Cars today are light years ahead in terms of safety than the cars of yesteryear. Today’s cars offer hundreds of safety features, many of which are designed right into the car structure. The result is that deaths and injuries due to car accidents have plummeted since the early days. But it didn’t happen overnight. With the help of DCH Chrysler of Temecula, CA, we have put together a timeline that shows how automotive safety features advanced slowly over time.
1886: Karl Benz develops what has become recognized as the world’s first production car.
Late 1800s: Headlights were introduced for driving at night, and horns were introduced to alert pedestrians and other cars.
1910s: Auto safety efforts focus on driver and pedestrian behavior, as well as driver training.
1914: The electric starter. This may come as a surprise to think of an electric starter in a car as a safety feature, but it certainly was. If an engine being cranked accidently backfired, the crank could kick back and strike the person cranking. This could result in significant injuries.
Early 1920s: Laminated safety glass is developed and by the late 1920s, became common in most cars.
1930s: Brake lights and turn signals began to be installed on most production cars.
Mid-1930s: Hydraulic brake systems become standard on most vehicles. These allowed strong, consistent braking.
1940s: Automakers begin to phase out protruding interior knobs and handles, which could cause impalements in a crash.
1948: Preston Tucker outfits his 51 production cars with padded dashboards, pop-out safety glass and directional lighting.
Early 1950s: Safety belts become optional in some American cars, but not many motorists buy or use them.
1959: Three-point safety belts become standard equipment on Volvo cars.
1961: Wisconsin becomes the first state to require safety belts in cars.
1964: Federal government requires padded dashboards and seat belt anchors in new cars.
1965: Ralph Nader publishes Unsafe at Any Speed. This book was a call-to-action for the automotive industry.
1967: Federal motor vehicle safety standards are established driving such technologies as collapsible steering columns, lap and shoulder safety belts and dual circuit brake systems.
1973: Federal government requires manufacturers to crash test fuel tanks for rear impact integrity.
1984: New York becomes the first state to require all automotive occupants to wear seat belts.
1998: Federal government requires dual front airbags in new passenger vehicles.
2005: Tire pressure monitoring systems are introduced.
2008: Federal government requires electronic stability control on new vehicles.
2011: Government adds rollover air curtain requirement.
As you can see, the adoption of automotive safety technology has been a long slow process. In the beginning, it was primarily driven by market forces. Today, however, the Federal government is behind a good deal of automotive safety innovation and, while this may be an annoyance to the automotive manufacturers, it has saved thousands of lives.