Road traffic regulations; key events
Page last modified 23/3/2020
See also Road Traffic
21/7/1918, France reduced the national speed limit on single carriageway rural roads from 90 kph to 80kph.
4/12/2017, The UK driving test was amended to include the use of Satnavs. Some practical tests such as three point turns were discarded.
1/12/2003, In the UK, the use of hand-held mobiles whilst driving was made illegal.
2002, The UK’s speed cameras were painted yellow to ensure their visibility.
1996, The UK Driving Test now included a Theory section.
1995, The US completely repealed its national 55 mph speed limit. Individual States could now set their own limits. In six Sattes the limit is 80 mph, and 85 mph in Texas.
1991, The UK saw the first 20mph speed limits for residential areas. Also this year the first speed camera was installed on the M.40; it caught 400 speeders within 40 minutes of being switched on.
1/7/1991. Rear seatbelt wearing became compulsory in the UK in cars fitted with them.
1987, The US began to relax its 55 mph speed limit laws, dating from 1973.
1984, In the UK, the Road Traffic Regulations Act exempted emergency vehicles from speed limits.
16/5/1983. London police began using wheel clamps to curb illegal parking.
1982, In the UK, the current points for speeding system was brought in, replacing licence endorsement.
1977, Following the easing of the oil crisis, national speed limits in the UK were raised to 60mph for single-carriageway roads and 70 mph for motorways and dual carriageways.
1/3/1976, In Britain, wearing seatbelts in cars became compulsory under the Road Traffic Bill.
4/1/1975, U.S. President Gerald R. Ford signed legislation making 55 miles per hour the maximum speed limit across the United States, making permanent what had been a temporary order in 1973 by President Nixon. This had been a response to the world oil crisis, to save fuel.
1973, Seatbelts became compulsory to have in all US road vehicles except buses.
5/12/1973, The UK government announced a nation-wide speed limit of 50 mph to conserve oil stocks.
20/1/1973. Disc Jockey Jimmy Saville ran his ‘clunk click every time’ seatbelt campaign.
1969, Czechoslovakia became the first country to make wearing seatbelts compulsory.
21/3/1968, In Britain, road deaths fell 23% in the three months after introduction of breath tests. See 8/10/1967.
8/10/1967. A motorist in Flax Bourton, Somerset became the first person to be breathalysed in Britain. See 21/3/1968. In Britain the use of breathalysers was legalised by the Road Safety Act 1967.
1/4/1967, Front seat seat belts became compulsory on all UK cars registered from this date.
28/12/1965. A British magistrate who was also a rally driver said he would refuse to sit on the bench when motorists were charged with exceeding the speed limit unless injury or damage was also
22/12/1965. The UK introduced a national 70mph speed limit. This was brought in for an initial experimental period of four months by Transport Minister Tom Fraser. The 70mph limit was made permanent by Fraser’s successor, Barbara Castle, in July 1967.
24/11/1965. The UK government imposed an experimental 70mph speed limit on the motorways. UK motorways, the first of which was a stretch of the M6 known then as the Preston by-pass, had had no speed limits since their inception in 1958. However early one morning in June 1964 the makers of the AC Cobra sports car decided to take their Le Mans contender out for a spin on the M1 and got it up to 185 mph. This led to questions in Parliament and the 70 mph national speed limit. There were also issues of pile ups on motorways in snow, ice or foggy conditions, and a 30mph limit was considered for motorways in these conditions. The 30mph limit was not implemented but the 70mph limit became permanent in 1967.
18/6/1965, An alcohol limit was to be set for UK drivers.
2/4/1962, The first push-button panda road crossings were installed.
15/9/1960, Traffic wardens began operating in London. 40 began operations in the Westminster area of London; their first ticket was issued to a doctor who had parked outside a hotel as he treated a heart attack victim inside. Plus ca change.
12/9/1960. MOTs on motor vehicles introduced in Britain. They were initially applicable to vehicles over ten years old, but from April 1967 were compulsory on all cehicles over three years old.
19/8/1959, The first motorist in Britain was caught speeding by a radar speed trap. They were fined £3.
1957, The first double white lines to prohibit overtaking weer installed on Britain’s roads. They were installed on parts of the London to Folkestone and London to Portsmouth roads.
10/7/1958. London’s first parking meters were installed, in Mayfair. 625 were put in. The charge was 6d for
1 hour, 1 s for 2 hours, an excess payment of 10 s for the next 2 hours or part thereof, and a £2 penalty for exceeding 4 hours.
16/6/1958, Yellow lines indicating no waiting were painted along British roads.
