The History Of Road Safety

[Note: Some of the following sections include details about the U.S.A., but most of the article is about the situation in Britain.]

Classical Times: Romans had one-way streets, parking laws, crossing places (stepping stones), pavements, and possible roundabouts. There are occasional references to accidents.

The 1800s Although road safety as we know it started with the motoring age, road accidents had long been a problem in the nineteenth century, especially in the fast-growing urban areas of Britain. Thus, in 1875, there were 1,589 fatalities, mostly involving horse conveyance. This was more than in 1910 (see RoSPA’s Annual Road Accident Statistics).

More research must be done on these accidents and public policy toward them. However, the legislation of the time does contain measures on the proper use of the highway. Thus the Highway Act of 1835 prohibited riding on a footpath and had regulations on the control and driving of carts and carriages, including dangerous driving and riding offenses.

Drinking while in charge of a carriage, horse, or cattle was an offense under the Licensing Act of 1872 and the Locomotive (Red Flag) Act of 1865, with its speed limit of 4 mph in open country and two mph in well-known towns. There must also have been considerable knowledge about driving horse-drawn vehicles. Presumably, safety was included in this.


By the 1870s, cyclists were venturing out into the country and meeting great hostility from horse riders and wagon drivers (one coach guard had an iron ball on the end of a rope with which he would knock cyclists off their machines). It was the same in towns where wagon and coach drivers paid scant heed to the safety of cyclists.

To protect themselves and encourage cycling, the touring club was formed (it became the Cyclists Touring Club in 1887), and it campaigned vigorously for the rights of cyclists, with some success. For example, they were the first to sign warning signs for hills and dangerous bends.

Since then, the C.T.C. has been deeply involved in anything to do with cycling. The Pedestrians Association has developed arguments that challenge the importance of motor vehicles. In addition, it was closely involved in the post-war road safety movement, helping to create cycle training and being represented on many road safety committees.


Like the cyclists, early motorists were subject to negative attention from horse riders, local authorities, and the police. As a result, they formed associations to fight for their rights and provide services for their members. The A.C. later became the R.A.C. and has been closely involved in driver and motorcyclist training and with the voluntary registration of driving instructors.


This act introduced driving licenses, compulsory registration, and number plates. It raised the 12 mph speed limit set in 1896 to 20 mph, although local authorities could apply for a ten mph limit in certain towns.

The first use of windscreens. These were made of ordinary glass and inflicted severe injuries in accidents.

France introduces standard traffic signs.


At this time, most signs were erected by motoring and cycling organizations. There needed to be more uniformity in their design, where they were placed, and in ensuring even country coverage. Local authorities erected direction signs, but this was often carried out indifferently.

The Motor Car Act of the previous year addressed this problem. It had stipulated that local authorities should erect warning signs at “dangerous corners, crossroads, and precipitous places.” The Local Government Board was to issue guidelines on the design of these signs, which it did in 1904.

There were three types of signs: speed, prohibition, and caution, as follows:

  1. For 10 miles or lower limit of speed, a white ring 18 inches in diameter, with a plate below, gives limitation in figures.
  2. For prohibition, a solid red disc was 18 inches in diameter.
  3. For caution (dangerous corners, crossroads, or precipitous places), a hollow red equilateral triangle with 18-inch sides.
  4. All other notices under the act are to be on diamond-shaped boards.

The above signs are placed on the near side of the road facing the driver with their lower edges not less than eight feet from the ground and about 50 yards from the spot to which they apply. (From an l920 Michelin Guide. By courtesy of Michelin Tyres)

These signs remained in use until the 1930s. However, they were modified in 1921 to include the new road numbering system on direction signs and to contain warning symbols (with a title plate underneath) agreed at a Convention in Paris in 1909.


Similar to the Automobile Club. Its long-running campaign against the early speed traps is well known. Over the years, the A.A. and other motoring bodies have significantly influenced road traffic and road safety legislation. In addition, the A.A. has undertaken several road safety initiatives, including the setting up of a research foundation, and was represented on many road safety committees after the war.

It was the first use of bumpers.

1909: International Automobile Traffic and Circulation Congress, Paris.

This congress was set up to address problems associated with the movement of vehicles between countries. It reached an agreement on recognizing driving permits of other countries, set conditions for acceptable vehicle standards (such as having two lamps to the front and one to the rear and a “driving control” that allowed the driver to see the road), and introduced international index marks. However, it stipulated that drivers must conform to local rules, not those of their home country. It also looked at the possibility of international road signs but agreed only on a motion for a dangerous crossing. This was to be placed 250 meters before the hazard and had to be perpendicular to the road!


