A brief history
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.