In spite of the seductive appeal of sleek new car models or the latest gadgets they carry, among the biggest selling points of any vehicle are its safety features. Vehicles that come embedded with such features and technological enhancements make driving easier and safer for everyone. But, once upon a time, military forces were the premier inventive force behind today’s automotive safety technological innovations.

From armored mechanized units to jet fighters, the latest military vehicles have paved the way and taken the lead in empowering the military, enhancing technological advantages on the battlefield. And as companies transitioned from wartime efforts to peace, many of their features and technology found their way into the automotive industry in general.

Thanks to defense agencies and innovative engineers, much of the same technology used to gain advantages on the battlefield is now being employed to enhance automotive safety and driveability features.

Here are five of the most prominent military technologies that have trickled down and transformed to become safety features in commercial cars today.

1. Anti-lock brakes

The demand for anti-lock brakes arose during the transition era between World War I and World War II.

In 1929, the first concept anti-lock brakes were developed to address the issues surrounding heavy bomber aircrafts landing hard and having difficulty stopping. Often, they would require long runways to stop and would find their tires bursting in the process. Anti-lock brakes addressed all these issues, enabling heavy bomber aircrafts to operate within the parameters of frontline battlefields.

The concept of anti-lock brakes remained unchanged until the early 1970s when manufacturers started deploying aircrafts with electronic anti-lock braking systems (ABS). It was around this time that General Motors started introducing similar ABS systems as part of their vehicle safety features.

2. Heads-up displays

Originally part of aviation technology, heads-up displays (HUDs) have been used by many automotive companies to reduce the risk of traffic accidents caused by driver distraction and driver error. HUDs project critical driving information such as speed and navigation directly on a designated spot on the windshield. This eliminates the need for drivers to look down to their smartphone or GPS device, keeping their eyes and awareness on the road.

3. Four-wheel drive mechanism

The benefits of the four-wheel drive (FWD) mechanism are numerous and self-evident. And though this safety feature was first introduced in 1903 on the Dutch sports car Spyker, it wouldn’t make its way to commercial vehicles until 1980. Before then, the four-wheel drive function was used only by manufacturers of military vehicles to navigate harsh operational conditions and difficult terrain.

Audi would be the first commercial manufacturer to introduce the four-wheel drive feature to the masses, debuting the 1980 Quattro with FWD technology. And though the Quattro received relatively modest sales figures, its ability to influence the sport of rally racing made the four-wheel drive an attractive highly sought-after feature.

4. Global positioning system

Before the global positioning system or GPS was marketed to the masses, drivers employed hand-annotated maps and paper atlases, or simply asked for personal directions to navigate roads and streets. It was a cumbersome exercise that required careful plotting and a rough determination of your position on the map according to mile markers and exits.

The introduction of GPS technology resulted in many benefits for drivers and society as a whole. Motorists can now decrease their drive time on the road as well as fuel costs. With it also come enhanced safety and general directional awareness among drivers. But few know that GPS navigation was a result of the U.S. Department of Defense’s wartime efforts to guide ships and missiles.

5. Active cruise control and lane departure warning systems

Borrowing from aviation military hardware, active cruise control and lane departure warning systems aid drivers by addressing issues such as drowsiness, distractions or driver error. Both use sensors and sophisticated recognition software to maintain safe driving conditions for your vehicle from cars in front and around it.

Another similar safety feature that employs military hardware to detect and minimize collisions through the use of sensors is the blind spot warning system.

Though a lot of automotive features and enhancements may appear ubiquitous in many modern vehicles, safety features such as these did not always exist. Indeed, not too long ago, such safety technology was seen as some sort of novelty add-on rather than standard features.

Thanks to the transformative and forward-thinking approach of military and defense firms, civilians now have a number of innovative technologies to consider for them to keep safe while on the road.


Miles Chambers

Senior International Business Development and Sales Manager, NIMR Automotive LLC

Miles Chambers joined NIMR Automotive in October 2016 as Senior International Business Development and Sales Manager. In this capacity, Miles oversees NIMR Automotive’s expansion to Global markets, particularly into Europe and Southeast Asia. In addition to his responsibilities at NIMR Automotive, Miles is the Chairman of the Azerbaijan-South Africa Chamber of Commerce.