Regulating for innovation: Learning lessons from the ‘red flag men’

Throughout history, technological advances have put politicians and regulators in a difficult balancing act between embracing the benefits of the transformational changes brought by new technologies, versus providing reassurance to citizens that change can be managed and stability maintained.

Take for example the advent of the self-propelled vehicles (cars), which was a response to 19th century society’s need for a quicker way to transport people and goods across the country. Concerned with the safety of the public and the potential harms that could result from the new technology, the British Parliament responded with The Locomotive Act of 1865. This included a maximum speed limit of 2 miles per hour and required a person carrying a red flag to walk at least 55 meters ahead of each vehicle to warn and assist pedestrians and horse-powered carriages in its path.

The “Red Flag Act”, as it became known, made the usefulness of the new invention very limited, as the red-flag men could not run and had to stop for rest and water frequently.

This highlights the somewhat knee-jerk reaction for protecting the electorate that lawmakers have had in the face of new technology. And this is particularly relevant, as we are likely living through the fastest pace of advancement in technology that the world has ever seen.

Read the full article written by Gui Silva, Head of Capital Markets at Diginex on the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government blog here.