On the road for the holidays? Your car is much safer now than 40 years ago

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As you drive to your parents’ or grandparents’ home this holiday season, listen to the hum of the engine and imagine taking the trip 40 years ago. Your car would have looked very different, and many of the safety features you now have evolved greatly – or not even existed.

Over the past 40 years, vehicle safety devices have improved and often have become mandatory to help protect passengers. Here are a few examples:


The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards began requiring seatbelts in new vehicles in 1968, but they weren’t the three-point seatbelts (lap and shoulder belt combined) you use today. Back in those days, holiday driving probably was more of an “Everyone pile into the car and let’s go to Grandmas.” The seat belts may not have been used because they didn’t retract and required a lot of patience to securely fasten.

Seatbelts are also recommended for pets, in an effort to keep the animals from distracting the driver or becoming an injury threat if they are tossed around inside the car during a crash or sudden stop. Forty years ago, the only way pets were contained in vehicles was if they were being held in a passenger’s arms.


Airbags are another safety feature that has been modified and reinvented over the years. American car dealers started putting them into specific models in the 1970s, and they became more standard in the late 1980s. But it wasn’t until 1998 that airbags became a mandatory addition to all vehicles.

Anti-lock brakes

Anti-lock brakes first became available on American cars in 1978, but aren’t required to be installed on new models. ABS prevents the wheels from locking when a driver needs to stop suddenly. It also helps the driver control the direction of the car, helping to prevent it from swerving.

If you’re flying to your destination and picking up a holiday rental car, make sure you check to see if the vehicle you’re renting has ABS offered to give you more protection. Because not every manufacturer installs ABS, it’s in your best interest to find rentals with this option.

With so many new safety features and enhancements protecting your family as you head out for the holidays, make sure you also practice safe driving habits so you can arrive on time and in good shape.