Automobile Safety Equipment Required By Law

It’s crazy imagining a time in which there were no federal laws requiring safety features in cars. We’ve come a long way with automobile safety features since the federal government was first authorized in 1966 to set safety standards for new cars. It makes you wonder: What automobile safety equipment is required by law?

Government Mandated Automobile Safety Equipment

Legally Required Car Safety FeaturesIn 1966, the U.S. established the United States 

Department of Transportation with one of its purposes being automobile safety.

1968 brought about the agency which became the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, creating the first Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards requiring safety features such as:

  • Seatbelts (though the law didn’t require their use and most drivers didn’t fully embrace seat belts until the 1990’s)
  • Padded dashboards
  • Driver controls and displays
  • Collapsible steering columns
  • White reverse lights

1969 marked the addition of mandatory head restraints in non-commercial vehicles, addressing the issue of whiplash in rear-end collisions

1986 included the central 3rd brake light to the list of mandated safety features

1999 saw the first mandate requiring antilock brake systems (ABS) for larger multipurpose passenger vehicles, trucks and buses, but you may be surprised to find out that ABS has still never been mandated for the common passenger car.

Legally Required Car Safety Features

Government Mandated Automobile Safety Equipment

In addition to the legally required safety features we’ve come to take for granted, you might be surprised to find just a few more additions to the automobile safety equipment that is required by law.


  • Airbags and Passive-Restraint Systems – Mandated since 1998
  • Inside-Trunk Handle – Mandated since 2001
  • Tire-Pressure Monitor – Mandated since 2007
  • Electronic Stability Control – Mandated since 2012



While this covers the most notable mandatory safety equipment for most passenger cars and trucks, the legal requirements for automobile safety equipment vary from one type of vehicle to another. Larger automobiles such as commercial trucks, trailers, and buses see other regulations affecting brake systems, side visibility, specific tire and rim selection, and more.

For a complete list of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, click here.



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