If you’ve visited a car dealership lately, you may have noticed that new vehicles seem like rolling fortresses compared with those from just a few decades ago. Unfortunately, some safety features, like airbags, weren’t mandated or even put into use until years after they were invented. How did car companies’ use of airbags and child safety seat anchors evolve?
Although the first airbag was patented in 1953 by John Hetrick, according to the U.S. Patent Office, it took almost 30 years for automakers to begin including the feature in their cars. PBS reports that Mercedes-Benz was the first company to include airbags as a standard feature in 1980, and by 1988, all automakers were required to include airbags in their new cars.
However, in the 1990s, airbags began to be controversial after it was found that they could injure or kill children and small adults. Between 1990 and 2000, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 175 deaths resulting from airbag deployments, with almost 60 percent of the fatalities being children. Because of this, dual-stage and lower-impact airbags became more popular, and airbag-induced injuries and fatalities began declining in 1997. Most experts agree that as long as occupants are sitting in the seats correctly and the airbags are being used in combination with seat belts, they’re far more helpful than dangerous. Having an airbag in your car can sometimes get you a discount on your auto insurance, too, so it can be smart from a financial standpoint, as well.
Originally, most safety features found in cars were tailored to adults rather than children. That began to change in 1963 when Leonard Rivkin filed a patent for the first child safety seat, according to the U.S. Patent Office. These days, most states have laws requiring that children of certain ages or sizes be secured in a car seat. For instance, starting in January 2012, California required that children younger than 8 sit in a car or booster seat in the back seat of the vehicle.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, car accidents are the No. 1 cause of death among American children. In order to combat this, starting in 2002, most cars and car seats in the U.S. were required to use Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) connectors, according to NHTSA.
The LATCH system makes it easier to properly install car seats, which can improve children’s chances of staying safe in the event of a car crash. LATCH connectors include hooks where the seat and the seat back meet, where straps on the car seat can attach securely. Some cars include anchor points on the top of the seat or rear deck of the car, where straps can attach to secure the top of a taller child seat.
Car safety features have come a long way since the advent of brakes and seat belts, and manufacturers continue to come up with new innovations. What safety features do you think the vehicles of the future will boast? Share your thoughts below.