How Much Do You Know About These Auto Safety Advancements?

By: Steven Symes
Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

Are older cars safer than newer ones, and does it really matter how big your vehicle is if you're involved in a crash? Do you know which car maker came up with the three-point seatbelt, or what makes disc brakes so much better than older brake designs? Take our quiz to test your automotive safety IQ!

By almost any measure, traveling by car is significantly safer than it used to be. Sure, some of that is due to things like speed limits, drunk driving crackdowns and better education, but a whole lot of the reduction in crash fatalities can be credited to car makers and the safety advances they've made over the years.

In 1950, 33,186 people in the United States died in car accidents. That's 67.5 deaths for every 100,000 registered vehicles. By 2000, the number of vehicle deaths per 100,000 cars had dropped to 18.57. By 2015, it dropped even further, to 12.47 per 100,000 registered vehicles.

What caused that decline in road deaths? Things like anti-lock brakes, crumple zones, cell design, airbags and electronic stability control all helped, but the most significant factor was probably seat belts - both better designs and more people actually using them. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that seat belts saved 14,688 lives in 2016 alone, and 88 percent of drivers and passengers now buckle up, compared to just 11 percent in 1981.

Think you know everything about the evolution of car safety? Prove it with this quiz!

Which automaker invented the three-point seat belt?

Back in 1959, Volvo first sold a three-point seatbelt in a consumer vehicle. While some automakers were skeptical about the value of this device, crash tests demonstrated its superiority versus lap belts.

What does the "adaptive" part of adaptive cruise control refer to?

Adaptive cruise control has become incredibly common in new cars. This technology makes dealing with rush hour traffic on the freeway so much easier because you don't have to constantly be making adjustments as traffic slows and speeds back up.

Why do some cars automatically roll down the windows after a collision?

Many cars that have this feature also automatically unlock the doors and turn on the emergency flashers, helping to avoid a secondary crash and making it easier for firefighters and other rescuers to get you out of the vehicle.

Why do cars have a third brake light?

Sadly, some people can't tell the difference between when the taillights are just on, and when you're hitting the brakes. That's why John Voevodsky, a psychologist, devised the third brake light. It removes any confusion, so drivers know to hit the brakes because the car in front is doing the same thing.

What automaker offers OnStar services to enhance safety?

General Motors has been promoting the benefits of OnStar for some time. Among the features vehicle owners get is the ability to call for help through the touch of a single button and automatic crash notification, allowing emergency responders to know the exact location of the car.

What is the purpose of driver alert systems?

Automakers like Volvo and Mercedes-Benz offer these systems. The exact ways that they can tell if a driver needs to pull over varies, but the end goal is to help you gauge when to get off the road and take a break.

What is the reason for LATCH systems in cars?

LATCH systems, or Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, were designed to make front and rearward-facing child car seats of all kinds easier to install correctly. All vehicles and child seats made starting in September of 2002 have this system incorporated into them.

Vented discs is a safety feature for what system?

When you press on your car's brakes, the pads are pinched against the discs, generating a lot of heat. Venting means there's airspace in the discs, allowing that heat to escape faster, which actually helps improve stopping performance.

How do daytime running lights help with safety?

Daytime running lights are in general pretty bright, especially the more modern LED variety. When you're driving in the daytime, your car might suddenly cross into shadows, making it more difficult to see. This safety innovation helps ensure other drivers will spot you easily, avoiding accidents.

What is the reason for a car horn?

Despite what some drivers think, your car horn is actually there to indicate your presence, in case another driver doesn't see you. Modern horns operate using a steel diaphragm and electromagnet, plus a contractor, which is how they produce plenty of noise and yet are extremely compact.

What is the point of rear door safety latches?

Technically, Joseph M. Schumann first came up with this concept back in 1949, but his patented design was different from what became popular in cars starting in the early 1980s. Many cars today have electronic locks, making them more convenient to operate.

How long have car seatbelts been around?

Surprisingly, seat belts have been around since the 1880s, but they weren't used much in cars until the 1930s. It took doctors testing out the devices and pressuring automakers to start using them to make the safety measure popular.

When was the first airbag available in a car for the public?

The Oldsmobile Toronado was the first car sold to the public with an airbag. Before then, GM had used airbags in a government-only car, but it was Ford wh0, in 1971, first started testing the revolutionary device.

What does a car's ABS system do?

Anti-locking brake systems, or ABS, was designed to help drivers maintain control of the vehicle when they need to slam on the brakes in an emergency. This system prevents uncontrolled skids, which can lead to a serious accident.

Crumple zones are typically located where on a car?

With crumple zones, these areas are designed to collapse quickly, absorbing kinetic energy from a crash. What that means is less force reaches the people inside the car, hopefully preventing any serious injuries during a wreck.

