Automobile Safety Components: Mostly Unseen, These Clever Devices Exhibit Their Benefits in Many Traffic Accidents

Time marches on, as the saying goes, but one thing that comes with time is the steady development of new and better technologies for every aspect of human life. Granted, there are instances were certain products end up being detrimental to our health, exemplified in most any successful products liability case. Yet, on the who we as human beings do benefit from constant improvements to existing devices, as well as through the innovation and development of new and better technologies.

As Baltimore automobile and commercial trucking accident lawyers, I and my personal injury legal staff have seen the results of a wide range of injury-related car, truck and motorcycle wrecks. Even so, there is no end to the potential bodily harm that can come to individuals caught up in serious roadway collisions, many times due in no part to themselves. Many of these innocent victims may have received even worse injuries — including traumatic brain injury, pneumothorax, ruptured internal organs and spinal cord damage — if it wasn’t for the variety of safety devices found in many modern cars, SUVs, minivans and crossover vehicles.

By many experts thinking, tops on the list of protective automotive technologies would be the lowly three-point safety belt. With airbags, stability control and other “high tech” safety technologies, seatbelts are still the unsung heros of auto safety; one reason why safety experts and law enforcement agencies place great importance on the use of these basic, yet very effect devices. First offered as standard equipment in the 1959 Volvo 122, the two-point lap belt graduated to a lap-and-shoulder-harness design (the now-ubiquitous three-point system) about a decade later, and was made mandatory on U.S. passenger cars in 1974.

The main advantage of safety belts is their ability to keep an occupant in a position where he or she is the safest in case of a crash. Seatbelts’ ability to help prevent the victim of a car accident from being thrown from a car (aka ejected) during bad traffic collisions is another of the major benefits that these simple and effective devices provide to occupants. In fact, seatbelts are so effective that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that more than 16,000 people five years and older would not have died in 2009 had they been wearing a seatbelt.

Advances in the design and function of safety belts over the years have included inertial locking systems, pretensioners and, recently, inflatable belt section, which are designed to help minimize injury by better distributing crash forces over a larger area of an occupant’s body.

ESC (Electronic Stability Control)

Oddly enough, though ESC sounds like its primary advantage is enhanced vehicle handling and suspension performance, this advanced control system lets the vehicle itself react to changes in a car’s attitude during extreme maneuvers, such as when a driver tried to steer away from an impending accident, sometimes at high speed. In years past, before ESC availability, a driver trying to avoid a crash could often cause the vehicle to go out of control and crash into something else, perhaps averting one crash but maybe hitting another vehicle in the process.

With modern vehicle electronics and drive-by-wire systems, ESC can greatly improve a driver’s ability to avert a roadway collision. Typical ESC systems detect and minimize vehicle skids, which according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reduces the chance of fatal multi-car crashes by a statistically significant 32 percent. And, deadly single-car accidents can be reduced by more than half according to the IIHS.


Third on the list of beneficial safety devices are the now common airbags. Required on all vehicles as of this fall, advanced airbag systems are just another piece in the safety puzzle for passenger cars. In fact, NHTSA estimates that modern airbag systems had saved almost 30,000 lives through 2009, with even more victims of severe car and trucking-related accident saved from death between then and now. According to figures provided by the NHTSA, when it comes to frontal collisions the typical front-located airbags have the ability to reduce driver fatalities almost one-third, and save the lives of front-seat passengers over 12 years of age by that much as well.

Of course, side airbags are now seen on most new cars and light trucks, although the government does not yet mandate them by law. These devices help to protect an occupant’s head, reportedly reducing a motorist’s risk of fatal head injuries in driver-side wrecks by 37 percent (for passenger sedans) and 52 percent for the driver of a sport utility vehicle.

Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS)

While ABS isn’t strictly a life-saving system, it does allow a driver to remain in control of his or her vehicle better than a vehicle not equipped with the system. As a key safety component, ABS is certainly an important part of ESC systems, as well as being the basis for other technologies, such as electronic brake-force distribution and emergency braking assist. Although the IIHS states that it is unclear as to whether ABS is a significant contributor to reducing the total number or severity of traffic accidents, in 2009 the NHTSA found that ABS did reduced the risk of car crashes by about six percent (sedans and coupes, etc.) and eight percent for pickup trucks and sport utility vehicle. The agency did not, however, find any correlation between ABS and the risk of fatalities.

Oddly, one vehicle class that has benefitted greatly from ABS technology is motorcycles. According to the IIHS, in motorcycle accidents, those riders operating ABS-equipped models are 37 percent less likely to be killed. This data was based on information representing 10,000 registered vehicle-years, according to insurance group.

Vehicle Safety Cage Design

During the last two decades, the auto industry has apparently made major inroads in developing stronger and more protective vehicle structures, thanks in large part to energy-absorbing sheet metal designs that help to dampen and redistribute crash forces around the passenger compartment. Modern safety cage design got its start in Europe in the ’40 and ‘50s, when the first safety cages were developed using energy-absorbing front and rear crumple zones. With the advent of side-impact crash testing by the NHTSA back in the ‘90s, automakers continued to make additional improvements to the protective shell surrounding a driver and passengers, much of which was an outgrowth of the increasing size and mass mismatch between sedans and the newly introduced body type, the SUV.

The 5 most important automotive safety technologies of all time,, September 20, 2012

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