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The Most Important Safety Feature on Your Car Is…

Car dash

Newer cars now come with so many safety features it can be hard to determine which ones are really useful, and which ones are really just “bells and whistles” that you do not really need.

While the best safety features will be discussed, in fact, your seatbelt remains the most important safety features on your car. It is hard for most people to imagine a car without a safety belt, although some baby boomers may remember that the “safety belt” in their family car was their mother’s arm, flung across them to stop them from flying through the windshield. According to the Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention, using a seat belt is the single most effective way to reduce injuries and save lives in the event of a car collision. More than half of those between the age of 13 and 44 who died in a car collision in 2014 were not wearing a safety belt.

When used correctly, wearing a seat belt can reduce the risk of fatal injury to those in the front seat by 45 percent, and the risk off receiving moderate to critical injuries by 50 percent. For passengers riding in a rear seat of an SUV or van, a rear seat belt has a 73 percent likelihood of preventing death in the event of an accident. Children are more likely to be buckled up (92 percent) than adults (72 percent), although teens are the least likely to wear seat belts of all drivers. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for those between the ages of 15 and 20—with the majority of these deaths involving unbuckled teen drivers and passengers.

A Short History of Seat Belts

George Cayley, an English engineer, actually invented the seat belt in the late 1800’s, however his invention was meant to keep pilots inside their gliders. Edward J. Claghorn actually patented the first seat belt for cars, to keep passengers in New York City taxis safe. It was not until the mid-1930’s that seat belts were tested in the U.S., and manufacturers were urged to put seat belts in all new cars. Car manufacturers balked, and, although race car drivers wore seat belts long before the average car passenger, it was not until 1958, when the three-point seat belt was developed, that car manufacturers began voluntarily putting them into new vehicles.

The three-point seat belt was designed by Volvo engineer, Nils Bohlin, and by the time Bohlin died in 2002, Volvo estimated Bohlin’s design had saved more than a million lives in the four decades since it was first introduced to the public. By 1966, all American vehicles were required to have seat belts, with laws regarding the use of seat belts following. By 1995, every state except New Hampshire required the use of seat belts, and while many have attempted to improve the seat belt, it remains essentially the same design as the one created by Nils Bohlin. In 2001, Ford attempted to implement an inflatable seat belt—which never really took off—and other car manufacturers have attempted to tailor seat belts to a driver’s individual body type.

Why Seat Belts are Not Worn All the Time

What this information on seat belts should tell you, is that buckling up every single time you get in a car can save your life—or greatly reduce the level of injuries you experience should you be involved in an accident. While the majority of adults do wear their seat belt, unfortunately, many adults fail to wear their seat belt on short excursions, and when they are sitting in the back seat. This, despite the dearth of information regarding why you should wear your seat belt every single time you get into a car—no matter where you are going and where you are sitting.

In fact, a recent study done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that four out of five people admitted to failing to buckle up while in the back seat, while on a short trip, or while in a ride-share vehicle or a taxi. Back seat passengers tend to perceive the back seat as being safer than the front seat, plus there are still some states which do not require those in the back seat to be buckled (although children are required to be buckled up, no matter where they are sitting in the vehicle). Those who do not buckle up on a short ride say there is no reason to do so, since they are just “running to the store,” yet studies have shown that the majority of accidents occur within 15 miles of a person’s home. So, while there are a number of new safety innovations for today’s cars, the humble seat belt remains the most important.

Other Safety Features on Automobiles

Many other safety features are now standard on most new automobiles including the following:


Airbags, have been considered “standard” on all new cars since 1998 and all light pickup trucks since 1999. Allen Breed held the patent to the only crash-sensing technology in 1968, which was used in the development of the airbag, however a rudimentary patent for an airbag goes back to the 1950’s. The earliest airbags used compressed air systems, which research proved could not blow the airbags up quickly enough to protect passengers and drivers. Today’s airbags are gas-inflated cushions, built into the steering wheel, seat, dash, door or roof of a vehicle.

A crash sensor is used to trigger a rapid expansion of the airbag, effectively protecting those inside the vehicle. The Ford car company build an experimental airbag fleet in 1971, then GM tested airbags on a 1973 Chevrolet model which was only sold for government use. The 1973 Oldsmobile Toronado was the first car with an airbag which was sold to the public. The early airbag systems had design issues, which resulted in passenger fatalities caused entirely by the airbag, and it was not until 1984 that airbags were once again offered as an option on the 1984 Ford Tempo. By 1988, Chrysler became the first company to offer airbags as “standard” equipment, and since 1998 airbags have been mandatory in all new vehicles.

Some vehicles not only have frontal airbags, they also have side-impact airbags which are designed to protect the head and chest of those inside a vehicle which is struck from the side. There are now three types of side-impact airbags: those which protect the chest and torso, those which protect the head, and the head/chest combo side-impact airbag. Airbags inflate in a millisecond, then immediately begin deflating. Airbags can cause serious injury or even death to children, small adults, or to those who are not wearing a seatbelt. Most airbags today detect the presence, weight and seat position for the driver and front passenger, deactivating front airbags when appropriate to minimize injuries to drivers who are too close to the steering wheel, occupants who have their seat reclined, or small adults and children.

