by Kathy Wolfe

This week, Tidbits hits the road with these facts about cars and transportation!

There are about 1.45 billion vehicles on Earth, with more than one-third of those found in Asia, about 531 million cars.    Europe has 28% of the world’s cars, while North America has 24%. But North America has the most cars per capita, with 710 vehicles per 1,000 people. Europe has 520 cars per 1,000. Although Asia has the most cars, its per capita is just 140 vehicles per 1,000 people.

The patent for the world’s first automobile was issued in January of 1886 to German mechanical engineer Carl Benz for his “Motorwagen,” a “vehicle powered by a gas engine. Benz’s car had three wheels, one cylinder, less than one horsepower, and a top speed of 10 mph (16 km/hr).

Windshield wipers were patented for the first time in 1903. Alabama resident Mary Anderson was visiting New York City and noticed how streetcar drivers had to open windows to see during foul weather. She went home and devised a handle-operated, rubber-bladed device “to remove snow, rain, or sleet” from the window of “modern electric motor cars.” Yet this ground-breaking invention didn’t catch on with automakers because it was considered a distraction. It wasn’t until 1922 that Cadillac became the first to make wipers standard on its cars.   

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Cadillac was also the first company to offer an electric starter. The 1912 Touring Edition featured the starter that eliminated the need for drivers to hand-crank their vehicles. It was a welcome addition for those who had experienced broken arms and other injuries when the car’s engine kicked back during cranking.

      In the late 1890s, New York inventor Joseph Jones was out for a drive with his wife in a steam-powered car he had built. When Mrs. Jones asked how fast they were going, Jones had to admit he had no idea, and she spurred him on to figure it out. He created the first gauge to measure automobile speed in 1899, receiving a patent in 1903 for his “speedometer,” a “device by which at a glance can be determined the speed at which an automobile is traveling.” Not surprisingly, Jones made a fortune on his invention, and in 1906 began construction on a building on the corner of Broadway and 76th St. in New York City to house the Jones Speedometer Company. Completed in August, 1907, building costs were $500,000, which translates to $13.5 million in today’s dollars.

When Henry Ford implemented the first moving automotive assembly line for the manufacture of the Model T in December, 1913, he cut the production time of the vehicle from 12.5 hours to just 93 minutes. When workers became bored with the same dull, monotonous, and repetitive assembly line tasks, they began quitting. Ford’s answer was a 40-hour work week, paying $5 a day for 8 hours of work, which was more than double their previous wage for an hour less work per day. The result was an influx of 10,000 job-seekers lined up at the Ford plant. Ford Motor built upwards of 15 million Model T’s between 1908 and 1927.

If you think a hybrid car is something fairly recent, think again! Ferdinand Porsche debuted the first hybrid at the Paris World’s Fair in 1900. Electricity was generated by two small gasoline engines that powered a generator that sent the charge to each wheel hub. In 1900, 38% of cars were electric, 40% were powered by steam, and 22% by gasoline.

    In the 1950s, Swedish aviation engineer Nils Bohlin designed ejector seats for Saab fighter airplanes. In 1958, the Volvo Car Corporation hired him as their first chief safety engineer, tasking him with developing    a three-point front seat belt for their vehicles. Bohlin’s seat belt was introduced in Volvo cars in 1959, a belt that secured both the upper and lower body, with straps joined at the hip. The belt’s benefits were realized immediately, yet the U.S. didn’t mandate seat belts until 1968.   

More than a million people die in traffic accidents around the world every year, with about 46,000 of those in the U.S. Car accidents are the number one cause of death for Americans under age 35. About 9% of U.S. fatal motor vehicle accidents are caused by distracted driving. Texting and driving are the reason behind 11 teenagers dying every day. About 10,000 deaths are contributed to drunk driving. One in five highway accidents is caused by the driver falling asleep at the wheel. During a crash, about 40% of drivers don’t even hit the brakes.

What are your odds of being in a car crash? Although it varies depending on where you drive and how often, the odds are about 1 in 366 for every 1,000 miles (1,609 km) driven. A person’s lifetime odds of dying in a motor vehicle crash are about 1 in 100, a probability of 0.9%, less than your odds of dying from an accidental opioid overdose.

      AAA reports that more than half of crashes in the U.S. can be linked to aggressive driving behaviors, with young men the most likely to exhibit road rage. About one-third of drivers experience road rage, but less than 2% actually take action. While some might scream, swear, honk continuously, or make rude gestures, high-anger drivers might tailgate, speed, change lanes quickly, run red lights, and even deliberately bump into other drivers. V.A. researchers have discovered that PTSD is linked to road rage, with veterans exposed to combat trauma more likely to engage in aggressive driving.

      A person’s chances of being struck by a car in the U.S. are about 1 in 4,292. The first pedestrian to be struck and killed by a car was Henry Bliss in 1899. As the 69-year-old Bliss was exiting a New York City streetcar, he was hit by a taxi.

    The world’s first parking meter was installed in Oklahoma City in July, 1935. The cost to park in that city’s business district was five cents an hour, with meters placed every 20 feet (6.1 m) along the curb. Although Oklahoma City lawyer and newspaper publisher Carl Magee received the patent, he had solicited the help of two engineering professors from Oklahoma State University to design the meter. The idea caught on quickly, with more than 140,000 parking meters operating in the U.S. by the early 1940s. It took a little longer to reach across the Pond – London didn’t have meters until 1958.