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Vehicles have become significantly faster and smarter over the last decade, and with these advancements has come the adoption of advanced car safety features. And even with these new features; 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.
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 has ultimately given us the opportunity to stay safe while on the road.
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. And currently 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.
Following this, the seatbelt didn’t become a part of the 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 documented changes.
It was first constructed in the 1950s and introduced in the 1970s. It had little traction and 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 started including driver airbags. Finally, 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 to break their fall. Some modern vehicles also feature thorax airbags with head protection. Modern design has positively impacted the airbag for the better.
Car safety features: #3. Anti-Locking Braking System (ABS)
In the late 1900s, the Benz Patent Motorwagen stopped using a handbrake. For context, 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 were introduced in the 1920s.
Then came the current version of anti-locking brakes (ABS), which were first developed for aircrafts, to prevent wheels from locking upon landing.
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 benefit of ABS is their ability to detect the rotational speed of the vehicle’s individual wheels and release hydraulic fluid if the wheel is rotating too slowly.
In effect, ABS provide steering control when braking on wet and slippery surfaces.
ABS is only the first innovation when it comes to modern braking technology, with many new cars also including features such as Pedestrian Auto Emergency Braking. This feature tracks a pedestrian’s movement relative to the path of the vehicle. This is to determine the likelihood of a collision.
Low Speed Auto Emergency Braking and High Speed Auto Emergency Braking also work relative to the speed of a vehicle when travelling.
If these systems predict that 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. It also 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.
Many new cars also feature tyre pressure monitors. This new safety innovation alerts the driver if a tyre’s pressure drops below the designated level. How incredible!
Car safety features: #5. Crumple zones
All new vehicles are required to have crumple zones for passenger protection.
Crumple zones work to absorb crash energy within the outer parts of a vehicle, instead of transferring the crash energy to passengers. The car will ultimately act as a safety shell for passengers. This can be ensured by identifying the weaker zones on the outside of the vehicle and strengthening the inside of the vehicle.
Building these zones into the structure of a vehicle means that the front and/or rear end of the exterior will be crushed; acting as a shock absorber to the interior.
To ensure that you’re prepared in case of an emergency, you’ll also need to know what to put in your car emergency kit.
Car safety features: #6. Reverse camera
Rear-facing cameras are an exciting new piece of technology that are particularly beneficial for people who have small children at home.
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 when you’re trying to avoid a collision in a car park, but also when you’re backing out of your driveway where your kids are playing on the footpath.
Car safety features: #7. Shatter-resistant glass
Initially windscreens were only used as a buffer; for 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 with two layers of laminated, shatter-proof glass and a layer of plastic in between. This means they no longer break into shards but into large less harmless chunks of glass.
Laminated glass was first invented by a French chemist in 1903. 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 also did the same for many years.
Inventor Florence Lawrence originally developed the first turn indicator back in 1914. Buick then developed it even further to fit their first car with an electrical indicator in 1938.
While it can be frustrating, we need to make sure that we know how to share the road with non-motorists. Indicators have provided drivers with an opportunity to safely and respectfully communicate with non-motorists while on the road.
And we can’t forget about properly positioned side and rear vision mirrors. Such simple features, but absolute necessary to eliminate blind spots and ensure high visibility.
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 assist the driver in avoiding 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 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 and Daytime Running Lights (DRLs) are also commonplace. DRLs act as 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.
LED headlight technology promises to improve efficiency and driving experience, offering smarter beam patterns for different road conditions. LED headlights require far less power to produce a light beam and can be controlled far more effectively than HID or halogen systems.
Some LED headlights can even 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 by it.
The windscreen wiper was invented by Mary Anderson in 1903. Today, we hardly think of windscreen wipers as a safety feature, yet they are extremely important.
Models range from standard to more advanced windscreen wipers. For example; 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 these factors can have one thing in common; veering dangerously out of your lane.
With this information we now know that 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 approximately 11%; this is the equivalent of 85,000 crashes over the course of the study — and 21% of those crashes resulted in injuries.
A similar 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 all too common. However, with a range of new cars equipped with pre-crash warning systems, this may become a thing of the past.
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). These systems 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 warnings. These warnings will alert the driver if a crash is imminent, allowing them to take precautionary measures.
There are also driver attention detection systems. These systems 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. It was at this time that 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 reduced the chances of injury — especially whiplash — by 10–17%, depending on other variables within the vehicle.
Head rests are now standard in all vehicles, with experts recommending, for maximum effect, that 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, the car can now, with the press of a button, effortlessly steer itself into that coveted parking spot. All you need to control is the accelerator and brake.
Car safety features: #14. Continuous Variable Transmission (CVT) Technology
Gone are the days when a vehicle purchase was a choice between a manual or automatic transmission. Car manufacturers are now offering a dizzying array of gearbox types including: single-clutch, dual-clutch, tiptronic and more.
One of many developments in automatic gearboxes, 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.
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
While we all endeavour to follow road rules, we can still make bad driving decisions.
Whether you’re braking too quickly or over-revving the engine, this type of driving can be risky. It may mean that 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.
Once on the road, your gadget will measure how much fuel your vehicle uses per trip, how much air-con costs in petrol, and other real-time feedback to help improve your driving habits and overall car health.
Australian company Go Far has developed and fine-tuned an eco-driving system that’s been shown to reduce fuel consumption by up to 22 percent in trials.
Even with all the modern safety features in cars, sometimes it’s still best to have the right level of car insurance for when you’re on the road.