Car Crash Safety: 50 Years Ago Versus Today

There is a world of difference between the cars we vehicles we drive today, and the vehicles our parents drove. One of the major differences, aside from aesthetics is: safety! With today’s vehicles, trends may come and go, but safety is always in style.

Just watch the first few seconds of the YouTube clip below by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and you’ll see how car crash safety has dramatically improved in the last the last 50 years! The Malibu’s driving compartment absorbs the majority of the impact, meanwhile the Bel Air accordions crushing the driving compartment. In the case of the Bel Air, the complete lack of airbags, and restraints would have caused significant bodily harm, if not death, meanwhile, the IIHS believes that the Malibu driver would have suffered a foot injury at most.

Canada Collision Statistics

Today’s safety standards are high. Vehicles are tested thoroughly by third parties, and consumer expectations surrounding safety are higher than ever. As they should be! We spend a lot of time in our vehicles: commuting to work, carpooling children, and friends, on impromptu road trips. Your vehicle should be as safe as possible!

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (or IIHS) there are nine 2011 models boasting driver death rates of zero. They estimate that if we still drove the same vehicles we did in 1985, there would have been 7,700 more deaths in 2012 alone! This doesn’t necessarily mean that there have been any fewer collisions. In 2012, Canada witnessed 122,140 collisions that resulted in personal injury. Of these, 1,823 experienced at least one fatality.

So what’s the difference between vehicles from 50 years ago, and the cars we drive today? Well, a lot!

antique car from the 1950'sVehicle Safety in the Beginning

Vehicle related fatalities reached an all-time high in the 1970s. In the early 20th century, automobile safety was primarily addressed through attempted education. The idea was that if you could teach drivers to be more aware of their surroundings, and drive safer, there would be fewer fatalities. Redesigning the automobile with safety in mind didn’t begin until the late 1920s. Early advancements included replacing fragile windshields with shatter resistant glass, and the incorporation of four wheel brakes. Fast forward to the 1930s, and regulatory bodies began implementing a licensing system in an attempt to rid the roads of bad drivers.

Beginning in the 1950s, universities took it upon themselves to crash test a variety of vehicles. Their findings were undeniable – it wasn’t just the driver, it was the vehicle itself! Gradually, these university findings began making their way to the desks of automotive lawmakers. By 1956, you were given the option of adding a padded dashboard and seat belt to your new car. Although, it still wasn’t required.

The Seat Belt

It wasn’t until 1960 that the three point seat belt designed by Nils Bohn was included in the Volvo Amazon. Volvo was the first car manufacturer to equip all of its models with the three point seat belt.  Instantly, survival rates in car collisions increased by 50%! Volvo, acknowledging the life-saving importance of their patented seat belt, made it available to all car makers. Ever since, they’ve been known as a manufacturer of some of the world’s safest vehicles. That same year, lawmakers in the United States mandated that all new cars must be equipped with seat belts, or seat belt anchors. By the late 1960s, seat belts and padded dashboards were the norm. Of course, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the majority of drivers and passengers actually took advantage of these life saving devices. In Canada, seat belt legislature is left up to each individual province. Ontario, was the first province to make it law on January 1, 1976. The latest adopter was the Yukon, who finally implemented this law on July 1, 1991.

The Airbag

Without a doubt, the airbag, in combination with seat belts, is the other half of a life-saving dynamic duo when it comes to vehicle collisions. While seatbelts had long since become the norm, it wasn’t until September 1, 1998 that the United States government required all cars and trucks sold in the United States to have airbags in the front seat. Since the 1980s, airbag technology has come a very long way, making them, and your vehicle safer than ever.

Is the Tesla Model S the Safest Car in the World?

Wired Magazine seems to think so. According to this article by Wired, the Tesla Model S is so safe, that it actually broke the testing equipment being used by an independent testing facility! The Model S surpassed safety standards in every single category: front, side, pole, and rollover, achieving an overall score of 5 stars, making it the safest car on the road to date. The roof of the Model S is so strong that it only cracked under 4 G’s of pressure – or the equivalent of four sedans being stacked one on top of the other. Compare this crash test with the 2009 Malibu from the first clip. Look at how far vehicle safety has come in just six short years!