Walt Disney believed that the youth of his day could learn to be good drivers by practicing good driving habits on a miniature highway. Toward that end, he opened the Tomorrowland Autopia in July of 1955. Disney was right in one respect -- practicing good habits would build better drivers -- but he had overlooked the fact that kids given high-powered miniature death machines to pilot will generally spend more time ramming than practicing.
But instead of trying to reinforce children's better instincts, Disney just had wrap-around bumpers welded onto the cars and opened more Autopias -- the Midget Autopia in 1957 and the Fantasyland Autopia in 1959. At that point, with the Autopia accident rate at more than 500 times the rate on the real freeways leading to Disneyland, Disney finally relented and had his Imagineers redesign the Autopia vehicles.
The new vehicles had smaller engines and governors to limit them to 10 miles per hour -- children would no longer be cruising along at freeway speeds. The vehicles' profile was lowered by 50% to lessen the incidence of rollovers, seat belts were installed, and cruise control was removed. Most annoying of all to young hellions, a strip of cement now ran between the cars' wheels, preventing them from weaving out of their lane and forcing them all to travel in the same direction.
With these improvements, Autopia drivers were limited to ramming the car ahead of them for entertainment.
In June 2000, the Autopia one again received a face lift. This time, all of the Autopias (including the Rescue Rangers Raceway which got in there somehow without any really noticing) were merged into one gigantic Autopia, the cars were again redesigned to make them look more "sporty," and the roads of the Autopia were given a face life, inserting "humorous" new bits of theming, interesting new terrain, and rails on bridges to prevent horrible fatalities. At this point, pedestrians were no longer permitted on the roads due to hitchhiking haven gotten out of control.
In coming years, Disneyland plans to completely replace the Autopia cars with fuel-cell powered vehicles. This will cut down on pollution, noise, and fuel costs, with only a small chance of a damaged vehicle exploding like the Hindenburgh.
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