Evolution of car safety

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Car safety has become an increasing priority for many new car buyersi. It is important to choose a safe car so that you and your passengers are protected. We look at how car safety has changed over time.

When buying a car, new or used, it is important to choose one with appropriate safety featuresii. Many of the serious injuries that occur in car crashes may have been prevented if the driver had picked a safer carii. We look at the development of many common car safety features available to drivers today.

1921 - Head rests

Benjamin Katz invents the world's first head rest for carsiii. Head rests can reduce the severity of whiplash in rear-end collisionsiv.

Volvo estimates that the seat belt has saved more than one million lives in the years from its introduction to 2009.

1927 - Laminated windscreen

Henry Ford introduces the laminated windscreen on the Model Tv. Laminated glass windscreens are made of two sheets of glass with a clear plastic film in the middle to hold them togetherv. The danger to car occupants is greatly reduced since the laminated windscreen will stay in one piece when damagedv. Another type of safety glass is toughened (or tempered) glass. Toughened glass breaks into small, smooth fragmentsvi and is in common use for side and rear windowsv.

1948 - Padded dashboard

Preston Tucker launches the Tucker Sedan (nicknamed the Torpedo), the first car with a padded dashboardvii,viii. The padding is designed to reduce face and chest injuries to the driver and front passenger in front-on collisionsix.

1959 - First cars with the modern three-point seat belt

Volvo introduces the three-point (lap/sash) seat belt in Sweden on the PV544, which is considered to be one of the most important car safety inventions of all timex. The three-point seat belt, invented by Swedish engineer Nils Bohlin, secures both the upper and lower body during a crashx. In this year the Volvo Amazon and the PV544 became the first cars in the world to have three-point seat belts fitted as standard in the front seatsxi.

1963 - First inertia-reel seat belt

Excelsior Motor Company introduces a new type of seat belt that allows the passenger to adjust the seat belt to suit their size when fasteningxii,xiii. The inertia reel helps to prevent injury to passengers during rapid braking by locking the seat belt into placexiii.

1970 - Seat belts made compulsory in Australia

Australia was the first country to make the fitting of seat belts mandatory in all new passenger vehicles for drivers and front seat passengersxiv,xv.

1978 - Electronic anti-lock braking system (ABS)

Mercedes-Benz S-Class is the first production car with electronic ABSxvi. ABS reduces skidding when a driver brakes heavily and helps prevent loss of control of the vehicle, which is especially useful in potential crash situationsxvii.

1981 - First ever driver's airbag

Mercedes-Benz S-Class is the first production car to have a driver's airbagxvi that protects the driver from hitting parts of the car in a front-on collisionxviii.

1993 - Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP)

ANCAP starts providing independent crash test results for hundreds of vehiclesxix. It provides a rating system based on crash tests that determine a vehicle's safety for passengers in serious front and side collisionsxix.

1995 - Electronic Stability Control (ESC)

Mercedes-Benz introduces Electronic Stability Controlxx, which helps drivers avoid crashes by reducing the danger of skiddingxxi.

1999 - ANCAP adopts EURO NCAP standards

ANCAP adopts the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) methods of testing new vehicle safetyxxii. The tests produce a rating out of five stars for front occupants and out of four stars for pedestrian protectionxxiii. The adoption of these methods allows ANCAP to use ratings based on EURO NCAP test results for European cars imported to Australiaxxiii.

2004 - Blind spot information system (BLIS)

Volvo introduces the world's first blind spot warning systemxxiv. The system uses reversing camerasxxv and motion sensors to assist drivers when parking or changing lanes to prevent collisionsxxvi.

2005 - Pop-up bonnets

Pop-up bonnets designed to reduce pedestrian injuries become available on Citroen C6 and Jaguar XKix. If a car hits a pedestrian, sensors set off bonnet lifters to raise the bonnetxxvii. This creates more space between the bonnet and car engine to absorb the impact, which can reduce the injury severity to the pedestrianxxvii.

2008 - ESC added to ANCAP criteria

ESC was added to the ANCAP criteria for a vehicle to receive a five-star safety ratingxxviii.

2011 - ESC made mandatory in Australia

ESC is made mandatory for all new cars sold in Australia from 2011xxviii,xxix

2011 - Pedestrian detection

Volvo releases pedestrian detection that uses radar and cameras to detect when people are in the way of your carxxx. Using auto-brake technology, the car stops automatically if the driver doesn't manually brake in timexxx. The auto-brake technology only works up to a speed of 30km/h: its main purpose is for emergency braking in low speed, pedestrian heavy areasxxx.

