Since the first gas-powered automobile in 1886, cars have constantly advanced in efficiency, capability, and most importantly, safety. While the safety of the vehicles that transport us every day is often taken for granted, it is worth taking some time to reflect on several of the advanced safety features helping drivers on the roadway.

The introduction of the automobile introduced new risks to the public requiring remedial safety measures. The first safety measures started with compiling statistics on accidents and campaigns to advocate for safe driving. By the 1920s, car manufacturers began manufacturing cars with shatter-resistant windshields and four-wheel brakes instead of two-wheel brakes. Seat belts were made standard in 1966 and airbags were made standard in 1998.

Now, safety features are often the most important factor for new car buyers. Features such as antilock brakes, traction control, and electronic stability control are standard in all vehicles.  The blind-spot monitoring system was introduced by Volvo in 2005 and has since become standard in most new vehicles. In fact, a 2018 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) report found that the blind-spot monitoring system reduced lane-changing incidents by 14 percent and lowered the severity of lane-changing incidents by 23 percent.  

From a simple beep or rearview mirror light to indicate a vehicle in your blind spot to far more advanced features, the vehicles on the market now and emerging in the coming decade will incorporate new technology to even more greatly reduce human error.

The rise of autonomous vehicles also presents a rise in efficiency and risk to the public. Among the car manufacturers working on autonomous vehicles are Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Renault, and Tesla. These manufacturers currently offer partially automated features aimed at improving safety such as lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control. These features use cameras and sensors to view the road and require varying degrees of driver involvement. 

Though autonomous vehicles are aimed at improving safety, Tesla has made headlines with accidents. Of the 392 accidents involving partial autonomous driving features, Tesla was involved in 273 of them, roughly 70 percent. Tesla’s suite of autonomous features includes “Full Self-Driving,” which gives the car the ability to stop at stop lights and stop signs, maneuver parking lots, and park itself. Some experts have raised concerns about these features being “tested and trained on public roads with other drivers.”

Other manufacturers are working on improving their partial autonomous modes before releasing and committing to a full self-driving mode. For example, Ford has “Blue Cruise” which offers hands-free navigation of certain highways, so long as the sensor in the car detects that the driver is awake and looking at the road. 

These safety concerns come at a time when vehicles are safer than ever. A Motor Vehicle Safety Data report from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation shows that miles driven have increased 371 percent since 1960. In that same time period, the fatality rate decreased by 78 percent thanks to advancements in vehicle safety features. 

As efficiency and automation advance in the automotive industry, it is important to keep safety at top of mind. From early features like the seat belt to new safety measures that safeguard autonomous driving, consumers can rest assured that new technology is ensuring their safety. Policymakers should continue to encourage this type of innovation and where possible and grant regulatory waivers for pilot programs and other research and development. From vehicles on the road to railways and other modes of transportation, the incorporation of technology has long resulted in improved safety outcomes, reducing human error while improving performance. The technology developed and tested today will ensure the roads of tomorrow are smooth and safe. 


Written by John Cassibry, Media Coordinator


The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.