Slaughter by Auto

A frank discussion of the alarming increase in deaths from motor accidents, and a suggested remedy

“REDVERS" January 15 1930

Slaughter by Auto

A frank discussion of the alarming increase in deaths from motor accidents, and a suggested remedy

“REDVERS" January 15 1930

Slaughter by Auto

A frank discussion of the alarming increase in deaths from motor accidents, and a suggested remedy


THE number of motor accidents throughout the world is reaching such appalling proportions that it would almost seem as if man has at last invented a Juggernaut which he cannot control.

In Canada as elsewhere, “slaughter by auto” is increasing at a staggering rate. In 1926, motor cars killed 606 people in this Dominion. A year later the death toll was 864. In 1928 it was 1,121, an increase in two years of eighty-five per cent.

Each year the number of victims of this country’s motor cars exceeds the fighting strength of a Canadian overseas battalion.

And that takes account only of the killed.

There are still the wounded to be considered; and non-fatal accidents are increasing with the fatal.

In Ontario, for instance, there were 2,349 non-fatal motor accidents in 1923. By 1928 the total had risen to 5,397.

In each of these, some man, woman or child was maimed. In many of them, the victims numbered two, three, four or more.

Peace, as well as war, has its casualty lists.

In fact, if the increase in the number of deaths keeps on as it has during the last few years, it is possible that the annual toll of motor accidents may approximate the annual birth rate.

The police, it seems, are helpless. So are the traffic experts.

They do make attempts at controlling traffic—control, to them, means slowing it down—in the downtown sections of cities. But the great majority of deaths occur in the uptown districts and in the country.

Which means that there is no real control of traffic, for efficient control would mean safety.

To my mind, that is the crux of the situation. No efficient control has yet been found.

What are we going to do about it?

It takes a man ten years to become the engineer of a train that will probably run at thirty miles an hour, on rails prepared for it.

It takes a man only ten minutes in most states and provinces to become the equivalent of an engineer, running a vehicle capable of eighty miles an hour—and you can rest assured he will try it at the first opportunity.

It is in these two sentences that we find the essence of the meaning of control.

What in the name of all that is sensible is the use of putting up a sign forbidding a speed of over thirty-five miles an hour, when you allow an absolutely irresponsible person to have possession of a light car capable of a speed of seventy miles an hour?

If I travel on a train from Toronto to Winnipeg I can rest assured that the driver is an experienced man who has undergone several severe tests. Not only that, but the brakes, engine, and every working part of that train have been thoroughly tested. In addition, every 160 miles between here and Winnipeg that train’s brakes and wheels will be re-tested.

But if I want to go to Winnipeg by car, what happens? I pull out my bus, oil it and maybe, if I am extra generous, grease it. But I would never think of getting it examined, because, by Jove, I can’t hear a darn thing rattling, and, of course, so long as she doesn’t rattle, everything must be all right.

I will drive that car, as I did once, over every kind and condition of road, on good roads running up as high as sixty-five to seventy miles an hour, and have many other cars pass me at that speed, and, God willing, I arrive in Winnipeg after having several narrow escapes.

I make no examination of the car en route because I am too darn tired. I just drive it, as do ninety-nine per cent of other men, until it creates such a howl, or breaks so badly, that I simply must take it to a garage, where I know they will gyp the daylights out of me, and probably an inexperienced mechanic will fool with my carefully adjusted brakes, so that I will suddenly discover them locking when next I use them.

For there is no test even of the mechanics who are supposed to overhaul the car. Any fool can say he is a mechanic, and thus can tinker and play havoc with the delicate adjustments of your car.

With few exceptions, the only place in which you can be sure that your car will receive expert care is at the factory branch of your car’s manufacturer.

Thus we see that there is no control over the speed of the car itself—since manufacturers can build a car of any speed— and no control over the driver.

No control either over those who service the car. From my own experience I would say that a great many deaths are caused through defective servicing.

Most men try to keep their brakes in good shape, but have found that the mechanics who adjust the brakes are often careless, or are ignorant of particular types, so that it is very seldom that your brakes are adjusted 100 per cent.

Any mechanic can fix a brake to work nicely at twenty miles an hour, but very few can fix it so that it will work just as well in an emergency stop at fifty miles an hour.

