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In terms of safety, today’s cars are light years ahead of yesterday’s cars. There are hundreds of safety features in every car sold in the US, many of which are part of the car structure itself. The result is that deaths and injuries due to car accidents have declined dramatically in the last few decades. As exciting as this adoption of safety features is, it didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it took over 100 years! With the help of Northwest Chrysler (Houston, TX) we have put together a timeline that shows how safety features have advanced over time.   

1890s: Headlights were introduced for driving at night. The earliest models were acetylene gas lamps, similar to those lamps that miners wore on their helmets.

1910s: Auto horns were developed. The earliest ones worked by squeezing a rubber bulb attached to a brass horn.

1914: The electric starter. This may come as a surprise to think of an electric starter in a car as a safety feature, but it certainly was. People were actually being killed by engines that backfiring during cranking. The electric starter eliminated that risk.

1920s: Laminated safety glass was developed and by the late 1920s, it was being installed in many car models.

1930s: Brake lights and turn signals were developed and soon were appearing on most production cars.

Mid-1930s: Hydraulic brake systems become standard on most vehicles. These allowed strong, consistent braking.

1940s: Automakers begin to phase out protruding interior knobs and handles inside the interior.

Early 1950s: Safety belts become optional in some American cars, but not many motorists buy or use them.

1959: Three-point safety belts become standard equipment on Volvo cars.

1961: Wisconsin becomes the first state to require safety belts in cars.

1964: The federal government requires padded dashboards be installed in all new cars.

1965: Ralph Nader publishes Unsafe at Any Speed. This book was a wakeup call for the entire nation.

1967: Federal motor vehicle safety standards are established. These standards drove such technologies as collapsible steering columns, shoulder safety belts and dual-channel brake systems.

1973: Federal government requires manufacturers to crash test fuel tanks for rear impact integrity.

1984: New York state becomes the first state to require all automotive occupants to wear seat belts.

1998: Federal government requires front airbags in new passenger vehicles.

2008: Federal government requires electronic stability control on new vehicles.

As you can see, the adoption of automotive safety technology has been a long slow process. In the beginning, it was primarily driven by market forces. Today, however, the Federal government is behind a good deal of automotive safety innovation, and while this may be an annoyance to the automotive manufacturers, it has saved hundreds upon hundreds of lives.


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