A brief history of vehicle safety

Ever since Nicholas Joseph-Cugnot’s steam powered automobile crashed into a wall in 1771 in the world’s first automobile accident, improving vehicle safety has been a concern for manufacturers, legislators and the travelling public alike.

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Some safety features go back a surprisingly long way - like safety glass - which became standard on Fords from 1930. Even before that, the 1922 Duesenberg Model A, the stylish supercar of its day, was the first to come with four-wheel hydraulic brakes.

Seat belts and padded dashboards

As early as the 1930s doctors were campaigning for seat belts and padded dashboards, with physician CJ Strickland founding the Automobile Safety League of America at this time. The motoring world didn’t answer the call until innovative American manufacturer Tucker built the world’s first padded dashboard, though others had already introduced flat, smooth dashes and recessed controls. The first crash barrier test was conducted by General Motors in 1934, providing the foundations for a scientific approach to vehicle safety.

Vehicle safety in collisions

Swedish manufacturers have always been safety leaders and in 1949 the Saab 92 became the first production car with a safety cage. It followed this in 1958 by making seatbelts standard. A year later fellow Swede, Volvo, introduced the three point seatbelt, and to its eternal credit, gave the patent away so that other manufacturers could use it.

Mercedes demonstrated similar civic mindedness with its pioneering development of crumple zones, which absorbed the energy of a collision. Mercedes patented the invention in 1952 and introduced it in the 1959 Mercedes Benz 220, 220S and 220SE models. It then decided not to enforce its patent rights, making its life-saving technology available to all.

You may be surprised to learn that airbags also date back to the early 1950s and were developed in the USA, though it took until the 1990s for them to become almost universal.

Car brakes were not a standard safety feature

Disc brakes date back even further, and were first patented in 1902, though material limitations meant that they didn’t feature on production cars until the 1955 Citroen DS.

Adding greatly to the effectiveness of brakes, Bosch-developed anti-lock braking systems (ABS) were introduced in 1978 and were common in luxury cars before eventually becoming a standard feature.

Hi-tech vehicle safety equipment introduced

Electronic Stability Control to counter that slip sliding away feeling was first developed by Mercedes, BMW and Bosch in 1995, before being rapidly adopted by other makers. From 2011 it became mandatory for all new cars in Australia.

More recently we’ve seen the introduction of some really hi-tech equipment, such as radar assisted adaptive cruise control in Mercedes and Jaguars in 1999, and lane departure warning systems, initially in Citroens, in 2005.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes for these advanced systems in prestige cars to become standard equipment in all cars. That’s been the pattern for a lot of car safety innovations, so that today many ordinary everyday cars have 5 star safety ratings.

If you have the responsibility for a vehicle fleet than you also have a duty of care for those who drive your vehicles, and vehicle safety is a big part of that. Would it help to speak to the experts here at Fleetcare about affordable vehicle safety? If so, contact us today on 1300 777 600.

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