The History of Car Safety Technology: Part 2

By Liberty Insurance Ireland on 7 February 2017
The History of Car Safety Technology: Part 2

The history of the windshield, seat belt and air bag

In the second part in a series of three articles, guest blogger Mathew Young gives us an introduction to the history of windshield, seat belt and air bag technology.


When you think of safety technology, the windshield may not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, windshields are a key feature in making cars safe, and manufacturers have invested significant amounts of time and money into developing safer and more effective windshields.

Early windshields were simple pieces of plate glass. Motorists soon discovered that simple plate glass was not an ideal material for a windshield; it shattered easily from both road debris and accidents. In 1919, the Ford Motor Company began using laminated glass for its windshields. This new technology sandwiched a polymer between two sheets of plate glass, reducing the amount of shatter created by an impact. In 1938, Pittsburgh Plate Glass developed tempered glass; in addition to being stronger and lighter than laminated glass, tempered glass breaks into pebble-like pieces rather than shards when struck.

Today's windshields incorporate many advanced technologies to keep drivers safe and comfortable. In addition to safety advances, many windshields include special films and coatings to filter out UV rays, reduce heat absorption and give drivers a sense of privacy. Auto manufacturers aren't content to sit on their windshield laurels; head-up displays and self-cleaning windshields powered by nanotechnology are just some of the advances coming to windshields in the future.

Seat Belts

Seat belts were first used by the aviation industry during World War II. The seat belt made its jump to cars after doctors grew increasingly alarmed at the injuries and fatalities from car accidents. Claire L. Straith, a plastic surgeon, made notes on accidents and where injuries often occurred. She soon joined forces with C.J. Strickland, a noted physician, in order to encourage manufacturers to begin including seat belts.

In 1946, Preston Tucker included seat belts in the design for his new car, the Tucker. Later models, however, eliminated the seat belt feature completely. The three-point seat belt came along in 1959, when it was introduced by Volvo. Ford developed the Lifeguard safety package in 1956 that included seat belts. However, the package was not viewed favourably by the public. In 1968, seat belts finally became mandatory in all vehicles, but not all drivers were happy with the change. However, the dramatic drop in automobile fatalities soon convinced drivers of the usefulness of seat belts. Currently, developers are working on a new four-point seat belt to further improve vehicle safety.

Air Bags

The first air bags for cars made their debut in the 1940s. Two inventors are credited independently for developing the air bag: Walter Linderer of Germany and John Hetrick of the United States. However, it took many years and failed models to develop the air bag used today. Some of the early models could not inflate fast enough, rendering them useless in an accident. In 1967, a breakthrough in air bag development arose after Allen Breed created a sensor that could inflate the air bag in under 30 milliseconds. In the 1970s, air bags began to show up in passenger cars. Car manufacturers explored the idea of using air bags as substitutes for seat belts, but eventually safety experts realized that air bags should be used in addition to seat belts. Today's cars typically feature air bags in multiple locations, including the steering wheel, the dashboard and the ceiling. Future development of this safety feature may include inflatable seat belts to help minimise the force of an accident.

About the author:

Matthew Young is a Boston based freelance writer. As an aspiring automotive journalist looking to make a name for himself in the industry, he is passionate about covering anything on 4 wheels. When Matthew is not busy writing about cars or new emerging tech, he usually spends time fiddling with his camera and learning a thing or two about photography. You can tweet him @mattbeardyoung

For the first and final parts in the series click the links: Part 1 and Part 3.

Check out Car ’N Stuff - affordable car insurance and renters cover, with access to travel and gadget insurance. Find out more

Related blog posts