disc brakes
Posted in Posts
March 25, 2019

Car safety systems

Car safety, something we take for granted today, but it wasn’t always this way! Surprisingly many of these features first appeared much earlier than you may have thought. Let’s take a look at how car safety systems have improved over the years.

car safety systems - windscreen wipers
Windscreen wipers

Although designs were patented earlier, it is often agreed that the first commercial windscreen wiper was designed and patented in 1903. Hand operated, the development process would add vacuum power, automatic wipers that wiped two or three times, variable speed, intermittent and finally rain sensitive wipers.

Rear view mirrors are recorded as first being used on a car in the Indianapolis 500 race in 1911. On the roads I guess there wasn’t much need to look behind as the chances of being overtaken were quite slim, with few cars on the road.

The indicator or turn signal arrived in 1914 in the form of an arm that could be raised or lowered electrically. Todays indicators are visible from a much wider area with repeaters on the wing or wing mirrors. Self cancelling after the turn has been completed.

1921 saw the arrival of head restraints, not as a place to rest your head, but to help prevent whiplash injuries. This year also saw hydraulic brakes make an appearance, now the strength of your leg was not the deciding factor in whether you could stop or not!

Ever had a broken windscreen? It can be frightening when something hits it and it cracks, but generally the windscreen stays in place. It was in 1927 that safety or ‘laminated’ glass was first used in windscreens to prevent shattering.

crash test
Crash test

General Motors are believed to have carried out the first crash test in 1934. Today, vehicles undergo all sorts of computer based scenarios before physical testing takes place. The results of independent crash tests were first recorded and published in America in 1979. In Europe, the Euro NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme) that we know today started in 1997.

Padded dashboards were installed in 1947 as a way to minimise chest and head injuries in front-on collisions. Remember early cars had slabs of metal or wood as a dashboard, with toggle switches also adding to potential injury.

First devised for use in aviation, Sierra Sam was the first crash test dummy. Sam was joined by a friend for use in motor vehicles in the early 1950s.


Surprisingly, I thought the airbag was quite a recent development but in fact it was created in 1951, with impact to the front bumper triggering it (or strangely the driver could trigger it manually!) The 1950s also saw the crumple zone, caliper type disc brake and the three point seat belt make an appearance.

The inertia reel seat belt appeared in 1963 along with intermittent wipers. Legislation started to make items such as front seat belts, padded dashboards and white reversing lights compulsory for new vehicles. 1963 was also the year the Jensen FF appeared with anti-lock brakes fitted.

General Motors made airbags available as an option for driver and passenger front seats in 1974. Electronic anti-lock brakes also made an appearance for the first time in the 1970s, thanks to Mercedes Benz.

disc brakes
Electronic anti-lock brakes

Mercedes Benz started the 1980s with a bang, manufacturing the first production car to feature supplemental restraint system (SRS) airbags for the driver. This decade was also when wearing front seat belts became compulsory in the UK (1983 if you were wondering). Traction control to help prevent wheel spin when accelerating also appeared in the ’80s.

As we move into the 1990s things started to move very quickly (and I don’t just mean the cars!) With the side impact protection system (SIPS), side impact airbags, electronic stability control (ESC), brake assist system (BAS) and the knee airbag all appearing.

Moving into the 2000s saw the arrival of the lane departure warning system, blind spot information system (BLIS), the pop up bonnet for pedestrian safety, autonomous emergency braking system, intelligent anti-skid systems and pedestrian detection systems.

These developments help make cars the safest they have ever been for driver, passengers and pedestrians not just if involved in a collision but also in preventing collisions in the first place.

The one big area which hasn’t kept up with these developments is the wallys behind the wheel! The millions of pounds spent integrating safety systems into our cars is worthless when idiots get behind the wheel, driving under the influence of drink or drugs, using mobile phones whilst driving and generally demonstrating a complete lack of care and attention.

Maybe some systems have become too complicated to operate, the indicator for example. It would appear that many drivers have no grasp of how or when to operate their indicators. Or the rear view mirror, can it really be too difficult to adjust it and use it occasionally?

