ROAD & SAFETY
The Roads Most Travelled
4000 B.C., Mesopotamia (Iraq)
As the birthplace of commercial agriculture, Mesopotamia (Iraq) becomes a hub for all things vegetable and fruit. The area, whose name means “between two rivers,” sits on the Mediterranean Sea between the Euphrates and Tigris. The first stone paved road is built to allow for trade and transportation of crops throughout the region.
The Roads Most Travelled
4000 B.C., Harappa (Pakistan)
The same year that Mesopotamia pioneers the paved road, stone streets are built in Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, Indian subcontinent cities in modern day Pakistan, reflecting the brilliance of the ancient city planners of the region. These well-constructed thoroughfares are even more unique for the era than their Iraqi-based predecessor as they include covered drains to combat flooding, are long and straight, and have right-angled intersections. The city planners also take pains to create neighborhoods by separating business and residential districts with homes lining either side of the street and built in varying designs and sizes.
The Roads Most Travelled
3806 B.C., Glastonbury, Somerset, England
Almost two hundred years after Mesopotamia and Harappa/Mohenjo-Daro establish the paved road, more durable streets begin popping up in small pockets of Western Europe. One example is the Sweet Track built during the dry period in lush, marsh-ridden Glastonbury, Somerset, in Great Britain by Neolithic farmers. The 2 km (1.24 mile) trackway travels across a large bog between an island at Westhay and a ridge of high ground at Shapwick. It allows the farmers to travel between islands and transport goods.
The Royal Road
500 B.C., Persia
Darius the Great (Darius I) is the Persian King of the first Persian Empire. His rule is vast and protecting it is vital. Part of that protection is the ability to get messages across his empire faster and more efficiently than anyone else. To ensure this, Darius perfects an ancient highway that has long been part of the Silk Road, creating what the “Father of History,” Greek historian, Herodotus, names “The Royal Road.”
It covers an over 1500 mile route from the Aegean coastline to the capital of Persia, Susa, where the imperial palace resides. The road is built to allow the incredible mounted Persian messengers known as chapars to cross that distance in seven days as opposed to the 90 it normally takes. Darius posts 111 relay stations along the road — one every 15 miles — each housing fresh horses and replacement chapars to step in to maintain an uninterrupted ride. It is this commitment that prompts Herodotus to note, “There is nothing that travels faster, and yet is mortal, than these couriers; the Persians invented this system, which works as follows.
“It is said that there are as many horses and men posted at intervals as there are days required for the entire journey, so that one horse and one man are assigned to each day. And neither snow nor rain nor heat nor dark of night keeps them from completing their appointed course as swiftly as possible.” His “neither snow nor rain nor…” observation goes on to become the unofficial motto of the United States Postal Service.
The Royal Road
500 B.C., Lidia
The route is said to begin in the city of Ephesus located on the coast of ancient Lydia, an Iron Age kingdom in western Asia Minor on the Aegean Sea. It continues on into the capital, Sardis, and beyond. Lydia becomes the province of Achaemenid Persian Empire in 546 BC, after the Persian king, Cyrus The Great, wins the Battle of Thymbra and captures the city of Sardis.
The Royal Road
500 B.C., Halys River
The next stop on the Royal Road is east through the middle northern part of what is now Turkey, crossing the Halys River and traveling on.
The Royal Road
500 B.C., Gordion
The road moves on through Gordion, part of the Kingdom of Phrygia and the empire of King Midas - historically and mythologically. Legend says that Phrygia was without a king and in chaos. They needed someone to come and instill order. An oracle tells the people who have crowded into the city square that the next man who comes into town on a wagon pulled by oxen will be their king.
Midas rides in with his mother and father, whose name is Gordios — hence, the town name of Gordion — on an ox cart and is immediately made king. He is so grateful, he donates the cart to the town and the god, Zeus, tying his wagon to a pole in the square with an unbreakable knot — a Gordian Knot. The knot is so intricate and impossible to loosen, another oracle goes on to say that whoever can break the Gordian Knot will rule all of Asia. Alexander the Great comes along, uses his sword to break the knot and, yep, conquers Asia.
The Royal Road
500 B.C., Ankara, Cappodocia, Cilicia, the Euphrates, Tigris, Assyria, Susa
The Royal Road continues its progress through Ankara, Cappodocia, Cilicia, across the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, on into Assyria until, finally, ending in Susa, the ancient capital of Persia. Not only is it the spot of Darius the Great’s imperial palace, it also touts one of the earliest examples of innovative water engineering with its ancient Roman-built plumbing system still in use today.
The Amber Road
23 B.C., Russia
Regardless of where it ultimately ends up, the famous Amber Road is the route taken to trade amber throughout parts of Europe, Asia and even Africa. There are several unique routes merchants travel, but there are those that are most known and frequently ridden. Amber has been traded throughout Europe and beyond since 3000 B.C.E. Called “Electron” by the ancient Greeks because it is capable of generating an electrostatic charge. This original name is where the term “electricity” comes from.
Romans build the Amber Road to move this stone that many believe has medicinal as well as magical healing powers. It starts at the Baltic Sea and follows, crosses and uses the waterways of northern Europe, and travels through the Mediterranean and beyond. The first written mention of the road is in Pliny the Elder’s (23-79 BC) writings, but the practice of trading amber is centuries old by this point.
St. Petersburg up on the Baltic Sea is where The Amber Road starts. The coastline in this area is fairly teeming with these golden nuggets of pressed resin, which the Romans and Greeks covet.
The Amber Road
23 B.C., Estonia
Merchants travel on into Estonia with their precious cargo, a country that becomes a bastion of innovation and connectivity in the 21st Century.
The Amber Road
23 B.C., Lithuania
The Amber Road then takes travelers through Lithuania and Poland as they transport the stone through Eastern Europe on the way to more exotic markets.
The Amber Road
23 B.C., Prague
Onward into Prague, Czech Republic. The ancient city is one of the centers of commerce in Europe and highly fortified.
The Amber Road
23 B.C., Hungary
Leaving Czechoslovakia, the Amber Road straddles the border along Austria and Hungary. Along this route, merchants have countless opportunities to buy and sell their wares, including amber itself.
The Amber Road
23 B.C., Venice
Merchants then take the road into Slovenia and Venice, where one way of moving the amber is taken across water while the other continues across land.
The Amber Road
23 B.C., Africa
The precious stone then moves on into Egypt where it is used as jewelry and to adorn regal raiments — it is discovered among the burial goods of King Tutankhamun. Along this long, arduous route, the Amber Road joins with the Silk Road in certain parts of the ancient Orient.
The Amber Road
23 B.C., Greece
The Amber Route snakes its way into Greece where amber is taken to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi as tribute.
The Silk Road
206 B.C., South East Asia
South and East Asia join the ever growing road building frenzy with their own roads. One leads to China’s Imperial Highway in 700 A.D and the other is the famous Silk Road from China to Asia Minor and India chronicled in Marco Polo’s travels from 1270-90 A.D.
The Silk Road starts in Xi’an, China, and moves along the Great Wall where Chinese authorities can monitor who goes in and out of the notoriously cautious country for trade and commerce. Although named for the precious textile, all manner of goods — mainly luxury items such as salt, sugar, porcelain and spices — are traded and transported out of China via the “Silk Road.”
The Silk Road
206 B.C., Afghanistan
These high-end products then cross the Pamir Mountains in the Himalayas and on into Afghanistan.
The Silk Road
206 B.C., Syria
Although there are several reports that show the Silk Road goes all the way into Egypt, the most common reports claim it ends in Levant (Syria). This route is the same one Marco Polo travels with his father and uncle into China then back to the Mediterranean.
The Appian Way
312 B.C., Rome
The Romans go on to create what will become the most advanced road system in the world for centuries to come by building the Via Appia (Appian Way) in Rome in 312 B.C. to expand its empire and make travel to do so that much easier. Built for military purposes, Via Appia begins in Rome, winding its way from the ruling seat down through Italy to its eastern coastline. A secondary route, called the Via Appia Traiana, is created during the reign of Emperor Trajan in 109 B.C. as a shorter route to reach the original ending destination of Via Appia.
The widest and largest road at this time, it is called the “Regina Viarum” (English: “queen of roads”). The Appian Way is the basis of the saying “all roads lead to Rome,” because it was the center of all things during its reign.
The Appian Way
312 B.C., Capua
Capua is the original final destination for this legendary road. Via Appia is constructed to this point to support fast and reliable communication between the Circus Maximus in Rome and this valuable city.
The Appian Way
312 B.C., Bari
Via Appia Traiana then travels along the coast to Barium (Bari) instead of trekking inland going down through the smaller towns that follow Capua.
The Appian Way
312 B.C., Benevento
The total trip along the traditional Appian Way is 365 miles, taking up to 13 days to complete. The shorter Via Appia Traiana splits off in Beneventum (Benevento), which is between Capua and Brundisium (Brindisi), cutting several miles off of the journey.
The Appian Way
312 B.C., Brindisi
Soon, the Appian Way is extended to the port city of Brundisium (Brindisi), site of Otsuni, called “The White City” due to its white-painted walls and buildings. Brundisium is chosen as the final stop for Via Appia because it serves as a port of call for ships leaving for and returning from Greece, Egypt, and North Africa.
Regardless, both routes end in Brundisium (Brindisi). Each are wide, straight and beautifully paved. They are flanked along the last 10 miles by an artificial canal that allows travelers to load up any additional weight they are carrying onto small boats. The road’s width is 14 roman feet (4.15 meters), which makes it wide enough for two chariots to pass while going in opposite directions.
Declaring the Right of Way
“His Majesty commands all coaches, carriages and litters coming from Salvador’s entrance to back up to the same part.” Such is the will of King Peter II of Portugal in 1686 when he lays down his traffic regulations. Portugal’s narrow streets lead the conscientious monarch to create a series of road signs that do more than point you in the right direction. These give specific designation on how travel will be done on different thoroughfares, including who gets the “right of way.” The ancient traffic signs are considered among the earliest responses to actual regulations.
Declaring the Right of Way
While not specific to “right of way,” traffic signs start taking off like gangbusters — not because of motorcars, but thanks to the humble bicycle. Riders of the new and rather silent form of transportation on the roads are getting in quite the pickle as they come across unfamiliar roads or top hills over which riders can’t see. Several fatalities lead the Italian Touring Club to come up with one of the first road signs in 1895.
Declaring the Right of Way
1900 and 1903, Britan & France
By 1900 and 1903, both France and Britain are looking to create some sort of standard for road signs using symbols instead of words so that all nations can understand them.
Declaring the Right of Way
Then in 1908, the International Road Congress in Paris establishes basic patterns for most of the traffic signs, leading nine European governments to agree upon the use of four basic symbols in 1909.
Declaring the Right of Way
1964, North America
By 1964, North America is using both symbols and graphics mixed with English, and traffic signs start to become even more universal. Whatever warning or notice drivers/riders/walkers are being given, so it is now written and illustrated, so it shall be done.
Scottish Engineers, Thomas Telford & John Loudon McAdam Change How Roads are Made Forever
1800s, Western Europe
In the 1800s, Scottish engineers, Thomas Telford and John Loudon McAdam forever change how roads are made. The two men design a system of raising a road’s foundation in the center to allow for water drainage. Telford develops stronger, better roads by studying stone thickness, road traffic, street alignment and gradient slopes.
McAdam creates roads with harder surfaces by using broken stones, placing them in symmetrical, tight patterns and covering all of this with smaller stones.
His design is called “Macadam” after his name and influences the bitumen-based binding called Tarmacadam or tarmac — patented by Edgar Purnell Hooley in 1902. This leads to the Champs-Elysees in Paris being covered by asphalt in 1824, making it the first modern road in Europe.
The Seat of U.S. Government Paves the Way
By the late 1800s, America is now paving its roads, with Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., among the first. Soon, the rest of the world follows, all thanks to the foresight of Ancient Mesopotamians.
