§ 3.34 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Paper entitled the Highway Code, a copy of which was laid before this House on 26th October, and approves the revised Highway Code contained in pages 4 to 26 thereof.The Motion asks the House to do two things: to take note of the document now in front of it and to approve the Highway Code itself, which is embodied in pages 4 to 26, inclusive, of the document. For the avoidance of doubt, it might be helpful if I reminded the House that the document which we are discussing is the one which bears the words "Second Edition Laid Before Parliament," printed in red at the top of the cover.
The Road Traffic Act, 1930, Section 45, lays down, among other things, that the Minister of Transport of the day shall present a Highway Code, and in accordance with the provisions of that Section Highway Codes have been presented in 1931, 1935 and 1946. The one which I commend to the House this afternoon is, therefore, the fourth in the series, and perhaps it might be of assistance to hon. and right hon. Members if I indicate the processes and procedure as a result of which this Code is now presented.
In 1951 it was felt that the 1946 Code, though it contained excellent material, was not receiving sufficient attention, nor was due regard being paid to it. As a result, my then predecessor referred to the Departmental Committee on Road Safety two points: the question whether it would be wise to alter in some degree the legal status of the code and, secondly, whether, apart from that, improvements could be made in it.
The Departmental Committee, which at that time was presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who was succeeded in the chairmanship at the time of the change in Government by my hon. Friend the hon. Baronet the Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite), went into this matter in considerable detail and dealt with its two terms of reference in this way.
The Departmental Committee made a body of detailed recommendations, a 866 great many of which are incorporated in the Code which I am now presenting. It also, in accordance with its instructions, made a recommendation as to the legal status of the Code. By a majority, it recommended an alteration in the legal status of the Code with a view to giving certain of its precepts a higher legal status. As the House will appreciate, that recommendation of the majority has not been accepted by the Government, and the proposal before the House is that the Code should be approved on the same legal basis as were its three predecessors.
The question whether it is right to give the Highway Code a higher legal status than that originally prescribed by the 1930 Act is a difficult one, on which arguments are nicely balanced. The House will recall the legal status under the 1930 Act. I do not think it is necessary for me to read the Section, because it is printed in page 3 of the present document. On this issue the view adopted by the minority on the Departmental Committee has seemed to us, after some thought, to be, on balance, the wiser one. I particularly commend to the House the view expressed by the three members in the minority, who represented on that body the motoring organisations and the National Road Transport Federation and who included one of the two representatives of the Trades Union Congress.
The minority suggested in the Report of the Committee thatThe failure of the present Code—that is, the 1946 Code—to achieve the status which was expected was due, not to any inadequacy in the provisions of Section 45 (4) of the Act, but mainly to the acknowledged fact that the Code tends towards vague exhortations instead of clear advice.If there is conduct on the part of a driver which ought to be made an offence, but which at present does not come within the scope of Sections 11 and 12 of the Road Traffic Act, then the proper course is to amend those Sections and not to achieve the result in a roundabout manner by amending Section 45 (4).A statutory provision making a breach of the Code prima facie evidence of negligence in criminal proceedings would be confusing because negligence by itself is not the standard by which criminal culpability is judged. It would also alter the law in regard to civil liability, a matter to which he Committee has not been able to give full consideration as it is not within its terms of reference.867 Therefore, after some thought, the view which I put to the House is that it is better to commend the Code to the public on the basis of what one might call its persuasive authority than to seek to make it a matter of penal sanctions. On that point, I venture to disagree with the observations made on Thursday night by the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan), whose views, generally speaking, on this subject command a good deal of respect.
Having taken that view, I concede at once that it falls to us to take every step that we can to secure that the Code, continuing on its present legal status, shall both in its substance and its language, and in its form and layout, be good enough to command attention and regard on its merits.
The substance of the Code is based on the original recommendations of the Departmental Committee first under the noble Lord and then under my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West. A draft of a Code was prepared as a result of that and was then submitted to about 60 organisations who are concerned with this matter. Their views were taken and in the light of them a further draft was prepared.
The views of individuals, notably the learned Recorder of Newbury, were taken into account, and the Code was then published and submitted for comment by Members of both Houses of Parliament and by the Press. I hope I may be allowed to acknowledge the great help given us by the individual comments of hon. Members and of noble Lords and from outside, perhaps, in particular, of the motoring correspondents.
It was in a desire to pursue that process further that I recently withdrew the edition of the Code which was presented to the House by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who was then Minister of Transport, and submitted this present edition. Perhaps a little undue attention was caused by that withdrawal in the minds of those less familiar than hon. Members with our Parliamentary procedure. It was necessary, if any amendment was to be made in the document presented to Parliament, and it was to submit to that Parliamentary procedure that I withdrew the earlier document and substituted the amending 868 one. I will come to the changes in a moment, but I thought I had better explain it because there was a suggestion by some hon. Members that the withdrawal indicated that grave errors had been found in the previous edition.
This process leading up to the present has been followed because I and my predecessors—and several of them are concerned in this—have been anxious not only that this document should be as good as it could be, that it should be based not solely on the ideas of Whitehall—perhaps I should say Berkeley Square—but, on the contrary, should try to take advantage of the common sense and experience of all categories of road users both as individuals and organisations. We have certainly tried our best to get a very high level of common agreement bath from the point of view of keeping us right and also from the point of view of securing its willing acceptance by those who use our roads.
We have also tried to substitute, in accordance with the minority advice of the Departmental Committee, crisp advice for vague exhortation. We have also tried to get the English as good as we could. Hon. Members who were in the House in 1946 will recall that my hon. and learned Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade criticised at considerable length the English in that particular edition. In a desire to spare myself a similar experience, I consulted my hon. and learned Friend in advance on the edition and I am happy to acknowledge that he was good enough to suggest to me a number of corrections. They have been followed.
So far as the form of layout is concerned, I hope hon. Members who have the document in front of them will agree that as a matter of typography and production this document constitutes a considerable improvement on its predecessors. I should like to express appreciation both to the Central Office of Information and to Her Majesty's Stationery Office for the great care and trouble which they have taken over this aspect of this matter. I might add that, in particular, the former Director-General, Sir Robert Fraser, gave a great deal of personal skill and attention to the technical matters to secure a good production.
