These days, new cars can be filled to the brim with safety equipment designed to keep you and your passengers as safe as possible. Features like drowsiness alerts, lane departure warnings, blind spot monitors, parking sensors and around-view cameras help keep you informed about your surroundings, and some new cars can even stop on their own if they sense an obstacle.
Cars weren’t always equipped to this level, though. The world’s first road vehicle fatality reportedly happened in 1896, according to the World Health Organization, and ever since, engineers and inventors have been working hard to make continual improvements in auto safety. And while there is no actually hall of fame for safety features, we thought these important achievements deserved some recognition. Check out our nominations for the Vehicle Safety Hall of Fame:
Brakes are one of the most important safety features on a car, and the better your brakes, the better you’ll be able to avoid obstacles and prevent an accident. The first popular type of brakes was drum brakes, invented in 1902 by Louis Renault, Autoevolution reports. Since then, many improvements have been made, including the first use of standard disc brakes in the 1949 Chrysler Crown Imperial. Thanks to a more efficient design, disc brakes are less susceptible to heat than drum brakes, which can negatively affect braking performance.
Most current cars use disc brakes on at least the front wheels. However, drum brakes are less expensive, so many modern cars still use them on the rear wheels to save money and weight. Nearly every car includes at least one set of disc brakes, and most sports cars, luxury cars and SUVs include four-wheel disc brakes.
Anti-lock brakes have been standard equipment on luxury cars from Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Chevrolet since the mid-1980s, according to the U.S. federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and are often found on most new vehicles sold today. Anti-lock brakes are important because in a panic stop or on a slippery road, they do a better job of keeping the brakes from locking up than the driver could, by pumping the brakes faster than it’s possible for the driver to do.
The first patent for a seatbelt may have been given out in 1885, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, but in 2011, 16 percent of drivers and passengers in the U.S. still weren’t using them, NHTSA reports. Seatbelts weren’t even a required feature on cars until the 1968 model year, thanks to the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Originally, most cars included a two-point seatbelt, which hooked across the occupant’s lap. But, like most safety features, the auto industry was slow to adopt seatbelts, partly because lap belts were likely to cause internal damage to the abdomen during a crash.
The three-point seatbelt we’re familiar with today was patented by a Volvo employee in 1959, according to History.com. In an unusual move, Volvo was so confident in its three-point seatbelt design that it made the blueprints free to other carmakers. The feature quickly spread, and at the time of the inventor’s death in 2002, it had saved an estimated 4 million lives, according to Volvo. These days, one of the easiest things you can do to protect yourself in your car is wear your seatbelt. “Adult seat belt use is the most effective way to save lives and reduce injuries in crashes,” reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.