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Automobiles

Brief History Of The Automobile

The first automobile powered by an internal combustion engine was invented and designed in Germany during the 1880s. In 1903, Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company and started an era of U.S. leadership in auto production that lasted for most of the twentieth century. In 1908, Ford introduced the highly popular Model T, which by 1913 was being manufactured through assembly line techniques. Innovations by Ford, General Motors, and other manufacturers near Detroit, Michigan, made that city the manufacturing center for the U.S. car industry. By the 1920s, General Motors had become the world's largest auto manufacturer, a distinction it still held into 2004. Over time, the auto industry in all countries became increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies, and by 1939, the Big Three—Ford, General Motors, and Daimler Chrysler—had 90 percent of the U.S. market. As of 2003, Ford is the world's second-largest auto manufacturer after General Motors Corporation.

What to Do If You Are in an Auto Accident

Sooner or later, you are likely to have an accident. Fortunately, it will probably be a minor collision that damages only the vehicles involved. However, whether you are in a minor or major accident, behaving coolly, calmly, and properly after it occurs could save you a lot of money and trouble.

Some suggestions on what to do if you are in an auto accident:

  1. If possible, move your car to the side of the road or out of the way of traffic.
  2. Turn on your car flashers or set up flares to warn other motorists of the accident.
  3. Do not make any statements concerning who was at fault, or assign blame to anyone involved.
  4. Help any persons who are injured. Most states have laws requiring you to render aid to anyone injured in the accident. Call an ambulance if necessary.
  5. Write down the name, address, license plate number, and driver's license number of the other driver and ask to see his or her vehicle registration certificate and proof of insurance. Write down the insurance company name and policy number of the other driver. If asked, do the same for the other driver. Do not reveal the amount of your insurance coverage.
  6. Write down the names and addresses of all passengers involved and of any witnesses to the accident.
  7. Notify the police, particularly if anyone is hurt or injured at the scene.
  8. Write down the names and badge numbers of any police officers at the scene.
  9. If possible, take a picture of the scene of the accident, including damage to cars and skid marks.
  10. Draw a rough diagram of what happened in the accident, noting road conditions, weather, and lighting.
  11. If you suspect you have any injuries, obtain medical care.
  12. Talk to a lawyer if you intend to file a lawsuit regarding the accident.

All states require those involved in an accident to file a report with the police or bureau of motor vehicles if the accident involves a death, a personal injury, or property damage above a certain amount, such as $500. Some states require that the report be made immediately; others allow five to thirty days. Failure to file a report is a misdemeanor in most states and could result in the suspension of your driver's license.

Some insurance companies provide their policyholders with accident report forms. Such forms make it easier to obtain the necessary information if you are in an accident. If you have them, keep them handy in your vehicle.

In 1929, there were roughly 5 million autos in the United States. All those cars required an infrastructure of roads, and by the end of WORLD WAR II, the federal government had begun aggressively to fund highway development. With the intention of improving the nation's ability to defend itself, Congress passed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944 (58 Stat. 838). It authorized construction of a system of multiple-lane, limited-access freeways, officially called the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, designed to connect 90 percent of all U.S. cities of 50,000 or more people. In 1956, the Federal-Aid Highway Act (23U.S.C.A. § 103 [West 1995]) established the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which as of the early 2000s continued to provide 90 percent of the financing for interstate highways. By 1990, the interstate highway system was 99.2 percent complete and had cost $125 billion.

During the 1970s, the U.S. auto industry began to lose ground to Japanese and European automakers, and U.S. citizens relied to an increasing degree on imported autos. Japan, for example, surpassed the United States in auto production in the 1970s. Oil shortages and embargoes during the 1970s caused the price of gasoline to rise and put a premium on smaller autos, most of which were produced by foreign companies. Foreign cars also earned a reputation for higher quality during this period. The share of foreign cars in the U.S. market rose from 7.6 percent in 1960 to 24.9 percent in 1984.

In the early 1980s, the U.S. auto companies were suffering greatly, and the U.S. government bailed out the nearly bankrupt Chrysler Corporation. The U.S. government also negotiated a quota system with Japan that called for limits on Japanese autos imported into the United States, thereby raising the prices of Japanese cars. By the 1990s, the U.S. auto companies had regained much of the ground lost to foreign companies. In the mid-1990s, however, international manufacturing agreements meant that few cars, U.S. or foreign, were made entirely in one country.

Unsafe at Any Speed

For over half a century the automobile has brought death, injury, and the most inestimable sorrow and deprivation to millions of people." So RALPH NADER began his 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-in Dangers of the American Automobile, a landmark in the history of U.S. CONSUMER PROTECTION.

Nader's book recounts how U.S. automobile manufacturers resisted attempts to improve auto safety in the 1950s and 1960s. Even when makers of other vehicles such as planes, boats, and trains were forced to adhere to safety regulations, automakers were still largely uncontrolled in the area of safety. "The gap between existing design and attainable safety," Nader wrote, "has widened enormously in the postwar period."

Nader examined how auto companies lobbied against safety regulation and organized public relations campaigns that asserted over and over again that most injuries were the result of driver error. He argued that the best and most cost-effective way to reduce auto injuries is not to try to alter driver behavior—as honorable a goal as that might be—but to require automakers to design cars that better prevent accidents from occurring and better protect passengers if accidents do occur.

In telling his story, Nader cited sobering statistics on traffic injuries and fatalities, including the fact that auto accidents caused the deaths of 47,700 in 1964—

"the extinguishment of about one and three-quarter million years of expected lifetimes," he noted—and one-third of all hospitalizations for injuries and 25 percent of all cases of partial and complete paralysis due to injury. Borrowing the zeal and spirit of the CIVIL RIGHTS reform movement and the faith in technology of the space program, Nader looked at traffic fatalities as a public health issue that can be resolved through public action and technological innovation. Quoting Walt Whitman's epigram "If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred," Nader asserted that he was attempting to protect the "body rights" of U.S. citizens.

To protect those rights, Nader used his book to call for a number of different strategies to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries: federal safety standards; a federal facility for auto safety research, design, and testing; increased manufacturer research and development for safety technology; improved consumer information with regard to auto safety; better disclosure of auto manufacturers' safety engineering efforts; and the creation of a DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION. It is a mark of Nader's foresight and determination that all of those goals were achieved in the decades following the publishing of Unsafe at Any Speed.

CROSS-REFERENCES

Nader, Ralph.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Approximation of laws to AutopsyAutomobiles - Brief History Of The Automobile, What To Do If You Are In An Auto Accident, Unsafe At Any Speed