Saturday, April 24, 2021

Traffic Safety Disparaged as Blue Laws and Radical 100 Years Ago

Here's an interesting piece from the afternoon paper 100 years ago.

It shows traffic safety measures framed as "blue laws," puritanical restrictions on Sunday commerce and other activity. It is clearly meant to disparage them as old-fashioned, excessive, and moralistic curbs on assertions of independence and power. It is set up as a protest against the nanny state.

We will return to these themes!

April 23rd, 1921

The piece is worth quoting in full:

Auto Blue Laws Are Proposed

Conference Series To Draft Legislative Measures Opens at Washington

With "blue laws" occupying the attention of the country, radical motor legislation has crept into legislative discussions in some quarters. One of the most stringent measures proposed has been referred to a committee of the Illinois state body, and, although even its proponents admit there is little chance of passage or of even slight progress, automobile men and motor car owners may take it as an indication of "how the wind is blowing."

The unusual Illinois "auto blue law" was suggested by Representative Crudden of Chicago, who seeks to limit the speed of all motor vehicles to 18 miles an hour by means of an automatic governor such as now control the postoffice mail trucks of the Windy City.

"No regard Is shown for the inevitable traffic congestion certain to occur where all vehicles travel at the same speed," say Vick Bros., local Oakland Motor Car representatives. "Picture for yourself the sight of Michigan avenue, In Chicago, with its thousands and thousands of machines all rolling along at 18 miles an hour. Big multi-cylindered cars would be unable to pass the humble flivver. A car driving at the maximum rate, high on the crown of a boulevard, would retard all machines behind.

"Of course, we all smile at the prospect of such a law and its effects. But the mere fact that such a measure can find a sponsor and even a small number of supporters seems to indicate that there is now forming a sentiment that may, if permitted encouragement, grow into a commanding force.

"A minute's thought will give any motorist the solution of this problem. It can be expressed in one phrase, which the Oakland Motor Car company has spread throughout the land through its great dealer organizations:

" Drive Politely.'

"Observance of the speed laws is essential In every community. The infraction of such laws by only a few motorists may mean inconvenience for thousands if laws are made more stringent for the few violators.

"As stated, there's little chance for such blue laws to become national in the immediate future, but their appearance and agitation shows mostly plainly what is coming unless automobile men and car owners, by discretion, prove to every community that such legislation is not required for public safety."

Some of the other blue laws that have been advanced In various communities would abolish Sunday driving; prohibit working on cars on Sunday; require full stops before crossing any street in city or town limits. In no instance has success attended the presentation of such laws but, as the local Oakland dealer explains, "they are straws that show which way the wind blows."

"It can't be done," was long said of at least one other curbing measure that had affected the lives of millions.

Here is a cartoon about this, not part of the article here and from a couple of years later:

Contesting Speed Limits in 1923
via BikePortland and Vox

Words like "Blue Law," "radical," and "Chinese" show some of the rhetorical moves to associate the safety proposals with more deeply disliked notions. We also see fear-mongering and an incipient analysis of "congestion." And finally, the prerogatives of a rich person in a big, powerful car over the person in a "humble flivver" - not to mention the prerogatives of both over the person on foot.

(See Fighting Traffic for a book-length treatment of the matter nationally.)

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