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Last Updated: Friday, 28 September 2007, 13:22 GMT 14:22 UK
Driving rules on the King's Highway
By Nigel Pankhurst
BBC News

Hand signals were very important

The publication of the latest edition of the Highway Code, the first new version for eight years, comes almost 80 years after the booklet first advised UK motorists on road use.

A look back at the first edition of the Highway Code, published in 1931, emphasises the huge changes which have taken place in the intervening years - even though some of its advice is as relevant now as it was then.

The driving pamphlet, which now sells more than a million copies a year, was introduced against a backdrop of an alarming rise in the number of road deaths.

Today, with more than 27 million vehicles in Britain, the number of people killed on the roads stands at something over 3,000 a year.

Back in 1931 that figure was more than 7,000 - yet there were just 2.3 million vehicles around.

King's Highway

The very first piece of advice in the 1931 edition was to always be careful and considerate towards others.

Do not pull up alongside a constable on point duty in order to ask him a question which other people could answer

"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," it said.

"Good manners and consideration for others" were encouraged on the roads as much as anywhere else.

The code warned children of the dangers of the road and offered advice on how to avoid them.

"Never take a risk in the hope or expectation that everyone else will do what is necessary to avoid the consequences of your rashness" was probably aimed at the boy racers of the day.

Annoyance or impatience

There was "no objection" to the use of a suitable mechanical or electrical device in the place of hand signals.

And tailgating was clearly a problem more than 75 years ago.

Highway Code 1931 (Pic: Hughes Walker Solicitors)
Adverts appeared for the only time (Pic: Hughes Walker Solicitors)

"When you are the driver in a convoy or the driver of one of a series of large slow moving motor vehicles or of a motor coach joining up with other motor coaches, do not drive your vehicle close behind another," it said.

There was guidance for dealing with the police: "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."

"Remember that your horn is intended to be used as a warning and an indication, if needed, of your presence on the road," it also stated sternly. "It should not be used as a threat."

It adds: "(Motor horns) should never be used to show annoyance or impatience."

Guidance that many motorists could do with taking on board today.

Look right and left

Motorcyclists were warned that "sudden noisy acceleration is unnecessary and disturbing".

Years before the Green Cross Code, pedestrians were urged to "look right and left and satisfy yourself it is safe to cross" before crossing a road.

Rotate the whip above the head; then incline the whip to the right or left to show the direction in which the turn is to be made

It might seem obvious on today's busy roads, but people were advised: "Do not stand about in the road, especially in groups, at blind corners or other dangerous places."

There was even a section on dogs, in which owners were told: "Keep your dog on a lead when walking along roads where traffic is heavy.

"A dog running loose in traffic is a danger to itself and to everyone else."

Rotate whip

There was an appendix of Traffic Signals That Every Road User Should Know.

Drivers of horse-drawn carriages were told: "Rotate the whip above the head; then incline the whip to the right or left to show the direction in which the turn is to be made."

Today's Highway Code costs 2.50 but in 1931 it would have set you back just one old penny.

Perhaps that would explain the need for advertisers, for the only time, in the original version.

The AA, The Autocar and The Motor Cycle magazines, Castrol oil, BP petrol, the RAC and Motor Union insurance all promoted their businesses in the booklet.

However, it would have been a much quicker read - 18 pages compared to 135 in the latest edition.

Quiz: Highway Code
03 Sep 07 |  Magazine

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