6 December, 2018   By: Courtney Pearson

Spare a thought for our early drivers who didn't have windscreen wipers or seatbelts. 

Exposed to the elements and exposed to the dangers of driving, it took many years for modern safety features like seatbelts, airbags, autonomous braking, and rear-view cameras to be implemented in vehicles.

Once crash testing was widely adopted, it was possible to see just how poorly some models fared in the event of a crash.

Safety features are continuing to evolve as driverless vehicles enter the mix, with the hope that autonomous technology will reduce the number of fatal crashes on our roads caused by human error. 

We take a look at how far safety features have come since the early 1900s.

The history of car safety

1903

Alabama resident Mary Anderson files a patent for the windscreen wiper. 1903

1921

Headrests for cars were invented to reduce whiplash. They won’t appear in vehicles until many years later.
 
 A car seat headrest from behind
1921

1927

Ford introduces laminated windscreens on the Model T to ensure the glass stays in one piece if damaged. 1927

1934

The first vehicle crash test was completed by General Motors with a 1929 Chevrolet. 1934

1939

Buick introduces turn signals as a standard feature in their vehicles. 
 
A car indicating on a road at night
1939

1949

American carmaker Nash offers lap seatbelts. 1949

1951

The first airbag patent was registered.
 
An airbag deployed after a car accident
1951

1955

Ford offers lap seatbelts. 1955

1958

Saab makes lap seatbelts standard on all models. 1958

1959

The first three-point lap-sash seatbelt appears in a Volvo, which was then given an open patent so other carmakers could use the life-saving design.

The first optional headrests for the front seat arrive.
 
A modern three point seatbelt
1959

1968

The US raises safety standards to require steering columns to collapse in a crash to reduce chest injuries. 1968

1971

Chrysler introduces a computerised ‘Sure Brake’ system on an Imperial model, which is the first time an anti-lock braking system (ABS) is used.

Australia makes wearing a seatbelt compulsory for drivers and passengers.
1971

1975

Inertia reel belts are fitted to the front seats of all new cars sold in Australia.
 
A seatbelt reel in the front seat of a vehicle
1975

1978

Mercedes-Benz installs multi-channel, four-wheel electronic ABS into a production car – the S-Class models. 1978

1981

Mercedes-Benz reveals the driver’s airbag and belt tensioner in a W 126-Series S-Class – the first time they were installed in a passenger car. 1981

1991

Rear-view cameras first appear in a production car - the Toyota Soarer Limited in Japan.
 
 A reversing camera installed in a modern car
1991

1993

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) begins independent crash tests of vehicles to rate the safety of cars.
 
ANCAP crash testing a Mazda SUV
1993

1995

Electronic stability control (ESC) makes its first appearance in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class limousine after its inventor engineer Frank Werner-Mohn skidded into a ditch a few years earlier. 1995

2003

Toyota launches a pre-collision system to increase safety measures when a collision is unavoidable. 2003

2004

Volvo introduces the first blind spot information system, using reversing cameras and motion sensors to help drivers detect vehicles, pedestrians and bikes in their blind spot. 2004

2005

Pop-up bonnets appear on the Citroen C6 and Jaguar XK to reduce pedestrian injuries. If the car hits a pedestrian, the bonnet pops up to help absorb the impact.
 
Red 2009 Jaguar XK
2009 Jaguar XK
2005

2011

Volvo introduces a pedestrian detection system to detect when they are in front of the car. The car can apply the brakes automatically if the driver doesn’t brake in time.

ESC becomes mandatory in Australia for all new cars.

Adaptive cruise control is introduced to automatically adjust the speed, leaving a safe distance between vehicles when it’s on cruise control mode. 2011

2012

Volvo introduces the pedestrian airbag.
2012

2016

Fully autonomous vehicle trials take to the road, with safety features that take human error out of the driving equation. The RAC Intellibus® Trial, to test and evaluate a fully automated electric shuttle bus, was launched on public roads with support from the WA State Government and the City of South Perth. 

As of November 2018, more than 16,000 people had registered to ride and more than 10,000 people had experienced the Intellibus®

The RAC Intellibus in South Perth
2016

2018

Perth becomes one of only three cities in the world to test driverless passenger vehicles designed as an on-demand shared mobility service.

The RAC Intellicar Trial will be tested in a three stage trial, culminating in participants being able to call up a vehicle and travel to a destination within a selected precinct.

Intellicar being trialed in Jandakot
2018

Safer roads for WA

We're working towards a better WA - and that means safer roads. As part of our commitment, our Automated Vehicle Program is bringing driverless technology to our roads.

We're also committed to safer cars. RAC only insures and finances 2012 and beyond manufactured cars with an ANCAP rating of 4- or 5-stars so WA drivers stay safe on the road.

Check out our Used Car Safety Ratings or our list of the safest second-hand cars under $10K to help you make a decision on your next car. 

Find out more