from the archives of asking motorists to play nice

Joe Moran in On Roads has a chapter on road rules and road rage — specifically, the peculiar British approach to them — entitled "please don't be rude on the road".

On Lord Cottenham in 1928:

Cottenham believed that most motorists, cyclists and pedestrians were basically decent people and they simply had to learn to communicate their intentions clearly to each other, since 'every one is a road user unless bedridden'.

Moran goes on to describe how the Highway Code was written: a code for the considerate with no basis in law, first proposed by a man who opposed driver testing because he thought that the most important quality for a driver is 'a road sense for which a man cannot be examined'; and he covers the period in the 1930s when "courtesy cops" went around with megaphones politely asking errant drivers to behave themselves. He concludes:

Underneath this appeal lay an uncomfortable truth: many members of the respectable middle classes were incompetent drivers who were to blame for fatal road accidents. Rather than turning them into criminals through putative legislation, British traffic law relied on appeals to their sense of fair play. It was always better, went the mantra of the time, to cultivate good habits than propose bad bills. So the courtesy cops did not prosecute motorists; they offered friendly advice to the careless. The Times blamed accidents on what it called 'motorious carbarians' — the few bad apples hidden among the vast majority of gentlemanly drivers, who could be relied upon to break the law sensibly. Motoring correspondents railed against excessive regulation in the 1930s in a way that eerily echoes today's campaigns against speed cameras and road humps. 'Regulation after regulation pours from the Ministry of Transport in a never-ending flood,' complained the Daily Mirror in 1934 … but 'courtesy and good manners may be cultivated easily enough by everyone.'

All rather reminiscent of the shared space argument — that you can take away all attempts to regulate streets and everyone will be courteous and "communicate their intentions"…

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