HC Deb 05 July 1938 vol 338 cc279-81

Notwithstanding anything contained in the Road Traffic Acts or any other Act, a fire brigade vehicle when answering a call to a fire shall be exempted from the provisions, orders, or regulations relating to traffic lights, one-way or closed streets, provided that the drivers of such fire-brigade vehicles shall proceed with caution so as not to endanger other vehicles or persons.—[Lieut.-Commander Tufnell.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

7.43 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander Tufnell

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The object of this Clause is to clarify the position of fire engines going to the scene of a fire. Under the existing law, fire brigade vehicles are subject to all the traffic regulations, such as one-way streets, traffic lights, and keeping to the left of refuges, but in practice in most towns the traffic lights are ignored, if this can be done with safety. There have been cases, however, where the driver of such a fire engine has been penalised. In one case the driver of a fire engine was fined £1, and a year ago, at Clerkenwell, the owner of a vehicle received a very heavy sum against the London County Council for damages and personal injuries as a result of a fire engine going against the lights. It seems that where a fire engine has to get to the scene of a fire as quickly as possible, it should be given every opportunity of getting there, irrespective of the formalities of lights and other traffic regulations, provided that the driver exercises that due caution which is absolutely necessary and gives due warning of his approach at the particular obstruction. The fact is that not only is a fire engine greatly impeded in its progress through having to stop, we will say, at traffic lights, but it has also to start its heavy engine up in order to proceed on its way.

It has been found in Manchester, I am informed, that a car going from one part of the city to another may have its progress impeded by traffic lights to such an extent as to lose nine minutes on the journey. Those minutes might be vital if a fire were in progress. I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to consider this matter closely in conjunction with the Minister of Transport. I do not suggest that the wording of the Clause is perfect, and if he, with the Minister of Transport, can devise anything better to deal with the situation and facilitate the brigade detachments reaching the scenes of fires as quickly as possible, I am sure it will be welcomed by all those who are closely concerned with this matter.

Sir Douglas Thomson

I beg to second the Motion.

7.47 p.m.

Mr. Lloyd

We all appreciate the motives of my hon. and gallant Friend in moving this Clause, but there is another side to the case which he has presented. At present police, fire brigade and ambulance vehicles are, under Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act, exempted from the observance of any speed limits where this would be likely to hinder the use of such vehicles. I put to the House the view that that exemption is the only reasonable exemption that can be made because in that case you are proceeding according to all the ordinary rules, except the rule with regard to speed, and the avoidance of accidents is a question of commonsense and skill. But to change in a wholesale manner all the ordinary rules, such as those about one-way streets, pedestrian crossings, and traffic lights would be something of a completely different order, and I think it is inevitable that a considerable number of serious accidents would result. I do not think it is a matter which need be elaborately argued. I believe that the course suggested in the new Clause would lead to great danger of accidents without producing any benefits of the kind which my hon. and gallant Friend has in mind. In view of these considerations, I ask him to withdraw the Clause.

7.49 p.m.

Mr. G. Griffiths

When I was travelling recently in somebody else's car—because I have not a car of my own—we came up against some of these traffic lights in Wakefield and were held up at a side street for a considerable time. Had a fire engine come along it would have been held up by the traffic lights for a considerable time—I should say at least a couple of minutes—which might be a serious matter if there were a big fire. do not know whether the Under-Secretary has considered that aspect of the matter, but I am bound to say that when I was listening to the hon. and gallant Member for Cambridge (Lieut.-Commander Tufnell) I thought this was a very sensible Clause. Fire engines might be held up for a considerable period by traffic lights when a building like the Crystal Palace was blazing away, and very serious damage might be done before the fire brigade arrived on the scene.

Lieut.-Commander Tufnell

In view of what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Clause.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.