Dangerous Driving In Early 20th Century America | Page 2 | Things Autos
Automotive History

Dangerous Driving In Early 20th Century America

It was not very long before there were thousands of people driving cars around the city. And since driving was such a new concept, most (if not all) drivers were inexperienced. In order to try and manage this ever-growing problem, the city of Detroit took several steps and precautions. First off, traffic lights, known then as Street Sephamores, and stop signs both made their debuts in Detroit. Originally, these traffic lights were either a green metal circle with a green light or a red star with a red light. In order to change the light from green to red and then back again, a police officer stood on a raised platform and changed it manually. In order to warn that the signal would be changing, these police officers blew a whistle ten seconds prior to the change. The first intersection to have such a set up was at Woodward and Grand Boulevard. Detroit was also home to the first street sephamore that was operated electrically and cost only about 10% of what the prior set up cost.

Not only was this the case but Detroit was one of the first cities to have a police squad to deal with controlling traffic. Only New York City had a judicial court specifically for traffic control before Detroit. It was in this Detroit court that the ruling was made that the speed limit for automobiles be the same as that of horse-drawn carriages. The fact was that motor vehicles were simply not made to go at such low speeds. When trying to stick within this guideline, drivers would often end up stalling their cars. However, since severe punishments were put in place for those who did not follow this rule, most drivers did do their best to stick within these limits in order to avoid heavy fines and jail sentences. Yet, that did not mean that hundreds of people were still hauled into police stations for speeding excessively.

Before this, stop signs, traffic lights and warning signs did not exist, which of course made driving a lot more riskier than in present day. Imagine driving without knowing when and where to stop. Not only that, since driving was so new, the streets were filled with unskilled drivers. Moreover, drinking and driving was much more socially acceptable since the dangers associated with it were not yet understood.

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