Great strides have been made by all major automakers to improve vehicle safety, particularly in the last 30 years. What follows are some of the highlights and major innovations.
First recorded traffic fatality. H.H. Bliss is hit and killed by a horseless carriage in New York City.
Oldsmobiles are the first to feature speedometers.
First stop sign to control traffic is installed in Detroit.
First three color stop light is installed in Detroit.
First car with safety glass windows as standard equipment is offered by Cadillac.
Delco-Remy produces the first electric windshield wiper so that wiper speed could be maintained regardless of engine speed.
The industry's first electric turn signals developed by GM�s guide lamp division (introduced on the market by Buick).
Buick is first to offer front/rear directional signaling with self-canceling switch.
Chrysler introduces four-wheel disc brakes.
Nash-Kelvinator introduces the Rambler, the first car to offer seat belts.
Mercedes-Benz patents "crumple zone" concept to protect vehicle occupants.
Minnesota passes first law requiring brake fluid to meet minimum SAE performance standards.
Safety padding on dash board offered by several vehicle manufacturers.
Over 1,000,000 traffic-related deaths have occurred since invention of the automobile.
Safety door latches to help prevent doors from being forced open in collisions are made standard equipment on nearly all cars.
Michican is first state to require a course in driver education before issuing a drivers license to persons under 18 years of age.
First year that General Motors, Ford & Chrysler offer seat belts as optional safety equipment.
Ford introduces recessed hub steering wheel.
Volvo first manufacturer to include front seat lap-shoulder belts as standard equipment.
Cadillac and American Motors are first to offer the dual master cylinder as standard equipment. It provides braking on at least two wheels should a malfunction occur to one part of the brake system.
New York first state to enact law requiring front seat belts in cars (to be effective 1965 model year).
The four major U.S. auto manufacturers install two front-seat lap belts as standard equipment.
The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act authorized the federal government to set vehicle safety standards and provide for a national highway safety program. The first of many Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) become effective in 1967.
Volvo offers childproof rear door locks, rear window defroster, roll-over bar in roof.
Ralph Nader publishes "Unsafe At Any Speed" . Book criticizes vehicle manufacturers for not showing greater responsibility towards safety. Starts consumer safety movement.
Volvo offers three-point seat belts in rear outboard seats.
Energy-absorbing steering column introduced by General Motors.
Volvo vehicles equipped with head restraints.
Federal law requires front seat belts for all passenger cars.
Federal law also establishes various crashworthiness standards to protect vehicle occupants.
Head restraints required in U.S.
Chrysler introduces a brake-slip control system, (an early version of antilock brakes).
Federal law requires front bumpers meet 5 mph crash standard (later reduced to 2.5 mph in 1982).
Side impact standards required for all new cars.
Federal law requires three-point lap-shoulder belts with inertia reels.
General Motors produces the first airbags.
Federal law requires all vehicles to have seat belt interlock system that prevents engine from starting unless driver and passengers are buckled up (later repealed by Congress in response to public outcry over "inconvenience").
Tennessee is the first jurisdiction in the world to pass a child passenger safety law.
1981Seat belt pre-tensioners introduced on some cars to automatically tighten belts prior to accident.
First U.S. seat belt use law is enacted in New York.
Antilock brakes standard on S-Class Mercedes models and offered standard or optional on about 30 domestic and foreign car models during the 1987 model year.
Every state has passed legislation requiring the use of child safety seats.
High mounted center stop light required for all passenger cars.
Mercedes-Benz installs airags on U.S. models.
Ford and Lincoln offer optional air bags.
GM is the first domestic manufacturer to announce that rear seat lap/shoulder safety belts will begin replacing lap safety belts as standard equipment, with the phase-in to take place over the following three years.
Chrysler becomes first American automaker to offer airbags as standard equipment.
Passive restraints required for all new cars. Vehicle manufacturers meet standard by either offering driver side air bag or automatic seat-lap belts.
First head-on collision occurs between two airbag-equipped cars (Chrysler LeBarons) in Culpepper, VA. Both drivers walked away.
Volvo introduces side impact protection system.
All Cadillacs come standard with anti-lock brakes, making Cadillac the largest automaker to do so. GM offered anti-lock brakes and traction control on more models than any other manufacturer in the world.
Chrysler offers integrated child safety seats in its minivan line.
Volvo introduces side impact protection airbag.
Although available and mandated for years in Canada and Scandinavia, daytime running lights start to be offered on some new vehicles in the U.S.
All states but one have mandatory seat belt use laws.
Breed Technology introduces first aftermarket airbag that can be installed on 1987-1994 vehicles that were not factory-equipped with an airbag. Air bag is for drivers side only.
Dual airbags are standard equipment for all passenger cars.
Side curtain air bags introduced on some cars to protect occupants against head injuries in side collisions.
GM installs less aggressive "next generation" air bags on Pontiac cars and GMC pickups and SUVs. Bags deploy with less force to protect children and small adults.
BMW introduces new inflatable tubular "Head Protection System" to protect occupants in side collisions.
Side airbags offered by Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Hyundai, Jaguar, Mazda, Mercedes, Nissan, Porsche, Saab, Volvo and Volkswagen some or all of their 2000 models.
SmartBelt ™ systems seatbelt that think like airbags, are introduced by The BFGoodrich Company.
Night Vision offered as an option on some Cadillac cars. Uses infrared video camera to display a ghostly image of objects in the road ahead.
Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) are required on all new cars and light trucks
2009Volvo offers CitySafe automatic braking system that automatically applies the brakes to prevent an accident if the driver fails to react (but only at speeds below 18 mph).
Pedestrian detection system offered as an option. Uses optical recognition software and video camera to warn driver of pedestrians in road ahead. If driver fails to react, automatically applies brakes.
Traffic fatalities achieve an all-time low of 32,479 deaths.
Active safety systems such as forward collision warning, active braking, rear view backup cameras, parking assist, lane departure warning, blind spot warning and adaptive lighting are appearing as optional and standard equipment on many new vehicles.
Stability control is required on all passenger cars, light trucks and SUVs as standard equipment. It is predicted to reduce as many as 10,000 fatal crashes a year in the U.S.
First belt-bag inflatable seat belts offered. Belt contains a small airbag that inflated during collision to provide extra cushioning and protection to occupant.
Fully autonomous research vehicle developed by Delphi drives coast-to-coast on auto pilot for 99 percent of the drive. Google, Volvo and others are developing automated vehicles that can drive themselves. Tesla downloads first semi-autonomous "Autopilot" cruise control software upgrade for its Model S cars.
Tesla offers AutoPilot self-driving capabilities for expressway driving under certain conditions. First motorist killed when self-driving Tesla on autopilot fails to recognize and brake for tractor-trailer crossing highway in front of vehicle.
First pedestrian struck and killed by self-driving Uber car when it fails to detect the person crossing the street.
Rear backup cameras now required on all passenger cars, light trucks and SUVs to reduce accidents and fatalities when backing up vehicle.
Forward collision warning and braking, blind spot detection, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, rear brake alert and other driver assist features now common on most new vehicles.
Studies find Red Light Cameras do little to reduce accidents at intersections and serve primarily as a means of revenue collection for local governments.
U.S. locks down as COVID-19 pandemic grips nation, but traffic fatalities increase to 38,680 in spite of Americans driving 13 percent fewer miles. Authorities blame aggressive and risky driving as the cause.
Traffic deaths soar from 10 percent to over 50 percent in many states as Americans resume driving as pandemic eases up. States reporting the highest fatality rates are Oregon, South Dakota, Minnesota, Idaho and Nevada. Texas reports the most fatal crashes.