The Evolution of Vehicle Safety - Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Littky-Rubin & Whitman (2024)

Transportation has come a long way since 1886 when Carl Benz applied for a patent for his “vehicle powered by a gas engine.” Through the years, as advancements were made to improve speed and dependability, other progress was made to further the safety of those that drive and ride in motor vehicles. Decade by decade, improvements have been added and tweaked to ensure the safest ride possible. Even so, automobile accidents with injuries due to a product or part malfunction still occur far too often. If you have been injured in an automobile accident or a defective product, the attorneys at Clark Fountain are here to help.

Early 1900s

The first motor vehicles were large, clunky, heavy, and hard to control. They were frequently involved in accidents prompting their makers to make changes to improve safety as they went along. One of the first safety features was a hand operated wiper blade, which was quickly followed by rear-view mirrors. An auto-signaling arm that indicated the direction the car was turning was next. By the 1940s, headrests, safety glass windshields, and padded dashboards were making their debut. While many safety features were still needed, a good start had been made.

Fun Facts:

  • In 1914, the first stop sign was installed in Detroit.
  • In 1918, the first three color stop light was installed in Detroit.


Some of the main safety features we use in today’s cars were introduced in the 1950s. For example, the airbag was first created in 1951 by Walter Linderer. In 1959, Volvo introduced the three-point seatbelt. It was also in 1958 that the UN established the World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations, whose purpose was to promote and advance the safety of motor vehicles through a set of international standards.

Fun Facts:

  • In 1950, The Nash Rambler became the first car with seat belts.
  • In 1955, Michigan became the first state to require driver’s education.


The laws finally began to focus on protecting vehicle occupants from injury, and rules regarding safety and the use of safety features became mandatory in cars. In 1968, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards required that motor vehicles have side marker lights, collapsible steering columns, and front-seat shoulder belts. Headrests also become mandatory in order to help alleviate whiplash injuries. It was also during this time period that the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Transportation Safety Board are created.

Fun Fact:

  • In 1966, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act was passed.


It was during the 1970s that the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) was created began testing safety features and publishing the results. Some car manufacturers began to provide airbags as an option for passengers, and electronic anti-lock brakes made an appearance.

Fun Fact:

  • In 1974, a federal law was enacted that cars cannot start until seat belts are interlocked, but due to it being so inconvenient, it was immediately repealed.


It was during the 1980s that third brake lights located in the center of the vehicle became standard and the first supplemental restraint system (SRS) airbag for the driver’s seat was produced. Traction control is also introduced during this period.

Fun Facts:

  • In 1984, the State of New York enacted the first seat belt law requirement.
  • In 1985, Mercedes-Benz made airbags standard on all United States models.


The beginning of the 1990s saw the introduction of the side impact protection system as well as side impact bags. More electronic systems began to be installed in vehicles, from Brake Assist Systems (BAS) and electronic stability control (ESC) systems. Crash-testing of all vehicles also became mandatory.

Fun Facts:

  • In 1991, Cadillac made anti-lock brakes standard.
  • In 1998, all vehicles were required to have dual-front air bags.


Even more advanced safety features using motion sensors and cameras emerged, including the blind spot information systems (BLIS). Lane Departure Warning Systems and autonomous emergency braking systems to help drivers to prevent collisions.

Fun Facts:

  • In 2015, the first self-driving cars created by Google were tested in SanFrancisco Bay area roadways.
  • In 2016, the United States government released guidelines for self-driving cars.

Latest Car Safety Features

Some of the latest advanced safety features include:

  • Forward-facing sensors which monitor distance and relative speed between vehicles. Should these sensors suspect a crash is imminent, it alerts the driver with sound or visual cues.
  • Back-up cameras not only allow the driver to see what is directly behind them, they also use sensors to alert the driver of objects behind the car.
  • Adaptive headlights promote improved visibility around curves as they actually pivot in the direction the car is traveling.

The Future of Car Safety

So much is possible for the future of car safety. Technology has advanced enough that the following items are being considered:

  • Mood Sensors: Cameras that are able to read facial signals and detect the driver’s mood are on the way. Sad, happy, angry, or tired, your car will know whether to turn up the heat or stop for a break.
  • Driverless Cars: Cars that can transport you from Point A to Point B with no driver may not be too far off in the future.

Current Car Safety Facts & Statistics

A report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for January – June of 2021 released some surprising numbers:

  • 20,160 people died in motor vehicle crashes, which is an 18.4% increase from the same time period in 2020. This is also the highest number of fatalities during the first six months of any year since 2006 and the highest half-year increase in the history of the data kept by the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).
  • Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) during the first half of 2021 increased by 13% compared to the first half of 2020.

