The Experimental Safety Vehicle Program: Driving Evolution

Bill Wilson
6 July 2013

The 1970s transformed the automobile industry in countless ways, many of them similar to the changes that came over the US after the frontier was settled. Sanity prevailed over exuberance, adventure took a back seat to safety, and government made its presence known like never before. One way that it did so was by announcing the Experimental Safety Vehicle (ESV) program in 1973, a program designed to encourage automakers to develop new safety technologies.

Responding to the challenge, companies came forward with vehicles that ranged from the brilliant to the ludicrous. In 1972, GM was already working on a vehicle with an enhanced front bumper and steel side beams in the doors. Large B-pillars provided rollover protection and allowed for wraparound windshields to increase visibility.  A cutting-edge device called an air bag also made an appearance in that vehicle. Designed to protect the driver, it deployed during crashes with speeds exceeding 30 MPH.

Volkswagen introduced its first ESV in 1972. The car was designed to ensure survivability for passengers at speeds of up to 50 MPH. It included forward-thinking innovations like anti-lock brakes and three-point safety belts with force limiters and pretensioners. On the other hand, it also had features like an overhead “safety blanket” that dropped down on the heads of passengers in case of an accident.

Mercedes-Benz Experimental Safety Vehicle
Mercedes-Benz Experimental Safety Vehicle

The ESV program has continued into the 21st century, spawning ongoing developments such as rear-facing cameras, collision sensors, and seats that push seats inward in the event of a crash.  Looking towards the future, ideas currently being tested include sensors that detect when the driver is tired and cars driven entirely by computers. None of this is as exciting as a 1960s muscle car with 4-barrel carbs, of course. But, as even cowboys must admit, it’s worth giving up a little excitement for safer roads and a better world.

PHOTOS: See more of the 1973 Mercedes-Benz Experimental Safety Vehicle on BoldRide

Photo Credits: Car & Driver, Mad4Wheels

What to read next

Hilton HHonors™ Card

Get 75,000 Hilton HHonors™ Bonus Points! Terms Apply. Offer ends 5/4

Why The Networks Won't Run Ads For This Product

Discover how TiVo BOLT lets you automatically skip entire commercial breaks with the touch of a button.

Mortgage rates fall to new low- 3.11% APR

$250,000 for $972/month. No points. Get multiple mortgage offers in minutes. Can't hurt to look. It's free. (3.11% APR 5/1 ARM).

Symptoms and Treatments for Prostate Cancer

The 5-Year survival rate for prostate cancer is almost 100%. Learn what to watch for and search for prostate cancer treatments here.

Drivers Born Between 1953 And 1983 Must Read This

United States drivers who drive less than 50mi/day will be surprised. If you pay more than $50/month for auto insurance, you better read this...

Tour New Models at Westphalia Town Center

Grand opening of this sought-after mixed-used community offering urban-suburban living. From the low $300s with closing cost assistance. Visit today!