The Experimental Safety Vehicle Program: Driving Evolution

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

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

Follow Yahoo! Autos

RESEARCH A CAR

More Articles

  • Wolfgang Dürheimer retakes the reins at Bentley and Bugatti

    Wolfgang Dürheimer is still in play, with Bentley Motors announcing that he will return to the Chairman and CEO slot of the English company and French division Bugatti on June 1, 2014. He'll probably remember those chairs ...

  • VW previews retouched 2014 Touareg for Beijing

    Volkswagen is in New York this week showing off its new Jetta and Golf TDI SportWagen concept. But in less than a week, the German automaker will be off to China for the Beijing Motor Show, where ...

  • Nissan will expand free* charging incentive to 25 Leaf markets

    New Leaf buyers will get to charge for free at public chargers for two years. Within limits: a max of 30 minutes at CHAdeMO and an hour at Level 2 stations.

  • 2015 Nissan Versa Sedan continues to prioritize space and price over looks

    Nissan's refresh of its cavernous Versa Sedan is on hand today at the 2014 New York Auto Show. While we continue to appreciate the Versa for its space and low price, this slight restyling of the four-door sedan hasn't done much for its uninspiring appearance. Newly enlarged headlights and a reworked, more Altima-like …

  • Mini lifts veil on refreshed Countryman in New York

    When Mini introduced the Countryman in 2010, it emerged as the brand's first crossover, its first five-door model and its first to offer all-wheel drive. It also arrived mid-lifecycle in the last generation of Mini Cooper hatchback, with which it shares little more than a passing family resemblance. Now that the Anglo-Saxon …