Thursday, August 17, 2023

Bridget Driscoll and Henry Bliss: First recorded pedestrian fatalities


You'll be surprised to learn the first pedestrian deaths by automobile weren't in the 20th Century and there were no laws in place regarding pedestrian accidents.

Bridget Driscoll: First person killed in an auto accident.

Bridget seated in front row

Bridget Driscoll (1851-August 17,1896) was killed as she crossed the street near the Crystal Palace in London, England. She was accompanied by her teenage daughter May and a friend. The witness accounts are interesting. Before I share those, I’d like to mention the rules for pedestrians on London streets. They were non-existent during Victorian times.

I watched a YouTube video made from movie clips edited together to show traffic from 1898 to 1905 in London. I may have seen one motorized vehicle. They were hard to identify as they resembled a carriage.Click link below to see video.

My word, how no one was injured surprised me. People wove in and out of traffic (that being horse-drawn wagons, carriages, carts and trolleys.) The roads were wide enough to accommodate two vehicles abreast going opposite directions. And at times, the traffic was intense.

I imagine the traffic was busy when Bridget and the girls crossed the street. Just like when I visited Chicago, pedestrians sensed the traffic and jaywalked safely. These women probably had a sense of timing regarding horse-drawn wagons.

Along comes a loud horseless carriage produced by the Anglo-French Motor Carriage Company. It was used to give demonstration rides. The driver, Arthur James Edsall, claimed to have been driving four miles an hour. Just two weeks earlier, Parliament had passed a law allowing 14 miles per hour. He claimed to have yelled at Mrs. Driscoll to get out of the way and rang his bell.

Witnesses say she froze in the middle of the road as if she didn’t understand what was said. Witness also claimed he was driving in a zig-zag pattern and very fast. It appeared he didn’t know what he was doing.

A jury declared it an accidental death. Which was the usual verdict considering there were no laws governing traffic flow and pedestrian crossings. Unlike today, there was no compensation for the family from the company or the driver.


Henry Bliss first American killed in by a motorized vehicle

Henry Bliss, a real estate broker, was exiting a Trolley car when he was hit by an electric motorized carriage. Yes, I said electric. New York in 1900 had more electric cars than gasoline driven. But I digress.

The driver of the taxi cab, Arthur Smith, claimed a large truck waited on the right side of the street which forced him to drive closer to the trolley.

Electric Horseless Carriage  .

Mr. Bliiss had his head and chest crushed, dying the next day. Mr. Smith was arrested and charged with manslaughter but acquitted on the grounds there was no malice or negligence on his part. 

It would be years before any significant traffic laws would be in place both in Great Britain and the US.


Have you ever heard of Mrs. Driscoll or Mr. Bliss before? Did you know there were Electric cars in New York in the 1890s?


Cindy Ervin Huff is an Award-winning author of Historical and Contemporary Romance. She loves infusing hope into her stories of broken people. She is addicted to reading and chocolate. Her idea of a vacation is visiting historical sites and an ideal date with her hubby of almost fifty years would be live theater.

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today! I had neither heard of those fatalities nor that there were electric cars so early! Very interesting!