How Automakers Got Cars To Take The Street From Pedestrians

January 25, 2015 in Daily Bulletin

Back in the day the streets belonged to the people, writes Joseph Stromberg. Automakers then figured out a way to get pedestrians off the road and onto sidewalks in the United States:

  • In the 1920s roads were places where pedestrians, push cart vendors, horses, and playing children jostled for space.
  • It was the responsibility of everybody on the road – including cars – to make sure nobody got hurt.
  • But as car use began to spread the number of deaths dramatically increased with the elderly and children frequent victims.
  • There was a strong backlash against automobiles, made worse because people viewed them as frivolous play things for the rich – similar to how we see yachts today.
  • People got organized and pushed for proposals to impose drastic speed limits on cars.
  • The auto industry sprang into action, launching a counter-campaign to make roads the domain of automobiles.
  • They were successful. Under new rules pedestrians could only be on the road when they were on a crosswalk.
  • While there were new rules against jaywalking, they weren’t being enforced, so car makers launched a new campaign to shame people into following traffic laws.
  • This included introducing the term “jay walking” – a jay back then was a term for a hick who didn’t know how to behave in the city.
  • They also launched a wire service where journalists could send them details of car accidents, and the service would respond with a fully written article shifting the blame for the accident on the pedestrian.

The full article provides many more insights, has some excellent examples of the ads from the campaigns of the era. It also explains why automakers repeatedly hit a clown with a Model T. Read it here.

Source: Vox