Proper Pedestrian Protection Promptly Proceeds
Horses and horse-drawn carriages are still the transport of choice, but a new law is put on the books to protect those on foot that then continues to include “carriage of any description” in its language. In an effort to keep all going smoothly in the relationship between fast moving wheeled contraptions and people on foot, the United Kingdom comes up with The Highway Act of 1835 that concentrates on carriages and fines or charges levied against the driver/owner should he or she break the laws laid down.
One of these rules makes it illegal to drive animals or carriages of any description — this goes on to include motorcars and bicycles — on a footway/sidewalk. However, parking on the sidewalk is perfectly permissible in the U.K.
Proper Pedestrian Protection Promptly Proceeds
1835, Western Europe
Before long, all countries and states in the EU embrace the “no driving vehicles, no matter what kind” on sidewalks or footpaths. Bicycles can, obviously, be ridden on cycle tracks, but nothing motorized unless it is an assistive device for an invalid — electric wheelchair, scooter, etc. that travels 4 mph or less — and DEFINITELY not a Segway, kick-scooter or skateboard (whether or not to allow roller skates is unclear). Interestingly, if a wheelchair or mobility scooter can hit a maximum speed of 8 mph, it is allowed on the road.
Yield the Right-of-way
1835, Oregon, USA
The “don’t drive on the sidewalk” law is embraced by the United States, although Oregon allows motorists to operate their vehicles on a footway as long as they “yield the right-of-way” to the pedestrian.
Throughout the rest of the globe, driving on the sidewalk is illegal, unless you live in Beijing where it is not only legal to NOT stop at a pedestrian crosswalk, but you will be fined if you DO stop.
The First Law of the Road
By 1861, the powers that be in Great Britain are starting to notice more and more horseless carriages sharing the road with their equine counterparts. It looks like these highway locomotives are here to stay and the current laws regarding road transport don’t cover these new machines.
A series of laws called The Locomotives on Highways Act are put together that year, outlining road and bridge tolls, regulation wheel size, speed limits — 10 mph on open roads, 5 mph for cities — the owner’s name and vehicle weight to be displayed on the motorcar, and for all road locomotives to be “manned by at least two persons, with additional persons in charge of trains of wagons, as well as requiring the vehicle to carry functional lights during nighttime.” Fast and the Furious? More like Plodding and the Mildly Annoyed.
Volvo Ahead of Even Its Own Time?
It’s true that Volvo is a pioneer in automotive safety. It’s also true the company is the key to what many consider the single most effective life-saving invention in automobile history with the introduction of the 3-point seat belt in 1959. However, could it be that this innovative auto maker is the true inventor of the safety belt in general?
Supposedly, the Swedish vehicle giant creates the first seat belt in 1849. Based on Volvo’s famous devotion to automobile safety, that claim — made by others, not the automaker — is not so farfetched, except for three things:
1. In 1849, Karl Benz , who is credited with pretty much inventing the first motor vehicle, is only 5 years-old.
2. The company that founded Volvo, SKF, isn’t established until 1907 — 58 years later.
3. If Volvo creates the seat belt in 1849 and freely gives away the patent for its 3-point marvel to all carmakers in 1958, why’d it take 100+ years to innovate the thing? Hmm...
Safety in the First (Real) Flight
English engineer, George Cayley, has lots of money and interest in flight on his hands. SIR George Cayley is the son of the 5th Baronet of Brompton-by-Sawdon who leaves all of his estates to his dutiful son. George takes his interest in engineering to the fields and lands around his homes, fascinated by the possibility of humans flying.
He continues testing out his aerodynamic theories throughout his life, finally building a glider that can support and propel a human in 1853. He’s now almost 80 with a wife concerned about his frail frame, so enlists the aid of his coachman, John Appleby, to do the flying. To ensure as much safety as possible, George invents a safety harness to keep John securely fastened inside.
The glider flies… then crashes into a nearby field, but doesn’t hurt more than John’s pride, who leaves the wreckage to inform his boss, “Sir George, I wish to give notice. I was hired to drive, not fly!” Perhaps, but the reason John didn’t go splat is thanks to that early seat belt. Orville and Wilbur Wright credit the eccentric and innovative Sir George for inspiring their work and his seat fastener — never patented — goes on to change the face of all vehicles over the next century.
A Seat Belt Patent NOT for Seats… or Cars… or...
1885, NYC, USA
Edward J. Claghorn of New York comes up with a grand idea — a rather elaborate configuration to secure people to a fixed object. It has hooks and a buckle, and a belt and… well, it’s got some rather lovely attachments meant to serve as a safety harness for people being raised or lowered on something — tourists, painters, firemen, etc.
He registers it with the U.S. Patent Office and is assigned U.S. Patent 312,085, on February 10, 1885 for a safety belt. Not meant for the virtually unknown “motor car,” Claghorn notes it is designed to be applied to the person, and provided with hooks and other attachments for securing the person to a fixed object. Although a “fixed object” could be a chair or seat, the invention catches pretty much no one’s eye and the automobile industry doesn’t even pay attention as interest in the motor cars it produces starts to grow.
Seeing Red Flags
1865, 1894, 1896, England
Motorized transportation is so new, it scares many of the people and livestock sharing the roads. Therefore, driving them requires taking special precaution. Introducing the Red Flag traffic laws, first created in England in 1865 as part of the Locomotive Acts. If you’re driving one of those newfangled driving machines, you must do so with three people and one of those — and it has to be a man, not a woman — must walk in front waving a red flag TO WARN LIVESTOCK THAT YOU ARE COMING. YES. That’s right.
Seeing Red Flags
The Red Flag Law is adopted by Denmark that same year — supposedly, the law still exists today.
Red Flag Law on the Federal Books
The U.S. puts the Red Flag Law on the federal books in 1894. It still exists in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Memphis, Tennessee in the form of women drivers — and only women drivers — requiring a male — and only a male — to walk in front of the car waving a red flag.
1896. Seeing Red Flags
1896, Pennsylvania, USA
In 1896, the state of Pennsylvania takes it one step further. A bill passes through BOTH houses of the state legislature and reads that when drivers of “horseless carriages” come into contact with horses or livestock on the road, they are required to stop their car, then “immediately and rapidly as possible, disassemble the automobile” AND “conceal the various components out of sight, behind nearby bushes” until the animal(s) mellows out and/or passes. You betcha. The Governor of Pennsylvania, however, nips it in the bud and uses an executive veto to nix it. Can’t imagine why.
The Right of Way Goes to the Horse
1850, Paris, France
Traffic congestion is nothing new. Horse-drawn carriages choke the streets, horsecars — trams pulled by horses along old streetcar lines — abound, and old-fashioned saddle riders are still rampant. Managing the flow of traffic — and the piles of manure, dead equine and noise pollution — is a brute of a job as well as not completely figured out.
Local police are called upon to manage all of this with elaborate hand signals, whistles, manually rotated “STOP” and “GO” signs, pretty much whatever can be put together at these chaotic intersections. In smaller areas, there is no need, really, but in such urban hubs as Paris and New York, these become vital to cut down on the animal and human fatalities suffered from vehicle crashes.
Red Means “Stop,” Green Means “Explode”
John Peake (JP) Knight is a railway signaling engineer in England who’s watching the wave of innovation with these new motorcars having to share the road with trolleys, trams, horse and buggies, and pedestrians. It seems awfully dangerous and a bit haphazard, and he thinks about how he and his fellow engineers manage switching the trains at the railyard using colored and lighted signals.
JP creates something similar using one of the only known power sources of that time: natural gas. He comes up with a red and green signal light that looks just like the era’s railway signals. The apparatus illuminates via gas at night and has semaphore arms that “wave” to different angles to denote whether to STOP or PROCEED WITH CAUTION.
When the arms are at a 90 degree angle, it means STOP and lights up red at night; a 45 degree down angle means PROCEED WITH CAUTION and lights up green at night. The invention is a hit and everyone hopes this will manage the chaos and concern over the new normal of automobiles and horse drawn carriages racing through the streets, dodging pedestrians. The first one is placed just outside of Parliament to see how it goes over.
Sure, it needs to be switched by hand and, okay, it gets a little hot at night, but it’s a success… for a month, until a faulty gas main causes it to explode and severely injure the policeman manning it. Out it goes and the traffic signal stays a distant wish until cars prove themselves to be here to stay, electricity establishes itself, and England installs its first traffic lights in Piccadilly Circus in 1926.
Signing up for Safer Highways
Bicycles are introduced onto the world’s roads in 1817 (although there’s an unverified sketch from 1534 done by Gian Giacomo Caprotti, one of Leonardo da Vinci’s pupils) thanks to German Baron Karl von Drais, a civil servant to the Grand Duke of Baden. These zippy and very convenient things have passionate devotees, but just as ardent detractors. So intense is the dislike for cyclists—a term taken on with the introduction of the three-wheeled tricycle many adults favor—that many horsemen and carriage drivers go out of their way to hurt them.
Signing up for Safer Highways
1870, United Kingdom
By the 1870s, it is so bad, that the Bicyclists Touring Club, which ultimately becomes Cyclists Touring Club (CTC), is established in the UK as a way to band together and create safer road conditions for coexisting. Riding on the highways is made even more difficult by the lack of efficient signage, leading to some horrible road deaths for cyclists who are closer to the ground than those on horses and carriages, and can’t see if there’s a hairpin turn, steep drop, or oncoming traffic. Danger Boards are created to lead the painting and mounting of signs in specific danger spots, and this soon takes off around the world.
Signing up for Safer Highways
1870, United States
The creation of the Good Roads Movement in the United States during the 1870s comes out of issues with the American roads being no more than dirt highways and the fatalities are high. Soon what started as something just for the two- and three-wheeled set goes on to influence roads for all vehicles, setting safety standards for the highways of today all over the world.
Scientific Brilliance Gone in a Crash
Her name is Mary Ward and in addition to being quite an amazing amature astronomer, she draws some of the most exquisite and meticulous illustrations of insects and the discoveries she makes under the microscope. Her talent and scientific genius are coveted by learned men at a time when women aren’t even allowed into university, and the books she writes on microscopy are already considered legend.
After speed limits are lowered due to the amendments of the Locomotive Acts of 1865, interest in motorcars wanes. Not so much fun to go only 2 or 4 mph rather than the lightning fast 5 or 10. The only folks who truly keep up their desire for the horseless carriages are those who build them for their own pleasure. Among these industrious speed demons are William Parsons, Mary’s cousin and the builder of the Leviathan of Parsonstown telescope, the largest scope in the world until 1917, and his sons.
They build a steam-powered car in their hometown of Parsonstown, Ireland (now Birr, County Offaly) and invite Mary and her husband, Henry, for a spin on 31 August 1869. They take a particularly tricky corner too fast and Mary goes flying out of the car, falling under its wheels and crushed within seconds. She dies almost instantly from her wounds, becoming the world’s first automobile fatality and denying the scientific community of one its most innovative brains — male or female — in history.
“This must never happen again.”
Arthur Edsall, who sees to the upkeep of these brand new motorcars for the Anglo-French Motor Co., is given a huge honor — operate an imported Roger-Benz automobile as part of a demonstration for a motoring exhibition in London, England. He’s just been driving for three weeks, doesn’t have an operator’s license — none are required — and hasn’t been told by his bosses which side of the road he’s supposed to travel on, but he’s got a horn and there are signs posted warning of horseless carriages on the streets that day, so he’s not worried.
Not only that, his car doesn’t go over 4.5 mph, and he’s certain he’ll be able to keep himself and anyone else out of harm’s way. Enter 44 year-old Bridget Driscoll , out for the day with her daughter and a friend to do some shopping. Arthur sees her, honks his horn, shouts for her to “Watch Out!” – all of which does little more than surprise her even more and cause her to step into the road in shock and awe at the sight of this unfathomable machine. Arthur slams on the brakes, but he’s already hit her and Mrs. Driscoll, mother of three, is dead, making her the first pedestrian automobile fatality.
During the ensuing trial, it is the first time the words “car” and “accident” are used together, and the six-hour inquest ends with no charges filed against a forever remorseful Arthur Edsall. As the “not guilty” verdict is read, the coroner intones, “This must never happen again.” Sadly, it does.
