Vehicles have become faster and smarter in the last decade and with them has come the adoption of advanced car safety features.
Statistics centred around car accidents are alarming.
In an interview regarding a recent road safety survey data Road Safety Minister, Tony Piccolo, stated “The reality is that no-one wants to have a family member die or be seriously injured in a road crash, but the unfortunate truth is that it can happen to you or someone you love.”
So not surprisingly, there is a global strategy by the United Nations’ Decade of Action for Road Safety in place to reduce fatalities and injuries by 50 per cent by 2020.
From seatbelts to airbags and anti-lock brakes, the evolution of car safety features is rich with history and possibility.
Car Safety Feature #1 – Seatbelts
How many times were you told as a child to put your seatbelt on?
When it comes to safety, it was one of the first-ever car safety features introduced, and as such, has come a long way.
Starting with a simple two-point design invented in the early 1900s, it has evolved to the standard three-point design, which Volvo patented in 1959, but later released to the open market for free. The seat belt didn’t in fact become standard equipment in cars until 1970.
The three-point belt is effective in dispersing the energy of the moving body (over chest, pelvis and shoulders) during a collision.
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. These three-point belts for all seats are now standard.
Pre-tensioning belts are now available in many new vehicles, which tighten instantly on impact to prevent the body from slipping and work beautifully in conjunction with state-of-the-art airbags… which brings us to our next feature.
Car Safety Feature #2 – Airbags
Like the seatbelt, the airbag has its own story of evolution.
It was first conceived in the 1950s, introduced in the ‘70s and had little to no traction because it didn’t work well in conjunction with the newly-required lap belt. It reappeared in 1981 in Mercedes Benz vehicles, this time with success, when used with a three-point seat belt.
Interesting to note, in 1968 the first electronic sensor to set off airbags in the case of an accident was introduced. It wasn’t until the early ‘90s though that lower-end cars included driver airbags, and then in the later part of the decade, the side-impact airbags started to appear.
In 1998 airbags 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. The modern airbag really is design ingenuity at its best.
Car Safety Feature #3 – Anti-Locking Braking System
In the late 1900s, history tells us that the Benz Patent Motorwagen stopped using a handbrake. Its top speed was a very slow 8 kilometres an hour.
The earliest braking systems applied pressure only to the rear wheels. In an emergency situation the car’s back wheels would lock up, causing the car to swerve and slide dangerously to a halt. Four-wheel brakes followed in the ‘20s.
Welcome today’s anti-locking brakes (ABS), which were actually first developed for aircraft to prevent wheels from locking when landing.
ABS detects the rotational speed of the 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 ‘80s 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.
Car Safety Feature #4 – Electronic Stability Control/Program
Electronic Stability Control (ESC)/Program (ESP) is a car safety feature that electronically detects loss of traction to the vehicles tyres and automatically applies the brakes to prevent skidding and help the driver steer in a controlled manner.
The ESC brakes individual wheels where needed and can cut engine power until control is regained.
It was first used in 1983 and became standard in vehicle production in the early ‘90s.
Car Safety Feature #5 – Crumple Zones
All new vehicles are required to incorporate crumple zones for passenger protection.
They work by absorbing crash energy within the outer parts of the vehicle rather than being transferred to occupants. By utilising weaker zones on the outer parts and strengthening inner parts, the car acts as a safety shell for passengers.
Building these zones into the structure of the 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.
Car Safety Feature #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 the 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.
Roads Minister, Duncan Gay, believes that reverse cameras are particularly important for children’s safety in neighborhoods. “While parents and carers do take steps to ensure the safety of their children we must recognise that children are small and have little understanding of safety around vehicles,” Mr. Gay said.
Bluetooth technology, which allows the smartphone device to synchronise with the car’s audio system, is critical to combatting driver distraction.
Car Safety Feature #7 – Bluetooth Technology
With phone distraction rapidly becoming commonplace and texting on phones almost as dangerous as drink driving, Bluetooth technology, which allows the smartphone device to synchronise with the car’s audio system, is critical to combatting driver distraction.
Make sure the system is synced with your phone before you head out to avoid unnecessarily fumbling or unfocused driving.
Car Safety Feature #8 – Shatter-Resistant Glass
Back in the day, windscreens were just that, a buffer to wind and bugs.
The impact of a collision would add to the danger with the windscreen breaking into dangerous knives of glass. 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 Feature #9 – Indicators & Mirrors
You’ve seen road cyclists signal with hand gestures to indicate a right or left turn. Just like cyclists, motorists did 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 version in 1938. You know that rush of blood to the head you feel when fellow motorists forget their indicators? It is the simple flick of a switch yet is one of the most underrated car safety features of all time.
And we can’t forget about the properly positioned side and rear vision mirrors. Such simple features, but absolute necessities to eliminate blind spots and ensure high visibility.
A car needs to have not one, but three types of lights — brake lights, turn indicators and headlights.
Car Safety Feature #10 – 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 while driving at night, it is also good practice to use them in bad weather and rain, especially when driving on high-speed motorways.
Mary Anderson invented the windscreen wiper in 1903. Today, we hardly think of these as a feature. Models range from simple to the clever integration which automatically turns on the wipers when moisture is detected in the air and on the screen.
If you are wanting to learn more about reducing your risk when on the road, read our article called ‘Are You Taking Risks? Driving Unsafe‘. And even with most cars having all these safety features sometimes the worst can happen, and because of that it is good to have the right level of car cover for you.