As I have already indicated, there are a number of changes of substance as well 869 of changes of form both from the edition which Parliament approved in 1946 and from the edition presented by my predecessor this summer. If I may, I should like to take, first of all, the former changes which are, of course, those between 1946 and the present edition. I do not want to weary the House by going through them in detail, but it might help if I summarise more generally some of the more important specific alterations.
As I have indicated, we have tried, in general, to alter the phraseology from advice and exhortation to crisper and more forceful requests. We have tried to alter the production so that colour and various devices of typography should be employed to get a clearer and more arresting effect. An improvement is the table of braking distances, which has been altered, and it has been necessary to bring the passage headed "The Law's Demands" up to date to take into account the changes in the law in the last eight years. Notes on first aid have been added, and there are now footnotes drawing attention to the major cause of accidents and the casualties which result from them.
Coming to one or two examples of specific detail, the House will see that there have been incorporated rules about pedestrian crossings. Rule 4, relating to marching bodies, has been included largely as a result of the tragic occurrence at Gillingham some time ago, and hon. Members will see that it is designed, so far as a code can be designed, to minimise the chances of a catastrophe of that sort. Rule 55 relating to motor-cyclists about to manœuvre is new, as is the rule concerned with vehicles stopping on the roads carrying fast-moving traffic.
As far as the changes from the earlier edition of this year are concerned, perhaps the principal one, and certainly the one which has attracted most attention, is the change in the diagram section about the signal to be given by a driver slowing down at a pedestrian crossing. Hon. Members may recall that in the earlier edition it was suggested that the driver should give the right-turn signal. Hon. Members will see that we have substituted for that the slow-down and stop signal. There was a little controversy at the time, and it was suggested, particularly in urban areas where overtaking on the left takes place, that the signal right turn might 870 be misleading and might cause a driver to overtake a stopping vehicle on the left and cause an accident on the crossing.
"The Law's Demands" section has been brought up to date, particularly in regard to the rear lighting rules and requests to pedestrians not to walk on cycle tracks, while instructions to horse riders are an additional feature. But, broadly speaking, those are the amendments which it seemed well to make during the Recess, and, indeed, so far as "The Law's Demands" section is concerned I should have been presenting an out-of-date document. The general lines approved by my predecessor have been embodied in the document now before us.
It might be of interest if I said a word now about the plans for distribution if this House and another place approve the Code. It is proposed, subject to the approval of Parliament, to print about 10 million copies, at any rate of the first issue. Of those, about 500,000 will be required for the holders of provisional licences. It is proposed to issue a copy to each driver when he applies for the renewal of his driving licence—that is, a holder's ordinary licence—and that will absorb in all about six million copies.
One million will be distributed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education to the older children in the schools. About two million will be on sale to the general public at the price of 1d., and the balance will go to the Armed Forces, the Police, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, road safety committees and other official and semiofficial bodies where it has its obvious use by way of persuasion and advice. As to the timing, again that will depend upon this House and another place——
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I have not yet come to a decision on that point. It may well be that it will be thought desirable and I shall be happy to consider that suggestion, subject to the approval of the document by Parliament.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Will the right hon. Gentleman take it from me that it would be the unanimous desire of all Welsh Members that there should quickly be published a Welsh edition?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I will consider that, but it is not open to me to consider that suggestion until the House has approved this document. I hope the right hon. Gentleman can trust me to consider what he has said because, a little while ago when I was at the Treasury, I paid the Welsh language a compliment by arranging that Welsh Income Tax forms should be printed in Welsh.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I agree that it is a lovely language, but I did not understand the Income Tax form even in English.
Again, if the House approves, the proposals are that those copies should be on sale in February, the supplies to the schools should be available towards Easter, and the dates on which motorists will get them will depend upon the dates on which they renew their licences. The House will appreciate that an elaborate printing operation is involved.
That is a brief summary of the processes and substance of this change. The House will realise that a great deal of care and thought have been given to trying to produce a Code which shall both embody good sense and good manners on our roads and be of practical assistance in reducing the total of road accidents. We have done our best to produce a document which will have the common assent of all categories of road users, and we have sought the advice of almost every section in compiling it. The work has been going on for a considerable time and I hope that we have produced a useful document which will make a contribution towards reducing the casualties on our roads.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
When the last Highway Code came before this House I was responsible, as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, for presenting it, as, indeed, I was for much of the work that went into it. On that occasion, I remember well, large numbers of hon. Members, chiefly from the Opposition, took the opportunity of examining its wording with a microscope, suggesting that there were sentences where the English might possibly be improved, and pouring scorn on those 872 responsible for drafting the Code as a whole. Finally, the House divided on the matter. Naturally, I thought that the Highway Code which I presented was a perfect one, and that the complaints were frivolous.
I remember that incident well and, therefore, when it fell to me to study this document in preparation for talking to the House and expressing the views of my hon. Friends on it, I examined it with particular attention, determined if possible to find things which were wrong, so that I, in turn, might be able to criticise the Highway Code presented by the present Government and, maybe, pour scorn on those responsible.
I must confess that I have failed. Although I am sure that many of my hon. Friends will want to discuss various detailed points in the Code, suggest possible omissions, and suggest perhaps that sufficient emphasis has not been given to one point rather than another, speaking for myself I can find nothing wrong with it, either in substance or in wording. It is altogether an excellent document. I agree, too, with the decision taken by the Government that it was unwise to give the Code statutory force. That suggestion is attractive at first sight, but there are numbers of objections to it, and I know that most of my hon. Friends agree with me that the Government were right in rejecting that advice.
However, I much regret the delay in drawing up and publishing this Code. It has been a long time in gestation, something like three years, and we ought to have had it before. Yet I prefer to have it a little later and perfect than a little earlier and imperfect. And as one who has had some responsibility for drawing up a Code in the past, I congratulate all those responsible for their technical achievement. The advice it contains is expressed in simple, direct and unambiguous English and the document is presented in an attractive way. Those responsible—the officials of the Ministry and the Stationery Office, which was, presumably responsible for the extraordinarily good layout—have done an excellent job and I congratulate them warmly.
It would be fair, too, to congratulate the predecessor of the Minister, the right hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), as he had the Parliamen- 873 tary responsibly for drawing up the document. My satisfaction with his production of this booklet is considerable; it is in almost reverse ratio to my dissatisfaction with nearly all his other activities as Minister of Transport; and when I say that, I am praising the right hon. Gentleman very highly indeed.
