§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. GLOSSOP
I beg to move,That this House views with grave concern the serious increase in the number of road accidents during the past year, and is of opinion that most active steps should be taken which would conduce to greater safety for all users of the road.Hon. Members may think that perhaps the subject of this Motion is a little in- 1210 opportune, in view of the fact that the Minister has promised us legislation in the near future; but I make no apology for bringing forward the Motion, because I think the country is greatly concerned with the problem of road transport, and the correspondence which I have received in connection with my Motion indicates the enormous amount of importance which people are attaching to the perils of the road at the present time. Although I may have to weary myself in acknowledging these letters to-morrow, I am not going to weary the House by reading their contents, beyond quoting from one of them which I have here. It begins:Do please cry aloud and spare not.It goes on to refer to motoring asthe most cruel and bloody sport since the days of Nero.It ends on a rather more pleasant note by wishing me Godspeed in this Debate, and then the writer says:and may God bless you in your efforts.I am going to take, I hope, a rather wider view than is indicated by the statement of the writer of that letter. I think that the House must realise, and that the country must realise, that the roads belong to all users of the roads. To my way of thinking, it is no argument to say that, because pedestrians have used the roads from time immemorial, the roads belong to them; and in the same way it is no argument to say that, because the motorists pay largely for the upkeep of the roads at the present time, the roads largely belong to them. In considering the very grave problem which we have to face at the present time in connection with the increase of road accidents, we have to apply our minds very seriously to the contributory causes which are responsible for road accidents nowadays. In my opinion these road accidents are largely due to lack of uniformity. So many of the regulations that we have are local in operation instead of national, and, with the exception of the elimination of dust from the roads, matters appertaining to road management at the present time are in much the same state as they were some 50 years ago.
Among the most important of the contributory factors leading to road accidents at the present time is the question of lighting. This is due to the fact that there is no uniformity whatsoever in regard 1211 to the lighting of our towns and suburban districts throughout the country. I know that on the No. 27 omnibus route in London, which runs from Highgate to Twickenham, a distance of some 20 miles, there are no fewer than 28 systems of lighting. The importance of more co-ordination with regard to the lighting of our roads is borne out in the Preliminary Report on Fatal Road Accidents for the six months ending on the 30th June, 1933, on page 4 of which there is the statement that:The period of accidents reached a further marked peak between the hours of 10 and 11 p.m.It goes on to say that this is the fourth most fatal hour of the 24. As another illustration of the lack of uniformity, I will take the road from Piccadilly Circus leading up the Watford By-pass for 14¾ miles. If hon. Members would take the trouble to drive over that road they would discover that on it there are 10 different lighting authorities. One authority on one side of the road lights with electricity; on the opposite side another authority lights the road with gas. Even the lamp standards vary in height above the ground from 12 feet to upwards of 20 feet.
Perhaps I may be allowed to give the House still another illustration with regard to this important problem of lighting. I have here a copy of the "Eastbourne Gazette" for the 20th December of last year, containing a report of a case in which a motorist happened unfortunately to run into a cyclist, who subsequently died, and the motorist was tried for manslaughter. It came out in the evidence that the Grand Parade at Eastbourne, where the accident occurred, had less light on it in the winter months than it had in the summer months. It appeared from the evidence that, because there were fewer visitors to Eastbourne in the winter, the local corporation thought it was not necessary to have the same amount of light in the winter months as in the summer months. In that case the local corporation took no account whatsoever of the fact that in the winter months there were more hours of darkness than in the summer months, and that therefore there was a greater need for beneficial light. The learned judge, in summing up, used these words: 1212Here we have had evidence of an accident, and that is all, in a road which, by the action of the Corporation of Eastbourne, is made into a difficult and dangerous road—a road which seems almost designed, by reason of its light and dark patches, to confuse people.It is deplorable that such a state of affairs should exist—that it is possible in this 20th century for any local authority to make a decision such as the Eastbourne Corporation made last year, which resulted, not only in an innocent man being sent to the Assizes, but also in the death of an unfortunate pedal cyclist.
I consider that the second most important contributory factor in connection with road accidents is the question of the road surface. Hon. Members who drive their own motor cars will know that you can go between two points and find several different types of surface. In one place you get a nice rough surface where there is very little skidding, but elsewhere you may find a section of road which is almost like glass, and on which it is perilous to drive on a damp or frosty night. I should have liked to see, in the Preliminary Report on Fatal Road Accidents, to which I have already referred, on the page where the main and contributory causes of fatal road accidents are stated, a paragraph stating the type of road surface on which most of these accidents occurred.
I do not want to weary the House with a technical discussion of the differences to be found in the various types of road surface, but hon. Members will probably know that most of the surfacing materials used on roads are composed largely of bitumen or tar. Bitumen, which is a product of oil, lasts somewhere about three years. Tar has a slightly shorter life—some people will say six or nine months shorter than that of bitumen. But, owing to the composition of the bitumen, the longer it remains down the more the oil in the bitumen tends to come to the surface and envelop the road chips, leaving a dangerous glassy, skiddy surface. The tar, on the other hand, wears away regularly, and leaves the same rough surface as when the chips were originally put in the tar. It may be that the slightly longer life of bitumen is a factor which influences county road surveyors up and down the country to use bitumen. After all, their principal object is to look after the roads with the least possible expenditure to the rates of their authorities, but 1213 I suggest that while these road surveyors, by using bitumen in preference to tar, are safeguarding the interests of the ratepayers in the matter of expenditure, they do not have to pay for the coffins of the unfortunate people who may be killed as a result of surfacing the roads with material which is very slippery.
Among the lesser contributory causes of road accidents at the present time is the lack of adequate signposts up and down the country, particularly at junctions and where two main roads happen to cross. One often sees motorists going along, seeing these forked roads in front of them and not being quite certain whether to take the right fork or the left. They dither about on the road, possibly drive more or less straight for the signpost, or, having wasted half a minute in deciding where they want to go, perhaps without looking drive along the right or the left fork. Very often, as a result of this inadequate signposting, accidents occur at road junctions. The Minister may say in reply that as regards signposts he has already adequate powers under the Road Traffic Act, and all I can say is that I hope he will use those powers to the very fullest extent.
While on the question of signposts, I would like to refer to the very inadequate signposting on by-pass roads. I am told that the North Circular Road around London is a glaring example of bad signposting. I know that in Yorkshire we have two by-pass roads on the main road from Doncaster to Sheffield, which are beautifully signposted at the beginning, but when you get along the by-pass road you get completely lost, and at the present time it is quicker to drive through the streets of the densely populated area between Rotherham and Sheffield, among trams, children and numbers of people, than to drive on these two by-pass roads, which are supposed to cut out a great deal of that area. I think it is wrong that such a state of affairs should exist. These by-pass roads cost a great deal of money, and they ought in my opinion to be used by motorists, but motorists cannot be expected to use by-pass roads if they are not adequately signposted, not merely at the commencement but throughout the whole length of the by-pass road.
Having dealt with some of the contributory causes of road accidents, may 1214 I now make a few suggestions to the Minister which, I hope, may be helpful to him in coming to a decision, as he will have to do before he institutes legislation. I make them as one who has had a good deal of experience as a road user in many categories. I frequently use the roads as a pedestrian. Only the other day I cycled to this House on a pedal cycle. While I claim to be a cyclist, I cannot claim to have the same knowledge of cycling as the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Wills), who, I believe, is the only Member of the House who is a life member of the Cyclists' Touring Club. I can claim experience as a road user in other directions. For some four years I had the regular weekly experience of acting as a cattle drover, driving cattle seven miles to market. As a motorist, I can claim to drive a good many thousand miles a year.
I put forward these suggestions not looking at it merely from the viewpoint of a pedestrian or a motorist, but from the general viewpoint of what I believe is the outlook of the average person who uses the roads. There ought to be a great deal more co-ordination between highways committees and local education committees. I have a letter here with regard to a new elementary school that is going to be built on the Tilbury and Southend arterial road. It is proposed to be erected adjoining a section of the main road where in the last five years there have been over 140 accidents. If there was more co-ordination between local education and highways committees it might be possible to build new schools in places not so dangerous as this.
I should like to see a little co-operation between the Ministry of Transport and the Home Office. We ought to consider having police weather reports posted in the principal towns and changed every eight hours or so, so that it would be possible for a motorist, let us say at Grantham, to go to a certain place in the town and see an official report with regard to weather conditions within an area, say, of 20 miles. A great deal of motor traffic is long-distance traffic and people may arrive at a place like Grantham at three o'clock in the afternoon probably going further North. The weather may be quite desirable for motoring at Grantham, while 20 or 30 miles ahead there may be very thick fog. If there were such a system of weather 1215 reports, a great many motorists would remain where they were rather than proceed into the foggy area.
I welcome the statement of the Minister last week that he anticipated spending money on educational work and propaganda. I would like to stress the importance of propaganda work in our schools. Not only is it desirable to educate children in knowledge of the road code, but it is essential to bear in mind that they will be the road users of the future. I should also like the Minister to consider giving a challenge shield to the local county authority which has the minimum number of accidents. I should like to see a county like Lincolnshire advertise "Motor in Lincolnshire where the roads are safe." I should like to see a slogan used like that for propaganda purposes in the same way as I have my own propaganda slogan—"Build your factory at Penistone where the rates are low and the water supply abundant."
I should like to see public opinion pulling its weight in trying to deal with road accidents and demanding from motor manufacturers details of the braking capabilities of their cars. The manufacturers will tell you how fast a car goes and how many lights it has. If we could only encourage public opinion to demand that they should give a detailed specification, in language which an ordinary road user like myself would understand, and tell us how long a particular car would take to pull up at a given speed, it might do much to improve the standard of brakes on motor cars.
Another factor that ought to be tackled is electric signs on shops. A motorist often sees shops with what I believe are called neon signs, using the same colours as those of the automatic traffic signals, which are often only a foot or two higher than the traffic signals themselves. The point is mentioned in the report of the Departmental Committee on Traffic Lights, and they recommend that very much greater authority and power should be given to local authorities to deal with electric signs near the traffic signals. We also have to consider the position of the pedal cyclist. There are many fiat areas in the country where hundreds of people cycle in from the villages to the towns to their work each day, and those who use that very healthy 1216 and cheap form of locomotion ought to be assured of a reasonably safe place to cycle in. At present the wretched cyclist is always being frightened by the hoot of an electric horn and is very often forced into the ditch or into the kerbstone. We should consider the placing of special cycling tracks at the side of main roads, as in Continental countries, particularly Holland.
We should have some uniform regulations with regard to the overtaking of tramcars. I am told that no corporation has definite powers to say whether or not a motor shall pass a tramcar, or whether it shall pass on this side or on the opposite side. A great many local customs have grown up. I believe in Bradford they are supposed to pass on the off-side and in Sheffield you are not supposed to pass a stationary tram. In Newcastle you have the added difficulty that a great many trams are front exit cars. Local users of the trams and local motorists know the customs, and those who use the trams expect that every motorist knows them, but we have to consider through traffic and the people who make a breach of a custom which they know nothing about. For the six months ending June last year no fewer than five deaths were definitely attributable to people overtaking trams and, if there had been some national regulation on the point, those people would be alive to-day.
I do not think any legislation will be of any real use unless all road users are made to conform to them. People must not only be made to realise that it is an offence to drive to the danger of the public, but it should be an offence to walk to the danger of the public. Where adequate and properly surfaced footpaths are provided, the pedestrian should by law be compelled to use them. Suggestions have been put forward with regard to compulsory crossing places and subways in congested places in large towns. I do not think that the mentality of the English people is in favour of subways. How many Members of the House, when leaving at night and desiring to take an omnibus in Whitehall, use the subway at the Parliament Square end? If I saw more of my hon. Friends in that subway, I might be led to believe that subways might be a useful method of getting pedestrians from one side of the road to the other.
