August 17, 1896 – The first pedestrian death by vehicle in the UK

On this day in 1896 Bridget Driscoll unfortunately made her way into the history books by becoming the first pedestrian to be hit and killed by a car in the United Kingdom and the first person to die in a petrol fueled auto accident. As she and her teenage daughter May and her friend Elizabeth Murphy crossed Dolphin Terrace in the grounds of the Crystal Palace in London, Driscoll was struck by an automobile belonging to the Anglo-French Motor Carriage Company that was being used to give demonstration rides. One witness described the car as travelling at “a reckless pace, in fact, like a fire engine.” Although the vehicle’s max speed was 8 miles per hour (13 km/h) it had been limited deliberately to 4 miles per hour (6.4 km/h), the speed at which the driver, Arthur James Edsall of Upper Norwood, claimed to have been travelling. His passenger, Alice Standing of Forest Hill, alleged he had modified the engine to allow the car to go faster, but another taxicab driver examined the car and said it was incapable of exceeding 4.5 miles per hour (7.2 km/h) because of a low-speed engine belt. The accident happened just a few weeks after a new Act of Parliament increased the speed limit for cars to 14 miles per hour (23 km/h), from 2 miles per hour in towns and 4 miles per hour in the countryside.
The case went to trial and the jury returned a verdict of “accidental death” after an inquest enduring some six hours, and no prosecution was made. The coroner, Percy Morrison said he hoped “such a thing would never happen again.”

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