How Cars Got Safe | WheelHouse | Donut Media

How Cars Got Safe | WheelHouse | Donut Media

(upbeat music)
– Most new cars are already
really safe from the factory.
Things like modern computers,
combined with decades
of car design experience
have made modern cars
safer than ever before.
But experience doesn’t come
without making mistakes.
And computers haven’t always existed.
Were cars death boxes of
metal in the early years?
(car screeching)
So how’d we go from
unsurvivable death traps
to the cars we know today?
When the first automobiles
arrived in the 1880s,
inventors like Karl Benz weren’t concerned
about the safety of their creations.
Instead, these early
vehicles focused on more
important things, like running
around without falling apart.
And getting out of the
poop stream of a horse.
Just take a look at the
Benz Patent-Motorwagen,
a very early motorized vehicle.
This thing is basically a bench on wheels,
with an engine strapped on for kicks.
By the early 1900s, more
and more of the well-to-do
were purchasing cars to replace
their horse and carriage.
Out of self-preservation, these early cars
had some concessions to
safety, like brakes and lights.
But the brakes was just
a stick with some wood
that pushed against your
wheel and the lights
were less powerful than
the one on your phone.
For the most part though, safety was left
in the hands of the automakers alone.
Some speed limits were imposed,
but those were more or less
to look out for the people not in cars.
With few developed roads
and rudimentary technology,
these early cars didn’t often
travel at high speeds anyway.
As the technology matured
and companies like Ford
started to introduce more
efficient construction methods,
more people could actually
afford to buy cars.
This increase in drivers
forced governments
to start building infrastructure,
such as paved roads,
which did improve safety for drivers,
but automakers and safety equipment
were completely unregulated.
(musical horns blaring)
– [Announcer] May of 1945
saw the lights go on again.
– The second World War
proved to be a reset button
for the car industry.
With no cars produced
for almost five years,
automakers had to fill empty dealer lots
for the returning G.I.’s,
anxious to spend their pay.
In designing these new models,
developments from the war,
such as improved
manufacturing and materials,
could be applied to the cars being built.
These improved materials made
the car stronger and safer.
But for the most part,
automakers returned to building
along the same formula as before,
with safety as an afterthought.
It wasn’t long ago until
the returning G.I.’s
began having families and wanted
to protect those families.
This led many automakers to begin offering
optional safety equipment on their models.
Ford introduced optional lap
belts, and Volvo introduced
the first three-point seat belt in 1959.
After seat belt legislation
was introduced in the U.S.,
the ability to survive a crash
uninjured increased by 40%,
and mild injuries decreased by 35%.
That’s a big deal.
With seat belts, manufacturers
figured they had done enough.
But a guy named Ralph Nader
published a scathing report
in 1965 on the lack of safety,
titled, Unsafe At Any Speed.
This was the book that killed the Corvair.
For a number of reasons,
the Corvair had particularly
horrible safety statistics.
Some of this had to do
with a unique design
that required underinflated
tires for proper handling.
But the rest of the safety
issues were just because
it was a car and cars weren’t safe.
Nader’s book took a deep
dive into every aspect
of design that made the car unsafe.
What made the book revelatory, however,
(gentle music)
was the fact that Nader
exposed the fact that
Chevy knew the car was unsafe
and didn’t make it safer
because making it safer
would cost them money.
People didn’t like the idea that companies
placed more value on
profits than human life,
and soon, public demand
forced government regulations,
regarding safety to be
implemented in America.
Two short years after Unsafe At Any Speed,
the U.S. government formed
the National Highway Transportation
Safety Administration,
and introduced the first
Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard.
These new requirements on automakers
