HC Deb 04 March 1936 vol 309 cc1415-69

4.15 p.m.


I beg to move, That this House, while welcoming the substantial reduction in road accidents which has resulted from recent action, urges upon His Majesty's Government the importance of pressing forward all possible Measures to achieve a still further reduction, and asks that a uniform policy of constructing, surfacing, maintaining, signalling, and lighting the principal roads should be progressively pursued. I feel that I should ask the indulgence of the House for once again having to inflict myself upon it on a Wednesday. I can only assure hon. Members that I did not try to win the Ballot again and that I was greatly surprised at what some newspaper reporters described as my luck. The prevention of road accidents is a problem which must give all of us much thought, much anxiety and very deep concern. The slaughter on the roads is nothing short of a war between pedestrians and motorists. Thousands of valuable lives are being thrown away every year, and these lives are being sacrificed to the gods of speed, to the gods of carelessness and of foolishness. I have here a letter from a doctor who asks me to obtain tickets so that he can hear the Debate in the House to-day. He says: I am working as a medical officer of health and am interested in anything that kills 6,000 a year, and I should very much like to hear the Debate on that day. I am a pedestrian as well as a motorist, and being thus experienced in the rights and wrongs of both sides of the case I feel that I am as qualified as any one else to speak upon this particular subject. There is an old proverb which runs, "Keep the common road and thou art safe." I am afraid that in these days of modern transport that old proverb no longer reads truly. I know that a great many accidents occur, and consequently I agree entirely with the action that the Minister of Transport has thought fit to take. I agree with the imposition of the speed limit in built-up areas, and I agree with the orange groves which he has planted in our streets for the protection of pedestrians. At the same time I do believe that the Minister has not gone anything like far enough.

I do not think that speed, in itself, is the cause of all accidents. It is just as easy to kill somebody at a speed of 20 or 30 miles an hour as at a speed of 60 miles an hour. To my mind, the main reason for accidents to-day is the state of the roads. I am sure hon. Members have noticed that in wet weather the accident figures go up by leaps and bounds, and those who are motorists know the reason why. Unless one has had experience of a skidding car one cannot realise the feeling of complete helplessness which a skid produces. Hundreds of thousands of pounds are being wasted by local authorities on the construction of roads the surfaces of which are quite unsuitable to present-day traffic. Roads can be built with non-skid surfaces. I have in mind a road recently constructed between Pevensey and Bexhill. Any hon. Member who has driven on that road will agree that it is possible to produce a non-skid surface. I understand that the Minister has no power over local authorities in regard to the building, construction or maintenance of roads. He is able to make suggestions and recommendations, but the last word, I am informed, rests with the local authorities.

It is vitally important that some central outhority should have control, with power to enforce uniformity of construction. This end could be attained, either by setting up a central highways board or by giving more power to the Minister himself. As I have said, hundreds of lives are being thrown away each week on the roads, and action ought to be taken immediately. I believe the Government would receive the gratitude, not only of pedestrians but of motorists, if they took instant action in this matter. It is interesting to note that on the road between London and Birmingham, in the short distance of 110 miles, there are 23 different types of road surface. I regard that as a significant fact. A central highways board such as I have suggested would be able to bring pressure to bear on local authorities so as to secure uniformity of road surfaces throughout the country. I am aware that the setting up of such a board would mean a complete change in the transport policy of the Government, and I know that the Government are very sceptical, and rightly so, about major changes in the administration of a Government De- partment. But if this change can be proved to be for the better, the Government ought to give it careful consideration.

I know that there are lesser causes of accidents on the road, apart from that with which I have just been dealing. I believe that the elimination of blind corners and hump-backed bridges and the introduction of a uniform system of banking, would tend to reduce the number of accidents. Another great cause of accidents is to be found in the presence of trams on the road. To my mind trains and tramlines are, in these days of modern transport, prehistoric. They are a danger not only to the motorists but to the users of the trams themselves. It is said that it would he impossible to deal with the numbers of people requiring transport if we had not trams, but I believe that to be a fallacy. A central highways board such as I suggest would have power to order the abolition of these travelling menaces—as I regard them—and in such a serious matter as this, I believe that local authorities ought to be relieved both of their responsibility and their power. That power ought to be invested either in a central body or in the Minister himself.

Leaving the question of the roads themselves and their construction, I wish to make a few remarks about policing, lighting and signalling on the roads. Unfortunately, too many of the traffic lights are placed so high as to be above the motorist's line of vision. Indeed they seem to have been designed more for the days of the old coach than for the days of the modern low car. Another serious point which I would impress on hon. Members is the fact that when the green light gives the motorists the right of way, a pedestrian is permitted to cross, if there is a pedestrian crossing, in front of the motorist, thus endangering not only his own life—about which probably none of us would be particularly concerned—but also the lives of many others. If the motorist is penalised for crossing against the signals, the pedestrian also ought to be penalised for acting in a foolhardy manner. I hope that the system of automatic signalling will be extended and that greater penalties will be imposed upon motorists and pedestrians alike who ignore the regulations.

In addition, I would suggest an extension of the system of traffic wardens. In some of the south-western counties they have traffic wardens and I believe that that method of traffic control is far more effective than control by police constables. The police constable may be adequately and satisfactorily trained as a police constable, but very often he does not know much about driving, has probably never driven a car in his life and is little acquainted with the actual problems of road safety. I am bound to say that the constables whom I have come across have appeared to be more anxious about finding some small technical offence with the possibility of conviction and fine and perhaps future promotion than about anything else. I do not think that so much attention should be paid to small technical offences which do not involve any danger to life or limb and the people who are responsible for the direction of traffic ought to know something about the driving of a car and about the conditions which the driver of a car has to face to-day.

I consider that the lighting of many main roads is inadequate. I notice that the new lights which are being put up are unshaded and produce a glare with which, in wet weather, it is very difficult for the motorist to compete. Apart from that fact, I submit that a shaded light gives better illumination over the road than an unshaded light. I do not, however, dwell upon that point because I understand that an hon. Member has a scheme which he hopes to be able to place before the Minister during this Debate. I come now to the drivers of the vehicles themselves. I think the driving test instituted by the Minister has proved to be a revelation. It is a simple test, yet the figures show that many people have proved incapable of passing it. I offer my thanks and I am sure other hon. Members will join me in doing so, to the Minister for having protected us from the prowling menaces which might have been let loose upon our roads but for the test. I hope that the principle of picked mobile police will be extended and also that those men will not be permitted to wear plain clothes. I look upon that method of detection as underhand and un-British in character. A policeman is a policeman, and should be looked upon as a policeman.

I am afraid that the use of the red letter "L" on vehicles in which learners are receiving instruction does not provide the necessary protection for other people on the roads. I do not know whether it would be possible or not, but, if it were possible, I should like to see introduced a system of dual controls in cars used for this purpose so that, should the learner lose his head, the instructor would be able to take control and prevent accidents. I have a letter here which I received from a very irate colonel who tells me that when he was out driving the other day a woman learner lost her head, pressed the accelerator instead of the brake and, to use his own words, "harpooned him." I have heard of other cases of learners treading upon the accelerator instead of the brake. It is an easy thing to do, and I think we ought to take every possible step to guard against those dangerous practices. It may be said that that method of instruction would be unduly expensive, but I submit that when lives are at stake, when people are being slaughtered daily on the roads, the question of expense should be regarded a little more leniently than it would be in cases where lives were not at stake. I hope that this year the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not see fit to raid the Road Fund, and that it will be possible to introduce such new regulations as may help in reducing the number of fatal accidents.

I know that the remarks which I am now about to make would not meet with the approval of the Liberal Opposition if the Liberal Opposition were present. I come to the question of the drunken motorist. I am not a fanatic, and I am not a teetotaller but I realise the tremendous danger which the drunken motorist may be to the community. I submit that the drunken motorist must be suppressed, and that the severest penalties ought to be inflicted on him. To my mind he ought to be treated as a criminal lunatic. It has been suggested by medical authorities that even a moderate amount of alcohol may influence a driver to do some rash thing. I am afraid I cannot go quite as far as that. I bow to the authorities, but I would submit that a moderate amount of alcohol has no more effect than some severe shock or excitement, and that if a man is moderate in his ways, it will not affect him when he drives a motor-car. But I affirm that the drunken motorist, as opposed to the motorist who drinks, should be treated in the most severe manner possible.

Sometimes I hear that tests are imposed upon motorists who are thought to be under the influence of drink, and I am alarmed for my own safety, because I hear that the suspected persons are subjected to tests of tongue-twisters. I find the greatest difficulty when I am sober in saying: Round the rugged, rock the ragged rascal ran, and I am sure that many people who are accused of being drunk would, when asked to say something like that, find very great difficulty in saying it. I therefore ask for a medical officer to be called in immediately in every case in which a person is accused of being under the influence of alcohol. I shudder to think of the effect it would have on the constituents of any Member in this House if he were asked to say some tongue-twister and could not get away with it. I hope the medical profession may be called in to give advice in such cases.

When I talk of vehicles, the modern motor car is, generally speaking, a fairly safe machine, but I cannot say that about all of the second-hand cars which are able to be bought for quite a small sum at the present time. Many of them have inadequate braking systems, inadequate tyres—I know that that is dealt with under certain legislation—and inadequate steering, which cannot be seen, and I feel that a system of periodical inspection might be devised, with the help of the existing road organisations, and that a periodical inspection of vehicles of all types would help on reducing these dangerous weapons upon the roads, which legally can be referred to as motor cars.

As a one-time cyclist, I know the dangers which these people undergo when they have no rear light. Most reflectors, I submit, are inadequate, and they are even more inadequate during foggy or rainy weather. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will consider bringing in an amendment to the existing law and make it compulsory for all vehicles, including cycles, to have satisfactory rear lighting. I suppose that the cyclists will probably grumble and complain of being put to extra expense, but if a cyclist is foolhardy enough to risk his own life and the lives of other people, the Govern- ment should force him to recognise his great responsibilities. The State looks after mental defectives and mental cases, and in the case of cyclists without rear lights, I feel that the State should also look after would-be suicides.

A fortnight ago, speaking in this House, I advised a greater degree of technical training among juveniles, and I pressed for a greater use of films in the schools. I feel that the use of films for the development of road sense might be encouraged in all the schools and that it would help to diminish very much indeed the number of road accidents. I believe that not only motorists should be trained, but pedestrians also. I am sure that we have all heard people say, when they have had an accident which may not perhaps have endangered or harmed life or limb, "It is all right; I am insured." I feel that this callous and dishonest attitude should be discouraged and that the only way of discouraging it is to cause the motorist to pay the first £10 or £20 of the damages in any major accident in which he may be involved, because I feel that if the driver knows that his own pocket is to be affected, he will be a little bit more careful than he is at the present time. Industrial companies which employ large numbers of transport workers reduce accidents to a minimum, and I have seen figures which prove that the accident graph in the last 10 years has been going down and down. I feel that this is due to the discipline which these companies exercise over their drivers. As Burke said in this House many years ago: Early and provident fear is the mother of safety. In conclusion, I hope that His Majesty's Government will, though it involves a complete reversal of their present transport policy, consider the suggestion I have made of setting up a Central Highways Board, with, of course, the present Minister of Transport as President, or else give to the present Minister more power, so that he can deal effectively with the very obstinate local authorities with which he has to compete to-day. If these steps are taken, a greater degree of safety will be experienced by all road users, pedestrians and motorists alike.

