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Car Safety- Past, present and future

Car safety: past, present and future

From the good, the bad to the downright bizarre, we take a look at the evolution of car safety technology over the years. Words: Lauren Ferrone

Some gadgets are still used today while other life-saving features are yet to enter the mainstream market. The rest are probably better left in the time machine.

Back in time

They don’t make ‘em like they used to – well, that’s one way to put it. From the device designed to literally scoop up pedestrians to prevent them being crushed under a car, to the ‘magical’ safety paint so fluorescent it could apparently prevent car crashes, there were a lot of bizarre safety features that (thankfully) didn’t take off.

When cars were first introduced atthe beginning of the last century, they had to have someone walk in front of the vehicle waving a red flag to warn other people in the area, so the noise of the car didn’t scare the horses.

Here are just a few others we’ve dredged up from way back when.

The pedestrian cow-catcher

Don’t let the name fool you – this wannabe gizmo had little to do with herding cows. Invented by the O’Leary Fender Company in 1907, the pedestrian cow-catcher was essentially a metal frame attached to the bumper of a car. With the press of a button, the driver could lower the device to the ground just before the unfortunate event of colliding with a pedestrian.

Why it failed: Fender apparently decided it wasn’t the prettiest addition to their cars.

Tyres that light up

This invention wasn’t such a bright idea after all. Introduced in 1961, Goodyear’s illuminated tyres comprised some 18 lightbulbs (now that’s a scary thought in itself). They were said to be a useful alternative to brake lights and indicators.

Why it failed: These dazzling tyres were more of a flashy car accessory than safety feature. Traction wasn’t the best — the tyres were slippery in wet weather and, rumour has it, some even melted if the driver pressed too hard on the brakes.

Child seat – or mat?

Before child safety seats, there was a sheet of steel you could plop your kid onto, on the floor of the backseat – no buckles, no straps. Don’t worry, it came with a foam pad for extra cushioning.

Why it failed: Let’s just say we aren’t surprised this 1969 invention didn’t take off, for obvious reasons.

A really good paint job

There’s paint that can protect against UV rays, but one that can prevent car crashes sounds almost too good to be true. That’s because it is.

American automotive entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin claimed his car paint acted as an “impact avoidance enhancer” (his words, not ours). In layman’s terms, bright-coloured cars are more visible on the road and, therefore, there’s less chance of crashing. Right? Wrong.

Why it failed: In 1975, Bricklin manufactured his own car called the SV-1 which were sold in bright green and orange.

The car was only on the market for a couple of years before it went into receivership. Need we say more?

Here and now

We’ve come a long way since the late ’60s and early ’70s, when indicators and seatbelts were the most innovative safety additions in cars.

What once sounded like something out of a sci-fi film is now the norm. Today, most new vehicles come equipped with radars and cameras to detect when pedestrians and other vehicles are in a car’s path, and some can even steer you in the right direction if you drift out of your lane.

The first fully electronic anti-lock braking system, also known as ABS, was developed in the late ’60s to help stop aircrafts skidding on slippery runways. It was designed to help pilots maintain some steering ability and avoid skidding while braking.

Car manufacturers applied the technology to road vehicles about a decade later. Back then it was an optional extra in some luxury cars; today all new cars come equipped with ABS. In fact, independent vehicle advocate ANCAP defines ABS and electronic stability control (ESC) – an anti-skid braking system – as critical safety features.

If the car suddenly swerves, there is the risk it can skid out of control. ESC senses what is going on with the car and brakes individual wheels to bring it back into control. ESC was made mandatory in all new cars sold in Australia from November 2011.

Some car makers were already ahead of the game, like Mercedes-Benz which introduced ESC as standard equipment in 1999. The German automotive giant found that the life-saving technology reduced driver-error related crashes by 42 per cent.

New research by ANCAP this year showed that older cars were one of the main contributors of road crashes. The study compared the crash results of two vehicles – a 1998 Toyota Corolla with no airbags, ABS or ESC, and a 2015 model equipped with these safety features and more.

The findings revealed the driver of the older model would suffer fatal head trauma in a crash, while the person behind the wheel of the newer model would walk away with minor leg injuries.

Shocking as the results are, Mr Borlace says research like this proves safety technologies in new cars have come a long way.

“These cars don’t have to come at a premium price. It’s becoming common practice to have these features as standard inclusions,” Mr Borlace says.

Looking forward

It might be some years before you see a child sitting alone in a moving vehicle with their eyes glued to the latest gaming gadget, but is the future closer than we think?

Despite advancements in car safety over the years, there’s still a lot of new technologies to trial.  Cars could have technology that detects and maps where everyone is on the road so that they can avoid collisions.

Who knows, illuminated tyres might even make a comeback. If they do, we’re guaranteed to spot them from a mile away.


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