Red flag traffic laws

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Red flag laws were laws in the United Kingdom and the United States enacted in the late 19th century, requiring drivers of early automobiles to take certain safety precautions, including waving a red flag in front of the vehicle as a warning.

Red flag law in the United Kingdom[edit]

In the United Kingdom, the Locomotive Acts was a policy requiring self-propelled vehicles to be led by a pedestrian waving a red flag or carrying a lantern to warn bystanders of the vehicle's approach. In particular The Locomotive Act 1865, also known as Red Flag Act, stated:

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,

The Red Flag Law was repealed in 1896, by which time the internal combustion engine was well into its infancy.[1]

Red flag laws in the United States[edit]

In the United States, the state of Vermont passed a similar Red Flag Law in 1894, only to repeal it two years later.[2] The most infamous of the Red Flag Laws was enacted in Pennsylvania circa 1896, when legislators unanimously passed a bill through both houses of the state legislature, which would require all motorists piloting their "horseless carriages", upon chance encounters with cattle or livestock to (1) immediately stop the vehicle, (2) "immediately and as rapidly as possible ... disassemble the automobile", and (3) "conceal the various components out of sight, behind nearby bushes" until equestrian or livestock is sufficiently pacified.[3] The law never took effect, due to a veto by the state’s governor, Daniel H. Hastings.[3]


  1. ^ Olyslager, 7 & 23
  2. ^ Vesilind, P. Aarne; DiStefano, Thomas D. (2006). Controlling Environmental Pollution: An Introduction to the Technologies, History and Ethics. DEStech Publications, Inc. p. 400. ISBN 9781932078398.
  3. ^ a b Munger, Michael C. (2018-03-22). Tomorrow 3.0: Transaction Costs and the Sharing Economy. Cambridge University Press. p. 88. ISBN 9781108678094.