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From Seat Belts to Tax: How Have Car Rules & Regulations Changed

Car rules and regulations have changed considerably over the years, from the reduced safety of early models through to better seatbelt regulations, collision prevention and precrash systems, and rates of tax and emission charges for vehicles.

Regulations have followed as the result of scientific reports, as well as by the creation of bodies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the World Forum for the Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations. These areas are developed below:

Early Changes

The use of seatbelts can be documented as early as 19th century carts and saddle shops, and became part of the development of the commercial motor car in the 1900s, albeit without strict regulations on safety. Seatbelts became increasingly common in 1930s with the development of barrier crash tests, and were a standard feature of North American cars by the end of the 1950s.

Europe followed a similar approach, with the Swedish Saab in 1958 being one of the first vehicles to make seatbelts compulsory. Similar changes were made to ensure that rear belt safety laws were also made law. Australia became the first country to make the wearing of seatbelts compulsory in the early 1970s, and the UK followed, eventually made it compulsory for children under the age of 14 in 1989.

In terms of child’s car seats, versions were again available during the early development of motor vehicles, but became more of a formal recommendation in 1962, with some form of child restraint mandated as law across the EY in 2006, whether for seats or for some form of passive restraint when driving. Regulations for car safety in general expanded during the 1960s and 1970s as new institutions like the UN mandated World Forum for the Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations was joined by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Highway Safety Act of 1970.

New rules included stricter regulations on front and rear gag lamps, padded steering wheels, daytime running lamps, the standardisation of foot controls, crash worthiness, head restraints and airbags. Crash tests and roll checks also became important, as did the use of padded instrument panels and collapsible steering wheels, as well as hazard flashers.

The creation of EuroNCAP rules in 1997 developed these regulations further and when searching for a used car make sure you check the EuroNCAP star rating. Precrash systems have also become increasingly mandated for new manufacturing. They include night vision, automatic night vision, brake assist, and radar based sensors on multiple models.

Tax and Emissions

Gradual pressure increased between the 1990s and the 2000s for more regulations on car emissions, as well as measures to reduce noise, average fuel consumption and engine safety. Excise and road duty taxes have been part of UK law since 1909, and were primarily designed to help build new roads, leading to the Roads Act of 1920. Registration numbering was also mandated by this Act of Parliament.

While the use of road and excise tax to build roads was abolished in 1955, new tax bands were introduced in the 2000s that provided graded levels of payment for cars with different CO2 emissions. The lowest vehicles, typically hybrids and electric cars, could expect to pay 0% tax in some cases. In the US, taxation on cars varies by state.