§ Mr. GLOSSOP
We have also to try to provide protection for the less fortunate people who have not the privilege of membership of this House. There have been suggestions in another place that we should have a compulsory test before the issue of a motoring licence. I think that would be absolutely useless. Any ordinary sensible person can drive a car quite capably after two or three hours' tuition, and all those people would be able to qualify for a licence. It is only six, seven or eight weeks after, according to the amount of mileage driven, when the new motorist thinks he has control of his vehicle, and a sudden emergency arises, that it is possible to tell whether he is going to be a menace or otherwise to his fellow users of the road.
I expect we shall hear during the Debate that there should be a reimposition of the speed limit. I believe that would be a most retrograde step. You may get a section of the road where, perhaps, a maximum speed limit of 15 miles an hour is safe during certain periods of the day, while at others it would be criminal to drive at more than five miles an hour. You may get other sections of the road where it is quite safe, in certain weather conditions and at certain times of the day, to drive at 60 miles an hour. A suitable speed limit in certain conditions cannot take into account the varying factors of the amount of traffic, lighting conditions, weather conditions and the road surface itself. I fear that, if the Government were to introduce legislation which might result in the reimposition of a speed limit, it would mean that once again motorists, seeing that a certain speed limit were allowed, would believe that it was a safe one, and there would be a tendency throughout the country for people to drive to the maximum of the speed limit allowed instead of, as at the present time, having to use their own judgment and discretion, knowing perfectly well that if they offend they will have the law coming upon them.
I think that there is need for the rigid enforcement of existing laws, and that many accidents take place which are pure accidents and which, under our existing road conditions, are unavoidable. I do not think that legislation will remedy the 1218 present state of affairs, unless at the same time we are prepared to deal with the main causes contributing to road accidents. I do not think that further legislation will be of any use until we have a more modern and a more national method of dealing with our road system, and until we educate every member of the general public into appreciating and valuing the road code and developing a strong road sense. It was, I think, in 1880 that Disraeli said that an insular country subject to fogs, with a strong middle-class, required a great statesman. It is only necessary to alter that remark very slightly and say that an insular country subject to fogs, with a large motor power, requires a great statesman, a Minister of Transport, who will take his courage in both hands and try and take a wide view with regard to the great problems which this country will have to face in the future, and the safety of all persons who use the road.
§ 8.3 p.m.
I beg to second the Motion.
I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Glossop) upon his admirable and interesting speech. I am sure that the House is indebted to him for his choice of Motion and for bringing forward this subject at the present time. The question of road accidents and their reduction has recently, and quite rightly, received a good deal of publicity largely owing to the alarm which is felt in all quarters at the disquieting increase in the number of serious accidents on our roads. This has resulted in attention being focused upon the causes and the remedies, and, although we are all agreed as to the seriousness of the situation and as to the urgency for remedial steps, there is a wide variation of opinion as to the best solution or solutions. The whole subject of safety on the roads is one of great complexity, and if we are to be constructive in our criticisms and our suggestions, we must treat the matter dispassionately. What is required is a road traffic policy which goes far beyond the antagonisms of pedestrians and motorists, or any other sectional interest.
The urgent need is for a far-reaching programme not only to make the roads safer now, but to ensure that the yearly increase of traffic and traffic units in the 1219 future will not mean a corresponding increase in the number of accidents. We have to bear in mind that traffic in this country is increasing at an amazing rate. Since 1926–7 the number of motors in use on our roads has increased from 1,689,000 to 2,241,000 in 1932–33, which is roughly at the rate of 80,000 a year. In all probability this rate of increase will continue seven more rapidly during the years which are just about to come owing to the return to prosperity and the improvement in the standard of living. Increased prosperity will mean that there will be more private cars, motor cycles and pedal cycles on the roads, and also a greater distribution by road of manufactured and other goods. There is, therefore, a grave danger of the problem becoming more acute. If no solution is reached, the disquieting increase in road accidents and the terrible effect on the life and limbs of the people is likely to continue and to increase also.
The total recorded accidents in 1933 which resulted in death or permanent injury were 181,829, the number of persons killed being 7,125—an average of 20 a day—while the number of persons injured was 216,401—an average of 592 a day. The most alarming feature of those statistics is that they all show a substantial increase over the figures of 1932 and the preceding years. No wonder the public is alarmed and is asking that something should be done, and done quickly, to stop this dreadful toll of life and limb on our roads. It has been estimated that since the War about 2,000,000 men, women and children have been killed or injured on the roads of Great Britain, that is roughly about 75 per cent. of the total British casualties during the Great War. It is really appalling to consider that there were more than four times as many casualties on the roads in Great Britain last year as there were during the 2₽ years of the South African War, when the total casualties on the British side only amounted to 52,000 people. It is interesting to note also that in the years 1929 to 1931 the total of killed alone exceeded the number of British soldiers killed during the 22 years of the Napoleonic Wars. I apologise to the House for making these perhaps obvious comparisons, but they serve to bring the staggering figures in regard to road 1220 accidents more forcibly to the mind of the most disinterested person.
We all understand the position and are agreed that the problem is to make the movement of millions of traffic units, including pedestrians, less dangerous; but it is with regard to the causation of accidents and the remedial measures that we differ, and we find various modes of approach to the desired conditions of safety. The motorists, on the one hand, consider, among other things, that what is required is a more strict and a more universal observance of the Highway Code, a more rigid enforcement of the existing motor laws, and perhaps some considerable development in traffic control, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone mentioned, the general use of non-skid roads. The pedestrians, on the other hand, believe that what is wanted is a greater severity of punishment for persons convicted of road traffic misdemeanours, and the reintroduction of speed limits, either general or local, and a proper driving test for potential drivers. In all these suggestions there is undoubtedly a modicum of remedy, and if most of them were to be incorporated in the proposed legislation and accompanied by a National Safety First Compaign, using all the modern agencies of publicity, there is no doubt that the danger of accidents would be considerably minimised. Even without new legislation, most of these suggestions could be carried out under the existing laws, particularly the more general observance of the Highway Code and also the question of greater penalties under the Road Traffic Act.
It seems to me that we already have sufficiently strong penalties under the Road Traffic Act, 1930, and that what is wanted is a more rigid enforcement of those rules. If I read to the House from the relevant sections of that Act it will perhaps illustrate the point which I am making. It is laid down in Section 11 that if any person drives a motor vehicle on a road recklessly, or at a speed or in a manner which is dangerous to the public, that person if convicted summarily is liable to a penalty not exceeding £50 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding four months. Particulars of the punishment have to be endorsed on his licence. In Section 12 similar provisions are laid down to deal with a person who is simply a careless driver— 1221 who is driving without due care and attention. In any case, if the magistrate considers that the offence is greater than a misdemeanour and is actually a felony, it may mean that the offence may be one of manslaughter or even of murder. Surely, those penalties are heavy enough. What is required is that those penalties should be carried out more rigidly.
With regard to driving tests, before obtaining a licence, we are assured by the Preliminary Report on Fatal Accidents that there are very few accidents due to inexpert drivers, the reason for this being that these drivers are usually extremely careful because of their lack of experience. It is only when they feel more confident that the trouble begins. It seems extraordinary that a person without any adequate training in the driving of a car can, as soon as he possesses one, take it out on to the public highway. I can understand that it might be argued that a driving test or a test in road sense, or in the knowledge of the Highway Code, or of signals ought to be imposed, but I doubt very much if that would be worth the trouble and the expense. After all, this is only a very small matter, and only touches the fringe of the problem, as do many of those other suggestions of non-skid roads and speed limits and so forth.
I agree with my hon. Friend who moved the Motion that to introduce a general speed limit would be a retrograde step, though I think that a case can be made out for a minimum of local speed limits which might apply to the more dangerous spots, such as dangerous corners, passing schools, and built-up areas. A general speed limit if it were to have the effect that its advocates desired, would have to be a very low one indeed, and that, in my view, would be a tremendous blow to motoring and progress in this country, while at the same time it would increase the congestion owing to the slower movement of vehicles and give rise to those exact conditions which predispose to accidents.
All these suggestions might help to mitigate the problem, but the fundamental trouble is that the bulk of our roads and streets were not made to carry such vast numbers of fast moving vehicles. The roads to-day are heavily overcrowded and therefore we must try and provide pedestrians and motorists 1222 with roads which they can safely use, or, at any rate, try and eliminate all hidden dangers. In other words, we have to try and design our roads with a high degree of automatic safety so that the movement of traffic can go on smoothly and safely, for the simple reason that it cannot do anything else. Our traffic problem to-day is one of the most difficult that we have to face and in solving it we must be careful to advance and not take any step that would hinder the proper development of our road transport industry. Road transport has become an essential and valuable element in the economy of the country, and a constantly increasing use of it is being made not only in the distribution of goods but in the conveyance of passengers on account of cheapness, convenience and speed, with the result that to-day we have more vehicles per mile of road than any other country. In France there are only 3.9 motors per mile of road, in Germany 6.3 and in the United States of America 8.8, while in England we have 13 motors per mile of road.
This density and activity of traffic, coupled with the facts that most of our roads have not been adequately planned, that they are frequently too narrow, designed with excessive camber, insufficiently banked at the corners to prevent skidding, and used by innumerable and diverse types of traffic unit, ranging from stray animals to sandwich men, flower sellers and three-ton lorries, all tend to give rise to the conditions which cause a disastrous number of accidents on our roads. The remedy does not lie in merely introducing precautionary measures such as speed limits or drivers tests, or even education in road sense and good will, because those things, though important, are only superficial and not fundamental causes of road accidents. The remedy lies in a wide scheme of road planning, signals and traffic control to meet not only the present conditions but the conditions of the future as well.
The only substantial alternatives to the modernising of our roads in this way would be to reduce the number of vehicles on our roads, particularly in our great cities, such as London, by limiting or eliminating altogether horse-drawn vehicles or trams, or by restricting the use of the roads to certain classes of vehicles, excluding the heavier classes, 1223 and the goods that are now carried by those heavy vehicles might be transferred to the railways. To introduce either one or other of these alternatives would be a tremendous blow to all sections of road users in this country, and would also hinder the development of our road transport industry, and should therefore not be contemplated at the present time. The Government have a magnificent opportunity not only of bringing our roads up to date but of planning them for the future on a national scale, and I hope that when the Minister introduces his proposed legislation he will not only take into consideration the precautionary measures suggested but will also ask for powers to carry out a national campaign of road improvements on safety lines.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. LLEWELLYN-JONES
I congratulate the hon. Members who have respectively moved and seconded the Motion. When I heard the last speaker, towards the close of his speech, refer to the development of the roads of the country, I wondered whether some four or five years ago he might not have been an advocate of the policy which was then advocated by the party to which I belong. I am certain that had that policy been adopted at that time there would have been a good deal less debate in connection with accidents on the roads. The problem before the House to-day can be dealt with from three points of view. The first point of view is the legislative one, the introduction of legislation to amend the Road Traffic Act of 1930, in so far as it is defective. I do not, however, propose to deal with any aspect of legislation except to say that I trust that when legislation is introduced one part of that Act will receive attention, and that is the part dealing with compulsory insurance, because it has an indirect influence upon the serious nature of the accidents on our roads. If that Act were made as comprehensive as possible we should have fewer accidents.
I prefer to devote my time to the question of the administration of the existing laws. I am satisfied, and I am certain that other hon. Members will agree with me, that there should be more effective administration of the Act of 1930 by the Minister of Transport, by the local authorities with regard to the 1224 administration of the roads and by the courts in the administration of the penal sections of the Act. Reference has been made to the last of those considerations. I should like to ask the Minister if everything is being done by those three authorities that can be done for the proper administration of the Road Traffic Act of 1930. Since that Act has come into existence there have been in many directions great and unpardonable neglect on the part of the authorities who have been asked to administer it. Do not let us blame the Legislature for not having made a statutory enactment which covers every point in connection with the user of the roads, until we are satisfied that the authorities called upon to administer the Act have performed their duty.
