The History of Road Safety

[Note: Some of the sections that follow include details about the USA 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.


1800’s  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 of some kind, and this was actually more than in 1910 (see RoSPA’s Annual Road Accident Statistics).


Very little research has been done on these accidents and on public policy towards them but 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 has regulations on the control and driving of carts and carriages, including a dangerous driving and riding offence.


Drinking while in charge of a carriage, horse or cattle was an offence  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 2 mph in towns is well known. There must also have been a considerable body of knowledge to do with driving horse-drawn vehicles and presumably safety was included in this.



By the 1870’s cyclists were venturing out into the country and meeting great hostility from horsemen 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 scant heed was paid to the safety of cyclists by wagon and coach drivers.


To protect themselves, and also to 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. They were the first to put up warning signs for hills and dangerous bends.


Since that time the CTC has been deeply involved in anything to do with cycling, and like the Pedestrians Association have developed arguments that challenge the primacy accorded to the motor vehicle. It was closely involved in the post-war road safety movement, helping to develop cycle training and being represented on many of the road safety committees.



Like the cyclists, early motorists were subject to hostile attention from horse riders, local authorities and the police, and formed themselves into associations to fight for their rights and also to provide services for their members. The AC later became the RAC and has been closely involved over the years in driver and motorcyclist training, and with the voluntary registration of driving instructors.



This Act introduced driving licences, compulsory registration, number plates and raised the 12 mph speed limit set in 1896 to 20 mph, although local authorities could apply for a 10 mph limit in certain towns.


First use of windscreens.  These were made of ordinary glass and inflicted serious injuries in accidents.


France introduces standard traffic signs.



At this time, most signs were erected by motoring and cycling organisations and there was little uniformity in their design, where they were placed, and in ensuring an even coverage of the country. Direction signs were erected by local authorities but this was often carried out in an indifferent manner.


The Motor Car Act of the previous year had addressed this problem, and had stipulated that local authorities should erect warning signs at “dangerous corners, cross roads 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 sign: speed, prohibition and caution, as follows:

  1. For 10 miles or lower limit of speed, a white ring 18 inches in diameter, with plate below giving limit in figures.
  2. For prohibition, a solid red disc 18 inches in diameter.
  3. For caution (dangerous corners, cross roads, or precipitous places) a hollow red equilateral triangle, 18-inch sides.
  4. All other notices under the Act 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 a l920 Michelin Guide. By courtesy of Michelin Tyres)


These signs remained in use until the 1930’s, although they were modified in 1921 to include the new road numbering system on direction signs, and to include 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 AA and other motoring bodies have had great influence on road traffic and road safety legislation. The AA has undertaken a number of road safety initiatives including the setting up of a research foundation, and was represented on many road safety committees after the war.


First use of bumpers (UK).


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 agreement on recognising 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), introduced international index marks, and stipulated that drivers must conform to local rules and not those of their home country.  It also looked at the possibility of international road signs but agreed only on a sign for a dangerous crossing. This was to be placed 250 metres 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 its functions taken over by the new Ministry of Transport.



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



It aimed to reduce accidents by providing training for drivers in 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 national safety week and film shows for children. It was consulted by government committees of the time and had considerable influence on them. In 1941 it changed its name to RoSPA.



Formed by the AA, the SMMT and others to monitor legislation inimical to the motor car. In 1944 it was replaced by the Standing Joint Committee formed by the AA, RAC and RSAC.


TRAFFIC LIGHTS   The first three colour traffic lights were installed in New York and were manually operated by the police. Automatic signals were introduced in the UK by the mid twenties. Prior to 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 occured and it blew up.


Traffic lights were adapted from railway use which in turn were derived from light signals used on sailing ships.



The League of Nations established a number of scientific and technical committees, one of which dealt with road traffic. This committee dealt with the harmonisation of road signs and signals and road traffic rules and its recommendations were taken up by a number of countries. 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 co-ordinate 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 which 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 offences (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 which was completed in 1922. Although it was not acted upon, it was referred to and amended in the discussions that took place throughout the twenties, and in that sense was the precursor of the 1930 Act.


Since that time, the Ministry has continued to consolidate 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 the mobility of drivers at the expense of other road users and of problems like safety and pollution. The government has recently instituted agency agreements with sections of the DTp, which means that they now have to be self-funding.


1922:  US School Patrol system started. It now operates in more than 20 countries worldwide but the concept never found favour in the UK.


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 it was later extended to traffic safety by Sidney Williams of the National Safety Council.



A Home Office conference standardised 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 as to 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 in part 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), and it was not long before “true” roundabouts with central islands were being built, although 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 was unable to 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 RTA.


