The popularity of motor cars brought changes which were not so positive. Putting wheels, people and speed together inevitably led to accidents. Even before the automobile, road accidents caused life-altering injuries. Buggies hitched to fast horses offered little protection to their occupants. The first automobiles were based on the designs for carriages with similar open sides. No thought had been given to safety measures to keep the driver or passengers in either buggy or motor car if it left the road.
The US started keeping track of traffic accidents per mile traveled in 1921. In Traffic Safety, Leonard Evans states, “The 2002 rate of 9.4 US traffic deaths per billion km of travel is 94% below the 1921 rate of 150. If the 1921 rate had applied in 2002, the number of US traffic fatalities in 2002 would have exceeded half a million.”* With statistic like those, it is easy to see that early motorists were taking their lives in their hands when heading out on the road.
Not only can we credit improving automobile safety standards for the drop in the road fatality rate, but advances in medical techniques pulled more people back from the brink. My family history offers an example of the early carnage on the roads. I was surprised when I found the 1934 death certificate for my 2 times great aunt Henrietta. This woman from Owen Sound died in the city of Toronto, which was a puzzle, but even stranger was the cause of death. This was given as “concussion, cerebral hemorrhage, motor car accident” with contributory causes of shock and bronco pneumonia. Was she the driver or passenger of a car, or perhaps, a pedestrian who lost an encounter with a motorist? Many scenarios passed through my mind when I found the certificate. And then there are all the causes of death. Would she have pulled through with modern medicine? Well, maybe not as she was 82. But perhaps this death may be the reason why my grandmother, Henrietta’s great niece, didn’t drive.
Evans, Leonard. Traffic Safety. Science Serving Society, 2004. *p 39.
Robertson, Heather. Driving Force: The McLaughlin Family and the Age of the Car. McClelland & Stewart Inc., Toronto, 1995