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A look back on Melbourne's road safety history

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24 Aug 2015

While horses were the main cause of deaths and injuries on the roads in the 19th century, the 20th century saw the introduction of motor cars, which presented an even greater problem.

Melbourne's first known motor car road death was in the winter of 1905. A car driven by confectionery millionaire, and creator of the Freddo Frog and Cherry Ripe, Macpherson Robertson knocked down pedestrian Thomas Hall in Fitzroy.

Thomas Hall, a 47 year old irondress worker at Messrs J and T Muir's iron foundry, was hit by Robertson's vehicle while crossing the intersection of Nicholson and Gertrude Streets. He was picked up and driven to the hospital in Robertson's vehicle, a common occurrence during the early years of motoring, but was declared dead upon arrival. Sadly, he was a widower with four children. 

 Mac Robertson standing next to carrs 

The Driving Class 

The paper of the day, The Argus, published details of the initial coronial inquest however, we were unable to find details of any follow up inquest or repercussions for the driver.

As would be no surprise, it was only the wealthy who owned cars. This presented a legislative problem as most of the parliamentarians were part of this driving class and it wasn't until 1910 that the Motor Car Bill was passed.

Police were almost powerless to apprehend speeding motorists as they were usually on foot or bicycle.

Melbourne street, 1905 

It wasn't until the 1920s the number of people killed and injured was higher in relation to the number of vehicles on the road than at any other time in Victorian history.

Quite a bit has change in the past 109 years - in April 2015 there were 4.6 million registered motor vehicles in Victoria.

Learn about Victoria's road safety on our Statistics page. You can also read about how we're working Towards Zero road deaths and injuries.

Images courtesy of the State Library of Victoria and the Royal Historical Society of Victoria. Some details courtesy of Provenance: The Journal of Public Record Office Victoria, issue no. 3, 2004. ISSN 1832-2522. Copyright © Rick Clapton

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