It’s quite incredible how far car safety has come over the past few decades. While it used to be the case that buying a big car was the best way to stay safe, even smaller cars do a great job of protecting occupants these days.

Here, we take a look at how car safety has evolved, and what’s next in this important sector.

Early years

In the early days of motoring, it was an accepted fact that driving was a dangerous endeavour. In fact, windscreen wipers didn’t get introduced until 1903, while indicators weren’t brought in until 1914.

The first crash test was done by General Motors in 1934, while the first crash test dummy, called Sierra Sam, was introduced in the early 1950s. A huge leap in car safety happened in 1951 when the airbag was invented.

car crashing


Most people wouldn’t even think about driving without a seatbelt today, but it wasn’t until the ‘50s that seatbelts were invented. Volvo has long been famous for its commitment to safety, and it was the Swedish manufacturer that brought three-point seatbelts to market in 1959.

Man buckling his seatbelt

They were designed by engineer Nils Bohlin, who had actually started his career designing catapult seats to allow pilots to eject safely from aircraft. Recognising the importance of the new seatbelt design, Volvo made the patent available to all car manufacturers.

Safety technology

Technological advancements in the ‘70s and ‘80s saw big improvements in car safety. Technology we take for granted today was introduced in this era, for example anti-lock brakes, which were first seen on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class in 1978.

This era also saw legislators getting more involved in crash safety, with the UK government making it compulsory to wear a seatbelt in 1983. Then, in 1987, cars had to be fitted with rear seatbelts.

More safety measures

Things went even further in the ‘90s, which was the era manufacturers got serious about safety and we really started to see common measures today first introduced. Volvo again proved its place on the safety podium is well warranted, producing a side-impact safety system in 1991. Fellow innovators Mercedes-Benz added electronic stability control in 1995.

In 1997, a centralised European car safety programme was introduced to make sure car manufacturers all worked towards a common safety target. Called EuroNCAP, it’s still in operation today, giving cars ratings out of five for how they protect humans during crash tests.

We also saw manufacturers make their first foray into autonomous technology with, you guessed it, Volvo pioneering an autonomous emergency braking system. This year, the firm introduced a 112mph speed limit for all of its new cars as it continues its goal to have zero deaths in its cars.

The future

Car safety technology is more advanced now than it has ever been, and it’s only going further. Self-driving technology is the hot topic today, with most manufacturers offering some kind of ‘autonomous’ system on their cars, from emergency braking to advanced cruise control systems.

advanced technology

While technology companies battle to build the first truly self-driving vehicle, the next advancement for human-driven vehicles is in driver monitoring systems that can tell when you’re fatigued or even driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

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