Now I want to ask a few questions about the document. The first is, why has the practice in regard to its distribution adopted by the previous Government been abandoned? We thought it was desirable that every household should receive a copy. It is true that copies will be given to a large section of the population—older schoolchildren, motorists, and so on. Yet there are large numbers who are not motorists and who are not school children but who ought to read this Code, such as old people living by themselves and all the pedestrians who are not motorists. They ought to have it. It is a great pity that the Government are not distributing a copy to every household in the country as did the previous Government, and I hope that someone will tell us later that the old practice will be repeated. Perhaps it is a matter of cost?
That brings me to my second point. The House will want to know what will be the total cost likely to fall on the Exchequer. I do not think that any hon. Member would grudge the expense as we are here dealing with a matter of life and death for hundreds of thousands of people. But the House will, nevertheless, want to know the cost involved. There are a number of smaller points. We are all looking forward to hearing what the right hon. Gentleman will say about the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) about printing the Code in Welsh. I give him the point straight away that the Labour Government finally came to the conclusion that it would not print the Code in Welsh. There were considerable difficulties. But the present Government is supposed to improve on whatever the last Government did and they may agree to my right hon. Friend's request.
Have the Government considered publishing an edition in French? Large numbers of visitors come here from abroad in the summer and drive cars. Obviously, one could not print the Code in every European language, but I should have thought that there was something to be said for printing a French edition 874 and distributing copies to those motorists from abroad who wish to drive their cars here.
§ Mr. Strauss
They are supposed to be able to read English.
In page 31 of the section entitled "The Law's Demands," it is stated that when motorists stop their cars they should switch off their headlights at night but see that the side and tail lamps are alight. We know that that is the law, but it is not the practice in central London. It is a pity that instructions should be printed which are not in accordance with common practice. I know that the Minister is considering this matter. I hope that before long he will tell the House what changes he is bringing about in this respect and whether this is purely a London problem or whether it applies to the provincial towns as well. There are different practices in different parts of the world. Some years ago I found, when I was in California, that it was an offence to leave the side lights and tail lights on when the car was parked.
When the Minister is considering the question of the law's demands with regard to lights on vehicles, will he also take some steps to standardise trafficator lights? I find that the twinkling light is distracting and bewildering. I believe that it is a danger on the roads. I should like the right hon. Gentleman and the Government to consider whether they should not abolish that type of light, which is thoroughly bad, and consider new regulations banning it and making the ordinary stable trafficator compulsory, and none other permissible.
I should also like to know what campaign, if any, the Government propose to introduce at the same time as the Highway Code is being distributed. Will it be merely published and given to the various people concerned, with no intensive publicity campaign accompanying it to draw the attention of the public to the importance and value of the booklet and to ask them, by various propaganda means, to use the Code and to be aware of its vital urgency in preventing accidents? I hope that the Government will tell us that they intend to conduct a big educational campaign to accompany the publication of this document.
875 There are two good reasons for doing that. One is that in the final Report of a Departmental Committee on accidents, of which I was chairman until 1947, the advice was given that a continual educational campaign should be directed at the public to try to bring about a fall in the number of accidents. It was suggested that although it should be continual it should vary in intensity from time to time according to the circumstances. Here is a good opportunity to step up that campaign, making the new Highway Code its spearhead.
Moreover, the present situation with regard to road accidents justifies such a campaign. It is true that the number of accidents is substantially less than it was pre-war. For example, on the basis of every 10,000 vehicles on the road the number of accidents has fallen from 22.5 in 1938 to 10.4 last year. That is a remarkable fall. The number of children killed, although very high last year at 510, compares with 792 in 1938. But the serious aspect of this problem is that road accidents are now beginning to increase again. Last year they were about 10 per cent. heavier all round than in 1952. I believe that this year they are again on the increase.
I suggest, therefore, that it is time that a big drive was undertaken, either by the Government or on the initiative of the Government, to deal with such a problem. I had some experience of such a drive in 1947. The Government started a campaign, using all the resources of the Press, hoardings, the B.B.C., organisations such as churches and every device that could be found to bring home to people consciousness of the danger on the roads and the appalling accident rate. It proved its value. Although the number of cars was increasing at that time the number of accidents dropped.
I believe that that was almost certainly due to the campaign which was undertaken on the initiative of the Government through the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. It impinged on all sections of the community, through local road safety campaigns, school campaigns, and so on. The Government experts will suggest where it would be wise to concentrate such a campaign now. It may be in the schools. Certainly, something comparable in the way 876 of a big drive for road safety is called for and here, in the publication of this excellent booklet, there is an admirable opportunity and a basis on which to conduct such a campaign.
I believe that this is a problem which does not derive so much from the inadequacy of our present roads, the number of black spots, and so on. Basically, the problem is how to overcome the carelessness of those who use the roads. The carelessness of individuals is responsible for nine-tenths of the accidents that occur, whether those individuals be motorists, motor-cyclists, cyclists or pedestrians. The problem is how to ensure that there is a permanent awareness in the minds of people of the dangers of the roads and how to make them feel that accidents are not things that happen to other people, but will happen to them if they are not careful.
It is sometimes possible to jerk people into awareness of these problems. If a motorist goes by a spot where there has been an accident and he sees a car piled up he generally drives far more carefully for the rest of the day. He has been shocked into realisation of the danger. I think that it is also true of most of us that when a "traffic cop" passes we say to ourselves, "I must be careful." It was partly to jerk people into that frame of mind that during our safety campaign we issued what was a very unpopular poster with some people, but one which I thought was most valuable. It was known as the "widow poster." It brought home to everybody who saw it that if they were not careful an accident might occur round the corner and they or someone else might be killed.
I do not want to give the Government detailed advice about the extent and scope of any new campaign, but I do believe that the value of this booklet would be 10 times increased if it became the centre of an effective nation-wide drive for the saving of lives. I ask the Government to consider the matter with a view to bringing home to the public as a whole the importance and urgency of this question of road accidents. The numbers of people killed on the roads are terrible, and this document, so admirably designed for its purpose, might, if it became the focal point of a campaign such as I suggest, save thousands of men, 877 women and children from maiming and death. I very much hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider this proposal.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Sir Gurney Braithwaite (Bristol, North-West)
My night hon. Friend reminded the House in his introductory remarks today that for about two years I lived with this problem. During that time I had the honour of being the Chairman of the Departmental Committee on Road Safety. Hon. Members may be interested to know the method by which that body worked in order to achieve the results we have before us this afternoon.
