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How car safety has changed over the years

How car safety has changed over the years

Gone are the days when having a ‘big’ car was considered the safest way to drive. Car safety has moved on considerably over the years to the point where even the humblest of superminis protect occupants and pedestrians impressively well.

But how did we get to this point? Here are a few milestones in car safety progression.

Early years

You might not be surprised to learn that in the early days of motoring, there wasn’t much thought that went into safety. The first wiper blades were introduced in 1903, while indicators didn’t get brought in until 1914.

And crash testing didn’t happen until 1934 with General Motors, while crash test dummies weren’t put to work until the early 1950s. In 1951, a huge leap in safety occurred when airbags were invented.


The 1950s saw a boom for car safety, with Volvo inventing the three-point seatbelt in 1959 and opened the patent up to allow all car manufacturers to use it. Interestingly, the man behind the design had previously worked on aeroplane ejector seats…

The seatbelt design underwent minor changes over the years, but its biggest update was in 1963 with the introduction of an inertial reel seatbelt.

Safety technology

The ‘70s and ‘80s saw a massive push forward in safety technology, as automatic systems became the norm. For example, anti-lock brakes were first introduced on the luxury Mercedes-Benz S-Class in 1978, while a supplemental restraint system was introduced.

In 1983, the UK made it compulsory for front seat belts to be worn, while four years later it also became compulsory to fit rear belts too.

Further safety measures

The 1990s saw the game moved on again, with Volvo again at the front of developments. It was the first to offer a side impact safety system in 1991, then four years later Mercedes added electronic stability control.

Euro NCAP, which provides crash safety ratings for new cars, was established in 1997. It took until 2001 for the first car to get five stars – the Renault Laguna.

It’s not surprising to hear that the age of autonomous assistance was ushered in by Volvo. It was the first to offer autonomous emergency braking, and has continued this commitment to safety with the newly introduced 112mph speed limit for all its new cars.

The future

As technology advances at a wild pace, car manufacturers have been coming up with some incredible safety technologies that feel more like they belong in science fiction than actual vehicles.

Autonomous technology is at the forefront of modern safety talk, with most manufacturers already selling cars with some kind of semi-autonomous capabilities. The future will also see driver monitoring systems that can tell if a driver is concentrating, tired or even under the influence.

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