Locomotives on Highways Act 1896

The Locomotives on Highways Act 1896 (59 & 60 Vict. c. 36) removed the strict rules and UK speed limits that were included in the earlier Locomotive Acts which had greatly restricted the adoption of motorised vehicles in the United Kingdom. It came into operation on 14 November 1896.

Locomotives on Highways Act 1896
Act of Parliament
Long titleAn Act to amend the Law with respect to the Use of Locomotives on Highways.
Citation59 & 60 Vict. c. 36
Royal assent14 August 1896
Commencement14 November 1896
Other legislation
Repealed byRoad Traffic Act 1930
Status: Repealed



The powerful railways lobby and those with interests in transport using horse-drawn vehicles[a] advocated the original Locomotive Acts which imposed very low speed limits and other restrictions on the use of "locomotives" and motorcars on the UK public highways.[2][3]

Motor car enthusiasts strongly urged the removal of these restrictions on motorcars.[b] The Mayor of Tunbridge Wells, Sir David Salomons, organized the first automobile exhibition to be held on 15 October 1895 in his local agricultural society's showgrounds. On the day the ground was too soft so he led the vehicles out onto the road from the showground to the town. "Not one of the horses so much as lifted an eye as the horseless carriages sped somewhat noisily by".[4]

The enthusiasts included London company-promoter turned motor-industry promoter H. J. Lawson, who in July 1895 successfully floated his British Motor Syndicate Limited and in 1896 formed The Daimler Motor Company Limited to buy F. J. Simms' Syndicate. F. J. Simms had already formed his Self Propelled Traffic Association in 1895 then followed it in 1897 with a motorist's club now known as the RAC. These enthusiasts, Henry Sturmey of publishers Iliffe & Sturmey edited it himself, also started The Autocar in November 1895 to tell of the burgeoning motor industry in France, attract the support of the public and publicize their promotion events.[4]

The day before the flotation of The Daimler Motor Company Limited and Lawson's promoting gathering of almost 1,700 people on 15 February 1896, the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, was driven about the location, the Imperial Institute, by Simms' friend, Evelyn Ellis, in the Daimler-engined Panhard & Levassor[4] which Ellis and Simms had brought in from France and used in July 1895 for Britain's first long-distance motorcar journey – Southampton to Datchet and on to Malvern without police intervention. The Prince said "Evelyn, don't drive so fast, I am frightened!" as too were the bystanders[4] but he was impressed and later agreed to become patron of Britain's first motor show.[5] "Ellis subsequently ran the car in many parts of England doing what he could to induce the authorities to take proceedings against him ... but the authorities did not accept his challenge"[4]

By 1895 some drivers of early lightweight steam-powered autocars thought that these would be legally classed as a horseless carriage and would therefore be exempt from the need for a preceding pedestrian. John Henry Knight brought a test case to court in 1895. On 17 October 1895 Knight's assistant, James Pullinger, was stopped in Castle Street, Farnham, by the Superintendent of Police and a crowd had gathered by the time Knight arrived. The superintendent asked whether it was a steam engine, Knight replied that it was not and thus admitted liability.[6] He and Pullinger were charged with using a locomotive without a licence. The case was heard at Farnham Petty Sessions in Farnham Town Hall on 31 October 1895. Knight and Pullinger were both fined half a crown 2s 6d (or possibly 5 shillings[7]) plus 10 shillings costs (or possibly 12s 6d).[6][c]

The government first debated the Locomotives On The Highway Act in 1895 but the bill lapsed when Gladstone's minority Liberal government fell that year. Following the 1895 General Election a new government, formed by the Conservative and Liberal Unionist parties, debated the proposal again and the act was passed taking effect 14 November 1896.

During the debate for the bill various speeds between 10 and 14 mph (16 and 23 km/h) were discussed with reference to the speed of a horse and what would be deemed to be 'furious driving' in relation to a horse.[8]



This Act defined a new category of vehicle, light locomotives, which were vehicles under 3 tons unladen weight.[9] These 'light locomotives' were exempt from the three crew member rule, and were subject to the higher 14 mph (23 km/h) speed limit[3] although most local authorities had the authority to reduce it to 12 mph (19 km/h).[9]



In celebration of the act being passed Lawson organised an Emancipation Run, which took place on 14 November 1896 when thirty vehicles travelled from London to Brighton. Annual commemoration of that emancipation day drive became famous and is known as the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.[9] The relaxation of usage restrictions eased the way for the development of the British motor industry.

