More than any other country in the world, the United States today lives in its automobiles. Along with the abundance and variety of cars, however, there have come problems, the most serious of which is safety. Fortunately, much has been accomplished in this field, and each year driving has become, comparatively, safer. But much more remains to be done, for too many Americans have grown careless and lazy in their highway habits. In this issue Rodger Ward, winner of the Indianapolis "500" in 1959, contributes the first article in a three-part series designed to lead U.S. car owners to happier motoring, whether in a city tunnel (opposite) or on the open road. In later issues, Australia's World Champion Driver Jack Brabham will show you how to drive a sports car and England's pretty Pat Moss, a champion rally driver, will discuss motoring under the foulest of foul-weather conditions.
'IT'S MEANT TO BE FUN'
or a long time now, this country has been working up a bad case of nerves over its traffic safety record. Motorists are warned of the slaughter on the highways and advised to drive defensively at all costs. Newspaper and radio accounts of holiday traffic casualties sound like wartime battle reports from Omaha Beach or the Changsha Reservoir.
Nevertheless, after nearly 25 years of civilian driving and 15 years on the speedways, I still believe, as I did when I jumped into my first Model T Ford, that driving is meant to be fun. I also believe that it can be just about as safe for the individual driver as he wants to make it.
Admittedly, I race cars, but I haven't the slightest desire to break my neck in an automobile—on or off the track. I race to express myself; racing is the thing I do best. I accept the risk as part of my professional job. As for the highways, I drive on them to get from one place to another as smoothly and enjoy-ably as I can. I like the solid feel of a steering wheel in my hands and a responsive gas pedal under my foot. I think most Americans do, too.
In both cases, it's fun; but the idea of taking pleasure in driving is becoming more and more submerged as this country becomes increasingly jittery about traffic dangers. I think it's a shame.
For one thing, I don't believe a man can be scared into the proper mood in which to approach the art of good driving any more than a boy can be cuffed and kicked into an appreciation of, say, violin playing. For another, the traffic situation isn't as dismal as many U.S. drivers have been led to believe. Turn to the chart on the next page and look at the statistics: a quarter of a century ago, in the year 1936, there were almost exactly as many fatalities as there were last year—38,000. But in 1936 there were only 40% as many cars and trucks in use. Considering the number of miles driven today and the number of cars on the highways, the traffic death rate has declined dramatically. Driving, clearly, is safer in 1961 than it was 25 years ago.
Granted, 38,000 deaths and nearly 2� million injuries in one year are deeply disturbing figures. They demand everybody's constructive concern. But a jittery driver is a bad driver. What is needed today is not fear but confidence. If motorists are to realize their full potential for safe and pleasurable driving, they must, first of all, be made aware of the solid improvement that has already been made in safety. From there they can go on to acquiring or sharpening good driving habits.
Of all the skills in driving, the most important is concentration. Everyone can appreciate how vital it is to concentrate in racing, where split-second decisions must be made at speeds up to 185 miles an hour. Out on the highway the margin for error is considerably wider. But for just that reason the problem of staying alert is more difficult.
Everything about the Indianapolis "500" tends to keep my mind fully engaged: the speed, the competition, the necessity of getting through the turns at something near, but never beyond, the limit of tire adhesion. On the highway, an extra, conscious effort is needed to keep one's concentration at high pitch. Mile after routine mile goes by. Suddenly a tractor creeps onto the highway ahead from a side road. Any of a dozen minor emergencies like that might occur on a given trip, yet be safely disposed of if the driver is concentrating as he should.