Limits on Speed

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Notice of Introduction of the 30mph speed limit in 1935

By Richard English

Speed limits have always been a bone of contention amongst road users whether motorists or pedestrians.

The early years and gradual raising of the speed limit is well documented elsewhere but it is probably the 1930s that have greatest influence on what was to happen for the next 80 years.

On 1st January 1931 all speed limits were removed for cars and motorcycles

On 1st January 1931 all speed limits were removed for cars and motorcycles though larger vehicles did still have restrictions.. It was suggested by Lord Buckmaster that this was because ‘the existing speed limit was so universally disobeyed that its maintainence bought the law into contempt’. Over the next few years road fatalities did come down a little but it was the Act introduced by Leslie Hore Belisha in 1935 that reintroduced speed limits in built up areas. It came into effect on the 18th March 1935.

In the week prior to the  18th March 1935 this notice appeared in many of the local newspapers


Notts Constabulary


The Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire desires to remind drivers of private motor vehicles that the speed limit of 30 miles an hour in built up areas will come into force on the 18th March.

The Act provides that ‘It shall not be lawful for any person to drive a motor vehicle on a road in a built up area at a speed exceeding 30 miles an hour’ and the Chief Constable hopes that drivers will respect this limit, remembering that it has been imposed by Parliament after full consideration in the light of present day traffic conditions and with a view to lesson the possibility of accidents.

While the Chief Constable counts on general observance it will of course be the duty of the police to deal with any breaches of the law, if and when they arise and the Chief Constable desires that the public shall know beforehand the nature of steps that will be taken.

A number of police cars and motor cycle combinations will be employed on patrol and will from time to time be travelling at a speed of 30 miles an hour. Any car overtaking a vehicle proceeding at that speed will be infringing the law and action will have to be taken by the police accordingly.

The cars used by the police will be of varying colours and types – saloon, tourer and commercial. Additional vehicles have been specially enlisted to supplement the ordinary fleet. The officers in all these vehicles may be in plain clothes. The position  will thus be  that a driver who overtakes any vehicle which is travelling at 30 miles an hour will be apt to find that the vehicle is a Police vehicle. Drivers who are found to be infringing the law will be signalled to stop.

Excessive speed will also be detected by the methods at present employed in the case of commercial vehicles, viz by the existing fixed controls and by the following of offending cars by Police vehicles. Drivers will realise therefore that, in any part of Nottinghamshire and in any circumstances, excessive speed is likely to be quickly detected and dealt with by the Police.

In view of the publicity which has been given to the introduction of the 30 miles per hour speed limit in built up area, and the general warning which is now being given with regard to the Police arrangements, pleas of ignorance on the part of drivers cannot be reasonably entertained; and for that reason there will be no cautionary letters or verbal warnings. Cases of infringement which are reported by the Police will be dealt with by summons.

Road signs will be erected to denote where the 30 miles per hour speed limit commences and ends.


The introduction of this Act had significant effect on the motoring public, not only in Nottinghamshire, but across the nation as a whole. The bluff promoted by the Chief Constable that any law abiding vehicle you choose to overtake may be a plain clothes policeman in an unmarked vehicle proved effective and made most motorists drive within the law.

The front page of the Nottingham Evening Post on the first day the law came into effect said that most cars were driving within the limit and the odd car that chose to defy the police could instantly be seen because it was going so much faster that the rest.

The letters page of the Evening Post carried letters debating the argument for and against the use of unmarked cars and officers in plain clothes.

"Not all cars had a speedometer...."

It has to be remembered that all cars did not have a speedometer at this time and they did not become compulsory equipment until 1937.

An Evening Post correspondent who had to go from Nottingham to Spondon commented on how much longer the journey took him. On his way back he pulled over to observe the traffic passing by, somewhere near Sandiacre on the Derby Road and wrote the following;

‘I sat at the roadside to watch the cars go by. It was a strange thing to see streamlined monsters with the kind of acceleration their owners brag about ‘gets up to 60 in a flash, old boy’ hanging about disconsolately in the wake of battered wrecks’

Councils had to quickly erect 30 mph signs on the fringe of all built up areas.

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