4.38 p.m.


I beg to second the Motion.

I have followed the speech of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) with the greatest interest, and in particular I was interested to hear his remarks about his doctor friend who was anxious to obtain a ticket to attend this Debate on a subject which accounted for the deaths of 6,000 persons a year. My hon. Friend did not explain to us whether his doctor friend feared motorists were entering into unfair competition with the medical profession. In seconding this Motion, which asks for continued and, if possible, increased efforts on the part of the Government and the Ministry of Transport for the prevention of road accidents, it would not be right or proper for any fair-minded Member of this House not, first of all, to pay a tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. No occupant of that great office has shown greater energy or a sincerer determination to reduce the casualties on the roads than has my right hon. Friend, and I am sure that we can rely upon him to continue his efforts unabated.

The few remarks which I wish to make I will divide under three heads: Firstly, education in road behaviour; secondly, traffic regulations; and thirdly, road construction. With regard to education in road behaviour, I believe that that is the kernel of the whole problem. The Ministry of Transport figures—I think the latest available are for the year 1933 —show that 89 per cent. of all fatal accidents on the roads were due to wrong road behaviour. That fact in itself justifies the most earnest consideration of that particular aspect of the question. A great deal has been done already to educate children in the matter of road behaviour, and I think it is the success of the efforts which have been made in that direction in the schools, in London particularly, which encourages one to hope that further efforts of that kind will lead to further beneficial results.

This instruction was started in the London elementary schools in 1918 and has continued ever since. The number of fatal accidents in Great Britain more than trebled between 1918 and 1934, while in the same period the number of fatal accidents to children of school age in London remained pretty well constant. That is a very significant fact. I have a graph here which shows very conclusively what the effect of that teaching in the schools has been. The casualties among the children of school age in London has, as I said, remained pretty constant from 1918 to 1934, but in the provinces—outside London, in other words—where this education was only really begun in 1929, the figures show a steep and rapid increase right up to the year 1930, since which there has been a steady decline. I ask hon. Members to consider those figures and to give to them the weight which I think they deserve, as supporting the benefit and advantage of concentrating as much as we can on education in proper road behaviour. The National Safety First Association have been doing valuable work in the schools for a number of years past. They were given a grant by the Government a year or two ago to carry out propaganda work, and I submit to the Minister that the experience which we have had of their work in the past would justify another grant in the near future to carry it on as they did before.

I have dealt with the question of the children. I think the time has come—and I know the Minister is already considering the matter—to develop the education of adults. It is not nearly so easy, I know, because children are easily assembled in their class rooms and can be educated in road behaviour in that way, but there are possibilities of educating adults, and the Minister has already adopted one of these courses, which was to print and circulate the Highway Code. It has undoubtedly done a great deal of good, but it is not enough to circulate the Highway Code once and then to leave it. It is essential that people should be constantly reminded of its contents in one form or another. It could be done, perhaps, in the form of large posters. I have heard that a big boot organisation was prepared to include an extract from the Highway Code dealing with pedestrians' obligations in every pair of boots that they sold. I have also heard a suggestion that every bicycle sold should have in the saddle bag a leaflet containing the duties of cyclists on the highways.

I do not wish to advocate any of these specific suggestions, but I ask the Minister and the House to consider whether there are not a hundred different methods which could be employed to carry on the work which was begun by the printing, at a cost of £30,000, of the Highway Code. We want to see that that effort is not wasted, but is carried on. In cinemas there lie infinite opportunities. I understand that the Safety First organisation has made available ten-minute films suitable for adults and that they have found no difficulty in obtaining from cinemas permission to show them free of charge during the regular programmes. I am sure that films on this important subject could be made sufficiently palatable and interesting for the general public agreeably and readily to accept them as a small dose of civic education with the rest of their entertainment. I support my hon. Friend's suggestion that it is important the Ministry should look into the possibility of having a system of dual control in the cars of motoring schools. The red letter "L" on a car is very little protection to other motorists. It is no more protection than would be the letter "W" put on a car driven by a woman to protect us from the lapses of the fair sex.

With regard to traffic regulations, I would like to say a word about the uncontrolled pedestrian crossing. The controlled pedestrian crossing, with certain exceptions, works admirably, and I congratulate the Minister on his perseverance and his assurance in his own judgment when he introduced those regulations. They were subject to the gravest criticism and ridicule which have proved to be entirely unfounded. I suggest to the Minister that some of the dangers of the uncontrolled crossing might be obviated. It is not easy for the pedestrian properly to assert his rights on the uncontrolled crossing. He has to step out on to the highway before he has a right to stop the oncoming traffic. One does not like to put one's foot under an oncoming lorry in the hope that it will stop.

With the improvement in brakes on motor vehicles it becomes increasingly difficult for the pedestrian to use his own judgment as to whether an oncoming vehicle is likely to be able to stop. Motors can now advance at a great speed and stop quite suddenly, but the pedestrian does not know until the vehicle is on the dotted line whether it is going to stop. There is a great deal of confusion and uncertainty. I would ask the Minister to consider whether it would he possible to have a dotted line 15 yards back from the uncontrolled crossing, and to make it a rule that the pedestrian should not be entitled to stop traffic which had already crossed that line, and on the other hand that when he steps on to the crossing, the traffic should be obliged to stop 15 yards back at this line. Such a regulation would give the pedestrian a feeling of increased security and re-assurance.

Most of us who are motorists have experienced the difficulty and awkwardness which arise from the fact that when driving in a restricted area goods vehicles are obliged to slacken to 20 miles an hour, not because they are unsuited to travel at 30 miles, but merely because of the particular form of body which they have. I would ask the Minister to consider whether he cannot, as far as possible, restrict the category of goods vehicles which have to slacken to 20 miles an hour because, if one vehicle has to reduce its speed to 20 miles, particularly in a restricted area where the streets are usually narrow, it necessarily involves the slowing down of other traffic to 20 miles, resulting in constant overtaking, which is what eventually leads to accidents. Could not my right hon. Friend include vehicles which have similar chassis and similar pneumatic tyres and brakes to those of the ordinary private car? I have watched with interest the development of the rails which are being put up at traffic junctions, and I believe that they are serving a very good purpose. I hope that the Minister will use his efforts to secure that they are of more general application. I thought when they were originally put up that the public would resent them and consider that they were an unnecessary obstruction to their freedom. I have, however, watched at Hammersmith Broadway where these rails have been erected, and I find that the public welcome them. People stand for hours on end leaning up against these rails. I was thinking the other day, when I was attending a Debate in another place, that if, instead of the low, nobbly and rather sharp bar which is provided for hon. Members to lean against, we were provided with the same facilities as those provided in Hammersmith Broadway, we would be more tempted to attend Debates in that august assembly.

Another matter that comes under the heading of traffic regulations is the pursuit by policemen of offenders. I do not suggest that the police are not mindful of their obligations or that they are not as careful as they can be in carrying out their duties. I think, however, that the country was very shocked when they learned of that unhappy accident which occurred a short time ago and which has been the subject of so many questions in this House. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary told me in reply to a question that the matter was under inquiry at the moment, and I do not expect a reply from my right hon. Friend this afternoon, but I hope that, in conjunction with the Home Secretary, he will do what he can to impress upon the police that, while it is their duty to pursue and arrest offenders, whether they are ordinary criminals or offenders against the road regulations, it is their first and foremost obligation to remember that the arrest and pursuit of criminals is of far less importance than securing that the life and limb of the public shall not be endangered.

Turning to my third head, which is road construction, I was glad to see the extension and development of the dual carriageway system. I was a little alarmed when I saw the obstruction in the centre of the Great West Road first erected, because I found at once that the whole speed of traffic was seriously reduced. I understand, however, from an answer that my right hon. Friend gave a little time ago, that it is intended to widen the Great West Road. I only hope that that is a principle of general application, and that where these central barriers are erected in order to create dual carriageways the Ministry will recognise the necessity for widening the road. The system of cycle tracks is gradually but very slowly developing. I hope that before long we shall have these tracks on all the main arterial roads. It would be well for my right hon. Friend to give some reassurance to cyclists for whom, after all, these tracks are being built. They seem to be persistently, through their organisations, opposed to this innovation, and I understand that their fears are based on the fact that they have some apprehension that a tax may be placed on cyclists. The proper working of these tracks will depend upon the co-operation and the friendly acceptance of the system by the cyclists, and it would be well if my right hon. Friend could give them an assurance that it is not the Government's intention, because of the building of these tracks, to impose a tax upon bicycles.

Another question that concerns us in road construction is the banking of corners. So many accidents occur at corners. They do not occur mainly because cars do not see each other coming round a corner, but because owing to the construction of the roads, particularly of minor roads, with their steep camber, it is virtually impossible for a motorcar without reducing its speed unreasonably to keep to the correct side of the road in going round a corner. It will be argued by some hon. Members that to bank roads on the system of a race track would be to encourage "speed merchants" and lead to an increase in accidents, but I do not hold that view, because I feel that the object of corners is to alter the direction of the roads. It is not to slow down traffic and I do not think it would be a disaster if roads were so well constructed that you could maintain an equal speed round a corner, as you do on a straight road. Therefore, I earnestly urge my right hon. Friend to consider the introduction of the system of banking in the construction of new roads.

The last item I wish to deal with is signposts. Sometimes accidents occur at cross roads owing to the fact that while a driver is trying to make out the signpost another car comes along one of the cross roads and there is a collision. There has been notable progress with signposts in the last few years, but the only signpost which is of any value, in view of the speed of motor traffic, is the signpost erected somewhere before the cross roads are reached, so that the motorist knows before he arrives at the cross roads which turning he has to take and can give his undivided attention to watching for other vehicles. That system has been introduced to some extent already, but I suggest that the type of signpost erected is not very suitable. The whole object of a signpost is to enable a motorist approaching cross roads to see quickly which is the road he has to take. The majority of these new signposts bear a large figure which is the number of the road on the map—A32, for example—and underneath, in quite small letters, the name of the place to which the road leads. The majority of motorists in this country do not travel about with maps looking out for the numbers of roads. They know where they want to go to, and they expect to be able to see a name easily on the signpost. If in future the name of the place could be written large and the number of the road smaller it would meet the convenience of the public.

In conclusion, I would say that the large amount of revenue which accrues from motor users is ample proof of the important part which road communications play in our national and economic life. We must see to it—it is our task and the Minister's task to see to it—that the development of road communications is accompanied by a decrease and not by an increase in loss of life and limb to the community; but I am sure that so long as the present imaginative and energetic holder of that high and responsible position continues to occupy it there will be no stinting of public expenditure or of Government effort in tackling vigorously this vital problem of road safety.