Set up to administer grants to local authorities for road improvements, it was disbanded in 1918, and the new Ministry of Transport took over its functions.


This committee addressed the growing problems associated with the car, including accidents.


It aimed to reduce accidents by providing training for drivers in the industry and public transport, street safety measures, and public campaigns. In 1924 it amalgamated with other bodies to become the National “Safety First” Association. Among its initiatives were a safety code for road users (1924); a journal (1925); a national driving competition and the first film (1927); and later, a federal safety week and film shows for children. It was consulted by government committees and had considerable influence on them. In 1941 it changed its name to RoSPA.


It was formed by the A.A., the SMMT, and others to monitor legislation damaging to the motor car. In 1944, the Standing Joint Committee was replaced by the A.A., R.A.C., and RSAC.

TRAFFIC LIGHTS The first three-color traffic lights were installed in New York and were manually operated by the police. Automatic signals were introduced in the U.K. by the mid-twenties. Before light signals, some areas used manually operated semaphore arms. One of these had been installed outside Parliament as early as 1868. It was illuminated by gas but a

leakage occurred, and it blew up.

Traffic lights were adapted from railway use and derived from light signals on sailing ships.


The League of Nations established many scientific and technical committees, one dealing with road traffic. This committee dealt with harmonizing road signs, signals, and traffic rules, and some countries took up its recommendations. The League collapsed in the late thirties, but a number of the committees, including the traffic committee, continued after the war in the newly-formed United Nations.

Ministry of Transport – Set up as an alternative to the Road Board to provide a coherent transport policy and to coordinate the road system. It had a troubled early history and was under threat of merger or dismantlement well into the twenties. Of interest was an early review of road traffic law by a departmental committee that included representatives from the motoring and trade associations, police, local authorities, and others. Among the matters discussed were the construction and use of vehicles, the need to raise speed limits, driving tests, tests of physical fitness, and penalties for offenses (they were against driving tests because they would be expensive, inconvenient, and of little value). The proposals were written into a draft Road Traffic Bill completed in 1922. Although it was not acted upon, it was referred to and amended in the discussions throughout the twenties. In that sense, it was the precursor of the 1930 Act.

Since then, the Ministry has continued consolidating its pre-eminence in transport matters. Arguments have been made that road transport has come to dominate over other transport modes and that within road transport, too much emphasis has been given to roads and drivers’ mobility at the expense of other road users and problems like safety and pollution. In addition, the government has recently instituted agency agreements with sections of the DTp, meaning they now have to be self-funding.

1922: U.S. School Patrol system started. It operates in more than 20 countries worldwide, but the concept has yet to find favor in the U.K.

The Three E’s concept originated about this time by Julian Harvey, an insurance manager dealing with accident claims who raised it at a Kansas City Safety Council meeting. Although he applied it to industrial safety, Sidney Williams of the National Safety Council later extended it to traffic safety.


A Home Office conference standardized a system of arm signals for use by the police and road users, and these were subsequently included in the Highway Code. Around this time, there was some argument about whether pedestrians should give signals to drivers.

Early roundabouts: The first roundabouts were developed around this time and were based on the work of an American traffic specialist, William Phelps Eno, on traffic movements at junctions. They may have been suggested by existing circular road layouts, as at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The idea lent itself to city squares (e.g., Sloane Square). Not long before “true” roundabouts with central islands were built. However, initially, these were too small to allow “weaving .”Another variant was to impose one-way movement on a set of roads at a complex junction and effectively create a roundabout. This was done at Hyde Park Corner in 1927, where it was called a ‘gyratory system.’


This had been set up to review the 1903 Act, but its work was pre-empted by a bill introduced by Lord Cecil, which proposed road safety measures. A select committee was then convened, but it could not agree on Cecil’s ideas, and the task of drafting a bill was passed to the Minister of Transport. As a result, some of Cecil’s measures found their way into the 1930 R.T.A.

Toronto introduced vehicle inspections one year after New York had voluntarily introduced these.


This act introduced a minimum driving age and third-party insurance, abolished the 20 mph limit, and made testing for some licenses compulsory. In addition, it included measures against careless and dangerous driving and provided for a highway code.


