Traffic safety, once neglected within the larger history of the automobile in the United States, has finally been getting the attention it always deserved. Nevertheless, historians still sometimes misappraise traffic safety in one era by the standards of another. Ahistorical assumptions have contributed to misinterpretations—for example, that Americans of the 1920s were extraordinarily tolerant of traffic casualties because they did not respond to them as more recent traffic-safety paradigms would prescribe. As a corrective, four paradigms, approximately sequential, are proposed: Safety First, Control, Crashworthiness, and Responsibility. Historians are invited to borrow, modify, or replace them, and to consider their applicability to other countries. Whether these particular paradigms survive review or not, historians who are alert to safety paradigms will produce more reliable scholarship on the history of traffic safety.


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pp. 319-334
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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