It was probably Romans who were the first to use "TRAFFIC SIGNS" in Britain. They marked off road distances at one thousand paces (approximately 1 mile) with stones called "milliaries".

Most early SIGNPOSTS were erected by private individuals at their own expense. A law was passed in 1648 required each parrish to place guide posts at crossroads, but it was not until after the General Turnpike Act 1773 that these "guideposts" or "fingerposts" became more common.


During the second half of the 19th century, BICYCLES became more popular. Steep hills and sharp bends were very dangerous for early cyclists, and "danger" and "caution" signs were erected at the top of steep hills. Signs showing skull and crossbones were erected at the most dangerous places. Local authorities and cycling organisations installed an estimated 4,000 warning signs.1920 BICYCLEThe year 1896 heralded the era of the MOTOR CAR, and some MOTORING ASSOCIATIONS took up the business of placing signs. The Motor Car Act 1903 made local authorities responsible for placing certain warning and prohibitory signs. The signs were for crossroads, steep hills and dangerous bends. "A" and "B" numbering of roads was introduced in 1921, and these numbers were shown on fingerpost-style signs alongside the destination and distance. Town and village name signs and warning signs for schools, level crossings and double bends were introduced at the same time.



In 1900 the first British women to pass her driving test was Miss Vera Hedges Butler, she had to travel to France to take her test.


It was not until after 1918 that WHITE LINES began to appear on British roads, and during the 1920s their use spread rapidly. In 1926 the first ministry of transport circular on the subject laid down general principles on the use of white lines. In the 1930s, white lines were used as "Stop" lines at road junctions controlled by either police or traffic lights.   

The main task of signposting our roads during the 1920s and the 1930s still fell on the motoring organisations, but in 1931 a committee chaired by Sir Henry Maybury was asked to recommend improvements to the signing then in use, and by 1933 further new signs began to appear, including "No Entry" and "Keep Left" signs, warning signs for narrow roads and bridges, low bridges, roundabouts and hospitals. Other signs followed during the 1930s, including "Halt at major road ahead". These formed the basis of our traffic signing until the early 1960s.

Drivers and pedestrians in the UK had to wait for the publication of the first edition of THE HIGHWAY CODE in 1931 before road safety began to improve.


Reflecting road studs, often referred to as CATS EYES came into use in 1934 invented by Percy Shaw (1890-1976) who was originally a road-mender. Said to be inspired by the sight of his car head lamps reflected in the eyes of a cat on a dark, foggy night. Manufactured by the company founded by Shaw in his hometown of Halifax, Yorkshire, millions of Cats eyes have been installed in roads all over the world.



In 1934 there were only 2,500,000 vehicles on Britain’s roads

7,343 people were killed in road accidents


In 1935, the British DRIVING TEST was introduced.

The VOLUNTARY DRIVING TEST cost 37½ pence and the pass rate was 63%. 


The first person to pass was Mr Beere.


Test centres did not exist and examiners would meet candidates at a pre-arranged spot, like a park or railway station.  


The COMPULSORY DRIVING TEST was introduced on 1st June 1935, for all drivers who started driving on or after 1st of April 1934.


vintage dual controls



The introduction of the DRIVING TEST has made our roads much safer.

Decades later this still holds true and is summed up in the Driving Standards Agency’s maxim

“Safe driving for life.”


By 1944, white lines were also being used to indicate TRAFFIC LANES and define the boundary of the main carriageway at entrances to side roads and lay-bys, and in conjunction with "halt" signs. In 1959, regulations came into effect to control OVERTAKING by the use of double white lines.

                                                                                                                                                          motorway sign                 



30 mph


It was realised that the old system of signing would not be adequate for MOTORWAYS, and the Anderson Committee was set up in 1958 to consider new designs. It recommended much larger signs, with blue backgrounds. Then in 1961, the Worboys Committee began to review the complete system of traffic signing. It concluded that the UK should adopt the main principles of the European system, with the message expressed as a symbol within a RED TRIANGLE (for warning signs) or a RED CIRCLE (for prohibition). Work began on the conversion of British signs in 1965, and this is still the basic system in use today.



Later developments include the use of yellow box markings at busy road junctions, special signs and road markings at pedestrian crossings, mini roundabouts and bus lanes. REGULATIONS published in 1994 included new regulatory and warning signs and simplified the yellow line system of waiting restrictions that was originally introduced in the 1950s. Further Regulations were published in 2002.

In 2004 there were over 30 million vehicles and the Department of Transport report on road casualties (2004) quoted only 3,221 fatalities.




