The development of vehicle technologies have brought significant improvements to road safety. However, vehicles weren’t always as safe to drive as they are today. In fact, there was a time when people drove around in them without any protection at all. Here is a brief overview of the evolution of vehicle safety and how important it is that these developments continue for years to come.
The First Cars: Untested
When the first automobiles hit the market in the late 19th century, they consisted of little more than a heavy metal shell with an engine and wheels. They were very difficult to control—making accidents common—and had nothing but sheet metal to block any blows to the human body. Because of this, many drivers sustained injuries or even died during this age. Yet, surprisingly enough, any substantial changes to these models wouldn’t come until more than six decades later.
1960s: Safety as a Priority
It wasn’t until after the end of World War II that vehicle manufacturers began taking an increased interest in their products’ overall safety rating. The public wanted additional tools to protect themselves and their families behind the wheel—spurring more research into the subject. This period brought about the invention of several key features that most cars still use today, such as the airbag and three-point seatbelt. In the 1960s, we would go on to see the implementation of car safety rules to help individuals use these features properly. As such, it was during this decade that the evolution of vehicle safety was at its peak.
A Timeline of the Evolution of Car Safety
1919: Safety glass
Even in these early days of motoring manufacturers realised that using normal glass in cars was unacceptable, and safety glass that shattered into tiny pieces, rather than breaking into lethal shards, was developed.
1946: Radial tires
Which remain the industry standard today, are constructed from cords that run perpendicular across the surface of a tire. This provides more strength across the tread while also improving grip.
Volvo introduces the first three-point seatbelt – it’s still one of the most effective safety devices of all time. Volvo estimates the three-point seatbelt has saved more than a million lives.
1959: Crumple Zones
Crumple zones help the car to fold up in a controlled manner during a crash, absorbing energy that would otherwise impact the driver. Crumple zones are now integral to modern car design.
1960: Padded dashboard
Another innovation from Volvo, padded dashboards were introduced in an attempt to reduce face and chest injuries in crashes.
1965: First seatbelt legislation
All new cars sold are required to have seat belt anchorage points for the front outer seats.
1966: Anti-lock brakes (ABS)
The Jensen FF becomes the first production car to feature mechanical anti-lock brakes, based on aircraft technology.
1968: Head restraints
Volvo delivers another first, with front-seat head restraints. These protect the head and neck in rear-end collisions.
1970: Pedestrian-friendly front-end designs
Design of windscreens, bumpers, headlights, A-pillars and other front end features altered to lessen the impact suffered by pedestrians if they are hit by a car.
Airbags cushion occupants from hard cabin surfaces in the case of a crash. The first airbags were bulky and emerged from the steering wheel, but modern cars have passenger, knee, shoulder, curtain, and even seatbelt bags.
1978: Electronic ABS
Mercedes advances ABS by introducing an electronic system in its high-end S-Class model.
1983: Wearing of front seatbelts made compulsoryIt becomes compulsory to wear front seatbelts in the UK. Over 90 per cent of British drivers immediately comply.
1986: Tire-pressure monitoring system
The first car to feature TPMS was the Porsche 959 and works by measuring the air in the tires and alerting the driver if the tires are over or under-inflated via a dashboard display.
1987: Rear seatbelt law
The latest round of seatbelt rules come into force – all cars sold in the UK must now be fitted with rear seatbelts.
In January, Ontario becomes the first province to require seatbelt use, while Quebec follows in August. Alberta will be the last province to do so in 1987, while Yukon waits until 1991.
1991: Side-impact protection
Volvo combines side-impact bars with seats on transverse rails to create its Side Impact Protection System (SIPS).
1991: Wearing of rear seatbelts made compulsoryIt becomes a legal requirement for seatbelts to be worn by all rear-seat passengers, including adults.
1994: Side-impact airbag
Once again, Volvo is at the forefront of safety as it introduces side-seat protection airbags in its 850 models to supplement its metal side-impact bars.
1995: Electronic stability control
Mercedes, with the help of Bosch, becomes the first maker to use ESC, with the S-Class again leading the way.
1996: Knee airbag
Kia adds the first knee airbag to the Sportage SUV, although this feature doesn’t reach the UK until the 2003 Toyota Avensis.
1996: Euro NCAP
Established The first Euro NCAP meeting takes place, with the crash testing body’s first results released the following year. 1997: First Euro NCAP resultsEuro NCAP begins testing. Volvo S40 comes top with four stars for Adult Occupant Protection.
1997: IsofixDeveloped jointly by Volkswagen and child-seat maker Britax.
Allows compatible child seats to easily click into car seats.
1997: Whiplash protection
Swedish manufacturers Saab and Volvo were the first to design whiplash-minimising seats and head restraints
2001: Euro NCAP introduces the seatbelt reminder assessment.
2003: Child safety rating.
The safety rating test is made even tougher by the introduction of the child protection rating.
2005: Lane departure
This first appears in Europe in the Citroen C4, C5 and C6, and warns drivers when their car is moving out of a lane.
2005: Pop-up bonnet
Developed to lower the risk of injuries for pedestrians when hit by a car. First available on the Jaguar XK and Citroen C6.
2009: New Euro NCAP rating.
Stricter rating is a score for adult occupant, child occupant, pedestrian and safety assist. Cars without stability control as standard can’t get five stars.
2015: Pedestrian detection in darkness, barrier detection and active cruise with steering.
This tech arrives on the next Volvo XC90. Advanced pedestrian detection spots people in the dark, barrier detection steers and brakes if you veer towards a barrier, and active cruise follows cars ahead and lane markings.
2018: Car2 Infrastructure technology. Cars communicate with those in front and warn of slippery roads or a breakdown in the way. Also works with traffic lights to tell you how long before it turns green.
Modern Day: Moving Forward
Even today, we’re still seeing continuous advancement in vehicle safety technology. From automatic braking systems to 360-degree view cameras to collision detection, there’s no end to the enhancements we’ve invented in the interest of keeping drivers and passengers safe. As long as accidents keep happening, automotive manufacturers will continue to develop different features to help prevent them. Only then can we say that we’ve successfully built the safest car.
A car’s tires also play a significant role in promoting safety while you drive. Tire developers have been continually improving on their products over the years. As such, we at National Tire Wholesale carry only the best quality models you can find. Our tire shop have an inventory of name-brand tires—each available in several different models to cater to varying needs.
Gorm Dagoe and