The long history of road law: part 3
The third part in our series of how road and traffic laws developed is based on William Plowden’s The Motor Car and Politics in Britain (1973) and the AA UK’s history Golden Milestone (1965) as summarised.
1933 COMMITTEE ON TRAFFIC SIGNS
The committee decided on the size, colour and type of signs, and laid down fundamental principles for a signing system, viz: signs should be easily seen and understood, give enough advance warning, have a uniform design, and they must not be overused. It adopted certain signs agreed on at a 1926 Paris convention but did not endorse the 1931 Geneva Convention, which had opted for symbol-only signs and which had settled on the shape of each type of sign (although British signs were not too dissimilar). The committee also did basic groundwork on traffic signalling and introduced filter lights.
Although the RRL was set up at this time, it was not until 1946 when the Traffic and Safety Division was formed that road safety research got under way. Since then the division has established a world-wide reputation for its safety research. With the reduction in staff numbers in recent years, more work is now placed with universities and research bodies. It has had, and continues to have, a far-reaching influence on road safety policy and practice.
ROAD TRAFFIC ACT
This brought a 30mph limit in built-up areas, driving tests, pedestrian crossings and reflectors for bicycles. Penalties for dangerous driving were increased.
Although the RAC had been operating a system of instruction and testing of drivers since 1902, there was no official test of competence to drive. On and off, over the years, this had been the subject of much debate but its advocates finally won their case in 1934. The test covered basic car control and manoeuvres and knowledge of the Highway Code, and the MoT set up its own body of examiners.
At the same time, the RAC set up a scheme for the examination and registration of driving instructors. Although in a sense the test (and the training) have been kept up to date by having to respond to changes in the road system and in driving conditions, there are omissions like motorway and night driving. These and other arguments have formed the basis for the many calls over the years for the test to be updated, although such changes were resisted by the Driving Standards Agency. However, changes have now come about as a result of an EC directive.
This was the forerunner of the “zebra” pedestrian crossing and was named after Hore Belisha, the then minister of transport. They consisted of unlit orange globes mounted on poles.
HENDON DRIVING SCHOOL
This was formed by Lord Trenchard, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, in an attempt to reduce police accidents. Captain Minchon of the Royal Armoured Corps School was brought in as transport officer, and staff developed advanced training courses for police drivers. Lord Cottenham was appointed an adviser of the school and amended the syllabus, which he found unsatisfactory. This was resisted, of course, and he had some sharp words to say about the obtrusiveness of staff, but the accident rate did improve.
Similar schools were formed in Liverpool, Preston, Manchester, Salford, Chester and Chelmsford. The “road craft” system and police involvement in advanced driving stem from the work at Hendon. A road craft manual was first published in the mid ‘50s, although there was an earlier version called Attention All Drivers, published in 1954. The author was Jock Taylor, senior instructor at Hendon. The publication still exists and is updated every three to five years. The most recent edition dates from 2013.
RAC DRIVING INSTRUCTORS
With the introduction of the driving test, the RAC set up a scheme for the examination and registration of driving instructors, which played a useful role until the introduction of the ADI register in 1964.
Part of the first advance driving course at Hutton Hall in 1937. This was one of two other driving schools apart from Hendon.