Red Flag Day for Cars

I suspect that many of you reading the following story will have experienced a similar situation – or even committed it – travelling quicker than you should do on a public road.

In the 19th century Britain posted many Acts as life changed – the Locomotives on Highways Act in 1861; the Locomotive Act in 1865 and the Highways and Locomotives (Amendment) Act in 1878.  They all contained restrictive measures relating to the manning, speed and the operation of road vehicles. The Acts also formalised many important road concepts that still apply today – vehicle registration, registration plates, speed limits and maximum vehicle weight over bridges are just three examples.

It was on Friday 5th July 1865 that the world’s first road speed limit act was imposed on Britain’s road traffics.  It was widely referred to as the “Red Flag Act” because it required that all road locomotives, including automobiles, should not travel at a speed exceeding 4 miles per hour in the country and 2 miles per hour in the city. To control this it was required that a man carrying a red flag should walk in front of road vehicles hauling multiple wagons.

People seem to have behaved reasonably well because it was not until 28th January 1896 that the world’s first speeding ticket was issued!  It was a reckless tearaway by the name of Walter Arnold who was spotted by a constable hurtling through the streets of Paddock Wood in Kent at four times the legal speed limit.  The limit was 2mph – you could have walked faster – when Walter sped through Paddock Wood at a whole 8mph, with no flag-bearer sprinting in front of him.

Our Mr Arnold may not have been too unhappy with the publicity because, at the time, he was one of Britain’s first car dealers, selling imported Benz cars from Germany and between 1896 and 1899 his company made its own cars, the ‘Arnold Motor Carriage’, based on the Benz.


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