Anyone studying the composition of the Departmental Committee on Road Safety would. I think, first come to the conclusion that it contained all the elements of discord on a topic of this kind. With motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, teachers, T.U.C. representatives, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the police and engineering experts, one would expect a composition of that kind to arrive at disagreement rather than agreement on any of these matters. But the Code which is before us this afternoon was subjected by that body, over a considerable period of time, to what we in this House know as a Committee stage. Every section of the Code was submitted to the most careful examination line by line.
I am sure it will be a great encouragement to the gentlemen composing that body to learn that this afternoon the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss), despite all his microscopic activities, has failed to detect any serious defect in the work they achieved. The Departmental Committee on Road Safety cleared the Code on 19th October, 1953 —rather more than a year ago. Since then it has been submitted to 60 various bodies which are invaribly consulted on such matters.
It would be very difficult to imagine any organisation interested in or having a bearing on this important matter which has not been consulted. That is the reason for the time lag since the Departmental Committee disposed of the Code, but, as the right hon. Member observed, it was well worth it to get this greatly improved production. The crispness and conciseness of the style, layout and colour of the publication is a great improvement on anything which has gone before and I 878 think that the illustrations are easier to understand.
Above all, I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on the fact that the necessary funds for printing the Code have been forthcoming. May I assure him that it was not always so when I was at the Ministry of Transport. I made representations to the Treasury which received responses of a disappointing nature. My right hon. Friend the gamekeeper has become a successful poacher.
The "Daily Herald" remarked not long ago that the Code was laid and then withdrawn because of errors. I think I ought to say that that comment was hardly fair. It was actually taken back for the amending of the appendices owing to the change in the law governing rear lights and reflectors. Hon. Members may recall a Private Member's Bill dealing with that matter going through the House. It also met a valid criticism, to which the Minister referred this afternoon, regarding the use of the right-hand signal to warn road users not to overtake on a zebra crossing.
I was interested to hear the right hon. Member for Vauxhall make a suggestion about an edition of the Code being printed in French. He may remember that in 1952 we passed a small Bill, the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Bill, dealing with cars coming from other countries. During the Committee stage, on behalf of the Government, I gave an undertaking to the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) that every motorist landing in our island would be furnished with a copy of the Code. I went on to add that we could not give an undertaking that it would be printed in all the various languages which might be necessary to cover that pledge, but that part of the matter is being looked after and an undertaking to that effect was given.
I should like to take this opportunity —the only one I shall have—of expressing my personal gratitude to Mr. Edward Terrell, Recorder of Newbury, with whom I had several productive talks and whose imaginative ideas stimulated much of our thought on this vast subject.
Of course, the Code cannot do everything. During my time at the Ministry in charge of these matters of road safety nothing caused me greater distress day 879 in and day out than the numbers of casualties—many of them fatal—to children under five years of age. I remember putting forward a suggestion, which, perhaps, was so simple that it made very little appeal, that the old-fashioned method of having toddlers on reins might do a great deal to prevent them straying on to the highway in the way they do.
I think we are entitled to say that the propaganda of successive Governments and educational work in the schools is bearing fruit in a most satisfactory manner. We live in an age when children can instruct their parents in regard to road safety—I am talking more of pedestrians now—and undoubtedly the schools are producing a new road-conscious generation from which we shall reap the benefit as years go by.
When I was chairman of the Road Safety Committee, the suggestion was made that the Code should have some teeth in it by way of what I would call the prima facie procedure. We recommended that, while failure to observe the Code could not constitute an offence, lack of observance, in the event of there being any criminal or civil proceedings, should be prima facie evidence of negligence by the person involved. I concurred with that opinion and was very hopeful that something of that kind could be done, but I take the opportunity of confessing that I have been converted to the other point of view since that time. The Law Officers of the Crown, with the Lord Chancellor—at that time the Home Secretary—did not endorse our view, and who am I to question such a weight of legal opinion?
I wish to say a word about road accident figures arising out of a point made by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall. He pointed out that in 1953 there was a 10 per cent. increase in the casualties. That is a lamentable fact. By the same token, in 1952 there was a 10 per cent. decrease over 1951. We had a very heavy road safety campaign in 1952 which, I think, bore some fruit. The right hon. Gentleman would also agree—having studied this problem himself from the Parliamentary Secretary's chair—that the real trouble is the enormous increase in the number of mechanical vehicles on 880 the road. I believe that there are about 2 million more than when he was at the Ministry and that they have been increasing by a quarter of a million every year.
There is a tendency, a natural tendency, for the casualty figures to rise with the number of vehicles. That tempts one into another field, the necessity for a road construction campaign, which it would be out of order to discuss now, but I read in the Press that there are signs of such a decision. It only remains for me to wish success to the new Highway Code and to express the hope that the House will this afternoon see fit to give its approval nemine contradicente.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Mr. George Isaacs (Southwark)
I wish to put one or two points to the Minister and to begin by joining in the praise which has been expressed for the drafting of this Code. Some time ago, when I saw the original draft, I put a Question to the Parliamentary Secretary, and I think he will remember that I said I thought it was a great improvement on the old one. In my opinion, it would be wise if magistrates who have to deal with motoring cases were given a copy of the Code. Up to the present, members of my own bench have all had copies. The Code is important, not only to road users, but to those who have to deal with accusations of bad conduct on the road.
I am disappointed—I do not put it any higher than that—at the absence of one thing in the Code. Paragraph 37 states:At a road junction, give way to the traffic on the major road. If in doubt, give way.No guidance is given in a case where there are two major roads, or where two major roads converge, which gives rise to considerable trouble.
I find that when the police have investigated an accident, and decided which of the persons concerned should be prosecuted, and the case comes to court, it does not take long for a clever defending counsel to raise all sorts of doubts about whether his client should be prosecuted or the other man. It is in such cases that the Highway Code is of considerable value because, when the magistrates retire to consider the whole matter, they derive a great deal of help from the terms of the Highway Code. Very often the actual wording of the Code is helpful and resolves a difficulty.
881 In many other lands the rule is that one should give way to the car on the right and that prevents all kinds of trouble. Such a rule operates in the Scandinavian countries and in the East African territories. The only complaints that I have ever heard are from discontented and irritable motorists who say that sometimes one has to wait while several cars go by, but surely that is a good thing.