I should like to refer to a number of Sections of the Act and to ask the Minister how far they can be put into operation. When those Sections were introduced the object was to ensure safety on the roads. Take Section 23, which provides for inquiries into accidents. That not only enables the Ministry to discover the causes of accidents, but when publicity is given to the inquiries it enables the public to realise in what direction safety on the road lies. To what extent has Sub-section (3) of that Section been put into operation? It provides that:If in any case the Minister considers that any inquiry to he made by him under this Section should be made by means of the holding of a public inquiry, he may direct a public inquiry to be held.I may be mistaken, but I have not seen any reports of a public inqiry held under this Section. It may be that public inquiries have been held, but if so no publicity has been given to them. In the case of fatal accidents in coal mines and factories an enormous amount of publicity is given to the inquiry. That is all to the good, because it enables those concerned in the administration of our railways and industries to realise how the causes of fatal accidents can be removed. I hope, therefore, that some use will be made of this provision. In the case of an accident where two or three persons are killed it would be of distinct advantage if technical officials of the Ministry attended the inquest, in the same way as they do in the case of fatal accidents in mines and factories.
1225 Then there is Section 46, which empowers the Minister to restrict the use of vehicles on specified roads. One of the greatest complaints you hear in many rural counties is that all types of vehicles travel through narrow roads which are absolutely unfit for such traffic. On one of the narrow roads in North Wales there was a fleet of motor coaches, which did not allow other vehicles to pass and endangered other users of the road. I do not know what use has been made of this Section, but I think that the attention of county councils might be drawn to the powers of the Minister with a view to scheduling roads under this Section. Reference has also been made to the question of traffic signs, dealt with in Section 48. The Act received Royal Assent on the 1st August, 1930. It is admitted that a fair proportion of the accidents on roads are at junctions, but there is as yet no uniformity of signs, notwithstanding the fact that a Departmental Committee reported on this matter. One would have thought that this would have been one of the first things dealt with by the Minister of Transport, but after four months in 1930, a full year in 1931 and a full year in 1932 and 1933 nothing has yet been done. If the Minister had tackled this question boldly at the outset I am certain that there would have been a saving of a considerable number of lives in various parts of the country. The reports as to the causes of accidents indicates this as one of the most serious causes of accidents.
§ The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Mr. Oliver Stanley)
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but, of course, he is quite wrong in saying that no action has been taken, as I hope to show him in the course of my humble reply.
§ Mr. LLEWELLYN-JONES
Nothing practical has been done in various parts of the country to put this Section into operation. Then there is the question of footpaths, in Section 58. During the passage of the Bill I moved an Amendment to make it a statutory obligation upon road authorities to provide footpaths. There is, however, no obligation. It is simply the expression of a pious opinion that it isthe duty of a highway authority to provide wherever they shall deem it necessary or desirable for the safety or accommodation of foot passengers proper and sufficient 1226 footpaths by the side of roads under their control.I submit that it is within the power of the Minister of Transport to see that local authorities carry out that Section in the spirit in which it was enacted, and if he finds that they are not providing adequate footpaths he has a remedy: he can refuse to make any grant. I am quite justified in referring to the situation which exists in parts of the country. I know I shall be up against my own county council, Flintshire, and two neighbouring county councils. On the road between the important towns of Rhyl and Prestatyn there is no adequate footpath. Juries have adopted riders calling attention to this matter. Where the fault lies I do not known; but nothing has been done. The remedy is plain. Go to Denbighshire. The road upon which there is the greatest amount of traffic in North Wales is from Aberdovey to Colwyn Bay. There is no suitable footpath along that road. I mention these matters because I complain that the Minister has not exercised powers which he might have exercised. I was walking along the River Colwyn from Bethesda to Colwyn Bay, one of the most beautiful roads in the country. There is a magnificent macadamised road for vehicular traffic, but while the officials of the Carnarvonshire County Council have been looking after the macadamised part of the road they have been throwing all their rubbish on to the footpath, and periodically I had to step from the footpath on to the road. Such a position is perfectly intolerable. The pedestrian is entitled to the same consideration as motorists and drivers of vehicles, and the making of a footpath should not be left for years after the road has been made suitable for vehicular traffic. The operations of making the footpath and the road should go on concurrently. I suggest that in this connection the Ministry might use their influence with the local authorities. I know what is said frequently. I have heard it said in this House that pedestrians will not use the footpaths. But you cannot expect them to do unless you provide them with suitable footpaths.
Let me deal briefly with the administration of the penal Sections of the Road Traffic Act. I fear that in many parts of the country magistrates have scarcely realised their obligation in this matter. It is not merely a question of inflicting 1227 a heavy penalty by way of a fine. In a very large majority of cases the question of sending an accused person to prison does not arise, nor would I suggest it, but the powers that magistrates possess of withdrawing the driving licence of an offender, is a very valuable power, and if it were exercised more freely by magistrates in serious cases it would certainly have a deterrent effect.
A third aspect of the question of accidents on the roads is one to which reference has been made. That is the educational aspect. I suggest that as the Safety First Association is to be entrusted with the function of educating public opinion by propaganda in the Press and otherwise, it might be of advantage if in certain parts of the country conferences were held. My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) when Minister for Mines was remarkably successful with his conferences, in various parts of the country, on the question of safety in the mines. There were enormous attendances at those conferences, and I believe they had an immense influence. Something of the same kind might be arranged in connection with "safety first" on the roads. There would be no difficulty in getting town or county representatives of local authorities, representatives of the magistrates, motorists, pedestrians and others to come to these conferences, to hear addresses, and to have a free and open discussion of how the problem can best be dealt with. That would be the best means of securing publicity in many parts of the country. I trust that the Minister will consider that suggestion. We are all anxious to do everything possible to reduce the toll of life and limb on the road, and I am certain that no expense incurred by the Minister for that purpose would be grudged by the citizens of the country.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Mr. CADOGAN
While I am in complete agreement with the Seconder of the Motion, who in a very able speech made the observation that we do not want any more laws, rules and regulations, but that we want the existing laws, rules and regulations carried into effect, I was not sure that I followed him when he advocated a gargantuan scheme for replanning the roads. He did not elaborate 1228 his scheme, and it is difficult for the House to canvass its possibilities, but I have one or two suggestions to make to the Minister. Before I do so I wish to say that it is somewhat of a surprise to me that one aspect of this controversy has not emerged from this discussion, namely, the distribution of the blame as between pedestrian and motorist for this appalling holocaust which is revealed by the report of the Minister.
There seems to be a certain confusion of thought noticeable in this connection. It arises from a fallacy in treating the pedestrian and the motorist as if they were two distinct species, two perfectly different animals whose interests were diametrically in conflict. Of course, they are identical. Very few pedestrians there are who in the course of the day do not use their own motor vehicle, someone else's motor vehicle or the motor vehicle of one of the public companies. I myself, like most of my fellow creatures, am both a pedestrian and a motorist. I derive pleasure and health from walking, that is to say when I am not risking my life crossing one of our main thoroughfares; and I derive convenience from motoring. We all can surely approach this matter, therefore, from a perfectly impartial angle. It may be said, of course, that although most pedestrians are motorists, and vice versa, the attitude of mind of the same man is different when he is a motorist from what it is when he is a pedestrian. He is Dr. Jekyll in one capacity and Mr. Hyde in the other. I hesitate to give any opinion as to which he is when.
That may be perfectly true, but I would like to examine the accusation of the motorist, because it is important to do so when he attaches the blame to the pedestrian. There is nothing more difficult to prove, but I suggest that there is this difference which we can take into consideration regarding the blame which attaches in each case. We are told that the pedestrian does not want to be run over, and that therefore either by instinct or inclination he exercises all his ingenuity and physical powers to avoid being run over. I regret to think that the motorist does not take every precaution he might in order to avoid inflicting grievous bodily harm on the pedestrian. Too often his attitude is, "I have hooted, and the fellow did not get 1229 out of the way, and it serves him right if he is run over." Surely the attitude of the pedestrian is not, "Well, I gave every indication to the motorist that I wanted to cross the road, and it serves him jolly well right for getting into trouble for running over me. I am glad I deliberately gave him an opportunity of maiming me for life." There is the other consideration, that the motorist is very often going at such a pace that he cannot avoid a collision. But he knows the pace at which he is going. I am not advocating Lord Cecil's expedient of placing a disc upon every motor car. But the motorist does know his pace and the pedestrian cannot see the speedometer, and cannot make the calculations necessary for his own safety.
There is a third point in deciding where the blame attaches. If hon. Members examine the official statistics on this question I think I am right in saying that they will find that the majority of those who are run over are either young children or old persons. Those who have reached years of discretion and have not yet reached their dotage—I class myself in that category—and possess the wisdom and experience of middle age, plus a certain amount of physical agility, apparently come off best. You cannot lay down a rule that only those who are middle-aged shall cross the road. The aged and the children have to cross the road on their lawful occasions. They have the common privileges of the King's highway. Even those who are defective in mind or limb share those common privileges. These, I am afraid, are all arguments which lead me to the conclusion that excessive speed is one of the main factors in this long tale of disaster. I hope the Minister will not think that I am advocating a universal speed limit. I am doing nothing of the kind, but I suggest to him that there might be better control of the speed limit at certain danger spots.
To judge from the reports, some of the worst danger points are to be found in those parts of the suburbs where the motorist who has set out on his journey from the crowded centre of the town, and has been retarded in the congested streets for an hour or so, suddenly experiences the exhilaration of being able to "open out." I represent the division of Finchley, which suffers most acutely 1230 from offering that agreeable relief to the motorist who is exasperated by delays and hindrances encountered in an earlier stage of his journey. We have had to enlarge the hospital. There is a junction of two great roads in the middle of my constituency which is known as Tally Ho Corner—a name suggesting associations which, under present conditions, are, to put it mildly, no longer appropriate. Only to the extent of its present circumstances being "the image of war" can it be connected in any way with the sport so beloved of Mr. Jorrocks. I, personally, associate it with a general massacre of the population by motorists who have been exasperated by the long restraint of congested streets. In this connection I share the prejudices of the great majority of my constituents—an enviable position for a Member of Parliament—and that is one of my excuses for intervening in the Debate.
I make this special appeal to the Minister. Although it may be irksome to the motorist, although it may mean taking longer to get out of the dreary waste of bricks and mortar into the country, it is essential that at these suburban danger spots all regulations should be tightened up. As I say, I am not advocating a universal speed limit, but that the present regulations as to speed limit at danger spots shall be properly carried into effect. I have seen the suggestion that one remedy for this terrible record of death and disaster is that the whole proceeds of the Road Fund should be devoted to making the egresses from our great towns wider and better, increasing the number of arterial roads and widening and straightening roads. To my mind that is not a reasonable suggestion. If there is one circumstance which has contributed more than another to these accidents, it is the facility afforded by the improvement and increase of roads for travelling at break-neck speeds. We can argue on two aspects of this question, one the convenience of the motorist, and the other safety, but we are in danger of confusing those two things.
That is why I wish that the seconder of the Motion—whom I am glad to see in his place now—had elaborated his scheme of reconditioning the roads. I was not sure whether he meant a large increase of roads and the widening and straightening of roads. If so, I join issue with 1231 him. We all know that before the roads were widened and straightened to the present extent they had what were known as dangerous corners. I always regarded those as the safest points on a road, because all motorists took precautions on reaching them. I notice that the hon. Member who seconded the Motion shakes his head. I ask him to take warning by what has happened on the Great West road since it has been widened and straightened, and the dangerous corners have been eliminated. What goes on there now strikes terror into the hearts of the bravest. One may see six or seven motor cars there on a greasy day, riding each other off, like ponies in a polo match, and risking the lives both of the drivers and of those who venture to cross the road. As it is, I think there is a superfluity of these enormous roads, cutting their way into the beauty spots of what was once a peaceful and smiling land. If you are going to increase these enormous arterial roads, do not do so in the name of safety, but use some rather more convincing argument for spending the money of the ratepayers and taxpayers.