2011 - Adaptive cruise control

Adaptive cruise control uses radar to adjust the car's speed based on the car in frontxxxi. It detects the distance and speed of the car ahead and maintains an appropriate distance between the two vehiclesxxxii. The safe driving distance between the two vehicles can also be changed with the simple push of a button. The adaptive cruise control is also temporarily over-ridden when the accelerator is pressed to overtake another vehiclexxxi.

Front airbags must be used with seat belts and don't protect the driver from side-on collisions.

Due to constant technological advances, car safety is continually improving. One way Allianz is contributing to safer driving is through the Allianz Centre for Technology. The centre focuses on occupant and traffic safety as well as vehicle design for the prevention of injuries and vehicle damage during an accident. When buying a new car, choosing one with a five-star ANCAP rating and the safety features listed above can reduce the risk of injury in the event of a crash.

Despite advances in safety technology, there's always a chance that your vehicle and others may be damaged in an accident. Car insurance can help protect you from financial loss in such a situation. Get a quote with Allianz today!

i Choice 2012, How to buy a new car, viewed 12 November 2013,

ii Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure, South Australian Government 2013, Road safety: buying a safe car, viewed 12 November 2013,

iii Patent: United States Patent Office 1921, Headrest for Automobile Seats and the Like, viewed 12 November 2013,

iv How safe is your car 2013, Head Restraints All, viewed 12 November 2013,

v Clark, C, Yudenfriend, H and Redner, A 2000, 'Laceration and Ejection Dangers of Automotive Glass, and the Weak Standards Involved. The Strain Fracture Test.', Annual Proceedings: Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine , vol. 44, pp. 117-132, viewed 12 November 2013,

vi Batzer, S.A 2007, 'Rollover Collisions: Injuries related to automotive side glass', Professional Safety, vol. 52, no. 4, pp.33-45, viewed 12 November 2013,

vii History 2013, Carmaker Preston Tucker dies, viewed 12 November 2013,

viii Melnychuk, J 2011, ‘1948 Tucker Torpedo, ahead of its time’, Newsday, 28 March, viewed 12 November 2013,

ix Drivers Technology 2013, Car safety timeline, viewed 12 November 2013,

x Volvo 2009, Volvo's three-point safety belt turns 50, viewed 12 November 2013,

xi Volvo 2013, Volvo Amazon – The first real international seller, viewed 12 November 2013,

xii Britax 2008, Britax Milestones, viewed 12 November 2013,

xiii Jones, R 2013, 'Britax Safety Belts', Old Classic Car, viewed 12 November 2013,

xiv Conybeare, J.A.C 1980, 'Evaluation of Automobile Safety Regulations: The Case of Compulsory Seat Belt Legislation in Australia', Policy Sciences, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 27-39, viewed 12 November 2013, Jstor,

xv Australian Transport Advisory Council 1984, Australian Design Rule 4 for Seat Belts, Australian Government, viewed 12 November 2013,

xvi Daimler 2013, Mercedes-Benz S-Class: pioneer in vehicle safety, viewed 12 November 2013,

xvii How safe is your car 2013, Antilock Braking System, viewed 12 November 2013,

xviii How safe is your car 2013, Front Airbags Driver, viewed 12 November 2013,

xix ANCAP 2010, About ANCAP, viewed 12 November 2013,

xx Knowling, M 2006, 'Electronic Stability Control – Part 1', Autospeed, 17 May 2006, viewed 12 November 2013,

xxi How safe is you cafe 2013, Electronic Stabiliity Control, viewed 12 November 2013,

xxii ANCAP 2010, Frequently Asked Questions, viewed 10 July 2013,

xxiii 'ANCAP rating road map 2011-2016' 2011, ANCAP, 16 August, viewed 12 November 2013,

xxiv Volvo 2013, Safety: Our Safety First, viewed 12 November 2013,

xxv How safe is your car 2013, Reversing Camera, viewed 12 November 2013,

xxvi How safe is your car 2013, Blindspot Warning System, viewed 12 November 2013,

xxvii EURO NCAP 2013, Pedestrian Protection, viewed 12 November 2013,

xxviii Australian Transport Council 2010, National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020, viewed 12 November 2013,

xxix Australasian New Car Assessment Program, 2009, Government Mandate of ESC Welcomed by ANCAP, viewed 12 November 2013,

xxx Hart, E. and Kidman, A 2011, 'Giz Tests Volvo's New Pedestrian Detection Tech', Gizmodo, 2 November, viewed 12 November 2013,

xxxi Hart, E 2011, 'Ford Focus 2011 Tech Hands-On: Active Park Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control', Gizmodo, 27 September, viewed 12 November 2013,

xxxii How safe is your car 2013, Active Cruise Control, viewed 12 November 2013,