A Timeline of Car Safety Through the Years

Think about driving a car without windshield wipers or mirrors. How about going down the road without a windshield? Seems unthinkable, right? Since automobiles first hit the road, vehicle safety technology has vastly improved. In particular, the past few years have had outstanding advancements in safety tech.

These safety features have helped drivers avoid accidents, prevent injuries, and even lose lives. Let's check out the evolution of car safety advancements.

Early Car Safety Features 

Wiper Blades

Developed and pattened in 1903, the windshield wiper blade was a critical safety piece. The wiper needed to be manually activated by turning a lever to clear the windshield.

Rear-View Mirrors

Dorothy Levitt invented the automobile rear-view mirror, which was originally used in horses and buggies.   The safety accessory was first used on vehicles at the 1911 Indianapolis 500. 

Safety Glass

Before safety glass, windshields were easily susceptible to damage. But in 1927, laminated glass, or safety glass, was invented to prevent the glass from shattering on impact.

Car Safety Features in the 1950s


Inventor Walter Linderer created the airbag in 1951. The airbag could be released by the driver or by contact with the car bumper. It wasn't until 1999 that this was a standard feature. According to the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA), airbags have saved over 50,000 lives. Airbag technology has further evolved to include sensors for more efficient deployment.


Nils Bohlin, who worked at Volvo, invented the three-point seatbelt. This system improved the simple lap strap by adding a strap over the shoulder for extra protection. It remains one of the most effective car safety features ever created. Another study from the NHTSA states that 47% of the 22,215 passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2019 were not wearing seat belts.

Car Safety Advancements in the 1960s

Collapsible Steering Columns

A collapsible steering column helps the vehicle transfer energy from the steering wheel into the steering gearbox. In 1968, the United States passed a regulation to make collapsible steering columns mandatory in all vehicles. 

Side Marker Lights

Also in 1968, the United States began to require side marker lights as a standard feature on vehicles. Whether they're for braking, turn signals, or backing up, side marker lights have been a staple of vehicle safety.

Car Safety Advancements in the 1990s

Electronic Stability Control

Mercedes-Benz and Bosch were responsible for introducing electronic stability control in vehicles. This system helps vehicles maintain control, preventing extreme movements. This results in a significant downtick in rollovers and spin-outs.

Side Impact Protection and Knee Air Bags

While typical air bags helped with many injuries, other parts of the bodies were susceptible. A few different car companies helped bridge this gap. In 1994, Volvo introduced side impact protection in vehicles. This feature helps protect drivers in side collisions. In 1996, Mercedes-Benz and Kia included knee air bags in a few vehicles in their fleet.

Car Safety Features from the 2000s and Beyond

Blind Spot Detection

Changing lanes can always be a challenge with just your mirrors and brief looks, but blind-spot detection changed that in 2000. It warns the driver about a vehicle in the blind spot area by giving audible or vibration-based warnings.

Lane Departure Warning

Similar to blind spot detection, lane departure warning can detect if your vehicle is leaving the lanes. By alerting the driver via a vibration or audible alert, the system can help the driver can then take corrective action. Some vehicles even incorporate this step automatically.

Automatic Braking

This same technology can sometimes be used to apply automatic braking. If a vehicle is approaching another vehicle too quickly, automatic braking uses cameras and sensors to stop cars from colliding.

Anti-Skid Assistance

Snowy and icy conditions can be tricky to drive in, but anti-skid assistance is a tool for any driver. It redistributes power and braking to certain areas of the vehicle when slippery conditions are detected.

Backup Cameras

Parallel parking will never be the same after these were introduced. Backup cameras provide greater visibility and eliminate the "guesswork" of looking in your rear-view mirror. In 2018, backup cameras became a standard feature in vehicles. Cameras have also evolved to have backup sensors.

Defensive Driving Always Complements Car Safety Technology

Even with all features and technology in vehicles, it is imperative to also be skilled behind the wheel. Ultimately, a skilled defensive driver can mitigate many accidents. Taking one of DriversEd.com's defensive driving classes is an excellent way to complement your car's embedded safety features. Consider taking one today!

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