Locomotive Act

Locomotive Act

The Locomotive Act (also known as the Red Flag Act) is a reference to the Locomotives Act 1865 introduced by the British parliament as one of a series of measures to control the use of mechanically propelled vehicles on British public highways during the latter part of the 19th century. This act required any motorised vehicle to be preceded by a man with a red flag.


In the 1860s there was concern that the widespread use of traction engines, such as road locomotives and agricultural engines, would endanger the "safety of the public". Engines and their trailers might cause fatal accidents, scare horses, block narrow lanes, and disturb the locals by operating at night. The financial burden of maintaining the roads was already shifting from tolls onto local rate-payers, and these new types of vehicle, possibly up to 9 foot-wide and 14 tons, would allegedly be capable of damaging the highway while they were being propelled at "high speeds" of up to 10 miles per hour.cite news | publisher = The Times | date = 1865-04-27 | title = Parliamentary Intelligence. House Of Commons ] However, there is evidence that the steam carriages' better brakes (which did not lock and drag), wide tires, and absence of horses' feet striking the road allowed them to cause less damage to the roads than horse-drawn carriages. [cite book|chapter=The Rise and Fall of Non-Government Roads in the United Kingdom|pages=263-264|title=Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship and the Future of Roads|author=Benson, Bruce L.]

Associated legislation

*The Locomotives on Highways Act 1861:
**Limited the weight of vehicles to 12 tonnes
**Imposed a speed limit of 10 mph (16 km/h) or 5 mph (8 km/h) in towns.
*The Locomotive Act 1865 (Red Flag Act):
**Set speed limits of 4 mph (6 km/h) in the country and 2 mph (3 km/h) in towns.
**Stipulated that self-propelled vehicles should be accompanied by a crew of three: the driver, a stoker and a man with a red flag walking 60 yards (55 m) ahead of each vehicle. The man with a red flag or lantern enforced a walking pace, and warned horse riders and horse drawn traffic of the approach of a self propelled machine.
*Highways and Locomotives (Amendment) Act 1878:
**The red flag requirement was removed
**The distance ahead of the still necessary pedestrian crew member was reduced to 20 yards (18 m).
**Vehicles were required to stop on the sight of a horse.
**Vehicles were forbidden from emitting smoke or steam to prevent horses being alarmed. [cite web
title=MVRUS - Legislation: A summary of important legislation
publisher=UK Department of the Environment

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. But when a test case was challenged in court in 1895, it was found that the vehicle was technically a "road locomotive", as it was capable of drawing a gig behind it. However, due to the test nature of the case the offender was only fined 1 shilling.cite news | publisher = The Times | date = 1895-12-18 | title = The Auto-car At Fareham Petty Sessions ] The reaction to this event set in train the call for a repeal of the law.

The emancipation

Under pressure from motor car enthusiasts, including Coventry manufacturer Harry J. Lawson, the government introduced the "Locomotives on Highways Act 1896", which became known as "The Emancipation Act", which defined a new category of vehicle "light locomotives", which were vehicles under 3 tons unladen weight. These vehicles were exempt from the 3 crew member rule, and were subject to the higher 14 mph (22 km/h) speed limit. In celebration of the "Emancipation Act" Lawson organised the first London to Brighton run.

The relaxation of usage restrictions eased the way for the development of the British motor industry.

Nearly one and a half centuries later the motoring journalist and author L. J. K. Setright speculated that the Locomotive Acts were put in place to suppress motor car development in the United Kingdom, because of the financial interests that some members of government and other establishment personalities had in the development and viability of the railway industry.cite book
author=Setright, L. J. K.
title=Drive On!: A Social History of the Motor Car
publisher=Granta Books
id=ISBN 1-86207-698-7


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