By Dan Cooper
The year 1769 witnessed the introduction of the first steam powered vehicles large enough to transport both people and goods. This was a giant leap forward for transportation technology, following on from horse drawn carriages and other animal powered wagons.
More than a century later, Karl Benz (a German engineer) invented the modern automobile in 1886. It quickly gained popularity amongst the rich as a faster and more convenient way of travel. The Ford T model was introduced in 1908, thereby making cars affordable for more people. Considering the generally shoddy construction of early vehicles – and the difficulty faced by drivers in controlling them – the need arose for safety standards and measures to be implemented, as accidents (and death tolls) began to rise.
This is a timeline of some of the most notable car safety advancements, which have impacted and continue to impact our lives.
- Mary Anderson developed and patented the windshield wiper blade in 1903. This came as a result of problems she observed drivers having during rainfall, which made them open their windows in order to see. The solution was a swinging arm device with a rubber blade, operated by the driver from inside the vehicle.
- Ray Harroun was the earliest known person to have used a rear-view mirror in 1911, when he attached it to his Marmon Wasp for the Indianapolis 500 race. However, Elmer Berger is usually credited with inventing the rear-view mirror, because he was the first person to patent it in 1921, and subsequently develop it for production.
- The earliest turn signals were invented by Hollywood actress, Florence Lawrence, in 1914. However, she never patented it.
- Malcolm Lougheed (later changed to Lockheed) invented the hydraulic brake system.
- In 1921, Benjamin Katz invented the headrest for drivers in order to prevent whiplash in cases of rear end collision.
- Laminated glass was introduced for use as windscreens in 1927 by Henry Ford.
- The padded dashboard was first introduced to the Tucker Sedan in 1948, after being launched by Preston Tucker.
- Cruise control was invented in 1948 by Ralph Teetor, a blind man who believed fewer accidents would occur if drivers had a way to hold the car at a steady speed.
- W. Alderson introduced the crash test dummy in 1949; it was called ‘Sierra Sam’ and used in aviation. He later introduced a crash test dummy for vehicles later in the 1950’s.
- In 1951, American John. W. Hetrick and German engineer Walter Linderer filed for the first airbag patent in America and Germany respectively.
- Bela Barenyi (an engineer at Mercedes-Benz) invented the crumple zone; this is an area built into a car that is designed to collapse in the case of a collision.
- The three-point seat belt was introduced in 1959 by Nils Bohlin, an engineer with Volvo.
- In 1963, Excelsior Motor Company implemented the inertia reel seatbelt, which allows passengers to adjust the seatbelt to their preference.
- Laws were enacted across Europe in 1966 mandating the inclusion of a front seat belt, padded dashboards, rear lap belts, and white reverse lights. Anti-lock braking systems (initially used in aircrafts) were featured for the first time in an automobile in the FF Jensen.
- Front seat head restraints were put in place in 1968 by Volvo to protect the head and neck in case of a rear end collision. The first Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standardmade it mandatory in the United States for all vehicles to feature collapsible steering columns.
- Seatbelts were made compulsory in Australia 1970, making it the first country to do so.
- In 1981, Mercedes-Benz released its first car in which the driver seat had a supplemental restraint system.
- The UK made the wearing of front seatbelts compulsory in 1983, while rear seatbelts became compulsory in 1987.
- Likewise, in 1987, traction control was introduced by Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and BMW.
- The side impact protection system was introduced by Volvo in 1991 and the side impact in 1994.
- Mercedes-Benz and Bosch introduced electronic stability control in 1995.
- 2000 witnessed the development of the Lane Departure Warning Systems for trucks.
- The Blind Spot Information System was implemented by Volvo in 2004.
- The pop-up bonnet was pioneered by Jaguar and Citroen in 2005 to reduce the risk of pedestrian injury.
- Autonomous emergency braking was introduced to the XC60 by Volvo; this feature automatically brakes to prevent collisions when the sensor detects an oncoming vehicle.
- The need for better vehicle control in snowy or icy conditions brought about the ‘Snowmotion, an intelligent anti-skid system by Citroen and Bosch in 2009.
- Cameras that detect pedestrians and cause the car to brake automatically were developed by Volvo in 2010.
As it’s prudent to be aware of the history of motor vehicle safety, it’s also important to take steps in caring for your vehicle – one of which is via proper VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) checks. The VIN of any car is unique to that vehicle; it is a 17-character alpha numeric code. There are certain websites that provide free VIN checks, offering useful information and tools.