Excavating Drink Driving in Britain, 1800-2000
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Bolton
Unit of AssessmentSocial Work and Social Policy
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Studies In Human Society: Sociology
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
A long established historian of disease and pollution in the nineteenth
century city, Bill Luckin is also an international figure in the history
of the `accidental' and the origins of the risk society. In recent years
he has moved closer to academics and practitioners in the fields of
planning, transport and mobility studies. The author of several books and
numerous articles, Bill Luckin is completing a readily accessible history
of drink driving in Britain, aimed at road safety planners and activists
and general readers. The overriding concern is with what Luckin calls the
`social relations of mobility'.
In 2005 Bill Luckin was awarded a three year fellowship, funded by the
Wellcome Trust. This was taken up at the Centre for the History of
Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester, where he
has been an Associate for over 30 years. The project focused on the
massively neglected topic of road traffic accidents in twentieth century
Britain. The award was made at a time when the Wellcome Trust was seeking
to encourage scholars to engage with twentieth century subjects central to
a deeper public understanding of science, technology and medicine.
Luckin's four articles underline a movement from analysis of theoretical
frameworks relevant to historically-oriented issues in mobility studies to
in-depth engagement with drink driving between 1900 and the early twenty
first century. The final paper cited below, published in 2012, in the
multidisciplinary journal Transfers demonstrates the shift. By
this juncture, the author had veered away from the cultural and social
historical mainstreams and entered into closer contact with public
historians and mobility policy-makers. This involved exploring the
political, social and cultural contexts of earlier twentieth century
initiatives (and non-initiatives) designed fully to criminalize speeding
and dangerous and drink driving, thereby improving — a frequent phrase in
Luckin's work — the `social relations of mobility'.
The first chronologically cited paper, published in Cultural and
Social History and co-authored by the late David Sheen of the
University of Bolton, confronts theoretical and policy-related ambiguities
associated with the eclectic and sometimes grossly over-eclectic term,
`automobility'. The article identifies a `usable past' relevant to
historically-rooted debate over radical programmes to reduce the
overpowering dominance of the private car in the early twenty first
century developed and developing world. The paper also floats the
existence of a four-fold sub-periodization of Britain's twentieth century
movement towards mass motorization.
The second article, which appeared in Contemporary British History
in 2010, probes the repercussions of interwar departmental in-fighting on
developments in the latter part of the century and on into the 2000s. It
describes the curious failure of the Ministry of Transport (MoT) to secure
ownership of a massively destructive road traffic accident crisis, the
overriding departmental dogmatism of the Home Office and the unwillingness
of senior police officers to confront pro-motorism in the form of the
intensely influential AA and RAC.
The penultimate paper, published in Twentieth Century British History
in 2010, is more traditional. It seeks to correct the road safety record
and restore the reputation of the under-documented Conservative Transport
Minister, Ernest Marples. Appalled by the scale of the daily death-toll on
Britain's roads, the failure of the police and judiciary to prosecute and
punish speeding and dangerous driving, and the feebleness of British law
in relation to alcoholically impaired motorists, Marples transformed
himself into a safety progressive. He re-educated his senior officials who
then laid the foundations for Barbara Castle's path-breaking Road Safety
Act which passed into law in 1967. Luckin's forthcoming monograph takes
the narrative on into the present.
References to the research
Luckin, B. with Sheen, D. (2009) `Defining Early Modern Auto Mobility:
The Road Traffic Accident Crisis in Manchester 1939-45', Cultural and
Social History, 6, pp. 211-30.
Luckin, B. (2010) `Anti-Drink Driving Reform in Britain 1920-80', Addiction,
Luckin, B. (2010) `A Never-Ending Passing of the Buck: The Failure of
Drink Driving Reform in Interwar Britain', Contemporary British
History, 24, pp. 363-84.
Luckin, B. (2010) `A Kind of Consensus on the Roads? Drink Driving Policy
in Britain 1945-1970', Twentieth Century British History, 21, pp.
Luckin, B. (2011) `The Crisis, the Humanities and Medical History', Medical
History, 55, pp. 283-7.
Luckin, B. (2012) `Motorists, Non-Drivers and Traffic Accidents between
the Wars: A Provisional Survey, Transfers': Interdisciplinary Journal
of Mobility Studies, 2, pp. 4-21.
Details of the impact
Visits to the United States, including lecture and seminar tours in 2003,
2007, 2009 and 2011 have facilitated rapid dissemination of Luckin's
recent and innovative work on road traffic accidents. Audiences have
included public historians, urban historians, historians of technology,
postgraduate and undergraduate students, city planners, road safety
activists and journalists.