What safety measure do headrests provide?

While headrests are certainly comfortable, they also provide protection in a collision, especially if you're hit from behind. They keep your head and neck from moving back too far, making them key in avoiding whiplash and other injuries.

What do head-up displays do to prevent crashes?

A HUD, or head-up display, projects important information onto the bottom of the windshield, on the driver's side. You can look ahead pay and attention to the road while referencing things like navigation directions, vehicle speed, safety alerts, and more.

Which automaker invented inflatable rear seat belts?

Ford really set itself apart from the pack with this technology. When the seat belts inflate, it spreads out the pressure placed on a passenger's body, making it less likely that the belt will cause an injury. These are only used for the outboard seats.

A car's rearview camera will turn on automatically when?

Now a common feature, rearview cameras are especially helpful when you have a large SUV or truck. Without one, seeing behind the vehicle when backing up is pretty much impossible, making this piece of safety equipment key in not backing up into a person, another vehicle, etc.

What kind of pressure makes most modern brakes work?

Back in 1914, Fred Duesenberg invented the hydraulic brake system for racing cars and his legendary luxury vehicle line. The design multiplies the force exerted by pressing on the brake pedal, so you can bring a heavy car to a stop with ease.

What does electronic stability control help avoid?

Also sometimes called electronic stability program or dynamic stability control, this technology is designed to monitor for any signs of skidding. Depending on the design, it might be able to apply the brakes on individual wheels and even cut power from the engine to achieve that goal.

What do anti-submarine seats do?

With anti-submarine seats, the bottom cushion is tilted back, preventing you from "submarining" or sliding forward and under the seat belt in a crash, which obviously could be a very bad thing.

What safety system helps you change lanes without hitting other cars?

Blind spot monitoring systems warn if another car is in the next lane, outside of your field of view. Some systems do this with cameras, while others use radar sensors. The warning can be visual or audio, or both.

What safety measure keeps the doors on a car from caving in during a crash against the side of the car?

Embedded in the doors, side impact beams are often made of high-strength steel or other durable materials. Without them, the doors on your car could easily cave in, resulting in serious injuries or death.

How does a 360-degree camera system give you a top-down view of the car's surroundings?

While it looks like you're getting a view from above your car, the image of your vehicle on the screen isn't real. Most systems have four cameras on the outside of the car, so you get an accurate view of everything around the car, but not the roof, which is just a pre-loaded image.

Why would you want a car with bending headlights?

This concept was first pioneered by failed automaker Tucker, which back in the late 1940s produced a car with three headlights, where the middle one would turn with the steering wheel. Today, some cars use headlights where part of the assembly rotates as the steering wheel angle changes, helping you to see better while going through turns.

What do break-away engine mounts help prevent?

In front-end crashes, the engine can be pushed against the firewall between the engine compartment and interior so hard, it will intrude on the driver and front passenger's leg space. If the mounts break right away, the engine drops to the ground, preventing that from happening.

What body part do side curtain airbags primarily guard?

In a side collision, the curtains inflate, keeping your head from hitting the glass, pillars, or whatever else. They can also prevent your arms from flinging out of the vehicle and being broken or seriously cut.

How long have cars had side mirrors?

It was Ray Harroun who's credited with the first side mirror, a feature he used on his Marmon race car back in 1911. The device allowed the car to be driven without a passenger, shedding weight and improving performance.

What does the traction control system on your car prevent?

To keep the wheels from spinning on your car, the traction control system will cut power from the engine. This is especially helpful on slippery surfaces like ice or when the road is wet, helping you to keep the car reigned in.

Lane-keep-assist is only available in vehicles with which kind of steering system?

With lane keep assist, the system can take over the steering to gently keep the vehicle in its lane. Of course, you must be on a road with clear lane markings, otherwise, the system's cameras can't tell where the lane ends.

What kind of a sensor does a rear cross-path detection system use?

Because rear cross-path detection systems use radar, it can "see" a car approaching from either side, even if your view of that vehicle is obstructed by things like a solid wall, shrubs, etc.

How do auto-dimming mirrors keep you safer?

The Troxler Effect is when you still see a spot or spots after being exposed to an exceptionally bright light. Not only is that annoying, it cuts down on your reaction time behind the wheel, which increases the risk you'll crash.

What do seatbelt pre-tensioners do to help in a crash?

A little bit like airbags, seat belt pre-tensioners have an explosive charge that goes off in a crash. That explosion drives a piston, which in turn spins the belt's spool, which means the belt tightens against your body.

What driver-assistance feature did IIHS require cars to have to be considered for its top award, starting with 2016 model year vehicles?

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or IIHS, decided that requiring this technology for the organization's highest award would encourage more automakers to offer it. The system helps prevent or mitigate crashes, potentially saving lives.

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