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August 17, 1896 – First pedestrian killed by a car

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. Driscoll, 44, her teenage daughter and a friend were walking the grounds of the Crystal Palace in London, when they likely heard the mechanical chatter of an early motor. The engine that was banging and clanging was fitted to a demonstration vehicle of the Anglo-French Motor Carriage Company. Bridgette was struck by the car as the women crossed the grounds to attend a temperance meeting. A witness described the vehicle as traveling at “a reckless pace, in fact, like a fire engine.” 

Above: Bridget Driscoll, second from right, with family c 1896. Top: An advertisement for the Anglo-French Motor Carriage Company.

Although the vehicle’s maximum speed was 8 miles per hour, this model had been mechanically limited to 4 mph for test drives. The driver, Arthur Edsall, claimed to have been traveling no more than 4 mph at the time of the accident. His passenger, Alice Standing of Forest Hill, believed Edsall modified the engine to make the car faster. A 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 from 2 miles per hour in towns and 4 miles per hour in the countryside.

Edsall was brought to trial for the accident that resulted in the first pedestrian killed by a car. By the end, the jury returned a verdict of “accidental death” after a six hour inquest. No prosecution was made. The coroner, Percy Morrison said he hoped “such a thing would never happen again.”

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