When you're behind the wheel, there are things that are within your control and things that are outside your control. The level of safety the vehicle you drive has is something you choose. Ever since car safety ratings started showing up in the late 1970s, consumers have been using them to make their purchasing decisions, and vehicle manufacturers have continuously worked to create safer vehicles. Staying safe on the road matters.
Since vehicle safety has come such a long way in the last few years and decades, here's a look at the evolution of seatbelt safety, crumple zones, and backup cameras.
Seatbelts were one of the very first automobile features specifically meant for safety. The first recorded use of a seatbelt was not in an automobile - it was used in airplanes to secure pilots. Over the late 1800s and early 1900s, seatbelts were mostly used in taxicabs and racecars. And while there were earlier attempts to introduce the seatbelt into conventional use, it didn't become standard in vehicles until the 1960s.
Even when vehicles started being manufactured with seatbelts, getting the American public to wear them was a different story. The American Ad Council even ran a 25+ year campaign trying to convince drivers to regularly wear their seatbelts. By the mid-1990s, individual states started adding seatbelt laws, and today, all U.S. states have enforceable seatbelt laws.
In recent years, efforts have gone toward making seatbelts more user-friendly. Most innovations focus on increasing comfort, convenience, or safety.
Curious about car seat safety? We covered it here.
Besides having a pretty fun name, crumple zones serve a big role in protecting a vehicle's passengers during a crash. These zones, which first appeared in automobiles in the late 1950s and early 1960s, are meant to absorb the shock of a collision. Since crumple zones are able to take on the force of impact, passengers are kept much safer in the event of an accident, especially during head-on and rear collisions. Crumple zones are shown to be effective at increasing passenger safety, especially when combined with other modern safety features like seatbelts.
While they're pretty commonplace today, the first backup camera was included in the 1956 Buick Centurion concept car (that's over 60 years ago!). At that time, though, it was an idea, not a functioning feature. In recent years, backup cameras have become a very real feature, especially in luxury vehicles. These cameras allow drivers to have a clear view of the area behind their vehicles, and they add an extra layer of safety to moving in reverse.
Beginning in May 2018, all motor vehicles under 10,000 pounds will be required to have a backup camera. This new backup camera regulation is put forth by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA). It's NHTSA's hope that this regulation will decrease the number of people struck by reversing vehicles. In a single year, about 200 deaths and 14,000 injuries occur this way, and the majority of those individuals are children.
Vehicle safety has come a long way, and we expect car safety ratings to grow even more rigorous and for vehicle manufacturers to continue to adapt their processes in order to produce the safest vehicles possible.