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> Mass-Produced Safety Cars
 

Ford launched a major advertising campaign for its Lifeguard Design package on 1956 Ford and Mercury cars. A dish-shaped steering wheel, clustered knobs and instruments, and stronger door latches were standard equipment. At additional cost, motorists could order lap belts, a padded dashboard, padded sun visors, and a shatter-resistant rear view mirror. Sales were brisk at first but soon were outpaced by the 1956 Chevrolet, which sported new styling and optional lap belts, shoulder harnesses, and padded dashboard.

Robert McNamara, general manager of the Ford Division, believed that manufacturers had a moral obligation to study safety issues, develop protective safety hardware, and educate consumers. He also thought that life protection could sell cars. The National Safety Forum, a two-day conference in 1955 with crash tests and announcements of new safety features on the 1956 cars, was Ford’s attempt to raise the profile of auto safety research and intrigue the public.

Ad for the 1956 Ford with optional safety hardware
Ad for the 1956 Ford with optional safety hardware
1957 Chevrolet with dents and cracks made by the driver and passengers in a collision
1957 Chevrolet with dents and cracks made by the driver and passengers in a collision

Few car buyers took advantage of optional seat belts and padded dashboards available from automobile manufacturers in the late 1950s. Some motorists knew the benefits of strapping themselves into their cars, but few actually purchased and wore seat belts. Some motorists didn't want to be trapped inside their cars, and others didn't want a visible reminder that an accident could happen while they were driving. Seat belts implied to some drivers that the car was unsafe or their competence was being questioned.

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NEW CARS WITH OPTIONAL SEAT BELTS IN NEW YORK CITY, 1955 - 1956

Make.................. Cars Equipped with Seat Belts

Buick ................................0.25%

Chevrolet.......................... 0.3%

Ford................................. 3.0%

Source: Company records

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