More use is being made of TECHNOLOGY providing better information to drivers regarding priorities, hazards, delays and diversions.The future will undoubtedly see more developments in traffic signing to keep pace with the changing traffic demands on our roads.







In 2009 the number of cars on the road had fallen for the first time since the Second World War.

Industry experts blamed the fall of almost 220,000 vehicles over the course a combination of the recession and the Government's 'cash for bangers' scheme.

Ministers have also cracked down on unlicensed vehicles, with inspectors compiling databases of those whose road tax has not been paid.

In 2012 the number of cars on the road started to increase.


The number of cars on the road in Britain has fallen for the first time since the Second World War, new figures have shown


There were 4.5 MILLION cars on the road in GB over the course of 1950

There were 10 MILLION cars on the road in GB over the course of 1961

There were 15 MILLION cars on the road in GB over the course of 1970

There were 20 MILLION cars on the road in GB over the course of 1983

There were 25 MILLION cars on the road in GB over the course of 1990

There were 28 MILLION cars on the road in GB over the course of 2000

There were 31 MILLION cars on the road in GB over the course of 2009


There are currently 38.7 MILLION cars registered in use on the roads in GB in 2019


(Figures supplied by the Society of Motoring Manufacturers (SMMT).




Driving Test Chronology
Voluntary driving test is introduced by the Road Traffic Act, 1934, to avoid a rush of candidates when the test becomes compulsory.
1st June 1935
Compulsory driving test brought in for all drivers who started driving on or after 1st April 1934.
2nd September 1939
Driving test suspended for the duration of World War Two and resumed on 1st November 1946.
18th February 1947
A period of a year granted for wartime provisional licences to be converted into full licence without passing the test.
24th November 1956
Testing suspended during the Suez Crisis. Learners allowed to drive unaccompanied and examiners help to administer petrol rations.
May 1975
Candidates no longer have to demonstrate arm signals
1st April 1990 - The Driving Standards Agency (DSA) is created as an executive agency of the Department for Transport.
April 1991
Reverse Parking manoeuvre becomes a compulsory part of the test.
November 1995
The Pass Plus scheme was introduced to help newly qualified young drivers gain valuable driving experience and reduce the risk of them being involved in an accident.
1st July 1996
A separate written theory test was introduced, replacing questions asked about the Highway Code during practical test.
1st March 1997
Photograph ID is now required for both practical and theory tests
6th April 1999
Cars being used for a driving test must now have a front seat belt, head restraint and rear-view mirror.
14th November 2002
The hazard perception element was introduced into the theory test, this uses video clips to test candidates’ awareness of hazards on the road.
1st September 2003
Show me / Tell me vehicle safety questions were added to the beginning of the driving test.
September 2007
The number of Theory test questions increased from 35 to 50 and the new THEORY section pass mark is 43. The HAZARD PERCEPTION section pass mark is 44 out of 75.
October 2010
The DSA introduced 10 minutes of Independent Driving into the driving test and only one set manoeuvre in reverse was required. The examiner will choose any one of the following set manoeuvres: Reverse Bay Parking, Parallel Park, Reverse around a Corner, or Turn in the Road. Every third candidate throughout the test day will have to perform an Emergency Stop as a second manoeuvre. 
2nd April 2014 - The Driving Standards Agency (DSA) and the Vehicle & Operators Services Agency (VOSA) merged to become the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).
The DVSA driving test will now last approximately 38 to 40 minutes in duration.
At the start of the test, one "Tell me" question will be asked within the test centre car park, the candidates will not be driving for this question. When the candidates are driving on their test route, one "Show me" question will be asked.
The Independent Driving section of the test will be approximately 20 minutes in duration. A ratio of 1 in 5 candidates will be given a mix of either verbal, sign or map directions delivered by the examiner, 4 out of 5 candidates will be given directions provided from a Sat Nav (The DVSA Examiners will provide and activate the Sat Nav for this section of the test).
The following two set manoeuves were removed from the DVSA driving test criteria (Turn in the Road and Reverse around a Corner).  
The examiner will choose one of the following set manoeuvres: Bay Parking Forwards in any selected car park on the test route or within the DVSA test centre car park, Bay Parking in Reverse only within the DVSA test centre car park, Parallel Park or, Pull up on the Right and Reverse along the kerb line. Every third candidate throughout the test day will have to perform an Emergency Stop as a second manoeuvre. 
14th April 2020 - The car theory test will include 3 multiple-choice questions based on a short video you will watch. The video clip will replace the written "Case study" questions.