Cars that pioneered everyday automotive safety features

Many of the safety features we see on modern cars were actually pioneered decades ago. For example, ABS was introduced on production cars 43 years ago and airbags first hit dealer showrooms in 1974. Ever wondered which cars were the first to offer safety features that we now use every day?

Traction control

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Buick offered a primitive traction control system way back in 1971. Called MaxTrac, it used sensors to monitor the speed of the left front wheel and compare it to the speed of the rear wheels via a sensor in the transmission. If wheel-spin made the rear tires spin faster than the front, the system would short-circuit the ignition to cut engine power. Though crude, the system did have its merits and many modern traction control systems continue to use this basic idea albeit in a much more refined package.


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Airbags became mandatory in the U.S. in the mid 1990s, but they were pioneered by GM as early as 1974. GM’s Air Cushion Restraint System (ACRS) was available on most full-sized Buick, Oldsmobile and Cadillac models between 1974 and 1976. The ACRS steering wheel looked much like a 1990s airbag wheel with a large rubberized center section concealing the air bag. While the theory of airbags was sound, the concept still needed further refinement and the option was withdrawn in 1976.

All-wheel drive

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Some might think it’s a stretch to call a drive layout a safety feature, but it can’t be doubted that AWD has kept more than a few people out of a snowy ditch. Many people think of the rally-bred Audi Quattro as the first AWD production car, but the Jensen FF actually beats it by 14 years. The Jensen was what many in the 1960s called a hybrid, not because it used a flabby battery pack to urge it along, but because it was a hybrid of a British chassis and American power. Jensens were powered by healthy 6.3-litre Chrysler V8s and, more importantly, they were the first car to be offered with AWD. The FF was expensive, fast and capable in all manner of foul weather thanks to its AWD system.

Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) also have to give an honorable mention to the 1966 Jensen FF that had the first ABS system in a production car. But the FF’s ABS system was completely mechanical and its complex nature lead to spotty reliability. ABS was the way of the future, but Chrysler figured out how to do it reliably and electronically in 1971 with its Imperial. The Imperial had a four-wheel ABS system called “Sure Brake” co-developed with Bendix and it worked reliably as intended. Computerized ABS systems are now ubiquitous in modern cars and have saved countless drivers in panic stop situations.

Seat belts

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The idea of restraining occupants in a crash so they don’t fly through the windshield isn’t really a new notion. American manufacturer Nash offered two-point “lap” seatbelts as an option as early as 1949 and SAAB offered them as standard on its GT 750 in 1958. But the first to offer a modern three-point design as standard was Volvo in 1959. The three-point design has irrefutable efficacy can be found on every new car sold in North America.

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