Gains in U.S. highway safety since the 1960s have been enormous—but slow.
Among the milestones:
1959: Engineer Nils Bohlin invents the three-point seat belt; Volvo patents it.
1968: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requires two-point lap belts for drivers and front-seat passengers. Seat belt use rises, then declines in the late `70s and early `80s, until federally led campaigns get more people to buckle up.
1978: Mercedes-Benz starts offering anti-lock brakes, which prevent wheel lock-up during emergency braking. They catch on slowly and still aren't standard on all cars.
1995: Mercedes-Benz starts offering electronic stability control, which can prevent skidding, on some models. Automakers adopt it slowly, often as an option.
1997: The NHTSA requires that all new passenger cars come with air bags for drivers and front-seat passengers. A year later, the rule is extended to SUVs, vans and light trucks.
2006: Electronic stability control is standard or available as an option in two-thirds of new SUVs and light trucks and a quarter of new passenger cars
These and other highway safety measures—excluding ESC, which hasn't been measured yet—have saved more than 328,000 lives since 1960, according to the NHTSA.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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