Here at West 74th Street and Central Park West, Henry H. Bliss Dismounted from a Streetcar...
1899, NYC, USA
He is a Manhattan real estate salesman as the city comes to the end of the 19th century and prepares for the extraordinary 20th. Maybe he is remembering the Newsboys Strike that ended just a month earlier. Perhaps he’s musing over a sale he’s planning for one of the tony residences in the Dakota Apartments — standing at 72nd and Central Park West and just turning 15 years-old.
He could be thinking how he plans to position the property to potential buyers — its proximity to the park and the American Museum of Natural History that will soon have another building added to its already 22 year-old structure. Whatever his thoughts, Henry H. Bliss is getting off of his streetcar at the corner of West 74th Street and Central Park West on 13 September 1899 when he is struck by an electric-powered taxicab — Automobile No. 43 — driven by cabbie Arthur Smith. Henry’s skull and chest are crushed, he is left unconscious and dies the next morning from his injuries. Arthur is arrested and charged with manslaughter. But it soon becomes clear — the accident is truly that, an accident. It’s no one’s fault.
Arthur isn’t speeding, Henry isn’t jaywalking, and the passenger in the cab, former New York City Mayor Franklin Edson’s son, Dr. David Edson, isn’t egging Arthur on to drive illegally. It is a tragedy of circumstances and the first traffic fatality in United States history. One-hundred years later, Citystreets, a safety-awareness organization, places a plaque commemorating the incident at the exact location of the collision, which begins: “Here at West 74th Street and Central Park West, Henry H. Bliss dismounted from a streetcar…” And to think — all Henry was doing was something he did everyday and it was the last thing he’d ever do.
A POTUS Under the Influence
1853, Boston, USA
Franklin Pierce is known for two things: being one of the worst U.S. Presidents of all time and his drunkenness. Two months before his inauguration in 1853, his only surviving son is killed when the family is on a train trip from Boston. Their car derails, rolls down an embankment and crushes and nearly decapitates the 11 year-old Benjamin.
The new First Lady, Jane, is forever devastated, spending much of the rest of her life in solitude and writing letters to her dead children. The just as heartbroken Franklin, for his part, spends much of his time inside a liquor bottle and making policy decisions that lead to the Civil War. Not long after the President’s inauguration in 1853, a Washington, D.C. policeman comes to the aid of an old woman who has been run over by a drunken man driving a horse and carriage. She is injured and the cop arrests the intoxicated culprit.
Upon further investigation of the driver, it is discovered that — gulp — it’s the brand new POTUS himself. Well, there are no witnesses and while the Commander and Chief of the United States is rather tipsy, Franklin is not charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) and goes on to become the only sitting president not to be awarded his party’s nomination for a second term.
Introducing the Age of the Drunk Driver, Rider, Milker
1872, United Kingdom
The pub life in the U.K. is pretty much as old as the entire country itself. In the 1800s, not much is done to curb the nasty issue of drinking too much then stumbling out of the tavern only to get on your horse, wagon, steam-powered horseless carriage, or even walk and bump into any number of things.
Also, milking a cow or driving livestock to the slaughterhouse or back into the paddock while hopped up on liquor leads to a bunch of problems like going to the wrong home, herding them off a cliff and just getting milk all over your hands and the ground — or milking the wrong cow.
Enough, says the gentry of jolly old England, and the Licensing Act of 1872 is born with a specific shout-out to drunk driving, stating: “Every person who is drunk while in charge on any highway or other public place of any carriage, horse, cattle, or steam engine ... shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding forty shillings, or in the discretion of the court to imprisonment… for any term not exceeding one month.”
25 years later, George Smith, a 25 year-old UK cab driver, becomes the first person in the world to be charged with drunk driving.
“To stop a motor is a very different thing.”
1897, United Kingdom
25 year-old cabdriver, George Smith, has been drunk before. And in public. While it’s certainly not an ideal situation, it’s not the end of the world. Then on 10 September 1897, Police Constable Russell observes Mr. Smith’s cab swerving from one side of the street all the way to the other, crashing into 165 New Broad Street and breaking both the water-pipe and the beading of the front window.
At first, the constable just thinks the driver doesn’t know how to handle a motor vehicle until he goes to check on him and finds the young cabbie drunk. Russell immediately takes George to the police station, where he denies being drunk only to have the department physician check him out and claim, yep, dude’s wasted. So much so, George just figures he’s been brought in for speeding, but Constable Russell explains, nope, for being drunk. Okay, okay, the cabbie admits, maybe I had a drink or two or three or… of beer, but “It is the first time I’ve been charged with being drunk in charge of a cab.”
When Judge De Rutzen checks out his arrest sheet, he shows George that, well, he’s not only been picked up for public drunkenness a few times, but been convicted. To which good old, drunk as a skunk George responds, “Yes, but that was not when in charge of a cab.” The judge points out, “You motor car drivers ought to be very careful, for if anything happens to you… well, the police have a very happy knack of stopping a runaway horse, but to stop a motor is a very different thing.” And with that, he makes good old George pay a fine of 20 shillings and the first person in history charged with drunk driving. Not George’s finest moment, but definitely an achievement.
Braking for Handmade Innovation
Early cars have iron wheels and bringing them to a stop is done as braking has been handled on carriages and horse-drawn wagons since they were created: a hand-lever applies a block of wood to the wheels to bring them to a stop. Some designs even claim a steel spike digging into the dirt roads to slow then stop the new street locomotives.
By the mid-1800s, the “tires” have evolved into steel rimmed or solid rubber lined. The wood block is still used, but when in 1885 Karl Benz in Germany creates his motorwagen with solid rubber tires, that’s a problem. And by 1887, Karl’s design is upgraded to show the use of a manually operated leather shoe brake on the back wheels. It’s also here that Gottfried Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach create basic mechanical drum brakes in 1901.
Braking for Handmade Innovation
Brothers Andre and Edouard Michelin bring their bicycle know-how to the innovative world of motor vehicles and create the air-filled rubber pneumatic tire for cars in France in 1895, and the solid wood blocks are even more wearing on these. Although Maybach and Daimler begin using drum brakes the year before in the most basic way, it is French automaker Louis Renault who receives credit for inventing the drum brake in 1902 to address the shifting needs of the automobile. He takes what the German manufacturers touch on and modifies it, making it even more efficient.
The Father of Traffic Safety
1900 - 1945, United States
It all starts when he’s a young lad stuck in a traffic jam with his mom in 1867. A dozen horses and carriages can’t go forward or back, frozen in indecision, because the drivers and police have no idea how to control the flow. 9 year-old William Phelps Eno never forgets this, thinking even at the time that all it would take is “a little order to keep the traffic moving.” The experience sets the stage for his life’s work: transportation control. By 1900, native New Yorker, William Phelps — known as W.P. — writes Reform in Our Street Traffic Urgently Needed and in 1903 authors a city traffic code for New York, the first in the world. He goes soon on to design traffic plans for New York, London, and Paris.
The Father of Traffic Safety
1900 - 1945, France
NYPD implements the plan in 1905 that is then put into place at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris in 1907.
The Father of Traffic Safety
1900 - 1945, United Kingdom
Famous Piccadilly Circus is built in 1819 and serves as a hub for the city of London. Although it loses its circular design with the addition of Shaftesbury Avenue to its network of intersecting streets, the area is still a conduit for every type of traffic through the city. In an effort to streamline the excessive amount of diverse road transportation pouring through Piccadilly, the city of London gives Eno’s “gyratory system” — a rotary with traffic moving one way — a try. It staves congestion and soon a traffic light is added to turn the area into a model of efficiency.
The Father of Traffic Safety
1900 - 1945, Argentina
W. P. notices there’s a bit of an issue with how traffic moves in opposing directions in some parts of New York. William Phelps also recommends One-Way Traffic in some streets in the Big Apple in the spring of 1908 and in Boston that same autumn. It is then passed on to Paris in 1909 extending through France then to Buenos Aires in 1910 and finally throughout the world. W. P. establishes the Eno Foundation for Highway Traffic Control in Westport, Connecticut in 1921 and goes on to influence transportation policy and leadership until his death in 1945, even though he never learns how to drive a car.
Braking for Handmade Innovation
1902 - 1940s, England
English engineer, Frederick William Lanchester, patents front wheel disc brakes in 1902 — originally invented by Cleveland, Ohio, native Elmer Ambrose Sperry for his home-made electric car in 1898. While this is a huge breakthrough, the drum brake is more readily embraced and the disc brake remains in the background for many years.
Braking for Handmade Innovation
1902 - 1940s, USA
As traffic and speeds begin to increase on the roads of the world, auto manufacturers begin looking for even more improvements in stopping cars. Enter the American made 1915 Duesenberg at the Elgin Road Race. The handmade car innovates the internal braking system by creating four-wheel disc brakes.
This means a driver can go 80 mph on straightaways and apply the brakes to lower the speed to go around the curves — translating to fewer spinouts and more efficient driving. It is a breakthrough in automotive safety and performance, showing the benefits of Lanchester and Sperry’s disc brakes even more. The disc brake is transformed again in 1919 when the French-made Hispano-Suiza H6B shifts from the common simultaneous hand and foot braking mechanism to a single foot pedal to operate all four of the wheel brakes at once.
The 1921 Model A Duesenberg is built with the hydraulic braking system Malcolm Lougheed — who later changes the spelling of his name to Lockheed — invents in 1918. The addition of this braking system makes the Duesenberg the first production car to use the four-wheel hydraulic design, far superior to anything created before. Even so, it takes another decade or more before other than a handful of automakers embrace hydraulics.
By 1938, every car made all over the world save Ford has switched to hydraulic brakes, and by the early 1940s, even Henry’s iconic company falls in step with this more advanced and efficient safety measure.
Ahead of Her Time in Seeing the Road Ahead
1902, Alabama, USA
Mary Anderson is visiting New York City in 1902 on a very cold and frosty day. She’s on the trolley when a heavy snow and sleet hit, making it very difficult for her to see pretty much anything at all out the windows. Not only that, but the driver is forced to push open the windshield and stick his head out the window, getting hit with frigid air and wet snow right in his face.
Mary feels for him and when she gets back to her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, she begins sketching ideas on how to make it possible for people to see out of the window during inclement weather. Through trial and error, Mary discovers she’s invented a hand-operated lever that can go inside any vehicle beside the driver that triggers a spring-loaded rubber-bladed arm outside the windshield with a counterweight ensuring steady contact between the wiper and the windshield.
She is granted a 17-year patent on November 10, 1903, and not one company is interested in commercializing her invention, believing there’s no demand for it — after all, automobiles are barely even on the road at that time and the ones that are don’t really go fast enough. Years go by before windshield wipers become adopted let alone standard on motor vehicles and contribute to saving the lives of millions everyday. Mary Anderson, however, is forgotten.
A Rush on Life-Saving Patents Begun… Then Ignored
1907/1909, Ohio, USA
By 1907, there are more automobiles on the motorways around the world. Not only is Mary’s windshield wiper idea languishing unnoticed, but such silly things as the brake light or turn signal have yet to be invented or even thought to be important. Suddenly, a rash of these life-saving inventions start pouring into the U.S. Patent Office, beginning with the turn signal from Queen’s Gate Gardens, London, England resident, Percy Douglas-Hamilton.
He applies for a patent for a device that indicates “the intended movements of vehicles” and receives U.S. patent #912831 in 1909. Although credited with patenting the first turn signal, just like Mary, Percy’s invention goes nowhere for 30 years.
A Tale of Two Actresses
1914 - 1914, Los Angeles, USA
She is credited with being the first true movie star, becoming the first actress to headline a film by name, forever changing the landscape of motion pictures. Before that, Canadian born Florence Lawrence is known as “The Biograph Girl,” reflecting the name of the studio under which she is contracted.
Acting runs in her family — mother Lotta Lawrence (nee Charlotte Bridgewood) is a successful vaudeville actress who brings Florence on the road with her and onstage as “Baby Flo, The Child Wonder Whistler” at an early age. Flo’s success affords her the rare 20th century luxury of owning a car and the first movie star LOVES to drive, saying, “A car to me is something that is almost human. Something that responds to kindness and understanding and care, just as people do.”
