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The History of Vehicle Safety Features

Many people drive cars daily, commuting to and from their places of employment. Even if you don’t drive this frequently yourself, you still have to either take public transportation or your vehicle out to many places like the grocery store now and again. As a result, cars have become a staple in our lives and have led to the unsettling commonality of car accidents in our daily lives.

While far too many of these accidents result in tragedy, our vehicles today are far safer than those of the past. We’ll explain how dangerous driving used to be and how some of the safety features we now take for granted were introduced. Read on if you’d like to understand the history of car safety.

Safety Concerns That Resulted in Legislation

Now, we have a myriad of rules and regulations regarding not just driving but car manufacturing as well. However, in the 1910s, these were lacking. As a result, speeding and reckless driving lead to many car crashes, and pedestrian deaths were all too common.

This was noticed by many people in the government, and so legalization and safety campaigns began to roll out hard in the 1920s. While accepting and adopting these rules and tips was a bit slow, many car manufacturers took them to heart and understood the dangers they’d be causing by ignoring them by the late 1920s.

By the 1930s, car companies were advertising their new safety features. However, seatbelts and a few other safety features were not widely adopted despite existing in other vehicles. Throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, universities created and studied crash test results, and government officials were watching.

The tests resulted in sweeping regulations regarding many safety features throughout these decades, though some weren’t widely used by drivers and passengers until the ‘90s. It seems strange to think about all of this now due to how commonplace many of these features are now, but many safety features weren’t even considered despite already existing to some extent.

Introduction and Adoption of Seat Belts

We’ve discussed the dangers of driving in the 1920s, but some of that could have been avoided. The first car manufacturer to widely use seatbelts was Volvo, and they didn’t start a widespread rollout until 1959, almost five decades after cars were first sold to the public.

In 1885, a patent for a safety harness was awarded, though its intention was to be included in taxis to ensure passenger safety. In 1922, an Indy 500 driver hired a parachute manufacturer to design a safety harness for his car after witnessing many drivers die or be seriously hurt after being flung from their vehicles when they crashed.

Despite many of these advancements, manufacturers didn’t want to include seat belts so as to not give the impression that vehicles were dangerous, and the public rarely wore them because they thought being flung from the car was safer than being stuck inside to be rattled around or burned if a fire started. This all began to change in the late 1950s, though.

As mentioned previously, Volvo didn’t start including seatbelts in many of their vehicles until 1959. While it seems strange to consider based on what we’ve discussed so far, one thing tipped the balance in favor of this vital safety feature: the invention of the three-point seat belt.

While all other belts were more similar to harnesses than the belts we recognize today, the three-point design IS the one we use now. Before, car seatbelts would only secure the lap, but this new belt held both your lap and your torso in place, making the vehicles that had them much safer. Two years later, Wisconsin made seat belts a required feature in all vehicles, and just seven years later, this mandate was adopted at a federal level.

While there were some setbacks now and then, the seat belt has managed to become and remain a safety feature to this very day.

Underappreciated Protection

While it may seem like seat belts were the only safety feature being debated at the time, this is far from the truth.

We mostly think of seat belts when considering vehicle safety, probably because of the rules that tell us to wear them and how obviously present they are in every vehicle. However, two other vital safety features were just as hotly debated and important as seat belts: airbags and crumple zones.

Of these two, you probably recognize airbags, so we’ll start there. The Ford Motor Company began experimenting with airbags in 1971. Throughout the ‘70s, airbags would be offered in some vehicles and removed from others; their benefits weren’t completely understood yet. In fact, they began lobbying against regulations for airbags.

Despite this, airbags became an offering again in 1984, which started becoming a standard in all vehicles in the 1990s. New regulations passed in 1998 ensured that they’d be in all vehicles for the foreseeable future, including today.

Crumple zones are not a feature you hear talked about very often, but more people would be injured or even killed without them. We mentioned earlier that the three-point seat belt was invented in 1959, but it was not the only safety feature being tested at that time. This same year, Mercedes-Benz began to create vehicles with crumple zones, and the idea was widely adopted once safety ratings were introduced in the late ‘70s. Crumple zones work by providing extra room for the vehicle to stop.

Crumple zones are designed to crumple easily, spreading out the impact of damage across an area instead of concentrating it on the point of impact. Without a crumple zone, the sudden stop would do serious damage not just to the outside of your body but the inside, as well as your organs would slam into your ribcage.

Keeping You Safe On The Road

When cars were first invented, the danger they posed was not completely understood. Once evidence presented itself of the dangers of a lack of safety features, things began to change.

While it took longer than many of us would have hoped it would, we now reap the benefits of those early rocky roads of regulation and legislation. Nowadays, automobiles are packed with an array of advanced safety features designed to help protect life and property.

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