Driving Tests and Speed Limit introduced
The 26th of March 1934 AD
The freedom of the open road was already becoming a thing of the past in the 1930s. In 1931 the Highway Code had been published for the first time, providing guidance and rules for the use of Britain’s roads after strong pressure was directed at the government to take action about the mounting traffic accident death toll – as many as 7,000 people a year at that time. In 1934 the new Minister of Transport, Leslie Hore-Belisha, took further action.
Belisha brought in several major measures in the 1934 Road Traffic Act when he took up his new post. He imposed a blanket 30mph speed limit in built up areas. Next was the introduction of pedestrian crossings at designated safe points. These were marked on the road, but also highly visible from a distance because of the electric beacons by them – named Belisha beacons by the press rather than the minister. Penalties for dangerous driving were made harder hitting. Cycles had to have rear reflectors. Licenses were introduced for lorry drivers, though testing was still discretionary. And most significantly, the driving test for car users was started.
Because there were fears of the test centres and the meagre complement of 200 instructors across the country being swamped, it was decided to have non-compulsory testing as from March 13 1935, before compulsory testing began on June 1 that year.
Happily for lovers of the absurd, the first to master the half-hour test of basic driving skills and knowledge of the Highway Code was a Mr Beene , who paid 7s & 6d for the privilege. Almost a quarter of a million applied for the test, showing the fears of a rush were well founded.
It is worth noting that anyone who had taken out a driving licence before April 1 1934 did not have to take the test. And equally strange to modern minds was the decision to suspend the need for testing during WWII , meaning none were taken between September 2 1939 and November 1 1946.
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