Driving it

PrintTake a Detour . . . to the 1950s

Driving, Then and Now

Driving on the Turnpike in 1951 was very different from today, and not just because there were fewer cars on the road. In fact, driving in general has changed. Check out these “then and now” examples and consider the impact of the automobile on our lives and on the world.

  fuel pciture


   What you filled your tank with, then: When you gassed up at a Cities Service station along the Turnpike, the gasoline the attendant pumped into your tank had “tetraethyl lead” in it. Highly toxic, it was intended to take the “knock” out of your engine.
     What you fill your tank with, now: When you pull up to today’s Sunoco station, you fill up with unleaded gas. In 1970, the U.S. Clean Air Act required a 90% reduction in tailpipe emissions, and began the phase-out of leaded gas.
     The implications: People increasingly questioned the car and its byproducts. Low-lead gasoline was introduced in the 1970s as a result of increased public concern about air pollution. Since passage of the 1970 Clean Air Act, airborne levels of lead have decreased.



       The size of your car, then: In 1951, your car would most likely have been quite large; in fact, in the 1950s the American automobile increased in size.
     The size of your car, now: After a few decades of moving towards smaller cars (the fuel crisis of the 1970s in particular led people to look for smaller, more fuel-efficient autos), Americans are once again buying big. Sales statistics show that roughly half of new vehicle sales are in the light truck category.
     The implications: America has a short memory when it comes to fuel consumption and conservation. And buyers may be spurred on by ads that portray trucks and SUVs as rugged outdoor vehicles—even though most people use them largely for everyday tasks like going for groceries



car picture
  seatbelt picture


     Safety belts, then: In 1951, the chances are slim that your car would have had safety belts.
     Safety belts, now: Safety belts are standard equipment in automobiles (although 30% of travelers don’t wear them). The U.S. Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 mandated them along with energy-absorbing steering columns and dashboards, warning flashers, and head restraints on cars sold in the U.S.
     The implications: People became increasingly aware of cars’ dangers and questioned their safety—in particular after consumer advocate Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-in Dangers of the American Automobile (1965) pointed the finger at car manufacturers. The government’s involvement suggests the need for oversight on an issue that affects a huge segment of the American population.