The Road Traffic Act of the previous year required the Minister of Transport to prepare a code of directions for road users’ guidance, which was issued in 1931. Although much shorter than the present-day version, it has a more transparent structure and makes it plain what is required by law and what is advocated by the code. A close reading reveals some curious points – for example, only a rear lamp or a reflector was needed on a cycle at night; pedestrians were told to look left and right before crossing and were not to stand about in groups at blind corners. Drivers were advised to look out for “white lines” and not to pull up alongside a constable on point duty to ask a question other people could answer.

Its Chief Constable, Major Godfrey, conducted a very successful education and propaganda campaign in Salford (near Manchester). The program ran throughout the thirties and was notable for introducing play streets.


The committee decided on the size, color, and type of signs and laid down fundamental principles for a signing system: signs should be easily seen and understood, give enough warning, have a uniform design, and not be overused. It adopted sure signs agreed upon at a 1926 Paris Convention but did not endorse the 1931 Geneva Convention, which had opted for symbol-only signs and settled on the shape of each type of sign (although not too dissimilar). The committee also did basic groundwork on traffic signaling and introduced filter lights.

Road research laboratory: Although the R.R.L. was set up then, it was not until 1946, when the Traffic and Safety Division was formed, that road safety research got underway. Since then, the Division has established a worldwide reputation for its safety research. With the reduced staff numbers in recent years, more work is now placed on universities and research bodies. It has had and continues to have a far-reaching influence on road safety policy and practice.

It was the first high school driver education course in the U.S.A.


This brought in a 30 mph limit in built-up areas, driving tests, pedestrian crossings, and reflectors for bicycles. In addition, penalties for dangerous driving were increased.

Driving tests: Although the R.A.C. had been operating a system of instruction and testing of drivers since 1902, there was no official test of competence to drive. On and off, over the years, this had been the subject of much debate, but its advocates finally won their case in 1934. The test covered essential car control and maneuvers and knowledge of the Highway Code, and the MoT set up its own body of examiners. At the same time, the R.A.C. set up a scheme for the examination and registration of driving instructors. Although, in a sense, the test (and the training) have been kept up to date by responding to changes in the road system and driving conditions, there are omissions like motorway and night driving. These and other arguments have formed the basis for the many calls for the test to be updated over the years. However, the Driving Standards Agency resisted such changes. However, changes have now come about due to an E.C. directive.

One curious sideline to the early history of the test was Lord Cottenham’s furious attack on the “amateurism” of the Ministry and the “unhelpfulness” of the Metropolitan Police regarding his reorganization of police driving training at Hendon. The attacks came in his submission to the Alness Committee when he recommended that driving instructors be licensed by the police and undergo the training syllabus at Hendon and other police driving schools. This was taken up by the 1942 Committee, which also recommended that examiners take police training. However, it is clear from the 1947 Report that the Ministry and the driving instructors had won their case for independent action with the argument that the system would be automated as those who were incompetently trained would fail the test.

BELISHA beacons: Forerunner of the “zebra” pedestrian crossing, these were named after Hore Belisha, the then Minister of Transport. They consisted of orange globes (unlit) mounted on poles.


This was formed by Lord Trenchard, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, to reduce police accidents. Captain Minchon of the Royal Armoured Corps School was brought in as Transport Officer, and staff developed advanced training courses for police drivers. Lord Cottenham was appointed an adviser of the school and amended the syllabus, which he found unsatisfactory. This was resisted, of course, and he has some sharp words to say about the obstructiveness of staff (some seemed to be hoping accidents would go up so that he would be proved wrong); but the accident rate did improve.

Similar schools were formed in Liverpool, Preston, Manchester, Salford, Chester, and Chelmsford. The “roadcraft” system and the police involvement in advanced driving stem from work at Hendon. The Roadcraft manual was first published in the mid-’50s, although there was an earlier version called Attention All Drivers, published in 1954. The author was “Jock” Taylor, a senior instructor at Hendon.

R.A.C. driving instructor scheme: With the introduction of the driving test, the R.A.C. set up a scheme for the examination and registration of driving instructors, which played a helpful role until the opening of the A.D.I. registers in 1964.


This was a joint report of the Board of Education and the Ministry of Transport addressing the high accident rate among school children, which, at that time, was much worse than today. After analyzing the problem, it looked at what had been done up to that time and then considered what should be done. As can be imagined, only a little was done, although the initiatives are described in such a way that they sound pretty impressive. Thus the B.B.C. had wireless talks; the Ministry was working to provide better footpaths and facilities for pedestrians, and the board had issued Administrative Memoranda. However, the infrastructure for dealing with accidents was just being established. Such commonplace measures like the study of accident statistics, the provision of barrier rails, and police escorts for children crossing were entirely new and imaginative at that time. The main impetus for road safety in schools came from the National “Safety First” Association, which had been supplying materials to schools for some time and, in 1934, had received funding to produce a school package for a trial period. The experiment proved very successful, and the committee recommended continuing it. The Association also organized cinema performances of safety films which by 1936 had been seen by 500,000 children.