As the Minister wants suggestions from us, I wish to put one other proposal before him. It is that there should be some limit to the width of every type of vehicle using the roads. All who have driven cars know how aggravating it is to find oneself behind a vehicle which is so wide that it is impossible to see what is beyond it—whether there is a bend in the road where one should not pass, or whether there is a car coming head on towards one. In such circumstances there is a very great temptation, human nature being what it is, to endeavour to pass at a moment which is not appropriate. I believe that a great number of accidents occur in that way. I appeal to the Minister not to pay too much attention to the clamour of the pedestrians or of the motorists but to exercise his well-known abilities and his ingenuity, in order to discover methods of obviating what all in the House and outside the House regard as a grave danger and a great scandal.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
I am sure we are all indebted to the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Glossop) for having 1232 selected this subject for debate. This is a question which is exercising the minds, not only of Members of this House but of local authorities in every part of Great Britain. One was pleased with the admirable manner in which the hon. Member moved the Motion and put forward the suggestions which he had to make. At the same time we have to go a little further than he indicated if we are to deal with this matter. These road accidents constitute such a growing menace that something drastic will have to be done, either through the Ministry or through the local authorities. I understood the Mover of the Motion to express the view that bad lighting was the greatest cause of accidents, and that the peak period for accidents was from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.
§ Mr. GLOSSOP
I said that lighting was one of the main contributory factors and that the period between 10 and 11 o'clock at night was the fourth most dangerous period of the twenty-four hours, as regards the number of accidents which occurred in that period.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
I do not wish to misrepresent the hon. Member. I understood him to say that he considered bad lighting to be one of the great causes of accidents, but I think there are other things as desirable in this connection as improved lighting. Secondly, he mentioned road surfaces, and he eulogised the tarred surface. I do not agree with him there, because I have in my mind's eye a road that is now under repair on a gradient, and they are leaving a tarred surface, which is distinctly dangerous, in my opinion. I do not think they ought to allow that kind of thing to be done, and I think it could be obviated, either by the local people, or by the very able engineers who are under the control of the Minister. I quite agree with the hon. Member about co-ordination between road authorities, education authorities, and so on. He also mentioned pedal cyclists and asked that special tracks should be made at the side of the road for them. I am sure it would be much to the relief both of motorists and of cyclists if they had some kind of security of this sort, as quite a large number of accidents are caused through cyclists being run down. There may be many causes for that. It may be that their 1233 reflector is not quite as good as it ought to be, and it may be that it is getting time to reintroduce the red light or something which will at least denote that they are on the road more successfully than does the reflector at the present moment. This is one of the things upon which I have rather strong opinions. I have gone along a road at night, and we have passed cyclists, and there has been really no light at all; and it makes it not only a positive danger to the man who is riding the cycle, but to the people in the car or omnibus who are trying to miss something which they have not seen till they are right on top of it.
I think it was the Seconder of the Motion who raised the question of by-pass roads. By-pass roads are very necessary in many cases, in congested areas particularly, but I am afraid that by-pass roads, being made so fine and good, are becoming a kind of practice racing track for people who are desirous of exceeding the speed limit or of getting a higher speed out of their car than can some of their friends. As a consequence, we are having on these by-pass roads quite a large number of the accidents with which we are faced to-day, and if it is going to become a common custom for people on these good roads to open out, as one hon. Member put it, to such an extent that it will be a positive danger to themselves and other motorists on the road, something will have to be done in that connection.
I was interested in what the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Llewellyn-Jones) said about the roads in Denbigh and Flint. I do not know whether they were born before or after their time, but according to his statement the roads in his area are about the worst roads that can be found in the country. The very gloomy picture that he painted leads one to believe that the roads there are only fit for the old kind of perambulator that used to be on the roads about 40 years ago, and I do not think his statement reflects any credit on his county council or on the local authorities from any point of view. It is up to hon. Members and to everybody else who is a public servant to do all that they can to bring to the notice of the responsible authorities the danger of this kind of thing and to urge that they ought at least to take upon themselves the 1234 responsibility for trying to put matters in a safe condition at the earliest possible moment.
I would like to ask the Minister one or two questions about road supervision. I understand, of course, that his Department is very heavily charged with this kind of work, which takes a large amount of the time of the Minister and of his very able staff. This is an extraordinarily large problem, which almost baffles real supervision, because new conditions are springing up from day to day. I would like to ask whether the roads are designed and equipped to meet the requirements of modern times. In many respects probably they are, and in many respects probably they are not, because we find conditions upon the roads of the country which ought not to be there. It may be that it is the responsibility of the local authorities, or it may be that they could not get sanction from the Minister for the spending of money for improving the roads. Whichever it is, I think a wider outlook will have to be exercised in every one of these directions, in order to give greater safety to the whole of our people and in order that the roads shall not be more dangerous, shall I say, than working in some industries.
Some of the roads which I know are irregular, some of them are narrow, some have bad gradients, and some have very bad bends. Is it possible to rebuild the roads? It could not be done all at once, but a proper co-ordination of work could be drawn up—not on the spur of the moment, but a properly worked out programme—by local authorities and submitted to the Minister, whereby irregular roads could be straightened and rebuilt, because, after all, there are old roads to-day which are not suitable from many point of view, for modern traffic, and on the narrow bottle-neck roads something ought to be done immediately. I have in mind one or two what I call bottle-necks, or narrow passages with a wide road at each end, which are positively dangerous. There are one or two where there is only just room for two omnibuses to pass, just after a good, wide road probably 36 feet wide. I do not think any local authority ought to allow that sort of thing to exist, because it only wants one smash, it only wants two omnibuses to run one into the other, and then the money will be spent, and the 1235 road will be put right after probably a dozen lives have been lost. In a matter like this I think the Road Fund ought to be at the disposal of the Minister, by agreement with local authorities, and money ought not to stand in the way of clearing out property upon which is placed a very fictitious value.
Gradients, in my opinion, ought to be eased up and covered with the best nonskid material. I am sure that many of the gradients in the country are not covered with really non-skid material, and, of course, I may be told that there is no really perfect non-skid material on the market. I do not know about that but I know there is some material that is better than others, and the best that is known ought to be used. Then again I do not think sufficient super-elevation is given in some cases. I think a greater super-elevation ought to be given on bends, which will prevent the possibility of a skid. I have in mind a bend in a road which is not a road of any age, so to speak. It has been repaired quite recently, but there is no super-elevation there at all, and I have expected, and do expect every time I pass that road, to hear of some accident happening there. Why the engineer, either of the local authority or of the county council, does not insist upon the right height of super-elevation in order to avoid the possibility of accidents I cannot understand, but I suppose that it is simply in order to save the extra cost which would be entailed. If so, it is being penny wise and pound foolish, and it is at the expense of human life, which alone will put it right.
By-pass roads are necessary in congested areas and towns, and in Lancashire we are really congested. I am sure the Minister knows that there is a large number of towns in Lancashire which really need a good by-pass road. It may be that the local authorities have opposed it, but we have to get beyond even the local authority or the private individual in cases like that, and try to find the best thing to do in the interests of the greatest number, and I believe that a survey of Lancashire would show a large number of towns where it is necessary to have by-pass roads in order to relieve the centre of the town from the overcrowding which at present exists. I believe also that heavy traffic should not be allowed 1236 to go through congested areas if other roads are available. Many towns during the week-end are crowded with people and vehicles, and greater co-ordination is necessary between the Ministry and the local authorities in order that the congestion might be done away with. Congested or defective roads are a danger to the community. We cannot apportion the blame between the pedestrian or the motorist. I am not going to advocate the speed limit or anything of that kind for an individual's commonsense ought to tell him when he is going fast enough, and he ought to exercise his conscience when he is driving and see that it is clear. I am sure that the defects I have mentioned can be remedied, but how and by whom are they to be remedied? They cannot be remedied at the whole expense of the local authorities, and I am afraid that the Minister will have to be asked to contribute more freely to the local authorities in order to make the necessary improvements.
Local authorities must be encouraged, and the only way to encourage them is by giving them higher grants than have hitherto been given with a view to meeting the needs of the community. From 1926 to 1933 there has been only one year in which less money has been spent through road improvement grants than in 1933. In that year, which was 1928–9, the number of vehicles on the roads was much fewer than to-day. Since then the motor taxation has nearly doubled and motors have increased by 250,000. These figures do not go very well together. The money is coming into the fund, and it ought to be used to meet what is required by the people who pay the taxation. In seven years motor taxation has increased by 190 per cent. and the number of vehicles by 32 per cent. Economy in a matter of this kind means expenditure in human life. I should like to call the attention of the Minister to his reply to the question put this afternoon by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot). Everybody will agree that the figures he gave are appalling.
I should also like to bring before the Minister the question of the number of weak bridges all over the country, and to a statement in the Press a few weeks ago giving a list of the number of bridges which have been scheduled by 1237 the railway and canal companies since the passing of the Road and Rail Traffic Act. Lancashire is credited with the highest number, namely, 254. Such a number in one county is bound to have a great effect upon the congestion of the roads, because, for every bridge scheduled, traffic has to find a fresh road or take the main road. I would suggest to the Minister that he should have the scheduled bridges examined. I do not think we ought to take the word of the canal and railway companies.
§ Mr. STANLEY
Under the Road and Rail Traffic Act any road user who is aggrieved by a restriction or a prohibition placed on the use of a bridge has a right to appeal to me.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
But many people will not appeal on account of the difficulty and expense of appealing. If the bridges are found to be defective after examination by the Ministry every step ought to be taken to make the owners strengthen them. That is only common justice and common sense, because the existence of these weak bridges must play havoc on the roads upon which the diverted traffic has to go. This question demands immediate attention, and I hope it will be taken up at once. Motor traffic is increasing and provision must be made for it. New roads are needed, particularly when others are closed. There is the question of crossings for pedestrians. The absence of these is one of the causes of a large number of accidents which ought not to occur. There should be a crossing place against every control signal and it ought to be clear and well defined. There ought to be some kind of signal attached to the control signal whereby people will know that it is safe for them to cross. I do not see any great difficulty or expense about that. It is simply a matter of organising and a matter for the local authorities to take up in conjunction with the Ministry.
Another question which I know has engaged the attention of the Minister is that of barriers to prevent school children rushing out of school on to the road. Barriers ought to be erected at every school, particularly on a Class 1 road or on any road where there is a considerable amount of traffic. Every road should be provided with a footpath, which should 1238 be not less than 4 feet 6 inches in width. It is all very well to say that country roads do not need a footpath, but there is not a road in the country which is classified that does not need a path. Every classified road ought to have one so that people can walk in comfort feeling that they are not in danger from passing traffic. Every road over 30 feet wide should be provided with refuges at stated distances and busy points. I do not think that would be either expensive or difficult. It would probably be more difficult to get people accustomed to use them, but until we make a start by providing them we shall not know.
One or two things in connection with the usage of roads has struck me and should be put right. I do not know how the law stands with regard to vehicles coming out of side streets and whether they have a right to go straight into the road into which they are turning. I have noticed in my travels that a large number of vehicles come out of a side road and, if the main road is not clear, they block up nearly the whole of the footpath so that pedestrians have to get off the path and go round the vehicle and probably meet with an accident. That is only a small matter, but it is a potential source of danger and something ought to be done. Traffic from side streets ought not to be allowed to go nearer the main road than the building line, keeping a clear space at least equal to the width of the footpath. Vehicles should not pass a tram or other vehicle when passengers are boarding or alighting. The hon. Member who moved the Motion mentioned the number of deaths caused by motors not stopping. It may be within the competence of local authorities to deal with this in their by-laws. If it is, the Minister ought to urge local authorities to do it, and prevent what is a prolific source of accidents.