20/1/1958. The first radar speed checks began in Britain.
29/8/1957. Police in the US began using a device to measure the amount of alcohol in a driver’s breath. It was dubbed the ‘drunkometer’.
16/2/1957, Sir Leslie Hore-Belisha, the Minister of Transport responsible for Belisha Beacons, the driving test, and the Highway Code, died.
30/8/1956, Britain announced plans for parking wardens.
12/2/1956, The first yellow ‘No Parking’ lines appeared in Britain, in Slough.
8/12/1954, Parking meters were introduced in Britain.
25/6/1954, British doctors urged tougher drink-driving tests than having to say tongue twisters or walk in a straight line.
1/1/1954, Flashing turn indicator lights became a legal requirement on British vehicles. They could be amber all round, or white at the front and red at the back.
20/6/1952, In Britain, pedestrian crossings were to be marked by flashing orange beacons.
31/10/1951, Zebra crossings came into use in Britain; the first was installed on the High Street, Slough, Berkshire. Pedestrian deaths fell bu over 10% in the first year.
1940, The UK speed limit in urban areas was reduced to 20 mph during nighttime to reduce accidents during the Blackout. The limit returned to 30 mph in 1956.
31/12/1938. In Indianapolis, police began breath-testing drivers.
1/1/1937, Safety glass became compulsory in UK car windscreens. This applied to existing as well as new vehicles (see 1/1/1932), bringing a massive demand for garages to fit new windscreens. Speedometers also became compulsory in UK vehicles this day.
16/6/1936, Norway set the world’s first drunk-driving law based on a specific blood alcohol content rather than an ability test such as inability to walk in a straight line. Eceeding the limit of 0.05% in Norway now resulted in a prison sentence. In 1941 Sweden became the second country to define drink-driving by a set alcohol limit.
1935, The first broken white line was painted on a UK road It was installed on 70 miles of the A30/A38 in Devon.
16/7/1935. The world’s first parking meters went into service in Oklahoma City. They were devised by the newspaper editor Carlton Magee.
1/6/1935, Leslie Hore Belisha introduced driving tests in Britain, and made L plates for learners compulsory.
13/5/1935, The parking meter was patented in Oklahoma City by Carl Magee.
13/3/1935. Driving tests were introduced to the UK by Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha; see 10/3/1899, France. The tests were at first voluntary, but became compulsory from 1/6/1935. They only applied to those who had taken out their driving licence since 1/4/1934 – see 14/8/1903. Britain was one of the last European countries to bring in a driving test. ‘L’ plates and provisional licences also became compulsory on 1/6/1935.
12/6/1934, In London, pedestrian crossings were installed to cut road casualties.
26/3/1934. The speed limit in urban areas was set at 30 mph.
3/1/1934, British road signs were to be standardised.
1/8/1932. In Britain, 3-letter car number plates were introduced, The first plate in London was AMY-1.
26/4/1932, The Motor Traffic provide for motorists who killed to be found guilty of manslaughter.
1/1/1932, Safety glass became compulsory for new private vehicles in Britain. See 1/1/1937.
15/12/1931, Traffic lights were introduced across Britain, following their success in London.
14/4/1931 The Highway Code was first issued in the UK.
1/1/1931. In Britain the Road Traffic Act came into force, introducing traffic policemen and making third party insurance compulsory.
1930, Speed limits for cars, previously set at 20 mph in 1903, were abolished completely under the Road Traffic Act 1930 as many cars were going faster than 20mph anyway. Between 1930 and 1935 annual road deaths actually fell, from 7,305 to 6,502, but this was because pedestrians were becoming more aware of the hazard of road traffic.
15/12/1930, The UK Government published a draft Highway Code.
1928, Australia’s first traffic lights were installed, in Melbourne.
1927, Speedometers became mandatory for all UK cars.
5/11/1927. The UK’s first set of automatic traffic lights began operating, at the Prince Square crossroads in Wolverhampton.
3/8/1926. Britain’s first traffic lights went into operation in Piccadilly Circus, London. (see 10/12/1868).
20/11/1925, British MPs approved a 4-month prison sentence and £50 fine for drunk-driving.
29/9/1925, In Britain, white lines were to be painted on roads to reduce accidents.
1/1/1921, Car tax discs for obligatory display on windscreens were introduced in Britain.
5/8/1914. The first electric traffic light signals to control road traffic were installed in Cleveland, Ohio.
23/5/1913. London set a 10mph speed limit at Hyde Park Corner.
1912, Norway became the first country to introduce compulsory third-party insurance for motor drivers.
1909, The Development and Road Improvement Funds Act introduced a tax on petrol of 3d per gallon.
