Mobility without Mayhem

Safety, Cars, and Citizenship

Mobility without Mayhem

Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: 38 illustrations Published: February 2008

Author: Jeremy Packer

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Film

While Americans prize the ability to get behind the wheel and hit the open road, they have not always agreed on what constitutes safe, decorous driving or who is capable of it. Mobility without Mayhem is a lively cultural history of America’s fear of and fascination with driving, from the mid-twentieth century to the present. Jeremy Packer analyzes how driving has been understood by experts, imagined by citizens, regulated by traffic laws, governed through education and propaganda, and represented in films, television, magazines, and newspapers. Whether considering motorcycles as symbols of rebellion and angst, or the role of CB radio in regulating driving and in truckers’ evasions of those regulations, Packer shows that ideas about safe versus risky driving often have had less to do with real dangers than with drivers’ identities.

Packer focuses on cultural figures that have been singled out as particularly dangerous. Women drivers, hot-rodders, bikers, hitchhikers, truckers, those who “drive while black,” and road ragers have all been targets of fear. As Packer debunks claims about the dangers posed by each figure, he exposes biases against marginalized populations, anxieties about social change, and commercial and political desires to profit by fomenting fear. Certain populations have been labeled as dangerous or deviant, he argues, to legitimize monitoring and regulation and, ultimately, to curtail access to automotive mobility. Packer reveals how the boundary between personal freedom and social constraint is continually renegotiated in discussions about safe, proper driving.


“By drawing on a wide range of sources including magazines, films, books, newspapers, traffic law, experts and organizations, Packer synthesizes a rich body of cultural evidence. . . . This book is to be commended for broaching significant questions about mobility safety in a way that will interest students and scholars in such fields as communications, cultural studies, sociology and mobility studies. — Arlene Tigar McClaren, Canadian Journal of Sociology

“I highly recommend this book, and not just for those interested in theories and criticisms around mobility. Indeed, while I would recommend the book simply as a series of well-grounded, thoughtful, and creative critical essays, the book simultaneously provides a singular focus through which we can come to understand more general trends leading toward a society of efficiency, productivity, and consumption that places the human as a flexible agent with the purpose of enabling a safe and efficient free market.” — John M. Sloop, Quarterly Journal of Speech

“This readable, unique, and relatively narrowly focused book discusses how ‘various and multiple forces—economic, cultural, and other. . . have come to organize and regulate automobility through a concern with safety.’ . . . References, bibliography, and index are excellent. Recommended. General readers, graduate students, and faculty.” — D. Brand, Choice

"In his dense cultural history of the car in post-WWII society, Packer logically distills the complex relationship between Americans, their automobiles and their love and fear of driving. . . . [He] produces a well-rounded study of an essential aspect of the average American's daily life." — Publishers Weekly

“Packer’s book succeeds in illuminating much about the public discourse on and cultural meaning of driving both past and present. In the process, he manages to call into question the fixation with managing risk that seems so all pervasive in American society in the era of the so-called War on Terror. Overall, the book makes a significant contribution to the growing scholarly literature on the automobile and the distinctive way of life it has helped to create. This is no small achievement.” — Steve Macek, International Journal of Communication

“Packer’s work offers historians insightful analysis of postwar automobility. . . . The book is a fresh and important contribution to the history of mobility in the United States.” — Kathleen Franz, Journal of American History

“Reading a book on traffic safety would seem to most to be a cure for insomnia. However, Jeremy Packer’s Mobility Without Mayhem: Safety, Cars, and Citizenship may well keep you up past your bedtime. . . . Packer’s informed and nuanced exploration of the relation of mobility to ideology in postwar America is comprehensive, provocative, and instructive. Check it out.” — Steven E. Alford, International Journal of Motorcycle Studies

“Safe driving . . . is not straightforward. Packer’s main insight is that the public’s attraction to the idea of safety makes it vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation by institutions. While his perspective often seems pessimistic, it is amply backed up, and its criticism of the intrusion of authority into our everyday lives is thought-provoking.” — Tim Roberts, M/C Reviews

“Whether you think of the car as symbolizing freedom, or environmental degradation, you'll find Packer's book thought-provoking, even entertaining.” — Cliff Bellamy, Durham Herald-Sun

"Packer's study of the cultural anxieties surrounding the automobile and the attempts to regulate this space (always in the name of ‘safety’) is quite exhaustive. . . . Packer's examination of the popularity of the Cadillac in African-American communities during this middle part of the 20th century." — Gerry Canavan, Independent Weekly

“Engaging with lively debates in contemporary cultural studies, including critical geography, technological and social history, and popular culture studies, Jeremy Packer denaturalizes the common-sense assumptions that inform our culture’s conceptions of drivers and driving.” — Jeffrey Sconce, editor of Sleaze Artists: Cinema at the Margins of Taste, Style, and Politics

“For all that the United States trumpets individualism, it is a nation of obedience—to church, kin, commodity, conquest, and, perhaps above all, car. Jeremy Packer takes us along a wild but always disciplined drive in the fast lane of cultural studies.” — Toby Miller, author of The Well-Tempered Self: Citizenship, Culture, and the Postmodern Subject

“Jeremy Packer has scoured the byways of American history and media to bring back this telling account of how mobility is governed. Along the way, he deepens our understanding of how a culture of individualism, risk, and competitiveness is in fact organized and controlled—by inculcating self-discipline in the name of safety. Freedom is constrained by security, self-expression by surveillance; the American Dream fizzles out in ‘road rage.’ What does this tell us about contemporary America?” — John Hartley, author of Television Truths: Forms of Knowledge in Popular Culture


Availability: In stock
Price: $28.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jeremy Packer is Associate Professor of Communication and a faculty member in the Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media graduate program and the Science, Technology, and Society program at North Carolina State University. He is a coeditor of Foucault, Cultural Studies, and Governmentality and Thinking with James Carey: Essays on Communications, Transportation, History.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: Auto-Mobile America 1

1. The Crusade for Traffic Safety: Mobilizing the Suburban Dream 27

2. Hitching the Highway to Hell: Media Hysterics and the Politics of Youth Mobility 77

3. Motorcycle Madness: The Insane, the Profane, and Newly Tame 111

4. Communications Convoy: The CB and Truckers 161

5. Of Cadillacs and "Coon Cages": The Racing of Automobility 189

6. Raging with a Machine: Neoliberalism Meets the Automobile 231

7. Safety to Security: Future Orientations of Automobility 267

Notes 293

Works Cited 325

Index 341
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, 2008 National Communication Association Critical Cultural Studies Division Book of the Year

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3963-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3952-6
Publicity material