Where did the rules of the road come from?

The right of way concept is perhaps the most fundamental building block of modern traffic control. It’s hard to imagine how any of us would get from point “A” to point “B” without a system of rules telling us when to yield so others may go on ahead of them. And it seems natural to us that some of these rules should be communicated by signs and symbols on the pavement or roadside. For most of human history, though, that idea made no sense at all. In fact, before the rise of the automobile, the worlds highways were practically empty of laws telling us how to move. The idea that you have a right to move forward at one point in the road and a duty to stop at another was all but unheard of.

This video presents the historical context for the rise of the right of way concept and is based on research by UC Berkeley Collaborative Science Center for Road Safety (CSCRS) Fellow Eva Vaillancourt.

Please visit the UC Berkeley SafeTREC CSCRS webpage to view the extended abstract, “The Right of Way: Making Rules for Movement on British Roads, 1896-1930”:


Funding for this video was provided by the Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety (CSCRS), a National University Transportation Center supporting the FAST Act research priority of promoting safety.

Made in collaboration with @UC Berkeley SafeTREC


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