Toronto introduced vehicle inspections, one year after New York had introduced these on a voluntary basis.



This Act introduced a minimum driving age, third party insurance, abolished the 20 mph limit and made testing for some licences compulsory. It included measures against careless and dangerous driving and provided for a highway code.



The Road Traffic Act of the previous year had required the Minister of Transport to prepare a code of directions for the guidance of road users and this was issued in 1931. Although much shorter than the present day version, it has a clearer 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 told to look out for “white lines” and were not to pull up alongside a constable on point duty to ask a question which other people could answer.


A very successful education and propaganda campaign was carried out in Salford (near Manchester) by its Chief Constable, Major Godfrey. The programme, which ran throughout the thirties was notable for its introduction of play streets.



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


ROAD RESEARCH LABORATORY:  Although the RRL was set up at this time it was not until 1946 when the Traffic and Safety Division was formed that road safety research got under way. Since then the Division has established a world-wide reputation for its safety research. With the reduction in staff numbers in recent years more work is now placed with universities and research bodies. It has had, and continues to have, a far-reaching influence on road safety policy and practice.


First high school driver education course in U.S.A.



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


DRIVING TESTS:   Although the RAC 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 basic car control and manoeuvres and knowledge of the Highway Code, and the MoT set up its own body of examiners. At the same time, the RAC 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 having to respond to changes in the road system and in driving conditions, there are omissions like motorway and night driving. These and other arguments have formed the basis for the many calls over the years for the test to be updated although such changes were resisted by the Driving Standards Agency. However, changes have now come about as a result of an EC directive.


One curious sideline to the early history of the test was Lord Cottenham’s furious attack on the “amateurism” of the Ministry and on the “unhelpfulness” of the Metropolitan Police in regard to his reorganisation of police driving training at Hendon. The attacks came in his submission to the Alness Committee when he made the recommendation that driving instructors should be licenced by the police and undergo the training syllabus at Hendon and other police driving schools. This was taken up by the 1942 Committee who also recommended that examiners take the police training but 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 self-regulating 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, in an attempt 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 ultimately from the work at Hendon. The Roadcraft manual itself was first published in the mid 50’s, although there was an earlier version called Attention All Drivers, published in 1954. The author was “Jock” Taylor, senior instructor at Hendon.


RAC DRIVING INSTRUCTOR SCHEME: With the introduction of the driving test the RAC set up a scheme for the examination and registration of driving instructors which played a useful role until the introduction of the ADI register 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 it is today. After an analysis of the problem it looked at what had been done up to that time and then considered what should be done. As can be imagined, not very much was done, although the initiatives are described in such a way that they sound quite impressive. Thus the BBC had wireless talks; the Ministry was working to provide better footpaths and facilities for pedestrians; and the Board had issued Administrative Memoranda. To be fair, however, the infrastructure for dealing with accidents was just being set in place so that commonplace measures like the study of accident statistics, the provision of barrier rails, and police escorts for children crossing were at that time quite new and imaginative. 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 package for schools for a trial period. The experiment proved very successful and the Committee recommended that it be continued. The Association also organized cinema performances of safety films which by 1936 has 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 at open days.


It was these examples of good practice (along with good practice by LEA’s, the police, etc.) which 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 reads 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 consist of measures like school signs, barrier rails and lower speed limits which are aimed at providing a safe environment for the child in going to and from school. The “educative” measures, which are much as we know them, are different in that they are aimed at enabling the child to cope in a safe manner with all roads. There was also a report for Scotland which covers much the same ground. It contains a set of rules for crossing the road which it refers to as the “kerb drill” yet which is wider than the 1942 Kerb Drill, and in fact 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 a 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 to be in good condition; glass must not obscure vision of driver.


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. 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 organisations.


The police were to advise and assist and set a good example rather than rely on prosecution (courtesy cops). For drivers it wanted a tougher test and proposed banning children under ten from cycling on the road. Careless pedestrians come in for some criticism and there is an obscure but interesting 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 lights, and anyway, if they did use them it would just encourage drivers to drive faster.)


A large number of engineering proposals were made and many of these are now commonplace, e.g., staggered junctions, dual carriageways and anti-skid surfaces although there were one or two odd ideas like green lines painted across the road to give advance warning of traffic signs. Complete segregation of traffic was thought to be a universal panacea.   One also sees the beginnings of the argument about the relative effectiveness of behavioural and engineering measures with the MoT saying that 90 per cent 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 makes one realise how rudimentary safety was at that time, 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, and 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 major role.


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


A number of major schemes such as Tufty and the NCPS were launched and have set the framework for much of the later work in schools.


