Code of Conduct

Highway Code

[T]he first Highway Code was published in 1931 and as it was just 18 pages long the publication only cost 1d, on its first page the Ministry of Transport stated that it’s primary aim was to promote:

good manners for all courteous and considerate persons

In my world when drivers are meaner and ruder re-examining this little antiquated gem of a book shows one how driving standards have declined.

Its first piece of advice stated:

As a responsible citizen you have a duty to the community not to endanger or impede others in their lawful use of the King’s Highway.

In London nowadays every BMW driver before starting his car should be required by law to recite this piece of sage advice found between its covers:

Never take a risk in the hope or expectation that everyone else will do what is necessary to avoid the consequences of your rashness.

The latest habit of sounding your horn when traffic lights are changing are more akin to Beirut than genteel London town and The Men from The Ministry must have anticipated this trend when they gave this recommendation:

Remember that your horn is intended to be used as a warning and an indication, if needed, of your presence on the road

Stating sternly:

It should not be used as a threat . . . [motor horns] should never be used to show annoyance or impatience.

Sometimes I feel that I’m a roaming tourist information centre, so often am I asked directions. But could it be they are just taking advice given in The Highway Code:

Do not pull up alongside a constable on point duty in order to ask him a question which other people could answer. His full attention is required for his duties.

Even Boris Bikes have been anticipated, the pamphlet opined:

Do not wobble about the road but ride as steadily as possible . . .

If you fall, you may be run over.

Or the rather patronising:

Beware if high winds when on your bike, especially when wearing a cape

As for rickshaws:

You must not ride furiously so as to endanger life or limb.

This Penny Dreadful seems to have achieved its purpose. When it was introduced in response to the high number of deaths on Britain’s roads, 7,000 a year were being killed despite there only being 2.3 million vehicles – a figure not helped by there being no compulsory driving test. Today with more than 30 million vehicles on Britain’s roads fatalities are closer to 2,000.

2 thoughts on “Code of Conduct”

  1. Driving manners are a cultural phenomenon, as can easily be seen by observing drivers in different countries. I have driven a lot in Britain and France and became used to adapting my driving “culture” to the country in question. It had to change again whenever we went over the French border into Germany.

    I very quickly learnt that it is not enough in France, say, to practise “safe” driving à l’anglaise. This is because drivers have certain expectations about how other drivers will behave Driving in France as you would drive in Britain runs counter to French expectations and can therefore be the cause of annoyance and even of accidents.

    The language we speak today is not the same as the language that was spoken in 1931. Language is also a cultural phenomenon and changes with time. Why then, would we expect that other cultural phenomenon, driving habits, not to change with time also? While we may derive an enjoyable nostalgic boost from reading the Highway Code of 1931, it is as vain expecting drivers of today to follow its precepts as it would be to expect all city gents to wear bowler hats and detachable starched shirt collars. Those days are gone for ever.

    I used to enjoy driving and punctiliously observing the precepts of the Highway Code but when I see how drivers conduct themselves on London’s streets today, I am glad I no longer drive a car. My driving manners are sadly out of date.


    1. I bet you can still remember your stopping distances, which incidentally were calculated for drum braked cars and are still published even though most cars (apart from my cab) will stop at a much reduced distance.


What do you have to say for yourself?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s