The Highway Code was introduced in 1931 as a guide "to all courteous people", and became part of the driving test in 1934. It was first published in an effort to reduce the 7,000 annual fatalities on Britain's roads – this was despite there being only 2.3 million vehicles. Now, there are 34 million vehicles, and closer to 2,000 deaths each year.
As if to mark the, err, 81st anniversary of one of the best-selling, least-cherished books of all time, two books have just been published in homage. The Demon Road by Richard Gray (Matador, £8.99), is described as "a theory test novel", which hopes to use subliminal learning to help drivers pass their tests. Every question on the theory test is subtly woven into the plot – for instance, on page 57, Lips chides Patience: "Returning to lane one a mile ahead of the slip road was absolutely the right thing to do, especially in this weather." It's a tense scene, and we feel Patience's pain as she later becomes stuck behind a ginormous lorry. Grey claims that readers will be able to answer 90 per cent of the theory test questions correctly, the first time of trying. The Gentleman's Guide to Motoring is by Viv Darkwood, (AA Publishing £9.99). Billed as "a radical redrafting of The Highway Code", it aims to put the romance back into motoring, with chapters on "Etiquette and Roadmanship", "Accessories and Improvements", and "Recreational Driving". The information on "Cutting a dash" is particularly charming, but what of motoring advice for the modern lady?
In the 1931 edition of The Highway Code, numbering 18 pages of advice, 10 pages of adverts, and costing one old penny, mirrors were not mentioned and drivers were advised to sound their horns when overtaking. It advised drivers of horse drawn vehicles to "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." In the modern edition, advice on how to cross the road fills a whole chapter, compared to only a paragraph in the original. The Highway Code was last updated in 2007, with information about smoking while driving (don't) and advice for newly-qualified drivers. It costs £2.50, and is also available as an iPhone app, a Kindle ebook, and online at www.direct.gov.uk. It's is also on Facebook and Twitter.
The Green Cross Code for pedestrians first appeared in the 1978 edition, and led to starring roles in public information films for David Prowse (a former Mr Universe) and John Pertwee (a former Doctor Who).
For £7.49, The Stationery Office offers a "Highway Code Pack" comprising one copy of today's Highway Code, and a replica of the original, brown paper-covered edition from 1931.
Also by the authors Department of Transport and Driving Standards Agency, and published by The Stationery Office: The Official Highway Code Interactive CD ROM; The Official Highway Code With British Sign Language; and the thrills and spills bestseller (you'll laugh, you'll cry) Know Your Traffic Signs.