Delegating to the Automobile: Experimenting with Automotive Restraints in the 1970s


This article explores the attempts in the United States in the 1970s to implement a new paradigm for automobile safety—crashworthiness, the idea that automobile passengers should be protected in the event of a crash. A large number of strategies were proposed, including air bags, seatbelt modifications, mandatory belt-use laws, and ignition interlocks. Many of these did not initially come to fruition, but they did give the automobile safety community a chance to experiment with different ways of distributing responsibilities between automobile occupants, automobile manufacturers, and, to a lesser extent, government agencies. These experiments helped pave the way for the successful implementation of a number of new strategies in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.