I would direct the attention of the Minister to examples which may be witnessed in areas with which he must be acquainted from travelling backwards and forwards from his constituency to the House. At Tibbett's Corner there is a roundabout with traffic coming up from the right from Putney Bridge. Fast traffic from Wandsworth comes towards the roundabout, and traffic from the main road to Putney Bridge also comes to the left. What do we find? The traffic coming from London and from Putney Bridge comes together and apparently no one gives way until there is the risk of a collision. The difficulty when travelling from London is that the traffic coming from the right shoots off to the left just as one is moving forward to go along to Kingston. Advice about which traffic should give way under such circumstances would be helpful.
Again, at the foot of the hill going down to the cemetery—I think it rather appropriate to refer to the cemetery in this connection—there is the road coming from Putney, the old Portsmouth Road, and the present London Road. It is only necessary to be at this spot at a busy moment to appreciate the problem for vehicles coming from Putney which have to shoot across the traffic to get to the near side of the road. One has to take the risk of going ahead, and the man following has to decide either to risk passing on the near side or braking, to the detriment of the traffic behind him.
That is the only criticism which I wish to make about the new Code. As the Minister knows, I spend a great deal of time in court dealing with motoring cases. We have four or five every week and always there is this point to consider —there has been a collision, and it is necessary to decide which motorist ought to have given way.
We have heard about the reduction in the number of accidents. From my 882 experience, I should say that the vast majority of motorists are considerate and courteous, but it is the inconsiderate person who causes the trouble—the man who takes a chance; the man who will come along a double line of traffic waiting at a junction, or the man who cuts in from the off-side. Were one to travel this evening on a busy road between 5 o'clock and 6.30 one would find a great stream of traffic going along properly until somebody cuts in. It is such people who do the damage.
The Minister has had this point under consideration and it may be that the motorists' organisation or some other organisation has given him satisfactory reasons why advice about giving way should not be included. Perhaps he will tell the House. I should like to know something about it. I think it would be a great help if I knew that it was my duty to give way or if it was the duty of the other man. That, also, as I say, would be a great help to the magistrates who have to decide this question. This Code is a great improvement on the old Code, and subject to it being brought to the notice of the public as widely as possible, it will be a great help in the future.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Sir Arnold Gridley (Stockport, South)
It is such a long time since I ventured to address the House, owing to my absence through illness, that I feel almost as nervous as I did nearly 20 years ago, when I made a most inferior maiden speech. But my excuse, if one be needed, for venturing to address hon. and right hon. Members for a few moments this afternoon is that I have been an owner-driver for about 48 years and that during that time I have driven about three-quarters of a million miles.
§ Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)
I can beat the hon. Member by a year. I have been driving for 49 years.
§ Sir A. Gridley
I mention that fact in no spirit of boastfulness, but I thank Providence that during the whole of my journeys I have never yet injured a human being. The only person injured was myself on one occasion, which kept me from the House for a few weeks, and my sum and substance of killing animals is two dogs. I think, therefore, that I may claim modestly that in all that period I have not been a careless driver.
883 My experience has taught me that, even today, there is far too much cutting in from the left on the part of drivers. During recent weeks, when the traffic in London has been abnormally dense, those of us who have found ourselves in traffic streams travelling three abreast have frequently found that an impatient driver on the left will push forward and cut in to save a few seconds. I think that paragraph 30 of the Code which appears on page 8 might have been put with greater emphasis.
The other day a taxi driver grossly offended in that way. He cut right across me and I had to pull up almost dead, regardless of the traffic, to avoid a collision. At the next traffic lights he stopped and I pointed out to him that he had no business to cross from the left. He politely told me I did not know what I was talking about. I agree with what the right hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) said about the large proportion of motorists and lorry drivers on the roads who are careful and courteous drivers. But we do suffer from the curse of those who are always in such a devil of a hurry.
This Code is an excellent document and I have read every word of it. I hope that if I had to be cross-examined on it I would pass, at any rate with medium honours. But it is absolutely valueless unless everyone who uses the roads, motorists and motor cyclists, are thoroughly familiar with it, and somehow or other pressure should be brought to bear on those responsible for issuing licences, for example, so that newcomers should prove they are thoroughly acquainted with this Highway Code.
Just consider what the position on the roads will be in three years' time. Every important motor car manufacturer is now laying out millions of pounds—I think over £100 million between them—on new developments which will increase their output of cars. I am quite sure I am not exaggerating when I say that in three or four years from now there will be hundreds of thousands more cars and all types of vehicles on the roads. While it is satisfactory to hear quoted figures of the reduction in the number of casualties, who can be complacent? Are we not all saddened by the fact that the casualties on the roads are still so high? They are 884 really a disgrace to those who use the roads and who are in any way responsible.
I remember a suggestion that a trial period of a month should be made for impounding the car or the lorry which is responsible for an accident. Of course, that would be almost impossible to do but I would not mind saying that, just as a man who sees an accident is more careful in driving for the rest of the day, so the impounding of cars or lorries would make all the rest of the owners of such vehicles more careful for a considerable time afterwards. I realise, however, that there are many difficulties in that suggestion.
I should like, as an example of courtesy, to tell hon. Members of an interesting experience I had with the police when I was coming to the House some time ago. I was driving from Swiss Cottage to Regent's Park in a long line of traffic when a police car came down on my right in a place where we were approaching a bend and where, if there were oncoming traffic, the police car would be right in the way. As it passed me I blew my horn vigorously and sure enough oncoming traffic caused me to hold up the traffic behind me to allow the police car to come in and be in a safe place.
A few hundred yards further on, it pulled out to the left and I drove on. When I entered Regent's Park I was gonged by this car and thought to myself, "I am going to be ticked off for having been rude enough to gong a police car." However, the driver of the car came to me—I had stopped behind as I should—and he said, "I have stopped you, sir, to tender you my humble apologies for having put you to great inconvenience a few yards back. I was chasing a car exceeding the speed limit but, nevertheless, I know I ought not to have been where I was, and I hope you will accept my wholehearted apology." All I could say in answer to this handsome apology was that there was nothing more to be said. When I arrived at the House I told the policeman at the gate what had happened. He said, "Sir Arnold, every member of the police force is taught to be polite."
In my long experience I think most accidents are due to two causes: one from coming in from the left and the other by unnecessary hurrying on the part of impatient drivers. If I might make one 885 suggestion, it would be to print on the cover of this Code somewhere in very plain letters "Never hurry when you are driving a motor car, lorry or cycle." That should be impressed on every driver.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I should like to take this opportunity of saying a word or two in appreciation of this Code, which is an excellent production. I should like also to support the contention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) that something more might be done to introduce the Code to many more people than is likely to be the case in present conditions.