5.5 p.m.


I am glad to be able to join with the two previous speakers in congratulating the Minister on having secured some reduction in the accident and death rate on the high roads; but having said that I want to go on to say that I think he has committed many sins of omission and commission, whereby the death rate has not been reduced as much as it might have been Everyone agrees—and not least the Minister, I am sure—that the death rate as present is far too high. Parliament has imposed a speed limit of 30 miles an hour in built-up areas, and at this time of day I suppose all will agree that speed is a decisive factor in many accident cases but Parliament has also given the right hon. Gentleman considerable powers in connection with the modification of the speed limit under certain conditions. He can abolish the speed limit in certain places and under certain conditions, or he can, on the application of local authorities, make a lower speed limit for particular areas, and we have to complain, and complain very bitterly, of his action in both these respects.

The Minister has de-restricted roads in defiance of local opinion, in defiance of the opinion, expressed on more than one occasion, of great local authorities who are presumed to know their own business. For example, he has overridden the town councils of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham, Worthing, Swindon, Birkenhead, Wallasey, Gillingham, Stoke-on-Trent, and many other places. He has decided that the de-restriction shall take place even though those authorities, through their highways committees, have made up their minds that such de-restriction would be dangerous. In spite of the fact that the recommendations of the highways committees have been confirmed by the town councils he has abolished the speed limit in certain streets, with the result that in a number of towns unnecessary accidents are taking place on the roads so de-restricted. Many authorities have applied to him to have a reduced speed limit of 15 to 20 miles an hour in selected areas or in selected streets—narrow streets in little villages, narrow high streets in more populous places—where there has been a very high death or accident rate, and in nearly all those cases he has turned down the application and unnecessary fatalities have occurred.

There is a specially shocking case at Wimbledon. Wimbledon Council applied to the Minister for a speed limit of 20 miles an hour in the main street. The Minister held some sort of an inquiry and his decision has not yet been announced, but the Wimbledon Council understand—and I also understand, from certain sources—that that application is also to be turned down, and that the Wimbledon Council will be treated precisely the same as most other councils have been treated when they have made like applications. Both the local authority and the population in that area are extremely indignant. The local papers are filled with protests and with letters to the editor in connection with the matter; and last Monday week, so I see from the local Press, is now to be known as "Black Monday" in Wimbledon, because three accidents occurred in one hour, in all of which motor vehicles were involved, and six adults and three children were either killed or injured.

The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Mr. Hore-Belisha)

On this road?


On this road.


It has not been derestricted?


I am instancing this as an urgent reason why the lower speed limit should be granted by the Minister on the application of the council, and, as I have already said, we understand, and the council understand, that that application is not to be granted. On that comparatively small stretch of road during the last three months no fewer than 11 accidents have occurred, apart from the ones I have referred to, in all of which death resulted, and that is why the refusal of the Minister time and time again to accede to the demand of the local authority seems to me to be extremely reprehensible, and the Minister must be held responsible if this accident rate continues. What is the good of the Minister urging the public to be more careful unless he himself is prepared to do his share in reducing the dangers? When competent local authorities, advised by expert advisers, have come to the conclusion that a reduction in the speed limit is urgently required in a particular area, and the Minister, after a casual inquiry through an officer, turns down such an application, we can only hold the Minister responsible.

I did not rise to deal with that aspect of the question, but with an entirely different matter in which I happen to be particularly interested. The hon. Member who moved the Motion referred to the drunken motorist and said drunken motorists must be suppressed. That will be the universal opinion. Everybody will agree that a man who is obviously intoxicated and is in charge of a motor car is a man who must be dealt with severely by the community. But I want to speak of what I regard as a very much greater danger, and that is the "sub-intoxicated" motorist. The British Medical Association, requested by the Minister to report on the subject, improvised that term to indicate a person who, though not obviously under the influence of drink in a legal sense, is none the less physiologically under the influence of drink, and whose powers are correspondingly prejudiced—whose driving capacity is prejudiced by that physiological condition. The Minister has had expert advice given to him on this point at his own request, but has done nothing in the way of taking steps to bring the extreme danger of taking alcohol before driving or when driving before the motoring public. He has done practically nothing in the matter, and in that regard, again, I consider his action most reprehensible.


What would the hon. Member have the Minister do?


I was going to make suggestions. Merely negative criticism is valueless. One of his predecessors, the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. Herbert Morrison) received a deputation when he was in office. It was an extremely influential and authoritative deputation. I do not suppose it would be possible to get together a more representative and more powerful scientific deputation to any Minister of the Crown under any circumstances. That deputation comprised the late principal Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health, or the previous Local Government Board, a dozen professors of medicine, surgery and pathology in the different London hospitals and universities of this country, and men distinguished in physiology, in experimental research and in pathological research, and it included the Director of Research under the Industrial Diseases Research Board, and so on. These authorities came to the Minister and represented to him, giving him specific evidence, that the consumption of even quite small quantities of alcohol, before or during driving, led to a considerable reduction in the efficiency and capacity of the driver and made him more of a danger to the general public than he otherwise would be.

A successor to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney was the present Minister of Education, and he also received an extremely influential deputation on the same lines. It was composed of men who were in absolutely the first rank in science and discovery. Its spokesman was the senior physician of St. Mary's Hospital, a man who was president of the Medico-legal Society and who had been a toxicological expert at the Home Office. He represented the case also. Nothing was done. Then the present Minister was pressed on the matter last year. He was asked in the House whether he would receive a deputation on similar lines. He stated that he was appointing a committee, and that he was asking the British Medical Association, as the most authoritative medical association in the country, themselves to investigate the subject and to report direct to him. The Association appointed a committee composed of extremely eminent people, whose judgment and opinion ought to command respect in any assembly. They were 15; they were not rabid teetotalers or fanatics, and only four of them were known to be total abstainers. They produced a report in which they confirmed the views expressed by the two previous deputations.

What happened? What did the Minister do? He did not do anything. He asked for their advice, but he has taken no action upon it whatever and, what is more, he has not only refused to give publicity to the conclusion of the committee but he—


What action would the hon. Gentleman suggests?


I am coining to that. The hon. Gentleman must allow me to develop my case. The right hon. Gentleman not only failed to give any publicity to the conclusions of that committee, but he slighted their conclusions and, in effect, poured ridicule on them. When he issued the Highway Code, he printed a clause which advised special caution to drivers against travelling when affected by alcoholic fatigue. That statement was perfectly right in itself, but directly afterwards he gave a Press interview in which he stated that he had added the word "fatigue" in order to soften the blow. What did he mean by that? Soften the blow to whom? To the trade, to the vested interests, to the selfish man who cares nothing for the public safety and only for the gratification of his own appetite? By talking in that way, all that the right hon. Gentleman did was to depreciate the results and the conclusions of that committee. A large number of us, and of the public outside, think that in the view of the overwhelming weight of evidence on this matter, the Minister ought to take further steps, and to take them immediately.

Before I develop my argument further, I must state what the conclusions of the committee were. The British Association Committee state that they had concentrated on the effects of the amount of alcohol insufficient to produce the state commonly recognised as drunkenness, because it believed that it was highly necessary in the public interest to draw attention to the effect of quite small amounts of alcohol on the driving capacity of persons in charge of motor vehicles.

Vice-Admiral TAYLOR

And the walking capacity of pedestrians?


Pedestrians as well. Most certainly on both classes of road users.

Vice-Admiral TAYLOR

That depends to some extent upon the individual.


Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member is a much greater authority on this subject than the expert scientific committee which studied it.


Perhaps he has had practical experience.


Yes, I should not be surprised.

Vice-Admiral TAYLOR

The hon. Member is quite wrong. I am not yet addicted to that.


A Government document has been issued, I forget whether by the right hon. Gentleman's Department or by the Home Office, analysing the cause of a number of fatalities and fatal accidents on the road, and endeavouring to attribute the precise reason for them. In that document it is, of course, pointed out in how very small a proportion of the total accidents drunken drivers were responsible or were concerned. That is true, limit the analysis of that White Paper in this respect is valueless, because it, takes no cognisance whatever of what the British Medical Association calls sub-intoxication, that is to say, the taking of relatively small quantities of alcohol before driving. Such people are certainly not in the legal sense "under the influence," but are none the less affected in their capacity to drive.


I have had some experience of these matters. I thought that the legal definition "driving while under the influence of drink"—not drunkenness—was sufficient to cover the case that the hon. Member is describe- ing, in which a person's driving faculties are impaired by the drink which he has taken, although he is not legally drunk. I thought that the present law covered that.


Hear, hear!


That interruption, and the support which it received from hon. Members opposite, proves conclusively that hon. Members are entirely unfamiliar with the report of the committee of the British Medical Association, which the right hon. Gentleman suggested last year had received sufficient publicity from every one of the members of the committee. The point emphasised by the committee is that a quite small quantity, an ordinary dietetic quantity, a reasonable quantity which is in itself insufficient to produce the obvious changes, none the less do affect all those delicate neuromuscular co-ordinations and capacity to drive, which are vital if a driver is to be safe.

Vice-Admiral TAYLOR

How does that apply to pedestrians as well?


I must be allowed to continue. After considering all the evidence, and giving references to the multitudinous investigations and researches that have taken place on the point, the report of the committee of the British Medical Association concludes: There are serious objections to the consumption of alcohol, even in small amounts, by anyone who has to drive a car. Hon. Members will find those words in paragraph 9 of the recommendations.

The committee gave numerous illustrations and, if the House will permit me for one minute, I will indicate one of the most important. If a person is driving a motor car on a highway, and he sees another car approaching from the opposite direction, or a pedestrian stepping off from the side-walk, he has to act on the instant, using either the accelerator or the brake, or manipulating his steering apparatus. However desperately anxious he may be to avert an accident, the driver cannot do anything instantaneously. A certain interval has to elapse between his brain telling him of the approaching obstacle and the movements of his muscles operating the various parts of the machine, and that definite interval is known as the reaction time. That reaction time is one-fifth of a second, in the average person, and during that interval the driver can do nothing, because that time is occupied in very complicated nervous processes such as the transition of impulses along the. nerves of the arm or the leg as the case may be.

That has been conclusively shown. There is no dispute. It is not a matter of opinion but of fact that if a man takes a single glass of beer, a nip of whisky or a glass of port, his reaction time may become two-fifths or as much as four-fifths of a second. I can give any hon. Member who challenges me on this point chapter and verse of confirmatory experiments on the subject that have been carried out all over the world.


On a point of Order.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)

The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. Taylor) is, I know, a new Member, so perhaps I should warn him that if he is wishing to interrupt the argument of the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) that is not a point of Order, but if he has a point of Order that he wishes to make as to the procedure of the House I will, of course, hear him.


I merely wished, with great deference, to rise to a point of Order. The hon. Member has claimed that other Members have interrupted him in the course of the Debate. At the beginning of this Parliament Mr. Speaker did bring to the notice of hon. Members the fact that he hoped that these debates would be debates, and not set speeches, and that he hoped that they would be taken in the form of debate.


