Motor Car Act 1903

Motor Car Act 1903

The Motor Car Act 1903 (3 Edw.7, c. 36) introduced registration of motor cars and licensing of drivers in the United Kingdom and increased the speed limit.[1]



The act followed the Locomotives on Highways Act 1896 which had increased the speed limit for motorcars to 14 mph from previous 4 mph speed limit in rural area and 2 mph in towns. There were some who wished to see the speed limit removed altogether. The influential Automobile Club (soon to become the Royal Automobile Club or RAC) was split on the subject; the chair of the working group on the Bill was Lord Montagu (MP) who took a moderate line supporting speed limits, but was opposed on this by the chairman of the organisation Roger Wallace who were 'strongly against any speed limit' and described Montagu as a 'traitor'. The secretary of the club publicly proposed a 'compromise' of 25 mph without authorisation. Parliamentary debates were described as 'bitter'.[2]


  • Section 1 of the Act introduced the crime of reckless driving, and imposed penalties.[1]
  • Section 2 of the Act introduced the mandatory Vehicle registration of all motor cars with the county council or county borough council in which the driver was resident. The council was to issue a unique number to each car, and prescribe the manner in which it was to be displayed on the vehicle. The Act also made it an offense to drive a motor car on a public road without displaying its registration number.[1]
  • Section 3 made it compulsory for drivers of motor cars to have a Driving Licence. No test was required. However, a licence being given by the council on the payment of five shillings. The qualifying age for a car licence was 17 years and for a motor cycle 14 years.[1]
  • The speed limit on public highway was raised to 20 mph from 14 mph which had been set by the Locomotives on Highways Act 1896.[1]
  • Section 9 of the Act allowed for lower speed limits to be implemented after a local inquiry.[3]
  • Regulations are introduced regarding the braking ability of vehicles.[4]


The Act was intended to last for only three years but was extended by the Expiring Laws Continuance Act 1900 until a new bill was seriously discussed in 1929 and enacted as the Road Traffic Act 1930.

A Royal Commission on Motorcars was established in 1905 which reported in 1907 and recommended that motorcars should be taxed, that the speed limit should be abolished (by a majority vote only) and raised concern about the manner in which speed traps were being used to raise revenue in rural areas rather than being used to protect lives in towns.[5][6] Amendments were discussed in 1905, 1911, 1913 1914 under the titles Motor Car Act (1903) Amendment bill and Motor Car Act (1903) Amendment (No 2) bill.[7]

See also

  • Locomotives on Highways Act 1896
  • Roads Act 1920
  • Road Traffic Act 1930
  • Road Traffic Act 1934
  • Road speed limits in the United Kingdom


  1. ^ a b c d e "A summary of important legislation". Department for Education (Northern Ireland) GCSE Revision. 
  2. ^ "The motorway achievement volume 1". 2004. p. 44. 
  3. ^ "Motor Speed Limits—Applications by Local Authorities.". 1908-11-09. Retrieved 2010-04-16. 
  4. ^ "Reported Road Casualties Great Britain: 2008". p. 178. "1903-1904: Motor Car Act introduced driving licences. Vehicle braking requirements are introduced for the first time." 
  5. ^ "Debate on the Royal Commission on Motor Cars". Hansard. 24-05-1906. Retrieved 2010-04-17. 
  6. ^ "MOTOR CAR LEGISLATION". Hansard. 16-07-1907. Retrieved 2010-04-17. "The noble Earl said: My Lords, in 1905, a very important and influential Royal Commission was appointed to consider the subject of motor cars, and what legislation was desirable when the Act at that time existing, and which was limited to three years, expired. That Commission held a great many sittings and examined a great many witnesses; it was extremely painstaking in its work, and presented a very carefully considered and somewhat voluminous Report... I regard the abolition of the speed limit as the most important recommendation of the Royal Commission... Policemen are not stationed in the villages where there are people about who might be in danger, but are hidden in hedges or ditches by the side of the most open roads in the country... I am entirely in sympathy with what the noble Earl said with regard to police traps. In my opinion they are manifestly absurd as a protection to the public, and they are used in many counties merely as a means of extracting money from the passing traveller in a way which reminds one of the highwaymen of the Middle Ages." 
  7. ^ "Motor Car Act 1903". Hansard. Retrieved 2010-04-16. 

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