• The Highway Code was first launched in 1931
  • First edition was only 18 pages long
  • How well do you know your road signs?

For many, the Highway Code is a rite of passage, for others it represents an obstacle to overcome, while, for some motoring enthusiasts, it is a compendium of useful information. At LV=, we're a big fan - after all, it exists to promote road safety. Here are some fun and interesting facts about this institution.

The slightly late launch

The Highway Code was first launched in 1931 some 32 years after driving licences were introduced in Britain (the latter, interestingly, came into existence purely as a way of helping the authorities identify vehicles and drivers).

Why so late? Well, there wasn't much of a need. In 1921, for example, there were only one million drivers on the road and, consequently, the demand for a robust transport system was not yet needed.

However, ten years later, this had more than doubled to 2.3 million cars. It was evident that better guidance was needed to cater for the growing popularity of the vehicle and ensure that all road users were kept safe.

The modest first edition

It was a rather concise manual when the first edition of the Highway Code was published, made up of just 18 pages. Compared to the most recent edition, which totals around 135 pages, it was fairly easy reading (you can now read it online for free).

It cost one old penny and contained sage advice like sounding your horn when overtaking, being considerate to other road users, and, reflecting the era, even offering tips to drivers of horse drawn vehicles: "Rotate the whip above the head; then incline the whip to the right or left to show the direction in which the turn is to be made."

The rise of road signs

Needless to say, back in a time when transportation was still heavily geared towards horses and carriages, there was very little need for road signs. The origins of road signs do, however, date back earlier, to when bicycles became mainstream.

Nowadays, there are approximately 4.6 million road signs, 'cluttering' up British roads, double the number from 20 years ago. Needless to say, many are of the opinion that this is a tad excessive and a government paper has opened up a consultation into the matter.

It stated: "Over-provision of signs can have a detrimental impact on the environment and can dilute important messages."

The Highway Code then and now

In the thirties, drivers would indicate that they were stopping by extending their right arm with "the palm of the hand turned downwards", which would be followed by the moving up and down of the arm "slowly", keeping the "wrist loose".

In the 50s, the sign that symbolised that a school was nearby was a flaming torch, which may sound somewhat odd but was meant to be symbolic of the flame of knowledge. Today it is represented by the figure of an adult and a child.

One thing that hasn't changed since the post-war period is stopping distances, which may be of some surprise given how much technology has transformed cars. Again, back in the 50s, it was 153-feet, the same figure it is today.

The cats actually have five eyes

Known popularly as cats eyes, reflective road studs as they are officially known actually come in five different colours.

White studs represent lanes (or the middle of a lane); red studs the left edge of the road; amber studs the central reservation of a dual carriageway or motorway; green the edge of the main carriageway at lay-bys and slip roads; and green/yellow studs temporary adjustments to lane layouts.

The Highway Code is a manual for all

In the Highway Code introduction, the government states that this guide is "essential reading for all". It's a commonly held myth that the manual applies only to motorists, although it is somewhat required for passing both the theory and practical tests.

As such, all road users should be aware of the Highway Code, which applies to pedestrians as much as it does to drivers. It is important to note that many of the rules documented in the Highway Code are legal requirements.