Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 2, 2015
On Tuesday, Idiomation researched the history of jaywalking, and, in the process, learned that there was such a term as jay driving! Rather than just leave the discovery at that, Idiomation decided to delve a little more into the history of the expression.
Jay drivers, as you know are drivers who don’t keep their vehicles in their proper lanes, wandering all over the road, putting everyone else in peril. The term didn’t disappear in the early 1900s once traffic laws were in place and jay walkers were being cited and fined for crossing the street where they weren’t supposed to be crossing, and it didn’t appear at the turn of the century and make a quick exit either!
The St. Petersburg Times edition of December 10, 1948 talked about jay drivers by posting this amusing cartoon and important public service announcement in the newspaper.
Things were so impossible between jay walkers and jay drivers, that the National Safety Council honed four important rules for those interested in being good jay walkers. Published in the December 28, 1934 edition of the Gazette and Bulletin newspaper of Williamsport (PA), the last rule (of which there were only four) shared this bit of insight.
Let the motorist do the worrying. It’s his privilege as a driver. If you’re not hit the first time, don’t get discouraged. There’s a jay-driver on almost every street and it’s only a matter of time before the two of you will meet.
Jay drivers and jay walkers seem to have been the bane of most people’s existence during the Roaring Twenties. The Eugene Register-Guard voiced its displeasure over the two with this simple comment in their August 11, 1924 edition that read:
The penalty for jay-walking and jay-driving should be made so severe that those brainless individuals would learn to obey the traffic laws.
On September 7, 1923, The Evening Independent newspaper published an article that hailed a novel suggestion, as they called it, that was made by Mr. Horrigan that addressed the conditions and needs of St. Petersburg as a tourist resort. The fact of the matter was, as was pointed out “there are regular universal standard rules adopted by the A.A.A. that are used by almost every city, and certain laws passed by cities regulating traffic which are almost all alike so nothing need be said of them. It is merely up to our officers to enforce them.” The article included this commentary about jay drivers.
The trouble is with the drivers, and you will always have jay drivers, and no matter what rules you put into effect, the jay driver will not carry them out, or does not want to.
Yes, jay drivers had everyone up in arms with their dangerous jay driving. Even columnist Richard Lloyd Jones of the Roundup Record-Tribune and Winnett Times (in Montana) commented on jay drivers and the “Safety First” movement that was meant to lessen danger everywhere except on streets and roads. The “Safety First” movement focused on making it safe for automobile owners to drive their vehicles, even if it came at the expense of pedestrian safety. His comments included this paragraph.
Unless jay-driving is promptly stopped — unless every jay-driver is promptly jerked out of his seat and not allowed to return to the wheel, we are all going to be compelled to take our bumpers off and put on baskets.
One of the more unintentionally humorous comments included in the column was that every speedometer should be made to town-clock size (in other words, the size of the car’s tire) and mounted on the back of the vehicle so that everybody would be able to read the speed at which the vehicle was traveling.
An interesting statistic that was included in this story was this: In 1920 there were 10,007 deaths due to influenza, and 10,163 deaths due to automobiles!
The Kansas City Star newspaper published on October 6, 1915 warned of an unusual number of motor car accidents over the days leading up to the article in their newspaper. Not only were there a number of collisions, but the newspaper reported that in one instance, a car “skidded on a sharp curve and turned over.” The newspaper wagged its editorial finger by ending the article with this remark: Caution marks the competent driver; Recklessness belongs only to the jay.” The article was aptly entitled, “Don’t Be A Jay Driver.”
Were pedestrians killed by horse-drawn vehicles before automobiles became popular? Of course they were, and at an alarmingly high rate to boot! But this was because horses were easily spooked, and when panicked, oftentimes they would bolt into panicked crowds dragging their carriage or wagon behind them. However, reporters for the New York Times back in 1888 wrote about horse-drawn carriages who seemed to “think that they own the [pedestrian] crossings.” One reporter went as far as to point out: “Pedestrian have right of way over crossings, and drivers are bound to respect that right, if the city authorities would only enforce the law.”
Is it any wonder that the same attitude carried over to automobiles?
In any case, the unfortunate reality of jay drivers is that Henry Hale Bliss (June 13, 1830 – September 14, 1899) is the first person in history to have been killed in an automobile fatality.
INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: On the 100th anniversary of this sad event, a commemorative plaque was placed on this site on September 13, 1999. It’s said that the plaque was erected to promote safety on streets and highways.
The New York Times reported the story in great detail. In the end, the driver was acquitted of manslaughter charges on the grounds that it was unintentional even though the driver’s car had crushed the victim’s head and chest the day before he died from his injuries.
So sometime between 1899 when the first ever fatal automobile accident happened and 1905 when the Albuquerque Evening Citizen newspaper edition of June 29, 1907 made mention of jay drivers, the words jay driver and jay driving were coined and quickly became known in English-speaking countries.
Now to find out what a jay really is, other than a bird or a baseball player in Toronto.