The Locomotive Acts (or Red Flag Acts) were a series of Acts of Parliament in the United Kingdom to control the use of mechanically propelled vehicles on British public highways during the latter part of the 19th century. The first three, 'The Locomotives on Highways Act 1861', 'The Locomotive Act 1865' (or 'Red Flag Act') and the 'Highways and Locomotives (Amendment) Act 1878' all contained very restrictive measures for road vehicles. The 'Locomotives on Highways Act 1896' provided legislation that allowed the automotive industry in the United Kingdom to develop soon after the development of the first practical automobile. The last 'locomotive act' was the 'Locomotives Act 1898'.
The 1865 act required all road locomotives, which included automobiles, to travel at a maximum of 4 mph (6 km/h) in the country and 2 mph (3 km/h) in towns and have a crew of three travel, one of whom should carry a red flag walking 60 yards (55 m) ahead of each vehicle. The 1896 Act removed the need for the crew of three and raised the speed to 14 mph (23 km/h).
The Highway Act 1835 and subsequent acts (Public Health Act 1875, Local Government Act 1888 and Local Government Act 1894) attempted to find satisfactory methods of maintaining roads since the UK Turnpike Trust system had failed following the UK railway boom.
These new Locomotives, some up to 9 feet (2.7 m) wide and 14 tons, were alleged to damage the highway while they were being propelled at "high speeds" of up to 10 miles per hour (16 km/h). There is evidence that the steam carriages' brakes and their wide tyres caused less damage to the roads than horse-drawn carriages because of the absence of horses' hooves striking the road and wheels which did not lock and drag.
In addition to any concerns about the state of the roads, by 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. It was feared that engines and their trailers might cause fatal accidents, scare horses, block narrow lanes, and disturb the locals by operating at night. Although all of these fears were justified and were soon realized, there was a gradual acceptance of the machines as they became more common in commerce.
Similar 'Red Flag' legislation was enacted in some States in America.
The emerging UK automotive industry advocated very effectively for the 1896 Act during the preceding year. Coventry manufacturer Harry J. Lawson, who had purchased the British Daimler engine patents in 1895 and later was to form The Daimler Motor Company, was very influential.
Locomotive Act 1861
The Locomotives on Highways Act 1861:
- Limited the weight of vehicles to 12 tons (12 tonnes).
- Imposed a speed limit of 10 mph (16 km/h) on open roads in town.
The Locomotive Act 1865 (Red Flag Act)
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 at least 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.
- Firstly, at least three persons shall be employed to drive or conduct such locomotive, and if more than two waggons or carriages he attached thereto, an additional person shall be employed, who shall take charge of such waggons or carriages :
- Secondly, one of such persons, while any locomotive is in motion, shall precede such locomotive on foot by not less than sixty yards, and shall carry a red flag constantly displayed, and shall warn the riders and drivers of horses of the approach of such locomotives, and shall signal the driver thereof when it shall be necessary to stop, and shall assist horses, and carriages drawn by horses, passing the same,
Highways and Locomotives (Amendment) Act 1878
With the highways and Locomotives (Amendment) Act 1878:
- Made the red flag optional under local regulation
- 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.
Locomotives on Highways Act 1896
Locomotives Act 1898
The 1898 Act included various measures relating to length weight and operation of locomotives on the highway.
- "Parliamentary Intelligence. House Of Commons". The Times. 1865-04-27.
- Benson, Bruce L. "The Rise and Fall of Non-Government Roads in the United Kingdom". Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship and the Future of Roads. pp. 263–264.
- Privatized infrastructure: the role of government. Thomas Telford.
- "The early years of the automobile in Britain". Dailmer. Retrieved 2010-10-09. "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. 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."
- "The First Motor Offender". British History. Retrieved 2010-02-26.[dead link]
- "MVRUS - Legislation: A summary of important legislation". UK Department of the Environment.
- The Times, Monday, Oct 12, 1908; pg. 6; Issue 38775 Motor-Cars And The Public. At Woking Police Court on Saturday . . . . . the Ripley Road . . . . . Henry Ford of Winterwell Road Brixton, a comedian, now performing at the Hippodrome, Bury, was fined £3 and 8s. 6d. costs for travelling at 30 miles per hour.
- "Locomotives Act 1898". legislation.gov.uk.
- Locomotive Act 1861 Original 1861 legislation
- Locomotives Act, 1861 Pratt's Law of Highways Edition 10, Shaw & Sons (1865) p. 388
- Highways and Locomotives (Amendment) Act 1878 Original 1878 Legislation