The problem wasn’t just that more inexperienced drivers were on the roads; there were also more drivers on the sidewalks.

Santa Rosa in 1909 was more car-centric than ever before. Streets connecting to the downtown core were the latest to be paved, and the Sonoma County Automobile Association, with James Wyatt Oates behind the wheel as president, was pushing for more and better roads. The town hosted the first California Grand Prize Race which was won by local boy Ben Noonan, driving a car from the local Houts dealership. Ads for the latest models began appearing regularly in the papers, and the Press Democrat began publishing a regular auto feature, which was really a gossip column strictly about cars and drivers.

While the main automotive issue of 1908 was enforcing the 10MPH speed limit, the challenge of the following year was avoiding reckless drivers. A head-on crash with a horse and buggy was narrowly avoided at a blind corner; not so lucky was bicyclist George Luce, who was struck by an auto making a U-turn. He was bruised and cut up, but his injuries were not as serious as first thought.

(RIGHT: This odd advertisement in the August 8, 1909 Press Democrat appeared a few weeks before a rash of reckless driving incidents) 

But the worst was the month of September, when it was apparently open season on pedestrians. One driver was arrested for using the sidewalk between Fourth and Fifth streets as his own private traffic lane, and another kept jumping the curb on Fourth street until his axle was bent. Asked why he repeatedly lost control of his car, the driver replied, “I don’t know the first blamed thing about a machine.”

Also: Should motorcycles be required to have headlights? Santa Rosa’s District Attorney wasn’t sure, although he thought they technically were “motor vehicles.”


From the looks of the police docket Friday morning, the impression might be got that the streets of this city are falling into desuetude and that the sidewalks are bearing the brunt of the traffic. It is not merely the fact that a man had been booked by the redoubtable Samuels for cycling on the pavement. It was that an automobilist had been arrested for running his machine thereon. While plowing up the cement walk between Fourth and Fifth streets, he was arrested by Officer Lindley.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 2, 1909

Many people of this city are of the opinion that motor cycles should be compelled to carry lights when being run after dark on the streets of this city. While the vehicles make considerable noise and warn pedestrians of their approach in this manner, it is argued that the light would prove to be an additional safeguard for the people. District Attorney Lea is of the opinion, without looking into the matter, that motor cycles are within the meaning of the law which provides that “motor vehicles” shall be equipped with lights after nightfall. It is probable that the city council will take the matter up and settle the mooted point.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 4, 1909
Machine Twice Runs on Sidewalk and Two Store Fronts Have Narrow Escape from Destruction

Some diversion was caused yesterday afternoon on Fourth street when an automobile suddenly swerved from the middle of the street and dashed up on the sidewalk in an apparent endeavor to go into Bower & Mercier’s cigar store. The driver, a stranger, backed off the sidewalk and got his auto on the broader path, and the next instant it was headed at full speed for the sidewalk again and the doorway of Charles Jacobs’ ice cream parlor. The machine seemed bound to take in a store or two. The last run against the sidewalk bent the front axle and the machine had to be taken to a garage.

When questioned as to whether the steering gear had gone wrong, the driver shook his head and replied: “I’m the man that got stuck. I don’t know the first blamed thing about a machine.”

He had better learn a few things or he may have to pay for a few plate glass show windows. Fortunately no glass was broken yesterday.

– Press Democrat, September 19, 1909
Complaint Being Lodged Against Auto Drivers–Some are Exceeding Speed Limit

Considerable complaint is being made regarding the carelessness of automobile drivers in failing to give warnings as the approach corners and to turning a corner where it is impossible to see anyone approaching from the opposite direction. In many cases also the speed limit is violated at such times, making it extremely dangerous for people, vehicles, and horses.

There was a narrow escape from a bad accident at College and Mendocino avenues about 6:30 Sunday night when an automobile driver tore up Mendocino avenue and swung onto College without slowing down or giving any warning with his horn. by his quick action as well as that of the driver of a horse and buggy both were brought to an abrupt stop just before they crashed together head on. The autoist had no tail light, another violation of the law.

– Press Democrat, October 19, 1909
George Luce Has a Very Fortunate Escape from Serious Injury Under Wheels of Automobile

What was at first feared to have been a very serious accident occurred on Fourth street at Mendocino avenue last night when Mervin Forsyth in an automobile ran down George Luce who was riding along the street on his bicycle about 8 o’clock.

According to the details learned of the accident Mr. Forsyth was coming on Mendocino avenue and started to turn down Fourth street towards the depot, but after getting partially out on Fourth street, changed his mind and swung around up the street. There was a wagon on the crossing and Mr. Luce, who was coming from the postoffice, seeing the machine turning west, swung around on the outside of the wagon, just in time to be struck by the auto. He was thrown to the ground and his wheel badly damaged, while he received numerous lacerations and bruises. At first it was feared he had suffered serious internal injuries, but he was picked up and appeared not to be seriously hurt. He was taken home and Dr. Jesse was summoned. Mr. Luce had a remarkable escape.

– Press Democrat, October 27, 1909

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