selling cars in the U.S. coincided
with OPEC’s 1973 oil embargo.
While it may seem that these two
would not influence one another,
the timing of these two
events proved to have some
not great effects on the auto industry.
All that safety equipment,
which weighed a ton,
combined with the miserly
fuel-sipping engines
proved to create an entire decade of slow,
lethargic, 1970s American metal,
wearing terrible low-impact bumpers.
This period of malaise, which
is what it’s now called,
finally came to an end,
thanks to the biggest thing
to happen to cars since cars.
(upbeat music)
By the 1980s, automakers
had access to the levels
of computing power that would allow them
to digitally design a car
and model its crash behavior
without having to actually
build and crash an entire car.
Computer-aided design or
CAD led to the development
of new ways to meet government regulations
on passenger vehicle safety.
The most impactful of these
was the widespread adoption
of crumple zones.
Car companies build a
super strong center cell
around the passenger compartment,
while designing the
front and rear sections
to manage as much impact as possible.
This is still largely how we design
and build our cars today.
After a crash, cars can
be absolutely mangled,
but the people who walk away
can survive relatively unharmed.
To prove that crumple zones
worked, automakers started using
crash test dummies borrowed
from the aerospace industry.
These dummies measured
the force of impacts,
and while they showed
that the center section
in the new construction method
was sufficiently strong,
the restraints on the occupants were not.
This led to the introduction
of passive restraints.
Or airbags.
Because a seat belt is always holding you,
and will be used no
matter what in a crash,
it is considered active,
while the airbag is considered passive,
because it deploys only during a crash
and may not ever be used.
The design and testing
methods pioneered in the 1980s
led to an exponential
improvement in car safety,
that may not have been
possible without computers.
In the 1990s and the early 21st century,
computers would continue to provide
the main increase in automotive safety.
But now, it’s because the computers
are fitting inside the cars.
– [Narrator] A shadowy
flight into the dangerous.
– In the beginning,
computer-controlled driver aids
mainly consisted of anti-slip
traction control systems.
They were primitive compared
to modern technology.
But technology quickly increased
and cars today are safer than ever.
Systems like Tesla’s Autopilot
and Cadillac’s Super Cruise
are hinting at the future.
Allowing the car to guide itself
using onboard sensors and computers
for short distances and times
under certain conditions.
And the best part is that
if your car kills you
in autopilot, you
weren’t paying attention,
so you died peacefully without
any fear of imminent death
that wakes me every evening
in a cold sweat from my nightmares.
As these technologies
increase, less and less
human intervention will be required.
This will not only make for a more relaxed
driving experience, but will also remove
the most unpredictable
aspect of cars on the road,
– He ran me over, I jumped on the hood,
call the police for me!
– [Female] Okay!
– Thanks to Garage Amino for sponsoring
this episode of WheelHouse.
Garage Amino is an app that
connects car enthusiasts
from all around the world.
Garage Amino lets you
connect and share pictures,
get advice, and use public
chatrooms to talk cars,
and find inspiration for
your next dream build.
There’s blog posts, historical analyses,
concept builds, new car reviews,
even parts and accessories.
Garage Amino has it all.
The app is like a car form
on a stage three tune.
It’s got a featured feed
of all the best new content
and the community is super
active, friendly, and welcoming.
There’s always new stuff to check out
and it’s super easy to
make posts of your own.
Check out Garage Amino.
Click this big ol’ yellow subscribe button
so you never miss an
episode of WheelHouse.
If you wanna know more about safety,
check out this episode of
WheelHouse on speed limits,
and if you like safe cars,
check out this episode
of Up to Speed on Saab.
Get a shirt at,
seriously, wear your seat
belt, I’ll see you later.

