On January 28, 1896, Walter Arnold earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first person to receive a speeding ticket while driving an automobile.
Arnold, a resident of East Peckham, Kent, in the United Kingdom, was driving a German-made Benz. He purchased and imported the vehicle the previous year. This high-powered speed demon is what propelled Arnold on his daredevil, rocket-powered joyride down Paddock Wood High Street on that fateful day at four times the legal speed limit.
Fortunately, the police officer had little difficulty catching up with Arnold to put an end to the reckless driving. While Arnold may have been driving the latest in automotive excellence, the officer was propelled on a safe, reliable bicycle.
The speed at which Arnold was hurtling through the streets was 8 mph (13 km/hr). The law put the maximum speed limit at 2 mph. In comparison, the average walking speed is 3-4 mph. Arnold was charged with speeding, failing to have his name and address clearly posted on the vehicle, having fewer than three people to operate a locomotive without a horse on a public road, and failing to have someone with a red flag ahead of the vehicle to warn of its approach.
Justice was administered just as swiftly as Arnold’s speed machine could move. Two days after the incident, a local magistrate found him guilty on all four counts and charged him £4 7s (about £550 or $756 in 2021). Out of that fine, 10 shillings were for the speeding charge (about £27 or $37 in 2021).
As costly as Arnold’s activities were, some have speculated that it was all planned. A few months after receiving his ticket, Arnold began manufacturing his own automobile, the Arnold Motor Carriage. It was a locally-built variant of the Benz design. His little altercation with the law may have been part of a publicity stunt to get some extra advertising for his new venture.