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COBWEB CORNERS: Early 1900s driving rules varied from town to town

By Mel McFarland

        In about 1910 there were enough automobiles around that the idea of a driver's license started here in Colorado. It would take another eight or nine years before state officials thought they needed to make a license harder to get.
       As the roads got better, the drivers did not!
       Around the time of World War I, the idea of road rules were being explored. I have done a column or two on some of these rules. From state to state and town to town, the rules were different. Many of the unique rules can still to be found. The states were the first to standardize their rules, but the coming of the interstate highways in the late 1950s brought national rules.
       It wasn't until October 1918 that applicants for a license had to start taking an oral examination on their driving knowledge. At first a chief of police, the city clerk and a member of the Automobile Club would interview a prospective driver. After a few months this was deemed too involved. A regular test was standardized, and a civil servant would conduct the test. Once the written test was finished, a driving test followed. Experienced drivers did not have to take the driving test if they could prove they were a good driver.
       When this started, it was decided that 16 should be the minimum age for a license, but there were many as young as ten who were already driving cars. These were told, usually, to stay off the main streets!
       In areas where tourists gathered, like Colorado Spring or Denver, the cities required special driving permits because of their unique rules. Many accidents during this time were caused by drivers who lived in towns with different rules. Hand signals, long before electric turn signals, usually caused the accidents, as one town's signals might be different from others. It was worse in areas where there were traffic lights. The lights were just coming in around the country, but only in the big towns. Again, in many places they were still not standardized over the country. Occasionally, an out- of-state driver failed the local test, and was not allowed to drive in that city!
       The fortunate thing for some of these drivers was that the police often did not have automobiles! They might have a motorcycle, but more commonly they only had bicycles, even horses. Plenty of drivers might like that today!

(Posted 7/6/14; Opinion: Cobweb Corners)

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