UK driving licences were introduced by the Motor Car Act of 1903 but no test was required!
In the late 1920s and early 1930s the appalling number of deaths on the roads of Britain was causing considerable concern to the Government and the public.
In January 1934, The Times newspaper reported on the ‘slaughter on the roads’ and that in the previous year 7,125 had been killed and 216,401 injured on Britain’s roads. At the time the number of cars on the roads was estimated to be 1,800,000.
It was on Monday 26th March 1934 a driving test was introduced. It was voluntary at first and then, on 1st June, it became compulsory. The test was designed to ensure that each new driver had the competence to drive. While learning to drive, a provisional license could be applied for which lasted 3 months. The legislation also introduced the requirement to show a red letter ‘L’ on the vehicle.
In 1929 and 1934 legislation was passed to introduce a 30 mph speed limit in built-up areas, endorsements for speeding or careless driving, licence disqualification, and as an experiment, the introduction of special crossing places for pedestrians in London. The new Minister of Transport was Leslie Hore-Belisha – and these new crossing places soon became known as Belisha Becons. Later became our well-known ‘zebra crossings’.
Happily for lovers of the absurd, the first to master the half-hour test of basic driving skills and knowledge of the Highway Code was a Mr Beene, who paid 7 shillings and 6 pence for the privilege. Almost a quarter of a million applied for the test, showing the fears of a rush were well founded.
One thing that did surprise me was that testing was suspended during the Second World War which meant that between 2nd September 1939 and 1st November 1946 no one took a driving test. That certainly confirms something about my Dad’s driving after the war! Testing was also suspended during the Suez Crisis in 1956 to allow examiners help to administer petrol rations.