Historical Social Research

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Achim Saupe, Human Security and the Challenge of Automobile and Road Traffic Safety: A Cultural Historical Perspective [Abstract]

The worldwide enhancement of road traffic safety is one aspect of the UN agenda on “human security”. The article examines the history of road traffic safety and the development of automobile safety technologies since the mid twentieth century with a strong focus on West Germany. From a historical perspective there are two reasons why the UN agenda includes the enhancement of road traffic safety. Firstly the development of road traffic safety is a “success story” in industrialized countries even though there are still high death rates globally. Secondly, the enhancement of road safety is linked to advanced civil societies with all their stakeholders, and strengthening civil society is a key concern of the UN worldwide. Beyond that, automobility is a symbol of modernity. Discourses about automobile safety inform us about the conceptions and regulation of individual freedom and security in different societies. Moreover, new safety technologies such as the safety belt modify the interactions between human beings and machines and thus the idea of freedom, autonomy and responsibility.