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Used Parts Bin: Remote Control Cars, Hammered Nashes, and Early Automotive Law

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Used Parts Bin: Remote Control Cars, Hammered Nashes, and Early Automotive Law

Bill Crittenden
October 10, 2012


On the way to work this morning I saw a light blue Chrysler Town & Country, in nice condition, driving along...with a Slipknot sticker on the back.  Yep, people grow up, but some never grow old.

Remote Control Cars?

One of my new sources is the BYD company from Shenzhen, China.  I've started talking to one of their PR people, and I'm just reminded of how awesome the internet can be.  I see in old magazines the addresses to write to recieve more information, and in news articles from a century ago how long it took to get information around the world, and here I am in Woodstock, at 9pm, talking instantaneously to a person in a place where it's 10 in the morning.

Another very interesting bit of technology I learned about from my new friend is that some cars in China now come with remote controls.  It's not quite like James Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies, roaring around in a BMW 7-Series from the remote control screen in the back seat, but it's a step in that direction.  The car comes with a little remote pad, and you can drive it within a certain range of the pad at limited speed.  Why?  Okay, American cars now have remote start as an option, right?  Imagine having a car that will start and pick you up at the door when it's raining!

We already have cars that drive themselves in very limited ways, such as the parallel parking assist available on a few luxury cars in America.  They use sensors to prevent accidents and can start, stop, and steer without human hands and feet.  Kudos to them for having the imagination to take the technology one big step further!

The new car is called the BYD Su Rui, and you can see it in the press release BYD Su Rui goes to market in Beijing, with Remote Driving Control technology.

It's Hammer Time!

I recently went back to Schaumburg to hang out with my father for a day.  We went to the Schaumburg Bank & Trust Car Show, but before going he told me a story about an uncle in the family (his uncle, I think) who worked for Nash/Rambler back in the day.  He was an engineer in quality control and they came across a problem where the rear seats were coming loose in the cars.

So they went to the point on the assembly line where the rear seats were installed.  There was a pneumatic screwdriver hanging at the station, but when it came time to install the seats the worker there just grabbed a big hammer and pounded them in.

It turns out the screwdriver broke and never got fixed, so he did what he had to do to keep the cars moving on down the line.  So if you ever had an old Nash that had a rear seat wiggle loose and it looks like the holes for the screws were a bit bigger than they were supposed to be, now you know why!

Laying Down the Law in 1903

Among the many things I've been adding to the Library includes an article from 1903 called New Automobile Law Divides The Experts.  It's about what seems to be one of New York's first comprehensive laws for cars on highways.  You can read the whole thing, but here are some interesting excerpts, along with less interesting commentary...

"No city ordinance shall require an automobile or motor vehicle to travel at a slower rate of speed than eight miles per hour within closely built up portions, nor at a slower rate than fifteen miles an hour in sections where the houses are more than 100 feet apart.  No ordinance shall require an automobile or motor vehicle to travel at a slower rate of speed than twenty miles an hour within any town or village beyond the closely settled territory, except in cases specially defined by the law."

Speed limits: 8 in the city, 15 in the 'burbs, 20 in the country.  Seems pretty slow?  "This will give automobilists the advantage of running their vehicles at high speed in many localities in the immediate vicinity of the city where the limit is now eight miles an hour."  So, in 1903, 8 miles an hour is slow, 20 is "high speed."  I don't think people do 8 any more in parking lots, and 20?  That's school zone speed now!

This is also, from what I can tell, the origination of drivers' licenses in New York state: "Every person desiring to operate an automobile as mechanic, employe, or for hire, must within thirty days after the law takes effect file a statement with the Secretary of State, giving his name and address and also a description of the machine he is capable of operating, with a registration fee of $1.  In return he shall receive an operator's certificate, which he must always carry with him when operating an automobile."  Requirements?  Write your name, pay a dollar.  No mention of a driving test either written or practical, in an age when cars had no safety features whatsoever!  In this, the world has definitely changed since the early 1900's!

Percy Owen of the Automobile Club of America said, "In the section defining the penalties you find that these are not only for violation of this law, but for violations of ordinances or regulations which may have been passed by the authorities of townships or municipalities regarding the running of automobiles, of which one may be perfectly ignorant.  Say, for instance, in some little town there has been a collision between a fire engine and an automobile.  The first thing the Town Council will pass is an ordinance declaring it a misdemeanor for an automobile to cross the street where the engine house is situated without first stopping.  How are you going to know this if you pass through there for the first time in your life?  And if you have been convicted for two offenses equally trifling before, you are sent to jail as a common criminal."

Interestingly, we're still seeing echoes of that very same issue, all of 109 years later, with Chicago passing an ordinance against driving while talking on a handheld cellular telephone while it was still legal in the rest of Illinois.  Chicago is also a transportation hub situated between Indiana and Wisconsin, and is a tourist destination.  If a great number of people don't keep up with Chicago's traffic ordinances because they don't live there, how many people can be expected to keep up with, say, Richmond, Volo, Spring Grove, Lakemoor, Wauconda, Lake Zurich, Palatine, and all the ones I'm missing on U.S. Route 12 between 53 and the Wisconsin border?  Percy Owen was right about two things: we now have strict laws about yielding to emergency vehicles, and nobody can possibly keep up with all the local traffic ordinances driving from jurisdiction to jurisdiction in the age of the automobile.

Oh, and one other thing that hasn't changed in over a century: government's not the best at sharing information. "Deputy Police Commissioner Piper said last night that no information, to his knowledge, had been received at Police Headquarters regarding the law, and that therefore no steps had been taken to enforce it."

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