Flo’s also a keen inventor and when she discovers there’s no way to know when the car in front of you is planning to turn left or right, she develops a mechanical signaling arm in 1914 — similar to the trafficator . All you do is press a button and a flag on the rear bumper is either lowered or raised to tell you which way the car is turning.
She also realizes there’s no way to really know if the car you’re following is coming to a stop, so that same year, she builds a brake signal that works like her mechanical signaling arm: when you press the brakes, a “STOP” sign flips up from the back bumper to let you know the car is braking.
The two inventions set the stage for all electric turn signals and brake lights to come after, but the actress never patents her inventions and never gets recognized for these automotive marvels. Doing so may not even make a difference, however.
Flo’s mom, Lotta, not only shares her daughter’s talent as an entertainer, but as an automotive inventor. She develops and patents the first electrical windshield wipers in 1917 — 15 years after Mary Anderson is inspired to develop a manually operated set while traveling on a trolley in New York — making it possible for drivers around the world to safely navigate inclement weather. Even with her patent, Lotta never gets the credit she deserves. Just as every piece of wireless communication owes its existence to the brilliance of the gorgeous Austrian actress, Hedy Lamarr, and her co-inventor, avant garde composer George Antheil, so does the entire auto industry owe a huge debt of thanks to the entertaining and inventive Lawrence women.
Once More, With Marketing...
1925, New York, USA
Edgar A. Walz, Jr., has a long history of involvement with protecting people. He’s on the board of both the Eastern Garage Keepers’ Protective Association, Inc., and the National Hotel Keepers’ Protective Association along with his family. In 1925, Edgar decides it’s time to create an automatic turn signal indicator for the automobiles traveling the streets of Manhattan and beyond.
He patents his idea, which includes two directional arrows that light up at night for better visibility. He also comes up with an idea for a brake light in the center of the back bumper to show a car is stopping and immediately tries to market his idea to automobile manufacturers. Although by this time there are almost 26 million of these horseless carriages on America’s roads alone, not one automaker shows an interest in either invention and Edgar’s patent expires 14 years later, in 1939; rather auspicious timing for one manufacturer in particular.
No Frills, Straight-forward German Ingenuity
World War I leaves Germany economically battered and bruised, and the country’s companies are desperate to make money however they can to survive this bleak, post-war reality. Enter Zeiss, the high-end camera manufacturer and, in 1932, auto-accessory provider. The powers that be at the Deutschland-based firm buy-up the patents to a turn signal indicator from its inventor, Albert Ebner, and start offering the little single arrow to European automakers.
While at first glance having just one arrow that actually points up doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense — cars can’t very well fly up yet — it’s really quite ingenuous. With the flick of a switch, the arrow rotates to show which direction the car is planning to turn with up being its home position.
Some of the indicators even come with a STOP on it to show the car is braking. It’s a great little side business for Zeiss, who is having a hard time selling its photography equipment in these difficult financial times and it needs a name. The name “Contax” is chosen from a contest among the company’s employees before the cameras of that same name — highly advanced and bearing Zeiss lenses — are even made. Oh, and the winner of the employee contest? They receive one Reichsmark, which, even then, is enough to buy you pretty much, well, nothing.
Motorcity (Finally) Turns Toward Safety
1939, Michigan, USA
Joseph Bell patents the first electrical turn device that flashes its lights on a car with a filing in 1933 and patent awarded in 1938. Right after Edgar Walz, Jr.’s patent expires in 1939, and the same year as its parent company , GM, introduces its vision for the future at the 1939 New York World’s Fair — Buick becomes the first auto manufacturer in the world to decide it’s time to implement this newfangled device onto its cars as standard for safety reasons.
They use the recent Joseph Bell design, first installing it on the front of Buick, Cadillac, LaSalle and Hudson Country Club models in 1939 and making it optional for Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Hudson and Packard. By 1940, the company has also added the turn signal to the back of the cars as well as a self-cancelling mechanism; and a little over 30 years after Percy Douglas-Hamilton first attempted to get companies to embrace this life-saving invention, the motor vehicle company that invents telematic marvel OnStar does.
A First: The Felony Drunk Driving Charge
1905, California, USA
He’s behind the wheel of his Model T downing sips of whisky from pint flasks with his two friends. She is getting off of the streetcar to go along with her day. He comes around the corner at a speed of up to 50 miles per hour and runs into her as she crosses the street, sending her flying 100 feet and fracturing her skull. She dies several days later, leading to the driver, 21 year-old, Barbee Hook, to become the first person in California history to be charged with felony drunk driving. He’s wealthy — his late father is the streetcar magnate, W.S. Hook — and before he’s taken into court his mother offers to pay mother of 22 year-old Margaret Birtwistle, the victim, $400 per year as reparations ($10,760 in 2018 dollars).
Maggie’s mom accepts, but the trial moves forward and Barbee, who claims he couldn’t have stopped and whose passenger says he may have been drinking, but he was driving carefully, gets off. The L.A. Times writes before the trial that the automobile is “manifestly a great danger to the public when it is directed by hands made indecisive and reckless through the use of liquor.” It will be six more years before California really does something about drinking and driving.
The East Coast Paves the Way
1906, New Jersey, USA
While the criteria for determining whether someone is drunk while driving is still being considered — and the idea of whether it’s even a problem for someone to be inebriated behind the wheel of a motor car — New Jersey becomes the first state in the U.S. to make it a crime to drive while under the influence of alcohol in 1906. The statute reads “no intoxicated person shall drive a motor vehicle.” The punishment is a fine of up to $500 or no more than 60 days in county jail. Needless to say without a set legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit, getting the proof of intoxication required is a bit of a challenge, but the Garden State sets it at 0.15 percent for the time being. New York soon follows in 1910.
Golden State Follows Suit
1911, California, USA
In 1911, California follows its East Coast compatriots in criminalizing intoxicated driving. While it takes 6 years from the first ever felony drunk driver case to be made law, its enactment is seen as a triumph.
Learning How to Measure Intoxication
1917 & 1932, Sweden
At the age of 28, Erik Widmark defends a thesis he has wtitten on how to determine the amount of acetone in the blood, breath and urine at the University of Lund in Sweden in 1917. It’s a unique theory that gets him appointed full professor in Medicinal and Physiological chemistry at the University by 1920. He keeps pushing on his theory and publishes his findings on how to determine blood alcohol levels by testing the capillaries from fingertip blood samples.
The testing is interesting, but doesn’t take off. Then in 1932, Widmark publishes a monograph on the principles by which he is able to trace the time-course of alcohol in blood after drinking on an empty stomach or together with a meal. It leads to the “Widmark equation” that then becomes the definitive basis for establishing blood alcohol content (BAC) in drivers.
Putting Drinking and Driving to the Test
1931, Indiana, USA
Rolla Harger has an idea in 1931 that may just work. Proving someone is drunk is difficult in these early days of driving and drinking, but he believes he’s got a solution. An Indiana University biochemist and toxicologist, Rolla creates what he calls the Drunkometer — a balloon that contains a chemical solution that changes color when someone blows into it to indicate their blood alcohol level. He patents the contraption in 1936 and it becomes the first test used at traffic stops to determine a person’s intoxication. All of Indiana uses it and other states follow, but it soon becomes clear that a more stable, reliable form needs to be invented.
You May Not LOOK Drunk, Per Se...
Armed with Erik Widmark’s findings, Norway becomes the first country in the world to set the levels of BAC in a driver that are considered illegal and dangerous in 1936. The limit the country sets is 0.05 percent regardless of how well drivers can perform roadside tests. This law is called a “per se” law, which means that even if the driver is seemingly coherent and capable of accomplishing the simple tasks asked of them, if their BAC is outside the legal limit — tested back then by blood and urine samples — then he or she is considered intoxicated. And in Norway, that could mean prison time.
The Designated Driver — A Sobering Concept
It’s not clear exactly when it began — just that it was sometime in the 1920s. It’s not even very clear how it began, but the “why” is obvious. Scandinavia realizes that this drinking and driving combination is, well, a problem during the Jazz Age. Somewhere in there, someone comes up with the idea of creating “designated drivers,” a person who stays sober so they can take the wheel and safely transport themselves and the person (or persons) who does not. It’s even assumed that if a husband goes out to drink, his wife will ensure he gets home safely, because she won’t be imbibing. This “designated driver” concept takes shape in the region over the next several decades, becoming a formalized program in the 1980s.
A Liquor Legend Coins a Life-Saving Concept
As the most smuggled brand of whisky during U.S. prohibition, Canadian Club® (CC™) knows a thing or two about the effects of drinking and driving. Hiram Walker and Sons, Ltd., the Ontario, Canada based company behind the legendary liquor, takes notice of the rise in drunk driving incidents and decides in 1986 that it’s time to do something to help.
“The Canadian Club Designated Driver Program” is born and the company’s president, Doug Young, teams up with CC™’s PR agency, Marshall Fenn Limited, to heavily promote the initiative throughout Canada. The point? Encourage people to “designate” a “driver” BEFORE going out who will stay sober as the rest of those in your party responsibly indulge to ensure safe driving throughout the night. The concept becomes a huge hit with police, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), restaurants and the public in general.
Ivy League Ingenuity Forever Establishes the DD
1988, Harvard, USA
The Public Service Announcement (PSA) has long been in use as a way to create awareness of social issues when Jay Winsten, the Associate Dean of Harvard’s School of Public Health, is faced with a systemic problem. Drinking and driving is rampant throughout the U.S. Jay is intrigued by Scandinavia’s designated driver program from the 1920s as well as Canada’s burgeoning initiative.
All of that is great, but he begins to wonder if there’s some way to use not only PSA’s to spread the word about this brilliant solution, but Hollywood in general. He creates the Harvard Alcohol Project in 1986 and gets the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on board to create the tried-and-true PSA’s and such popular television shows as Cheers, L.A. Law and The Cosby Show — to name a few — to incorporate messages encouraging designated drivers. Lines as simple as “I can’t drink, I’m driving” in response to an offer of a drink on one of the programs brings awareness to viewers.
Presidents Bush and Clinton both sign on to the program during their presidencies, and it becomes a national movement, finally turning the phrase “designated driver” into something so common, the Random House Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary includes the term in its 1991 edition. Since its inception, The Harvard Alcohol Project is credited with the decline of alcohol-related traffic fatalities between 1988 and 1994.
A Date Night to Sadly Remember
1906, New Zealand
On 10 September 1906, just one month shy of the two-year anniversary of New Zealand’s first motorcar crash — non-fatal — Timaru resident John Meikle and his wife, Janet, are coming home from a well-deserved date night out on the town. Janet, the more expert and cool-headed driver of the two, is operating the automobile this late night. They leave the public road to start down the private lane toward their farm, a rather steep and narrow stretch with a drop-off to one side.
As the car moves along, it begins to swerve towards the hillside and quick-thinking Janet turns the wheel to correct it… a tad too much this time, sending them both over the embankment. The out-of-control car clips along a wire fence that runs across the foot of the drop for a few yards before the vehicle capsizes over it and into the field on the other side. John is thrown clear of the automobile, breaking his right thigh and horribly bruised all over. Janet falls under the motor and is pinned beneath the car.
The last thing John hears his wife say is, “Jack, I am dying.” John tries to help her, but his strength is gone and he crawls towards their home where their maid is watching their 4 year-old daughter, calling for help along the way. Forty-five minutes after the crash, John and the maid watch as his ploughman is finally able to pull the car up and off of Janet with his team of horses only to discover that John’s beloved wife, their daughter’s beloved mother, has died, making Janet Meikle the first automobile fatality in New Zealand.
Tragic Shifting of Gears
1933, California, USA
It is the Jazz Age and an era of unique tolerance in the world of entertainment. Openly gay male performers are not only accepted in the Prohibition-era Speakeasy culture of the time, but feted and celebrated. Victor Eugene “Gene” James Malinovsky, performing under the names Jean Malin and Imogene Wilson, is perhaps one of if not the greatest of them all.
