Transportation in the Twentieth Century

For thousands of years, people walked or ran, rode or were pulled by horses or other animals and persons, or floated on slow-moving barges and boats to get from place to place. Very little progress in the speed of transportation was made until the middle of the nineteenth century, when the locomotive and the steamship made their debut. Then, toward the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, the automobile and airplane appeared on the scene in rapid succession and ushered in a revolution in transportation.

The invention of the internal combustion engine, which powers automobiles, trucks, and most other motor vehicles, has changed the nature of industrial production, business, work, and leisure during this century. In 1995, the 204.1 million registered motor vehicles in the United States were driven a total of 2,405 billion miles by the 177.4 million licensed drivers. Shortly before that time, the speed limit on the nation's highways had been 55 miles per hour, but only four states have preserved that limit. In fact, one state has no speed limit at all. Laws concerning driving while intoxicated (.08-. 10 blood-alcohol concentration), use of seat belts, child safety seats, motorcycle helmets, breath alcohol ignition interlock devices, and so forth, are on the books of most states, but the majority of injuries and accidental deaths are still attributable to accidents involving motor vehicles (National Safety Council, 1996). Furthermore, in spite of share-a-ride programs and carpool lanes for motor vehicles carrying additional passengers, the modal number of riders is still one. People depend and dote on their cars, which are essential not only to their livelihood, health, and leisure, but are often psychological representations or expressions of their status, power, and self-concept.

Automobiles are, of course, not the only means of transportation that has increased in popularity during this century. Travel by rail increased for many decades, but, in spite of rapid transit programs in many cities, has become less common in recent years. Streetcars are gone except for the tourist attractions in San Francisco and New Orleans. People in cities and in some rural areas continue to rely on buses to carry them from one location to another. Furthermore, individuals who are in less of a hurry can still take a boat or a ship and perhaps enjoy the scenery when their seasickness subsides. In recent years, however, perhaps the greatest growth in methods of transportation has been in air travel. At one time, the expense and uncertainty of air travel limited its use to the relatively affluent and businessmen in a hurry, but nowadays almost everyone flies.

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