But whether the mechanic is good or bad, here again there is no control.

Current results of haphazard motor car operation indicate that some form of intelligent control is absolutely essential.

What is it?

To my mind, the traffic experts will find the essential clue to the solution of their problem in the experience of the railroads.

The Remedy

IN THE control of traffic there are four things to be examined and taken into consideration :

1. The car.

2. The road.

3. The driver of the car.

4. General conditions, such as

where the car will be driven, etc.

The first and most necessary step would be to establish a special department of Traffic and Public Safety.

Under this department would come all things pertaining to the car. The railroads have a department of operation and safety, divorced from the department of maintenance. This department would be organized along similar lines, and would of necessity have its own police, and those police would be specially trained.

That department would have the power to condemn any car, driver, or road as unfit for use.

The second step would deal with the car itself. Cars are being manufactured today for ordinary use with a maximum horsepower of 120 to 140 and a speed of from eighty miles an hour upward.

Undoubtedly these cars are too powerful for ordinary road usage, especially as the maximum legal road speed in any state or province is forty-five miles per hour.

Competition among certain types of manufacturers has brought about this state of affairs. Therefore this department of Public Safety could make and enforce a law limiting the speed of cars manufactured for general use.

Being impartial, I am sure their verdict in regard to speed and many other matters would be gladly accepted, and would call a halt to this, one of the greatest dangers.

From forty to sixty miles per hour is the limit of safe speed on the present roads, and this limit could be divided accordingly to the wheel-base of the car.

Any car is safe when new. But any light car is not safe at seventy or even sixty miles per hour, after it has been used for a few months.

The best steel in the world gets worn, and the best shock absorbers get loose. And the department of Public Safety should keep that in mind when setting the speed.

The next item is the roads.

All roads should be equipped with the red reflector system for night driving, in the same manner as the railroads are.

All roads should have a two-foot shoulder of brick to prevent skidding.

All roads should be classified. This will be gone into later on.

All roads should be equipped with barricades at certain specified intervals.

These barricades should serve the same function as the divisional points on the railroad, where brakes, wheels, driver, etc., would be examined and passed upon.

The latter might appear to slow up traffic, but the railroads do it for the sake of safety and loss of speed has not been serious.

This system would practically eliminate the stolen car trouble, the joy rider and the drunken driver.

Next comes the driver.

All drivers should be classified according to fitness—as they are on the railroad— into Classes A, B, C. and unfit.

A class A driver would be permitted to drive on high speed roads, designated Class A.

Class B drivers would drive on any road not classified as Class A.

Class C drivers could drive on side roads only.

A man would have to drive his car without mishap for one year before obtaining a Class A license. Class B would be a general license. Class C an offender’s license.

To drive on a Class A road it would be necessary to have a Class A car, examined and passed by a police officer as Class A and a Class A driver.

On a Class B road one should have everything at least Class B.

Operation of a car on a Class C road would indicate that either the car or driver was defective.

If a Class C driver were living on a Class A or Class B road, he would be allowed to travel on that road only as far as the first side road.

If a Class A or B driver committed an offense, he would lose his license for a given period, and be given one of a lower grade.

In such event Class A would be reduced to Class B and Class C would lose his license altogether.

If, however, the Class B driver drove for a year without mishap he would be promoted to Class A, and a Class A driver would get a special set of license plates to designate his skill.

In case of accident, the onus would rest upon the inferior driver, unless clearly shown otherwise.

Instead of the present license, a new one, designed on the same principle as a traveller’s cheque, would be necessary, in order that the police, to identify the driver, could compare his signature with the one on the license.

A system of markers would also be necessary. A place could be left on the license plate for this, to classify the car.

With this system of protection, undoubtedly the percentage of careless driving and unsafe cars would be cut down tremendously.

It would also be necessary to form a guild or union of mechanics, who would have to pass proper examinations to qualify them for their posts.

The mechanics themselves would welcome this, and this would assure the owner of the car of proper inspection and service. Each mechanic would be identified and numbered and complaints could be made against him, if necessary.

This may seem to call for drastic changes, but this is simply because all our present systems of traffic control have come down to us from the horse and buggy era; and in any event the saving in mortality would be tremendous.