Standing over six foot-tall, weighing about 200 pounds, he is a towering, stunning actor, emcee and sometime drag performer who turns his flamboyance into a high-paying, enviable career — in 1930 at age 22, Malin is the highest-paid nightclub performer in the U.S., perhaps the world.
He’s also not one to suffer fools lightly, pulling his considerable weight at one point to punch a disruptive audience member during a performance, which leads noted journalist and iconic television personality, Ed Sullivan, to write, “Jean Malin belted a heckler last night at one of the local clubs. All that twitters isn’t pansy.”
A Broadway performer in addition to his nightclub and film appearances, this leader of what is being called the “Pansy Craze” is giving a “farewell performance” at the Ship Café in Venice, California on August 10, 1933. After he is done, he gets into his car with his boyfriend, Jimmy Forlenza, and another friend, actress, Patsy Kelly, but it’s very early in the morning, Gene is tired from his performance and these motorized road vehicles are still a bit new.
Gene confuses the gears in his new sedan and instead of putting it into drive, he puts his car into reverse, punches the gas and races backwards off the pier and into the water. Malin is pinned under his steering wheel and is instantly killed while Jimmy and Patsy are severely injured, but survive. And the vibrant, witty and unique voice of a style that is soon out of vogue is forever silenced.
Nearly half-a-century before there was Princess Diana, there was Queen Astrid. Royal by birth — the crown princess of Sweden — Astrid marries young to Prince Leopold of Belgium, wins the heart of the Belgian people, is known as the Queen of Hearts then as the Queen of Mothers after her own children are born and she proves to be hands-on and doting. She is deeply involved with charitable causes and fixing the plight of the disadvantaged, and is a spirited, fun-loving, fashionable and warm young woman.
She is immensely devoted to the husband with whom she shares a deep and unfettered love, and is as happy digging in the garden, visiting the infirm and working with the poor as she is entertaining and visiting with dignitaries.
In late August of 1935, Astrid and her husband, now King Leopold, are taking a drive while on vacation in Switzerland. Leopold is behind the wheel while their chauffeur sits in the back seat. The three are motoring along the lake at Kussnacht having just sent their three children back to Belgium as they stay behind for one last hike together.
The car comes around a corner a bit too sharply, wheels crossing over a cement curb and sending the vehicle out of control. Leopold attempts to correct it, but it goes down a steep slope, hits a tree, sends the young queen flying through the windshield and into the tree as well, and throws the king from the automobile, which continues on and into the lake.
The chauffeur is not injured, the king is badly hurt but survives, and the queen dies on impact. The entire country goes into deep mourning for the beautiful young mother. The forever changed king marries again to a woman the country never accepts and forever bears the burden of the loss of this rare princess.
Advancing the Trafficator: “I Fold Back”
The invention is based on two things: the signal arms used by trainmen of the Royal Bavarian Railway since 1890; and the hand and arm directional signals created by bicyclists. The trafficator is half the size of these railroad arms and is a semaphore that folds flush against the motor vehicle, but pops out via pneumatic cable on either side of the car to indicate it is turning left or right. And in 1908, Italian inventor, Alfredo Barrachini adds electric lights to the cable system to aid in visibility.
Semaphores go Electric in Beantown
1918, Boston, USA
By 1918, the trafficator has made the leap from pneumatic pulleys with electric lights to full electric operation when the Naillik Motor Signal Company of Boston adds an electric motor drive to the system, truly bringing the retractable turn signal into the 20th century.
Streets Made for Tango, Not Driving
Calle Florida (Florida Street) is one of Buenos Aires, Argentina’s oldest streets. Once a footpath that moved beside a creek that leads to the River Plate, it is laid with cobblestone in 1789. Located in the city’s Plaza San Martin area, Florida becomes more and more commercialized as the well-heeled begin moving into the neighborhood. The introduction of motor vehicles causes problems for this mall area, getting in the way for many retailers.
With all of this foot traffic and potential for even more money-making commerce, shopkeepers petition for — and win — certain parts of the street to be turned into “pedestrian only” in 1913. Lined with stores and merchants hawking their wares, it is a place that has since gone on to attain even grander acclaim, thanks to the 1922 silent avant garde film, “La Chica de la Calle Florida” (English: The Girl from Florida Street”).
From Pedestrian to Jaywalker in Less Than a Decade
1921-1926, NYC, USA
As the 1920s begin, cars are becoming the norm on streets, but they’re getting no love from non-drivers. Roads once belonged to the pedestrian, horse and, after a time, bicycles. Sharing among these three factions was fairly harmonious. But when motorcars come on the scene, fatalities on streets rise horrifically, with “almost 1,000 persons” killed on New York City’s highways in 1921 alone.
The number is said to be greater than the mortality rates for “measles, scarlet fever and whooping cough combined.” At the 1922 “safety week” in New York, 10,000 children march with a separate group of 1,054 walking as one as a symbol of the number of kids killed in accidents in 1921.
By 1925, two-thirds of the entire death toll of cities with populations over 25,000 people are due to automobile accidents with children accounting for one-third of all traffic deaths that same year and half of those occurring on a child’s home block. Public outrage is high and a New York Times article, “Nation Roused Against Motor Killings,” warns of the “homicidal orgy of the motor car.”
Auto sales fall 12 percent between 1923 and 1924, a sharp contrast to several years of constant growth. Anti-car legislation is pushed for, speed limits of fifteen to twenty-miles per hour demands, and an entire industry on the brink of collapse. President of the Chicago Motor Club, Charles Hayes, decides he has to do something and joins with car-company colleagues to flip the script — automobile fatalities aren’t the fault of the driver and car, but the pedestrians in the streets.
After all, “the streets are made for vehicles to run upon,” not kids and whatnot to walk on. That’s what sidewalks are for. Being run over becomes the fault of the victim and thanks to the blending of a much maligned term — jay — with the person doing the action — walker — motorists start turning the tide in their favor. A “jay” is slang for a country bumpkin, not a name the well-heeled strollers of the day want to be identified by. Jaywalker is unknown at first, but slowly gains traction with car advocates going so far as creating cards for Boy Scouts to hand out at street corners to warn pedestrians.
With lobbyists in Washington, D.C. and motoring clubs around the world, jaywalker even makes it into the dictionary by 1924 and as the ‘20s fade and the ‘30s begin, the once reviled motor vehicle monopolizes the streets of the world while pedestrians are relegated to that little strip of concrete beside it called the sidewalk.
Separation of Pedestrian and Automobile
Three-hundred and forty-two years after trader, Arndt Krupp, joins the merchants guild in Essen, Germany, creating a dynasty that goes on to dominate German industrialism for over 400 years, this home to just over five-hundred thousand becomes the first city in the world to take an existing street and “pedestrianize” it. This idea of separating walkers from wheeled vehicles isn’t new.
It’s been around since the Renaissance period, however, Essen is innovative in its approach. A very narrow shopping street in the small, but powerful town is causing issues — both pedestrians and vehicles use it, but it’s so slim, it’s actually impossible for it to accommodate both at the same time . By 1929, Essen decides to do away with transport access on the skinny road altogether and boost its commerce by making it more accommodating for strolling shoppers and refashioning it solely for them. By the 1930s, two other German cities decide to follow Essen’s lead, but the idea of pedestrianization doesn’t take off outside of Germany for many years.
Bringing a Taste of Home Across the Pond
1959, Michigan, USA
Austria-born architect, Victor Gruen, knows how to create communal spaces that accommodate those who prefer to stroll rather than drive. Since moving to America “with an architect’s degree, eight dollars, and no English” in 1938 to escape the German annexation of his home country, he has been making a name for himself with his user-friendly designs. After creating the first suburban open-air shopping center, Northland Mall, near Detroit in 1954, and the first enclosed shopping mall in the U.S. with Southdale Mall in Edina, Minnesota, in 1956, Victor establishes himself as someone who understands how to use open-spaces to great effect.
Then in 1958, Victor approached to design a pedestrian zone similar to those of European cities by Kalamazoo, Michigan officials seeking to re-energize its city center that is seeing declines of public interaction due to suburbanization. A plan Gruen is hired to build for Fort Worth, Texas in 1957 sparks Kalamazoo’s imagination and they ask that he create a less-ambitious, but comparable design for their city. Called Kalamazoo 1980, Gruen unveils a design that includes a ring road encircling the downtown area with plenty of peripheral parking for people to leave their cars and walk through it rather than drive.
The entire plan is reminiscent of Victor's native Vienna’s Ringstrasse and while very impressive, Kalamazoo ends up only building the pedestrian zone, which becomes known as a pedestrian mall. It is the first one in America, costs $60,000 and opens on August 19, 1959 to much fanfare with a concert by the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra and a crowd of over 50,000 spectators.
While it has gone through various renovations and even comes close to being shuttered at one point, it is ultimately revitalized in 1998 and reopened with an event as glowing as the 1959 original.
An invention worth kicking your heels over
Rue Montmartre — the road that allows access to the Butte Montmartre district, home of the famous Moulin Rouge — becomes the proud recipient of a traffic light at the corner the street shares with Grande Boulevard. Seemingly in keeping with the appeal of the famous cabaret, the device — a revolving four-sided metal box on top of a glass showcase with the word “Stop” painted in red and the word “Go” painted in white — is operated by a police woman. Ooh, la la!
1914, Red Means “Stop,” Green Means “Explode”
1914, United States
1914 and the U.S. becomes the first country to utilize electricity with its rudimentary “redlight, greenlight” system in Cleveland, Ohio, at the corner of Euclid Avenue and East 105th Street. It is followed by the first four-way, three-color electric traffic light in 1920 when Detroit, Michigan police officer, William Potts, creates it and enlists the yellow “caution” light to help make that transition from “go” to “stop” easier and safer.
Japanese pick Red, Yellow, Green… ish
Japan gets “red, yellow, green” in 1930, although many view the “green” as a bit more “blue,” but it still works.
Red Means “Stop,” Green Means “Explode”
Melbourne joins the U.S. and Britain when it installs Australia’s first traffic lights in 1928.
Red Means “Stop,” Green Means “Explode”
1953, South India
1953 sees South India installing its first signal in Chennai with the city of Bangalore following a decade later.
Red Means “Stop,” Green Means “Explode”
The traffic signal is soon a global, universal staple on urban streets and Toronto, Canada, is the first to utilize modern computerized tactics to better manage the flow of cars in 1967, making that country’s system the most advanced for that time.
The ASLA Keeps the Doctor(s) Away
Physicians Claire Straith and C. J. Strickland see their fair share of injuries and fatalities due to motor car incidents. In these early days of the automobile, the two discover the hard, protruding dashboards and lack of safety gear in general are leading to all of the tragedies coming into their offices and hospitals around the world. Both fashion their own seat belts in their private cars while also imploring automakers to install belts in all vehicles, and not just to keep passengers and drivers from falling out (its original purpose).
By 1934, GM performs its first barrier crash test on a motor vehicle — the first in the world — and C. J. Strickland establishes the Automobile Safety League of America (ASLA), an organization that pushes for protective measures in all cars.
Saving Lives for Free
Seat belts are nothing new — and, apparently, they’re not new to Volvo since they created them in 1849 before they even existed, right? The first is patented by Edward J. Claghorn in 1885 NOT for motor vehicles, but for raising or lowering people for whatever reason.
However, it’s not until the 1930s with doctors like Claire Straith and C. J. Strickland testing the invention on their own cars and making suggestions to automakers to install them on all vehicles for safety that the devices get much attention. After awhile, the humble lap hugging seat belt is offered as optional and an aftermarket fix (before anyone even knows what aftermarket is). Then in 1958, Volvo engineer, Nils Bohlin, notices that while seat belts are becoming more and more the norm, those lap jobs aren’t much help in a collision. Actually, they tend to do more harm than good.
So, the former Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget (SAAB) designer of jet ejector seats, pulls from his considerable safety experience and does something wholly unique — he creates a 3-point design that holds you in, protects you from both a head-on collision and rollover, and is so easy to use even a child can strap themselves in. It secures passengers and keeps them safer than anything before and Volvo has it.
