14 August 1893: World’s first driving licences introduced

Driving licences didn’t go down well with early motorists

When Jules-Albert de Dion crossed the finish line five minutes ahead of everyone else in the world’s first motor car competition in 1894, he wasn’t very happy. And it wasn’t just because the first prize went to the guy behind him.

The previous year, Louis Lépine became the top civil servant at the Seine police department, covering Paris and the surrounding countryside. He wasn’t long in the job when he decided the new-fangled machines gracing the streets of the capital needed regulating. And so, on 14 August 1893, the Paris Police Ordinance took effect.

The new regulations required drivers to have number plates on their cars and adhere to a speed limit of 20km/h on country roads and 12km/h in built-up areas. It also created two other world firsts: driving tests and driving licences – the certficat de capacité de conduit d’un véhicule à moteur.

The new speed limit wouldn’t have worried you much – at least not at first. Jules-Albert de Dion averaged 20km/h over the 79 miles from Paris to Rouen – and he was in a hurry. That said, the first woman to gain a driving licence, the duchess of Uzès, was also the first person to get a speeding ticket in 1898.

The early driving tests wouldn’t have cost you much sleep either. You just had to prove you could pull away, steer, stop and have a vague idea of why you broke down. Of course, you wouldn’t have had any formal lessons – those appeared in 1917. But it wasn’t until 1935 that driving tests arrived in Britain.

Driving licences didn’t go down well with these early motoring enthusiasts. Perhaps fearing government meddling in their hobby, they formed themselves into groups.

One such group was led by the aggrieved Jules-Albert de Dion, who in 1895 founded the Automobile Club de France – a Paris gentleman’s club still in existence today.

• Stay up to date with MoneyWeek: Follow us on TwitterFacebook and Google+

MoneyWeek magazine

Latest issue:

Magazine cover
What a farce!

John Stepek on surviving the Greek fallout

The UK's best-selling financial magazine. Take a FREE trial today.
Claim 4 FREE Issues

From ADRs to Z scores – all the terms you wish you understood, but were too embarrassed to ask about.

Gervais Williams: if you want real dividend growth, buy small-cap stocks

Merryn Somerset Webb interviews small-cap stock expert Gervais Williams about how penny shares outperform blue chips 'again and again'.


Which investment platform is the right one for you?

When it comes to buying shares and funds, there are several investment platforms and brokers to choose from, with varying fees and charges. Find out which is best for you.


1 July 1972: Britain's first Gay Pride march is held 


On this day in 1972, the Gay Liberation Front organised Britain's first Gay Pride march from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park.


Anatomy of a Grexit: how Greece would go about leaving the euro

Jonathan Loynes and Jennifer McKeown, economists at Capital Economics, look at the key issues and challenges of a Grexit, how it might be best managed, and set out a timetable for change.