100 Replies to “How Cars Got Safe | WheelHouse | Donut Media”

  1. Typical government, coming in and regulating something after the private sector has already resolved the issue lol.

  2. You got it backwards, airbags are an active system because the respond (activate) during an impact. Seatbelts are passive (except the pretensioner) because they do not respond during the impact.

  3. The thing I'm worried about:
    That more and more people consider cars to simply be "transport" and that, eventually, nostalgia will be lost among the majority of the population. The laws of supply and demand in effect then, automakers will make self driving, lackluster, electric "boxes" that'll get everyone from "Point A to Point B" fast, but owner-operated vehicles will be illegal, or need a "special permit", or only be allowed on certain roads, thus killing the aftermarket automotive industry and everything that "custom' stands for in the automotive world…or am I just being crazy or paranoid? Does anyone else feel this way??

  4. The 3 point seat belt was first introduced by Mercedes ! As well as the ABS system , (not by Cadillac) !

  5. Could you do an episode on why gasoline engines became preferred over the alternatives, and what new technology the future might have in store?

  6. No mention to Mercedes inventing passive safety in the 60s and GM putting airbags (ACRS) in cars in 1970?

  7. Hey Donut! Really interesting video! Love how you guys cover multiple aspects of car history, industry, science, trends, reviews, practical vs dream cars! Keep it awesome work! How about an a little instruction video on how to set-up the best seat position for safety and performance in your car? I see so many people driving sitting too low, too far back, reclined, feet on the dash (passengers), and sitting too close to steering wheel. Even hand position can reduce injuries in a crash. I think it could be a cool video, wish I could do it on my own but you guys can get the message out way better! Always wear you seatbelts, fo sho!

  8. It's too bad cars are so safe. There are millions of people that are so dumb that they don't know how to drive properly. If cars weren't so safe all of the stupid people would die and it would be survival of the fittest/smartest. Today there are way too many things that keep everyone too safe

  9. I think you don't realize that taking humans out of the cars means you have no job at all and life becomes pointless too…

  10. Nader pretty much lied about the Corvair's terrible safety – and his statements were later proven false by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association who released a 134 page report that exonerated the Corvair of Nader's charges. The NHTSA would go on to say that "The 1960-63 Corvair compares favorably with contemporary vehicles used in the tests," and would later hire three outside testers that would come to the same conclusion.

  11. Wouldn't it make more sense to consider seatbelts passive, since they are always deployed and need not be triggered, and airbags active, since they need to be *active*ated during a crash? Perhaps it's a matter of perspective.

  12. What a surprise a company putting their profits before the safety of their consumers ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚

  13. You made one little mistake in the video. Active restraints are called that because you have to put them on yourself. The participant is active in it. Passive restraints require no action by the user. That's why the early 90s cars that could not put airbags in had those automatic seat belts. They fit the criteria as passive devices.

  14. You could have included that the airbag and the crumple-zone was invented by the Germans and Mercedes Benz because they cared

  15. GM decades before the Corvair refused to put safety glass because of costs. People were getting decapitated. Alfred Sloan then had the famous quote, "GM does not make cars, it makes money".

  16. This is a very superficial look at passenger safety development and progression. Look up what companies like Volvo and Mercedes have done long before any US regulation existed.

  17. They skipped over the part where they began crash testing cars in the 60s with crash test dummies before seat belts or any other safety features. The videos were horrific because dummies were getting flung and decapitated all over the place. It's like people didn't realize how truly dangerous the physics of cars really was until they started crashing them in front of cameras.

  18. Must have automotive safety systems

  19. Fuck pussy ass Ralph nadar! Iโ€™ll fuckin kill my self in my vehicle if I want! This is America ! I hate libruls!!!

  20. Iโ€™d rather die by getting my head chopped off than die by driving a Mitsubishi Mirage or a Mitsubishi Lettuce

  21. No matter which car are u driving, if u will hit Renault Magnum or MAN TGX with his trailer in head on crush in normal speed 100km/h + u will be dead on the spot. It has nothing to do with safety. If ur passing by a truck and in this truck's tire will blow out the truck can smash u from the planet like a faqing insect in one second.

  22. Cars will actually be safe if the government does the right thing and bans cars with engines that can reach more than 75 miles per hour. That is the speed limit in almost every state already. But because people like speeding they use the capability of cars to increase likelyhood of crashes and increase lethality. The US govt should have more balls and impose more safety demands.

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