History of the Highway Code
|Publisher:||Driving Standards Agency|
|Published date:||11 March 2005|
|Mode/topic:||Roads, Road safety|
The Highway Code celebrated its 80th birthday in 2011.
Hundreds of thousands are sold each year, ensuring that it never leaves the bestseller lists.
In fact it is one of the few books in print that can lay claim to saving thousands of lives.
When it was first launched in 1931 there were just 2.3 million motor vehicles in Great Britain, yet over 7,000 people were killed in road accidents each year.
Today there are more than 27 million vehicles on our roads but, thanks to greater public awareness, advances in technology and the introduction of British Summertime, only half the number of road deaths occur.
However, that still leaves plenty of room for improvement.
Some things have not changed over the years: the very first edition of The Highway Code urged all road users to be careful and considerate towards others, putting safety first.
However, other aspects of the code have changed considerably. For example, in 1931 mirrors were not even mentioned and drivers were advised to sound their horn when overtaking.
Nowadays, advice on how to cross the road fills a whole chapter, but in the early days it only merited a paragraph.
On the other hand, more than a third of the original 24-page booklet described the various hand signals the police and road users should use, compared to the single page given to the subject in the current edition.
The first edition
The 1931 edition:
- cost one old penny
- was the only one to carry advertisements, for the AA, The Autocar magazine, The Motorcycle magazine, Castrol Motor Oil, BP, Motor Union Insurance and the RAC
- contained 18 pages of advice, compared to 93 pages in the 1999 edition
- included advice to drivers of horse drawn vehicles to ‘rotate the whip above the head; then incline the whip to the right or left to show the direction in which the turn is to be made.’
Since those early days, regular revisions of the Code have reflected changes in technology and developments in traffic management and road safety.
Diagrams of road signs – just ten signs in all – were first seen in the second edition, as was a warning about the dangers of driving when affected by alcohol or fatigue.
Stopping distances made their first appearance in the third edition, along with new sections giving hints on driving and cycling.
The 1954 Highway Code, complemented by brand new colour illustrations, gave over the back cover to first aid guidance, while the expanded traffic signs section contained the first triangular warning signs.
The arrival of motorways in the late 1950s led to the inclusion, in the fifth edition, of a new section on motorway driving. It explained such things as how to use exit slip roads and advising drivers to avoid drowsiness by stretching their legs at the parking or service areas.
Photographs and 3D illustrations
By the sixth edition in 1968 photographs and 3D illustrations had been included to help make rules clear and the price had risen from 6 old pence to 1 shilling and 3 pence (1/3d). After decimalisation reprinted editions cost just 6 new pence.
Green Cross Code
The 70-page 1978 edition introduced the Green Cross Code for pedestrians and the new orange badges for the disabled. Prompted by soaring car crime statistics, the amended version contained advice on vehicle security.
The 1990s saw a new format taller booklet and the inclusion of a section geared to the new driving theory test, which in the current edition has now become part of the Code itself.
In 2011 the Highway Code joined social networking websites Twitter and Facebook to share reminders of the rules of the road.
In May 2012 The Official Highway Code app for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad was launched, priced £3.99.