Dear RoadPeace members and supporters – dear friends!
I am writing to share with all of you, and remind some of you, that exactly 25 years ago RoadPeace commemorated an Anniversary that has great relevance to our work and is the very reason why RoadPeace needed to be set up. It was the 100th Anniversary of the very first death caused by a driver – the death of Bridget Driscoll in Crystal Palace, London.
Therefore, today – on 17th August 2021 – we look back 125 years since this very serious event occurred and reflect on its consequences.
Mrs Bridget Driscoll was a 44-year old mother. The driver, performing demonstration rides outside Crystal Palace, was a 20-year old youth with 3 weeks’ driving experience. At the inquest, the coroner apparently said that such a death should never happen again, yet neither the driver nor his employers were made accountable for Mrs Driscoll’s death, which was labelled ‘accidental’.
As we all know only too well, millions of deaths followed that first road death, in all countries of the world, and the toll continues to this day.
RoadPeace and many relevant national and international organisations have worked hard and continue to do so – to bring an end to so many needless and preventable deaths and injuries, many of them affecting young people – a terrible and senseless loss and waste.
The casualty numbers have decreased during almost 30 years of RoadPeace’s activities, supported by our members, but they are of course still unacceptably high. In 1990, the year my son was killed, 5,217 people were killed on UK roads and 336,000 injured. In 2019, before lockdown, 1,752 were killed and 153,158 injured – about 1/3 and ½ respectively of the 1990 toll. Our vision is 0 deaths and serious injuries, with the aim of achieving as close to 0 as possible.
The worldwide toll is a staggering 1.35 million deaths and between 20 to 50 million injuries (World Health Organisation figures) annually – an ongoing ‘pandemic’ that is still not given the serious attention needed to get it under control, 125 years since it began!
Let us all reflect on this fact today, but let us also acknowledge and celebrate our joint work so far and our determination not to accept any longer the shabby treatment of road deaths and injuries. The 125th anniversary of the first ever road death must now become a turning point towards our Vision 0. This would represent recognition for all road victims and a positive legacy to Bridget Driscoll.
I have much material connected with Bridget Driscoll’s death and am happy to be able to share some of it with you in this special e-letter.
Brigitte Chaudhry MBE
Founder & President RoadPeace
About Bridget Driscoll
Bridget Driscoll, with her family
Because the cause of her death was so unique, her death received extensive publicity. The inquest concluded just a week after her death – on 25th August 1896 – with an “Accidental Death” verdict, returned by the jury, and this again was reported in national and local papers.
An excerpt taken from the Wikipedia page explains the controversy around her death:
“The death of Bridget Driscoll (c. 1851 – 17 August 1896) was the first recorded case of a pedestrian killed in a collision with a motor car in the United Kingdom. As 44-year-old Driscoll, with 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 a car 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 car’s maximum 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 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 had 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 jury returned a verdict of “accidental death” after an inquest lasting some six hours. The coroner, Percy Morrison (Croydon division of Surrey), said he hoped “such a thing would never happen again.” The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents estimated 550,000 people had been killed on UK roads by 2010.”
A history of commemoration of Bridget Driscoll
In 2009, RoadPeace produced a parliamentary briefing for Coroner reform, which cited Bridget Driscoll’s death. 2009 Parliamentary Briefing: Can Coroners drive killer motorists off the road?
100 Year Anniversary of Bridget Driscoll, 17th August 1996
Article on 100 year anniversary of Bridget Driscoll’s death
Today marks the 125th Anniversary of Bridget Driscoll’s death, and at the last major anniversary, 25 years ago, RoadPeace organised a big event for this occasion – our event of the year, at the place where it occurred – in Crystal Palace.
Over 200 members and supporters joined us at Gipsy Hill station, from where we retraced Bridget Driscoll’s steps right up to the grounds of Crystal Palace.
We carried a large banner, specially produced for this occasion, with the words:
“100 years of the car, 100 years of carnage”
We had also commissioned a plaque, which was placed on the spot where she is believed to have been killed and we laid flowers.
There was a choir and speakers – from RoadPeace, Friends of the Earth and The Pedestrians Association, followed by refreshments and an opportunity to meet and talk.
The event was very successful and it received great media attention.
This plaque, which during some years stayed in the Crystal Palace Museum, has yet to be found a permanent place and you will be informed when this has happened.
Brigitte Chaudhry, spoke at the event and outlined how:
“A very dangerous precedent was set all those years ago by the various responsible bodies, and the result has been a carnage of terrifying proportions which is still continuing – day in and day out.”
Brigitte’s full speech, with information about the event, is available to read here
August National Road Victim Month
Because of the death of Bridget Driscoll on 17th August and in 1997 of Princess Diana on 31st August – both car crash victims, we decided to declare August as National Road Victim Month and began to observe it from 1998 onwards.
Join us in commemorating National Road Victim Month
International recognition of Bridget Driscoll’s Death
The legacy of Bridget Driscoll’s death continues, and it has been cited over the years in many international publications and at many international events.
This example is from the UN General Assembly in 2004:
LEE JONG-WOOK, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), recalled that the first person to be killed by a car had been Bridget Driscoll, a 44-year-old mother of two, who was knocked down at London’s CrystalPalace on 17 August 1896. The car had been travelling at 12 km per hour. Speaking at the inquest, the British coroner had warned: “This must never happen again.” The world, to its great loss, had not taken his advice.
Updated on: 17 August 2021