Vehicles have become significantly faster and smarter over the last decade, and with these advancements has come the adoption of advanced car safety features. Even so, car accident statistics continue to be alarming.
So, not surprisingly, the United Nations’ Decade of Action for Road Safety has put in place a global strategy to reduce fatalities and injuries by 50 per cent by 2020.
Accordingly, we have compiled a list of car safety features in modern cars. From seatbelts to airbags and anti-lock brakes, the evolution of car safety features is rich with history, ingenuity, and possibility.
Car safety features: #1. Seatbelts
As a child, how many times were you told to put your seatbelt on?
When it comes to car safety, the seatbelt was one of the first features to be introduced. As such, it has come a long way.
Starting with a simple two-point design invented in the early 1900s, the seatbelt has evolved to the standard three-point design, which Volvo patented in 1959 and later released to the open market for free. From there, the seatbelt didn’t become standard equipment in cars until 1970.
Resembling a Y-shape, the three-point belt is effective in dispersing the energy of the moving body (over chest, pelvis and shoulders) during a collision. Three-point belts for all seats in a vehicle are now standard.
Pre-tensioning belts are also available in many new vehicles, which tighten instantly on impact to prevent the body from slipping. Pre-tensioning belts also work beautifully in conjunction with state-of-the-art airbags.
Car safety features: #2 Airbags
Like the seatbelt, the airbag has its own story of evolution.
It was first conceived in the 1950s and introduced in the 1970s, though it had little traction because it didn’t work well in conjunction with the newly-required lap belt. Airbags then reappeared in 1981 in Mercedes Benz vehicles. This time, they were more successful when used with a three-point seat belt.
Interestingly, in 1968, the first electronic sensor to set off airbags in case of an accident was introduced. Still, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that lower-end cars included driver airbags, and then in the later part of the decade, side-impact airbags started to become standard.
In 1998, airbags officially became mandatory in all vehicles.
Today, it seems a car can completely cushion its occupants during a crash with side, curtain, and knee airbags all commonplace. Some modern vehicles also feature thorax airbags with head protection. The modern airbag really is design ingenuity at its best.
Car safety features: #3. Anti-Locking Braking System (ABS)
In the late 1900s, the Benz Patent Motorwagen stopped using a handbrake. Its top speed was a very slow 8 kilometres per hour.
The earliest braking systems applied pressure only to the rear wheels. In an emergency, a car’s back wheels would lock up, causing the car to swerve and slide dangerously to a halt. Four-wheel brakes followed in the 1920s.
Welcome today’s anti-locking brakes (ABS), which were actually first developed for aircraft to prevent wheels from locking upon landing.
ABS detects the rotational speed of a vehicle’s individual wheels and releases hydraulic fluid if the wheel is rotating too slowly
ABS were first used in cars in the 1970s, became standard in the late 1980s, and are now fitted to all but a few new vehicles. The upshot is that ABS detects the rotational speed of the vehicle’s individual wheels and releases hydraulic fluid if the wheel is rotating too slowly (a sign of lock up).
In effect, ABS provides steering control when braking on wet and slippery surfaces.
ABS is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to modern braking technology, with many new cars also including features such as Pedestrian Auto Emergency Braking, which tracks a pedestrian’s movement relative to the path of a vehicle to determine the likelihood of a collision, as well as Low Speed Auto Emergency Braking and High Speed Auto Emergency Braking, which, as the names suggest, work relative to the speed at which a vehicle is travelling.
If these systems predict a collision is likely, they will alert the driver and help them engage the car’s maximum braking capacity.
Car safety features: #4. Electronic Stability Control/Program (ESC/ESP)
Electronic Stability Control (ESC)/Program (ESP) is a car safety feature that electronically detects loss of traction to a vehicle’s tyres and automatically applies the brakes to prevent skidding and help the driver steer in a controlled manner.
The ESC brakes individual wheels when required, and can even cut engine power until control is regained. It was first used in 1983 and became standard in vehicle production in the early 1990s.
Speaking of tyres, many new cars also feature tyre pressure monitors, which alert the driver if a tyre’s pressure drops below the designated level. Another modern safety marvel!
Car safety features: #5. Crumple zones
All new vehicles are required to incorporate crumple zones for passenger protection.
Crumple zones work by absorbing crash energy within the outer parts of a vehicle, rather than transferring this crash energy to passengers. By utilising weaker zones on the outer parts of a vehicle and strengthening the inner parts, the car acts as a safety shell for passengers.
