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The Automobile in 1902

Footnotes to Long Island History

The Automobile in 1902

 

by

Thomas R. Bayles

 


When the automobile first appeared on the highways it caused a great deal of apprehension in the minds of drivers of horse-drawn vehicles, and was frequently the cause of horses running away and upsetting the carriages and occupants.

The Brooklyn Daily eagle in 1902 carried the following item:

“The present law on the subject of automobiles is lamentably deficient in affording protection. Take, for instants, the provision requiring a person operating an automobile to stop on signal. Here is what actually occurs. A machine is racing towards you at the rate of twenty miles an hour. You signal the driver to stop; he ignores your signal and rushes on; meanwhile your attention has been given to saving your life by preventing your horse from running away or upsetting your vehicles. What redress have you? To give as good a description of the automobile as you can, procure from a justice of the peace a summons for ‘John Doe,’ employ a special officer to follow after, guessing as to the destination of the driver, and if after a day or two of search, you are fortunate enough to identify him, bring a suit in civil action. At the end of the trail the justice fine him $10, which goes to the highway commissioner, the very extreme penalty being $35.

“If the villages which are trying to regulate unruly chauffeurs, follow the example of Freeport and enforce the law strictly, they will be supported by the majority for summer residents, as well as by the natives whose safety is interfered with. A reckless automobilist is as great a public danger and nuisance as an unbroken horse and the Long Islanders are right in pursuing them and punishing them.”

The following comments by some of the leading citizens of Patchogue appeared in the Advance for August 1, 1902:

“I believe in the strict enforcement of the Cocks law. I think the automobile is a fad, though probably the machine will be improved in time so as to be of practical use.” –Robert S. Pelletreau, lawyer and village trustee.

“There is no question as to the enforcement of the Cocks law. It should be done. From what the automobilists are doing it looks as if they are running the use of the machine into the ground, so to speak, and making the auto distasteful to the people in general. The auto is all right, properly managed. Since the Brookhaven Committee of Safety has been organized the auto users have recognized the rights of others on the roads, and their speed has been reduced. Unless the people assert their rights the automobilist will run over them.” –Joseph T. Losee, Lawyer.

“The enforcement of the Cocks Law is demanded by the conditions presented. I look upon the automobile as a great invention and destined to a greater field. I am opposed to the use of the machine by the few reckless drivers who have made life miserable for the public, and I liken those few to the few citizens who are found in every community. There reckless chauffeurs should be severely punished. The formation of the Brookhaven Town Committee of Safety has a moral effect upon the owners of automobiles while using the highways of our town, and I think other communities could well follow our lead in this line.” –Edwin Bailey, Jr., Supervisor of Brookhaven Town.

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