I ran across an article titled “From Horse Power to Horsepower” that contains these interesting figures:
Horses killed in other, more direct ways as well. As difficult as it may be to believe given their low speeds, horse-drawn vehicles were far deadlier than their modern counterparts. In New York in 1900, 200 persons were killed by horses and horse-drawn vehicles. This contrasts with 344 auto-related fatalities in New York in 2003; given the modern city’s greater population, this means the fatality rate per capita in the horse era was roughly 75 percent higher than today. Data from Chicago show that in 1916 there were 16.9 horse-related fatalities for each 10,000 horse-drawn vehicles; this is nearly seven times the city’s fatality rate per auto in 1997.
Of course, as the article notes, there were other issues with having thousands of horses on the street each day.
I’ve written before about the risks of driving today, particularly compared to other behaviors which many might think are more dangerous but are not. Yet, these figures are a reminder that we are safer today on the city streets, at least while driving something in the streets, than in the past. It may not seem to be true but I suspect this has more to do with how much we hear about accidents (and crime) more than the actual reality of how dangerous it is.