No doubt the Minister has consulted the excellent booklet on road accidents published by his Ministry, which contends that, while the record for 1952 was better than for 1951, this could have been due to the fact that zebra crossings were introduced and that the attendant publicity perhaps helped pedestrians to exercise greater self-discipline and make drivers pay more attention to the actual use and the driving of their vehicles.
If that contention be so, or if there is any basis for it at all, I believe that when the booklet goes on to say that the accident rate in 1953 was increasing, that was due, perhaps, to the falling away of the attendant publicity on zebra crossings and the rest. Therefore, that would seem to suggest that another campaign of propaganda and education is now necessary in order once again to impress the facts about road accidents on people's minds.
The booklet frankly points out that the improvement in 1952 was about 4 per cent. better than in 1951 and 11 per cent. better than in 1938, but that from 1949 to 1951 casualties were increasing. The figures received to date suggest that they are again on the increase. The actual quotation from this booklet is:Moreover, the crossings serve as a constant reminder to drivers of the need for careful driving.If the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary would once again give some consideration to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall, I am sure that most hon. Members would appreciate it.
Turning to the document itself, I am glad to find, in page 5, a sentence 886 addressed to those who use pedestrian crossings. It asks them to be sensible when they step off the kerb, and adds:Wait for a suitable gap in the traffic so that drivers have time to give way.Despite the excellent road education in schools, many children still have a false sense of security. They embark on pedestrian crossings feeling that they are immune to accidents. I am sure that the Minister would wish us to impress on all children the need still to see that vehicles are not near at hand when they actually step on to the crossing.
I have been told by a responsible official in Glasgow that although there are fewer casualties there are now more collisions between vehicles at pedestrian crossings. This may be one result of such children as I have described stepping on to pedestrian crossings without giving drivers ample time. Drivers have to brake suddenly, with the result that collisions take place. Has the Minister any information to substantiate that statement about collisions?
I agree with the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite) that drivers can be most inconsiderate. I have drawn up at pedestrian crossings when driving, in order to give pedestrians the right of way. I have actually waited for children to cross although they were still on the pavement. Despite that, other drivers, seeing that there was an opportunity still to pass over the crossing, have done so, thus committing a flagrant breach if not of their legal then of their moral liability. Most of us would wish to dissociate ourselves from that kind of behaviour.
Can the Parliamentary Secretary give me any information about push-button pedestrian crossings? There are occasions when doubts arise who has the right of way, and, therefore, both pedestrians and motorists hesitate. Can he give me information about the use of lights at pedestrian crossings to indicate who has the right of way? Glasgow has only two of these devices and would like more, but the cost of installing them is prohibited.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
Does the hon. Member recollect an answer to a Parliamentary Question recently, in which the cost of these push-button crossings was stated to be between £350 and £850 per installation? It seems quite small.
§ Mr. Hannan
I am greatly indebted to the hon. Member. I understand that the Ministry insist upon having this kind of crossing, but I am informed that there is another method which costs practically nothing. I have not all the technical details, but I should like to know from the Minister whether this point can be substantiated. My information is that the Ministry are now contemplating a step, which I hope they will reconsider, in regard to these crossings.
Glasgow Corporation are experimenting with a "Don't Cross" sign at Queen Street Station. As I understand the matter, the "Cross Now" sign entails a 12-second wait for traffic, and sometimes pedestrians are half way across when the lights change and the traffic begins to move. The city engineer is now asking for permission to introduce a phase which will mean that at the end of nine seconds another globe will go on saying "Don't Cross." There will thus be a gap of three seconds, which, with the three seconds for the amber light, will give the pedestrian six seconds in all to complete his journey. The "Don't Cross Now" sign was permissible under regulations introduced by the then Minister of Transport in 1950, but the Ministry are contemplating the issuing of new regulations without permission to introduce those signs.
Glasgow Police are in favour of the "Don't Cross" sign. Visitors who have occasion to park their cars when they come to Hampton Park to see Scotland beat all corners will know that Glasgow Police still preserve their good humour in spite of the results that we have had there.
I am sure we all deplore the rise in the number of drivers found drunk and incapable in charge of a vehicle. The Chief Constable of Inverness County Police, in his annual report, is asking for heavier penalties for this offence. I am with him all the way on this matter. The Chief Constable says, according to a newspaper report, that people under the influence of drinkwere responsible for 14 accidents, but a perusal of the relative reports shows that several accidents were only averted by the action of other motorists.He goes on to say:The prevalence of this serious type of offence which is giving came for alarm would 888 appear to indicate that much more drastic forms of punishment are called for.I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland on 11th May this year for information on this matter. I wanted to know:How many persons were reported last year, at the most convenient date, for driving, attempting to drive, or being in charge of, a motor vehicle while under the influence of drink; and what is the highest yearly total previously recorded."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May. 1954; Vol. 527, c. 60.]The number I got was that in 1953 1,392 cases of people being in charge of a motor vehicle while under the influence of drink or drugs were reported to the police in Scotland. The highest yearly total previously reported was stated to be 1,130 in 1951, so there was an increase of more than 200. This is a most regrettable feature of our road traffic. It is reprehensible and the Ministry ought to consider this matter at the earliest moment.
I recognise that I have departed a little from the strict subject matter of the Highway Code, but I hope that the House will forgive me if I have strayed. I commend the Highway Code to my hon. and right hon. Friends, and hope that the Minister will consider the points that I have raised.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I wish to comment on the layout of the Code and its presentation in the booklet. In doing so I regret that I cannot be as complimentary as the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) and other hon. Gentlemen opposite. Many hon. Members have had, and are having, the experience of bringing up a small son. I wonder which of two precepts they would think of the greatest importance in that upbringing—never to remain seated when a lady is standing or never to steal? In short, would one first teach the child to avoid illegality or ill-manners? The answer must necessarily be that first one should teach the child the law.
That is not the answer which would be given by the designers and those who laid out the new publication. They have relegated the legal obligations to six pages of small type at the end of the document. This puts wrong values on the Code as a whole.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
On the very first page of the booklet, on the inside cover, the first statement about children is:Protect them and train them in road safety.The first priority is given to this point in the five warnings.