In the schools themselves, some were far ahead of others with model traffic signals, wall friezes, roads marked out in playgrounds where children could practice, and safety displays for parents on open days.

It was these examples of good practice (along with good preparation by the police) that the committee took up in their recommendations. These are too numerous to detail, but they contain many good ideas and principles, some of which still have currency. Thus, one read of safe routes to school, the value of practice in road crossing skills, and the need to give positive rather than negative guidance. One interesting point they make is a division between “protective” and “educative” measures. The first consists of measures like school signs, barrier rails, and lower speed limits to provide a safe environment for the child in going to and from school. The “educative” measures, much as we know them, are different in that they are aimed at enabling the child to cope safely with all roads. There was also a report for Scotland that covers much the same ground. It contains a set of rules for crossing the road, referred to as the “curb drill,” which is wider than the 1942 Kerb Drill and is not far off the Green Cross Code. The report contains the following statement: “Witnesses referred to the possibility of “Safety First” lessons resulting in the fostering of selfish prudence among children and in a stifling of the spirit of adventure. Was there, not the possibility, they asked, of rearing a timid generation, and of depreciating manly courage and the thrill of danger so attractive to the healthy schoolboy”


Windscreens were to be of safety glass, and automatic wipers were to be fitted; brakes, steering, and wipers were to be in good condition; glass must not obscure the driver’s vision.

Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations – dipped headlights introduced.


This was the Select Committee of the House of Lords set up to look at road accidents and is

notable for laying down the three “E’s” as the basis for remedial work. In addition, it advocated a more attractive Highway Code with separate versions for pedestrians and cyclists, endorsed the 1936 report on school children, and proposed a national propaganda department and local safety organizations.

The police were to advise, assist, and set a good example rather than rely on the prosecution (courtesy cops). It wanted a stricter test for drivers and proposed banning children under ten from cycling on the road. Careless pedestrians come in for some criticism, and there is an obscure but exciting dispute between cyclists and drivers about the need for rear lights on bikes (cyclists said that drivers should be going slowly enough to see them without sunshine if they did use them, it would just encourage drivers to drive faster.)

A large number of engineering proposals were made. Many of these are commonplace, e.g., staggered junctions, dual carriageways, and anti-skid surfaces. However, there were one or two odd ideas, like green lines painted across the road to give warning of traffic signs. Complete segregation of traffic was thought to be a panacea. One also sees the beginnings of the argument about the relative effectiveness of behavioral and engineering measures, with the MoT saying that 90 percent of accidents were due to road users (perhaps to avoid spending money on roads!) and others, including a county surveyor, saying that they were due to the state of roads. There is a reference to the autobahns, which had impressed a large delegation (247 members) from Britain in 1937, and on this basis, an experimental motorway was proposed.

The vehicle improvement section shows how rudimentary safety was, e.g., drivers peering through steering wheels rather than over them. Regular brake testing was considered but rejected as impracticable.

1941: RoSPA

When it changed its name to RoSPA, the NSFA had achieved a high degree of influence with its five representatives on the Committee on Road Safety. This shows in the inclusion of RoSPA in a proposed post-war propaganda committee, the provision of funds for continued work in education and publicity, and the adoption of the local committee model in which RoSPA was to play a significant role.

In the immediate post-war period, well over 1,000 of these committees, organized into 18 Accident Prevention Federations, had been formed. RoSPA was expanded to meet the demand for materials and informed advice. Many enthusiastic volunteers and representatives from local authorities, trade organizations, and road user bodies were on these committees. At about this time, road safety officers or “organizers” started to appear, often honorary, part-time, or volunteer, and usually tied into the committees. RoSPA actively promoted the idea that full-time road safety officers be appointed and started holding the annual R.S.O. course in 1949. The early history of R.S.O.s, from NARSO in 1957 to the institute in 1971, was closely bound up with RoSPA, and R.S.O.s owe much to their support in those early days.

Many significant schemes, such as Tufty and the NCPS, were launched and have set the framework for much of the later work in schools.

