How Has Car Safety Improved over the Past 60 Years?

Posted on: January 13, 2022

Car safety has come a long way since seat belts began to be required in the 1960s. Amazingly, the significant declines in serious injuries and deaths seen in the past 60 years occurred alongside an explosion in the number of vehicles on the roads.

In fact, in the United States, the cumulative number of miles driven in an average year has increased by 371 percent since 1960; all the while, the rate of fatalities on American roads has decreased by an astonishing 78 percent.

Data visualization media firm Visual Capitalist broke down the auto safety innovations presented in publicly available accident data along with a timeline of the implementation of several auto safety measures to assess how new safety technologies have influenced a decline in fatal traffic accidents over time. Incidentally, this is the same period that saw a significant increase in the total number of hours Americans spend driving, owing in large part to an uptick in the number of drivers.

This discussion explores what this examination reveals.

How Much Have the Number of Cars Increased since the 1960s?

As population has increased, so has the amount of traffic on the roads. One way to measure this increase is to look at the total miles driven in an average year, which was 700 million miles in the 1960s. The most recent figures available show that in 2019, approximately 3.3 trillion miles were driven on American roads.

How Have Car Accident Fatalities Decreased over the Same Period?

Car accident fatalities have declined by an incredible 78 percent since 1960.

For every 100 million miles driven, fatal accidents caused 5.1 deaths in 1960. In 2019, automobile accident rates were recorded to be at a much-reduced rate of 1.1 crash fatality per 100 million miles driven.

What Consequential Car Safety Measures Have Been Implemented over the Years?

Some features, technology, and industry programs that improved safety over the years include the following innovations:

  • 1968: Two-point seat belts. The original seat belts consisted of a lap restraint connected to the seat on both sides, securing the occupant in the event of a collision.
  • 1969: Front headrests. Driver and passenger headrests help prevent the worst effects of whiplash and other head and neck injuries.
  • 1973: Three-point seat belts. A major improvement to seat belts involved the addition of a shoulder strap to keep the wearer’s torso held tightly in place when a car accident causes dangerous forces that could otherwise throw them forward or jerk them violently.
  • 1979: NHTSA crash testing. More than 40 years ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began its program of testing vehicles to determine which features and designs helped keep people safe.
  • 1985: Third brake lights. Brake lights located higher on the vehicle can be more visible to drivers following behind. Brake lights help most when they are seen by the most drivers, not just the driver following immediately behind. A light located at or above the rear window can be seen by drivers in vehicles in line behind each other, since they can be seen over or through other cars, unlike lower-positioned taillights that can be blocked by the body of another vehicle.
  • 1993: Five-star safety ratings. The NHTSA began using its 5-Star Safety Ratings system to provide car buyers with useful information on the safety features and crash-test performance information available on new vehicles.
  • 1998: Dual front airbags. Airbags were introduced in 1974 and became standard in some cars as early as 1985, but the industry finally made them standard in 1998.
  • 2008: Tire pressure monitoring system. The introduction of a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) helps drivers remain on top of the air pressure measurement in their tires, which can affect the tires’ grip to the road surface and inhibit proper driver control.
  • 2012: Anti-lock braking systems and electronic stability control.  Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) prevent wheels from locking up, giving the driver more control in situations in which locked brakes would otherwise cause skidding.
  • 2018: Back-up cameras. Back-up cameras allow drivers to have a clearer view of people, vehicles, and objects directly behind their car. These cameras have reduced back-over accidents. Controversy surrounds the use of this technology, with detractors claiming that drivers field of vision is greater when they simply turn to look behind their vehicle. Advocates of the technology advise using it as a complementary way for drivers to use both methods to keep track of their surroundings.

Thankfully, the general trend has been for accident statistics to continually show fatality rates in decline, with an apparent link in how car safety technologies may play a crucial role. However, the figures also show a recent plateau, as fatality rates have not improved since 2010.

This slowdown in accident fatality data’s downward trend indicates there is more work to do to push the numbers/statistics to regain momentum to begin moving again in the right direction.

Safety experts and industry leaders agree that technology can continue to improve safety. There are plenty of car safety technologies in development, with many already available, if not yet standard. Some of the technologies that are being used to keep roads safer include driving assist systems that detect dangers and automatically react by controlling the vehicle’s driver controls such as steering or brakes.

These systems use sensors and cameras to detect when a driver drifts into an adjacent lane or is in danger of a frontal collision.

Middletown Car Accident Lawyers at Mikita & Roccanova Help Clients Recover from Severe Collisions

If you or a loved one was hurt in a car accident, you may be able to collect compensation to help with the financial impacts of the collision. If the injuries involved are severe, you may be able to pursue a personal injury suit to cover your costs and possibly to address any resulting pain and suffering after the accident. The Middletown car accident lawyers at Mikita & Roccanova can help you seek proper compensation after a devastating accident. Call us at 732-705-3363 or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation. Located in Hazlet and Highland Park, New Jersey, we serve clients in Ocean County and Sussex County, and Pennsylvania.