From the archive - The Times, 1st August 1934
Things weren't going well in the 1930s. As cars became more powerful, and the interests of the motorist began to become entwined with the establishment, legislators decided to abandon the 20 mph speed limit.
For four years, carnage reigned - the rate of injury and death climbed, with cyclists making up almost a quarter of road deaths - an astonishing 1,324 deaths out of 5,862 in total in 1933 and 1,400 out of 6,502 by 1935.
In response to a Road Safety Bill presented to Parliament in 1934, CTC prepared a statement on, expressing its dissatisfaction, noting that 80% of the deaths involved motor vehicles, and making proposals to improve road safety.
Some of CTC's proposals appear modest, others crazy; others we are still waiting for. At that time, we wanted:
- Motor speeds limits to be reduced to 30 mph in built up areas - one of the major moves in the Road Traffic Bill was to reinstate a speed limit, albeit one higher than the 20 mph limit that had disappeared 4 years before. Then a push for 30 mph was a compromise - today it is widely acknowledged that 20 mph is a more appropriate speed for residential and shopping streets.
- Tests for drivers - CTC noted that 'the practice prevailing in nearly all other civilized countries' was to give drivers a 'test of competence', something Britain had hitherto failed to do.
- Reduction in dazzle from headlights - in those carefree days of unregulated vehicle production, the amount of light, and where it was directed, was up to the driver, who naturally thought the more the better. This was, of course, extremely inconvenient - and dangerous - to other road users, especially cyclists. Today regulations are stricter, but lighting power is still too high and dazzle a significant problem.
- Rear white patches for cycles - CTC strongly resisted the requirement that cyclists have to use rear lighting - and, indeed, the 1934 Road Traffic Act only brought in the requirement to have white patches in addition to the red reflector that was already the law. Today opposition to rear lighting may seem the strangest of demands, but back then the logic was clear - responsibility for driving safely at night should rest with the driver. There were plenty of other unlit vehicles about on the streets (ie, carts) and of course, pedestrians and animals. CTC argued that the creep of rear lighting would lead to an arms race which cyclists could not survive. Rear lighting for cyclists became the law in 1947, despite vigorous opposition from CTC.
- Hours of driving regulations on commercial drivers - this is one area where a clear change has occurred - driver hours have long been mandated.
- Paths for cyclists - perhaps the issue over which most ink has been spilled, past and present. CTC in the 1930s greatly opposed the pressure at that time to construct cycle paths alongside major roads. Instead, CTC recommended that special 'motor ways' be constructed, thereby removing motor vehicles from 'our' roads. Those 'motorways' wouldn't be built until the 1950s, and only in a few cases led to the old road becoming once again usable by cyclists. Like rear red lights, of course, CTC's position appears absurd - how could we be against cycle paths? Then, of course, there was a real fear that cyclists would be forced to use facilities if they were provided - and cyclists still made up a greater proportion of road traffic than motor vehicles.
- Walking on the road - a bizarre quirk in the law at that time insisted that - where no pavement existed - dismounted cyclists should still wheel their 'vehicles' with the flow of traffic, rather than against, as was - and still is - recommended practice for pedestrians.
- Compensation - CTC cited for the provisions of another draft bill, then in the House of Lords, which would have created a 'strict liability' principle, allowing victims of road crashes to claim compensation without needing to establish negligence on the part of the driver. Today, campaigners are still seeking the same provision, pointing out that the UK is one of only a handful of countries in the EU where negligence on the part of the motorist must be established.
- Insurance - CTC argued that the provisions for insurance be stronger, with liability persisting in case of the driver's death and preventing drivers from escaping from blame by cancelling their insurance policies retrospectively. Proper insurance - together with protection in case of damage caused by uninsured drivers - would take several more years to accomplish, the Motor Insurers Bureau only becoming established in 1946.
- Victim-blaming by the criminal justice system - this final point was one that still represents considerable concerns today. The CTC Gazette at the time carried dozens of stories of the failure of coroners and the judiciary to deal effectively with bad driving - treating deaths as 'accidents' and allowing killer drivers to escape with inadequate penalties, in part by placing the blame on the deceased. Cases such as these are still frequent today.
It's amazing that so many of these issues are still relevant today - even if, like cycle paths and lights - CTC's line has shifted from the hardline stance of the 1930s.
With hindsight it is very possible that CTC's adversarial position against cycle paths meant there was no engagement with local authorities or government to set design standards and therefore quality of facilities remained low - much as they are today. It wasn't until the 1980s and 1990s that CTC really started pushing for better quality facilities, culminating in the joint publication (with the Institution of Highways and Transportation) of Cycle Friendly Infrastructure in 1996.
You can read the original text from the Times below.