After the reorganization of local government in 1974, the committee structure declined as local authorities set up their road safety departments (many RoSPA staff left to become R.S.O.s). These changing circumstances and a move from Purley to Birmingham necessitated a restructuring and the closure of several regional offices. Since 1974 RoSPA has continued to provide and develop new programs and materials. However, since the early 80s, it has become increasingly common for local authorities to do this themselves.

In 1989 government cost-cutting they reduced the D.T.P. grant, resulting in many redundancies in the road safety division. However, RoSPA has now recovered from this.


RoSPA devised this as one of many measures to reduce the high child accident rate. Its injunctions: “Look right, look left, look right again; when all is clear, quick march,” formed the basis of much road safety work in schools until the more sophisticated Green Cross Code was developed.

As mentioned, the 1936 report on schoolchildren had an earlier “curb drill,” which was very similar to the later Green Cross Code, viz:

(1) Always stop at the Kerb.

(2) Always look Right, then Left before crossing.

(3) Always keep a Careful Look-out while crossing.

(4) Always look out before stepping into the street from behind a Car or Omnibus.

(5) (a) Where possible, cross at Traffic Signals, Islands, or other Marked Places.

(5) (b) Wait for the Clear Signal, watch the Corner for turning Traffic, Then cross.

(6) (a) Always walk straight across.

(6) (b) Never loiter when crossing.


This was commissioned by the Minister of War Transport to examine road safety and, in particular, to review the Alness Report and advise on what measures should be adopted after the war. As a result, it is closely based on Alness, but some ideas are dropped, and others are brought in. Nevertheless, the committee felt an interim report was needed to deal with the problems it foresaw in the early post-war period and give time to prepare for the long-term measures it proposed. Among the post-war issues were the deterioration of laid-up cars (as an aside, dealers were buying these up in their thousands in anticipation of a postwar killing); the lack of driving practice, and run-down street lighting.

One immediate effect of the report was the launch of the National Road Safety Campaign in November 1945, mainly aimed at the post-war dangers but later widening to the more general long-term campaign that had been advocated. As part of that campaign, local authorities were given 50 percent grants to set up local organizations, and by 1947, more than 1,000 had been formed. In addition, the activities of RoSPA were expanded to cope with the increased demand for its services.


The committee ratified much of the work of the 1933 report, and its recommendations for changes were based on changing traffic conditions, new technical advances, and practical experience. As a result, several new signs were added of the same type, approved in 1933.

1946: The first of a series of Presidential Highway Safety Conferences held in the U.S.A., which created the framework for traffic safety work in the post-war years.


The report is impressive, both in the scope and detail of its recommendations, and many of these were subsequently implemented.

Among the road user proposals were

  • intensive propaganda (RoSPA was to play a significant role in this),
  • the introduction of school patrols using adults and older pupils,
  • a high profile for road safety in schools,
  • the expansion of local safety committees,
  • research on crash helmets,
  • traffic departments in each police force, and
  • more mobile patrols.

It also recommended some legislation on pedestrians but went against registration for cyclists. Finally, of historical interest is a section on accident-prone drivers.

The engineering measures (following the Interim Report) took due account of town planning, the different functions of each road type, and the segregation of conflicting traffic streams and different road users. Many of the recommendations were implemented in the new towns (as well as elsewhere). However, later experience showed that although accidents fell because of separate pedestrian and cycle paths, these groups were still at risk (possibly more so) when visiting other areas.

The vehicle improvement section does exciting reading, and it is surprising how recent some elementary measures are. Mirrors, for example, were not compulsory until 1941. Not all vehicles had been fitted with direction indicators, stop lights or bumpers. Vehicle testing, based on American practice, was strongly recommended. However, this idea was not taken up until 1960 with the new ‘MoT’ test.

The report also collects accident data and lists research the newly formed Road Research Board should undertake.

It is of note that five of the committee’s 18 members were from RoSPA.

RAC/ACU MOTORCYCLE TRAINING SCHEME: This was formed as, at the time, it was often difficult for motorcyclists to receive instruction from driving instructors and at a reasonable cost. The scheme was operated through the affiliated clubs of the Auto Cycle Union through local authorities and the R.A.C. Many road safety officers often donated motorcycles. They were involved with the scheme until its termination in 1982.


The recommendations of this Conference were implemented in 1952 in many countries. However, they were a small number of basic rules for road usage.


It had been found that crossings were being ignored by pedestrians and drivers alike. To overcome this, the new zebra crossing was introduced. In addition, black and white stripes were presented at a few experimental sites to improve their visibility, 1,000 locations were painted in 1949 during Pedestrian Crossing Week. The 1951 measure ratified the black and white stripes, gave precedence to pedestrians, and prohibited waiting near the crossing. At one point, red and white stripes were considered.


