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How Cars Have Got Safer

By raccars Published

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Last month marked the 50th anniversary of the law which made seatbelt mountings compulsory in new cars in the UK. Thirty two years ago, on 31 January 1983, the wearing of seatbelts in the front of cars became compulsory. These small steps effected a huge change in the number of fatalities to drivers and front seat passengers. The Institute of Advanced Motorists, (IAM), estimates that driver fatalities dropped by 25% and front seat passenger deaths by 29% as a result.

The three point seatbelt was introduced by Volvo in 1969, and is arguably the single most important automotive safety innovation. The following year the Swedish firm brought out the padded dashboard, designed to reduce injuries to the face and chest in a collision.

By 1965 it became compulsory in the UK for manufacturers to fit seatbelt mounting points to the front seats on all new cars - although seat belts themselves were optional at this point. In 1966, the Jensen FF introduced anti-lock braking to production cars and then in 1967, seatbelt laws were updated to stipulate that seatbelts must be fitted to the front seats of all cars sold in the UK. At this stage, however, there was still no law making it compulsory to actually wear them. In 1968, Volvo was back with another new safety feature in the form of head restraints to the front seats, protecting the neck and head in the event of a rear-end shunt.

The next decade was fairly quiet until Mercedes came up with electronic ABS in its flagship S-Class saloon in 1978. The German manufacturer was also the first to fit modern SRS (Supplemental Restraint System) airbags in 1981.

Finally in 1983, a law was passed to make the wearing of seatbelts compulsory, for front seat drivers and passengers at least. Car safety advanced further when the fitting of rear seatbelts with all new cars became compulsory in 1987.

In 1991, it was Volvo's turn again, with a new SIPS (Side Impact Protection System), combining seats on transverse rails with side impact bars. The same year the wearing of seatbelts became compulsory for rear seat passengers, both adults and children. In 1994, Volvo's SIPS was improved with the introduction of side impact airbags.

1995 saw Mercedes bring in electronic stability control and safety grew in importance, as the first Euro NCAP testing began in 1996. Unsurprisingly, results put the Volvo S40 at the top.

These systems may seem old hat compared to the modern technology keeping us safe on the roads today, but countless lives were saved by their introduction.

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