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How has car safety evolved?

Kwik Fit | Wednesday 9th May 2018 5:01pm

Woman fastening seatbelt

Car safety has certainly come a long way since the first vehicles appeared on our roads. From the first primitive motors to the self-driving cars of today, thereís been a transformation in the way we travel. Here, we take a look back at some of the major milestones in the evolution of vehicle safety, and look forward to what we can expect from our cars in the future.

A slow start

In the first decades of motor travel from the early 1900s through to 1950s, safety standards didnít see significant improvements. Through these years, cars were often heavy and difficult to handle and manoeuvre, meaning that accidents were very common.

There were some developments though. For example, in 1903 Mary Anderson patented hand-operated wiper blades that were designed to improve visibility, and eight years later rear view mirrors were first used in racing cars. Shortly afterwards in 1914, actress Florence Lawrence invented primitive turning indicators, while 1921 saw the advent of headrests to reduce the risk of whiplash injuries. That year also saw the development of hydraulic brakes in cars.

Between 1927 and 1947, other developments included the creation of laminated glass for windshields, the introduction of padded dashboards to reduce injuries caused by collisions and the performance of the first crash test.

One of the most effective safety devices of all time

Safety standards really started to advance from the 1950s onwards. In 1951, German engineer Walter Linderer created the airbag, while the following year Bela Barenyi came up with the crumple zone concept, which is a structural feature intended to absorb the force of a collision.

Perhaps the most significant development in car safety came in 1958 when Volvo introduced a three-point seatbelt designed by Nils Bohlin. To this day, itís widely recognised as one of the most effective vehicle safety features invented in the history of the industry.

Changes to the law

Safety rules started to ramp up from the 1960s, leading to big improvements in accident and injury prevention. In 1963, the Excelsior Motor Company introduced the inertia-reel seatbelt, and the same year intermittent wipers were introduced. By 1966, it was mandatory for all cars made in Europe to be fitted with a front seat belt, and padded dashboards, reversing lights and front and rear lap belts became compulsory too.

In 1979, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the US began crash testing new cars and publishing its results. By 1983, it was compulsory to wear front seatbelts in the UK, while four years later the fitting of rear seat belts in cars became mandatory.

Major improvements in technology

The 1990s saw the establishment of the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) and a host of new electronic systems being fitted to cars to enhance safety. For example, Bosch and Mercedes-Benz introduced electronic stability control, while Mercedes-Benz began incorporating Brake Assist Systems into its vehicles.

Notable developments in the 2000s included the following:

  • 2000 - The Lane Departure Warning System was developed by Iteris for use in trucks in Europe. The system relies on vibration, visual and audible warnings to make the driver aware if they are leaving their lane.
  • 2004 - Volvo introduced a blind spot information system that uses motion sensors and cameras to help motorists avoid collisions when moving lanes or parking.
  • 2008 - Volvo developed autonomous emergency braking for its XC60. The system automatically brakes to avoid collisions when sensors detect an oncoming vehicle.
  • 2009 - Bosch and Citroen introduced the intelligent anti-skid system Snowmotion, which is designed to give drivers better control of their vehicles in icy and snowy conditions.
  • 2010 - Volvo introduced the pedestrian detection system, which applies brakes automatically when a pedestrian is detected in the path of the car. It relies on radar and camera technology.

The shift towards driverless cars

When it comes to car safety, all eyes are now on the driverless vehicle technology being developed by a whole range of manufacturers. In his last Budget, chancellor Philip Hammond suggested that the driverless car industry could be worth as much as £28 billion a year to the economy by 2035, and he predicted that autonomous vehicles would be on the highways in the UK in as little as three years.

Although there are many improvements that need to be made before this technology can be rolled out on a large scale, once this does happen, itís likely to have a huge impact on road safety. If successful, it could dramatically cut accident rates by removing the risk of human error.

What you can do to stay safe

While major advances have undoubtedly been made in car safety and more are set to come, motorists canít rely solely on technology to keep them safe behind the while. Major causes of avoidable accidents and injuries include drink driving, driving while tired, using handheld phones behind the wheel and failing to wear seatbelts. Not conducting basic vehicle safety checks can also put people at risk when theyíre on the roads. For example, driving with unsafe tyres, faulty lights or poor windscreen wipers can dramatically increase the chances of an accident.

 To help minimise the danger of being involved in an incident, it pays to always follow the rules of the road and to keep your car in good condition. With this in mind, if you think your tyres have seen better days and may pose a safety risk, itís essential that you replace them as soon as possible. To find new tyres and arrange a fitting, donít hesitate to contact the team at Kwik Fit.


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