As Henry Wells drove along upper Broadway in New York City on the 30 May 1896, little did he know he was about to make history. Evylyn Thomas, equally unaware of her role in the fateful event, was blissfully riding her bicycle along the same street. That is until the two collided, and the world’s first recorded automobile accident took place.

120 years ago today, the world's first recorded automobile accident took placeClick To Tweet

The New York Daily Tribune report of the accident is matter-of-fact, unaware that variations of this event would become an all too common occurrence in the years to follow.

“The wagon [automobile] operated by Henry Wells, of Springfield, Mass., wobbled furiously, going in a zig-zag fashion, until it seemed that the driver had lost control of it. Evylyn Thomas, of No. 459 West Ninetieth-st., was approaching on her bicycle, when suddenly the wheel and horseless carriage met, and there was a crash,” the article reads.

“A crowd gathered, and the woman was picked up unconscious, her leg fractured. An ambulance took her to the Manhattan Hospital, where last night it was reported that she would recover soon. Wells was taken to the West One-hundred-and-twenty-fifth-st. station, and held pending the result of the injuries to Miss Thomas. The wagon went on in charge of another operator.”

The development of the automotive industry is of course a fantastic technological achievement, but it has also introduced a potentially deadly hazard into our daily lives. In the year leading up to September 2015, there were 188,830 reported road casualties in the UK alone, with 1,780 fatalities. However, are modern advances bringing us closer to the day where we can consign road accidents to history?

Self-driving cars

Much has been said about the potential impact of self-driving cars. Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, has stated that the rise of autonomous vehicles could see humans banned from being behind the wheel, claiming that it is too dangerous to have “a person driving a two-tonne death machine.”

For now, however, much progress still needs to made if self-driving cars are to prove themselves as a safer alternative to human-driven vehicles. A number of collisions have taken place during off-road tests – normally attributed to human error – but back in March Google admitted that its self-driving car was to blame for crashing into a public bus in California. Teething problems, however, are to be expected and the growth of the autonomous vehicle market will have to struggle against regulatory issues and public inertia as much as it will its own safety record.

Despite these early issues, the future is promising for the automotive industry. Imagine a self-driving car that automatically reduces its speed to keep the correct separation distance from the car in front, or a vehicle that could send data to other road users to inform them of upcoming hazards.

Imagine a self-driving car that automatically reduces its speed to avoid hazardsClick To Tweet

In the 120 years that have passed since that first recorded accident, motor vehicles have embraced a number of safety features, from crumple zones to diagnostic software. As technology continues to progress, are we approaching the day when we read about the world’s last automobile accident?