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As more and more cars made their first appearance on American roads in the early 1900s, the number of deaths and injuries from traffic accidents shot up, particularly when compared to those resulting from railroad accidents. In 1915, for example, there were only 199 fatalities among railroad passengers compared to 6,600 among motorists and pedestrians. Ten years later, by 1925, there were 171 railroad fatalities, but 21,900 for motorists and pedestrians.
As early as the 1920s, the National Safety Council was trying to draw attention to the dangers with accident statistics.
Keeping Americans safe on the road was quickly becoming a problem that needed solutions.
Some came in the form of the design of cars or roads, shatter-resistant windshields for example. Others tackled drivers’ behavior, whether speeding or drinking while driving.
There was an inconsistency in the implementation of improvements, however. The first seat belt patent was awarded in 1885, but it would be many years before they were used regularly by drivers and passengers.
The Patel Firm put together a list of safety milestones that it gathered from historical records, documents from such government agencies as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Smithsonian Institute, and nonprofit organizations such as the American Automobile Association.
Here is a look at important innovations introduced throughout the years, from traffic signals to seat belts.