Features

28 January 1896: The world’s first speeding ticket is issued

On this day in 1896, motorist Walter Arnold was caught tearing through Paddock Wood in Kent at a hair-raising 8mph, and so became the first driver in the world to get a speeding ticket.

We hear much these days, in some of our more deranged newspapers and in the slimier depths of neighbourhood social media groups, of the "War on the Motorist" – of how the police, government, local councils and the like are concerned only with making as much money as possible from the poor, put-upon drivers of Britain, via parking charges, traffic calming measures, cycle lanes, and most heinously of all, the hated speed cameras. 

All this miserable whingeing can be traced back to an event that took place on this day 119 years ago – when the world's first speeding ticket was issued to a motorist. A reckless tearaway by the name of Walter Arnold was spotted by a constable hurtling through the streets of Paddock Wood, Kent, at four times the legal speed limit. The limit at the time was 2mph. You could have walked faster. But in early 1896, the law said you could only go 2mph, and you had to have a chap walking in front waving a red flag to alert the nervous of your approach. But the crazed boy racer sped through the town at 8mph, with no flag-bearer sprinting in front

The astonished police constable who witnessed such boy-racery mounted his pushbike and a five-mile chase ensued (presumably, bicycles were slower too). Arnold was caught and sent before the beak, where he was fined a shilling. Mr Arnold may not have been too unhappy with the publicity his case generated, however. He was one of the country's first car dealers, selling imported Benz cars from Germany. And between 1896 and 1899 his company made its own cars, the “Arnold Motor Carriage”, based on the Benz.

Later that year, the Locomotives Act removed the need for a flag-bearer, and increased the speed limit to a hair-raising 14mph. To celebrate, a race from London to Brighton was organised, called the “Emancipation Run”. Fittingly, Walter Arnold took part, driving one of his own cars. A re-enactment of the run took place in 1927, organised by the newspaper the Daily Sketch. It has been held almost continuously since, as the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, for cars built before 1905.

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