§ Mr. Page
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman, but that does not affect my argument that the legal obligations of all road users, pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, children and others, are shown at the back of the booklet in small type. It is generally acknowledged that the three methods of tackling road safety are included in what are called the three E's—engineering, education and enforcement. I suppose that one would include the Highway Code under education.
I do not ask that the terms of the Code should be made enforceable. It has its strength in the provision of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, that any breach of the Code can be relied on as establishing liability. I suggest that the arrangement at the end of the booklet draws the teeth of the Code and makes it a somewhat toothless and gummy creation. Not only does it draw the teeth of the Code but it draws the teeth of the law in the arrangement whereby the Code is set out first in fairly large type and, then, after several pages of pictures, the legal obligations are outlined.
§ Sir Frederick Messer (Tottenham)
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that if everybody followed the first part we would not need the second?
§ Mr. Page
Surely in any document directed towards road conduct it would be wise first to say, "If you drive carelessly, it is a crime; if you drive dangerously, it is a crime; if you drive a car when you are drunk, it is a crime." It would be interesting to know in what proportion of accidents an offence has been committed. I should say that the proportion is very high. If one could impress upon the public first those items of conduct which Parliament has laid down to be so dangerous that they are criminal offences, then there would be a great reduction in accidents.
It is right and proper to teach courtesy in road conduct, but that is outside the criminal law covering what is an offence on the road. This complaint could have 890 been avoided by placing the legal obligations and the Code alongside one another. I do not suggest any amendment in the wording. I merely suggest an arrangement whereby the legal obligations could be married with the paragraphs of the Code. For instance, in page 31 there is the statement, as a legal obligation:You must not drive recklessly or at a speed or in a manner which is dangerous to the public.In the Code that is covered by the statement:Never drive at such a speed that you cannot pull up well within the distance you can sec to be clear.Surely we should first impress on the public the legal obligation and then what is the right code of conduct. That applies to many other paragraphs in the Code and sections in what are termed "The Law's Demands."
Another example is, that in page 30 it is said that a motorist should see that his headlights…comply in particular with the anti-dazzle requirements.In section 19 of the Code there is the statement:If you are dazzled, slow down or stop.It would greatly strengthen the Code if the legal obligations were given their right values. As they are stated at present I feel that those who read them are likely to lose sight of the legal obligations.
On another point of layout and arrangement, why should Part I, which might be supposed to contain the most important part of the Code, be for the road user on foot? Before the 1946 Highway Code the arrangement was different. The first part dealt with the road user on wheels, but since 1946 the first injunctions have been to the pedestrian. The Minister has told us that there is not to be a house-to-house distribution of this document, so it will be read primarily by the drivers. It seems to me to be putting a misleading construction on the Cede to arrange it in this way.
It might be said that the order of presentation is unimportant, but I suggest that it is vital to arrange the document so that the important parts appear first. We should remember that five-sixths of accidents which occur on the roads would occur if there were no pedestrians at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If those who object to that 891 statement refer to page 28 of the document "Road Accidents—1952" they will see there an analysis which shows that the total number of accidents was 264,026 of which only 46,758 involved a vehicle and a pedestrian. In only 46,000 out of 264,000 accidents was a pedestrian involved. Therefore, I am correct in saying that Part I of the Code is effective in dealing with only one-sixth of the possible accidents.
Paragraph 18, in page 6, says:Never drive at such a speed that you cannot pull up well within the distance you can see to be clear.That seems to me to be a cardinal rule of the road. Paragraph 29 is printed in heavy type. Why should not paragraph 18 be in heavy type? It seems to sum up a great deal of proper driving conduct. It also says:At night, always drive well within the limit of your lights.I suspect that the fact that paragraph 18 is not stressed more represents an attitude of soft-pedalling on the question of speed.
My suspicion is increased by reference to the footnotes. I do not know whether the footnotes are intended to form part of the Code. It is true that they appear on the pages of the Code which we are asked to approve, but I submit that they do not form part of it. It is obvious that the numbered paragraphs constitute the Code, and, therefore, it would be in order for the Minister, even though he gets the approval of the House to the Code, to cut out the footnotes altogether.
That is what I ask the Minister to do, and I will give the reason for it. The footnotes deal with figures from 1952. The figures are true for one year only—if they were true at all—and they are already out of date. The footnote at the bottom of page 5 says:Getting on or off public vehicles without due care contributes to 7,500 accidents a year.The one in page 6 says:Going too fast contributes to 7,500 accidents a year.Is it really suggested that going too fast contributes to no more accidents than getting on or off public vehicles?
These figures come from the document which I have just quoted, the road statistics for 1952. I am sure that the Ministry 892 know the remarks of both their own Director of Road Research and the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police about those figures in relation to speed.
Dr. Glanville, the Director of Road Research. Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, in connection with statistics about speed contributing to accidents, said:First of all, we must discard as unacceptable the evidence of the police statistics that only a few per cent. of accidents have speed as a contributory factor. Judging the speed after the event is much too uncertain a procedure.He went on to speak about the great reduction in accidents when the 30 m.p.h. speed limit in built-up areas was introduced. He is perfectly clear that, on the police statistics, these figures are unreliable.
The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis said in his statistical analysis of road accidents in 1953:One of the most difficult assessments to make is that of speed before an accident. It is only human for the drivers in an accident to understate their actual speed at the time and unless there is outside evidence, such as skid marks, etc., it may be difficult to prove that speed was an essential factor. This may explain the low place which this factor occupies in the tables relating to vehicle drivers and riders.Therefore, neither the police nor the Road Research Department place any reliance in the statistics on speed contributing to accidents.
Indeed, looking at the figures, I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that they are thoroughly untruthful. Can it possibly be suggested that going too fast has nothing whatever to do with 34 out of every 35 accidents? Yet we are told that going too fast contributes to only 7,500 accidents out of 264,000.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)
I wonder whether the statistics have been compiled from reports of police court cases. I happen to be a magistrate, and it seems to me that the collisions which take place almost invariably do so between stationary vehicles.
§ Mr. Page
The hon. Gentleman exactly proves my case. The police speak of their difficulty in giving the statistics and attributing speed as a cause of the accidents and trying to judge the speed of vehicles before accidents happen.