Dr. Salter.


I will proceed with my argument. I was indicating that, although the reaction time of a normal person is one-fifth of a second, the consumption of a small quantity of alcohol will increase it to perhaps four-fifths of a second. In an extra fifth of a second, a car travelling at 50 miles an hour proceed for 14 feet, 6 inches. If the car is going at 30 miles an hour, it will proceed 9 feet. Every hon. Member knows that in motor accidents and motor fatalities the difference between life and death is measured by inches and not by 14 feet and 9 feet. That of itself should be sufficient reason for anybody who desires to be a safe driver not to touch alcohol before or during his driving.

The committee add a number of illustrations and sum them up by saying that, for example, judgment of distance is affected. The normal method and machinery for estimating distance depend upon the movement of the eyeball, small movements, either converging or diverging; diverging for a distant object and converging for a near object. Those small muscular movements are translated into mental judgments. If that mechanism is affected in any way, the person becomes an unsafe driver because he is unable to judge accurately. Recent experiments also show that quite small quantities of alcohol cause a reduction of the area of the field of vision, and a number of other effects—probably 10 or a dozen—are produced by even small quantities of alcohol which render a driver less efficient than he otherwise would be.

At least half-a-dozen nations have recognised the importance of these facts. They have been brought to the right hon. Gentleman's attention by the committee which he himself asked should be appointed, but he has done nothing in the matter. What are other countries doing? A number of other countries bring this matter prominently before every driver and every applicant for a licence or for the renewal of a licence. In Germany, long before the Nazi regime, every applicant for a driving licence was handed a card—I have one here—on which he was warned not to touch alcohol, even in small quantity, before he started to drive; and not only was he handed that card, but he had to sign a book in the police president's office declaring that he had received the card and had read and understood it. It may be said that that is Germany, but a number of other countries have done the same. thing, and have adopted almost the precise wording which the German scientists suggested to the police administration in Berlin when the system was first introduced. In the Canton of St. Gall, in Switzerland, and in three other cantons, the same procedure has been adopted. The Toronto Highways Board has utilised the German wording, and has made the warning much more stern. In Manitoba no person is allowed to drink in a vehicle on a public highway, or open in a motor car any vessel containing alcoholic liquor. In this case, for a first offence, the penalty is suspension of the licence for six months and imprisonment without the option of a fine; for a second offence, suspension for 12 months with imprisonment, and for a third offence suspension of the licence for life and forfeiture of the vehicle to the State. In Prince Edward Island a man in charge of a car is deemed to be under the influence of liquor if he has consumed alcoholic liquor within a period of five hours before driving—


May I ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for the guidance of the House, whether the line of argument which the hon. Gentleman is pursuing is really in accordance with the terms of the Motion? The Motion asks that a policy of constructing, surfacing, maintaining, signalling and lighting the principal roads should he progressively pursued. I did not understand that we were discussing this afternoon the influence of alcohol upon road accidents. Is not the hon. Member pursuing a course of argument which is out of conformity with the text of the Motion?


May I point out that the hon. Member has not read the whole of the Motion, which asks that all possible measures for the reduction of accidents should be taken? I submit that my hon. Friend's observations came within that expression.


I think the hon. Member for West Bermondsey is in order.


I had full regard to the terms of the Motion before framing my speech. In Norway there is a severe penalty if any driver of a motor vehicle, public or private, consumes any alcoholic beverage within six hours of driving, because it is recognised that the full effect does not pass off until after approximately that period; and the warning is worded almost identically in every one of the countries I have mentioned. The notice issued in Berlin runs as follows: (1) The arduous and responsible calling of the motor driver makes it necessary for him to abstain completely from all alcoholic beverages…. both before and during his work. (2) The smallest quantities of alcohol are injurious for the motor driver. It is a wide- spread error that small quantities have no deleterious effect. On the contrary, they cause at first an increase of self-confidence, followed by premature fatigue, and thus weaken his capacity for swift discrimination and reaction in the presence of danger. A large proportion of motor accidents are undoubtedly due to the consumption of quite small quantities of alcohol. That is the conclusion reached by the British Medical Association Committee, who termed the condition, not intoxication, but sub-intoxication. In the judgment of many experienced experts on this subject, at least 25 per cent. of the fatalities and accidents on the roads to-day are due to the fact that the drivers concerned have taken a small quantity of alcohol, and are, though not recognisably intoxicated, sub-intoxicated. This view is not merely one that is held by scientists. I notice that several London stipendiary magistrates have endorsed and called attention to it, including those at Bow Street and the South Western Police Court, while at least four coroners during the last few weeks have emphasised the point, and even the "Times," in a leading article the other day, said: As things stand at present there would appear to be no absolute safeguard for the motor driver but total abstinence. One motor journal, the "Light Car and Cycle Car," summed up an article by saying this: Every motorist should realise that even the smallest quantities of alcohol have deleterious effects upon his driving. In view of this overwhelming weight of evidence from every quarter, I submit that it is the plain duty of the Minister of Transport to make these facts known and to bring them as prominently as he can before the attention of all motorists. If, in view of these facts, which cannot be challenged, any motorist still persists in taking alcohol before he drives, he is a potential murderer. Indeed, I would go further and say that, if the Minister fails to give sufficient publicity to these important facts, then he must be held responsible, and he becomes a potential murderer also.

All along our great arterial roads to-day, and along the new by-pass roads, there are being erected every week great new road-houses and new licensed premises, for the deliberate purpose of attracting motorists there to drink while they are on the road, with the result of rendering themselves more dangerous than they otherwise would have been. I myself have seen, at a road-house on one of the main roads leading out of London, as many as 200 cars at a time parked outside, and there was a notice stating that there was special parking provision for cars. I have looked inside and seen rows of men, who were just about to go on to the road and drive, drinking whisky and other alcoholic beverages of all kinds. And then people are surprised that there are so many accidents on the roads. The only wonder to me is that there are not more accidents, having regard to the circumstances.

I want the Minister to issue special notices, leaflets and cards, as is at present being done in so many other countries of the world, to every motorist when he applies for a licence or for the renewal of his licence, so that he shall not be ignorant of the facts, as a great many are, including many people in this House at the present time. In the second place, T want the Minister to make more use of the British Broadcasting Corporation in advertising these facts to the whole general public, pedestrians as well as motorists, so that the pedestrian as well as the car driver may realise that, if he takes alcohol and then ventures on a road where there is heavy traffic, he too is less efficient and less capable of taking care of himself than he would have been had he abstained.

I want the Minister to do something more. There are frequent danger notices and warning notices to motorists put up on the main roads of this country, and on side roads, but apparently, under the law, it is possible to erect almost unlimited numbers of places where drinking facilities are provided. I think that the Minister ought also to put up notices, just before such premises are reached, warning motorists that these places are dangerous to them and to the community. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes; I have not the slightest doubt about that. Speaking, not as a debater, but, I hope, from a detached point of view, as one who tries to take a scientific view of life and of conduct, I say that I have no doubt whatsoever that the enforcement or acceptance of this view as to the danger of the consumption of small quantities of alcohol before driving would do more to reduce the total number of fatal accidents on the roads than all the measures which the Minister has adopted up to the present time.


Does the hon. Member suggest to the House that at these parking places and refreshment inns on the roadside drivers of cars have been seen taking alcohol?


I have seen it myself, and so have you.


The only observation I would make on that is that the hon. Member has made a most slanderous attack on a very important body of citizens.

5.44 p.m.


It is so very seldom that we get an opportunity in this House of talking about the Ministry of Transport and its activities, that I think we owe a debt of gratitude to the Mover of the Motion for giving us such an opportunity on the present occasion. I think it is rather regrettable that it should have been used by one hon. Member as a means of getting in a very fine anti-drink speech, because, although there is a great deal in what he has said, every word of it is applicable to the man in the street as well as to the man in the motor ear.


Hear, hear!


Therefore, if we are to have notices outside all these road-houses, there ought to be a notice outside every public house pointing out that that public house is near a road, and that consequently there is danger if anyone takes a drink there. There is, however, another point with regard to fatigue and the speed of reaction. I do not know whether the hon. Member is aware of it, but, without any drink at all, the reaction time is greatly increased by very long periods of driving and consequent fatigue. May I draw attention to the fact that a wireless set inside a motor car is a most amazing means of keeping a person awake when driving long distances? In the case of people who are overworked in lorries, and are kept on the road much longer than is really good for them, a splendid way of keeping them alert would be to provide thorn with a wireless set.

My hon. Friend who seconded drew attention to one point that I think the Mover forgot and that was the importance of "super elevation" or "banking" In Scotland it is done but here some of our local authorities have the most astonishing view on the question. I do not know if the Minister has lately passed over the Guildford by-pass but in many places it is banked the wrong way, making it exceedingly dangerous for all traffic on that road on a frosty day. My hon. Friend proposed that we should have more films on education. The last film that came out seemed to me to create a good deal of class prejudice. If you remember, a rich man after a jovial evening runs over a signalman going home. I had much rather it had been a tired lorry driver running over a dowager Duchess. I was horrified to hear the hon. Member who has just spoken attack the Minister of Transport for being a pro-motorist. I had never noticed that he was a pro-motorist. Of all the anti-motorist Ministers that there have ever been he is the biggest.


I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman misunderstood me. I did not use any such language.


By inference the hon. Member did. He was accusing the right hon. Gentleman of not allowing a 20 mile speed limit in various localities. I have no doubt that the hon. Member will get a good mark with his local press, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not accede to the requests which come from all over the country that we shall have the old 10 and 20 miles speed limits. It is true that in the towns that we live in we want a 10 mile an hour speed limit, but everywhere else no limit at all. I am one of those still unrepentant opponents of the 30 miles speed limit. I still believe that, if you drive a motor car, you ought to be responsible for life and limb whether you are driving at five miles an hour or at any speed The 30 mile limit has given many people the idea that they can go 30 miles an hour. I profess to being a fast motor driver and I drive big cars. When I come to a town, I drive at a speed that I think is reasonable and safe. If on a rainy day in a big car I am going at what I think is a correct speed, I get hooted at by Baby Austins because I am not going fast enough. It is an intolerable position. It only shows that, when you introduce these artificial limits, they are always wrong. A 30 miles limit is often much too fast and it is very often ridiculously slow at three o'clock in the morning.

I ask my right hon. Friend to be very careful what he does in these regulations. He had such a golden opportunity with his crossings in London. If he had introduced them slowly, if he had taught London that his beacons and crossings were holy ground and that if you were on them you were safe, the position in London would have been very different from what it is. But they came in overnight. We found them everywhere and no one took the smallest notice of them. You see people crossing, not over the crossings but ten yards further down. If you wait, you never know whether to cross or not. The motorist, I believe, tries to play the game but the pedestrian does not. My right hon. Friend has had the greatest publicity in his office that it is possible for the Press to give him. He has used it much too much from the point of view of the anti-motorist. In Berlin they have got their accidents down because they held a perfectly even balance between blame of the motorist and blame of the pedestrian. We shall not get accidents reduced seriously until the Minister introduces real legislation to prosecute the dangerous pedestrian. There are many more dangerous pedestrians in London than motorists. You cannot say at what speed you are driving dangerously. If you are driving at seven miles an hour near the kerb and someone jumps out and kills himself, is that your fault?

