Itís hard to
imagine, but most items on the long list of safety features offered
on modern cars were developed only in the past 50 years.
In the early
days of the automobile, just getting cars to run reliably was a
miracle. Still, there were safety advancements.
electric self-starter. Prior to the 1912 Cadillac, starting a car
required hand-cranking it. This demanded strength as well as
caution. If you improperly grabbed the crank and the car backfired,
you could break your fingers, hand, wrist or arm.
laminated safety glass, wasnít used in automobiles until the
1920s, and only in the 1930s was auto glass tempered.
with a growing realization that safety should be considered in car
design. By 1934, General Motors was crash-testing its cars by
slamming them into stationary barriers. Unlike modern crash tests,
in which cars are attached to chains and pulled into barriers,
drivers leapt from the vehicles just before impact back then. By the
end of the decade, manufacturers such as Auto Union, the predecessor
of Audi, would be putting their cars through rollover tests.
first car designed with safety in mind was the 1948 Tucker. The car
had crumple zones, a common feature on todayís cars that allows
portions of the car to absorb the energy of a crash rather than
passing crash energy along to the occupants.
had a padded dashboard to help prevent injuries, and instruments
were grouped in front of the driver for ease of use. It also
prevented occupants from hitting the controls in a crash. Uniquely,
the Tuckers had a windshield that didnít shatter in a crash; it
popped out of its frame.
A year later,
the first Saab automobile, the 92, borrowed an idea from Saab
airplanes. The car had a welded safety cell around the passenger
compartment to protect passengers.
Swedish automaker, Volvo, was the first automaker to install front
seat belts, in 1957. A decade later, Volvo installed them in the
rear seats. By 1972, Volvoís rear seats would even have
three-point belts, and its doors would be the first ones fitted with
child safety locks.
companies were advancing the cause of safety as well.
In 1966, the
first anti-lock braking system, built by Dunlop, was offered on the
Jensen FF. Five years later, in 1971, the first traction control
system, dubbed MaxTrac, was offered on Buickís full-size cars. Two
years later, GM offered its first air bags as a standalone option.
Neither option proved popular, mostly due to their high price. They
were dropped by mid-decade.
advance much until the late 1990s, when microprocessors invaded the
engine compartment in great numbers, allowing for advanced safety
features as electronic stability control ó pioneered by BMW and
Mercedes-Benz ó and radar-guided cruise control, introduced by
Mercedes-Benz in 1998, are common options. And Hondaís Intelligent
Driver Support system, unveiled in 2003 on the Japanese-market Honda
Accord, helped the driver keep the car within its lane. The same
feature, now called lane departure warning, is becoming a common
Itís safe to
say that todayís cars have never been safer. And neither have we.