In his book Driving Germany: The Landscape of the German Autobahn, Thomas Zeller describes the conflict of interests that developed the earliest plans for Germany's world-renowned highway system into what were named Adolf Hitlers Straβen. The merits of this fundamental change are still debated today.
Growing pressure from the war and from the Nazi government directed Autobahn planning away from its Weimar-era ideals of scenic vistas and curving, engaging, challenging-yet-pleasant roads. The new direction, greatly supported by Nazi officials, called for arrow-straight highways without any distractions that could lead to crashes. With both manpower and time at a premium, the straight line argument won out.
The debate between isolating the driver and forcing the driver to remain attentive still goes on, both in highway planning, and in car design. While we were pointing out that car crash-related fatalities are at an all-time low, SmartAspen Could Have Bought 1.31 V6 Mustangs Instead reminded us that maybe our system still isn't perfect.
Why do I feel like accidents per 100 million miles is a figure missing from this, "Look how far we've come!" article?
I've had this hypothesis that electronics, refinement and general isolation from any feeling of threat makes people careless, fearless drivers. The subconscious tells us we're driving two ton feather pillows around, and behavior slowly but surely adjusts.
"It's cool, I got this! And even if I don't, the airbags, crumple zones and fart preservers will save me!"
"Maybe I shouldn't do that, the big chrome horn button that might go through my face might not feel so hot…"
Not saying it's a bad thing (unless you ride a motorcycle), but...I'm just saying.
Photo Credit: Ernst Vollbehr/Wolfsonian.org