Cars are safer today than ever before. Modern vehicles have safety features that people in decades past could only dream of. In fact, vehicles on the road today are loaded with safety features that some people might not even aware of. Whether you know about them or not, these safety devices save lives everyday. They help to prevent crashes from happening in the first place, but also keep occupants safer if an accident does end up happening.
Like all items in your car, the safety features of today have been built incrementally on top of safety measures of the past. Here is a list of the ten best automotive safety features of all-time, and how they changed the way we drive.
Side View Mirrors
Believe it or not, side view mirrors were not always standard on vehicles. In fact, the first side view mirror was introduced in 1940 to coincide with the growing road trends. This was the era of twinning roads, or expanding them to include two or more lanes in one direction. However, side view mirrors did not become officially standard in North America until the late 1960s. Up until that point, side view mirrors were considered a luxury and were offered as an extra option.
Drivers who opted to have a side view mirror on their car usually only got one on the driver’s side door. A second one mounted on the passenger side was considered completely unnecessary. However, today, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Transport Canada both require side view mirrors on all vehicles — on both sides. These mirrors help you see vehicles coming up behind you, and they are critically important when changing lanes. It’s impossible to imagine driving without them now, but people did for nearly 50 years!
A more modern safety feature is traction control. Simply put, traction control is an electronically controlled system 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 with a high horsepower engine, like in 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 most people are likely unaware of. Whether you know about it or not, it makes driving safer and easier. It’s pretty much a standard option in most new cars
Run Flat Tires
Run flat tires are an innovation that was born on North American race tracks. They were first developed for NASCAR, to enable drivers to get back to their pit crew safely if they blew a tire while racing. Today, run flat tires are standard in nearly all tires sold. The run flat technology enables tires to retain some air and continue operating after they have been punctured. The vehicle has to be driven at a reduced speed (about five mph) and can only go for a short distance (about 10 miles). However, 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. The sight of someone changing a tire on the side of a busy highway is almost entirely a thing of the past. That same driver can roll on a little bit longer, and get themselves to a safe spot to fix the issue.
One of the greatest safety features in modern cars are crumble zones. They help mitigate the potential damage to humans during a car crash. If you didn’t know, crumple zones are areas at the front and rear of cars that are designed to absorb the impact of a collision. Typically, they are located in the front of a vehicle in order to absorb the a head-on collision.
However, crumple zones can now also be found in the rear end, as well as on the sides of certain vehicles. Mercedes first experimented with crumple zones in 1952. However, the safety feature did not become commonplace in vehicles until the early 1980s. Today, crumple zones can be found in almost every new car. While more cars will be totaled in the event of a crash, crumple zones go a long way in preventing injury or death.
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, there’s no argument. 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, helping drivers stop much sooner than non-winter tires.
In some cases, winter tires are able to stop more than 100 meters sooner than cars without them. Having winter tires will definitely help you navigate the slippery winter driving conditions, and help you get arrive safely at your destination. For peace of mind alone, winter tires are worth the financial investment.
The anti-lock brake is widely considered one of the greatest safety inventions of all-time. Auto makers have 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 installed the first Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS) on its production cars. Soon after that, ABS became the new standard in the global car industry.
The computerized braking systems help drivers maintain control of their vehicle while stopping by preventing wheels from locking and skidding. It stabilizes cars while braking, preventing accidents or rollovers. This technology revolutionized the industry. Today ABS is the standard in all makes and models. The technology makes brakes on older model cars from the 1960s and 1950s look like something out of the Stone Age.
Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems
Air pressure in your 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 now mandates them as a requirement came as a result of the Firestone tire recalls of the 1990s. 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 of tires. The system alert the driver through a gauge, dashboard display, or a low-pressure warning light if the tire pressure falls below acceptable levels. That reminds motorists that they need to add some air to their tires. It’s a simple safety fix, but an important one.
Crash Test Dummies
This might be cheating a bit, since crash test dummies aren’t actually safety feature inside vehicles. However, they continue to be the industry standard in terms of testing and refining the safety of vehicles produced around the world. These dummies have helped gather more information about crashes than anything else. Many modern safety features were invented as a result of this data.
The very first crash test dummy was named “Sierra Sam”. It was developed in 1949 to test the impact on pilots who ejected from airplanes. Automotive engineers saw this and quickly adapted it for use in testing the safety of their products.
Today, crash test dummies are used by virtually every auto manufacturer to test their cars. They reveal how well the vehicles will protect people in the event of a crash. Crash test dummies have also become widely known in popular culture. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has featured talking crash test dummies in its advertising campaigns. Crash test dummies have also been a line of toys, featured on television shows like MythBusters, and even used as the name of a rock band. Few things have impacted automotive safety as much as the ubiquitous crash test dummy.
Safety has improved with each generation of car. One of the most innovative safety breakthroughs ever was the airbag. Believe it or not, airbags are still a relatively new innovation. Widespread use of airbags only began in the late 1980s. Initially, only the driver side was equipped with an airbag. As you probably know, the airbag is a large cushion that is deployed in the event of a crash. It acts as a soft pillow for occupants who are violently thrown forward.
As it became clear that airbags are incredibly effective at saving lives, use of the device spread. Soon, auto makers were including passenger side airbags too. Next came side impact airbags, and versions for anyone riding in the back seats.
Airbags have continued to evolve over the years. They are now responsible for saving thousands of lives every year. As recently as 2011, General Motors introduced a new front center air bag. It 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!
Seat belts are easily the greatest safety invention in automotive history. Drivers everywhere are are now required to wear them by law in almost every jurisdictions. However, there was a time when cars didn’t even come equipped with seat belts. For a while, seat belts were merely an optional feature.
American car manufacturer Nash was the first company to make a vehicle with a seatbelt back in 1949. Ford began offering them as an option in 1955. The first company to place seat belts in a car as a standard item was Swedish auto manufacturer Saab in 1958. The world’s first seat belt law, making the safety devices mandatory, was put in place in 1970 in Victoria, Australia.
Today, research shows that seat belts 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. It’s not surprising that mandatory seat belt laws now exist literally everywhere that had roads.