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Silent steeds and horseless wagons: a history of NYC car accidents

The first car accident victim in New York City history was a bicyclist. And perhaps sadly fitting, the first fatal car accident victim was a pedestrian. The bicyclist was injured 116 years ago this month, on May 30, 1896. The first fatal car crash followed a few years later on Sept. 13, 1899. Now, it seems like there’s a traffic fatality in our state just about every day, and tens of thousands of car accidents every year.

In 1896 cars were called horseless wagons, and it was one such horseless wagon that struck the cyclist. The driver was participating in a car race on Western Boulevard, now Broadway, when the driver lost control and hit the cyclist, who broke his leg. The driver was locked up at the 125th Street police station.

At that time, bicycles were considered a nuisance and were referred to as “silent steeds” in news reports. In fact, on the day the city experienced its first car accident victim, five cyclists — so-called reckless riders — were corralled on Broadway and brought before a magistrate for riding too fast. Each was fined $3, and apparently got a stern talking to from the judge.

The first fatal car accident victim met his fate when he stepped off a trolley car on the “Dangerous Stretch,” at Central Park West and West 74th Street. The real estate dealer had just turned to help his female companion down off the trolley, when he was struck and run over by an automobile maneuvering around a truck. Though a doctor was on the trolley, there was little to be done for the victim, whose head and chest were said to have been crushed.

Pedestrian accidents have tragically become a way of life throughout New York. Few would have thought back in the late 1800s that, in time, Manhattan would seemingly have as many cars as people. There is only a finite space on our roadways in the metropolitan area. Car accidents have been happening in our state for more than 100 years and will no doubt continue to plague our streets. Hopefully everyone who uses New York roads will drive with care and caution so as to prevent tragic accidents.

Source: gothamist.com, “NYC’s First Car Accident In 1896 Involved A Bicycle,” Christopher Robbins, May 14, 2012