The car company goes on to make it a world-first standard in the front seats of first its PV544 and Volvo Amazon in 1959 then on all of its cars. Volvo, known for its fanatical attention to safety, patents Nils’ invention in 1962 as an open patent, meaning it is available to any and everyone who wants to use it for a whopping cost of zero dollars. This design becomes the standard for every vehicle from every car maker, going on to save more than one million lives since its implementation. That makes the 3-point V seat belt the single most significant safety device in the entire history of the automobile.
Peace, Love and Buckle Up
1966, NYC, USA
The era of free love is just getting started in America, the Vietnam War is in its 11th year, the Miranda warning/Miranda Rights are created, the Gemini space program is at its peak, and the humble seat belt is moving from “nice to have” to “must have” in cars made in the U.S. Although the state of Wisconsin introduces legislation in 1961 that requires seat belts be fitted in the front seats of cars, it is in 1966 that they are made mandatory in all makes and models year 1968 on via the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208 (FMVSS 208).
The standards, administered by NHTSA, regulate crash protection for automobile occupants in the United States. Wearing the seat belts remains optional for American drivers and passengers until New York passes legislation in 1984 and goes on to become either a primary or secondary enforced law in every state besides New Hampshire — which continues not to have any seat belt regulations in place to this day.
Safety Without Borders
1966, Czech Republic
As the U.S. establishes the standard for all cars to have seat belts in the front seats by 1968, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) declares that safety straps must be worn in passenger cars while driving outside of cities in 1966. While the equipment will not become compulsory for all automobiles until 1968, the earlier law does help make travel quite a bit safer on some rather dodgy roads in those areas that are prone to unsavory driving conditions.
Down Under Leads the Seat Belt Revolution
The area known for cosmopolitan Melbourne, both snow and sun, and the parade of the adorable Fairy Penguin — the smallest breed of this flightless bird in the world — becomes the first country to require all drivers and passengers wear a seat belt while traveling in a motor vehicle. The law is radical for its time — 1970 — and South Australia follows suit in 1971 with all of Down Under embracing the law by 1973 and other countries slowly joining them in one form or another.
GM Sets a Safety Standard
1924, Michigan State, USA
Ten years after General Motors (GM) establishes the first ever motor vehicle testing ground in Milford, Michigan, the American carmaker begins running the first barrier and rollover crash tests on its automobiles in 1924. By the time the company sets the standards for test dummies in 1971 with its Hybrid 1 design — way more durable than the cadavers, live human and animal subjects previously used — the global automotive industry is following its crash test lead for safer vehicles on the road.
The Tucker Legacy: A Modern Car in an Old School World
1948s, Illinois State, USA
Post World War II America is glowing with the end of rationing and the ability to, once again, buy a new car. Preston Tucker, a former policeman and automotive engineer, recognizes an opportunity when he sees it and goes about creating the Tucker ‘48 aka Tucker Torpedo. This wholly unique car has the most advanced safety features of its time: a third headlight in the center that turns whenever the car turns to illuminate the road more efficiently, the world’s first padded dashboard, a safety chamber under the front dash into which passengers can slide to protect themselves during a head-on collision, and a pop-out windshield that easily detaches in an accident to save the riders inside the car.
Sold on drawings alone, the Tucker ‘48 is a miracle of modern automobile design with the kind of safety items to make even the most skittish of vehicle owners comfortable. Unfortunately, the innovative creator has more talent than business sense and he ends up crafting only 51 prototypes when he is brought down by rumors of fraud. He is ultimately absolved of all blame and wrongdoing, although loses all rights to use the Tucker name for cars in the future.
Any other person may be destroyed, but Preston Tucker — some say he is a scam artist, others that the big car companies are behind his fall — is forever the optimist and goes on, saying, “I never gave up. I never will!” While the Tucker Torpedo never goes into full production, its padded dashboard and pop-out windshield go on to change the face of the auto industry and Preston Tucker’s cars become the stuff of well-heeled collector dreams, fetching into the millions of dollars seven decades after the first ‘48 goes from drawing board to reality.
When Karl Benz first creates the motor car, the “horseless carriage” is only accessible to the cultural and financial elite. By 1959, automobiles are common fixtures on the road for everyone from The Rockefellers to Regular Joes, but the Mercedes-Benz remains luxury. It is also something that chooses to be synonymous with safety, prompted by the creation of the over-the-shoulder seat belt made available to all automakers thanks to Volvo, and visits to America’s crash test facilities.
The 1939 hiring of engineer and safety expert, Béla Barényi, has already pushed the elite brand to be more conscious about protecting its passengers, but as the decades pass and more cars go on the road, several issues around highway travel increase. The company that races fleeing visitors to safety in Jurassic World, safely transports precious cargo in the first Transporter, and ferries James Bond’s wife across ice in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service looks seriously at innovating its vehicles to accommodate the needs of its customers and begins focused crash testing of its S-Class in 1959. Mercedes soon employs the U.S. practice of incorporating its safety ratings in advertisements and establishes itself as a safety leader that others continue to emulate to this day.
UNECE: The Globalization of Automobile Safety
1950, 104 Countries
Two years after the end of World War II, Europe is still recovering. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) is formed in 1947 to address the needs of the countries struggling to get back on their feet after the conflict. By 1949, it is clear that the boom of post-war car ownership is creating a road and traffic safety issue throughout the world and the UNECE prepares a Convention on Road Traffic, 19 September 1949, putting together an Ad Hoc Working Group on the prevention of road accidents in 1950.
That year, the United States and France are the first two contracting parties to the 1949 convention. By the time the Conventions on Road Traffic and on Road Signs and Road Signals of 1968 is prepared, several more countries have signed on. Ninety-seven countries in total sign onto the 1968 Conventions and the legal suggestions on how to create safer driving experiences around the world go on to influence and innovate global automotive and road safety.
The Ad Hoc Working Group that begins in 1950 becomes the Working Party on Road Traffic Safety (WP.1) in 1988 and ultimately, Global Forum for Road Traffic Safety (WP.1), with meetings held in Geneva, Switzerland twice a year and supported by the UNECE Sustainable Transport Division. To this day, the Global Forum for Road Traffic Safety is the only permanent group in the United Nations that focuses on improving road safety.
A Cushion of Automotive Safety
Walter Linderer is ahead of his time. The Munich native comes up with a simple idea for protecting passengers from a collision in automobiles — an airbag that can deploy upon impact. His drawing is rudimentary, but it gets the point across and he applies for a patent on his idea with the German Patent Office on 06 October 1951 and is granted Patent No.: 896312 DE - Device for the protection of persons in vehicles against collision injuries in 1953.
Per the instructions on his simplistic representation, “An inflatable container is mounted in folded state in front of the seat of the person to be protected, which inflates automatically or by voluntary triggering in case of danger, so that the person is thrown in a collision against this soft, resilient container where it suffers no injuries.”
Brilliant, however, the mechanism for releasing the airbag is nonexistent at the time, the type of air to inflate and re-inflate the bag quickly and efficiently has not been invented as yet, and the type of material that would be best for making this kind of device has yet to be created. And, so, this good idea languishes for years.
Inspired by a Sunday Drive
John Hetrick and his family finish up a Sunday picnic in the Pennsylvania countryside and are making their way home. He notices a large rock in the middle of the road and swerves to miss it, only to send them almost toppling over. John and his wife have their young daughter in the front seat with them and both put their arms out to protect her. John can’t get it out of his mind and he wonders why there can’t be some sort of safety device to help with that.
He goes home, does some sketching by pulling on his industrial engineering background from his U.S. Navy days — and inspired by the compressed air inside of torpedo silos — and comes up with an idea for a “safety cushion assembly for automotive vehicles.” He patents it in the U.S. in 1953, the same year as Walter Linderer in Germany, but, just as it does with Walter, the technology isn’t quite there as yet nor the interest in something that has to do with a form of transportation that still isn’t foremost in everyone’s minds. However, that will soon change and both John and Walter will see their invention grow in ways neither may have ever imagined.
Mercedes Begins Experimenting
The airbag may not be taking off in the U.S., but by the mid-1960s, it is clear that automobiles are here to stay, taking to the roads in more and more numbers, and injuries and fatalities from car accidents are rising. Mercedes starts to test airbag technology and work toward developing something to augment the very effective 3-point seatbelt so graciously shared by Volvo.
It begins a laborious process that pushes various divisions at the German automaker as they work to figure out a system that will deploy without causing more injury in a front end collision as well as quickly inflate and reinflate for efficiency. Thus begins a 13 year journey to figuring out how to make the idea work, pushed along even more by innovation discovered by American Allen Breed, whose electronic crash technology patented in 1968 breaks open the possibilities for airbags like nothing ever before.
The Airbag Comes of Age
After countless years of trial and error that leads to Ford Motor Company building an experimental airbag fleet in 1971 and General Motors testing airbags on its 1973 Chevrolet model for government use only, it looks like the elusive and now much desired invention is ready to be implemented. In 1974, GM becomes the first automobile company to offer both driver and passenger airbags as optional on passenger cars for its larger models of Cadillacs, Buicks, and Oldsmobile.
Mercedes Tag Teams Safety Innovation
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class rolls off of the assembly line in Germany sporting two new innovations of passenger safety — it has the distinction of being the first Mercedes with airbag technology and the first motor vehicle in the world with seat belt tensioners.
Safety in High-Performance
The Porsche 944 is the German high-performance automaker’s way of combining both its VW sensibilities with its Porsche style and handling. It builds off of the previous 924, sporting both a high price tag and huge appeal. In 1987, it comes in three models — 944, 944 S and the 944 Turbo, the newest addition to this line of cars. The Turbo is a real powerhouse, prompting Porsche to include several safety features as standard on this much anticipated model.
One of these are driver and passenger side airbags, the first time the technology has been made standard on any car in the world. And carmakers around the globe pay attention.
A Fast Follow
Honda seeks to gain more of the high-end market with an automobile it begins producing through a joint venture with Britain’s Austin Rover Group in 1986. Called the Honda Legend in Japan and Europe, it’s known as the Acura Legend in the U.S. under Honda’s new luxury brand set to market more elite vehicles to the North American market. In 1987, the new Legend becomes the first Japanese car to install driver side airbags.
“I’d like to teach the world to drive in perfect harmony…”
1958, 54 Countries
Motorized road vehicles are being driven around the world — civilian and military alike. The United Nations (UN) notices there is no uniformity for safety and technical requirements, and this leads to issues on the road and the battlefield. In June 1952, a working party — WP.29 — is established within the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) as the “Working Party of experts on technical requirement of vehicles.”
WP.29 is given the task of creating UN Regulations that cover vehicle safety, environmental protection, energy efficiency and theft-resistance. By 1958, an agreement is drafted, titled “Agreement concerning the adoption of uniform technical prescriptions for wheeled vehicles, equipment and parts which can be fitted and/or be used on wheeled vehicles and the conditions for reciprocal recognition of approvals granted on the basis of these prescriptions,” commonly called the “1958 Agreement” and ratified in Geneva, Switzerland.
Sixty-two countries sign on with France and Sweden being the first ones on 20 June 1959 and the country of San Marino the last on 26 January 2016. Neither the U.S. or Canada are members under the 1958 Agreement due to each country having their own stringent guidelines to which imports must adhere, leading neither to allow UN-compliant vehicles unless the automobiles also adhere to their specific standards.
An Insurance Policy for Global Safety
It’s 1959 and three years have passed since U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the Interstate Highway Act. With the creation of a more efficient and safer way to travel on America’s roads, car use is on the rise and, with it, accidents.
Three major insurance associations representing 80 percent of the U.S. auto insurance market come up with a plan: now that there’s a viable and highly used highway system, get together to help with the highway safety efforts proposed and put in place by others. The big three found Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in the United States, but its impact is sure to be felt all over the globe.
Motor vehicles from around the world are driving on America’s streets and implementing stronger safety measures into automobiles will have a global impact. It becomes clear after a decade of supporting the efforts of others that the IIHS is shifting its focus from just highway safety to a broad range of needs to reduce “crash losses.” These are: human factors, vehicle research and physical environment/roadway design/roadway research.
