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The 'Red Flag Act'

A special Officer laughing

Road Safety 1926

In the mid twenties the Plymouth Police were very concerned about the increase of mechanical vehicles on the streets. In one year there were 689 accidents in Plymouth with 349 people injured and 5 killed. A road safety film was commissioned which amongst other things showed the right and wrong was to cross the road and how to get on and off a tramcar safely.
Landmarks in this film are: Derry’s Clock, Hyde Park Corner, Wolseley Road and Greenbank Hospital.
To see the safety film clip visit here

The existence of laws to control traffic long pre-dates the invention of the motor car. It is thought that the Romans first introduced one way streets, pedestrian crossings and roundabouts some 2000 years ago.

1801 - Richard Trevithick now attempted to produce a much larger steam road locomotive and on Christmas Eve, 1801, it used it to take seven friends on a short journey. The locomotive's principle features were a cylindrical horizontal boiler and a single horizontal cylinder let into it. The piston, propelled back and forth in the cylinder by pressure of steam, was linked by piston rod and connecting rod to a crankshaft bearing a large flywheel. Trevithick's locomotive became known as the Puffing Devil but it could only go on short journeys as he was unable to find a way of keeping up the steam for any length of time.

  • 1835 - Highways Act prohibits riding on footpaths, introduces dangerous driving.
  • 1865 - Locomotive Act (amended 1878) - restricted the speed of horse-less vehicles to 4mph in open country and 2 mph in towns. Act required three drivers for each vehicle - 2 to travel in the vehicle and one to walk ahead carrying a red flag... - the Red Flag Act.
  • 1872 - Licensing Act - introduces offence of drinking whilst in charge of carriage, horse or cattle
  • 1875 - 1589 people killed in road accidents
  • 1896 - Repeal of 1865 'Red Flag Act' after nearly two decades of strong support from horse interests. Horse-less vehicles now free to travel faster than walking pace! Royal Automobile Club founded. First RAC London to Brighton run held to celebrate the new era of speed.
  • 1905 - Automobile Association founded - fights to support members caught by police speed traps.
  • 1930 - Road Traffic Act - introduced minimum age for driving and requirement of all vehicles to be insured. Required the Ministry of Transport to prepare guidance for road users - the first Highway Code.
  • 1934 - Road Traffic Act - introduced 30mph speed limit in built up areas, pedestrian crossings (marked by the 'Belisha' beacon), required cycles to carry rear reflectors. First driving tests introduced.

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