Saturday 16th February 1957
Isaac Leslie Hore-Belisha (64), 1st Baron Hore-Belisha, PC, a British Liberal Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister remembered for his innovations in road transport and for being an alleged victim of anti-semitism, died. Hore-Belisha was appointed Minister of Transport in 1934 coming to public prominence at a time when motoring was becoming available to the masses. All UK speed limits for motor cars had controversially been removed by the Road Traffic Act 1930 during the previous (Labour) administration. There was, in 1934, a record number of road casualties in Great Britain, with 7,343 deaths and 231,603 injuries being recorded, with half of the casualties being pedestrians and three-quarters occurring in built-up areas. Hore-Belisha described this as ‘mass murder’. Shortly after being appointed, he was crossing Camden High Street when a sports car shot along the street without stopping, nearly causing him ‘serious injury or worse.’ He became involved in a public-relations exercise to demonstrate how to use the new ‘uncontrolled crossings’.Hore-Belisha’s Road Traffic Act 1934 introduced a speed limit of 30 mph for motor cars in built-up areas. That was vigorously opposed by many, who saw the new regulations as a removal of ‘an Englishman’s freedom of the highway.’ The earlier 20 mph speed limit had been abolished in 1930 because it was universally flouted. A large backlog of court cases had made the law unenforceable. In addition, The Automobile Association (AA) and the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) had frequently been successful in defending their members against evidence from primitive speed traps. Hore-Belisha rewrote the Highway Code and was responsible for the introduction of two innovations that led to a dramatic drop in road accidents: the driving test and the Belisha beacon, named after him by the public. On his retirement, he was made vice-president of the Pedestrians’ Association and, to this day, the logo of the organisation includes a Belisha Beacon.