These days when we think of safety in cars we think of adaptive cruise control, driveless cars, rumble strip warning noises and all sorts of cameras and sensors that attempt to keep us safe.
But it was not very long ago at all that everyone was driving around without so much as a seat belt on. In the last 50 years car safety has become a titan of strength compared to the lackadaisical part timer it once was. It is time to hail the more humble safety features that still save lives every year.
1. The Collapsible steering column
This rather brilliant invention really was a game changer.
The idea is simple, the steering column is actually 2 tubes, one larger than the other. In the event of a crash the impact is enough to break a number of seals and allows the smaller tube, along with the steering wheel, to slide down into the larger one.
This may sound like a rather unnecessary option but think, just for a moment, what would happen if you hit something really hard front on.
You guessed it, the steering column would be forced into the cabin and into the driver!
The Morris Minor was infamous for not adopting this fantastic safety feature and as such, this little pottering car was responsible for impaling a number of its owners over the years.
For all but the completely stupid among us, seatbelts are something so normal no one even thinks about putting it on.
But for many years they did not even exist, and when they did arrive they didn’t work very well but that was hard to ascertain because nobody wore them.
Believe it or not, seatbelts were not a legal requirement when driving (in the UK) until 1983!
And rear seatbelts were not added to this until 1991.
In pre-war cars the speeds were not very high in most situations and the roads were certainly not very busy, but as the 50s and 60s moved on cars became faster, the road became busier and driving without a seatbelt started to be a deadly passtime.
It actually took various politicians the greater part fo the 70s to get parliament to pass a law making everyone wear them.
During this time cars got faster and faster, think of the Jags of the 50s and 60s, then move onto Triumphs, Fords, Rovers and more exclusive marques like Porsche and Lamborghini in the 70s.
Most manufacturers had a car that could go fast enough to kill you and most didn’t even have seatbelts.
Thankfully these days if we do hit something we know we will generally stay in our seat and not fly through the windscreen…thank you seatbelt!
3. Anti Lock Braking System ( ABS )
ABS is a relatively recent edition to the safety list and most people these days drive around not really aware of what it does or even if it’s working.
Before this system came around there was actually a skill to braking hard and certainly braking on a wet or icey surface. You had to use what was called cadence braking, this is basically fluctuating your pressure on the brake pedal under heavy braking.
The idea is you brake as hard as you can until you feel the wheels lock, and then come off a little to break the slide, and then back on again.
This process was done quickly and with skill to get the car to slow down as fast as possible and not skid.
Essentially this is what ABS now does for you but much faster, you may have felt a buzzing feeling in the pedal when you have applied the brakes heavily in the wet. The skill of cadence braking was one worth having, but these days to stop a car all you need to do is plant your foot and keep it there, the ABS will do the rest!
4. Air Bags
What a simple and brilliant idea!
The air bag is something most people know about because it is easily seen in any crash situation.
As the car hits something a balloon inflates from the steering wheel, and these days from a number of other places to lessen the damage on the occupant.
In the early days there were a few problems. Some airbags actually inflated so hard the driver was injured by parts of the steering wheel cover, or even worse they failed to deflate and the occupant suffocated!
Modern airbags rapidly deflate and work in a much safer way.
Anyone who has ever been saved by the full force of a head on crash by one of our inflatable friends will certainly be thankful this safety feature is now part of all modern cars.
5. Traction Control
Much like ABS, traction control is a safety feature many people don’t think about, and many people would not even notice when it’s doing its job.
TC has appeared in many forms over the years but the overall aim is to stop the wheels skidding and the car losing control. This is not under braking but in other situations where perhaps a corner was taken too fast, heavy acceleration on a wet surface or something similar.
How TC has worked has varied from computers applying the brakes in situations where the car was getting out of control to the throttle being pulled back automatically to reduce wheel spin.
Some systems are so advanced they use multiple combinations of braking and throttle for each wheel separately to mean the computer basically stops the car being driven like an idiot.
For some years now the computers have worked tirelessly to make bad drivers think they are good, correcting mistakes and giving undeserved confidence to many a businessman in a rear wheel drive BMW.
Seatbelts, steering columns and more have helped save lives for years and no one would ever deny they have done so, but some computer aids have taken the skill out of car control and in some cases this is a bad thing.
People should be aware of what is happening and not carry on regardless and assume the car will control itself.
Naturally there are many other safety options that you can buy yourself these days like fire extinguishers from companies like www.f-e-v.co.uk, dash cams like these or even digital blind spot sensors like this but without our fabulous 5 that are now commonplace, driving would be a very dangerous business indeed.