Automobiles and Safety
The automobile revolutionized industry, transportation and everyday life. Its introduction opened new markets for products such as rubber and gasoline, created jobs and industries to support them, and led to changes in social attitudes and behaviors. The automobile also brought with it new responsibilities and risks. It is not surprising that accidents and fatalities soon increased, prompting demand for licensure and safety regulation at the state level.
The modern automobile was first perfected in Germany and France toward the end of the 1800s. However, it was American inventor Henry Ford who introduced mass production techniques that lowered the price of his Model T to an affordable level for middle class families. Ford, General Motors and Chrysler came to dominate the automotive industry as it grew into a vital component of modern life.
With the advent of mass-production, it became practical to build cars using standardized parts, making them more affordable than ever before. A number of important innovations occurred during this period, including the electric self-starter (invented by Charles Kettering for Cadillac in 1910-1911), the closed all-steel body and independent suspension and four-wheel brakes. The pistonless rotary engine of Mazda, which is still in use today, represents another significant development.
The era of the annually restyled car ended with the enactment of consumer demand-driven safety standards, fuel efficiency and environmental concerns. Automobile design and manufacturing continue to change, but they now primarily involve refinement of existing technologies, with emphasis on cost-effective safety features like air bags and electronic stability control.