There are many points I should like to deal with, and I should have liked to have given the Minister a good wigging for being so anti-motorist, but we have so little time and there are so many who wish to speak.

I should like, however, to ask the Minister as to the scope and the dimensions of his five years programme. The whole country is anxious to hear that. I should also like to ask if he has devised any formula for the lay-out of new roads. Only along such lines of development, not in stopping the circulation of traffic but in making it orderly and safe, does the future safety of transport lie.

5.51 p.m.


I wish to associate myself with what the opener of the Debate said in congratulation and appreciation of the Minister of Transport. He has been the first to prevent the steady increase of accidents. They grew from 138,000 in 1926 to 238,000 in 1934, and now for the first year we have actually had a decrease. I am sure that the efforts he adopted have been successful and will continue to be so, but, with increased traffic, it is obvious that we are likely to yet again see a rise in accidents unless something else is done. I wish to deal with what I believe can be effected by the use of modern lighting. It is beyond doubt that a great many accidents are entirely due to darkness. I believe that 10 per cent of the fatalities and injuries could be reduced by this method. That would mean a reduction of 700 lives and 19,000 injuries per year. I propose to bring evidence which I think bears out that bold statement. I have taken it from official sources—the National Safety First Association, the Public Works and Transport Congress of 1935 and three documents of the Ministry of Transport. I find that in September, 1932, during the 11 hours of daylight we had 175 deaths and in the four hours from eight till midnight there were 106 when in comparison with the average rate of deaths we should have expected 50, a possible saving of 56 lives. I have purposely omitted the hours from midnight till six a.m. since the report of the Ministry in 1933 mentioned that the fatalities between those hours are 0.4 per hour and they cannot make any practical difference to my comparison.

In October of the same year during the 12 hours of daylight there were 131 deaths and in the six hours at night 136. That would mean a. saving of 68 lives. In eight hours of daylight during November there were 95 deaths whilst in ten hours of darkness we get no fewer than 204. We have to remember that the amount of traffic during those last hours is very much less than during the peak hours of the day. I could give figures for July, August and December giving similar results, the latter showing that no fewer than 110 lives could have been saved. Considering this question from other angles I take the accidents affecting public vehicles. These cover practically the same amount of mileage in summer as in winter yet we find that there is an increase of no less than 30 per cent. of fatalities in the winter. Measured by petrol consumption we find that when all petrol driven vehicles are taken into account there is an increase in December as compared with June of no less than 70 per cent.

But I find that I get much more conclusive and comprehensive data from America. Taking a road on which traffic passes at the rate of 1,500 per hour they find that the accidents in the dark are never less than three and a-half times those during daylight. They contend also that if you doubled the lighting von halve the accidents. The most important statistics of all deal with a group of States with a population exceeding 40,000,000—something similar to our own. They give what I think is a very fair illustration. They deal with the hours from five p.m. till eight p.m. summer and winter, and these are the results that they get: in the summer 505 deaths, to which they add 10 per cent. for winter road conditions, and therefore we could expect in winter 555 deaths on the same average. The actual deaths were 1,025,470 more than would have been expected except for lighting conditions. As regards accidents these are on the same scale and were 13,130. They add to that 1,313 for the 10 per cent. due for road conditions making 14,000 odd, and the actual accidents in winter are 26,650, or 12,000 more than might have been the case. Various other experiments are compiled. First we have a group of cities upon which was spent 11 per cent. more on lighting and find that their fatalities are reduced by 25 per cent. Upon another group of cities they spent less on their lighting and found that deaths and accidents went up immediately. A further experiment was light the road from Washington to Mount Vernon by modern methods and accurate statistics of accidents were taken from 1st July and 1st December. In the following year, at the same period, they had the roads unlighted and then found that the rate went up from 2.87 to 7.02 per million vehicle miles. There are many other particulars which I have acquired, all showing exactly the same relative results. They are so conclusive, that it is obvious that something should be done by way of better lighting with the object of re- ducing the present number of the deaths and accidents.

In the Departmental interim report on Lighting, issued last year by the Ministry of Transport, the cost of providing and running a system of modern overhead lighting is stated to be from £300 to £400 per mile, and to include the necessary roads the annual cost would be some £3,500,000. A good deal of the cost would be reduced if we undertook a major scheme, as we have not yet given our manufacturers an opportunity of doing anything in a mass production way. It is usually mentioned that the cost par unit in the case of electricity is ¾d., and I know that that is not the necessary cost, and that it can be very much reduced. Technically and scientifically; proper lighting of our roads is undoubtedly possible. There are already roads all over the country where there is not the slightest need to use headlights. In fact you need no lights on your car at all, and you can see everything as easily during the night as during the day. I am not sure that being dark on each side does not almost make it safer owing to the fact that your mind is concentrated on the road more than in the day time. Whether we should use gas or electricity is a matter to be decided by local conditions. Both methods have proved satisfactory, but I believe that the electric sodium lamp is probably better than the electric discharge lamp, which is much talked of at the present time. The former has a more pleasant light than the latter.

In connection with the reply to a question I put to the Minister yesterday as to whether there were any statistics regarding accidents before a road had been lit, and of the number which took place afterwards, he asked if I could give particulars of any roads upon which such lighting had been made, I suggest that there are at least two in Birmingham which have recently been floodlighted, one at Hall Green on the Stratford Road and another at Wylde Green. But I am sure that there is no necessity to go away from the City of London to find any amount of opportunities. A small experiment was tried on the Victoria Embankment, when it was found that the accidents were reduced from 17 to five. It is obvious that we want a major experiment, and that is why I suggest that the Ministry should consider whether they could not make the experiment of lighting the road from London to Birmingham, or, if that would entail unnecessarily high expenditure, from London to St. Albans, and/or Birmingham to Coventry, all of which are heavily vehicled roads. Having taken particulars of the accidents during daylight and at night, they should light the road properly, and see whether the figures which I have given are justified.

In considering the expenditure we ought to take account of what we save on the other side, apart from that which is all-important, namely, the saving of life and the prevention of injuries. In 1933 the motor companies in this country paid no less than £18,000,000 in claims, and the Life and accident insurance companies paid approximately £7,000,000—some £23,000,000 in all. If we could bring about a substantial saving in the number of accidents, it is obvious that we should have a very considerable saving in expenditure. I submit that to have the main roads properly lit would make them more valuable to the community. Some of the high peak loads now running during the daytime would tend to use the roads at night, and as the increase of traffic is brought about we should probably find that the roads would be capable, without widening, of carrying considerably heavier loads, and consequently in that way would effect a definite economy.

This scheme or any other that would reduce highway accidents is primarily of importance to pedestrians. The figures show that it is the pedestrian who suffers the most from accidents. The second section to gain would be the cyclists. The drivers of motor vehicles experience fewer accidents by far than the other users of the road.

Anything that we can do to make our highways more valuable and safe would undoubtedly benefit all members of the community. If we had a war at the present time causing the number of accidents and deaths that occur on our roads, I am sure that we should be prepared to spend almost anything to stop it. We have in one way something worse. A war comes to an end, but the tragedy of road accidents goes on continuously. I ask the Minister to think very seriously whether it is not possible to use the value that science has given us, and in some way reduce still further the accidents on the road.

6.8 p.m.


The recommendations that have been put forward in this Debate divide themselves into two classes. One is the improvement of equipment, roads, lighting, motor vehicles and so on, and the other is the elimination of human error. The hon. Member for Yardley (Mr. Salt) has made out a very strong case indeed for an experiment in the improvement of equipment along the lines he suggested, and later on I shall say a few words about the importance of really controlled and carefully observed experiments, the importance of which I am not sure has been grasped by the Ministry of Transport. I want to speak more about the elimination of human error. Everything that has been said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) in favour of improved roads and the provision of road cycle tracks is open to the answer, that a great number of accidents take place in broad daylight on perfectly straight and open roads when traffic conditions are not heavy. The Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys), who seconded the Motion, spoke about advertising and publicity through posters, but actions talk louder than posters. The one thing which has been said in criticism of the Minister is, that he is always doing something new, and that every month there seems to be some line upon which he is working. Such criticism has the advantage that it keeps people talking, and the more they talk the more they think. [Laughter.] Obviously that is open to comment. It is open to argument that the improvement which has taken place has been less due to the actual measures which the Minister has taken than to the very great deal of talk that he has rightly provoked. It is important that the Minister should continue to try new things in order to provoke talk and discussion and to keep the subject in the public mind.

I will suggest one or two things that might be done to a greater extent than is the case. I wish the Minister, together with his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, could decide whether they are really going to enforce the 30 miles an hour speed limit or not. At present at eight o'clock in the morning, you can see two police cars standing in a little bend of the road on the Embankment. This is not the concern of the Minister of Transport, but of the Home Secretary. It is the broadest and widest surfaced road in London, and anybody who exceeds the speed limit is caught, but anyone who exceeds the speed limit on far more difficult roads, such as the Edgware Road, can be certain that no police car is on the job. It is harder from the police point of view to catch those who are exceeding the speed limit on these roads. This brings the whole system into derision, becomes an intolerable imposition, and drives motorists to distraction. I hope that the Minister will bring in the speed limit, and that at the same time he will persuade the Home Secretary to see that the limit is enforced.

I wonder whether sufficient attention has really been given to the figures which have come to light as a result of the analysis concerning accidents. I do not quite know what they are worth. Of the accidents analysed in 1933, the number of accidents of which drivers were the cause was equal to the number of accidents attributable to pedestrians, about 3,000 each, but two years later, when 1,500 accidents were analysed, the number attributable to drivers had gone down to half the number attributable to pedestrians. Does this mean that the Minister's campaign of publicity is succeeding in relation to the drivers to a greater extent than in relation to the pedestrians? I believe that it does, but whether these figures are reliable or not, an normous number of accidents are attributable to pedestrians. One must say that with a word of caution, and this applies to the answer given by the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey to the speech by the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) on the question of drink, when he said that the question of drink applies equally to pedestrians and motorists. After all, the motorist is the man responsible for producing the prime cause of the problem on the road. The pedestrian is not brought in there. Therefore, the motorist, having been brought in, must be free from the suggestion that he has done any act to limit his powers to prevent accidents. The same argument cannot be applied to the pedestrian. I would be prepared to sacrifice the small amount of intoxicants of which I might partake before or while driving, if I felt that other motorists were doing the same, and that the experiment was being carefully watched to see whether it was being justified. Whereas it may be proper to bully, restrict and prosecute the motorist who has brought this thing into being, it is not so possible to bully, restrict and prosecute the pedestrian. Measures taken in relation to the pedestrian, to whom half the accidents are attributable, must be more of the nature of guarding and protecting than of bullying and restricting.

