Motor Car Act 1903

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Motor Car Act 1903
Act of Parliament
Citation3 Edw. 7. c. 36
Royal assent14 August 1903
Other legislation
Amended byRoads Act 1920
Repealed byRoad Traffic Act 1930
Status: Repealed

The Motor Car Act 1903 (3 Edw. 7. c. 36) was an Act of the United Kingdom Parliament that received royal assent on 14 August 1903,[1] which introduced motor vehicle registration, driver licensing and increased the speed limit.[2]


The Act followed the Locomotives on Highways Act 1896 which had increased the speed limit for motorcars to 14 mph from the previous 4 mph 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 John Douglas-Scott-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'.[3]

Sections of the Act[edit]

  • Section 1 introduced the crime of reckless driving, and imposed penalties.[2]
  • Section 2 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 offence to drive a motor car on a public road without displaying its registration number.[2]
  • Section 3 made it compulsory for drivers of motor cars in the United Kingdom to have a driving licence from "the first day of January, nineteen hundred and four".[4] No test was required, the licence being issued by the council on payment of five shillings. The qualifying age for a car licence was 17 years and for a motor cycle, 14 years.[2]
  • 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.[2]
  • Section 9 allowed for lower speed limits to be implemented after a local inquiry.[5]
  • Regulations were introduced regarding the braking ability of vehicles.[6]


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. Both the Locomotives on Highways Act 1896 and the Motor Car Act 1903 were repealed by the Road Traffic Act 1930.[7]

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.[8][9] 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.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The London Gazetter, Number 27589" (PDF). 18 August 1903. Retrieved 23 May 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e "A summary of important legislation". Department for Education (Northern Ireland) GCSE Revision. Archived from the original on 13 December 2009.
  3. ^ Baldwin, Peter; Bridle, Ron; Baldwin, Robert; Porter, John (2004). The motorway achievement volume 1. p. 44. ISBN 9780727731968.
  4. ^ "The Motor Car Act, 1903 - The Motor Miscellany". Retrieved 23 May 2017.
  5. ^ "Motor Speed Limits—Applications by Local Authorities". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). 9 November 1908. Retrieved 16 April 2010.
  6. ^ "Reported Road Casualties Great Britain: 2008" (PDF). p. 178. 1903-1904: Motor Car Act introduced driving licences. Vehicle braking requirements are introduced.
  7. ^ "A summary of important legislation". DOE NI. Archived from the original on 3 September 2009.
  8. ^ "Debate on the Royal Commission on Motor Cars". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). 24 May 1906. Retrieved 17 April 2010.
  9. ^ "MOTOR CAR LEGISLATION". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). 16 July 1907. Retrieved 17 April 2010. 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.
  10. ^ "Motor Car Act 1903". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Retrieved 16 April 2010.

Further reading[edit]