How The Auto Industry Changed America’s Roads

Dashboard of an antique carThough it seems hard to believe in 2017, there once was a time when you found more people walking than driving – particularly in Connecticut’s cities. Trolley service was also a part of urban life – moving thousands efficiently every day.

Enter the Ford Motor Company and the Model T in 1908. Suddenly the automobile became a central part of American life – and changed the way we lived forever.

It’s interesting to note that for many Americans living in cities in the U.S., the arrival of the automobile was unwelcome. Streets, once the domain of pedestrians and an occasional trolley car, increasingly became the domain of the motorcar.

And with an increase in motorcar traffic came an ever steeper rise in accidents involving cars and pedestrians.

In the first four years after World War I, more Americans died in automobile accidents than had been killed during battle in Europe.

In the early years of the automobile, there were no crosswalks and few if any street signs – and few if any laws governing the use of cars. In that period, drivers were not even required to be licensed.

By the end of the 1920s, more than 200,000 Americans had been killed by automobiles. Most of the fatalities involved pedestrians in cities…the majority of those killed were children.

The crisis actually grew so grave that Herbert Hoover launched the National Conference on Street and Highway Safety as Commerce Secretary under President Coolidge.   Organizations interested in the topic of road safety were invited to attend, with the mission to establish standardized traffic regulations for the nation.

Sadly, the conference’s biggest players were all representatives of the auto industry.   As a result, the group’s recommendations prioritized private motor vehicles over all other transit modes.

Does this story have a familiar ring?

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Fatal Car Accidents on the Rise in Connecticut and U.S.

Unbelted drivers accounted for over 50% of all traffic fatalities in 2016.

The fervent hope of traffic safety experts and automakers was that new safety technologies would make automobile accidents, particularly fatal ones, increasingly rare.

Add technology to concerted efforts to curb driving under the influence and the use of cell phones by drivers, and roads should be the safest they have been in years – right?

Data from 2016 shows just the opposite with a 10% jump in the number of people dying in car accidents in Connecticut in 2016, the second consecutive year of such increases.

And the U.S. as a whole – also two consecutive years of rising death rates (up 14%) – the first such two-year rise in more than 50 years.

So what’s going on?

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