For almost as long as cars have existed, so have laws to govern them. In some cases longer, but we’ll get there. Today, I’m counting down five of the earliest scofflaws to ever get themselves in legal hot water over something they did behind the wheel.
1. Reverend C.H. North gets the first parking ticket in 1935
Just because he was a man of God didn’t mean he could park in front of an expired meter. The Park-O-Meters, the first parking meters in the country, had arrived in Oklahoma City the previous July, and it was a brutally hot August day when North parked in front of one. After checking his pockets to find that he didn’t have the meter’s fee, a nickel, he did the time-honored (well, it was new then, but it’s become de rigueur since) walk into a nearby store for some change. By the time he returned, he had the world’s first parking ticket.
Don’t worry, the story has a happy ending. North took his ticket to court with the defense that he was getting change for the meter, and the judge dismissed it. Which was another first.
2. George Smith is the first person arrested for DUI in 1897
Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is no laughing matter. In 1897, George Smith, a cab driver in London, found that out. For context, that’s not even ten years after Jack the Ripper terrorized that city, so things are still pretty Victorian. An inebriated Smith plowed his car into a building, pled guilty, and was fined 25 shillings. Fortunately, no one was hurt, as the top speed of Smith’s vehicle was around 8mph.
3. Walter Arnold gets pulled over for speeding in 1896
Strap in, because this one is funny. We stay over in England for his one, specifically in the small and extremely Englishly-named town of Paddock Wood. A constable spotted Arnold driving at blistering speeds and was forced to give chase. After a five mile pursuit through scenic small-town Kent, the officer caught up with the reckless Arnold, ticketing him for going four times the listed limit. The posted speed limit was 2mph. You can do the math.
Oh yeah, the cop didn’t even have a car. He had to chase Arnold down on a bicycle.
4. James Lambert gets into the first car accident in 1891
Ohio was an early nexus for automotive innovators, and one of these was James William Lambert, who had over 600 patents to his name. What he also has is this dubious place in history. While driving the first single-cylinder gasoline-powered automobile, Lambert hit a tree root and then a hitching post. This is the very first accident by a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine. Alert readers might have already noted the implied asterisk there.
5. Nicholas Cugnot drives into a wall in 1771
Cugnot was an inventor who in 1769 had created a horseless carriage for the purpose of hauling artillery. Cugnot’s vehicle was a flat cart with a huge steam engine in the front looking a bit like a giant cauldron. Cugnot’s work was incredible for its time, hauling that artillery at torrid 2.5mph and having to stop every 10 to 15 minutes to build up steam power. In 1771, Cugnot drove one of his vehicles into a stone wall in the very first motor vehicle accident.
These five firsts all have dubious place in history. It had to be someone, and it might as well have been them. At least no one was hurt.