Another thing I have noticed which does not, I think, reflect any credit upon the motorist is the habit of some motorists to hug the centre of the road and decline to give way to a following vehicle, with the consequence that people who take the risk of trying to pass sometimes meet with an accident. I do not think that such men are fit to have either a licence or anything else. If a man cannot get along the road himself he ought to make way for others who desire 1239 to pass, in order that they may do so in safety. Further, all traffic control signals and road signs should be made as uniform as possible, and all road signs should be of uniform height and clearness and easily within the line of vision of drivers. That is a very important matter. It was mentioned by the Mover of the Motion, and I agree with him. If these signs were of uniform height and pattern, every motorist would know where to look and what he would except to find. Also, I think that every local authority ought to be urged to have the provisions of the Road Code taught in the day schools. A large number of children are injured and maimed every year through the sheer neglect of not having been taught what they ought to do. Stronger reflectors at the rear of pedal bicycles ought to be enforced, and if we cannot have stronger reflectors we ought to have the rear red light. Those are a few things which I have put down for the consideration of the Minister, and I hope he may find that there is something in one of them which may be of use.
Finally, I wish to refer to the number of people killed in Lancashire. That is a very thickly populated county, though the population is being diminished through two persons being killed every day and about 60 people injured. In Great Britain as a whole there are 20 deaths per day and over 700 people injured, bringing anguish and suffering to every home concerned. Every day there is a knock at some 750 doors to announce that there has been an accident in the road and that someone who lives there has been injured either fatally or nonfatally. I urge the Minister to give attention to the things I have mentioned, because I believe in that way we could reduce what are prolific sources of accidents on the road. I understand that insurance statistics show that something like 1,000,000 men and women in this country are permanently disabled through motoring accidents. We cannot afford to waste our population in that way. They may be insured, but what are insurance payments compared with life or health?
If we do not do something more drastic and allow accidents to go on increasing year by year, as more motor vehicles come on the roads, we shall be laying 1240 up for ourselves a harvest which will not reflect credit either upon the House of Commons, the Ministry of Transport or the local authorities. Local authorities ought to be charged with full responsibility. When they desire to undertake an improvement which would reduce the toll of accidents, full consideration ought to be given to the case by the Minister, and if it becomes a question of finding money then the Minister ought to consider whether he cannot make them a grant, so that better provision may be made for the prevention of accidents and greater happiness and security given to the people using the roads.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Captain Sir WILLIAM BRASS
In following the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson), and being myself a Member for another part of Lancashire, I should like to make a similar appeal to my hon. Friend the Minister. I wish to speak in a constructive sense. I do not agree that this is a question between pedestrians and motorists, I think it is a question for the whole country. We ought not to attack this problem from the point of view alone either of the motorist or the pedestrian. I have studied the statistics which have been published, and I have come to the conclusion that the great majority of accidents take place in congested areas at peak periods of traffic—between 7 and 9 a.m., between noon and 1 p.m., and between 5 and 6 p.m. That indicates that accidents are caused by the congestion in the streets—that is, in the majority of cases. I am not talking of the accidents on the open road, but the majority of accidents which take place. Looking further into the statistics, I find that the majority of accidents occur to pedestrians. In 1930 there were 7,305 fatal accidents, in 1931 the figure went down to 6,691, and declined further in 1932 to 6,607, but in 1933, as we were told just now, it was 7,135. We must remember that there are more vehicles on the road now than there were in 1930; the average increase is somewhere about 80,000 vehicles a year.
The statistics show that from January to June last year there were 3,025 accidents. The number of pedestrians killed was 1,581—which is more than half the total of 3,025. Then we find that 1,034 cyclists were killed—514 motor cyclists 1241 and 520 pedal cyclists. Only 410 of the 3,025 fatal accidents during that period from January to June occurred to people who were not either cyclists—motor cyclists or pedal cyclists—or pedestrians. I think, therefore, the problem to attack is how to prevent accidents to pedestrians and to cyclists. It is obviously a very big problem, and we do not want to look at it from a fanatical point of view, as, possibly, do the Pedestrians League. A circular was sent to me a short time ago in which the Pedestrians League suggested that we should abolish all motor, bicycles, that motor vehicles should go at only 12 miles an hour in all towns and that there should be a universal speed limit of 20 miles an hour in the country. If the Pedestrians' League had its way we should be a laughing-stock all over the world. People would look at Great Britain and say, "See how slowly she is going!" Moreover, another very important thing would happen. We should lose a great deal of our export trade in motor cars and motor vehicles.
§ Sir W. BRASS
The hon. Member may be anxious to see it happen; I am not so anxious, but possibly he does not agree with me. We do not want to look at the question from the point of view of the Pedestrians' League, nor from that of Lord Cecil, who suggests that every motor car should have at the back a speedometer about as big as a clock and that, if a motorist exceeded the speed limit, he should immediately be pulled up and—I suppose—shot at dawn. I do not think that is a very practical suggestion. The same Noble Lord wrote a letter to the "Times" in 1928 making another suggestion: that all motor cars should have governors on them cutting down the speed to a certain level. The difficulty in carrying out that suggestion will, of course, easily be realised. When one motorist is about to pass another vehicle the governor might quite easily cut in and he would then find himself running alongside the vehicle with another coming in the opposite direction. The result would be that appalling accidents would happen all over the roads. Another suggestion of the Noble Lord's, which I think was the most brilliant of all his suggestions, I propose to read, because it is a little difficult to paraphrase: 1242There are other provisions which might be made, such as the insistence in all cars on four-wheel brakes capable of instantly stopping each wheel.One can well imagine what would happen if, directly the driver put his foot on the pedal, all the wheels were instantly stopped: the vehicle would probably either skid or turn over. I would suggest to my Noble Friend that he should consult some of the manufacturers before he makes suggestions of that kind.
That is not the way to solve our problem, nor shall we solve it by putting speed limits on the road. Some people have advocated that course, and I would point out one or two of its disadvantages. The first and foremost is the difficulty of enforcing a speed limit. We remember very well what happened when we had a speed limit of 20 miles an hour: it was almost impossible to enforce. The same thing would apply if a universal speed limit in all built-up areas were instituted. The best answer which can be made to that suggestion is the answer which is found when one examines the applications to the Minister for speed limits. The Minister has been asked to put into operation 11 speed limits, and has only agreed to four of them; he has turned down five, and I believe that there are still two under consideration. We ought to trust the Minister in these cases and not to allow all the local authorities to put speed limits on wherever they like. The Minister knows a great deal about such things and has permanent officials who are well versed in them all. We can therefore trust him to put speed limits on where they are necessary. I agree that they are necessary in certain cases, but only in certain cases.
When the Road Traffic Act, 1930, was passing through the Committee stage, I moved an Amendment embodying the suggestion that before anyone was allowed to have a licence to drive a motor-car on the road he should pass an oral examination on the rules of the road, so that he should not be totally ignorant of what was expected of him when he was driving his car. I will make that suggestion again to my hon. and gallant Friend, and in making it I do not ask for a test of driving skill, because I do not think that it would be of any use. Anybody can steer, stop, back, and generally control a motor-car after very 1243 little practice, but everybody who is going to drive about the roads should have some knowledge of the rules of the road before he is allowed to have a licence. I am also going to suggest one or two of the questions that might be asked; I suggested a few in the Committee stage of the Road Traffic Bill. One is: "What would you do if you wanted to turn to the right?" The answer should be: "I should look in my mirror and see if anyone was coming; I should then hold out my hand, and then I should turn to the right." If I did not get an answer like that I should say, "Learn to look in your mirror first before you turn to the right; otherwise, you are not fit to drive a car." Another question I should ask is, "What would the signal be for turning to the left? "Here I have a bone to pick with the Minister, because I have in my hand the Highway Code and also the code of the National Safety First Association, which is subsidised to a certain extent, I believe, through the Minister.
§ Mr. STANLEY indicated dissent.
§ Sir W. BRASS
I would point out that in the Highway Code the signal to turn to the left is a movement of the hand up and down.
§ Mr. MABANE
Is that correct? Surely in doing that you are not saying that you are going to turn to the left, but that you are going to back.
§ Sir W. BRASS
That is exactly what I was going to point out. In the Highway Code the signal is a movement of the hand up and down, but in the National Safety First Association's Code the movement is a sweeping one from rear to front, repeated, which I think is the correct movement. So the two codes differ, and it is very difficult for the public to know which is the right signal. The Highway Code should be revised, and it should be made quite clear what these signals ought to be. If not, we should make it compulsory for all motorists—certainly for those who drive closed vehicles—to have signalling arms fixed at the sides. That is compulsory in Berlin and also, I believe, in other places. I would ask the Minister whether, if he does not agree with an oral examination on the rules of the road, he would consider 1244 having a declaration made and signed by the potential driver, before he is given a licence for the first time, to the effect that he has in fact learned the code of the road? If he did that, he would find that quite a number of people would learn the code of the road before they got a licence, instead of throwing it into the waste-paper basket, as is often done at the present time, and it would have a very material effect.
How are we to save these motorists from themselves? I have suggested the mechanical signal, which would help, and other hon. Members have suggested better surfaced roads and banked corners —which is an excellent suggestion—better signposts, and so on. We have not decided what we can do with the cyclists. Here I suggest that reflectors should be passed as standard before they are allowed to be placed on the bicycles. The law lays it down that a bicycle shall have an efficient reflector on the back. It is very difficult to know what is an efficient reflector. Most of them, as has been said by an hon. Member who sits at my side, are not efficient reflectors. I make the suggestion to the Minister that he should only allow to be fitted to bicycles reflectors that have been passed as efficient at the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington, and that only such reflectors—anybody might make them who can make efficient reflectors—and that type of reflector should be fitted to the bicycle. Then we should know that every bicycle on the road had a reflector which was considered to be efficient by the National Physical Laboratory.
It is the same principle as that which was adopted in France. In France, special lamps have to be fitted to motor cars. There you turn off your headlights and put on a dimming light when you meet another car at night, and only certain kinds of lamps which have been passed officially by, I think it is, the Ministry of Transport or a similar department in Paris, are allowed. I ask the Minister if he will insist upon that. We want what we do to be positive, and as positive as possible. If we get efficient reflectors on our bicycles we shall have gone some step forward in protecting the bicyclist from himself.
Then I urge, as I have urged on many occasions—the Minister has heard this 1245 suggestion, because I have asked so many questions about it in the last three or four years—that pedestrians' paths should be placed on the roads and marked out with studs. It is three-and-a-half years since I made that suggestion in the House. I saw the idea in Paris, and it worked admirably. It has worked so well in Paris that practically every street has such studs across it. It makes the provision positive. If a pedestrian crosses the road in the sanctuary which is marked out for him and he is touched by any motor car, automatically the fault is that of the driver of the car. If, on the other hand, he happens to cross the road within a few yards of one of these pedestrians' sanctuaries and is touched by a motor vehicle, no doubt the magistrate, or whoever it is before whom he goes, would ask him why it was that, as there was a sanctuary waiting for him, he did not use the sanctuary, but crossed the road in another place. That fact would be taken into consideration in assessing the blame between the pedestrian and the driver.
I urge that suggestion most sincerely, because it is one of the most important things that ought to be done for saving life at congested areas. I would not do it at a place where we have traffic lights at the present moment, because I am afraid that if pedestrians' paths were put in front of the traffic lights in London, the first thing that would happen would be that a person would say, "This is my sanctuary, and I am going to walk across," and would cross when the lights were the wrong way. I suggest that pedestrians' paths or, as I call them, sanctuaries, should be made compulsory in London and in all our big towns. Gradually the big cities of Lancashire and elsewhere should have a network of studded paths across the roads, so that pedestrians should have some right of being able to cross the roads. The pedestrian has no right at all in London, because he has no opportunity of being able to cross the road. I urge most sincerely that this is the matter that should be considered in relation to London and all congested areas, where most of the accidents happen, and that the Minister should see to it that studded paths are placed in all the different congested areas.
1246 I would like to make one or two suggestions about the pedestrians themselves. When they walk on the roads, pedestrians should always walk facing the traffic. That is very important. Most people walk on the left, but they ought to walk on the right of the road and face the on-coming traffic. If people could be taught to do that in places where there are no footpaths, a great number of accidents would be avoided. I do not suggest that this is a substitute for footpaths. We ought to have footpaths wherever we can. The statistics of the number of people who have been killed on country roads show that more people were killed walking on roads where there were footpaths than on roads where there were no footpaths, because they had not used the footpaths at all. That point is brought out in this Report, page 7 of which says:Eighty-four pedestrians were killed while walking along roads. Of these 52 were killed on roads where a footpath was available, and 32 where no footpaths were available.
