Springfield traffic rules, 1903

Springfield officials enacted the city’s first ordinance regulating automobiles in 1903, only three years after motorcars were introduced to the city.

The rules went into effect on Dec. 3, 1903. The ordinance set a speed limit of 12 miles per hour and required drivers to be at least 15 years old. It also required every auto owner to buy a $5 city license and, for identification, to display a numbered white metal tag “in a conspicuous place.”

Each auto also had to be equipped with a horn or bell. “Said bell or horn shall be sounded at all street corners and whenever else is deemed advisable by the operator,” the ordinance said. In addition, “Every automobile or motor vehicle shall carry two lighted lamps in a conspicuous position on the front of the vehicle after dusk and before dawn.”

State law already required a car to stop if it approached a horse “which gives evidence of being frightened,” but a July 1903 Illinois State Journal article reported that many drivers believed that was the wrong solution:

They declare that from their experience it is better to go right on; that often when a horse becomes frightened at an automobile and the machine is stopped, the horse turns in its tracks and goes the other way, whereas if the machine went straight ahead, the horse would not pay so much attention to it.

No one was charged with violating the 12-mph speed limit for more than 18 months. Finally, in July 1905, the Illinois State Journal reported that Police Chief James Anderson said officers would be instructed to arrest violators.

In order to prevent accidents, Chief Anderson has decided to take personal charge of the matter. The officers have experienced some difficulty in determining the owners of the machines, as the license numbers which are to be placed on the rear of the machines are too small to be seen when the machine is in motion. It is also charged that a number of owners have mutilated the numbers in an attempt to baffle the officers. …

It is charged that three or four automobile owners are constantly violating the speed ordinance in the downtown district. Persons crossing the streets have had narrow escapes and complaints to the police department followed.

Railroad trains and street cars remained greater dangers to Springfieldians well into the second decade of the 20th century, but the addition of motor cars to the city’s traffic mix compounded the hazards.

The combination led to what apparently was Springfield’s first auto-related fatality, that of 6-year-old Raymond Livingston. The boy died the morning of April 29, 1906, a few hours after he was run over by a street car on the north side of the courthouse square (now the Old Capitol Plaza).

Hundreds of people saw the accident, which “occurred at 9:20 o’clock when the streets were crowded with the usual Saturday night crowd,” the Journal said.

Livingston’s mother had given the boy and his 12-year-old brother, Archie Lear, “a small sum of money and told them to go down town and buy themselves some ice cream soda,” according to the Illinois State Register. The Register reporter interviewed the older boy:

He states that he was standing on the corner of Sixth and Washington streets looking into a display window … and that his little brother started across the street to meet a neighbor woman on the opposite side. When he had reached the middle of the street, (Lear) says that the street car and an automobile were seen approaching from the east, each running alongside of each other. When his brother was in front of the automobile he stepped aside and directly in the path of the on-coming street car. (Lear) turned around in time to witness his brother fall onto the fender of the (street) car and called for help. The car was running at a high rate of speed and it reached a point almost to Fifth Street when the boy was thrown beneath the wheels. From all reports he was attempting to gain the platform when he rolled to the pavement and under the car.

The boy was taken to St. John’s Hospital in the automobile he was attempting to dodge. He died there of shock following amputation of his right leg.

The automobile was driven by restaurateur Harry Loper; Loper and his auto later would play a role in the events that culminated in the 1908 Springfield race riot.

At the time of the boy’s death, Springfield had no rules requiring vehicles to stay on the right-hand side of streets or pass on the left, either of which might have saved Raymond Livingston. Those restrictions first went into effect in a comprehensive traffic ordinance enacted in 1912. That measure also required drivers to give hand signals when turning, required cars to have mufflers, and gave vehicles on north-south streets the right-of-way over those going east and west.

schs-logo-2Raymond Livingston is buried in an unmarked grave at Oak Ridge Cemetery.

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