The 10 Most Unnecessary Car Safety Features In History

It seems like every model year, carmakers come out with a new safety feature. Often, these improvements do actually help prevent injuries and deaths (which lowers auto insurance rates for their drivers). But auto manufacturers haven’t always been as adept at creating successful safety features. Here are 10 such cases.

 

Pedestrian-catching front fender – Over a century ago, the O’Leary Fender Company tried to prevent injuries from pedestrian accidents. So in 1907, it created a mesh cradle fender which supposedly sprang forward in a collision to "scoop" up the victim and protect him or her from harm. The idea flopped because drivers thought they made the cars look ugly (the fenders, not the pedestrians). clip_image002
   
Vacuum cup tires – In 1917, the Pennsylvania Rubber Company wanted to invent a better-gripping tire. So it put hundreds of little vacuum cups on the outside of the treads. It probably made you feel like you were driving on a bubble-wrapped street. clip_image004
   

Knee belts  – There are belts for torsos and laps, so why not for knees as well? The 1973 Volkswagen Experimental Safety Vehicle was outfitted with knee belts for all occupants (see #15 in the diagram). It’s unclear how women with long dresses were able to gracefully secure the belts.

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Rear swiveling seats – The 1957 Aurora Safety Car assumed that your seat could act as extra protection in a frontal crash. So engineers designed the front seats to automatically swivel to the rear if a crash was imminent. Of course, it didn’t account for injuries which might be sustained by spinning in your seat like in an amusement park ride.

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Safety colors – When you’re walking after dark, you should wear bright-colored clothing, right? The 1974 Bricklin SV-1 took this concept a step further with its ultra-bright exterior colors, which were called Safety Orange, Safety Green, and Safety White. They might even be helpful if a driver somehow forgot to use the vehicle’s headlights at night.

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Collapsible steering wheel – Before there were airbags, the 1986 Audi 100 featured a collapsible steering wheel. A "programmed contraction-tension system" made up of numerous cables would pull the steering wheel into the dashboard during a collision. Of course, the driver could still get injured by the dashboard itself.

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Body padding – If you put more padding around the outside of something, impact forces will be reduced. Or so the thinking went when designers put rubber bumpers and side padding on the 1971 Fiat ESV 1500. It certainly made the car more noticeable (but not in a good way).

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"Simon" ignition process – Remember the game Simon, where you try to repeat a random sequence of colored lights? The 1972 British-Leyland MG SSV1 actually made the driver do this before starting the car, using a set of colored buttons in the cabin. It was designed to test a driver’s alertness, and it blocked the vehicle’s ignition for an hour if the person failed the test.

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Automatic fire extinguishers – American Machine and Foundry wanted to build a new type of car. That’s why the 1972 AMF-2 was equipped with several unique attributes… includi

ng an automatic fire extinguishing system which would deploy after a collision. Unfortunately, such a safety feature was probably be overkill in a minor fender bender.

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Child safety seats – Uh, oh – this may make some people upset. But Stephen Dubner and Steven Leavitt, authors of the book "SuperFreakonomics," discovered that child car seats aren’t statistically any better at preventing deaths in auto collisions than seat belts are for kids between the ages of 3 and 6 (18.2% vs. 18.1%). They note that the often-cited NHTSA data about how child car seats lower fatalities by 54% is true – when compared to kids who don’t wear seat belts at all.

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Image credits: autos.sympatico.ca, auto.howstuffworks.com

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