A Century of Automobile Safety - The 2000s

It was the 2000s that really marked the dawn of the age of autonomy (or semi-autonomy) in road travel.

  • 2002 Toyota Camry

In a way, this was when it began. The 80s and 90s had seen basic computer-based driver aid systems such as ABS and traction control but it was the 2000s that really marked the dawn of the age of autonomy (or semi-autonomy) in road travel.

This was when the combination of radars, cameras, and computers saw safety features become more active, more sophisticated and more automated in ways aimed at mitigating our lapses behind the wheel.

Toyota’s first radar system appeared in 2003, which may not seem like too long ago, but remember this. The First iPhones were still four years away. Instead, we were beguiled by the Motorola RAZR flip phone as featured in The Sopranos.

Also Read: The 80’s and 90’s

It wasn’t simply the phones on screen that were grabbing our attention. The rise in cell phone ownership gave rise to an increase in distracted driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that 2% of drivers were talking on a phone at the time of the crash or near-crash scenario.

Phones weren’t even the only distraction” GPS systems, (as well as less sophisticated distractions like eating and drinking) also helped contribute to an estimated 431,000 injuries resulting from distracting drivers according to the NHTSA.

It seemed like just when technological developments were opening new avenues in car safety technology, new challenges were being created. This is why the active safety features mattered even more.

By 2004, we started seeing Toyotas with both lane-keep assist systems and adaptive cruise control, and by ’06, cars were already starting to “learn” what the driver was doing – or, indeed, if they were growing tired and weaving too much – and actually warn them to slow down and take a breather.

2004 Lexus GS

The 2004 Lexus GS featured one of the first versions of Lane Departure Alert.

Technology started expanding from avoiding collisions with other cars to other road users too. The first pedestrian detection systems became available on some Toyota vehicles by 2009.

The new features worked, too; when the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) did a study as to the effectiveness of these systems, it found that they helped reduce crashes by up to 14%.

While improvements in active safety measures were helping drivers avoid collisions, advances in passive safety were helping keep motorists safe when accidents did happen.

Even Supplemental Restraint Systems — known more colloquially as “airbags” – that had been available in cars since the ‘80s continued to see advancement. What started out simply as a single cushion deployed from the steering wheel hub in the mid-80s had become essentially one big air cushion, as rear seat side airbags, rear seat cushion airbags, rear centre airbag and side curtain airbags all began arriving between 2008-2009.

2009 Venza

The 2009 Venza was available with Automatic High Beams.

Airbags would be complemented by additional features such as head-restraint systems that pre-emptively adjusted the headrest to help you brace before impact, and avoid whiplash.

The adoption of active safety tech spread like wildfire throughout the decade and showed no pace of slowing down. In the midst of this proliferation of safety technology, it would be easy to lose sight of which features should be the ones that all cars had to have.

Doing so would mean identifying the biggest safety challenges as well as what technology would be best suited to address these problems. Solving this would set a new baseline for vehicle safety that would ensure that all drivers reap the benefit of a decade’s worth of technological advances.

It was in this context that Toyota Safety Sense was developed.

The automobile has been a crucial part of our technological success over the last 100 years. Evolving from slow-moving horse drawn carriages—vehicles today are fast, connected, have engines that can be powered by electrons or fossil fuels, are capable of driving themselves and have achieved a level of occupant safety that was a dream just 20 years ago.

Join Wheels.ca as we take a journey through the last century and explore the evolution of automobile safety from its infancy to thoroughly modern systems like those found on Toyota Safety Sense equipped vehicles. No longer reserved for high-end cars this comprehensive suite of safety technology is designed to protect drivers and pedestrians alike, helping to make our roads safer for travel.

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