Thursday, July 23, 2015

FranktoidTM No. 15 - Safety First

Safety equipment on vehicles today is not only the norm, it's expected. And as manufactures have discovered, it is a big selling point. It was not too long ago that safety was actually the last thing on a automobile engineer's mind. It wasn't that safety items weren't thought of or invented, it was that they were expensive to put in a mass produced vehicle. I don't know if back then it was too hard to sell a consumer on safety items or if the major automobile corporations just didn't want to spend the money to make their vehicles safer.

There were a few car companies that use to exist that were way ahead of their time, both in innovation and safety. The stories vary but some were bought out and others were driven out of business. This was usually because of a superior design or feature that if left unchecked, could potentially catch on with consumers and eventually force the large manufactures to adopt a similar feature or design which would ultimately affect their profits. Heck, there was even a movie made about one such company called Tucker: The Man and His Machine. Another company that was ahead of it's time was Kaiser Motors Corporation. As early as 1950, the then Kaiser-Frazer Corporation started engineering safety features into their cars. By 1953 Kaiser had what they called "the world's first 'safety first' car". To quote General Manager Edgar F. Kaiser, "We chose safety before horsepower." In brief, these safety features included the following:
1) A padded crash panel which extends the full width of the dash.
2) Seat design that cradles passenger weight at a point near the center gravity, below the tire line.
3) Extra leg room so that passengers ride in a safer semi-reclining position.
4) A safety mounted one piece windshield designed to "give" upon severe impact.
5) Location of the hand brake brake in it's most accessible position.
6) All instrument panel controls recessed below the dash surface.

This was 1953 folks! Jump in a '53 Ford or Chevy and see how many of these features they have. It wasn't until 1959 that Congress passed legislation requiring all automobiles to comply with certain safety standards. Keep in mind that even seat belts were an option back then that you had to pay extra for and that's only if the manufacturer offered them. Believe it or not seat belts were not made mandatory in passenger vehicles until 1968. So the next time you go new car shopping take a minute and think about this: most of the safety features on today's cars that we take for granted weren't even available to most of our grandparents...

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