When cars were first invented back in the 1880s, they would have been unrecognisable to modern drivers. Three-wheeled, without indicators or air-conditioning and for at least the first 15 years, without any brakes. Today, it would be unthinkable to step into a vehicle without airbags, cushioned interiors, headrests and well-designed children’s safety car seats , but the level of car safety we expect now took many years to arrive.
Car Safety – The small beginings
During the first half of the 20th century, vehicle owners were expected to take responsibility for their own driving and no safety tests were conducted on the vehicles themselves. It was only in 1958 that Volvo introduced the first in-built seat belts in their new cars. It would take almost a decade before that was extended to all cars sold in Britain, and even then it only meant front seat belts.
In fact, early car interiors would have had barely any protection from collision and although front seat belts were fitted, car users were not compelled to wear them until the 1980s. Rear seat belts followed in 1991. Advancements were being made sporadically, with head restraints included in Volvo’s 1968 models, while Mercedes-Benz developed the first electronic Anti-Lock Brake system in 1978, and installed the first air-bags three years later.
In terms of child safety, Ford designed a kind of booster seat as early as the 1930s, but the real breakthrough came with the design of the rear-facing children’s safety car seat for infants in 1962. Although it then took until 2006 for child seats to be made compulsory for under-12s, the invention has saved many lives and it remains essential to choose the correct seat for a child’s height and age, testing the seats in the car where possible.
Needless to say, car safety means something completely different today. Since the European NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme) was introduced in 1996, all cars have had to undergo rigorous road tests before being put on the market. Safety for all passengers is rightly a paramount concern when purchasing a car, and NCAP star ratings have become one of the most sought-after criteria in contemporary vehicles.