Tue 11th Jan | 2022

The Evolution of Vehicle Safety

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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 San Francisco 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.