The act made provisions for introducing MoT tests and increased penalties for dangerous driving.

The Institute of Advanced Motorists – was formed to make roads safer by raising driving standards and offering an Advanced Driving Test. It now has many groups nationwide and has conducted over 200,000 tests.


This was a two-year experiment to see if intensive three E’s work could reduce accidents. Among the measures used were poster campaigns, driving and motorcycling courses, rallies, cycle training (including a ten-day school for children), M.O.T. type tests, and a safe routes to school program. In addition, illuminated school signs and a radar speedometer were used for the first time.

League of safe drivers: Initially, this was a Finchley-based group modeled on the Northumberland and Durham Safe Drivers Association. It was run by the local safety committee with help from Hendon instructors. It went independent in 1960 when Finchley Council restricted membership to their ratepayers. The League grew steadily over the years, but finance was always a problem, and in 1980 it amalgamated with RoSPA and became the RoSPA Advanced Drivers Association.


The story goes that Elsie Mills, an employee of RoSPA, was having lunch when she saw a squirrel hop up to the curb, look around for traffic, and then hop across the road. This inspired “Tufty,” and many materials were produced quickly. The club proved very successful, with thousands being started throughout the U.K. However, it has come under attack in recent years for its use of animals and its largely middle-class background. Most notably, it was banned in some London boroughs for being racist (red versus grey squirrels!)


Set up to review traffic signs. This committee was responsible for our present system of signing. Traffic signs at the time were hard to see and read at average speeds, were often ineffective at night, and needed a uniform appearance. Based on these, and other criticisms, the committee chose the U.N. 1949 Protocol System, which was mainly symbolic. Guidelines on the design and color of signs, where they should be cited, and establishing a Primary system were laid down. It was recognized that publicity on the new posters would be essential.


This was an essential and influential study of the impact of the motorcar on society.


Written by Ralph Nader, this was a powerful attack on the attitude of car manufacturers to safety. It proved very influential in forcing through some much-needed changes.


A significant drink/drive legislation set the 80mg/100ml limit and brought in the breathalyzer.

ROAD SAFETY- A FRESH APPROACH: This was a White Paper that had a significant impact at the time. It proposed a central road safety unit to coordinate the national program and area units to study local accidents and liaise with local authorities on remedial work. R.S.O.s were to be critical in planning and guiding regional strategy in dealing with accidents, but local councils obstructed this. A significant publicity program was proposed; the Highway Code was to be revised, and a manual on driving was to be produced. There was to be a compulsory register with check tests and advice for driving instructors, and motorcycle training was to be expanded.

On the engineering side, small road schemes with a high return were favored, and increased funding for road improvements was announced.


This is an influential book by Stina Sandals on how their development stage determines children’s traffic behavior.

Unconference on road traffic resulted in the Conventions on Road Traffic and Road Signs and Signals (Vienna Conventions). Unlike the rules agreed in 1949, these are considerably more detailed, and many have been (or already were) incorporated in national highway codes or legislation.

The “ELECTRIC ROAD” DISPLAY: Around this time, RoSPA had a highly imaginative display of white mice running around a model roadway. The mice would only cross the road at the zebra crossing, to everyone’s amazement. It turned out that this was the only place they wouldn’t get an electric shock – the road had been wired up to a live battery!


IDBRA was founded in 1970 by several automobile and petroleum companies. B.P. played a significant role in funding until the late 70s. Since then, government departments and research institutes have replaced the original founding members. Among the aims of IDBRA are the promotion of cross-national studies of the role of human factors in driving and accidents and the propagation of best practices. Some conferences have been held on driver behavior, drinking/driving, risk exposure, and accident and injury patterns. International studies of drivers’ attitudes and opinions, driving on motorways, and establishing international data links have also been part of its program. It is currently working on a pan-European survey of drivers’ attitudes, opinions, and reported behaviors.


Set up to allow incorporation of road safety officers.

Green Cross Code: In the late sixties, criticism of the curb drill was growing. It was felt it needed to be more mechanistic, specify where the children should cross, and take account of children’s capabilities in traffic. The TRRL undertook a revision and drew up a list of rules based on a consensus of experts and informed opinions. It was stressed at the time that the rules should not be learned by rote but should be explained in detail to children, although this original injunction was sometimes lost sight of. David Prowse undertook many tours as the Green Cross Man, and his work was essential in encouraging children to use the code. Recent work at Strathclyde and Edinburgh Universities by Jim Thomson, Kwame Ampofo-Boateng, and Lee suggests that the code urgently needs revision.


