[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 its 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
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.
A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 22nd May 2012