Speak With A Florida Automobile Accident Attorney

At Clark Fountain, our team of personal injury and product defect attorneys are well-versed in helping our clients receive the compensation they deserve after a car accident. Sometimes your accident is related to another driver, but sometimes it is related to – or even caused by – a failed product, safety feature, or a lack of one. Our firm has extensive experience with these types of cases and can evaluate the facts of your accident and determine if you have a claim for compensation. Contact us online today to learn more.

The Evolution of Vehicle Safety - Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Littky-Rubin & Whitman (2024)


What were the safety features of cars in the 1940s? ›

By the 1940s, headrests, safety glass windshields, and padded dashboards were making their debut. While many safety features were still needed, a good start had been made. Fun Facts: In 1914, the first stop sign was installed in Detroit.

How have car safety features changed over time? ›

Most standard equipment in cars today wasn't even an option decades ago. Depending on your age, you may remember when cars didn't have seat belts, or when the belt just went over your lap. Today, the three-point seat belt, which restrains occupants across both their lap and shoulder, is standard in all vehicles.

Who wrote unsafe at any speed 1966 which led to the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act? ›

Ralph Nader's book, Unsafe at Any Speed, criticized the vehicle as unsafe. Chairman Ribicoff summoned Nader on February 10, 1966. As in his book, Nader attacked presidential initiatives, safety advocates, the auto industry and its associated groups, and the Federal and State role.

Where was the first motorized vehicle? ›

Earlier accounts often gave credit to Karl Benz, from Germany, for creating the first true automobile in 1885/1886.

What is the history of the safety car? ›

The first official Safety Car was a Porsche 914/6 deployed at the Canadian Grand Prix in 1973. Since then, Formula One has used various cars to fulfill the role, including a Lamborghini Countach at the 1981 Monaco Grand Prix. More unlikely cars included the Ford Escort Cosworth, a Renault Clio, and the Fiat Tempra.

What changes to the automobile were introduced in the 1950s? ›

A number of innovations were either invented or improved sufficiently to allow for mass production during the decade: air conditioning, automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes, seat belts and arguably the most influential change in automotive history, the overhead-valve V8 engine.

When did cars start to become safer? ›

It really wasn't until about 1968 that safety became government mandated in the US, with seat belts, padded dashes, collapsable steering columns, dual master cylinder brakes, side marker lights, and many other items now being standard equipment.

Are cars safer now than 20 years ago? ›

It's a fact – newer cars are safer than older cars. Advanced technologies and improved structural designs make newer cars a safer choice for your family. NHTSA data shows that fatality rates increase among those driving older vehicles.

How and why have cars changed over time? ›

In the modern age, computers have transformed cars. Safety features like anti-lock brakes, tire pressure sensors, and electronic stability control help drivers react faster and maintain control of their cars in difficult conditions. Backup cameras and lane-change assist also help eliminate blindspots for drivers.

What was wrong with the Chevy Corvair? ›

The culprit, in the Corvair's case, was the lack of a standard antiroll bar; a 1965 redesign introduced a more advanced independent rear suspension that solved the camber issue, but the damage to the reputation of the car was done.

What car is unsafe at any speed? ›

Unsafe at Any Speed is primarily known for its critique of the Chevrolet Corvair, although only one of the book's eight chapters covers the Corvair. It also deals with the use of tires and tire pressure being based on comfort rather than on safety, and the automobile industry disregarding technically based criticism.

What did the Highway Safety Act of 1966 do? ›


AN ACT - To provide for a coordinated national highway safety program through financial assistance to the States to accelerate highway traffic safety programs and for other purposes.

Who drove the first car? ›

For the first time Karl Benz publicly drove the car on July 3, 1886, in Mannheim at a top speed of 16 km/h (10 mph).

What did the first car look like? ›

While the original Benz Patent Motorwagen was a three-wheeled conveyance that looked exactly like a horse buggy of the time, with the horse replaced by a single front wheel (and two truly whopping, yet spindly wheels at the back), Benz soon improved on the design to create a proper, four-wheeled car by 1891.

Was Ford the first car? ›

Henry Ford did not invent the automobile. What he gets credit for is the mass-manufacturing assembly line. Ford is more famous than Karl Benz because Ford's production techniques could be adapted to every industry. There are many people who take credit for building the first automobile.

What safety features have been added to cars? ›

Most of the advanced car safety technologies, like blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assist, were developed on the road to creating self-driving cars. Several of today's optional advanced car safety technologies will eventually be federally mandated, as seat belts and airbags were.

How safe were old cars? ›

Thus, contrary to popular belief, older cars are not safer than newer ones. In fact, they pose a greater danger due to the absence of modern safety features, putting drivers at higher risk of severe injury or death in an accident.

What were cars like in the 1940s? ›

Cars got bigger and were more luxurious. With Aluminum low in availability, carmakers when back to steel for pistons and other components. The increased weight resulted in heavier crankshafts and connecting ends and that worked its way down the rest of the car.

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