Section 8 of this Act made road safety a statutory duty of local authorities. However, with the setting up of departments employing full-time officials, there was less need for the local committee system, and it eventually fell away.


A sub-committee of the County Surveyors Society set up a forum for senior road safety staff to enable national initiatives to be undertaken.


This committee was set up in 1974 to review the operation of the drink/drive laws, as it was felt that the impetus of the 1967 Act had been lost. It recommended streamlining test procedures (many cases had been lost because these had to be followed to the letter), that breath rather than blood sampling should become the norm, and that the police should be allowed to test at their discretion. It also recommended a continuing publicity and education program and promoted the idea of a high-risk offender scheme.

B.H.S. road safety test: Faced with nearly 3,000 equestrian accidents a year, the British Horse Society initiated a riding and road safety test in which road safety officers were closely involved.

Step and star rider: Funded by the motorcycle industry, these schemes had a significant impact at the time. STEP (Schools Traffic Education Programme) was inspired by driver education programs in the U.S.A. and Canada. A short moped training course for pupils was integral to the scheme. However, it encountered difficulty through timetabling, resource shortages, and school staffing problems. In the 1980s, the industry withdrew funding, and reorganization resulted in forming a new and separate company BITER. Star Rider, or the National Training Scheme, was a three-tier motorcycle training scheme involving many local authorities.


Originally known as the Safety in Transport Action Group, its membership comprised M.P.s and representatives from various transport and road safety organizations, including the institute. Its purpose was, and is, to promote transport safety amongst M.P.s and ultimately effect legislative changes.


Introduced to help reduce motorcycling accidents. The first part of the test took place in an off-road situation and was about machine handling skills; the second part was similar to the old test. Learners were restricted to 125cc machines, and if they did not pass both test details within two years, they had to wait a year before renewing their license.


This introduced a wide-ranging review of road safety. Many of its recommendations have since been taken up, and much government policy is based on it. For example, one notes more frequent check tests for ADls, advising drivers of vulnerable road users, support for RoSPA’s Cycleway program, the promotion of cycle helmets, drink-drive campaigns, and research into drugs and driving. Also implemented are speed limits on coaches, financial support for A.I.P. work, and the setting up of the interdepartmental review. However, the report could have been better in its coverage of E.T.P.

European community initiatives: Although a directive on driving licenses was issued in 1980, it was not until 1984 that the decision was made to develop a comprehensive package of road safety measures. These include a 50mg limit, MoT tests, seat belt usage, and a 1.6mm tire tread depth, and while a number were already in place in the U.K., this was different in some other countries. In these cases, the ability of the E.E.C. to supersede national inactivity in some aspects of road safety was and is beneficial. However, it does lead to some loss of autonomy for federal transport authorities. Given the differences between member countries, some would question whether harmonization is reasonable. A recent report has suggested the setting up of a permanent specialized body, independent of the Commission, along the lines of PACTS which will be able to supplement the legislative work of the E.E.C. (note: this has now been done with the formation of the European Transport Safety Council).


Set up by the Scottish Office as its contribution to ERSY. It comprises local authorities, motoring associations, ACPO(S), BITER, RoSPA, and the institute. Since 1986 it has held several publicity campaigns throughout Scotland. In addition, it has developed resource materials for primary and secondary schools and other initiatives.


This critical E.E.C. initiative had a far-reaching effect in several European countries and led to several U.K. initiatives, including the SRSC, the AA FRSR, and G.A.’s campaign.

General accident campaign: Originally launched in European Road Safety Year, this long-running campaign has significantly impacted road safety. The Children’s Traffic Club is perhaps the most important of the many initiatives. However, others, including funding booklets, calendars, interactive videos, and research, will undoubtedly have a long-term effect. In addition, General Accident has supported the work of R.S.O.s and the R.S.O. organizations, including the institute.

Seat belt wearing: It became compulsory for drivers and front seat passengers to wear seat belts, and rear seat belts had to be fitted to new cars. In 1988 children had to wear rear seat belts where provided, and in 1991 this was extended to all passengers.

AA FOUNDATION FOR ROAD SAFETY RESEARCH: Formed during ERSY, the Foundation commissions research into factors affecting road safety and promotes its practical application. In addition, it includes developing educational programs for children and others in its remit. The A.A. and several other organizations sponsor the Foundation.


