Have Cars Become Safer Since The Sixties?

While it is true that cars have caused untold suffering to millions of Americans since the first car came into the scene, their contribution to everyday life makes driving a risk most Americans are willing to take. NHTSA reports show that today’s vehicle occupants have over five times less chance of being in an accident than their 1960 counterparts.

Car safety has changed tremendously in the last 60 years, thanks to changes in design, performance, fuel consumption, and safety features. Besides changes in vehicles, the roads are much safer, significantly reducing the chances of getting in an accident.

The Headrest, Seatbelt, and the Airbag

The headrest, seatbelt, and airbags were some of the earliest yet practical safety features to find their way into cars. Traditionally, vehicles featured a low seat back which increased the chances of a broken neck in a rear-end accident, a problem a higher seat and neck rest helped solve.

The idea of the seatbelt began in the mid-1880s, with the modern three-point belt coming into the picture in the 1950s. It became a standard for all new vehicles in the mid-1960s and has helped save hundreds of thousands of lives.

After the seatbelt came the inflatable airbags, resulting from years of crash data analysis. This research pointed to inflatable airbags as an effective method to enhance the safety of vehicle occupants in an accident. Airbags became a federal standard in all new cars in the late 1980s.

Government Efforts

In the 1970s, with dangerously high rates of five deaths per 100 million vehicle miles, the federal government took deliberate steps to end road carnage. The first significant step was the creation of the NHTSA in the 70s.

Since its creation, the agency has focused on analyzing crash data to help improve safety features in vehicles. These simulated tests saw the entrance of crash test dummies, which helped show the effects of different accidents on the human body. The effects on crash dummies were used as the guide to develop most safety features introduced in vehicles from the 70s onwards: the headrest to minimize cases of broken necks, improved seat belts, and more advanced inflatable bags, and the introduction of crumple zones.

There have been some concerns about the test dummies having a sense of gender bias. Some auto-safety experts argue that most dummies are modeled based on an adult male’s height, weight, and shape. As a result, some experts feel that some car safety features such as the seatbelt and the airbags are designed to protect male drivers better. However, there is no argument against its contribution to safe driving.

The Last Two Decades

Besides improving existing technologies such as seatbelts and airbags, technology has made possible the development of safety features that assist the driver or intervene to avoid a collision.

“The safety features of the last two decades have brought quite a considerable difference in car safety, thanks to technology,” C. Andrew Childers of Childers Schlueter & Smith, LLC said.

The most common accident avoidance features that are almost standard in new cars include forward collision avoidance, lane assist, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot assist features. The governmental approach to building better and safer roads for all road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists, has also contributed significantly to road safety. As long as these trends continue, roads and cars will become safer for everyday drivers.