If one looks at the figures, some lines of action are suggested. A very large proportion of these accidents are caused to school children. Some months ago I wrote to the Police Department in New York and asked what had been their experience in relation to school children. They replied that a sustained programme of activity was initiated on plans approved by the Police Commissioner in the City of New York and the Superintendent of the Schools in January, 1933, and the effect of that sustained programme is rather remarkable in that accidents to school children, which prior to 1933 had fallen by 1,400 in three years, after the campaign was inaugurated fell by 4,000 in two years. That is not all. What was done for the children seemed to have some effect upon adults. The number of adults injured, which had fallen from 7,500 in the previous three years, fell by 14,000 in the next two years. The campaign, as far as I can make out from the papers I received from the Police Department in New York, consists of two parts—first, the provision of play streets. Play streets can never be an alternative to playgrounds, but as we cannot get playgrounds for want of funds we should endeavour to inaugurate play streets, which are blocked at one end, with no through traffic, and a speed limit of 10 miles for any traffic allowed. The streets could be made attractive with bushes and facilities for play. Is not that worth trying until we can get the playgrounds? A very important feature of the report from New York is the schoolboy patrol. That is an experiment which might well be tried here: There is a selected group of boys, distinguished by insignia and with delegated authority to see that children avoid accidents on their way to and from school. I am proud to say that over 600 schools have patrols and that over 14,000 boys are rendering faithful and conscientious service. Our organisation has not had reported to it one fatality at a school street intersection guarded by schoolboy patrols. Could not a system of that kind, which has worked so well in America, be attempted in this country?

A large number of accidents are caused by pedestrians running into the roads. The statistics show that the number of accidents from this cause is very high. Such accidents arise through people running along the side streets, across the pavement and into the roadway of the main streets. Would it not. be possible to make an experiment in one or two London boroughs of putting railings on the pavement in line with the pavement of the side streets? That would be no inconvenience to the pedestrian. He would only have to go one or two yards round. Such a railing would mean that he would cease running and he would be reminded of the danger which confronted him. I understand that it has been done in some cases. There is always a rush at the end of school hours, and there is a great amount of running on the part. of school children. Could there not be railings put opposite all main roads where the children run into them from school?

Another prolific cause of accidents results from passing in front of stationary vehicles. Very largely these accidents are caused by passing in front of omnibuses. People alight, walk in front of the omnibus and then attempt to cross the road. Would it be impossible, experimentally, to try the effect of putting some device, preferably of rubber, projecting from the front of the radiator or the mud-guard of the vehicles, with a notice: "Look right." Such a notice would catch the eye of the pedestrian, and if there was a rubber device it might catch his body. The effect of that would be that it would act as a. safeguard by causing him to look to the right before going in front of the vehicle and crossing the road. The experiment might be made with the London Passenger Transport vehicles, and the result might be that people would adopt the same precautions in going in front of any stationary vehicle.

Has the Minister wholly despaired of the effort made some time ago by one of his predecessors in trying to induce pedestrians to walk to the left of the pavement and to walk to the right of the highway where there is no pavement? You will never see a tramp walking on the left side of the road. He has been walking so much that he knows. Yet the ordinary pedestrian thinks that the left side is correct. All over America there are notices: "Walk on the left." The corresponding notice in England should be: "Walk on the right," because in America the driving wheel is on the left side. Another important factor in regard to accidents is the direction in which the pedestrian was walking immediately prior to the accident. It is of enormous importance that people should walk towards and facing and seeing the traffic before they set out to cross the road.

I should like to congratulate the Minister on what he has done and also on one thing about which he has been criticised, and that is that he is always trying something new. It is important to keep on trying something new, so that this matter may be kept in the public mind. I hope he will continue to do that and that the results may be carefully watched. It is with that object in view that I have put forward these suggestions.

6.22 p.m.


I propose to confine my remarks entirely to the subjects of approved scientific tests for motor drivers. I do so because when the Traffic Act was in Committee I sought to introduce an Amendment that the requirements for the granting of a licence should include some of these tests. The Minister at that time refused the Amendment, because he said the tests were not practical and not of any proved value. He made an acknowledgment later that he had been mistaken in that statement. That was in 1934. The position has greatly improved since 1934, and there is no question now that scientific tests are available and should be applied.

It seems to me very extraordinary that the long experience which has been gained by the medical profession in the case of factories has not been taken more advantage of in this very cognate subject of road accidents. There can be no question about the scientific similarity of the two groups of accidents. The same rules apply to both. Where factory accidents have been investigated by competent medical and psychological investigators, measures have been introduced which have proved so successful that in certain instances the ratio of accidents has been diminished by more than 50 per cent. Road accidents come into the same category. A very notable remark was made by the chief inspector of factories, three years ago, when he said that in their investigations the mechnical factor had been dealt with so completely that no prospect of improvement was to be hoped for from further consideration. He said that perhaps 10 per cent. improvement might conceivably be hoped for from the improvement of mechanical devices, and that what was wrong was the human factor. It is the human factor which has been neglected, to our very great detriment. I hope that the Minister, who has made such a great contribution to new ideas on the subject of accidents will investigate that aspect of the case.

There has been talk this afternon of the causes of accidents and the analyses that have been made of those causes. When one attacks any scientific problem the facts which govern the cause must be accurately observed, and it is that method of observation which is so sadly lacking in the reports of causes of accidents. Who investigates those causes Usually a police officer and sometimes unhappily a coroner. There is very seldom any real expert who is concerned in looking into the preliminaries of the accident and particularly the preliminaries of the human error and the human disability. The police are not specially fitted to carry out that observation, and usually the facts which are observed by the police are not sufficiently accurate to serve as a basis on which to build scientific theory and practice. The categories of cases which from time to time the Minister of Transport has published as explaining accidents in themselves betray a lack of imagination and knowledge in the explanation of the accident. In a series of 4,000 cases which were examined for that purpose there were three categories of causation. One was illness. Only 17 persons out of 4,000 were said to be suffering from illness; surely an obvious underestimate. The second category referred to those who were said to be under the influence of "drink and drugs," and the third category those who were asleep while driving. There are many other causes at work in the production of accidents, and I would plead for a more thorough investigation of the causes. It is not right to leave the investigation of intricate scientific problems to the amateurish efforts of the police, however sincere those efforts may be.

The facts brought out by the selection tests which have been in use in this country for 10 years and in many other countries for even longer periods have been so striking and the experience gained by the application of the tests has been so valuable that it is wrong to say that they are still in the experimental stage. One fact that has come out is that there is undoubedly a section of the public who arc "accident prone." That unfortunate phrase has been used in regard to a certain group of people who are said to be more liable to accidents than any others. That fact has come out in many observations. Two cases worthy of notice occurred in the United States. A very careful investigation showed that 50 per cent. of the accidents occurred in a group of less than 20 per cent. of workmen, so that 20 per cent. of workmen were responsible for 50 per cent. of the accidents. Another observation in regard to a larger number of individuals gave results very similar. This means that something like one quarter of the population at any given time is definitely subject to "proneness to accident," and the importance of finding that out is very great.

The accident-prone person can be identified by suitable tests almost at once. By means of that discovery great savings can be effected, because a person who is obviously, definitely and irrevocably accident-prone could be informed of that fact and he would not need to go on with his preparation to be a driver. It has been objected that the application of tests would reduce the number of drivers on the roads to an undesirable degree. This is not so: a very satisfactory feature of the tests is when the driver is made aware of the cause of the accident as revealed by examination the cause may be removed and the driver is cured. It is reported from the United States that out of 181 persons who were found to be accident-prone, after selection tests had been made and suitable treatment applied, more than 50 per cent. were perfectly able to go on driving.

Many objections have been taken to the application of these tests. Let me examine a, few of them. In a. recent leader in the "Times," the delightful "fourth leader" which many of us enjoy every day, there was a statement that many men were absolutely unfit for driving and the suggestion was further made that if psychological tests were applied on any large scale people would become hypochondriacs, which would result in a large proportion of the population becoming so scared as to be accident-prone for that very reason. That is an inaccurate forecast. It has not happened in cases where the tests have been applied. Where a driver has become aware of his disability he can often get rid of it; and far from being a deterrent the test is a help. The question has been asked: How are you going to apply these tests on a large scale? They are not difficult of application. I will not describe them as they are far too technical, but an ordinary motor business can produce among its employés persons who are perfectly capable of carrying out these tests on a reasonably satisfactory basis after 14 days' training.

The tests themselves are simple and the apparatus required is equally simple. The most expensive equipment is called a full "battery test." The cost of this is about £60, and the individual duration of the test need not be more than half an hour and six individuals can be treated in one hour by trained persons. The cost is obviously small, because the fee charged by the body of relatively inexperienced persons would not be large arid would come well within the ambit of the fee charged for the licence. There is no difficulty about the cost, and if there were I do not think that we should consider it. In cities where the tests have been applied, it has been found that the training of a driver is reduced in duration because he has taken the selection test. In Berlin a large company operating many workers found that on an average 120 hours were saved by those drivers who had taken these tests before becoming drivers. Another interesting feature is that the training produces far better drivers, while the saving in wear and tear of vehicles is so pronounced that in one company it was estimated, after these tests had been in use for some years, that there had been a saving to the company of 1,500,000 francs per year.

Surely it is possible to introduce, even if only on an experimental basis, these tests for a portion of the persons concerned, and the suggestion has been made that we should take lorry drivers first, who I understand constitute about one-third of the persons employed in the industry and who are to a very large extent "accident prone." The experiment might well be made with this group first. The objection that it is not feasible can be met by the remarkable experience in the United States Army during the first years of the War, before they entered into the War. The United States Army is a scientifically run institution and they employed what they call "intelligence tests" on a very large scale, to about 1,500,000 soldiers. These tests were applied to all those who were to enter into the War. They provided an extremely valuable indication, and it was feasible even on that enormous scale. I must give the House the actual experience of the company to which I have already referred, the General Transport Company, which operates about 5,000 buses and trains in Paris. The company was founded in 1921, and almost immediately after its foundation it took up the question of psychological tests for its drivers. Of course it was done tentatively at first, in a small way, but it was in full operation in 1924, and by 1927, the whole of the personnel had been selected by psychological tests.

What is their experience, as recently published? Whereas the number of vehicles other than those operated by this company in Paris has grown very much more than the number operated by the company, the two sets of figures are still possible of comparison. There was an increase in 10 years from 1923 to 1933 of 218 per cent. in vehicles on the roads in Paris, other than the vehicles owned by the General Transport Company, and this increase of 218 per cent. was accompanied by an increase of 155 per cent. in the number of accidents recorded. In the case of the company there was an increase of 30 per cent. of vehicles during the same period but with a decrease of 37 per cent. in the number of accidents, and this notwithstanding the fact that the speed limit was increased by 45 per cent. and a greatly increased mileage was run. At the same time there was an enormous improvement in the running costs of the whole concern. The saving effected was in the neighbourhood of 1,500,000 francs a year. The interesting feature of that experiment was that after the selection by psychological tests had been made of drivers, the number of drivers who were found to be undesirable as drivers after taking to the road was only 3½ per cent. The selection tests had operated so successfully that the wastage was only 3½ per cent., whereas before the tests were instituted the wastage was more than 20 per cent. The tests also allowed of a selection of drivers who proved to be far superior to those drivers who had not undergone the tests or who had failed to pass them.


