The first car accident

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With any new invention, there is always debate about who was the first inventor was and when it was actually created. Alexander Graham Bell is credited with inventing the telephone but actually, he had the first successful patent, Antonio Meucci is believed to have been the first inventor. The same is true of the first car. There are many different inventions throughout history and across the world of powered people transport but defining what is actually a ‘car’ is difficult. Today we try and go one step further and identify when the first car accident was.

It may have taken place in France in 1771 although as this date is before the accepted date of the first automobile, it is clearly under some scrutiny. In 1771 a French inventor created a mechanical vehicle that could carry passengers. The French invention was arguably the first car but as it never saw widespread use it has not been given much attention. When the French inventor was showing off his prototype to military personnel (his hope was that it could be used to transport missiles) it went out of control and crashed. At the time of the crash, it was traveling at 2mph so disaster was avoided. There are some who say this event never actually happened as there is little evidence.
The difficulty is that it is very hard to find evidence of crashes where nothing really happens. To be sure of a crash we may need to go for the first recorded death. That took place in Ireland in 1869. Charles Algernon Parsons was 15 years old and had invented one of the earliest forms of the car. He was driving the car with his cousin Mary Ward when the car hit a bump and she was thrown from her seat. She fell forwards and the car drove over her and crushed her. She died instantly.

Parsons was distraught not but not swayed. He continued to invent many useful technologies and was a massive contributor to the field of science and engineering. The first death in the UK then happened in 1896 and the first accident in the US happened in 1891.  The UK incident was strange as a woman was hit by a car traveling 4mph, which is slower than most people walk. People suggest that she froze out of confusion and fear but this seems a very strange occurrence indeed. In the US, the accident was a man hitting a tree root. It is well documented because the man didn’t die and would later have a huge impact on motor transport. His name was John William Lambert and he is credited with inventing the first American gasoline automobile.

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It appears then that Ireland holds the crown for the first crash ever to take place resulting in death. Mary Ward was likely a bright young mind who would have liked her name to have been famous for something else but it was not to be. While the French try and lay claim to the title of the first accident there is just not enough proof to show that it actually took place. Although if a woman in the UK could die at 4mph then we can certainly believe that a crash could happen at 2mph in 1771.

While we still are unable to settle many debates on the first inventions of our time we think we can lay this one to bed. The first accident that resulted in death goes to Mary Ward of a town called Birr in County Offaly Ireland. Between 162 and 1899 the town was actually called Parsonstown after the family who was landowners there and of which Charles was a member.