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America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Transportation in America before 1876 Community Dreams: Santa Cruz, California, 1876 Delivering the Goods: Watsonville, California, 1895 A Streetcar City: Washington, D.C., 1900 City and Suburb: Chicago and Park Forest, Illinois, 1950s Suburban Strip: Sandy Boulevard, Portland, Oregon, 1949 On the School Bus: Martinsburg, Indiana, 1939 Family Camping: York Beach, Maine, 1930s Roadside Communities: Ring's Rest, Muirkirk, Maryland, 1930s The People's Highway: Route 66, 1930s-1940s Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927 Americans Adopt the Auto Crossing the Country: Somewhere in Wyoming, 1903 The Connected City: New York, New York, 1920s People on the Move Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland, California, 1960-1970 Going Global: Los Angeles Introduction Grand Plan Stop the Bulldozers! A New World for America's Auto Culture The Interstate Economy See the U.S.A. Crawl and Sprawl Safety
16: On the Interstate:  I-10, 1956–1990

Safety

In the last half of the 20th century, reformers and then politicians and the public pushed for increased automotive safety. Changes in every aspect of driving—better roads, stricter traffic enforcement, better driver education, and improvements in vehicle design—increased traffic safety. In 1966, more than 50,000 Americans died in traffic accidents; 20 years later, when the number of miles driven had doubled, there were 46,000 fatalities.

Changing the Vehicle

In the 1960s, government agencies began to set standards for vehicle and highway safety programs. From 1967 new cars had to feature seat belts, padded dashboards, dual braking systems, and standard bumper heights. In succeeding years, despite resistance from automobile manufacturers, new government regulations required improvements such as air bags, collapsible steering columns, shatter-resistant windshields, and child car seats.
Seat-belt poster, 1984
Seat-belt poster, 1984
Seat belt retractor
Seat belt retractor
First lap belts, then shoulder belts, then interlocks that kept the car from starting before you buckled up, then motorized seat belts, buzzers, lights, and finally strict enforcement—since 1967, government agencies have tried just about every way they could to get people to buckle up. In 1975, seat belts saved about 1,000 lives.
Bell Biker bicycle helmet
In the late 1970s even bicycle riders became increasingly concerned about safety. Bell produced one of the first effective helmets, a polystyrene foam liner covered by a hard shell.
Bell Biker bicycle helmet
Unsafe at Any Speed, by Ralph Nader, 1965
Unsafe at Any Speed, by Ralph Nader, 1965
Ralph Nader’s controversial book alerted the public to unsafe features of automotive design and played a key role in establishing government safety standards for cars.

Changing the Driver

It’s the “nut that holds the wheel,” as the old saying goes, that causes most traffic accidents, by speeding, failing to yield the right-of-way, driving while intoxicated. Driver-education programs, popular in high school classrooms since the 1930s, aimed to reduce accidents, as did grassroots groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, founded in 1980.
Driver training class, Madison High School, San Diego, California, 1971
Driver training class, Madison High School, San Diego, California, 1971
Highway patrol motorcycle, 1975
Highway patrol motorcycle, 1975
The California Highway Patrol (CHP) became famous for its motorcycles—especially in southern California. Motorcycle officers could maneuver quickly through traffic tie-ups, hazards, and collisions. In 1979, the CHP wrote some two million citations.
MADD bookmark, ribbon, and ruler, 1980s
Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a grassroots advocacy group founded in the 1980s, distributed bookmarks and red ribbons as part of a public awareness campaign against drinking and driving.
MADD bookmark, ribbon, and ruler, 1980s
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