After re-organisation of local government in 1974, the committee structure declined as local authorities set up their own road safety departments (many RoSPA staff left to become RSOs). These changing circumstances, and a move from Purley to Birmingham necessitated a restructure and the closure of several regional offices. Since 1974 RoSPA have continued to provide and develop new programmes and materials but since the early 80’s it has become increasingly common for local authorities to do this themselves.


In 1989 government cost cutting led to the DTp grant being reduced resulting in many redundancies in the road safety division although RoSPA  has now recovered from this.



This was devised by RoSPA as just one of many measures aimed at reducing the very 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 “kerb 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 brought in. The Committee felt an interim report was needed to deal with the problems it foresaw in the early post-war period, and also to give time to prepare for the long-term measures it was proposing. Among the post-war problems 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, specially aimed at the post-war dangers, but later widening out to the more general long-term campaign that had been advocated. As part of that campaign, local authorities were given 50 per cent grants to set up local organisations, and by 1947, more than 1,000 had been formed. The activities of RoSPA were expanded to cope with the increased demand on 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. A number of 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 major 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.  Of historical interest is a section on accident-prone drivers.


The engineering measures (following on from the Interim Report) took due account of town planning; of the differing functions of each road type; and of the segregation of conflicting streams of traffic and of different road users. In fact, many of the recommendations were implemented in the new towns (as well as elsewhere) although 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 makes interesting reading and it is surprising how recent some elementary measures are. Mirrors, for examples, were not compulsory until 1941 and not all vehicles had been fitted with direction indicators, stop lights or bumpers. Vehicle testing, based on American practice, was strongly recommended although this idea was not taken up until 1960 with the new ‘MoT’ test.


The Report also deals in detail with the collection of accident data and lists research that should be undertaken by the newly formed Road Research Board.


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


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



The recommendations of this Conference were implemented in 1952 in a number of countries and were a small number of basic rules for road usage.



It had been found that crossings were being ignored by pedestrians and drivers alike and to overcome this the new zebra crossing was introduced. Black and white stripes had been introduced at a few experimental sites in an attempt to improve their visibility and 1,000 sites were painted in 1949 in a 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 provision for the introduction of MoT tests and increased penalties for dangerous driving.


I.A.M. – The Institute of Advanced Motorists – was formed with the aim of making roads safer by raising driving standards and through offering an Advanced Driving Test. It now has many groups throughout the country and has conducted over 200,000 tests.



This was a two year experiment to see if accidents could be reduced by intensive three E’s work. Among the measures used were poster campaigns, driving and motorcycling courses, rallies, cycle training (including a ten day school for children), MOT type tests, and a safe routes to school programme.  Illuminated school signs and a radarspeedometer were used for the first time.


LEAGUE OF SAFE DRIVERS:  Initially this was a Finchley-based group modelled 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 own 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 kerb, look around for traffic, and then hop across the road. This was the inspiration for “Tufty” and within a short time a whole range of materials had been produced. The Club proved very successful with literally thousands being started throughout the UK but is 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 normal speeds, were often not effective at night, and did not have a uniform appearance. On the basis of these, and other criticisms, the Committee chose the UN 1949 Protocol System which was mainly symbolic. Guidelines on the design and colour of signs, where they should be sited, and on the establishment of a Primary system were laid down. It was recognised that publicity on the new signs would be essential.



This was a major 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 major piece of drink/drive legislation which set the 80mg/100ml limit and brought in the breathalyser.


ROAD SAFETY- A FRESH APPROACH: This was a White Paper which had a significant impact at the time. It proposed a central road safety unit to co-ordinate the national programme and area units which would study local accidents and liaise with local authorities on remedial work. RSOs were to have a key role in planning and guiding local strategy in dealing with accidents but this was obstructed by local councils. A major publicity programme was proposed; there was to be a revision of the Highway Code and a manual on driving was to be produced. For driving instructors there was to be a compulsory register with check tests and advice; and motorcycle training was to be expanded.


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



An influential book by Stina Sandels on how children’s behaviour in traffic is determined by their stage of development.


UN CONFERENCE ON ROAD TRAFFIC:  This resulted in the Conventions on Road Traffic and on 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. To everyone’s amazement the mice would only cross the road at the zebra crossing. 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 a number of automobile and petroleum companies, with BP playing a major role in funding until the late 70’s. Since then the original founding members have been replaced by government departments and research institutes. 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 practice. A number of conferences have been held on themes such as driver behaviour, drink/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 programme. It is currently working on a pan-European survey of drivers’ attitudes, opinions and reported behaviours.



Set up to allow incorporation of road safety officers.


