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The World’s First Road Death

December 8, 2009

The victim

  • On August 17, 1896, Bridget Driscoll, became the first road fatality in the world.
  • She was a 44year old mother with two children who had come to London with her teenage daughter and a friend to watch a dancing display.

The crash

  • While the driver was reported to be doing 4 mph, witnesses described her at being hit by a car travelling at “tremendous speed”.
  • The crash occurred on a terrace in the grounds of Crystal Palace in London

The vehicle

The car was owned by the Anglo-French Motor Car Company who were offering demonstration rides to the public.

The driver

  • At the time of the crash, the car was being driven by Arthur Edsell, an employee of the company,
  • He had had been driving for only 3 weeks (no driving tests or licenses existed at that time).
  • He had apparently tampered with the belt, causing the car to go at twice the intended speed
  • He was also said to have been talking to the young lady passenger beside him

The inquest

  • After a six-hour inquest, the jury returned a verdict of “Accidental Death”.
  • At the inquest, the Coroner said “This must never happen again”
  • No prosecution was proposed or brought against the driver or the company

The aftermath

  • It has happened again and again-worldwide, over 1 million people are killed each year in road crashes and countless millions are injured.
  • Five times as many people are killed on the roads than are murdered in the UK (yet traffic safety is not a core function of the police)
  • More people died in the UK on the roads during the blackouts than in combat
  • While there has been a substantial reduction in those reported killed and seriously injured on the road in the UK, road crashes are still the leading cause of death and acquired disability in the UK for those between 5 and 40 years old
  • Over half of all road deaths in London are pedestrians.
  • One in 80 EU residents are expected to die 40 years prematurely due to a road crash.
  • Official casualty statistics underestimate the human casualty toll by referring to police rather than hospital statistics. Road casualties and crashes are not required to be reported to the police (See RoadPeace Briefing Sheet on Under-Reporting)

Ian Roberts, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, said about the epidemic of road death and injury: “…it is unusual to encounter a serious analysis of road danger in national news media. By 2020, road crashes will have moved from ninth to third place in the world disease ranking.  If we overlook this carnage, it will be the propaganda coup of the new millenium”.

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