Celebrating ‘Road Safety Heroes’ this National Road Safety Week

This year’s theme for National Road Safety Week (15-21 November) is ‘Road Safety Heroes’. In celebration, we take a look at some of the world’s pioneering road safety heroes, whose innovation and creativity have profoundly improved our safety on the roads.

Nils Bohlin (seatbelt)

Image source: Volvo Cars 

Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin developed the modern three-point seat belt in 1959. Although the design was patented, the company decided the patent was to be left open, making it available to all vehicle manufacturers to use for free. This rather unconventional decision was made in the greater interest of public safety, to ensure that everyone, independently of whether they drove a Volvo or not, could be safer in traffic [1]. Legislation to make seatbelt wearing in the front seats compulsory was passed in the UK in 1981 and became law in 1983. It is estimated that seatbelts save at least 2,000 lives per year in the UK alone [2].

Garrett Augustus Morgan (traffic light)

Image source: Biography.com

The traffic light (also known as a traffic signal) was invented by the American businessman who patented his invention in 1923. Traffic lights replaced traffic wardens manually operating signs, and were first installed in Cleveland, Ohio. Traffic lights are essential in controlling pedestrian and vehicle traffic by assigning the priorities to some traffic movements to stimulate the flow of traffic and assist in reducing the severity and frequency of many accidents, particularly the right-angle collision [3].

Percy Shaw (cat’s eye reflectors)

Image source: The Guardian 

88 years ago, Percy Shaw almost veered off the road on a foggy night in Yorkshire. In the commotion a noticed a pair of bright cat’s eyes gazing at him in his headlights. In this Eureka moment, Percy realised that reflectors in the road could guide drivers at night in all types of weather. The following year he patented the cat’s eye, using glass bead reflectors wrapped in a rubber casing and iron box embedded in the road. When a vehicle drove over the reflector, the rubber and glass beads were pushed down below the road surface, and it was self-cleaning – the iron shoe filled with rainwater and pushing the top down made the rubber squirt water and clean the cat’s eye [4].

Mario Palazzetti (electronic ABS)

Image source: Reuters 

Although mechanical anti-lock braking systems (ABS) were first trialled in aircraft in the 1920s, it was found to be expensive and unreliable in cars. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that Mario Palazzetti developed the modern electronic ABS system that is now the standard in the auto world [5]. The improved braking provided by ABS is beyond doubt. Tests have shown that a car fitted with ABS braking on tarmac will stop in a far shorter distance than an identical non-ABS car, even if that car is being driven by somebody who is experienced in cadence braking. The other benefit of ABS is that the car’s steering will still work while using maximum brake pressure. In a car with locked wheels, the forward motion of the car will overcome the grip of the tyres and any steering lock that has been applied. But as the ABS-equipped car’s wheels will still be rotating, the car will follow the direction of the steered wheels [6].

These innovations only scratch the surface of all the road safety heroes out there and we cannot forget first responders such as police, paramedics and firefighters too. Volunteers also play an essential role, and if you’d like to learn more about National Road Safety Week or to get actively involved, click here.

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