§ Mr. KIRKW0OD
The reason why they walk on the road is because the footpath is not as good for walking on as is the road.
§ Sir W. BRASS
I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman. I was going to press upon the Minister that footpaths should be made of the same sort of material as the road, so that people could walk on them. He has stated exactly what does happen. I have spent enough time discussing this question, and other hon. Members wish to speak. I have made suggestions to the Minister in all sincerity because I feel that this is a very important Debate, and that we should try and make suggestions of a constructive character in order to assist in reducing the appalling toll of the roads which is going on all over the country. I therefore urge upon the Minister to consider some of the humble suggestions which I have made.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
The increase in the number of people killed upon the roads has been so large recently that an immense amount of thought and speech has been given to the question how to reduce that terrible death rate. There are two things which are absolutely essential if it is to be reduced. We may 1247 beat about the bush, and snake suggestions about this and about that. Some suggestions are made that would slightly reduce the death rate; others are merely childish; but there are two things which are absolutely essential to a reduction of the death rate—the fixing of a speed limit and tests for motorists. Lord Cecil has suggested that motor vehicles should bear an indicator which would show when a particular vehicle was exceeding the speed limit. The hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) poured ridicule upon the Noble Lord's suggestion, but Lord Cecil has, I think, made it quite clear that such a suggestion is scientifically perfectly feasible, and that there is no reason whatever why it should not work. It is that there should be a disc showing when the speed limit was exceeded, and I wish to support his suggestion.
With regard to tests, applicants for licences should be tested, (1) as to physical fitness; (2) as to their mechanical competence; and (3) as to their knowledge of road signs. In those countries where tests have been imposed they have been immensely advantageous and useful in keeping down the death rate from accidents. I am told that the tests used in Canada would put 50 per cent. of our British motorists out of court. However that may be, I do urge that tests, coupled with the limitation of speed, are alone likely to create any substantial reduction in the death rate from accidents. The Ministry of Transport may refuse to face that fact; they may juggle and wriggle to avoid dealing with these two questions; my hon. Friend may bury his head in the sand like an ostrich and try not to see facts which exist; but sooner or later the Ministry will have to face these two questions, that of fixing a speed limit and that of tests for drivers.
The fixing of speed limits is opposed by many different interests. The Automobile Association, the automobile press, and, above all, the manufacturers of automobiles, are extremely anxious that no limit should be put upon speed. The manufacturers, of course, are thinking of business; they are not thinking of lives at all, but of orders. May I read an extract from a speech by Sir Herbert Austin to the Motor Agents' Association, a report of which appeared in the "Daily Mirror" of the 17th October, 1933: 1248I have had a long chat with the Minister of Transport, and I am very much afraid that, if we do not discover some ways and means of reducing accidents, we shall have the old speed limit returning. That would be an enormous setback to trade. Everybody connected with the industry ought to do everything he can to get his clients to appreciate the danger there is of returning to the old speed limit."The danger." The danger to whom? Whose danger is Sir Herbert Austin thinking about? He is not thinking about the danger to the lives of the users of the roads; he is thinking of the danger to trade and dividends. My view is that trade and dividends are as nothing compared with the lives of the 20 people a day who are killed at the present time. The motor newspapers have suddenly become very friendly. I have here a letter from the "Autocar," which says:I sometimes feel that it is not sufficiently appreciated in the Press, and even in the House of Commons, how thoroughly are all decent motorists in accord with the Minister of Transport in his efforts to provide greater safety on the roads. For over 35 years the 'Autocar' has been the spokesman for such motorists, and this week this journal is making a special effort to back up the Minister in his campaign.The "Autocar" has been one of the worst of the papers in its attitude towards those who have been trying to save human life. It actually, in attacking the Pedestrians' Association, accused them of being subsidised by the railway companies, and it had to withdraw abjectly that wicked insinuation. But now the "Autocar," like other newspapers has changed its tune, and is all out for conciliation and union between those who are interested in this matter. These various newspapers and associations are making all kinds of recommendations—the kind of recommendations made by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Glossop) in moving the Motion, and by the hon. and gallant Member who seconded. Those suggestions may slightly reduce the death rate, but there is no suggestion to limit the speed, and there is no suggestion that tests for drivers should be accepted. The Royal Automobile Club specifically condemns tests for drivers. There must be any amount of limitations on pedestrians; they should do this, they should do that, they should do all sorts of things which they never have done and never will do; but 1249 the two vital matters, speed and tests for drivers, are not being faced, and have not been faced. It is suggested that people should take care, but it is no use preaching to people to abandon habits which human nature has instilled in them. It is no use expecting little children of three and four to have the minds of men of 25 and 26. We have to remember that human nature is human nature, and to eliminate the factor of danger which affects human nature. The Pedestrians' Association put the point very well in a pamphlet which they recently issued:In the workshop the Home Office does not issue appeals to workers to keep their fingers out of running machines; it issues regulations making compulsory the guarding of machines. It does not say, 'Be careful how you store your petrol, because petrol is inflammable'; it lays down conditions under which petrol shall be stored. On the railways drivers were not warned against running into one another, but block signalling was made compulsory, and now automatic signalling and other devices are supplementing and supplanting human control.The Minister has given £5,000 to the Safety First Association to preach to the pedestrian as to what will save him and how the roads should be used. I am sorry that the Ministry of Transport has for some time past shown a steady bias against the reduction of speed. It recently issued a brochure which created the impression on the country that, of 2,998 accidents, only 265 were due to the speed being too high. That, as the Pedestrians' Association stated, is a serious mis-statement. I wish the Ministry of Transport would not make statements like that; they destroy the prestige of the Ministry, which is not too high.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
I have only to let my ears do their natural function. The Ministry of Transport has not too high a prestige in the country. It has issued figures which, when examined, prove to be quite misleading, although they have been copied all over the country. Really the Minister ought not to destroy our confidence in the Ministry and make it difficult to trust it when it issues documents and figures.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of TRANSPORT (Lieut.-Colonel Headlam)
Which figures is the hon. Member alluding to?
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
To the number of accidents, 3,000 all but two, and your brochure gives the impression that of that number only 265 were due to excessive speed. Another matter on which I wish strongly to condemn the Ministry is in dealing with applications by local authorities for the limitation of speed. Eleven applications have been made and only four have been granted. All the applications except that of Oxford were because of some special feature of the road—too narrow bridges spanning the roads or some feature of that kind. Inquiries were duly held, barristers retained by the automobile associations appeared and resisted the applications, although the local authorities knew the circumstances of the case and wanted to protect their people and help the public, and in all but four cases the applications were refused. Why does the Automobile Association object so strongly to these local applications to the Ministry? Because they know quite well that, if the local authorities have experience and see the reduction of the speed working well, as it would work well, other local authorities would also apply and you would find the limitation of speed gradually spreading over the country.
Take one instance which bears out what I have said. In London there are strict limitations of speed. Motor cars are only allowed to go at a moderate pace—in some cases quite slowly. In Middlesex there are no such limitations and the result is that for 10 accidents in Middlesex there is only one in the City of London. That is an instance of the value of fixing limits. Another matter to which I wish to draw attention is the gross incompetence of magistrates in dealing with motoring offences. Over and over again one reads instances of grossly inadequate sentences upon men guilty of the most shocking conduct. The way in which the law is broken is appalling. The last time I spoke I called attention to the case of a driver who was sentenced to six months' imprisonment at Manchester for manslaughter. He had been convicted 30 times for motoring offences, and yet he is still apparently in possession of his licence and free to continue such conduct.
§ Mr. COLMAN
Does the hon. Member suggest that anyone was convicted of manslaughter by a magistrate?
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
It was my mistake. It was a case in the High Court. I have spoken of the way in which magistrates are apt to put the law improperly into operation. The same is true even of juries in the High Court. Judges have to accept the verdicts of juries, and juries frequently give verdicts which, in view of the evidence, are quite improper. I have here two cases which are a very good specimen of the kind of thing that is constantly going on. A Mr. Watkins, chairman of the bench at Lymm Police Court, had a butcher before him summoned for driving a motor cycle carrying three persons in addition to himself, for driving in such a position as not to have proper control of the machine, for not being insured, for not having a front light, and also for not having a rear light. The chairman said it was a mad thing to do and proceeded to fine the man 10s. for each offence, or £2 10s. in all. In another case a magistrate fined a driver £3 for driving at an excessive speed who had previously been convicted four times in three years for a similar offence. It is especially important in cases of drunkenness that proper punishment shall be inflicted. I have here a case of a man named Patrick George Donelly, who was sent to prison and who had 41 motoring offences to his credit. How long is a state of affairs which allows a man to build up 41 convictions to be tolerated? I press on my hon. Friend the appalling nature of a case like that.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
I will give the hon. and gallant Gentleman the cutting, and he can study it at his leisure. Suppose it was 30 years or any period he likes, does he defend a man having 41 convictions?
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
Towards the end of the great War it was almost impossible to go into any family circle where some dear one had not been lost. It is really getting to be like that now with motoring. I have been astonished lately 1252 to discover how frequently one meets people who have lost someone dear to them, killed or injured by motors. I am sure my right hon. Friend cannot regard that with any complacency. Surely he will agree that the time has come when the matter must be faced? I remember Lord Ponsonby saying some little time ago that he had served for 14 months in the Ministry of Transport and found there a high level of efficiency among the officials, and in the higher officers a breadth of view and a grasp of the perplexing problems that they dealt with which was unsurpassed by any other Department. After all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating of it. I do not wish to attack the Ministry of Transport, but they certainly have not signalised themselves so far by showing any great grasp or ability in dealing with the problem of the enormous death rate on the roads at the present time.
§ 10.6 p.m.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
I do not share all the opinions of the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser), but I share his indignation at the conditions which now obtain. Whatever differences there may be in this House, there ought to be, at any rate, utter discontent with conditions which make possible the figures which were given to us earlier this afternoon. I am sure that the Minister of Transport is as concerned as anybody about these figures. I hope that we shall be anxious to follow the advice he gave us some time ago, but my experience is that nothing is done in the country until there is an outburst of public indignation. It is only when people get stirred to great indignation that you get the force which makes a reform possible. I do not think that this is a case for language which has to be nicely balanced. I read a letter in the "Times" some time ago, and to-day when I knew that I was going to speak I looked it up. This is an extract from that letter, which was written by Mr. Herbert A. Powell, of Guildford, and which appeared in the "Times" of 21st November last. It will bear out what the hon. Member has just said:May I tell my tale of a single day? On 4th November my wife and a friend, walking in a country lane, were swept away by a motor car coming from behind and grievously injured. On that day the local ambulance brigade brought into the hospital I help to administer, six victims of six 1253 road accidents. That is the experience of one man in one day in one place, and it is duplicated all over the country. The day ended for me with a message from a friend, who added that two of his friends had on that day been killed in London by motor cars.The letter is signed by Mr. Powell, who is evidently associated with one of our big hospitals. Something appeared in a newspaper of November last year that filled me with more horror than anything I had seen in the papers of recent years:The death was reported yesterday of John Grae, 13, of Middleton Street, Ferniegair, near Hamilton. He was knocked down on the main Glasgow-Carlisle road near his home. He is the third child of this family to die as a result of road accidents at the same place within a year. Isabella aged 4, received fatal injuries exactly a year ago, and James, aged 7, was killed in the spring.I do not think that anything which happened in the Great War or has happened in the history of this country has been worse than that. The inquiry that arose showed that these three little children had just as much right as any children in our homes to safety and protection, which was the main responsibility of the Government. These children happened to live in a village and the cottages are on the road. On the other side is the school, and it could not be that the necessity for taking care could not have been impressed upon these children, in view of the two earlier accidents in their home. Yet in the ordinary course of the use of the village street that happened, and it is stated that in that same village street nine other children have been killed at the same spot. One would like to think that such a thing had never happened in any other part of the United Kingdom. But it happened there, and there are other village streets like it. Everyone of us knows of village streets where the cottages are built right upon the edge of the road. We hear of children running into the streets. What do we expect children to do? What must be the plight of those villages and the terror in the lives of the mothers, because they cannot but consider themselves fortunate that they have any house to live in at all. They cannot choose to go from one house to another. These children have first claim on the consideration of this House and of the Ministry of Transport. It is a lamentable feature of the numbers 1254 which have been given to us that the great majority of the casualties include many old people and children. There was once a prophet who drew a picture of the ideal city:There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age, and the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof.That was not the ideal city of the motorist. We understand that in the Holy City the streets will be of pure gold. That will not suit the motorist—ribbed concrete will be asked for, probably, as a change in those conditions. I suggest that it is the first mark of a higher civilisation that the people have a care for their older people and for their children. The figures of casualties given to us just now, four-fifths of the deaths in the six months of last year among pedestrians were deaths among old people, that is adults over 50, which include myself, and those under 10.
