July 5, 2010

NEWS FOR YOU….from the Iowa D.O.T. – Automobile Safety Features

By Debra Carney
Driver’s License Supervisor
Driver’s License Services office
Davenport, IA

Have you ever been in a vehicle unfamiliar to you and noticed some feature that you couldn’t live without? Or some feature that made you wonder, ‘what were they thinking?’ Vehicles have constantly been changing to meet the needs of consumers. Whether it is for creature comforts, aesthetic (who can forget wood grain side panels?), economy or safety, vehicles change constantly. Safety features are the least noticeable yet in many instance we wouldn’t live without them. Most are standard on modern vehicles. The following are a few features that are now considered standard on a majority of vehicles.

Seatbelts have evolved from simple lap belts in the early 1960s, to three point belts in the 1980s. Originally only available in the front seat, they are now in all seating positions in most autos. Five point belts are also available in child safety seats and race cars, with the six point belt becoming popular after the crash of Dale Earnhardt in 2001.

Air bags for passenger cars were first introduced in the United States in the mid 1970s which coincided with an international interest in automobile safety. They are not intended as a replacement for seatbelts, but are to aid seatbelt use. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) enacted a standard mandating all automakers phase in additional side-impact protection as a standard feature in every car, truck and SUV over a four year period beginning in September, 2009.

Crumple zones better protect the occupant by sacrificing outer parts of the car while strengthening the inner parts. Seatbelts are designed to keep you in place so the car may crumple around you. First patented by Mercedes-Benz in the early 1950s when an engineer questioned the prevailing opinion that a safe car had to be rigid. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety demonstrates this by conducting a crash test between a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu in September 2009. Before and after photos are below including a link to the video: http://www.iihs.org/video.aspx/info/50thcrash

Unfortunately safety features are no match for careless or sloppy driving habits. Remember to continue to practice those safe driving skills!