Q. “Not only has the horse been outgunned by the car, it faces the further indignity of not being able to keep up with itself,” says one “Discover” magazine writer. What might he be driving at here?
A. First, let's talk horsepower. In 1760 outside London, King George III housed about 30 horses, or only about one-fifth the horsepower of the typical 150-horsepower-engine in today's compact car, says “Discover” magazine's Corey S. Powell in “20 Things You Didn't Know About Cars.” “By the formal definition of horsepower, which is the power needed to lift 33,000 pounds by 1 foot in one minute, a real horse musters only 0.7 horsepower.” Wow! It really can't keep up with itself.
And some other surprising car facts: In a mishap that didn't live up to the victim's name, H.H. Bliss of New York City became the first documented U.S. auto fatality, on Sept. 13, 1899, after exiting a trolley car. Fortunately, the average fatality rate per mile of driving has dropped by 80 percent over the past 50 years, largely due to seat belt use. Yet all the accelerating, cornering, braking and more happen on a tire area of only about 100 square inches for a typical sedan, barely bigger than your own two feet.