Take the wireless. Whenever I hear broadcasting I hear what I think must strike people with some dismay. I hear about the car which inflicts damage and causes death, and there is no record of the car. Being at home last Saturday evening I turned on the wireless to hear what was said for the purpose of ascertaining any such announcements. We were told of a man, aged 70, knocked down at Peckham Rye on 27th December. He had died of the injuries received, and no one could tell the car which had knocked him down. Another instance was given the same evening of a pedal cyclist in Kingston Road, Merton, who was knocked down on 1st February and was now dead. There was no record of the vehicle that had caused his injury. Either the drivers of those cars knew or they did not know. We have the streets of this country used by drivers of cars or lorries giving us records like these. Day after day, I understand from those who hear the broadcasts, this sort of thing happens. Drivers go at such speeds that they do not know when they knock down a pedal cyclist, or when some fellow creature has been sent suddenly into eternity. That is what we are up against. Could anyone listen without dismay to the figures we have to-day? Taking the total number of years from 1926 to 1933 50,000 people were killed and 1,421,000 people 1255 injured. That is the recorded number of those who were injured. Is there any social student or statistician who can calculate the aggregate of human sorrow and misery?
I know that the pedestrian has not very many friends. We are told very often: "The poor man hesitated." Who would not hesitate? We heard to-day from one hon. Member, who is not now in his place, that on country roads we should face the oncoming traffic. The position is not so simple on coming to a bend in the road when you are facing the traffic and when a car is coming, as they often do on country roads, at a speed of 30, 40, 50 or more than 50 miles an hour. I am not simply speaking of a corner but of a bend in the road. What is the unfortunate pedestrian to do when he is going round a bend and is confronted with traffic? The motorists give the pedestrian credit for a great deal more knowledge than he possesses. The pedestrian does not know about the control of a car. He has no opportunity of estimating the speed. Although I drive a car home when I leave this House at night and cross the road to the Embankment, I have great difficulty in estimating the speed of a car that is coming along, and if there are two cars coming my difficulty is increased. What is the old man to do, what is the child to do—the child is entitled to be on the street—when there are two converging cars?
We have heard a good many remedies mentioned to-night. I do not believe there is any one sovereign remedy, but there are a great many things that could be done. If I might make one minor suggestion, in addition to the many valuable suggestions made by the Mover and Seconder of the Motion and those who have spoken later, although I do not think we ought to widen the roads a great deal more for the sake of motor traffic, I think we ought to get rid of some of the deadly places on the roads, some of the awkward places where death is bound to result sooner or later. In my part of the country, where week after week we have the story of mortality on the roads, there is usually a recommendation from the coroner's jury. They always knew that it was a dangerous place where the accident had 1256 occurred. I want the recommendation to be made not by the coroner's jury but by some one acting for the Minister of Transport.
Every one of us who uses a car has his own special knowledge of some particular roads. Some of us in the normal course of our lives may have to do a journey of, say, 20 miles or so every working day along certain roads, and we know the special dangers. I suggest that there should be collated and collected as best we can expert opinion based upon the daily experience of those who have an intimate knowledge of our roads, and in that way we might be able to lessen some of these specially dangerous places. Our real danger is in our indifference to these casualty figures. I had en experience when I was at the Ministry of Mines, in a very much smaller degree, of knowing the anxiety of the Minister himself. Our trouble there was to lessen if we could the casualties in the coal mines. Our coal mines to-day, in spite of the fact that they have always been looked upon as the most dangerous of places, are safer than many roads in this country. There are some streets and roads in this country with a greater record of accident and fatality than coal mines.
Every effort has been made in the coal mines to lessen disaster and casualty. At the Mines Department we were of course concerned with the explosion which had caused the loss of the lives of, it might be, five or 10 people—and when that happened there was a natural outpouring of public sympathy. Our main trouble was, however, in the weekly wastage, not in the number of lives lost once in six months as the result of a big calamity. We looked at the figures presented for the week showing that perhaps 20 miners had lost their lives through falls of roof or other accidents. Our concern was to try and lessen that number. I suggest here that we have lost our sense of perspective. When 200 people were killed in a railway accident in France there was an outpouring of sympathy; we are losing that number every fortnight on our roads. There is no time for pleasant homilies about courtesy on the road although I should be glad to see it, and should welcome co-operation between all users of the road. The late Lord Brentford wrote an 1257 article which appeared in the "Spectator" on the 14th May, 1932, one of the last articles he wrote, in which he said:I have, in one or other of my capacities, appealed over and over again to the motorist to drive with the courtesy which other drivers and pedestrians might expect, but those appeals have fallen flat. The Safety First Association has issued leaflets almost by the million, appealing to motorists pointing out the danger of careless driving—and still the toll goes on. It is true that last year the number of deaths decreased a little, but this year the figures, both the deaths and injuries, are already up by 20 per cent. Just consider what would be said if deaths from any cause were to reach the appalling total that these do—and, moreover, a total becoming more and more appalling every day. There is really no answer, and having regard to the years during which we have tried to deal with the question by courtesy and friendliness, and by seeking to make the motorist and the pedestrian more cognisant of one another's rights—a method which has completely failed—I have come to the quite definite conclusion"—Lord Brentford himself was Home Secretary and had been associated with some of the big motor associations of this country:that the State should intervene, that it is its duty to intervene, and that such steps should be taken as may prevent this holocaust of death and injury on our roads.I am not concerned with a general reimposition of a speed limit, I am not sufficiently qualified to speak, but everyone who drives a car knows that on every journey it is touch and go. On every journey a man takes he is within a few inches of an accident when passing other cars.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
The hon. Member says that a turn of the wheel will bring disaster to life and limb. I want to point out to him that a turn of the wheel of a motor car is a very serious thing to do at any time, and, consequently, it is a very big assumption for him to assume that anybody is going to turn the wheel when driving down a lane.
§ Mr. FOOT
The question of speed is a most essential factor in our discussion. Cars are going along the roads at the high speeds I have mentioned, and on the roads there are cattle and there are children. There is not only the difficulty of speed, but many of the cars are being created for speed. Take what appeared in the "Morning Post" some time ago, from its Motoring Correspondent:On the road the new Bentley is a delight to handle. During the short time I had charge of the car I had no opportunity for trying maximum speeds, but I ran the car up to a speedometer 80 on third gear several times, and in top, on relatively short straight stretches, I did between 85 and 90 miles an hour. With the sligbtly lower back-axle ratio that I understand is to be offered for the English roads a top speed of between 90 and 95 miles an hour should be available, and correspondingly increased acceleration.That is a not very unusual paragraph to appear. There was one from the "Observer" Motoring Correspondent, who said:After the 50 miles an hour mark has been passed, the faster it goes the better 1259 it goes. Between 60 and 70 is its pleasantest pace. The shock absorbers were obviously set for high speeds, and in consequence give rather hard riding up to 40 miles an hour.The car evidently would not go very well at 40 miles an hour. Where are those cars to be driven? They may be very well in the hands of the motoring experts of the "Morning Post" or the "Observer," but paragraphs like these, and machines such as these, only satisfy a lust for speed, which means suffering amongst the people of the country. I ask the Minister to remember the statement of a surgeon who said the other day that if a pedestrian is knocked down by a car travelling at 10 miles an hour he gets a severe shaking, that if it is travelling at 20 miles an hour he will probably have a fractured limb, but that the flick of a mudguard from a car travelling at 40 miles an hour frequently causes instantaneous death.
There is no doubt whatever that if speed were halved fewer people would be killed. There is no doubt whatever that if speed were doubled many more people would be killed. Speed, therefore, is a factor that must enter into consideration. I want the Minister to tell us what is happening about the local speed limit. If there is a demand put up in a village where these three children lived, for the lessening of speed, it may be to 10 miles an hour in passing through a narrow street, why should not the people have that protection? Why should not a speed limit be readily given? Who are better qualified to judge than those who are face to face with the danger from motor cars, those who have children immediately under their charge?
I am sorry if I have taken undue time, but I feel very deeply on this matter because I think it concerns liberty. All the grandiloquent talk about Habeas Corpus and Magna, Charta and the Petition of Right and the rest count for nothing unless we can have the primary protection for our people, protection of life and limb. That is what liberty is for. It is because liberty in its first and essential elements is being threatened under these conditions, which no one ought to tolerate, that I ask the Minister to take a very strong line. I hope his father and his mother, did not have him christened Oliver for nothing. Action 1260 should be taken, and taken swiftly, because every day's delay involves danger to many people. The Minister's concern in this matter is, I believe, fully equal to our own. I ask him to have regard to the rising indignation of the people of this country. I ask him to see that after their great history they shall not be "chivvied" off their own highways and made to run before the machine like a lot of rabbits. They deserve something better than that and I hope the Minister will fulfil his responsibility to them.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ Mr. STANLEY
The House I am sure is grateful to the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Glossop) for having given it an opportunity of discussing this subject. No one, I think, needs reminding of the gravity of the question or needs reminding that people outside these walls are becoming more and more concerned at the figures which they read from time to time about these accidents. I assure my hon. Friend who has just spoken, although I have not his gift of eloquence or his experience in its use, that I am not insensible to the feelings which he has so effectively expressed. I only wish that time had permitted him to do something which would perhaps have been more useful to me, and that instead of bringing home to me and to other hon. Members, something which I think we all recognise and a feeling which we all possess he had been able to give me the assistance which I so much need in telling me how I can deal with this question.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I still regret that the hon. Gentleman has not been able to help me. This seems to me, if I may say so without impertinence, a peculiarly apt subject for a Private Member's Motion. It raises no question of party or political divisions; it is a subject on which we can all contribute something from our own experience and on which we need no specialist knowledge, and it is the sort of subject in regard to which the speech of a private Member in the course of a Debate on a Motion can influence the action of the Government of the day. I was glad to notice the tone of most of the speeches. The hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Cadogan) said what I 1261 think is a very wise thing—that we shall never get far in dealing with the problem if we try to divide users of the road into two classes, motorists and pedestrians, and think of them as two separate sets of individuals, never interchangeable, whose interests are always diverse, whose wishes always clash, and one of which has to be favoured while the other has to be oppressed.
That might have been true in the old days, when the motor was supposed to be the privilege only of the peer or the plutocrat, and when it was the lot of the ordinary man to walk or to drive in vehicles of other kinds. Then you might have drawn some distinction of that kind. To-day, who can pretend that to the vast majority of the citizens of this country, motoring and motors have no interest or have brought no benefit? I shall quote to hon. Members some figures. The fact that in the quarter ended 30th September there were 2,297,000 motor vehicles licensed shows that their use has grown beyond that of a limited class. There were 2,947,000 driving licences isued, but more significant perhaps than any other figure is the fact that in 1932 there were 5,344,000,000 passengers travelling on motor omnibuses. Who can say, after that, that the motor does not play its part, not in the life of the small, select community who happen to be lucky enough to own cars, but in the life of the ordinary man and woman all over the country? I am sure that anyone who is carried away either by his feelings or by rhetoric to set one class of road users against another and to foster ill feeling between them is doing an ill service to that cause which we all wish to help.