In the percentage of wastage to which the hon. Member has referred, was the effect of overtime taken into consideration?


I do not think it appeared, hut obviously it is one of the things which must be considered. What I want to do is to persuade the Minister really to look into this question for himself, to compare the data which. are now forthcoming from all parts of the world and not regard this as a mere highbrow ideal quite impossible of achievement.

6.39 p.m.


No one will deny that the Minister of Transport has not made experiments in regard to the traffic conditions of this country, and the advice he has received to-day ought to keep him well occupied for the next few years in developing the theories which have been put forward. We have travelled all over the world in order to find a factor of safety. While we agree with the intention of the Motion, the simple thing is to try to get uniformity of conditions throughout Great Britain. To start with lighting. Is there any length of road upon which there is say for a distance of 10 miles uniformity of lighting? From Gallows Corner coming from Brentwood you pick up one system of electric lighting after another, and before you arrive in the City of London you have 30 different types of lighting; and on a wet night this is one of the most dangerous factors en the road. A committee was set up, by the right hon. Gentleman in 1935, but it did not specialise any particular type of lighting. I presume its object was to avoid giving a monopoly to any particular company but it has now come down on the proposal that we should aim at a uniform system of lighting. No one who has been on the roads for many years will deny that this factor is one of the most important which the Minister can consider. Every local authority has its own system; it is permitted to do almost what it likes with regard to lighting. We have in Wandsworth a competition of gas versus electric lamps, because of the contracts held by the gas company. If we are to tackle the problem of safety on the roads, we have to get a uniform shadowless lighting which will give a factor of safety, especially to older people.

Then with regard to road surfacing. Why cannot we get a uniform system of road surfacing We have been told of various systems during the Debate, and of one particular stretch of road where you dare not go at 20 miles an hour; if you did you were facing the other way in a very short time. Why cannot we get a uniform system of road surfacing and a uniform system of road construction? I believe it was the engineer for Oxford who issued a report two years ago in which every fatal accident that had occurred in his district was dealt with, noted, and the road was then dealt with in such a way as to meet any possible contingency in the future; and in no case has the accident been repeated. He dealt with banking and with the elimination of blind corners, and the Minister has permissive power under at least one Act of Parliament to take in hand the elimination of blind corners. While major road signs may be uniform in character, they are certainly not universal, and if the major road signs "Slow" or "Stop" are the right things to have before the entrance to a major road, then they ought to be placed in every road that enters a major road.

The Minister will, of course, think that I am speaking with some prejudice when refer to the beacons, which have already been mentioned. My view is that they perform an absolutely useless function, although I believe that if they were lighted at night they would perform a useful one. The constituency which I represent has never adopted the system of beacons, nor has it adopted traffic lights. If hon. Members will look at the returns for London, they will see that my constituency, which is a heavily con- gested district, comes third in the list of 28 boroughs so far as both fatal and nonfatal accidents are concerned. One of the claims that I submit for uniformity is the factor of cost. Bermondsey is a very poor borough and the erection of traffic signals and beacons—although I know the Minister was willing to pay up to a certain point—would mean a serious increase in the rates of the Bermondsey Borough Council. The Council as such is not against traffic signals at crossings, but it does feel that the cost of the signals should be borne by the Road Fund and should not go on the rates. A suggestion has been made, and I would commend it to the Minister, that crossings should be introduced gradually. I am sure the Minister will forgive me if I remind him that, against the advice of his own Committee, he introduced something like 10,000 crossings in the Metropolitan area, whereas the Committee had suggested that the 200 crossings which had been put in experimentally should be allowed to develop slowly. One hon. Member has said that as these crossings were introduced, as it were, overnight, nobody respected them, and I think that is a very sound argument.

Another matter to which I would like to refer is the Council which was set up under the Road Traffic Act, 1933. A Transport Advisory Council was established and it set up various sub-committees on publicity, education, and so on, all of which reported to the main committee in the hope that something would be done. One committee, on which I had the honour to sit, advocated the development of films at a cost of several thousands of pounds, but the Minister gave no financial support to that work. Had he done so, I believe we should have been able to do a lot more through the cinemas and schools to eliminate road accidents. I was also a member of the committee which dealt with the road code, which has been accepted by the Minister; but as a practical motorist, who has driven for many years and who, thank God, is still driving, I submit that everybody knows that those rules are much more honoured in the breach than in the observance. The reason is that there is no statutory backing behind the rules. If they are good rules, they ought to have statutory backing, and the Minister ought to obtain legislative sanction to enforce them on the motoring public.

But I would deprecate it if this Debate turned on motorists alone. The hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) has spoken of the serious effects of alcohol upon drivers. If that be true, it applies equally to the pedestrian who takes alcoholic drinks, and he is as liable as the motorist to be the cause of an accident through drinking. Therefore, the hon. Member's argument must mean in the final analysis that drink should be abolished altogether. Another matter to which I would call the Minister's attention is the elimination of trade signs which clash with the present signals system. Often when driving along a road one sees a red sign which takes no form in the distance, and is only clear when one gets almost up to it, and that in my opinion contributes to the danger on the roads.

In 1933 the House of Commons passed the Road Traffic Act, in which the hours of lorry drivers were definitely fixed at 11 per day. Powers were taken under that Act to appoint examiners who would look into the working of the Act. I think the Minister will agree with me when I say that, in fact, no lorry driver is ever challenged as to his hours on the road, and that it is only when an accident arises and the man in sheer self-defence says: "This is what comes of working too long hours," that he, and never his employer, is hauled before the courts. I would ask the Minister seriously to consider placing enough people on the road to enforce the hours laid down under the Statute on the employers, and, if necessary, on the employés.

The hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland) suggested, among other things, the provision of playing streets. These may be a very good thing here and there, but my experience is of one that was tried in London. It was in a slum area, and all the inhabitants of the street had to put up with the antics of every child from the immediate vicinity. I have never heard it suggested that Belgrave Square should be a playing street, but if a playing street is a good thing in Paddington, it would be equally good to try it out in Belgrave Square and St. George's Square. So far as the children are concerned, playing streets are no solution of the problem. It might be possible to solve the problem if the local authorities kept their school playgrounds open after school hours and allowed the children to go off the roads into the playgrounds, but there again the question of cost arises.

One of the most surprising things is that 90 per cent. of the accidents that are tabulated are attributed to human error, but in the case of lorry drivers, or, to put it broadly, those who earn their living from motoring, it will be found that they have the smallest number of accidents. The Minister might very well consider whether the tests are being applied properly and whether, where offences have taken place, the licence should not only be withdrawn but, if eventually the person wants to drive again, he should not; be submitted to another test as to his efficiency. That would be something that would hang over the head of a person who wilfully disregarded the rules of the road.

Before concluding, I would like to point out that I have seen a system of lighting, outside Liverpool, which takes the form of a small glass disc which is placed on the kerb immediately off the road at bends, and a headlight lights up that glass disc even on foggy nights. The Minister might consider whether such a system should not be generally adopted in any future road construction. In this Debate the Minister has received a great deal of advice, but I want to suggest that he should first aim at having some national board which would have as its object the establishment of uniform systems throughout the whole country. If he failed to get such a board, there are already in existence voluntary associations, such as the National Safety First Council, which he could use if he would make a grant out of the Road Fund. The Minister and his Department have used the National Safety First Council in the past, and I remember that about two years ago the council carried out a six months' experiment on a system of tabulating and reference which the Minister ultimately adopted in its present form. Why could not the National Safety First Council, which is admirably fitted for purposes of propaganda, be given some grant in order that it might assist the Minister in giving the necessary advice to the community as a whole? If the Minister made such a grant I believe that he could under the present Statutes do all that we are asking him to, do in the way of effectively reducing accidents. We on this side of the House support the Motion.

6.58 p.m.


We are indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) for choosing this human subject from among so many others, and for constructively and earnestly introducing it. He was followed along the same lines by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys), whose courtliness I would acknowledge. -Indeed, no one standing at this Box could complain of the spirit of this Debate. It is remarkable, considering what we are discussing and the atmosphere which used to surround it, how harmoniously the Debate has proceeded. If there have been one or two exceptions, excuses may readily be found. I understand that the enthusiasm of the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) sometimes carries him away when he is in the vicinity of alcohol, but his remarks do not in the least disturb my muscular-neurological processes—to use a phrase which he employed. I understand that behind his charge against me that I am an accessory to murder, there really is the most friendly and cordial feeling, and that he keenly desires my success in an object which both he and I have at heart. We may exonerate also my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon), who comes here suffering under an indignation with which we can readily sympathise at finding his splendid Hupmobile car overtaken by a Baby Austin. He has tried to make me pay the penalty of this humiliation. I can understand also the hon. Gentleman who spoke last. There have been differences between Bermondsey and my Ministry for a long time past and no effort of mine will suffice to reconcile them. I shall, however, refer to what he said in the proper place, and, as he reminded me, I shall have some difficulty in doing justice both to him and to all my other hon. Friends, for it was pointed out that I should be here not half an hour but 12 months if I endeavoured to examine all the advice which has been bestowed upon me. Any omissions therefore in my speech will be pardoned, and I can assure my hon. Friends that every proposal made to me will receive the closest and most sympa- thetic scrutiny. The kindly references which have been made to the administration over which it is my duty to preside are much appreciated, and I take them as a recognition of the really hard work that has been done by an exiguous but extremely competent staff.

The problem of road safety is a modern problem. In the year 1910, in which His late Majesty came to the Throne, there were 30,000 fatal and non-fatal accidents. The annual total ascended almost without a pause until in 1934 it reached over 200,000. During the reign of 25 years the casualties were considerably in excess of 2,500,000—a figure, I would observe, comparable with the aggregate of all the killed and wounded in the forces of the United Kingdom in the Great War. The period coincides with the accelerating output of mechanically-propelled vehicles. The number of these on the roads in 1935 increased progressively at an average rate of about 450 a day, and the addition still continues. Just as the Industrial Revolution made Britain in the nineteenth century the most densely populated country, so it has happened that in the twentieth century it has become the most densely vehicled country in the world. The number of motor vehicles registered per square mile in Great Britain is 23. In the United States it is seven.

