A Brief History of Speed Limits in the UK

We quite often talk about speed limits when Im with other Porsche drivers at club meetings or at the track.  Porsche were designed to be quick, and it’s often a challenge to keep them under the speed limit and off the radar of the local constabulary!

So, I thought I’d find out the history behind speed limits on UK roads.  My research proved quite interesting!

In the UK cars were call Light Locomatives.

Speed limits have been governed by a series of locomative acts (in 1861, 1865 and 1878).

The 1861 Locomotive Act introduced a 10 mph speed limit.

The 1865 (the ‘red flag act’) reduced the speed limit to 4 mph on country roads and just 2 mph in towns/  The Act also required that a man with a red flag or lantern should walk 60 yards ahead of the vehicle. The purpose was to warn horse riders and other horse drawn traffic of the approach of a self-propelled machine.

The 1878 Locomotive Act removed the requirement for the flag and reduced the distance of the escort to 20 yards.

On 28 January 1896, Walter Arnold of East Peckham, Kent became the first person in Great Britain to be successfully charged with speeding. Travelling at approximately 8 mph, he had exceeded the 2 mph speed limit for towns. Fined 1 shilling (5p) plus costs, Arnold had been caught by a policeman who had given chase on a bicycle so began one of the most lucrative ways of making money by Local Authorities and the Exchequer

The maximum speed limit was then increased to 14mph and again, in 1903, to 20mph.

In 1930 The Road Traffic Act of the same year saw speed limits for cars and motorcycles abolished.  Lord Buckmaster said that the speed limits had been so universally ignored by UK motorists that it’s maintenance bought the law into contempt.  Interestingly during 1945 and 1940 annual casualties on the roads dropped from 7,305 to 6,502.

In 1934 a general 30mph speed limit was imposed on roads in built up areas (effectively roads with street lighting) which remains to this day.  A 30mph speed limit was also imposed UK coach services, UK bus services and most HGVs.

Other roads had no speed limits at all. It was not until 1965 that a national upper limit of 70mph was introduced for all roads, including motorways.

Since 1977 the speed limit for cars and motorcycles on dual carriageways has been 70mph, with a 60mph speed limit on single carriageways.

In 1999 local authorities were given the powers to introduce a 20mph speed limit without requiring the consent of the Secretary of State.

……and now, most recently the Government have annouced they are considering increasing speed limits on Motors from 70mph to 80mph.  Whether you think this is good or bad it will be another milestone in the car’s history.

About Peter Bell

I am a self confessed Porsche-a-holic. An enthusiast from an early age I have spent many years reading about Porsche as well as building my own ultimate Porsche 911. Writing about Porsche has been a hoby since as long as I can remember. I have also created a number of websites for the Porsche enthusiast community.
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