76- The Modern Moloch

On the streets of early 20th Century America, nothing moved faster than 10 miles per hour. Responsible parents would tell their children, “Go outside, and play in the streets. All day.”

And then the automobile happened. And then automobiles began killing thousands of children, every year.

Many viewed the car as a death machine. One newspaper cartoon even compared the car to Moloch, the god to whom the Ammonites supposedly sacrificed their children.

At first, pedestrian deaths were considered public tragedies. Parades were held in dozens of cities to commemorate the dead children. Cities built monuments. Mothers of children killed in the streets are given a special White Star to honor their loss.

The main cause for these deaths was that the rules of the street were vastly different than they are today. A street functioned like a city park, or a pedestrian mall, where you could move in any direction without really thinking about it. The only moving hazards were animals and other people.

But automotive interests wanted to claim the streets for cars.
So they put forth a radical idea–cars weren’t to blame, it was human recklessness. They found that they could exonerate the machine by placing the blame on individuals.

They also coined a new term: “Jaywalking.”