A History of Car Safety: A Century of Automotive Innovations

The Recent Impact of Car Safety Innovations

Americans drive nearly three trillion miles each year. While traffic accidents are a significant public safety issue, automotive travel is far safer today than it was at the start of the century. The chart below shows that even as Americans drive more each year, annual fatalities have declined relative to the amount of miles they’ve driven.

Source:IIHS

How did car safety get to where it is today?

From seatbelts to crash avoidance technology, car safety features have come a long way in the past century. In the early 1900s, some of the major contributions came from unlikely people, such as cattle rancher Mary Anderson, and Hollywood starlet Florence Lawrence, who invented the windshield wiper and turn signal, respectively.

As the auto industry developed, it was the major carmakers that made the biggest advances in car safety technology, such as the four wheel hydraulic brakes, which first showed up on a Duesenberg in 1921.

Of course, not all car safety advances came in the form of technology. General Motors conducted the first barrier crash test in 1934, which marked the beginning of car safety testing.

Laws also had major impacts on driving safety, such as the enforcement of 0.08% blood alcohol content limit for driving, which was passed in the last of all 50 states in 2005.

Some of the greatest car safety innovations took a while to stick. Airbags were first introduced by GM in 1973, but didn’t become standard equipment on all passenger cars until nearly a quarter-century later.

Public awareness also played a part in the history of car safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety opened in 1992, creating consumer demand for car safety. It is now a leading provider of auto safety advice and information.

We also tried to do our part by becoming the first insurance company to offer our customers discounts for safety measures, such as taking driver safety courses and wearing seatbelts.

Fast-forward to the past 5 years and automakers, such as Volvo, now offer crash-avoidance technology as standard on some models.

The evolution of car safety has been a fascinating combination of technology, information, laws and more – making our roads safer.