The IIHS goes from a group of insurance giants to a nonprofit organization using scientific methods to determine what does and does not work in automobile safety. With the 1992 opening of the Vehicle Research Center (VRC) in central Virginia, the IIHS creates a state-of-the-art facility that performs crash tests and establishes vehicle ratings to be shared with automakers and, subsequently, the public. The effects are better informed motorists and a universal push for safer cars in general.
Learning from Mistakes
10 years after the IIHS establishes its ratings system, Swedish carmaker, Volvo notices some issues with its cars and drivers that prompt it into action. The innovation of the 3-point seatbelt by its very own Nils Bohlin has certainly made motor vehicles safer, but Volvo begins wondering if it can use the information on what happens in an accident with one of their cars to create even more protection.
They have a vision of there one day being zero fatalities and accidents, and want to find a way to get in front of that. In 1969, the Volvo Accident Research Team (ART) is established and goes about investigating thousands of traffic accidents involving their own Volvos. Through this research, massive advancements are implemented in what is arguably the safest car in the world to make it that much more secure and inspire the company to pursue their goal of no more car accidents more fervently.
The Proof is in the British Countryside
1970, United Kingdom
GM has proven its capabilities with vehicle testing in the United States since 1924 with its state-of-the-art facility in Milford, Michigan. Something the company learns, however, is the need for more diverse terrain and find just what they need in a site near its British subsidiary, Bedford Trucks. Located in Millbrook, Bedfordshire, in the English countryside, construction begins in 1968 and a mini-duplicate of GM’s U.S. facility is unveiled in 1970.
Testing begins not just on safety, but all form of vehicle technology for GM cars exclusively then expands to include non-GM companies when Milbrook changes hands in 1988. Today, it tests on a broad range of vehicle needs, from safety, to emission control, to autonomous vehicles, sharing its findings with various organizations to create safer and more efficient automobiles for the 21st century and beyond.
Sparks a Road Traffic Revolution
Both the Emerald Isle and Down Under seem inspired by the new decade and how cars are maneuvering on their roads, affecting traffic — pedestrian, animal and auto.
Sparks a Road Traffic Revolution
The two countries create their own set of regulations, both named the Road Traffic Act of 1961. Each outlines various rules of the road and establish a blueprint for traffic laws within their respective regions that Ireland and Australia continue to build upon and revise as road travel shifts and grows.
Repealing and Reforming for the Road
1972, South Africa & South-West Africa
The National Road Safety Act 9 of 1972 is enacted in Namibia, South Africa, for the benefit of South Africa and South-West Africa. On the act’s opening page, it states that Road Safety Act 9 is created to “promote road safety; for that purpose to establish a national road safety council and a central road safety fund; to repeal the South African Road Safety Council Act, 1960; and to provide for matters connected therewith.”
Some key points established are a 12-member council to oversee traffic and safety in the region under the auspices of the Minister of Transport, creation of a research program to carry-out road safety initiatives with appropriate monies provided for funding, a promise to use the media to share information learned with the public, provide motor vehicle training for those individuals and areas that currently lack instruction, and more. These regulations act as a basis for various laws to follow throughout the region.
If not for the courage of a young lawyer
He has a tendency to push people’s buttons. It’s his commitment to the consumer that makes him the bulldog he is and although there are many innovations and changes Ralph Nader may not have had as much effect upon as he or others may believe, there is one that all can agree he certainly brought to the fore.
Unsafe at Any Speed is published in 1965, opening with an unapologetic and in-your-face statement that becomes one of the biggest calls to action in history: “For over half a century the automobile has brought death, injury and the most inestimable sorrow and deprivation to millions of people.” The gauntlet has been thrown and when the young Harvard lawyer shares his findings and thoughts with a Senate subcommittee in February 1966, it is clear something has to be done.
On September 9 of that same year, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act into law, creating the first mandatory federal safety standards for motor vehicles. It also establishes the National Highway Safety Bureau (now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA). America’s roads strive to become safer and the young lawyer continues to fight on behalf of the little guy.
Oh, Canada… Setting Its Own Standards
Like the U.S., Canada feels the need to manage its own automotive safety requirements to the extent it regulates how cars are manufactured and which vehicles can be imported into its territory. To that end, the Motor Vehicle Safety Act is created in 1993 with the sole purpose of overseeing what automobiles come into Canada in order to “reduce the risk of death, injury and damage to property and the environment.”
Looking Back to Move Forward
On opposite sides of the world in the same year, two men develop and design life-changing safety gear for kids in cars. Jean Ames , an inventor from Great Britain, creates the Y-Shaped, rear-facing child protection seat for parents to safely secure their kids while riding in a motor vehicle. It is the first of its kind and ahead of its time, but the design becomes the basis for all car seats that exist today.
Different Heart in the Same Place
1962, Colorado, USA
Leonard Rivkin owns a furniture store in Denver, Colorado, when he comes up with what he believes is completely new — a child’s car seat. It is forward-facing, made of a metal frame and with a strap to keep the child in. It’s durable and unique… and just so happens to come along at the same time as Jean Ames’ more reliable and, after many years, safer option.
Volvo Saves Kids by Treating Them Like Children
Dr. Bertil Aldman is a physician who gets inspired to create child safety seats by watching how astronauts survive the rigors of space travel by facing rearwards. He goes to work with Swedish carmaker, Volvo, to develop and test the first rear-facing child seat prototype. The auto company decides to place it in its PV544 — the same car in which Nils Bohlin’s 3-point seat belt is launched.
The defining characteristic of and impetus for the invention can be found in the little passengers who will be riding in it: the anatomy of children isn’t that of small adults, but of, well, children. The seat is built to accommodate those differences, incorporating more padding, turning the seat to face rear and placing the child in a position in the seat that takes into consideration his or her body needs — rear-facing seats support the neck and spread the force of a front-end collision, the most common and frequent of impact accidents, over a larger area for the child, something Jean Ames’ 1962 invention supports.
By 1967, the first child seat sold to consumers is created by turning the front passenger seat around to face the back of the car. The seat includes extra padding in the backrest with unique straps that secure the child more efficiently in the rear-facing mode. It is an accessory on the brand new Volvo Amazon. Nine years after this, Volvo introduces the booster cushion for children aged three to four years old and up who travel facing forward, creating a policy that children under 140 centimetres (55 inches) tall and ten years of age must ride in a booster.
GM Shows Kids Some Love(seats)
1973, Michigan, USA
General Motors has established itself as innovators in motor vehicles pretty much since its inception. While airbags are still something in the distant future, the auto giant realizes the need to protect its littlest passengers and takes a page from the Volvo playbook to create two different designs: the front-facing Child Love Seat with a recommended use in “1968 through 1973 passenger cars built in USA and equipped with rear seats. (Except vehicles with truck chassis.)”
The second is a rear-facing Infant Love Seat “for use in most 1968 through passenger vehicles and light trucks in the United States.” These retail for $29.95 and $13.10, respectively, and while the advertisement shows them both being installed in the front seat right beside the steering wheel — something that soon becomes a gigantic “NO!” for kids under the age of 13 — at least the desire to create a safety system for little ones in the location that’s been called the Number 1 cause of accidental deaths for children is translated into action.
Safety Worth Rating
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration takes on a task — create a viable way to implement the requirements laid down in Title II of the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act of 1972. This particular section outlines a need to come up with testing criteria by which automobiles are determined safe and acceptable for American roads.
After some years of consideration, the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) is established in 1979 with vehicles tested and the results shared with consumers as well as used by auto manufacturers to improve car safety. The first front-end 35 mph crash test is conducted on May 21, 1979 with results shared that October, establishing a front impact test protocol based on Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 208 or “Occupant Crash Protection.” It is the beginning of a movement that overtakes the global motoring community.
The Volvo of Japan Practices Avoidance
Subaru is long considered among the safest motor vehicles on the road. Since its first model is introduced in 1954, the designs have been geared toward comfort, reliability and occupant protection. It is distinguished as the first Japanese manufacturer to start crash testing its cars in 1965 — both frontal and rear-end — and constantly receive high safety ratings from IIHS and NHTSA, similar to Volvo.
Then in 1990, the small yet powerful automaker incorporates technology into its automobiles in a wholly unique way to save lives — Subaru installs on-board crash data acquisition systems and establishes fully-functional crash test facilities where the information is analyzed and used to inform future offerings. What they collect helps Subaru work toward building vehicles that never have to get into accidents in the first place in addition to avoiding them. Throughout the 1990s and into the new century, Subaru continually strives to exceed the requirements of all of the car assessment programs around the world for the betterment of its occupants.
The Land Down Under Inspired
In a move similar to that of America with its NCAP, Australia establishes its own crash test oversight that includes member organizations throughout New Zealand and Australia in 1993. Called the ANCAP — for Australasian New Car Assessment Program — it specializes in gathering and providing advice and information on automotive occupant and pedestrian safety to the public.
By running various models through the paces of the most common types of crashes and looking at a vehicle’s ability to avoid a collision, ANCAP awards safety ratings between one and five stars to automobiles that are then shared with consumers.
Data That Gets Noticed
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is setting standards since its inception in 1959. From Supreme Court decisions in favor of airbags in cars to changing traffic light patterns to revealing daylight savings time reduces crash deaths, the IIHS is transforming the motor vehicle landscape. Then in 1995, one of the most pivotal crash tests comes out of the organization’s 3-year old Vehicle Research Center in Ruckersville, Virginia — offset crash testing to rate the frontal crashworthiness of cars.
It is a huge breakthrough on an issue felt to be in need of attention for years. The results are startling and automobile manufacturers are prompted to improve their designs moving forward to better protect occupants in frontal crashes.
Seeking Magazine Approval
1996, Russian Federation
Russia’s motor vehicle safety record is lacking and the country’s car magazine, Autoreview, decides to do something to assist with establishing some form of oversight. Eyeing America’s NCAP and noticing how other countries are following suit, the magazine establishes Autoreview Car Assessment Program (ARCAP) in 1996.
ARCAP becomes Russia’s first independent rating for the passive safety of cars that are sold within the country’s local markets, including exclusive results on those automobiles that are not exported to Europe or North America. While a valiant effort with a noble purpose, these early tests do not align with international car testing methodology and are reworked to comply with the soon-to-come EuroNCAP rules for frontal impact only by 2001.
Setting a New (Voluntary) Standard
Europe has already established a standard for certifying vehicles for sale under the Whole Vehicle Type Approval regimen, however, the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) for the UK Department for Transport feels there is more that can be done. Using U.S. NCAP as a basis, the Swedish Road Administration, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and International Consumer Research & Testing team up with the backing of the European Commission, seven European governments, the European Union and motoring/consumer organizations in every EU country to create a more stringent albeit voluntary vehicle safety rating system in 1997.
Called Euro NCAP, it follows along the same lines of rating cars based on their crash test worthiness with a five star rating system. As mentioned, this is a voluntary program, but one that has been found to be very effective in influencing consumer appeal of certain cars.
In January 2009, Euro NCAP shifts its rating system to focus more on pedestrian protection as there is a concern that auto manufacturers are paying too much attention to those in the car rather than keeping those on the road in mind as well. Since 2010, Euro NCAP Advanced has existed to rate those new safety technologies that demonstrate a “scientifically proven safety benefit for consumers and society.” These include such things as blind spot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking and more, bringing new car assessment into the 21st century.
Nothing More Than Zero
What may have seemed lofty at first sparks enough of a fire that it passes into law within three years and spans the globe within two decades. In 1994, the Swedish Government and Swedish auto industry — or, ya know, Volvo — get an idea to reform their country’s road safety strategy to not just reduce accidents, but eradicate them altogether. They call it Vision Zero — no deaths or serious injuries on the roads by a certain date, acknowledging that road travel still poses one of the greatest risks for all people around the world.
