The non-linear elastic response of arteries implies that their mechanical properties depend strongly on blood pressure. Thus, dynamic measurements of both the diameter and pressure curves over the whole cardiac cycle are necessary to characterise properly the elastic behaviour of an artery. We propose a novel method of estimating these mechanical properties based on the analysis of the arterial diameter against pressure curves derived from ultrasonic and photoplethysmographic measurements. An ultrasonic echo tracking device has been developed that allows continuous recording of the internal diameter of peripheral arteries. It measures the diameter 300 times per second with a resolution of 2.5 microns. This system is linked to a commercially available light-plethysmograph which continuously records the finger arterial pressure (0.25 kPa accuracy). Because of the finite pulse wave velocity, the separation between the diameter and the pressure measurement sites causes a hysteresis to appear in the recorded diameter-pressure curve. Using a model based on haemodynamic considerations, the delay between the diameter variations and the finger arterial pressure is first eliminated. As the pulse wave velocity depends on the pressure, the delay is determined for each pressure value. The relationship between pressure and diameter is then described by a non-linear mathematical expression with three parameters, which best fits the recorded data. The dynamic local behaviour of the vessel is fully characterised by these parameters. Compliance, distensibility and pulse wave velocity can then be calculated at each pressure level. Thus, the mechanical behaviour of peripheral human arteries can now be characterised non-invasively over the pressure range of the whole cardiac cycle. The results obtained in vivo on human radial and brachial arteries show that a thorough analysis of the compliance-pressure curves and their modifications (curving, shift) is needed in order to compare two different vessels in a meaningful way.