An Interdepartmental review set the one-third casualty reduction target. It assessed how effective various measures would be in meeting this target. However, it was (and is) widely felt to have underestimated the effectiveness of education, training, and publicity and put too much emphasis on secondary safety. The accident reduction target also needs considerable clarification. In the opinion of many, the review was a missed opportunity to press for road safety to be a compulsory part of the curriculum.

Prince Michael road safety awards: This scheme was initiated by Prince Michael and the I.M.I. and SMMT and is aimed primarily at school children with competitions for video scripts, posters, slogans, and, recently, cycling.


The report of this committee was highly critical of the DTp and many local authorities for not meeting their responsibilities, noting that there was a lack of coordination between central and local government, that insufficient road safety officers were employed, and that ‘Road Safety – A Fresh Approach’ had been largely ignored on the role of the road safety officer. Some of the C.P.A. criticisms have been taken on board. However, the overall response to the committee’s concern about the number of R.S.O.s employed is unclear.

THE NORTH REPORT: A review of road traffic law. Several of its proposals are contained in the Road Traffic Bill before Parliament (note: passed by Parliament as the Road Traffic Act 1992).

THE “TRINCA” REPORT: Winner of the 1988 Volvo Traffic Safety Award, this report Reducing Traffic Injury-A Global Challenge is notable for its advocacy that road safety should be seen as a public health problem rather than a transport problem.

Education Reform Act: The introduction of the National Curriculum has significantly impacted road safety education, and much work has been done in revising resources to ensure that they fit into the new curricular structure.


Government policy for the reduction of child accidents.


Produced by the local authority associations, it lays out a framework for road safety in the local authority. Several areas have created road safety plans based on its recommendations.

CHtLDREN’S TRAFFIC CLUB: A children’s traffic club based on Scandinavian models had long been mooted for the U.K. In 1990, General Accident sponsored a pilot scheme in East Anglia. If this proves successful, the club may be extended to other parts of the country (note: the C.T.C. is now available in many parts of the U.K.).

Compulsory basic training: Legislation was enacted for all motorcyclists to undertake an approved training course.

1993: This was designated the ‘European Year of the Elderly’ by the European Commission. In the same year, the European Transport Safety Council was formed.

There was much greater use of red light and speed cameras. Puffin crossings were introduced. These show a green light to traffic once a pedestrian has cleared the intersection.


  • CRSOA and AMDERSOG merge to form LARSOA.
  • The European Road Safety Federation was formed.
  • The U.K. government launched its New Driver Safety Programme, given widespread concern about young driver accidents. The program has four components: legal sanctions where young offenders can be made to resit the driving test, an insurance discount scheme called Pass Plus, an educational program for secondary schools based on a BBC TV series featuring British comedian Alexei Sayle, and a more comprehensive theory test.
  • The Order of the Road was relaunched – an organization launched some decades ago whose members promoted safe and courteous driving on the roads.
  • 1994 was also the U.N.’s International Year of the Family, and some work was done under its heading.

1995: European Year of the Young Driver


I have not found a history of road safety as such. However, some publications contain bits and pieces of the overall picture. The best sources are original reports or acts, which can be obtained from major public libraries.

  • The most comprehensive road safety treatment is in William Plowden’s “The Motor Car and Politics in Britain” (Penguin 1973). However, its primary focus is on transport policy.
  • A short but excellent history of the NSFA and RoSPA was published by RoSPA in 1986 under the title “Road Accident Prevention 1916-1986.”
  • Louise Duncan’s book “In League” is full of the atmosphere of road safety after the war.
  • There are helpful tabular treatments in “Roadsafe 88”, the “Road Safety Officers Handbook,” and more detailed tables in “RAGB.”
  • The TRRL publications “Research on Road Safety” and “Research on Road Traffic” (1963) contain helpful references to measures before and after the war.
  • H. Alker Tripp’s “Road Traffic and its Control” (1938) and “Town Planning and Road Traffic” (1942) (The Roadmaker’s Library, Edward Arnold and Co.) are full of exciting details of early roundabouts and traffic lights.
  • Also valuable are the A.A.’s history “Golden Milestone” (1965), its book “Co-Driver” (1965), which contains a short history of motoring, and the Guinness Book of Car Facts and Feats
  • A search of second-hand bookshops will be rewarded with any number of books on motoring and driving in the early days. It is also well worth looking through back copies of Safety News, the predecessor of Care on the Road, which gives excellent coverage of road safety before and after the war.
  • The American references were picked up from Driver and Traffic Safety Education, J.E. Aaron and M.K. Strasser, Macmillan 1966.