Death and injury on the road are not new. For the whole of the regency period people were being thrown about and thrown out of wheeled vehicles.
The most common form of wheeled transport was the gig- A two- wheeled one horse device that would carry one or two people. If people were thrown out of them, then their fate depended on the surface on which they landed. Mrs Parsons of Warsash (carefully described in the newspapers as “the wife of Mr F Parsons” ) died when her gig overturned. Mr Parsons himself was merely bruised. It was a random event.
Mrs Mary Kirby and 15 months George Kirby were killed at Hyde Park Corner when a coach tried to overtake them and the gig turned over. This was the type of dangerous driving that cyclists know about today, and the Coach driver was accused of manslaughter; however, he had absconded and a warrant was put out for his apprehension.
Overtaking was a danger point. The worse accident of 1816 was the collision of the Dart and the Phoenix. They were both travelling from London back to Brighton and were doing the last leg from Patcham when the Phoenix tried to overtake the Dart at Preston, near their final destination. Both coaches were full of passengers, inside and out. The Phoenix overturned and the passengers on the outside were thrown clear. Those inside were smashed against the side of the coach and arms and legs were snapped, ribs bruised and teeth smashed out. The Landlord of the Golden Cross, Princes Street, Brighton broke his arm. His Inn was a major Brighton coaching house; his overturned coach may well have been destined for there. Mr Mayhew, solicitor, lost teeth. “A German gentleman”, with the highly unlikely name of Mr La Skirk,cracked his ribs.
The Driver and proprietor of the Dart, Snow, was also the owner of one of Brighton’s main coach companies, but these not stop him behaving dangerously. The competition based on speed and price probably encouraged reckless overtaking. Both stage coaches were being driven by their owners. Overtaking at Preston would led to the winner getting to the coaching Inn first
There was some public disquiet about the way the industry was organised. The “Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser” (17 October 1816) welcomed the competition and the lower prices, but worried about the stage coach owners travelling to fast and carrying too many passengers and too much luggage. The newspaper mentioned the London and Brighton route as one of the main perpetrators. There was also a slight hint that the horses were being driven furiously and there was some growing interest in animal welfare.
Poor quality roads and gradients were another problem. In 1816, the Royal Mail was travelling through the night -as they always did, to increase their speed from about 10 to nearer 18 miles an hour. They were between North Wales and Holyhead, when a rock overturned the vehicle and the driver was thrown off as the coach was going down a very steep gradient. The newspapers made it clear that it was not the drivers fault. He was sober. The Lamps were lit. But it was hurtling down a narrow road on a step gradient.
The driver fell off the coach at a narrow part of the road and smashed himself into a low wall. This was actually a good thing as beyond the wall was a 2oo feet sheer drop into a river. He broke his leg but lived. The guard was thrown into the road. As it was a Mail coach, there were no outside passengers and only one inside. It took 200 yards for the Mail Coach to stop; had it been an overcrowded Stage Coach, there fatalities would have been much worse.