14 April 1931: the first edition of the Highway Code is published

Britain is a very busy place – there are 35 million vehicles hurtling around on our roads today – 29 million of them cars.

It’s also a dangerous place – at the last count, 1,700 people died every year. But that’s nothing to what it used to be like.

At the end of the 1920s, there were just 2.3 million vehicles But they killed around 7,000 people a year. There was no driving test, there was no speed limit, and you could drink as much as you liked. Something, as they say, had to be done.

In 1929, the Royal Commission on Transport recommended a Code of Conduct be produced for drivers. And on this day in 1931, the Rt Hon Herbert Morrison MP, Minister of Transport, launched the first edition of the Highway Code.

I cost one penny, and carried adverts for the likes of the RAC, AA and BP, among others. It contained just 18 pages of advice, fully a third of those devoted to hand signals, since indicators were by no means standard equipment in those days. Indeed, much of the advice was aimed at drivers of horse-drawn carriages.

It quickly became a best-seller as the number of learner drivers increased. It regularly sells over a million copies a year.

These days it comes in at 160-odd pages and will set you back £2.50 if you’re after the paper version. These days, of course, it also comes in app form, and interactive CD Rom. It’s even on twitter.

  • Doug Macleod

    Police estimate that there are 720,000 road casualties each year in the UK. Anybody got a figure for the cost of this? Any other industry with this tally of mayhem and carnage would be closed down.