1906, The Law Courts ruled that it was illegal for AA ‘scouts’ to warn motorists of hidden police speed traps. The AA got round this by having their scouts fail to salute any car bearing the AA badge whenever there was a police speed trap just down the road. The motorist could then ask the scout why he had failed to salute, and would get an apology for ‘not seeing him’ and a warning to ‘go steady fot the next mile or so as the road was very bumpy’.
1904, The first speed limits for cars were set in the USA. They were, 10 mph in populated areas, 15 mph in villages, and 20 mph on open roads.
1/1/1904, The Motor Car Bill became Law in the UK. It required cars to display a number plate at front and rear, and to be registered with the local county or borough council. Drivers had to have an annually-renewable driving licence, costing 5 shillings (25p). This licence could be suspended or withdrawn by the courts. A motorist had to stop and assist the police at the scene of an accident. A new offence of ‘driving recklessly or negligently’ was created. A new speed limit of 20 mph was introduced. The first motor vehicle registration plate was issued in Britain. It was ‘A1’, issued to Earl Russell for his ‘Napier’.
1903, France became the icountry to standardise traffic signs across the country.
14/7/1903, The UK Government rejected calls for penalties for drunk driving, driving tests and vehicle inspection.
14/1/1903. The Motor Car Act in the UK required British drivers to have licences. It set the minimum age as 17 for cars and 14 for motor cycles; prior to this the youngest driver was a 6 year old, Master Ernest Bond of Bishopston, Bristol, whose father had designed a motor bike specially for him. See 14/1/1893 for the world’s first driving licences, in France. See also 13/3/1935, driving tests in the UK.
30/9/1901. France made it compulsory to register cars capable of more than 20 mph.
8/7/1901, France set a speed limit of 10 kph for cars in urban areas.
10/9/1897. London taxi driver George Smith was fined £1, at Marlborough Street Court. He was the first Briton to be convicted of drunken driving. The defendant had driven his electric cab onto the pavement and into the front corridor of 165 Bond Street. He was found guilty and fined £1.
14/11/1896. The speed limit for ‘horseless carriages’ was raised from 4mph, or 2mph in towns, to 14 mph.
28/1/1896, Arnold Miller, of East Peckham, became the first motorist charged with speeding, at Tonbridge Magistrates Court. He had driven at over the 2 mph speed limit in a built up area past the window of the local constable’s house just as he was about to have dinner. The constable left his meal, grabbed his helmet, and gave chase on a bicycle, catching up the driver after 5 miles. Miller was driving at about 8 mph, according to witnesses. He was fined 1s plus costs.
17/10/1895, The first motoring offence in the UK resulting in a court summons. John Henry Knight of Farnham was charged with ‘permitting a locomotive to be at work’ in Castle Street Farnham without a licence, and James Pullinger was charged with operating the same ‘locomotive’ during prohibited hours. The prosecution was brought under a Surrey Council by-law requiring all locomotives other than those used in agriculture or road maintenance to be licensed by the Council and to be driven on the public highway only during set hours. The case was heard on 31/10/1895 before R H Combe at Farnham Petty Sessions. The locomotive was a motor vehicle owned by Knight, who watched whilst Pullinger drove it. Both defendants were fined 2s 6d each.
14/8/1893. The world’s first car registration plates were introduced, in France. French drivers also were required to have driving licences from this date, for which the passing of a driving test was needed; French tests also began from 14/8/1893. See 13/3/1935 for British tests. From 10/3/1899 French motorists had to carry a driving licence in card form at all times. See 14/1/1903 for the UK.
10/12/1868. London’s first traffic lights were installed in Parliament Square, Westminster, to help MPs get to the House of Commons. The lights were like a railway signal, and operated by gas; they later exploded, killing a policeman. The lights were removed in 1872 and traffic lights were not used again until 3/8/1926.
5/7/1865, The Locomotives and Highways Act in Britain introduced a speed limit for road vehicles of 4mph in the countryside and 2mph in the towns.
1861, The UK began to introduce speed limits for mechanically propelled vehicles on the roads; initially 10 mph.
1842, A cyclist, MacMillan, knocked over a child, thereby committing the first cycling offence. He was fined 5 shillings.
1832, The UK’s first driving regulations. The State Carriage Act introduced an offence of endangering a passenger or other person’s safety by ‘furious driving’.
1753, In Britain, the Government tried to ban all vehicles with wheel rims under 9 inches wide, to curb the formation of ruts in the unsurfaced roads.
23/8/1617, The first one-way street was established, in London. It was Pudding Lane.