To-night I have heard a great many suggestions, all of which I shall consider. I am only too glad in this problem to have the help of everyone and the advice of all. In fact, there is only one suggestion of all the many which have reached me from nearly every quarter during the last few months that I am afraid I cannot pretend to consider at all, and that is the suggestion which was conveyed to me indirectly from the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser), who, behind a benevolent exterior, conceals, I am afraid, a hard heart, because he is reputed to have said that the people of this country would never really rise to the gravity of this situation till the 1262 Minister of Transport had been killed upon the road.
§ Mr. STANLEY
From whatever quarter the suggestion came, my answer still remains the same. As hon. Members know, I have already announced the fact that the Government intend to introduce legislation upon this matter, and I think I can fairly claim that that shows that we are alive to the gravity of the situation and that we have not needed the pressure either of this Debate or of public opinion to take what steps we think possible to deal with it. But the House naturally will not expect me to anticipate the contents of that Bill when it is published and will, I am sure, await its publication to see those steps which we think can be taken by legislative action. I am rather glad, however, that we are able to-night to discuss this question with the legislative side omitted, because I think it helps to put the Acts of Parliament which we can pass into their proper perspective. I agree with the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) that there is no single remedy for this problem, that there is no Minister of Transport, however superhuman, and no House of Commons, however intellectual, that could hope, by a single Act of Parliament or by some simple, dramatic stroke, to abolish in an instant the terrible toll of fatalities upon the road. It is only by a persistent approach from many angles, in which Acts of Parliament play only a part, and not perhaps the most important part, that we can hope to see these figures reduced.
To-night I should like to tell the House of some of those steps, which do not need legislative sanction, which I propose to take and which I think will or may do something to help in the solution of this problem, but I want to make it quite plain to hon. Members that I do not claim any sanctity for what I am going to say. I do not claim that I have succeeded in hitting on the cure for this problem. I do not claim that some of the things I shall propose to do will not be proved by experience to be wrong and that it will not be necessary to adopt something else in their place. But I am perfectly convinced that the solution of this problem has to be progressive, that it will be largely by trial and error, and 1263 that it is only by trying every kind of experiment and learning from them that we shall in, the end advance to a solution.
One can divide a certain part of this problem into the question of the user of the roads and the structure of the roads. With both of these I have certain proposals to make. With regard, first, to the user of the road, I have been for a long time interested, as many hon. Gentlemen must have been, in the experiment that has been taking place in Paris in authorised crossing places—what are called voies cloutées, which mark out passages for pedestrian crossing places. Certainly the figures which I have got from there are striking testimony to their success. In 1929 there were 254 of these pedestrian crossing places in use, and in that year the number killed in Paris was 328. In 1932 the number of pedestrian crossing places had risen to 8,954, and the number of deaths had fallen to 237. Impressive as these figures are, they are more impressive when one realises that during that same period from 1929 to 1932 the number of motor cars in the department of the Seine had increased by 50 per cent. The normal rate of increase therefore would have brought the deaths from 328 in 1929 to 492 in 1932, instead of which there were only 237. That is very impressive, and I do not think we can afford to close our eyes to an experiment of that kind, which seems to have been carried on with success.
I therefore decided some time ago to make an experiment on a large scale in London in the use of these pedestrian crossing places, and I have referred to the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee the whole of the question to suggest to me a scheme for the siteing and allocation of pedestrian crossing places. Another suggestion, looking again to other countries—because I think we can without any derogation to our own dignity learn from experiments other countries are making—is the system they have in America of traffic lanes on the broad road. The road is divided by a line into lanes, and it is the duty of traffic always to stay in the lane nearest the side of the road on their proper side, except and only for the period when they pull out to pass a car which is going in the same direction. As soon as they pass the car, they have to go back again into the lane on the 1264 extreme side of the road. That system prevents what we so often see on the wide roads here, namely, two or three cars trying to pass at the same time and going abreast for 100 yards or more. I intend to try the experiment of these traffic lanes on one of the new wide by-pass roads in the country. I also intend to make another experiment again upon these wide roads, because I think it is on this type of road that a great many of the casualties, especially the casualties from excessive speed, occur. I intend to try the experiment of converting them into dual-track roads, instead of merely having islands down the middle—of having a complete physical barrier down the middle of the road to make the traffic keep to one way.
Finally, in this connection of the users of the road, there is a possibility of introducing special cycling tracks. My hon. Friend who moved this Motion pleaded for the cycling track as if it were for the benefit of what he called "the wretched cyclist." It was obviously not within his knowledge that whenever cycling tracks have been suggested it has always been the association representing "the wretched cyclist" which has protested most bitterly against them, and for reasons which are not unsubstantial. But I am considering whether it might not be advisable to provide, for the experimental use of cyclists themselves, to let them see how they like it, a cycling track along one of the roads near London, not with the intention of forcing them to use it, but with the possibility that if they become familiar with its use their opinion of its utility may be changed.
§ Sir JOSEPH LAMB
Will the hon. Gentleman say whether he intends to confine those experiments to the vicinity of London, or to give some of the counties an opportunity of sharing in them?
§ Mr. STANLEY
I have not yet decided where they are to be, but my hon. Friend will realise that some of these experiments will cost money, and therefore the districts may not be so anxious to have the privilege of engaging in them. Coming to the structure of roads, the hon. Member who seconded the Motion, and who is not now in his place, said that I had a glorious opportunity of replanning the roads. Apparently that was to be regarded as a step towards security. He did not explain to the House exactly 1265 what he meant by this great replanning of the roads. I quite agree there is a great deal that we can do to the roads to make them more secure, but if he means that we are to make Kingston by-passes and Great West roads all over the country, I am not so certain that it is really going to lead to the security of the roads. That has not been the experience with the great open spaces of roads which have been built in the past. But there are certain directions in which road construction certainly plays its part in this question of road accidents, and I have drafted a Circular to the road authorities which will be in their hands in a few days. The first point I deal with is the question, which has been raised by several hon. Members, of the camber of the roads and their super-elevation at bends. I agree that in the past we have not done enough in these matters, and in this Circular I propose that future grants to local authorities for the re-surfacing of roads will be contingent on this alteration of the camber and their super-elevation wherever that is practicable.
Then there is the question of the surface of the roads. In 1929 my Department sent out a Circular dealing specially with slippery surfaces and non-skid materials, and I think hon. Members will agree that since that time there has been a very considerable improvement in the surface of the roads. It is a matter, of course, that takes time, for it is only as the road falls due for re-surfacing that it is possible to make use of the newer materials. But I do again in this Circular call the attention of the highway authorities, and especially of highway authorities in urban areas, to the desirability of using this rougher surfacing for the roads. We are continually experimenting, but we cannot yet claim that we have attained the perfect non-skid surface; nevertheless, we have certainly made a considerable progress, and I am urging the local authorities to take every opportunity of making use of our investigations and of the greater knowledge that we have gained.
There are two other points connected with road surface which are of importance. The first is that wherever possible local authorities should use a light-coloured surface. That would undoubtedly make for safety. The second is the lack 1266 of uniformity of surface on roads which pass through the areas of different local authorities, and in this Circular I am impressing upon authorities who administer adjoining areas through which the same road passes the necessity of co-operation in order to secure uniformity of surface throughout its length.
Then there is the question of footpaths. Hon. Members will be interested to hear that I have drawn the special attention of local authorities to the need for care in choosing the material of which the footpath is constructed. It is quite true, as was pointed out, that more pedestrians are killed walking along a road where there is actually a footpath available than where there is no footpath at all. Out of our own experience we all know that the number of accidents where pedestrians do not use the path provided for them is to a large extent due to the surface. In this Circular I ask local authorities to pay particular attention to that fact and see that the surface of the footpath is not inferior to the surface of the highway.
I am afraid that little time is left, so I shall have to miss some of the other points in this circular, which, however, will be available for hon. Members in a few days. There is also the question of condition of vehicles. It is true that the investigations into fatal accidents show that only a small proportion of them are due to the condition of vehicles, but nevertheless I think that some improvements could be made, and I am glad to see that the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders have shown the greatest willingness to help in this matter; in fact, they anticipated my desire and set up a committee of their own to examine this question, and I have referred to them several suggestions which I had to make with regard to the construction of cars.
There remains just one point, and that is the question of propaganda. I would say to the hon. Member for Bodmin that I do not suggest that it is not necessary to take steps both by legislation and by regulation, but to dismiss, as he did, propaganda as unimportant and useless is a profound mistake. Whatever Acts of Parliament we pass, whatever regulations we make, however we improve the roads, however much money we spend, it will still be the human 1267 element which in the long run either causes the accidents or avoids them, and the only way I know of reaching the human element is by means of propaganda and the use of all those modern means by which we can influence public opinion. As I have already told the House, I have made from the Road Fund, as I am entitled to do under the Act of 1930, a grant of £5,000 to the Safety First Association for a special campaign which they are going to carry on during this summer. The objects to which I am particularly asking them to devote this money are exactly that type of local conference and propaganda which one hon. Member suggested. I have been in touch with the film industry, who have promised to give me every assistance in their power. I have also received promises from some of the most prominent racing motorists that they will assist me in the production of these films. Both the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club are co-operating with me in suggesting the lessons which we ought to keep before the public.
§ Mr. STANLEY
Probably the motoring organisations will be able to give more specialised information as to how to drive or not to drive a motorcar. Normally, the spokesman of the pedestrians would not give very sound technical advice upon that matter.
§ Mr. STANLEY
With regard to the Press, I should like to acknowledge the great assistance I have already received from them, from the time when this fatal accident survey was first published. They threw open their columns to discussion, and invited correspondence and suggestions from their readers. From a mass of suggestions of that kind, many, of course, might be valueless, but a good deal of value and help can be gained in preparing proposals. Nearer the time—from my point of view the time for propaganda ought to be the start of the motoring season—I intend to approach the Press again, and to ask them to assist me during the period. Finally, the British Broadcasting Corporation have promised me their most willing co-operation 1268 in trying to reach the public mind through the wireless.
There is only one other point I want to stress in the Debate. I am afraid that it has been quite impossible for me to reply to the many suggestions, some important and some minor but all useful, which have been made by hon. Members. I can assure them that those suggestions will receive my fullest attention, and, while my proposals are in a sufficiently fluid state, I will endeavour to take advantage of their advice.
The only caution I must utter is in regard to what was said by the hon. Member for Lichfield. I do not think it would be fair that his remarks should go uncontradicted. He took this Preliminary Report on Fatal Road Accidents and spoke of it as being a dishonest production. He said that it was misleading.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
I quoted the Pedestrians' Association as saying that it was seriously misleading.
§ Mr. STANLEY
He said that it was seriously misleading, and in support of that he quoted page 10, in regard to "excessive speed," etc. What he did not go on to say was that the next paragraph says:Reference has already been made in connection with Tables XIII (A) and (B) to the doubts attaching to estimates of speed.On a previous page I set out quite clearly, because I wanted there to be no doubt about this matter:It is notoriously difficult for the police to obtain reliable evidence as to the speed at which a vehicle involved in an accident was travelling immediately beforehand.And:Such a result is alone sufficient to indicate the greatest need for caution in interpreting these figures.I only wanted to make that point clear because I do not want the House to have what I think is a definite misleading set of figures without attaching a note of warning to them.
§ Mr. STANLEY
They could only have misled that part of the country which quoted these figures and has criticised the Report without having read it. I feel that, as a result of this Debate, the House is determined to grapple with this 1269 problem, and that hon. Members are desirous of solving it. They realise that there is not a single and dramatic way of doing it, and they are prepared to support any way whether by legislation, regulation or appeal to the public, to do something to remove this hideous and growing blight upon our national life.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House views with grave concern the serious increase in the number of road accidents during the past year, and is of opinion that most active steps should be taken which would conduce to greater safety for all users of the road.
§ The Orders of the Day were read, and postponed.