The speed limit was raised to 20 mph (32 km/h) by the Motor Car Act 1903. Both the Locomotives on Highways Act 1896 and the Motor Car Act 1903 were repealed by the Road Traffic Act 1930.[10]

See also



  1. ^ "About seventy years ago, at the time of the introduction of railways, there were scores of steam coaches and steam carriages running on our roads. The pioneers of this industry were Hancock, Gurney, Summers, and others, many of whose names are lost at the present day. But the opposition of the Turnpike Trustees, the coach proprietors, and the railway companies nipped in the bud a promising industry by the imposition of excessive tolls and adverse Acts of Parliament."[1]
  2. ^ "Among the names of those who pushed forward the movement may be mentioned Sir David Salomons, the Hon. Evelyn Ellis, Colonel Holden, Messrs. Shaw Lefevre, C. S. Rolls, F. R. Simms, and H. Sturmey."[1]
  3. ^ "In the same year, 1895, I made my little petrol car to carry two (one besides the driver). It weighed a little under 5 cwt., but the engine did not develop much more than 1 h.p. It was fairly successful, but it brought me into the clutches of the law, and both my man, who was driving at the time, and myself were fined 2s. 6d. and costs for driving a locomotive (in legal phraseology a traction engine) without a licence and without a red flag!"[1]


  1. ^ a b c Knight, John Henry (1906). "Ten Years Progress". In Douglas-Scott-Montagu, John Walter Edward (ed.). A History of the First Ten Years of Automobilism. London: The Car Illustrated Limited. pp. 30–32.
  2. ^ Privatized infrastructure: the role of government. Thomas Telford. 1999. ISBN 978-0-7277-2712-1.
  3. ^ a b Setright, L. J. K. (2004). Drive On!: A Social History of the Motor Car. Granta Books. ISBN 1-86207-698-7.
  4. ^ a b c d e Lord Montagu and David Burgess-Wise Daimler Century; Stephens 1995 ISBN 1-85260-494-8
  5. ^ "The early years of the automobile in Britain". Stuttgart: Daimler AG Press Kit: Mercedes-Benz in the UK. 13 June 2007. Retrieved 9 October 2010. Meanwhile British Motor Syndicate began a public relations campaign to lobby for the repeal of the "Highways and Locomotive Act", still the main obstacle to the introduction of the car in Britain. Furthermore, on November 2, 1895, the syndicate published the first issue of the magazine The Autocar – today the world's oldest car magazine ... The show was a great success and in political terms, too, things were now running according to plan. Even before the show opened the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, expressed a desire to view and ride in an automobile. Simms and Ellis were happy to oblige with a ride in a belt-driven Daimler[-engined Panhard & Levassor]. Prince Edward returned from his test drive full of enthusiasm, and even though he expressed the view that as an animal lover he hoped the car would not render the horse completely redundant, he agreed to become patron of Britain's first motor show
  6. ^ a b British Local History, The First Motor Offender
  7. ^ Wey River, History of Farnham Archived 18 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Rate of speed". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). 30 July 1896. Retrieved 3 May 2010. No light locomotive shall travel along a public highway at a greater speed than 14 miles an hour... He said he thought it necessary that there should be some limit of speed. Unless there were some limit these carriages might travel at a speed dangerous to the public. For they would only come under the provisions against furious driving – and this law was extremely difficult to carry out. Policemen were now largely influenced in their idea of furious driving by the amount of exertion a horse was making. It would be quite possible to drive a rapid horse at ten or twelve miles an hour without being had up for furious driving, while to whip a slow horse into ten miles an hour would very likely appear as furious driving. These carriages would go as smoothly at one rate as at another, and it would therefore be extremely difficult to say what was furious driving. For these reasons he contended for a limit of speed, and he thought 14 miles an hour a reasonable maximum.
  9. ^ a b c "London to Brighton Emancipation Run". British Motor Manufacturers. Archived from the original on 17 May 2011. Retrieved 28 February 2011.
  10. ^ "A summary of important legislation". DOE NI. Archived from the original on 3 September 2009.