First Motoring Offences in Britain

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First Motoring Offences in Britain

Farnham, Surrey The 17th of October 1895 AD

With fewer than 20 motor vehicles on the road in Britain by 1895, policing them so as to avoid collisions and traffic problems was not the complex matter of contemporary times, though obviously frightening the horses was forbidden. And given that the speed limit had been set at 4mph (a brisk walking speed), and it was still necessary to have a person walking ahead of the vehicle, monitoring speeding was not a particularly tough ask. Thus the first motoring offences in this country – two committed by the same heinous villains – were for falling foul of bureaucracy.
John Henry Knight and his friend James Pullinger were trying out Mr Knight’s three-wheeler, made to his own design, on the quiet roads of Farnham in Surrey. But the reckless Knight had failed to obtain the necessary licence for his vehicle; and Pullinger, who was at the tiller (rather than the steering wheel) was driving at an hour when according to local bylaws no motorised transport was permitted on the roads. The madness. Were they flogged I hear you cry? Were they hurled into prison and the key thrown away? No, the magistrates, perhaps taking into account that this was a first offence (for the two automobilists and indeed for automobiles), fined them half-a-crown (two shillings and sixpence, or 12.5p in new money) plus costs.
In France in 1895 the first Paris-Bordeaux-Paris rally was held. The winner travelled at an average of more than 13mph (surely it would be impossible to breathe at such velocity?), i.e. three times the permitted speed limit in Britain. One sometimes wonders if deep down our authorities still have the same attitude to the car as their predecessors in 1895.

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