There were about one and a half million cars on the roads of Britain in 1934, but despite the low number, more than 7,000 people were killed in road accidents. Something had to be done – and it was.
Parliament decided that anyone driving a car had to prove they could do it safely and the first compulsory driving test was introduced on 1st June, 1935. Those who had not passed the test were required to display L (for learner) plates on their vehicle.
The test lasted about half an hour and cost seven shillings and sixpence (37.5 pence, or about 60 US cents in today’s money).
As well as an ability to manoeuvre the car correctly, candidates had to answer questions about the Government’s Highway Code booklet, to pass an eyesight test by reading a nearby number plate and to display knowledge of a range of hand signals, many cars not being equipped with electronic indicators.
It seems that the test achieved its purpose, deaths caused by road accidents falling by 1,000 within a year of its introduction. The figure of around 6,000 still seems astronomical, though, given that on today’s highly congested UK roads, the annual death toll is around 1,700.
The first man to pass the test was Ronald E.L. Beere, who lived in Kensington – Princess Diana’s former stomping ground in West London – but unfortunately, he didn’t live long to enjoy the freedom of the road. Obviously something of an action man, Beere had qualified as a pilot in 1930 and won a flying competition at the opening of Gatwick Airport in 1936.
Sadly, he and two friends were killed two years later when his light aircraft crashed into a field. The appropriately named Beere is celebrated by a brewery which has named a “golden ale” after him, called “Ron One”.
Published: April 26, 2016