How Car Safety Has Improved

Published by Marshall & Gibson Lawyers on the 15 April 2012

Car safety has improved out of sight since the early days of automobiles, so even though car accidents claim a huge amount of lives each year, we’re far safer these days than ever before. A lot of this has to do with the enormous boost in financial backing for the auto industry, and its ability to make use of science and technology to create regular cars that are quite high tech. The following are some of the ways that car safety has improved over the years.

Seat belts

In 1948 Tucker cars became the first car company to include seat belts, prior to which even minor motor vehicle accidents could cause serious injury. In the 1950s, Ford began introducing seat belts in its vehicles as an option, then in 1964 Pontiac became the first automaker to have seat belts installed in every vehicle as a standard measure. In 1968, the United States was the first country in the world to make it a legal requirement that all new cars have seat belts.

Crumple zones

In the 1970’s, crumple zones were introduced into vehicles, which made a significant difference in the severity of many car crash injuries. The way a crumple zone works is that some parts of the car are designed to give way slightly easier if impacted. Prior to the introduction of crumple zones in car designs, cars with particularly sturdy hoods would often see the hood of the car forced back into the cab by a collision; sometimes this would decapitate those inside the car, in the most horrific type of motor vehicle accident.

Speed limit enforcement

Since cars first became a popular mode of transport, speed limits have always applied, and in the 1930s in Australia, you were expected to keep to 30 miles per hour in any built up area. While our cars have gotten far more powerful since then, the speed limits haven’t changed much — though the enforcement of them has changed considerably, with millions of dollars every year brought in through fines related to cars and driving.

Air bags

In the early 1950s, John Hetrick began working on ideas for a compressible inflatable cushion, which would rapidly inflate to protect the occupants of the car from the impact of a collision. Considering that the air bag has less than 40 milliseconds to inflate, it’s incredible that air bags have been developed to do this so effectively. In the 1990s, Ford, Mercedes Benz and Volvo became three of the first companies to adopt air bags in all of their vehicles, and today that list is much longer.


In the early days of the car, you were taking somewhat of a risk just by getting inside, and considering what we know now about car safety, many of the early vehicles were not safe at all. Cars today are far more complex and sophisticated, and go through a huge amount of testing before being put on the market. New technology has made it easier to measure the strength or weakness of vehicle safety, leading to some interesting and innovative safety designs.