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Five of the oldest safety features

14/04/2018 by Mark Schneider in Safety

It's a sobering fact that the history of cars goes hand-in-hand with the history of road deaths. The first automotive fatality dates back to 1869 when the unfortunate Mary Ward was thrown from an experimental steam car and run over as it rounded a corner in Ireland.

For much of that history vehicle safety has been something of an afterthought, but today, thankfully, safety is a central concern of most new car buyers, along with practicality, economy, style and price.

But soon after the start of the automobile era there were innovators thinking of ways to make motoring safer, and some safety features still around today go back a surprisingly long way.

Laminated glass

It didn't take carmakers long to figure out that regular glass in windshields was a disaster in the making, with shards of broken glass causing horrendous injuries to people's heads.

Henry Ford was one of the first to recognise the dangers and the need for improved glass. From 1919 Ford started fitting laminated glass to vehicles, becoming standard in all Fords over the next decade. Other manufacturers then followed Ford's lead.

Head restraints

Head restraints are a vitally important safety feature protecting occupants from whiplash damage. Their history stretches way back to their first patent in 1921, which was granted to California resident Benjamin Katz.

Despite that it took a long time for them to start appearing in as an option in the front seat of cars in 1959. They became mandatory in new cars in America in 1969 and in Australia in 1972.

Padded dashboard

Back in the bad old days unrestrained occupants would crash face first into dashboards full of switches and dials guaranteed to injure you in an accident. Doctors had recognised their dangers and had been campaigning for padded dashboards since the 1930s.

The first padded dashboard appeared in the Tucker 48 (or "Tucker Torpedo"). The car's creator, Preston Tucker, was obsessed with safety and his car was way ahead of its time. His company's downfall was spectacular, to say the least, and even became the subject of a feature film.

It took until the 1970s for padded dashboards and recessed controls to become the standard on cars.

Crumple zone

We have Mercedes to thank for the invention of the life-saving crumple zone. Mercedes first came up with the idea of making the car's bodywork absorb the kinetic energy of a crash while protecting the occupants in a strong cabin. It became a feature of its cars in 1952. To Mercedes' everlasting credit they recognised its huge lifesaving potential and chose not to enforce its patents. This allowed other carmakers to use it and saving countless lives in the process.

Lap sash seat belt

Volvo, that safety-conscious Swede introduced the modern three point, or lap sash seatbelt back in 1959 on its PV544 and Amazon models. Inventor Nils Bohlin's innovation is still one of the most crucial safety features of any car. It's come along way since those early days, with inertia reels, pre-tensioners, and inflatable seatbelts all helping to make them an even more effective and usable safety feature.

Written by
Mark Schneider

Mark is a successful copywriter with over 20 years of professional writing experience.

We welcome him as a guest blogger to Fleettorque.

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