Building these zones into the structure of a vehicle means the front or rear of the exterior (depending on impact), will crush like an accordion, acting as a shock absorber to the interior.
Are you prepared for a car emergency? Check out our top 16 Things to put in a car emergency kit.
Car safety features: #6. Reverse camera
For those of us who like to be in control while reversing, especially if you have small children at home, rear-facing camera technology is a great help.
The reverse camera was first used in 1956 in Buick’s concept car.
It is now standard in many vehicles, particularly high-riding four-wheel drives and SUVs. These come in handy for avoiding a fender bender in the shopping mall parking lot, but also backing out of your driveway when your kids are playing on the footpath.
Car safety features: #7. Shatter-resistant glass
Back in the day, windscreens were just that: a buffer to wind and bugs.
If a collision occurred, the windscreen would break into dangerous shards of glass, thereby increasing the risk of injury. Today, windscreens are built like a sandwich with two layers of laminated, shatter-proof glass and a layer of plastic in between, which means they no longer break into shards but instead into numerous, harmless chunks.
Laminated glass was first invented by a French chemist in 1903, yet its mandatory introduction came later when the British parliament’s Road Traffic Act of 1930 required new cars to use windscreens of laminated ‘safety glass’.
Car safety features: #8. Indicators, mirrors & blind spot monitoring
You’ve seen road cyclists signal with hand gestures to indicate a right or left turn. Just like cyclists, motorists used to do the same for years.
While Florence Lawrence invented the first turn indicator in 1914, it was Buick who we credit for the first car to be fitted with an electrical indicator in 1938. You know that rush of blood to the head you feel when fellow motorists forget to use their indicators? It might merely require the flick of a switch, but indicators are a highly underrated car safety feature.
And we can’t forget about properly positioned side and rear vision mirrors. Such simple features, but absolute necessities to eliminate blind spots and ensure high visibility.
In fact, on the subject of blind spots, many modern vehicles now come equipped with blind spot warning systems. These systems can detect vehicles/objects that enter a driver’s blind spot(s), and warn the driver to help avoid collisions.
Car safety features: #9. Lights & wipers
A car needs to have not one, but three types of lights — brake lights, turn indicators and headlights. Motorists should use all of these lights and check the bulbs regularly to ensure they are in working order.
While lights are a must when driving at night, it is also good practice to use them in bad weather and rain, especially when driving on high-speed motorways.
These days, fog lamps are also commonplace, as are Daytime Running Lights (DRLs), which are headlights that remain illuminated throughout the day in order to improve visibility and reduce the risk of crashes. DRLs have been shown to improve drivers’ peripheral perception of vehicles, as well as their ability to estimate the distance between vehicles.
Vehicle manufacturers have started moving towards high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamp technology, which gives off brighter light than a traditional halogen bulb.
But the next step — LED headlight technology — promises to improve efficiency and driving experience by offering smarter beam patterns for different road conditions. LED headlights require far less power to produce a light beam that can be controlled far more effectively than HID or halogen systems.
For example, some LED headlights can be directed away from oncoming vehicles without reducing the overall brightness on your side of the road. This means you could drive with full beam on the whole way, and other drivers won’t be blinded for it.
Similarly, Mary Anderson invented the windscreen wiper in 1903. Today, we hardly think of windscreen wipers as a safety feature, yet they are extremely important. Models range from standard wipers to more clever innovations, such as wipers that automatically turn on whenever moisture is detected in the air or on the windscreen.
Car safety features: #10. Lane-keeping assist & cruise control
Inattention, fatigue, alcohol, and speeding are four of the top causes of car accidents in Australia, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all crashes on Australian roads. All of these factors can have one common result: veering out of your lane.
Given this, lane-keeping assist is one of the most impactful safety features to be introduced in modern cars. Generally, lane-keeping technologies fall into two distinct categories: lane departure warnings, which warn a driver if they are getting close to crossing the lane marking, and lane-keep assist, which can proactively steer a car back into the lane if it is approaching a lane marking.
Researchers have found that lane-keeping technologies can have a dramatic impact, with one study showing that they reduce all types of crashes by 11% – the equivalent of 85,000 crashes over the course of the study – and crashes which result in injuries by 21%.
A similar modern car safety feature is active cruise control, which can automatically detect the distance and speed of surrounding vehicles, and maintain a suitable following distance.