In September 2007 in Washington D.C. the Society for the History of
Technology (SHOT) hosted what may have been the first
historically-informed multidisciplinary workshop on death and serious
injury on the road. Prof Luckin gave a paper on the historical evolution
of the law in relation to alcoholic impairment among motorists and others
in mid-twentieth century Britain. The audience included road safety
activists as well as professional historians.
In April 2009 Luckin gave a talk at the School of Hygiene and Tropical
Medicine. Attended by academics, medics and nurses working in or training
for a range of roles in emergency medicine and NHS A and E services, the
paper deepened the Luckin's contacts with the academic drug dependency
community. This resulted in the publication, in 2010, of an article in Addiction
on anti-drink driving measures in twentieth century Britain.
In the same year, Prof Luckin chaired and commented on papers on
technologies of road safety at the Society for the History of Technology
annual conference in Pittsburgh. By this juncture, interest and numbers of
researchers involved in the topic had significantly increased. Partly as a
consequence, in April 2011 a stock-taking workshop was held at the Hagley
Museums, Wilmington, Delaware. Prof Luckin gave a paper that attempted to
make a provisional distinction between `accidents' and `natural
The most important outcome of the Hagley workshop was the creation of an
H-Net online bibliography to collate predominantly historical work on
risk, accidents and disasters. The tempo had now increased and in summer
2011, Dr Mike Esbester, then of Oxford Brookes University, organized a
symposium on the `History of Road Safety' at his institution. Prof Luckin
spoke on the problem of `Tracking the Silent Dead: Road Traffic Accidents
in the Twentieth Century'.
Luckin also contributed to an AHRC-supported workshop at the National
Railway Museum, York, organized by Profs Colin Divall and Colin Pooley.
The title of the project as a whole — `Mobility Cultures: Making a Usable
Past for Transport Policy' — provided an opportunity to interrogate
epistemologically highly complex relationships between the shaping of
contemporary transport policies and the `successes' and `missed
opportunities' of the past. Edited by Profs Divall and Pooley, a selection
of the York papers will be published in 2014 by Ashgate. Prof Luckin will
contribute an essay on the era of inaction that followed the passing of
Barbara Castle's path-breaking act in 1967.
Most recently, in September 2013, at another conference at Oxford Brookes
University, links between British, American and continental European
mobility scholars, transport planners and safety activists were further
strengthened. Papers focused on `Accidents and Emergencies: Risk, Welfare
and Safety in Europe and North America, c.1750-2000'. Emphasizing that the
time had come to begin excavating the deeper past, Luckin gave a keynote
address on `Drink Driving Before "Drink Driving" in Britain in the
Sources to corroborate the impact
Conference Paper at First Biennial Urban History Conference. University
of Pittsburgh. September 2002.
Research Fellow. Centre for the History of Science, Technology and
Medicine. University of Manchester. September 2005-July 2008.
`The Law and Drink Driving in Twentieth Century Britain'. Social History
of Technology. Annual Meeting. Washington D.C. September 2007. www.historyof
Bill Luckin. Review Article. 2008. `Mangled in the Machinery'. H-Net
Bill Luckin. `Drink Driving in Twentieth Century Britain'. London School
of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. April 2009. www.lshtm.ac.uk/newsevents/events/2009/04/drink-driving-in-twentieth-century-britain
Bill Luckin. Chair and Commentator. `Technologies of Road Safety'. Annual
Meeting. Society for the History of Technology. University of Pittsburgh.
September 2009 www.historyoftechnology.org/pdf./pittsburgh
Bill Luckin. International Workshop. `Accidents and Natural Disasters'
`Histories of Safety, Accidents and Disasters. What Next?' Hagley Museums
and Library. Wilmington, Delaware. April 2011. www.historyoftechnology.org.pdf.
Bill Luckin. `Tracking the Silent Dead: Road Traffic Victims in the
Twentieth Century'. History of Road Safety Symposium. Oxford Brookes
University. June-July 2011.
Bill Luckin. Participant and Discussant. AHRC-Supported Workshop.
National Railway Museum, York. `Mobility Cultures: Making a Usable Past
for Transport Policy'. June 2012.
Bill Luckin. `Drink Driving before "Drink Driving" in Twentieth Century
Britain'. International Conference on `Accidents and Emergencies: Risk,
Welfare and Safety in Europe and North America, c. 1750-2000'. Oxford
Brookes University. September 2013.