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Saturday, February 27, 1999 Published at 14:03 GMT


Fake funeral marks road death centenary

Campaigners point out that fatalities are on the increase

Environmental campaigners have commemorated the first death of a motorist on Britain's roads 100 years ago.

Dozens of protesters formed a procession behind a dummy hearse and coffin to the scene of the accident in Harrow, north-west London.

[ image: The day of action also focussed on pollution]
The day of action also focussed on pollution
Some carried banners saying "Are you a slave to your car?" and "Car-sharing is caring".

Britain's first ever fatal car crash happened on 25 February, 1899 when Edwin Sewell, an employee of the fledging Daimler company, and his passenger died after he lost control of the motorised "wagonette" vehicle. He was showing prospective buyers the wonders of the new car.

He and front-seat passenger Major James Miller died from head injuries after the car's wheels collapsed when the brakes were used while speeding down a steep incline.

The vehicle was travelling at 20mph, considerably more than the recommended maximum speed.

A pedestrian, Rose Driscoll, had been killed after being struck by a motor vehicle in 1896, but these deaths were the first of people travelling in a car.

Minute's silence

About 30 protesters, including organisers Friends of the Earth and RoadPeace, held a minute's silence and called for greater efforts to cut the death toll on Britain's roads.

"Car fatalities are still very high and road accidents are on the increase," said Michael Cohen, of Harrow Friends of the Earth.

"We need to look at the whole issue of car culture and car dependency because if people do not look at alternative modes of transport, things are going to get worse."

He added: "This day combines a sombre remembrance of a centenary of needless deaths on the roads with a day of action focusing people's attention on car dependency and car pollution."

Roads 'getting worse'

Mrs Brigitte Chaudhry, founder of RoadPeace, who was among the campaigners who joined a two-mile walk in the area, said: "The situation over the past 100 years has got progressively worse and around half a million people have been killed on Britain's roads and 30 million injured."

She said the government were not doing enough to cut road deaths.

"We believe there should be a law making death the central issue," she said. "At the moment, everyone who kills on the roads through negligence is charged with a summary offence which totally disregards the fact of death."

RoadPeace campaigners plan a protest opposite the Houses of Parliament later in the day as part of a monthly "Stand and be Counted" gathering to raise awareness of the death and injury toll in Britain.

The group has demonstrated at the same spot every last Saturday of the month since August last year to highlight their campaign.

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