University of Leicester
2021LocktonGPHD.pdf (8.67 MB)

Science, Technology and Road Safety in the Motor Age

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posted on 2021-11-30, 23:06 authored by Georgina Lockton
The 1960s marked a moment of transformation in how the problem of mass motorization was handled by British governments, which increasingly came to realise that widespread car ownership came with costs, notably in terms of road safety. In response, the government funded research into reducing traffic collisions and minimising their injurious effects. This thesis examines British research into the road safety problem by taking an object-focused approach to analysis, foregrounding road safety objects researched during the decade. The case is made for reading objects as historical sources, with the argument that using objects contributes valuable information not available in the more traditional printed documentary archival evidence. Five key areas of British road safety research, primarily carried out by the Road Research Laboratory, form the main thesis chapters. These focus on vehicle automation, skidding, vehicle occupant restraints, visibility on the roads, and legal limits on alcohol and speed. Examples of items created, modified or researched by the Laboratory inform each chapter, supported by a wide review and analysis of contemporary printed sources. The thesis reveals the ways in which road safety was problematized in Britain during the 1960s and the research explored in the chapters is shown to represent four different approaches to reducing the road safety problem. These were accident limitation through vehicle design; safety of vehicle occupants and riders; enforcement of road safety legislation; and safety of other road users. Further categorisation of these approaches to road safety narrows research into two main areas, namely passive and active safety designs, in 1960s Britain.



Simon Gunn; Sally Horrocks; Oliver Carpenter,

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of History, Politics and International Relations

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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