Car safety features: #11. Pre-crash warning alerts & Autonomous emergency braking (AEB)
Unfortunately, car crashes are an all too common reality. However, modern technological advances have attempted to make crashes a thing of the past, with many new cars coming equipped with pre-crash warning systems.
Most pre-crash safety systems work in conjunction with a vehicle’s other safety features. For example, if a pre-crash safety system detects that a collision is imminent, it could deploy seat belt pre-tensioners, adjust seat positions to improve airbag performance, or even shut the windows to prevent passenger ejection.
Some modern vehicles are fitted with Autonomous Emergency Braking systems (AEB) which scan the road to monitor the obstacles ahead. If the vehicle detects that a collision may occur, it will automatically apply the brakes to avoid a contact with the obstacle.
Other pre-crash warning alerts include forward collision warning, which will alert the driver if a crash is imminent to allow them to take precautionary measures, as well as driver attention detection systems, which can analyse a driver’s characteristics to identify signs of inattention or drowsiness.
Car safety features: #12. Head restraints
We might take them for granted now, but head rests are an extremely important safety feature in all vehicles.
Head rests were first introduced in America in 1921, although they didn’t become a standard feature in vehicles until 1969, when the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandated their inclusion in all new cars.
In 1982, a study by the NHTSA found that head restraints reduce the chances of injury – especially whiplash – by 10-17%, depending on other variables within the vehicle.
Of course, head rests are now standard in all vehicles, with experts recommending that, for maximum effect, a head rest should be positioned at eye height, as close to the back of the head as possible.
Car safety features: #13. Automatic Parking Technology
Do you find yourself circling the block multiple times in order to avoid the challenge of squeezing into a parallel parking spot? Reverse and parallel parking can be a huge ordeal, even for experienced drivers.
Automatic parking assist (otherwise known as auto parking, park assist or intelligent parking) is now fitted as a standard option for a growing number of new cars in Australia.
These vehicles have a series of sensors which can measure the dimensions of a parking space on your behalf, taking the guesswork out of the parking challenge.
Once you’ve found a suitable parking spot, instead of trying to manoeuvre your way back and forth into a parking space, with the press of a button the car can effortlessly steer itself into that coveted parking spot. All you need to control is the accelerator and brake.
No dents or nasty surprises to deal with.
Car safety features: #14. Continuous Variable Transmission (CVT) Technology
Gone are the days when a vehicle purchase was a choice between either manual or automatic transmission. Car manufacturers now offer a dizzying array of gearbox types: single-clutch, dual-clutch, tiptronic and more.
Of the many developments in automatic gearboxes over the years, the continuous variable transmission (CVT) offers the most potential for improving your driving efficiency. Instead of swapping through five or six pre-set gears, a CVT can move between an almost infinite number of drive ratios. This means a CVT engine can keep spinning at peak efficiency, regardless of how fast your vehicle is going.
A CVT can move between an almost infinite number of drive ratios.
Not only is there no need to worry about changing gears and pressing the clutch at the right time, but your engine is always running at the best fuel economy.
Car safety features: #15. Smart Car Gadget Technology
If asked, most of us would say that we’re pretty good behind the wheel. But we’re still prone to falling into bad driving habits, like braking too suddenly or over-revving the engine.
Not only can this kind of driving be risky, it means you miss hitting your engine speed’s sweet spot, where your car runs best and is most fuel efficient. According to a report by the AA Research Foundation in New Zealand, the potential benefits of driving efficiently (or “eco-driving”) include “reduced car running costs, reduced driver and passenger stress, and improved traffic flow.”
Smart car gadgets are the latest way to help drivers to drive more efficiently. These gadgets plug into your car’s standard diagnostics port (usually found under your steering wheel), and send information to your smartphone or another device mounted on your dashboard.
Smart car gadgets are the latest way to help drivers to drive more efficiently.
Once on the road, your gadget will measure things like how much fuel your vehicle uses per trip, how much blasting the air-con costs in petrol, and other real-time feedback to improve your driving habits and overall car health.
Australian company GoFar has developed and fine-tuned an eco-driving system that’s been shown in trials to reduce fuel consumption by up to 22 percent
If you want to learn more about reducing your risk when on the road, check out our article called ‘Are You Taking Risks? Driving Unsafe‘. And even though most cars have all of these safety features, sometimes the worst can still happen. Because of that, it’s good to have the right level of car cover for you.
This post was brought to you by Budget Direct Car Insurance