Before “Accident,” Deadly Driving Was “Homicide By Automobile”

In the early 20th century “chauffeur” was synonymous with “motorist,” and by 1906 Life Magazine had had enough of them.

Newspaper cartoon from 1923. Via 99% Invisible
Newspaper cartoon from 1923, when the press still recognized traffic violence as a motorist problem. Via 99% Invisible

Doug Gordon at Brooklyn Spoke dug up a column titled “Get After the Chauffeurs,” in which Life reported on a two-vehicle crash in Central Park that killed several people, including the driver who caused the collision. “That one got his dues,” the magazine said. “His reckless driving was a crime. The result was homicide. If he had not been killed he should have been sent to State’s prison.”

The column questions why reckless chauffeurs go unpenalized for their “antics,” and compares “homicide by automobile” to “homicide with a gun.”

From Life:

There will be some legitimate automobile accidents, just as there are runaway-horse accidents, but they should be few. Horses are irresponsible, and cannot be punished for running away. Chauffeurs, as a rule, are very imperfectly responsible, but they can be punished for running away and held accountable for the harm they do.

Gordon notes that today, it’s the mainstream media that empathize with the chauffeurs while people who decry traffic violence are now called “advocates.”

Compare the above to stories of drivers who “lost control” of their cars before killing innocent victims. In some cases, news sites such as DNAInfo.com even describe the car itself as the thing that was “out-of-control,” never mentioning a driver, as if the car was some sort of sentient animal that got spooked. Like, say, a horse.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Greater Greater Washington reports on plans to bring housing and transit to the Seven Corners area of Fairfax, Virginia; and Washington Bikes says Kidical Mass is taking off in Washington State.