seen tremendous advances over the past decade. Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS), Electronic Stability Control/Control, Adaptive Cruise Control and Collision Avoidance Systems are some of the more common active systems used today.

Grant McCullum, sales manager for Gary Force Honda in Bowling Green, notes that car buyers now often demand safety features unheard of when they were younger – such as dual air bags in many new vehicles.

In the 1990s, European New Car Assessment Program crash test results became widely available for vehicle shoppers. Jaguar and Citroen developed pop-up bonnets to reduce pedestrian injury risk; Volvo offered an automated pedestrian detection system with brakes activating automatically if any sensors detected a person.


Car manufacturers are striving to develop safe vehicles. From padded dashboards and safety glass to more complex features like wireless phone charging systems and even hybrid cars. But more than just providing us with nice-to-have amenities, they strive to develop cars which don’t pose as threats of injury to their occupants.

The 1960s witnessed the proliferation and eventual adoption of seatbelts – first invented by Volvo’s Nils Bohlin – as mandatory equipment, crash tests becoming legal, padded dashboards, crumple zones and early forms of safety glass all becoming mainstream features during this decade.

Today, several advanced car safety features like blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assist have yet to be federally mandated, but are increasingly making their way into cars at an increasing rate. Research indicates these systems may reduce your risk of fatal accidents by 49%.

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