Automobiles are motor vehicles used to transport people and cargo on land. Powered by an internal combustion engine fueled most often by gasoline, the automobile became an indispensable tool for modern life after its invention in the late 1800s. The United States came to dominate the industry in the first half of the twentieth century, and manufacturers funneled their resources to the war effort during World War II. In the postwar years, automobile production slowed as the market reached saturation and technology stagnated. New cars are designed with a host of safety and convenience features. In order to keep up with consumer demands, research and development engineers and scientists are employed by automotive companies to improve the body, chassis, engine, drivetrain, steering, control systems, and other components.
The automobile has had many effects on society and culture. Economically, it spawned dozens of industries. New jobs were created in road construction, rubber, vulcanized petroleum products, and manufacturing. Other businesses, such as gas stations and convenience stores, emerged to serve the needs of automobile drivers. Automobile ownership also gave families more freedom of choice about when and where they traveled. As the automobile became a commonplace part of American life, families rediscovered pristine landscapes and explored formerly inaccessible areas. Young adults were given more independence with the ability to drive and explore the city. Dating couples could now go to more places without the need for parental supervision. Automobile accidents and deaths also propelled the need for driver licensure and safety regulations.
Despite their many benefits, there are also drawbacks to automobiles. They have the potential to be destructive when they are driven recklessly, and their use can lead to traffic congestion and air pollution. In addition, when one or more automobiles crash into each other at high speeds, the resulting damage can be deadly.
Nevertheless, owning a car provides a sense of security and control that public transportation can’t match. In emergencies, automobiles give people the means to reach medical facilities and other vital services. The ability to carry children or pets safely and comfortably gives parents peace of mind and allows them to travel longer distances than is possible on foot. In addition, many families prefer to drive because it allows them to have a personal vehicle that is easily maintained and upgraded as family needs change. When a child has a fever or other health crisis, an automobile can get the patient to the hospital faster than a taxi or ambulance. This type of flexibility is invaluable to the modern family.