In 1867, says the Illustrated London News, 170 people in London were killed by vans, omnibuses, cabs and carts. Well, actually what it says is, 170 people were killed by ‘van-drivers, and omnibus-men, and cabmen, and carters’.
I find that striking. Today we say someone was killed in an ‘accident’, ‘killed by a car’. It is impersonal, passive. An ‘accident’ could happen to anyone, and it’s no one’s fault; the car, presumably, just suddenly took it into its little internal-combustioned head to leap out and attack someone.
The Victorians had it right: people are killed by other people, by the drivers of buses and carts and cabs, not by the inanimate objects they control, or fail to control.
I wonder if our attitudes to the inevitability of road accidents would alter if we stopped using inanimate objects as proxies for our own mad, bad or careless behaviour.
*Gets down off soapbox*