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


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


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


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


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


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


American carmaker Nash offers lap seatbelts. 1949


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


Ford offers lap seatbelts. 1955


Saab makes lap seatbelts standard on all models. 1958


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Volvo introduces the pedestrian airbag.


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


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

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. That’s why we took our commitment to road safety one step further by choosing to not insure or finance any vehicle that was built in 2012 or beyond with an ANCAP rating of less than 4 stars.

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