I know many cars now have a large selection of gears to choose from but usually only one that sends the car backwards, so why do some drivers seem to find it so hard to find reverse and if they do manage to find it, they suddenly forget how the steering wheel works!


Roundabouts, now I am guessing there must be two Highway Codes available, the one I read when learning to drive stated ‘give priority to traffic approaching from your right, unless directed otherwise by signs, road markings or traffic lights’. However, the other Highway Code must advise drivers to stop at the line and give way to every vehicle entering the roundabout from any direction.

I know modern headlight bulbs can be quite expensive but they do last quite a long time, so I am not sure why drivers seem to be reticent to use them, especially those driving silver cars in misty conditions.

Lane discipline is another area that seems to be confusing people, most drivers seem to grasp that in the UK we drive on the left, yet get onto a multi-lane road and suddenly they get a complete phobia for the left lane, regardless if driving at 40mph they will sit in the middle or outside lane oblivious to every other road user.

Is the standard of driving getting worse? Or does it just appear that way to me? What do you think? Comment below and let me know your thoughts, what really bugs you about other drivers? Do you have any recommendations for improving things or do you think everything is fine as it is?

Thank you for reading and I look forward to reading your comments.

Justin – founder of twitway.com

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  • George

    Seems to me standard of driving is getting worse . Why is it the same drivers who think the Highway Code is not for them , drive with no lights on when they should AND they know where they are going so don’t bother to use indicators ??
    Also noticed driving instructors here are dropping their standards. Quite often you get one over take in a silly place or cut in and don’t even bother to indicate. (usually just the instructors, probably racing to next driving lesson). To me not a good advert. Start of with bad habit’s you most likely to only get worse ! Need to learn basics first !!

    Reply to George
    • Post authorJustin

      Thanks for your comment George, glad it’s not just me that thinks driving standards are getting worse. You raise an interesting point about driving instructors, I hadn’t thought of that, but think you are right. Is there a link between fewer traffic police and lower driving standards?

      Reply to Justin
  • George

    Yes feel sorry for Police as lack of money for them. At the end of the day they are doing a job and the people who moan about them the most are the ones who BREAK the law !!! I.e. They arrest someone with no road tax/ mot so obviously NO insurance ( often no licence). Only to get taken to Court and some smart solicitor sticks up for the “guilty” party and they get away with a slap on the wrist or some lack of something or another. Where’s the justice in that ?? I’ve been tempted to open a shop up here selling indicator bulbs. There’s so many that “don’t ” work !! I find it very frustrating how someone can be nice as pie walking in the street. Then get behind the wheel of a car and change. Aggressive and lack of any consideration for anyone else on the roads. One more thing. Driving instructor’s aren’t very smart people. The ones who speak and no indication where should be are taking a big gamble. How many cars have DASH CAMS now ??????

    Reply to George
    • Post authorJustin

      Very true, it’s not the fault of the police, they do the best they can with the resources available to them. Agree sentencing should be harsher, people get banned and then just keep driving! Again, you are right about the driving instructors, name and phone number on display for everyone to see, and you can’t argue with a dash cam!

      Reply to Justin
  • John

    Regarding your article on cars. My first car was a ford anglia. Loved it ( at the time). Drive a new (ish) Toyota Yaris automatic. No comparison really. Lovely drive. Comfy ,quite, good on fuel and very reliable. Everything just works so nice and effortless. Couldn’t go back to the cars from the 60’s ( not as an everyday commute vehicle. App 40 mile round trip 5 days a week ) interesting article.

    Reply to John
    • Post authorJustin

      Thanks for your comment John. Although the basics of modern cars are basically the same as your Anglia, the way they have been refined (and reliability improved) is amazing or as you say,’there is no comparison’. The older cars are fun to drive, but as an everyday vehicle you soon miss the comfort and reliability of the modern car, even things like effective demisters and bright lights make such a difference.
      Thanks again for your comment and glad you enjoyed the article.

      Reply to Justin

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