Keene's Central Square in 1916

A view of Keene’s Central Square in 1916 shows that then, as now, some drivers just couldn’t manage to follow the rules of the road.

It was in June of 1914 that the first driving and traffic regulations were enacted in the city of Keene. Automobiles had become so numerous in the city in the previous 15 years that some rules were needed to regulate the drivers of the vehicles.

There were regulations concerning vehicles in motion, signals, delivering passengers, noise and smoke nuisance. Drivers were to drive on the right-hand side of the road, and slow-moving traffic was to stay far to the right to allow faster-moving vehicles to pass at any time.

Before backing up, a driver was to give warning by shouting or signal by raising a hand. When slowing or stopping a vehicle, the driver was to signal by raising a hand or a whip in the air, harkening back to the day when horses were the chief form of transportation. Excessive smoke from a vehicle or unnecessary use of the signal horn was illegal.

The Sentinel reported that the new regulations were a matter of considerable annoyance to local businessmen, who claimed that their customers were distressed by the “arbitrary and needless rules.” They complained that the newly appointed traffic officer was stopping an unusually large number of vehicles on Central Square because the drivers were not following the new regulations.

The penalty for violation of these and other provisions was a fine of not less than $1 and no more than $10 for each offense. Despite complaints from business owners, the regulations continued to be enforced. Eight people were arrested for traffic violations during the first three months that the new laws were in effect. These included five arrests for speeding and two arrests for driving while intoxicated.

By 1919, five years later, as the number of autos increased, the number of arrests for motor vehicle violations increased dramatically as well. The police report for that year recorded 80 arrests for motor vehicle violations, 67 of those for speeding.

Alan F. Rumrill is executive director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, which has been collecting, preserving and sharing the history of the region since 1927. It’s on Main Street. To learn more about its public programs and collections, visit hsccnh.org.