Cars are safer today than ever before. Vehicles nowadays have safety features that people in years past could only dream of. In fact, vehicles on the road today are loaded with safety features that many of us are not even aware are part of our car. Yet, these safety devices save lives and help to blunt the force of a collision or crash. And, like all items in a car, truck or sport utility vehicle, the safety features of today have been built incrementally on top of safety measures introduced in years past. Here is a list of the 10 best automotive safety features of all time, and how they changed the way we drive.
10. Side View Mirrors
Believe it or not, side view mirrors were not always standard on cars and other vehicles. In fact, the first side view mirror was introduced in 1940 to coincide with the growing trend of twinning roads, or expanding them to include two or more lanes in one direction. However, side view mirrors did not become standard on cars in North America until the late 1960s. Up until that point, side view mirrors were considered a luxury and were offered as an option on most cars. Drivers who opted to have a side view mirror on their car usually only got one on the driver’s side door. A side view mirror mounted on the front passenger door was considered completely unnecessary. However, today, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Transport Canada each require side view mirrors on all vehicles—both on the driver and passenger doors. These mirrors help motorists see vehicles coming up behind them and on their side, and they are critically important when changing lanes. It is almost impossible to imagine driving without side view mirrors, but people did for nearly 50 years.
9. Traction Control
A more modern safety feature is traction control. Simply put, traction control is an electronically controlled system within a vehicle that cuts down on the amount of spinning done by the wheels during acceleration. It ensures that a driver has maximum traction at all times. This is especially important in wet and icy winter conditions when spinning tires can become a serious danger. Traction control is also important to have when operating a car with a high horsepower engine such as a Mustang or Camaro. Some traction control systems operate only at low speeds, while others work at all speeds. This is one of those safety features that many people are likely unaware that they have in their vehicle, but that nevertheless makes driving safer and easier. Many pickup trucks and SUVs also come equipped with traction control.
8. Run Flat Tires
Run flat tires are an innovation that was born on North American race tracks. They were first developed for NASCARs to enable drivers to get back to their pit crew safely after they had blown a tire during a race. Today, run flat tires are standard in nearly all tires sold. The run flat technology enables tires on everyday cars to retain some air and continue operating after they have been punctured. The vehicle has to be driven at a reduced speed (about five miles an hour) and can only go for a short distance (about 10 miles), but, in most situations, this is enough to safely get people to a garage for repairs. Run flat tires have proven to be truly innovative and a great safety feature. They helped to eliminate the tire “blow outs” of the past and the sight of motorists changing a tire on the side of a road. Although they have led to less use of tow trucks, which does not sit well with the towing industry.
7. Crumple Zones
One of the greatest safety features to help mitigate the damage done by an automotive collision are crumple zones. These are areas at the front and rear of cars that are designed to absorb the impact of a collision and literally crumple. Typically, crumple zones are located in the front of a vehicle so as to absorb the impact of a head-on collision. However, crumple zones can also be found in the rear of a car, as well as on the sides in some instances. Mercedes-Benz first experimented with crumple zones in 1952. However, the safety feature did not become common place in vehicles until the early 1980s. Today, crumple zones can be found in most new cars, trucks and other vehicles. And tests show that they dramatically lessen the damage done during a car collision—particularly a head-on collision.
6. Winter Tires
There is a healthy debate on the effectiveness of winter tires. However, for people living in extreme winter climates found in the northern U.S. or Canada, winter tires have been proven to provide better handling, control and braking ability on roads covered in snow and ice. Winter tires have been shown to give drivers superior grip on winter roads and stop much sooner than traditional or all-season tires. In some cases, cars with winter tires have been able to stop more than 100 meters sooner than cars without winter tires. Having winter tires can no doubt help people navigate the difficult winter driving conditions and get where they are going safely and with less stress. For peace of mind alone, winter tires may be worth the financial investment.
5. Anti-Lock Brakes
The anti-lock brake is widely considered one of the greatest safety inventions of all time. Automobile manufacturers had been playing with electronic braking systems as far back as the early 1960s, but none could commercialize the technology. It wasn’t until 1978 when Mercedes-Benz installed the first Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS) on its production cars for that year that ABS became the new standard in the global car industry. The computerized braking systems help drivers maintain control of their vehicle while stopping, and stabilize cars, preventing them from rolling over on impact. This technology revolutionized the automotive industry, and today ABS is the standard in all makes and models of vehicles. The technology makes brakes on older model cars from the 1960s and 1950s look like something out of the Stone Age.
4. Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems
Air pressure in tires is critically important. So important that, as of 2007, tire pressure systems are required by law in all vehicles sold within the U.S. The “TREAD Act” that mandates cars have tire pressure systems came as a result of the Firestone tire recalls of the 1990s, when more than 100 deaths in North America were linked to accidents caused as a result of tire tread separation. Today, all vehicles in the U.S. are equipped with systems that monitor the air pressure inside a vehicle’s tires and alert the driver through a gauge, dashboard display or a low-pressure warning light if the tire pressure falls below acceptable levels—telling motorists that they need to add air to their tires. This goes to prove that tires really are one of the most important components on any type of vehicle.
3. Crash Test Dummies
This one is a bit of a cheat as crash test dummies are not actually a safety feature in vehicles. However, crash test dummies continue to be the industry standard in terms of testing and refining the safety of vehicles produced throughout the world. And more information and safety devices have resulted from the use of crash test dummies than from any other test or technology used by the global automotive industry. The very first crash test dummy was named “Sierra Sam,” and was developed in 1949 to test the impact on pilots who ejected from airplanes. Automotive engineers saw this application and quickly adapted it for use in testing the safety of cars, trucks and other vehicles. Today, crash test dummies are used by virtually every auto manufacturer to test their cars and how they protect people during collisions and crashes. And crash test dummies have also become widely known in popular culture. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the U.S. has even featured talking crash test dummies in its advertising campaigns. Crash Test Dummies have also been a line of toys, featured on television shows such as MythBusters, and even used for the names of rock bands. Few things have impacted automotive safety as much as the ubiquitous crash test dummy.
Safety has improved with each generation of car. And one of the most innovative safety breakthroughs ever has been the airbag. And, believe it or not, airbags are still a relatively new innovation. Widespread use of airbags began in the late 1980s, and initially,only the driver of a car was equipped with an airbag that deployed in the event of a crash or on impact. However, as it became clear that airbags are incredibly effective at saving lives, use of the device spread and came to include the front passenger as well. Airbags have continued to evolve over the years, and they are now responsible for saving thousands of lives each year. As recently as 2011, General Motors introduced a new front center air bag, which was the industry’s first inflatable center restraint designed to protect drivers and front passengers in side impact crashes. Volvo has even developed an airbag that deploys outside a vehicle when it comes into contact with a pedestrian. The airbag deploys from the hood of the car to protect the civilian who has been struck by the car. Now that’s taking safety to a whole new level.
They are widely regarded as the greatest safety invention in automotive history, and people are now required to wear them by law in most jurisdictions. But there was a time when cars did not come equipped with any seatbelts, and another time when seatbelts were an optional feature for motorists. American car manufacturer Nash was the first company to make a vehicle with a seatbelt back in 1949. The Ford Motor Company, in 1955, offered seatbelts as an option for its cars. The first company to place seatbelts in a car as a standard item was Swedish auto manufacturer Saab in 1958. The world’s first seatbelt law, making the safety devices mandatory, was put in place in 1970 in Victoria, Australia. Today, research shows that seatbelts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat occupants by 45 percent, and lower the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent. Not surprising then that seatbelts are now required by law to be worn in most jurisdictions throughout the world.