So quickly has this development occurred—it covers but the space of a generation—that the engineers and surveyors have not yet been able to evolve, as in the case of the railways, the means of assuring the free flow of traffic in conditions of method and safety. That is still our task, and I will give the House some narrative of how we are proceeding with it. I do so under the headings mentioned in the Motion, and I respond particularly to the question addressed to me by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey. For construction, adequate finance has been made available. There is a five-year instead of a one-year programme. While in practice, as is always the case, both the works projected and the estimates of their cost are subject to revision and adjustment, schemes submitted under the five-year programme are now of a gross value of £130,000,000. About 70 per cent. of the actual expenditure on approved schemes will fall on the Road Fund, which will continue to meet its normal liabilities for maintenance, block grant, and miscellaneous ser- vices, amounting to about £17,000,000 a year. The programme is by far the largest and most comprehensive effort made by any Government to secure a steady and progressive development of our highway system.

Its first instalment—works approved for commencement during the current financial year—is estimated to cost £22,500,000 — 3½ times the figure at the corresponding period last year. In order that modern requirements may be fulfilled, higher grants have been offered for work on trunk roads and for the novel features of dual carriageways and cycle tracks. What is the principle on which the Government intend construction to proceed? That is the second question asked by the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey. As I tell the House, it will form a conception of the highway system of the future. It was last year that powers of far-reaching importance were conferred by legislation to fix in advance the standard or ideal widths to which the roads in any particular class should be eventually enlarged. In order to minimise for the future those impediments which occur from variations in the dimensions of the same carriageway as it passes through different areas, the Minister of Transport was made the ultimate authority for the fixing of these widths.

With a view to obtaining the most up-to-date information and ideas on the proper lay-out within the standard widths, representative engineers and surveyors were called into consultation with officers of my Department. From their recommendations we have extracted for the guidance of all concerned the formulas to be followed in the carrying out of the five-year programme. We take as our unit of width for each lane of traffic a minimum of 10 feet. The number of traffic lanes required will be determined by the flow of traffic, and where this amounts to 400 vehicles at the peak hour —an average of six or seven a minute—more than two traffic lanes will be required, and dual carriageways should be provided. From this basis we proceed to build up according to requirements a road containing in addition to the feature I have just described and the indispensable footpaths, separate accommodation for cyclists and horse riders, with space for margins with trees and shrubs and communicating with service roads outside the standard widths. It will be recalled, as a further assurance of the security and usefulness of the roads, that it is now not possible to make new means of access wherever standard widths have been adopted. This is a picture of what the Government intend that our highway communications should become.


Will any arrangements be provided to enable heavy traffic to draw in off the road?


That is visualised. The development of roads, like the growth of forests, is a long process, but progress is being made with perceptible rapidity, and as some indication of it I would mention that proposals have been made by highway authorities under the five-year programme for 230 miles of cycle tracks and 750 miles of dual carriage-ways. My hon. Friend who moved this Motion may therefore be satisfied that a uniform policy of construction is being pursued. With regard to the other items referred to specifically in his Motion, I will make reference to them seriatim. It will, I hope, be generally admitted that our roads are maintained in a high degree of efficiency. The qualities of the surfacing are another matter. Here it would be undesirable to insist on uniformity until the right prescription has been found. The officers of my Department work in the closest conjunction with the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research on which expenditure out of the Road Fund of the order of £50,000 is annually incurred. Just as the nuisance of dust has been universally abated, so have investigations been directed to the avoidance of skidding. Recently a new type of thin carpet which seems to meet the case and which, it is contemplated, will last for several years without further treatment, has been introduced. My engineers are hopeful that it may be the means of reducing accidents primarily due to this cause. It may be convenient if I continue this catalogue by dealing with some of the other subjects which were mentioned.

As regards trams. my hon. Friend referred to them as "travelling menaces." I can inform him that in the last five years the route mileage of tramways has been reduced by 700 which is 30 per cent. of the total mileage of tramways in this country so that the mileage of tramways to-day is one-third less than it was five years ago. On the proposal for a braking test, I would say that the phrase is easy to employ but the formula is difficult to discover. The Transport Advisory Council is engaged, on my behalf, in trying to devise such a formula. As to rear lights on bicycles, I have, of course, no legislative power to compel bicyclists to use rear lamps, but my hon. Friend will be interested to read the report of the Committee on Road Safety among School Children which is now in print and which makes very emphatic references to this subject.

As for subject of play streets there are in the North of England, in Salford and Manchester and certain other places, many play streets and I was glad to hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland) which was one of the most thoughtful speeches on that subject to which I have listened. I believe there are about 200 of these streets in Manchester and Salford and I was anxious to introduce them in London —not because I like them for I have never considered the play street a substitute for the play ground and I consider that play grounds ought to be provided—but because as a realist I had to recognise the fact that there were no play grounds and that, meantime, children were being killed. I therefore gave my approval to a proposal for certain play streets in London, but the local authorities, as the hon. Member who spoke last knows, took the same view as that which he has laid before the House this afternoon and, thus, our good intentions led nowhere.

I now come to the subject of drink. This is rather an inconsequent catalogue of subjects, but in the circumstances that is unavoidable. The hon. Member for Bermondsey West (Dr. Salter) spoke rather intemperately on drink. In the course of his divagations he was repeatedly asked what he suggested I should do in the matter. It turns out that all he requires me to do is to make public reference to the subject. I did not suppress the report of the committee to which he referred. I went out of my way to ask the British Medical Association to investigate the subject in order to see whether any useful suggestions would emerge. They published a report which was sold at 6d. per copy. The hon. Member wanted me to publish it at the Government's expense, hut, the doctors having undertaken this work, I do not see why the medical profession should not get what advantage it can from the sale of the report. They were selling their own pamphlet. It was published by them and it would not have been right for me to use the Government service to do what they themselves desired to do and what in fact they did.

There has been, however, no suppression and anybody who desires may read the committee's report and may learn that there is no proposal emerging from that report which I could put into operation. I do, however, make this claim, that I mentioned the subject for the first time in the Highway Code—not that that has elicited any gratitude from the hon. Member for Bermondsey because according to him apparently alcohol is not to be coupled with fatigue. But there is this paragraph in the Highway Code: Before using the load be sure that your alertness or sense of caution is not affected by alcohol or fatigue. Never before was there a reference to the subject in the Highway Code. I inserted it and I would point out that this is a document which has been circulated to every householder in the country and which is presented to everybody applying for a licence. Therefore, I hope that the fury of the hon. Member will abate.


Does the Minister recognise that what he has just said does not in the least enforce the particular point of the medical inquiry, which is to bring it home to people that the least little quantity of alcohol before driving a car involves danger?


I agree with my hon. Friend that the British Medical Association laid it down that alcohol even in small doses was liable to have a bad effect on the driving of a car, but it does not fall to me to operate their recommendation. I cannot prevent people from driving cars who have taken some alcohol, I can only call attention in general terms to the subject. I have indicated in the Highway Code that it is undesirable that motorists should drink when they are going to drive their cars and I do not think I can do more than that.

As regards traffic signs, the law does not permit any diversity in the pattern of traffic signs. Lighting, on which we have had an extremely well-informed speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley, is not directly within my province. County councils in 1934 were empowered to take over the lighting of roads in their areas from smaller authorities. A departmental committee of the Ministry of Transport has laid down as the standard to be provided one capable of giving full visibility to a motorist travelling 30 miles an hour without headlights. I am in communication with the county councils on the matter and I need hardly say that I accept the views expressed about the advisability of adopting such a standard. My hon. Friend the Mover of the Motion is of opinion that even greater uniformity could be achieved in all the directions that have been discussed, by transferring control from the numerous highway authorities to some single absolute body. There are important considerations to be borne in mind, one being that our present system is rooted in historic traditions and any endeavour to supplant it wuold meet with great resistance. Further, the financial readjustments both of rates and taxes would present problems of maze-like complexity. Nor would it be proposed, I imagine, that highway authorities should be entirely relieved of their responsibility for the roads, forming the overwhelmingly greater proportion of mileage in the country, which have a predominantly local use. However, it is not necessary on this occasion, in the absence of definite proposals, to discuss that issue further or to prognosticate what its future determination may be.

Just as the elaborate traffic census taken last summer indicated the places where improvements should be made and their extent, so must other measures to promote safety proceed from an accurate knowledge of the causes of accidents and the conditions in which they tend to occur. It is proposed, in co-operation with my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland to make an analysis this year as from the beginning of April not only of fatal accidents, but of all accidents involving death or injury. This will be the most exhaustive analysis ever made in this country. It may involve the study of about 200,000 separate occurrences and I am encouraged to believe that chief constables will find the labour worth while, particularly in view of the results which followed upon a more limited study of certain "black spots" in London. As a result of the improvements made in those "black spots" the number of accidents on the four thoroughfares in question was reduced by 14.8 per cent.; the fatalities having fallen by 53.5 per cent. serious injuries by 32.4 per cent. and slight injuries by 10.6 per cent. All this has been in comparative periods of six months on four roads to which special attention was given. Here is impressive evidence of the value of taking action based on careful recording and observation.

It is also by statistical evidence that we must judge the efficacy of the measures already taken. Comparing the year 1933, in which there were no pedestrian crossings in London, with the year 1935 in which they had been laid down, we find that there was a reduction in pedestrian fatalities of 24 per cent. and in pedestrian injuries of 12 per cent. What then becomes of the criticism made by the hon. Gentleman who preceded me in this Debate, and who dismissed crossings, as indeed, he also dismissed traffic lights? The facts clearly show that the results have been worth while. Already in the eight weeks of this year as compared with the corresponding period of last year—I am speaking of the country as a whole where pedestrian crossings have now been extended—there has been a reduction of 24½ per cent. in pedestrian fatalities and of 16 per cent. in pedestrian injuries. The speed limit has also had a great effect. It is remarkable that the rate of fall in accidents is snore than twice as great in the city and town police areas where the speed limit usually applies, as in the county areas where it does not generally apply. If there are any particular grievances about any particular roads, I shall be glad to have them, when they mature, and the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with them.

The House is aware that 1935 is the first year since the War to show a reduction in the aggregate of killed and injured on the roads. Eight hundred lives were saved, a reduction of nearly 11 per cent. as compared with the previous year and there were 12,000 fewer injured—a reduction of 5½ per cent. In 1936 the tendency so far continues—though I do not wish to be too optimistic —and the reduction up to 22nd February this year is 19 per cent. in the killed and 8 per cent. in the injured. I hope that the extension of guard rails, the publication of the report of the Committee on Safety for School Children, the proposed anti-dazzle regulations and other measures, some of which have been referred to, will make for a further reduction in casualties. I may be permitted to say that the measures taken and the regulations made depend for their success upon their enforcement by the police and magistrates. I have not time to deal with the suggestions which have been made under the heading of police. The success of these measures and regulations, however, also depends on the co-operation of the public. It is with that knowledge that I have addressed myself confidently to all agencies which can affect for good public opinion. They can see that the assistance which they have already given has been pre-eminently worth while. This Debate to-day and the speeches which we have heard will, I feel sure, continue the tendency which we have so happily been able to report.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, while welcoming the substantial reduction in road accidents which has resulted from recent action, urges upon His Majesty's Government the importance of pressing forward all possible measures to achieve a still further reduction, and asks that a uniform policy of constructing, surfacing, maintaining, signalling, and lighting the principal roads should be progressively pursued.