Evolution of Automotive Safety

 In Blog, Safety

As promised last time, we shall delve into topics concerning vehicle safety, starting with the evolution of automotive safety. You can also check out our other posts on the automotive industry here.

What led to the development of automotive safety?

Over the years, with continuous advances in vehicle technology, automobiles could go faster and faster. The unnecessary side-effects of these technological developments were destructive and sometimes even fatal accidents. Automotive OEMs started paying more attention to vehicle safety and strived to alleviate the effects of these accidents by improving the same. As a result, car safety has improved leaps and bounds through the years. Increased emphasis on safety by consumers and strict government regulations have led to the development of safety systems in the automotive industry.

Before we look at how automotive safety has changed and developed, let us first understand what exactly automotive safety is and how is it classified, along with existing safety features.

What is automotive safety?

Automotive safety can be defined as the combination of design, construction, equipment, and regulations to ensure that the ill-effects of motor vehicle collisions are restricted to a minimum. Along with its main purpose of protecting the passengers and mitigating the impacts of a collision, safety features also perform the function of aiding the driver of the car in various situations such as parking the vehicle or protecting pedestrians and other motorists after a collision.

Automotive safety can be broadly divided into active safety and passive safety. Active safety can be defined as the technology which aids in preventing a car crash. On the other hand, passive safety technology consists of components which limit the damage caused and protect the passengers during a car crash. Therefore, it can be easily inferred that active safety means proactive safety measures whereas passive safety means reactive safety measures.

Some of the common active safety systems nowadays include Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS), Electronic Stability Control or Electronic Stability Program (ESC/ESP), Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS) and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC). Active safety also includes proper visibility from the driver’s seat and low noise level in the interior. The most commonly employed passive safety systems include seatbelts, airbags, collapsible steering columns, occupant sensing systems as well as crumple zones and kill switches.

Furthermore, collision avoidance systems such as headlamps, mirrors, reflectors and the braking, steering and suspension systems contribute to the overall safety of the vehicle, by aiding in preventing the occurrence of a crash.

Safety through the years…

Let us now have a look at how vehicle safety has evolved through the years, right from simple windshield wipers to advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).

Humble beginnings

Automotive safety has come a long way since the first cars came into existence. The first few years, however, did not produce too many safety features. Windshield wipers and early turn indicators, then called the ‘auto-signalling’ arm, were invented in the early part of the 20th century. The 1920s witnessed a few more developments. One such invention was that of the headrest by Benjamin Katz to reduce whiplash harm. In 1922, the Duesenburg Model A became the first car to have four-wheel hydraulic brakes. This was one of the more significant developments and by the end of the decade had been adopted by nearly every vehicle.

Another important invention of the same decade was the laminated windscreen by Henry Ford in 1927, which protected the passengers against injuries from the shattering of the glass during an accident.

Testing the safety of a vehicle is of utmost importance before the vehicle hits the road. The year 1934 marks the beginning of the car safety testing, when General Motors conducted the first barrier crash test. The 1940s did not offer too many new developments. The padded dashboard was launched in 1947 to reduce injuries to the driver and passenger during front-on collisions, whereas in 1949, the Chrysler Crown Imperial became the first car to come with standard disc brakes.

Seatbelts are introduced

One of the most important and probably the most underrated passive safety device is the seatbelt. In 1959, Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin invented and patented the three-point lap and shoulder seat belt, which became standard equipment on all Volvo cars. The 1960s saw a surge in vehicle safety laws which made features such as seatbelts and head restraints mandatory in cars. Volvo also developed the first rear-facing child seat in 1964. Australia became the first country in the world in 1970 to mandate seatbelts.

The arrival of airbags and electronics

The 1970s and 80s witnessed a large use of electronics in vehicle safety technology. Further laws and legislations were passed. In 1974, General Motors became the first automaker to offer driver and passenger airbags as optional equipment on large Cadillacs, Buicks, and Oldsmobiles.

1978 saw introduction of the first electronic anti-lock braking system in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. In 1981, Mercedes-Benz also released the first production car with supplemental restraint system (SRS) airbags for the driver’s seat.

The use of electronic systems used in the cars grew even further in the 1990s. Volvo introduced the side impact protection system and side impact airbags. To address vehicle stability, Mercedes-Benz and Bosch introduced electronic stability control (ESC). Not only that, but Mercedes-Benz also introduced the Brake Assist System (BAS), while Kia Motors launched the first knee airbag in their Sportage SUV. In the latter half of the 1990s, the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) was established to test new vehicles’ safety performance and publish the results for vehicle shoppers’ information.

Further advancement with the turn of the century

The dawn of the new millennium not only gave rise to many new vehicle safety technologies including autonomous safety features, but also to safety measures for pedestrians. The development of features such as the Lane Departure Warning System, Blind Spot Information system (BLIS) and intelligent anti-skid system took place in the first decade. Volvo developed autonomous emergency braking (AEB), to aid drivers mitigate or prevent collisions in case of an oncoming vehicle. Addressing the safety of pedestrians, Jaguar and Citroen developed the pop-up bonnet, which has been designed to reduce injury risk to pedestrians. Furthermore, in 2010, the pedestrian detection system was also introduced by Volvo which causes vehicles to brake automatically when a pedestrian is detected.

The past decade also saw a number of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) come into force. ADAS consists of electronic systems which assist the driver during driving and parking. The goal of ADAS is to facilitate the driving task and make it safer not only for the person driving the vehicle, but also for others on the streets, including pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists etc. Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) is one of the ADAS features which was introduced in 2011. Additionally, a number of regulations were mandated by various organizations in the world in the past decade. These regulations mandate different technologies, features or systems to be used in cars such as BAS, ESC, TPMS, driver seatbelt reminder system, ISOFIX system, ABS, parking sensors and rear-view cameras, etc.

In our next blog, we will take a look at the various regulations and programmes that were introduced to regulate automotive safety. Meanwhile, do check out all our posts by visiting us at www.quanzen.com and feel free to write to us at response@quanzen.com. Your feedback and comments are highly appreciated!

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    Very useful information

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