Little Bits of History

Traffic Fatality

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 13, 2011

Henry Bliss in 1873

September 13, 1899: The first victim of a traffic fatality in the US falls. Henry H. Bliss was leaving a streetcar at West 7th Street and Central Park West in New York City. He was struck by an electric powered taxicab (Automobile No. 43). He was crushed by the impact and suffered head and chest injuries. He died the next morning from this trauma. The driver of the taxi, Arthur Smith, was arrested and charged with manslaughter. He was acquitted on the grounds that this accident was unintentional. An interesting tidbit: the passenger in the taxi was Dr. David Edson, son of a former mayor of New York City.

On hundred years after his death, a plaque was dedicated on the site to commemorate the event of this first accident. The inscription reads in part that Mr. Bliss was the first traffic fatality in the Western Hemisphere. However, the hemisphere technically includes area west of Greenwich making this assertion false. Mary Ward was killed by a steam powered car in Ireland in 1869 and Bridget Driscoll was a pedestrian killed by a car on the grounds of the Crystal Palace in Sydenham in 1896. That place is also west of the Prime Meridian, making it the Western Hemisphere. Mr. Bliss was the first fatality in the Americas.

Road traffic safety is a way to measure how safe users are on a particular road or in a particular area. Since the main indication of our safety is the likelihood of collisions, this is measured to arrive at a figure indicating how safe drivers, passengers, and pedestrians are. There are outside issues that can help to increase safety such as construction of roadways and traffic engineering practices – stop signs or traffic signals, for example. Other ways to protect oneself on the road is to drive cautiously and defensively. And the safety of the vehicle itself is also a determining factor.

Crashes are one of the world’s largest public health issues. Victims are usually quite healthy prior to an accident which can then be devastating. In 2004, it was reported by WHO that 1.2 million people are killed in traffic accidents around the world each year. Another 50 million are injured. It is the leading cause of death for children aged 10-19. The math behind calculating how safe or dangerous an area is based on billion passenger kilometers (in the US, crashes per million vehicle miles are used). As more cars travel longer distances, the issue has become a worldwide phenomenon.

“Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn’t block traffic.” – Dan Rather 

“Communities and neighborhoods are affected. Idling trains, traffic backups, grade crossing accidents and other safety issues all affect the quality of life in our neighborhoods.” – Bill Lipinski

“I have some road rage inside of me. Traffic, especially in L.A., is a pet peeve of mine.” – Katie Holmes

“I stop and look at traffic accidents. I won’t hang around, but when I hear something is terrible, as bad as it is, I’ve gotta look at it.” – Norman Lear

Also on this day:
It’s Hot, Hot, Hot – In 1922, the highest temperature in the shade is recorded.
Jumpman – In 1985, Super Mario Bros. was released by Nintendo.

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