From the early one-cylinder motorized horse buggies of the early 1990s to the self-driving prototypes of today, vehicle safety has improved throughout the years. The following explains some of the more notable improvements in vehicle safety and how those improvements have saved lives.


While there have been incredible developments in electronic safety systems in recent years, the largest improvement to vehicle safety is the improvements in the steel that vehicles are made of. Vehicle steel is stronger and lighter than it was in the past. A chief engineer for Cadillac explains, “Heavy does not mean safe. If you ran into the wall, you bounced off the wall and all the deceleration went through your body.”

Today’s vehicles are made of lightweight steel that crumples initially on impact to absorb the force, but strong enough to halt the impact once it’s reached the threshold where the vehicle’s occupants are no longer safe.


According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 15,000 lives are saved each year in the United States because drivers and their passengers were wearing seat belts when they were in a car accident. It’s interesting to note that this lifesaving safety mechanism wasn’t standard in most vehicles until the late 1960s and seat belt use wasn’t enforced until the 1980s.

1949 Offered in Nash vehicles

1955 – Offered in Ford vehicles

1958 Made standard in Saab vehicles

1968 Mandated by federal law to be in all vehicles except buses

1984 – New York is the first state to require all vehicle occupants to wear seatbelts

As of today seat belt use is enforced by law in all 50 states for minors and in 49/50 (the one being New Hampshire) for all occupants minors and adults included.


The standard in passive restraints, airbags are designed to act as a supplement to active restrains, like seatbelts. The NHTSA estimates more than 45,000 lives have been saved by frontal airbags. 

1973 Airbags offered on some of General Motors Chevrolet Impalas.

1989 All new cars in the US required to have driver-side airbags, excluding light trucks (included in 1997.

1999 All new cars in the US required to have dual front airbags (driver and passenger side).

While airbags have proved to be a lifesaving technology, they are not safe for children younger than 13 or less than 65 pounds. Children under those parameters should sit in the back seat.

Electronic Stability Control

Electronic stability control (ESC) is a computerized technology that improves a vehicle’s stability by detecting and reducing the loss of traction. When the technology senses loss steering control it automatically applies the brakes to help steer the vehicle where the driver intends to go.

When ESC was made standard on all new vehicles in the US, the NHTSA estimated the standard would prevent 5,300-9,600 fatalities annually. 

1990 Applied to the Mitsubishi Diamante in Japan

1992 Applied to most BMW models

2004 – Standard on all Toyota SUVs

2012 – Mandatory in all new vehicles in the US

In a study conducted by the NHTSA from 2004-2006, 33% of all fatal accidents could’ve been prevented by the use of ESC.

Smart Car Technology

As technology gets smarter, so do vehicles. The following are notable technological improvements to vehicle safety:

  • Back up camera – Allows drivers of view of what’s directly behind their vehicle. Back up cameras became standard in all new vehicles in the US beginning in May 2018.
  • Lane departure warning systems – Currently under study by the NHTSA as to whether they should be made standard in all vehicles, lane departure warning systems alert drivers when they’ve crossed out of their lane. Many also include lane centering assist, which will automatically correct the vehicle in the case that the driver has begun to drift out of their lane.
  • Automatic brakes – Automatic braking technologies combine sensors and brake controls to prevent high-speed collisions. Some systems can stop a vehicle completely if a collision is imminent, but many are designed to simply decrease the speed of the vehicle and thus lessen the impact.
  • Self-driving cars – A new development are completely self-driving cars. While still at least a few years from being mainstream self-driving cars should eliminate many of the accidents caused by human driver error.

An Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident because of another driver’s negligence or by a defective part in your vehicle, you deserve fair and full compensation for your damages and injuries. Give the experienced attorneys of Craig Swapp & Associate a call today at 1-800-404-9000.

Written By: Ryan Swapp     Legal Review By: Craig Swapp