Antilock Brakes

Before the advent of antilock brakes, a driver could easily lock up the wheels on a vehicle when a hard brake was applied. This meant that when the driver hit the brakes hard, the wheels would stop turning—when the wheels stopped turning, the car became impossible to steer, especially on a slippery surface. Anti Lock brakes prevent the wheels from locking up by using sensors on each wheel, with a computer which maximizes braking action on each individual wheel to prevent the wheels locking up. In other words, ABS brakes allow the driver to have control over the steering so he or she can maneuver around an obstacle, when necessary.

Although most of us believe Anti-lock braking systems are relatively new, engineers first applied the concept of an automatic override braking system in the 1920’s, although the concept was used on aircraft brakes. Until the 1950’s, ABS was primarily used on airplanes, then in the late 1950’s, the technology was applied to motorcycles. By the 1960’s, engineers were testing the technology on passenger vehicles, and by the 1970’s ABS was offered on the Cadillac as a premium option. Today, ABS technology is commonplace, installed on all new cars as a standard option.

Traction Control

Traction control was built off ABS technology, therefore today, most any vehicle with ABS also has traction control, which is a safety feature to help vehicles make effective use of traction when accelerating on low-friction road surfaces. When a vehicle without traction control attempts to accelerate on a slippery surface, the tires spin without gaining any traction, therefore the vehicle fails to accelerate. Traction control activates in such a situation, helping a driver accelerate up a hill covered in loose gravel, on a slushy road, or, in some cases, on an icy road. Traction control has wheel speed sensors which monitor the speed of the rotation of either the front or all four wheels, a hydraulic modulator which pumps the brakes, and an electronic control unit which receives information from the sensor, directing the modulator to pump the brakes. ABS and traction control are usually attached on a vehicle; while they have different functions, they usually work together and are physically one unit.

Electronic Stability Control

In some vehicles, traction control is taken a step further by adding electronic stability control which keeps a vehicle on its intended path during a sharp turn, helping the driver avoid a skid or a slide. A complex series of sensors can detect the sideways motion of the vehicle, the steering angle and the wheel speed. Should the automobile “drift” outside the intended path, the electronic stability control system will brake and/or reduce engine power, and is especially helpful in top-heavy vehicles which are more likely to roll over—like SUVs and pickup trucks. As of 2012, electronic stability control became standard on all cars.

Accident Avoidance Systems

Newer and higher-end cars may come with one or more of the following safety features which are considered accident avoidance systems.

  • Forward collision warning systems use radar, laser, cameras, or a combination of the three to scan ahead for vehicles, alerting the driver who is approaching a car in their lane too fast.
  • Brake assist knows the difference between an ordinary, gradual stop, and a “panic” sop, and will apply the brakes with maximum force when a panic stop is detected. This technology is useful in a situation where the driver must “slam” on the brakes, since studies have shown that even in such a situation, most drivers do not apply the brakes as hard as they potentially could.
  • Some vehicles are able to combine forward collision warning systems and automatic emergency braking to help protect pedestrians—the camera or radar on the vehicle can “see” a pedestrian, then will give the driver an audible or visual alert, or instigate automatic emergency braking if the system determines a collision is imminent.
  • In a world of tailgaters—and resulting rear-end crashes—adaptive cruise control uses cameras, laser and radar (or a combination) to keep a consistent distance between your vehicle and the vehicle directly in front of you. In other words, your car will not allow you to tailgate the car in front of you. Lane assist is also used to ensure your car stays between the lines.
  • Blind-spot warning technology uses radars or cameras to warn the driver when another vehicle is in the lane beside, possibly hidden in the car’s “blind-spot.” Some systems will provide an audible warning if you attempt to change lanes when there is a car in the lane you are changing to, and some will even automatically brake or steer your vehicle back in the “safe lane.
  • Backup cameras are now standard in all light-duty vehicles beginning with the 2018 models. When the car is placed in reverse, the camera is activated, displaying the rear view in a center console screen or rearview mirror. Some of the more advanced systems offer a 360-degree view, around the entire vehicle.
  • Tire pressure monitors are standard in all vehicles manufactured after 2006, and will alert the driver when there is an underinflated tire, which can hurt not only your fuel economy, but also the handling of your vehicle.

Of course, all the safety features in the world still require that the driver remains alert and aware to keep him or herself, as well as passengers, and those in other vehicles safe on the roadways.

Contact Our Jackson Car Accident Lawyers

If you are involved in a car accident in Jackson, Hattiesburg, Meridian, or anywhere in the State of Mississippi, the best thing you can do is to contact an experienced Mississippi car accident attorney who will protect your rights and assist you in receiving a fair settlement for your injuries.

At Coxwell & Associates, PLLC, our attorneys believe in fighting aggressively for injured Mississippi car accident victims – to ensure that they receive the money they need to fully recover. We can help you obtain the money you need to fully recover.

Contact Coxwell & Associates today at (601) 265-7766, (601) 265-7766.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.