From cruise control to self-driving mode: a history of automated car innovations | Photo slideshow of Jackson Progress-Argus

From cruise control to self-driving mode: a history of automated car innovations |  Photo slideshow of Jackson Progress-Argus

It may seem that technological advances in motor vehicle safety have only been around since the mid-20th century, but in fact it has been 120 years since one of the earliest forms of what we now know as cruise control appeared. The 1904 Wilson-Belcher Phaeton featured a speed regulator attached to the center of the camshaft, allowing the driver to maintain the speed rating via a lever on the steering column.

Thus began the “road to automation”. The development of driver assistance systems in the latter half of the 20th century focused primarily on passive/active safety features, such as seat belts, anti-lock braking systems, and of course cruise control. In the past 20 years, automatic technology innovations designed for driver assistance and safety have accelerated at an exponential rate. Marketed collectively as advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS, automation technology currently impacts nearly every aspect of a vehicle’s operation. The analogue version of cruise control popularized in the 1950s has given way to adaptive or active cruise control, which relies on cameras and radar to regulate the vehicle’s speed.

Automated driver assistance technology now helps with everything from parallel parking and reversing to lane changes and obstacle detection. Many of these features are now standard on new cars, and more innovations are expected in the near future. Traffic congestion assistance and full driverless automation that takes the driver out of the vehicle operation equation entirely are seen by the auto industry as a game-changer in terms of reducing the number of accidents and collisions and saving lives.

In 2020 alone, nearly 40,000 people died in car accidents, and according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, human error is the leading cause of vehicle accidents — from distracted driving to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs to simply driving while Sleepiness. The move toward widespread deployment of in-vehicle safety technology sets a timeline for sustained success and more potential for the future. has compiled a history of automated driving innovations citing data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, auto manufacturers’ press releases and announcements, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to identify notable advances in technology-based vehicle safety features.

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