GREEN CROSS CODE: In the late sixties, criticism of the kerb drill was growing.  It was felt it was too mechanistic, did not specify where the children should cross, and did not 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 expert and informed opinion.  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 a great many tours as the Green Cross Man and his work played an important part 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 is in urgent need of revision.



Section 8 of this Act made road safety a statutory duty of local authorities. 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 as a forum for senior road safety staff and 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 a streamlining of 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 own discretion. It also recommended a continuing programme of publicity and education, and promoted the idea of a high-risk offender scheme.


BHS 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 from the start.


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 programmes in the USA and Canada, and a short moped training course for pupils was an integral part of the scheme. It ran into difficulty through timetabling, resource shortages and staffing problems in schools. In the 1980’s the industry withdrew funding and reorganisation resulted in the formation of a new and separate company BITER. Star Rider or the National Training Scheme was a three-tier motorcycle training scheme in which many local authorities were involved .



Originally known as the Safety in Transport Action Group, its membership was composed of MPs and representatives from a wide range of transport and road safety organisations, including the Institute. Its purpose was, and is, to promote transport safety amongst MPs 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 of 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 parts of the test within two years had to wait a year before they could renew their licence.



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 programme, the promotion of cycle helmets, drink-drive campaigns, and research into drugs and driving. Also implemented are speed limits on coaches, financial support for AIP work, and the setting up of the interdepartmental review. The Report was disappointing in its coverage of ETP.


EUROPEAN COMMUNITY INITIATIVES:  Although a directive on driving licences had been 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 tyre tread depth, and while a number were already in place in the UK this was not so in some other countries. In these cases the ability of the EEC to supercede national inactivity in some aspects of road safety was and is beneficial but it does lead to some loss of autonomy of national transport authorities, and some would question whether harmonisation is necessarily a good thing in view of the differences between member countries. A recent report has suggested the setting up of a permanent specialised body, independent of the Commission, along the lines of PACTS which will be able to supplement the legislative work of the EEC (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 is made of local authorities, motoring associations, ACPO(S), BITER, RoSPA, the institute and others. Since 1986 it has held several publicity campaigns throughout Scotland and has developed resource materials for primary and secondary schools, as well as other initiatives.



This was an important EEC initiative which had a far-reaching effect in a number of European countries and led to a number of UK initiatives including the SRSC, the AA FRSR and GA’s campaign.


GENERAL ACCIDENT CAMPAIGN:  Originally launched in European Road Safety Year, this long-running campaign has had a significant impact on road safety. Of the many initiatives, the Children’s Traffic Club is perhaps the most important but others, including funding of booklets, calendars, interactive videos and research will undoubtedly have a long-term effect. General Accident have been very supportive of the work of RSOs and the RSO organisations, 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 fitted, 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. It includes the developments of educational programmes for children and others in its remit. The Foundation is sponsored by the AA and a number of other organisations.



An Interdepartmental review which set the one-third casualty reduction target and assessed how effective various measures would be in meeting this target. It was (and is) widely felt to have underestimated the effectiveness of education, training and publicity, and to have put too much emphasis on secondary safety. The accident reduction target also needs considerable clarification, and 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 IMI 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, nothing that there was a lack of co-ordination 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 CPA criticisms have been taken on board but the overall response to the Committee’s concern about the number of RSOs employed is not yet clear.


THE NORTH REPORT:  A review of road traffic law. A number of its proposals are contained in the Road Traffic Bill which is currently 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 had a significant impact on road safety education and a great deal of 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. A number of areas have produced 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 UK. In 1990, General Accident sponsored a pilot scheme in East Anglia and if this proves successful the Club may be extended to other parts of the country (note: the CTC is now available in many parts of the UK).


COMPULSORY BASIC TRAINING:  Legislation was enacted for all motorcyclists to undertake an approved training course.


1993:  This was designated  ‘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 introduced. These do not show a green light to traffic until a pedestrian has cleared the crossing.



  • CRSOA and AMDERSOG merge to form LARSOA.
  • The European Road Safety Federation was formed.
  • The UK government launched its New Driver Safety Programme in view of widespread concern about young driver accidents. The programme 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 programme 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 – this is an organisation launched some decades ago whose members promoted safe and courteous driving on the roads.
  • 1994 was also the UN’s International Year of the Family and some work was done under its heading.

1995:  European Year of the Young Driver



I have not been able to find a history of road safety as such but there are a number of publications which contain bits and pieces of the overall picture. The best sources are the original reports or acts, themselves, and these can be obtained from major public libraries.


  • The most comprehensive treatment of road safety is to be found in William Plowden’s “The Motor Car and Politics in Britain” (Penguin 1973) although it’s 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 useful 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 useful 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 highly interesting details of early roundabouts, traffic lights and so on
  • Also useful are the AA’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.