They put together an initiative and share it with the Swedish Parliament. By 1997, a Road Safety Bill is passed and Vision Zero becomes Swedish law. An ultimate target of zero deaths or serious motor vehicle based injuries by 2020 is set and shared with the rest of the world. By 2013, 26 countries have created Vision Zero goals and principles on their streets.
A Race to Safety
It comes out of the first automobile club in the world, the Automobile Club de France that is established in 1895 and holds the world’s first auto race — the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris run. One of the founding members, Comte de Dion, proclaimed at its launch, “Believe me, Gentlemen, the world is with us today and the movement we are heading will be unstoppable.
In three years, we will have two thousand members and we will need a palace to receive them.” Fast forward 9 years to the club’s creation of Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR) (eng. International Association of Recognized Automobile Clubs) and what ultimately becomes known as the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). Its expansion reflects the feeling of the times — motor cars are becoming more prevalent and of interest to the world, and motor sports are starting to take off.
While the goal of FIA is to support those interested in racing and automobiles in general, it soon becomes clear that there is a need for automotive safety measures for all vehicle owners/drivers. Throughout the 20th century, FIA’s roots are most notably racing and the oversight of the sport, but as motor vehicles change and safety becomes even more important, the organization establishes the Foundation for the Automobile and Society in 2001 with a focus on safety and creating a more equitable relationship between people and cars. By 2017, the foundation starts a campaign called “3500 Lives,” enlisting the aid of leaders from entertainment, sports, and government to get the word out on the dangers of and how to be safer when encountering an automobile.
The Beginning of Beautiful, Life-Saving Partnerships
FIA continues to expand its automotive expertise beyond the racetrack with several pivotal partnerships that commit to long-range vehicle safety going beyond just getting the word out about automobile protection. These focus on two critical areas: post-crash care and motorcar based information technology, including distracted driving. As part of these areas of emphasis, FIA starts working with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) .
FIA and the IFRC are collaborating to get the word out on the importance of anyone who engages in motor vehicles — driver AND passenger — having first aid knowledge in the event of a crash. Their work centers on strengthening the fifth pillar of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 , improving post-crash response. FIA and ITU are developing standards for safely combining road safety with information and communication technology (ICT) engagement. FIA and ITU are creating a campaign that specifically deals with technology-related distracted driving called “Text and Drive” that discusses and teaches about the specific dangers of texting while driving.
Universal Road Safety Data Care for All
The yearly summit hosted by the International Transport Forum (ITF) in Leipzig, Germany, is a massive collection of concerned and innovative automotive professionals sharing and acquiring ideas for the advancement of global transport policy. It is here that the think-tank, which exists in the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) and is the only agency to cover all forms of transportation, brings together its 59 member countries to create a constructive dialogue meant to improve roads, motor vehicles in general, and the health and well-being of drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.
FIA teams up with ITF in 2011 to develop a set of universal road traffic safety indicators to provide support when addressing road safety problems for FIA members and nations around the world.
Universal Road Safety Data Care for All
The Latin American and Caribbean regions of the world have long suffered road safety issues. The varied, often lush and isolated terrain, and propensity for severe weather of the two areas create an infrastructure challenge. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and FIA come together in 2012 to initiate an annual conference called “Paving the Way to Road Safety” aimed at facilitating a regional, cross-country dialogue among the governments of the area around the issues they are facing.
Held in both Brazil and the Dominican Republic every year, the goal is to discuss road safety concerns and come up with solutions that benefit these geographically unique locations.
A Monitor For All Reasons
2003, United Kingdom
The Police Scientific Development Branch in the UK comes up with an invention in 1976 to detect stolen vehicles and fleeing criminals. Called the Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) — at least in Britain and some surrounding areas— the device can read the vehicle registration plate of a car via existing video surveillance mounted along streets using optical character recognition images, then take that data to get information on the driver and track vehicle location.
Over the next three years, the prototypes are created and in 1981, early trial systems are mounted on the A1 road and the Dartford Tunnel, leading to a first arrest via detection of a stolen car that same year. The software is the same as that used in home computers and can be linked to other apps or databases to collect and store the information.
While it is not widely used until the 1990s, the collection of data for future use — not associated with a current criminal investigation — begins in the early 2000s and the ANPR goes on to be embraced by the rest of the world under a variety of names, but with the same purpose. The first documented case of ANPR helping to solve a murder comes about in November 2005, in Bradford, UK, when ANPR information is instrumental in locating and convicting the killers of West Yorkshire Police Constable, Sharon Beshenivsky, who is shot in the line of duty by a gang during a robbery.
Recognizing a Global Opportunity
2003, Saudi Arabia
Known in this part of the world as a license plate recognition (LPR) system, Saudi Arabia receives a recommendation to implement the technology into its infrastructure via a paper presented at the 2003 International Conference on Geometric Modeling and Graphics. The case is made that managing such areas as highway electronic toll collection, traffic and more will be more successful with these monitoring systems in place.
In 2012, the city of Jeddah becomes the first to install the new LPR as a complement to the existing speed monitoring Saher system , tracking vehicle movement and occupants by capturing real-time images of both drivers and their license plates. While the focus of the LPR is to determine if a vehicle has crossed the speed limit in areas not covered by Saher, it is also felt to be instrumental in apprehending perpetrators on wanted lists as well as recovering stolen vehicles.
Tracking traffic issues? No Worries
The introduction of Automatic Number Plate Recognition systems into Australia begins in 2005 with a trial of a fixed ANPR camera system for the New South Wales (NSW) Police Force. It’s a small step in the only country that doubles as a continent and proves effective in identifying issues with vehicles and their occupants. By 2009, mobile ANPR systems — officially called MANPR — are mounted to NSW Highway Patrol fleet. These three infrared cameras are able to identify unregistered and stolen vehicles, capture various other infractions in the act, and collect data for future use, thereby setting up the country/continent’s law enforcement with tools it needs to continue maintaining order in this vast expanse.
Save Lives, Not Information
By 2008, Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems are quite handy throughout Europe, the United States and various countries around the globe. However, Germany, while grateful for all that these digitally connected devices provide — tracking of suspected terrorists, monitoring and enforcing speeding laws, etc. — is not so keen on that gathering and retaining of information without a current purpose loophole.
In other words, gathering information on Hansel and Gretel’s Mini Cooper when they go to the supermarket and holding onto it in a database just in case they ever commit some sort of crime someday isn’t going to cut it. And so it is on 11 March 2008, that the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany rules that certain laws that permit the use of ANPR systems in Germany violate the right to privacy.
One of those are that retention of the type of info we just shared. And so, a nice win for privacy advocates and all those beginning to get a little concerned about the amount of information being gathered on the everyday driver.
Save Lives, Not Information
As the ANPR expands its reach, different cities in different countries are discovering new ways to use the technology to their benefit. This is what the Belgium city of Mechelen has done once it gets accustomed to the system it installs in September 2011. The goal is to use it to track and scan all cars that cross the city limits, whether they are inbound or outbound, and keeping a “black list” of those that are not in compliance on a variety of issues — no insurance, stolen, etc.
A car on one of the blacklists will generate an alarm in the dispatch room once the ANPR system captures its data, sending out a police patrol to intercept the vehicle and driver. The system is proving to be very effective with 1 million cars per week being automatically checked via the ANPR.
A Vehicle Tracker By Any Other Name is Still Surveillance
Because of differences in the use of English throughout the world — what are known as number plates in Europe and other parts of the globe are known as license plates in the United States — the ANPR is commonly referred to as the Automatic License Plate Reader/Recognition technology or ALPR in America. Regardless, by the year 2012, 71% of U.S. law enforcement agencies are using Mobile ALPR systems.
It is a vital electronic partner in the gathering of data, recovering stolen vehicles, delinquent car notes, finding wanted felons and more. It’s even shown as being useful in capturing traffic and parking violators as it is featured as a tool used by officers and impounders on the A&E Networks reality show, Parking Wars. With this widespread use comes concerns from privacy advocates. However, many U.S. states are finding it instrumental in not only discovering the above info, but missing persons, gang members, known and suspected terrorists, and something hugely debated in the U.S. these days, immigration violators.
As the decade moves forward, so does the implementation of the ALPR system and its application continues to grow and be seen as a vital tool in U.S. law enforcement. By the year 2015, pretty much every large country around the world is using the ANPR or ALPR system to create better efficiencies.
Brazil and Formula One Partner for Safety
Diageo — the Brazilian parent company for such spirits brands as Crown Royal, Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, and the two and a half plus centuries old Guinness — commits to promoting designated driver programs throughout Brazil in 2005 called “Piloto de Vez” (“designated pilot”), partnering with McLaren Formula 1 racing team and quickly expanding it worldwide. By 2008, Johnnie Walker is working with the team to urge Americans to “Join the Pact” to be or designate a driver after a night of drinking via the hashtag #ImNOTDriving. The goal is to collect over six million pledges globally by 2018. The hope is “to inspire people to make the commitment to designate a driver and make sure they get home safely.”
The Southwest Makes Driving Drunk Virtually Impossible
Its population is diverse and its landscape beautifully wild, making the state of New Mexico a favorite of countless tourists and its nature loving locals. It also holds the lead spot for drunk driving problems until the early 1990s. The state works hard to come up with preventative measures to lower this systemic problem and just as it looks like levels are dropping, DWI accidents and fatalities are on the rise again.
The jewel of the Southwest takes a stand and passes a law on 17 June 2005 that ALL offenders — from first-timers to repeaters — will have to install an ignition interlock device in their car. What, you may ask, is an ignition interlock device (IID) on your car? Well, it’s basically a breathalyzer that’s connected to your vehicle ignition. You blow into it and if it registers a blood alcohol count (BAC) below 0.025, your car will start for you. However, if it shows 0.025 and above, well, your car doesn’t start and you’re either hoofing it, calling a friend, hailing a cab or finding public transport — ride-hailing won’t show up in the state for another 9 years. And don’t even think about not installing the thing.
To not do so carries the same penalty of driving without a license. A first offender has the device on his or her vehicle for a year. A second offender, two years, a third one gets three years. Now, if that third time isn’t enough for you and you just HAVE to have that drink (or two or three or whatever) to celebrate that you no longer have to use that pesky IID thing then get back behind a wheel and drive AND GET CAUGHT, that fourth time makes your DUI a felony and you’re required to have the ignition interlock system installed in your car for a lifetime with reviews every five years. The first state to put such laws on the books, by 2010 others begin to follow.
The Global Impact of NCAP
As the world closes in on the end of its second decade of the 2000’s, New Car Assessment Programs or Programmes are popping up all over the world. From Korea to China to Southeast Asia to Japan to Latin America and more, a U.K. consortium decides it’s time to come together on behalf of all the nations of the world to ensure safety standards of the highest order to lower automobile fatalities on a global scale.
Global NCAP is a charitable program created in 2011 for “the promotion of public safety and public health, for the protection and preservation of human life and for the conservation, protection and improvement of the physical and natural environment in particular.” The organization’s long term goal is to rid the entire world of road fatalities and serious injuries. They go throughout the world to assist different regions with establishing, maintaining and sharing safety standards with their public and all those who oversee automotive needs in all areas of the world. Global NCAP establishes New Car Assessment Programs in emerging markets and provides technical support, guidance and quality assurance/control for each as a way of getting everyone to a Vision Zero present.
Safety in Numbers United
“Working together, we aim to bend the curve on road traffic collisions so they are no longer one of the leading causes of death and injuries worldwide.” That is the mission statement of Together for Safer Roads (TSR), a collaborative of private sector companies focused on supporting the efforts of the five pillars of the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety.
Formally launched in 2015, TSR members — which include Walmart, Chevron, GM, Pepsico, IBM, and more — are taking on the challenge of helping the world change the course of where today’s ever-rising automobile collisions are leading. It is believed that by 2030, road crashes will be the world’s 7th leading cause of death. Too many governments lack the resources to fix infrastructure and even create better and safer systems of travel.
This innovative coalition is compiling member data and putting to use the TSR’s capabilities, best practices and global partnerships beyond the core team to reach out to those communities in need of transformation to affect positive, life-saving change. The goal is to change the 2030 outcome by providing solutions that successfully support the needs of the pillars of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety.