A brief his­tory

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Bri­tish speed­ing

1861 The first Lo­co­mo­tive Act in­tro­duces a speed limit for cars of 2mph in Bri­tish towns. Though raised in later years, this orig­i­nal limit is still re­spected through­out much of cen­tral Lon­don to this day.

1878 The High­ways Act raises the speed limit to 14mph, and re­moves the re­quire­ment for an es­cort to jog in front of the ve­hi­cle, wav­ing a red flag to alert pedes­tri­ans. Af­ter a mere 13 years, law­mak­ers re­alise that forc­ing pedes­tri­ans to run in front of mov­ing cars may not be the best way to im­prove pedes­trian safety.

1896 Wal­ter Arnold of Peckham be­comes the first Bri­ton to be fined for speed­ing, af­ter be­ing clocked at a heady 8mph on a road out of town. Ap­par­ently the ex­cuse, “If you’d seen Peckham, you’d want to get out quick­sharp, too,” didn’t wash with the lo­cal con­stab­u­lary.

1937 Speedome­ters are made com­pul­sory for all new cars. Be­fore this point, speed has gen­er­ally been cal­cu­lated by count­ing the num­ber of bugs in­vol­un­tar­ily in­gested by the driver per minute.

1965 The govern­ment in­tro­duces a trial speed limit of 70mph on Bri­tain’s mo­tor­ways, which have been limit-free for the pre­vi­ous six years. Af­ter four months, it is deemed there is in­con­clu­sive proof whether a 70mph limit in­creases mo­tor­way safety or not. The 70mph trial is ex­tended in­def­i­nitely. Fifty-three years later, we’re sure that con­clu­sive proof is just around the cor­ner.

2003 A Shrop­shire po­lice­man is clocked at 159mph while ‘fa­mil­iaris­ing him­self’ with his Vaux­hall Vec­tra pa­trol car. The case causes wide­spread dis­be­lief that (a) a po­lice­man could act so ir­re­spon­si­bly on pub­lic roads, and (b) Vaux­hall Vec­tras can do 159mph.

2007 Lan­caster busi­ness­man Brian Wilt­shire ap­pears on the front page of The Guardian, hav­ing beaten a speed­ing ticket by dis­put­ing the ac­cu­racy of the of­fi­cer’s equip­ment. A week later, Wilt­shire is clocked at 130mph in his Honda S2000. This gives rise to the pop­u­lar apho­rism, “If you’ve just got out of a speed­ing ticket on a tech­ni­cal­ity, best not drive like an arse for a few months there­after.”

2015 A Northamp­ton­shire driver is jailed af­ter rack­ing up Bri­tain’s fastest-ever speed­ing ticket. Shaun Davis was pros­e­cuted when he filmed the speedome­ter of his Nis­san GT-R at 192mph, then up­loaded the footage to the in­ter­net. Ap­par­ently the ex­cuse “Yeah, but Ja­panese speedos al­ways over­read a bit” doesn’t wash with the lo­cal con­stab­u­lary.

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