Not The Features Ed Blog: The Rules Of The Road

Shutterstock / huang zixing © road

Marking the ninetieth anniversary of one of Britain’s most successful publications, Laura Brown dives into the history of the Highway Code in this week’s issue with a nostalgic look back at the rules of the road.

First published on April 14, 1931, priced one old penny, the code has sold millions of copies and can claim to have saved many thousands of lives.

As Laura points out, when it was first launched, more than 7,000 people were killed on our roads each year, despite there being only 2.3 million motor vehicles in the country. Now, with more than 27 million vehicles on our roads, that number of road deaths has been halved.

The DVSA conclude that improved technology and the introduction of British summer time account for some of that improvement, but also observe that greater public awareness of the rules of the road has made a remarkable difference.

Not everyone managed to get hold of a copy of the Code when it was first published. Three million copies were printed in what was then one of the largest printing contracts ever handled by The Stationery Office. Newspapers of the time described a shortage, and a reprint soon followed.

There have been many revisions of the Code in the last 90 years. Sadly, once they’ve passed their driving test, many drivers never open it again, yet the rules change quite often. The Government website keeps the latest version for people to read online.

Early days

We thought it would be fun to see how the Code was received in its early days.

With the help of our trusty Archives colleagues, we delved into reports in the Dundee Evening Telegraph of the time. Readers were introduced to a new phenomenon — the police patrol — the arbiters of the new Code in its everyday use.


Image courtesy of DC Thomson Ltd.

Courts began to recommend use of the Code to those in the dock for driving offences.

In Rothesay, one lad was sentenced to a week’s study of the Highway Code cycling rules after a cycling offence.

The Sheriff in Dundee told a driver he should “get a copy of the Highway code and store it alongside his Bible . . . and read them both”. 

The driver’s offence? He’d failed to give a left-turn signal  . . . in front of the police car that was following him.

The “Friend” itself didn’t mention the Code at the time – no doubt “Friend” readers would always be polite road users!

However, we do see an increasing number of motor vehicles in the story illustrations.

This is a lovely one — note the lady driver in the sweet little car. I haven’t seen the story that goes with this. Now I really want to know what that peacock dress did!


Image courtesy of DC Thomson Ltd.

Has Laura’s feature has brought back memories of your early driving days?

Why not let us know at Between Friends.

Or you could or even send us a picture of you with your first car or motorbike!

For more from the “Friend” Features team, click here.

Marion McGivern

As editor of the cookery, money, pets and eco pages, Marion covers a wide range of regular Features content. Along with the rest of the Team, she enjoys finding interesting features for both the weekly and Special issues that readers will love. Having so much variety every day means that over ten years with the “Friend” has just flown by!