Speed limit curbs Mr Toad
On this day in 1861 the first speed limit was introduced in Great Britain of 10 mph (16 km/h) on open roads, reduced to 2 mph (3 km/h) in towns and 4 mph (6 km/h) in rural areas.
The first person to be convicted of speeding is believed to be Walter Arnold of East Peckham, Kent, who on 28 January 1896 was fined for speeding at 8 mph (13 km/h). He was fined 1 shilling plus costs. The speed limit was set at the speed of a horse being ridden at speed, but not furiously. The advent of the motor car and the ‘Mr Toad’ type of driver meant that road regulations had to come under constant scrutiny. This ditty from the early twentieth century typifies the drivers of the time:
I collided with some trippers
In my swift de Dion Bouton
Squashed them out as flat as kippers
Left them ”aussi mort que mouton”.
What a nuisance trippers are
I must now repaint my car.
Motoring was a different experience before the advent of the motorway in the 1940s. Driving seemed to be altogether a more light-hearted experience. Here is an extract from a 1931 book, Adele & Co by Dornford Yates, a writer whose thrillers in their day were almost as popular as John Buchan’s: “We shot up the hill, whipped through a grove of chestnuts and tore down a long, straight stretch at eighty five. As I steadied her up for the corner, one mile was gone. We flung around the bend and another, brushed some hay from a wagon and slashed a thicket in two. For a furlong we swam between meadows. Then we switched to the right and leapt at a ridge.” You don’t get that sort of experience on the London ring road.
Today I pray for all motorists, that their journeys may be safe for them and for othe