In 1885, a man named Karl Benz created the world’s first automobile. He did not invent the internal combustion engine, but he did make it practical. Benz made identical copies of a vehicle powered by a single-cylinder four-stroke engine that was powered by gasoline. This was the beginning of cars as we know them. The first automobiles were metal death-traps that could barely be steered due to their enormous weight. Accidents were a norm in the early 1900s because of this. Early automobiles were strictly for the wealthy, as well. They were entirely unaffordable for the general public, so their popularity wasn’t growing at all. 

It wasn’t until 1908, when Henry Ford created the Model T, that cars became popular. He made the automobile affordable for the regular American. This type of car is what we are now used to. Though people loved cars, they were still extremely dangerous. There were next to no safety features on early vehicles. Not until 1903, when a cattle rancher created the windshield wiper, was there a single thing safe about operating a vehicle. 

Since then, more than a century has passed and the evolution of safety technology is unsurpassed. Cars can fully drive themselves, and the features on ordinary vehicles are stunning. Unfortunately, safety features don’t solve everything. There are so many people driving today, that car crashes and deaths are commonplace. If you’ve been in an accident, at no fault of your own, you could be entitled to compensation for your losses. Hiring an accident attorney is a smart move, a lawyer from Reid Goodwin, P.C. can help you with your personal injury claims and make the process easier for you.


In 1885, Edward Claghorn patented the seatbelt, but it wouldn’t be implemented in vehicles for many years. In 1903, a woman by the name of Mary Anderson invented the first windshield wipers. The wiper was operated by a lever inside the car, which was connected to a rubber blade that sat on the windshield. The wipers were hand-powered from the inside of the vehicle. In her patent, Mary called the wipers, “window cleaning devices”. It wouldn’t be until 1916 that windshield wipers would be standard on most cars. 


The first rearview mirrors were used for the first Indianapolis 500. Ray Harroun attached them to his Marmon Wasp and won the race. He said afterward, that he saw a horse-drawn carriage with something similar and it sparked the idea. It wasn’t until 1921, that rearview mirrors were produced commercially. 


Brakes on automobiles are what make them able to be used. Today, we take them for granted because it’s such a simple process for us. In the 1900s, it was not. The first vehicles were fitted with wooden brakes that didn’t work very well. The wood would break down the rubber wheels and eventually pop them. In 1902, Louis Renault invented the drum braking system; this helped matters, but they still weren’t stopping cars fast enough and were still wearing down too fast. It wasn’t until 1921, when Malcolm Lougheed produced the four-wheel brake, that brakes were trustworthy. 28 years later, in 1949, the Chrysler Crown Imperial was the first car to include standard disc brakes that we know today. 

To recap, automobiles lasted nearly 20 years with faulty braking systems. It’s no wonder why cars were considered so dangerous back then. 


Until 1934, nobody would have purposely crashed a car to see what would happen. That year, General Motors conducted the first barrier crash test. It was the beginning of a revolution in safety. People were starting to realize just how dangerous cars were, they needed to be better. GM performed this test in Michigan, in a hilarious way. They had someone begin to drive the car toward a barrier, then hop out of the car when it got close. Not exactly protocol in 2020. 


One of the biggest leaps in safety technology history was the seat belt. Though the idea was patented in 1885, it wouldn’t be until 1950 that Nash Motors included safety belts in the Airflyte (pictured to the left). Later, Volvo required them to be included in every one of their vehicles. Now, the seat belt is the most beneficial safety invention ever. In 1963, Nationwide became the first insurer to offer incentives for using a seat belt. In 1984, New York became the first state to pass a U.S. law that required seat belt use. 40 years later, every state had a similar law. 


Prior to 1973, when cars got in accidents, they were deadly nearly every time. Other than the seat belt, which was rarely used by people, nothing was stopping the momentum of drivers within vehicles. In 1973, Ford Motor Company installed airbags in a fleet of Chevrolet Impalas. These vehicles were only used as government cars, but the idea had worked. Later that year, the Oldsmobile Toronado was the first car sold with an airbag. 

However, the airbag was an option for car buyers. It did not come standard on every vehicle like it does today. It would be more than 15 years before most cars come with standard airbags. 


These days all vehicles are produced with electronic anti-lock braking systems (ABS). Mercedes Benz was the first manufacturing company to produce the ABS in all of their vehicles. Before this, vehicles were skidding into the backs of others and losing traction far too often. The first ABS system was developed in the 1920s, but it was only for airplanes. Then, in the 1950s, it was fitted for motorcycles because of the danger they confronted. When they were finally added to vehicles in the 1970s, the ABS never looked back. Though they have made drastic improvements, they are still standard on all 2020 vehicles. 


The 1990s ushered in the beginning of a technological revolution in vehicle safety. Technology had come a long way since the invention of the production automobile. In 1995, Mercedes Bens and Bosch introduced electronic stability control. This system would be the first of many to assist drivers with stability, handling, and control. 


At the turn of the century, more technology was being put into vehicles that had never been seen before. In 2004, Volvo introduced the blind-spot warning system. A year later, Jaguar developed the early stages of the lane departure warning system. 


Autonomy begins showing up in vehicles in 2008 when Volvo began producing emergency braking systems into their vehicles. Before you could react, the car would use monitors to sense objects in front of it. They would improve that system a few years later to detect for pedestrians as well. 


Today, some vehicles can completely drive themselves. Cars like the Tesla Model S are equipped with 360-degree cameras that monitor everything that happens around the car. Most cars come with airbags on every side of the cabin. There are warning lights that will not allow you to move the vehicle until your seat belt is on. Fingerprint scanning on “touch to start” buttons are making drunk driving impossible. Safety is reaching new heights. 

Karl Benz would be impressed with the strides that have been made in safety technology. There are more than 6 million accidents a year in the United States alone, so these safety features are a necessity. But it is up to us, as drivers, to be safer. Technology will keep advancing, but if our habits do not change, the statistics will not change either.