893 As a motorist, I hate to admit that speed has anything to do with accidents, but I like to get from one place to another as quickly as possible, and I enjoy driving a high-powered car at speed, and if I am honest with myself, I know that the majority of accidents occur through inability to stop a car in time to avoid an accident. What is that but going too fast? To say that only 7,500 accidents out of 264,000 are caused by going too fast is, to say the least, asking us to stretch our imagination a long way.
I should like now to sum up my suggestions for revising the layout of the Code. I am not asking for a revision of the words of the Code which have been dealt with so very thoroughly by responsible persons and bodies and which seem to be in a very good form for getting over to the public. As to the layout, I suggest that we promote "The Law's Demands" to a more important position, that we reverse Parts 1 and 2 so that the first part shall deal with road users on wheels, that heavy type be used for paragraph 18 and that the footnotes be deleted.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
I propose to detain the House for only a very short time as a result of a lecturette which was directed at me the other night about taking too much of the time of the House in dealing with this matter. I thought the questions I had to raise were so important that they deserved the time which I gave to them. However, tonight I can afford to cut my remarks down to the shortest possible dimensions.
I repeat what I said the other night, that I am very pleased with the Highway Code. I realise what the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) does not appear to realise, that it is hardly possible to deal with legal obligations in the Highway Code in the way he has proposed. It is laid down in the original Road Traffic Act under which the Code becomes possible that a failure on the part of any person to observe any provision of the Code shall not of itself render that person liable to criminal proceedings. Consequently, we really have to do what the Minister of Transport advises.
We have to regard the Code not as a body of law but as a collection of do's and don'ts; it is a code of conduct, and 894 we have to make the best of it from that point of view. I support my right hon. Friend in saying that as it is a code of conduct, the arrangements that we make for its publication must be treated as a matter of the greatest urgency. The fact that we are devoting half a day to the discussion of the matter will not, in my opinion, be sufficient to emphasise its importance in the country, where road accidents remain so grave a matter.
I agree with my right hon. Friend that, before this debate concludes, some indication should be given of the steps, on a much larger scale than anything that has been done before, that are to be taken to give proper publicity to this Code among all pedestrians and motorists. Every house in the country contains people who need the protection of this Code.
To return to the point concerning children, on which I interrupted the hon. Member for Crosby, the part of the Code that I like best is the first page, on the inside of the cover, although I observe that in page 3 it is laid down that theCode, between pages 4 and 26, is issued with the Authority of Parliament.If the contents on the inside of the cover were also issued under the authority of Parliament, greater point would be added to this publication.
One of the great needs is to bring home to the children, through the schools and parents, the dangers that they constantly face on our roads. I live in a heavily populated area in London. The streets in my neighbourhood, I agree, are not regarded as main roads, but I live in a street near the Oval where cars are constantly driven in order to get away from the main road traffic. From the London County Council flats I see all around me children going on to the roads with toy tricycles and bicycles, sometimes running along the footpath, although I believe that strictly that is illegal.
In my childhood, when roads were nothing like as dangerous as they are now, my parents would never have thought of submitting me to the risks of going out on to the roads in charge of my own machine. Yet in London great numbers of children emerge on to the roads with vehicles that they cannot properly control, at an age when they ought not to be submitted to that sort of risk. Children should only ride bicycles 895 after they have had effective instruction, not only at school but at home as well. I hope that that very important reminder in the Code, to protect the children and train them in road safety, will be regarded as one of the most important points that we should deal with.
I now come to the matter in which I am especially interested. I am delighted to find that among the five priorities listed on the first page—the inside of the cover—the Government have placed alcohol in the fourth position. I ask for nothing more than that. But I should like to know why the excellent start that has been made by putting that item in the fourth place was not continued on the last page inside the cover. From an educational point of view, that last page is one of the best parts of the Code, and I hope that when consideration is given to publicising the Code, the schools in particular will take note of the diagram and analyse it thoroughly, so that every child may understand it.
Hon. Members will observe that a car travelling at 50 miles an hour will, on an average, travel 175 feet before it can be stopped. Of that distance, 50 feet is the thinking distance; that is, the distance of travel before the driver can react to the danger that confronts him. I would point out, however, that it has been proved scientifically that if a driver has taken alcohol that distance of 50 feet is, on the average, increased.
According to the diagram, if a driver is travelling at 40 miles an hour, he travels 40 feet before he can do anything at all, before there is any sign of the car commencing to stop. At a speed of 30 miles an hour the car travels 30 feet before the driver begins to stop it; and in every case if a driver has taken alcohol that distance is increased. The British Medical Association would accept that statement. The Royal Commission, which examined the matter 20 years ago, would accept that statement, and it is embodied in the instructions which are given in the schools.
I should like that point to be brought out in the last page. At the bottom of the last page we are reminded that:Vehicles other than private cars or small vans may need twice these distances in which to pull up on dry roads. On wet roads, for all vehicles, allow twice the normal margin of safety.896 To that reminder I should like to see added, "Remember that if alcohol has been taken by a driver, these distances will be lengthened and the danger condition of all types of cars will be increased."
If those issues are given great publicity through the campaign which I hope is to take place, they will be of advantage to the general public. I hope that when the B.B.C. is approached on this matter, both as regards sound broadcasting and television, the Government will insist that none of the five priorities to which I have referred will be ignored.
I trust also that in the design of the placards—especially as there have been doubts about an excellent placard which I once brought to the House—the danger of alcohol on the roads will remain as a matter of the greatest importance. I hope it will be borne in mind by the community that although we are not laying down legal obligations, this danger has to be eliminated if our people are to have a fair chance of avoiding road accidents.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan McKibbin (Belfast, East)
I support the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) in what he said about blinking trafficators. He called them twinkling trafficators. That may be a more polite term, but it is not so expressive. I think that they are a blinking nuisance. I raised this matter last week in a supplementary question, and my right hon. Friend said that he would consider the matter. I can only hope that he has done so.
A far more important requirement is the standardisation of headlamps. I want to know why manufacturers have been allowed to abandon the making of dipping nearside headlights synchronised with cut-out offside headlights. Most new models provide for both headlights to be kept on. It is very difficult to see whether or not they are dipped and, even when they are, they are still blinding, and cause approaching drivers to switch on their headlights by way of retaliation.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
My hon. Friend should bear in mind that it is extremely dangerous to have one headlight out and the other on when both small sidelights are on, because it 897 is very easy for an oncoming motorist not to realise that it is a broad vehicle which is approaching him. One may be deluded into thinking that it is a motor bicycle. It was merely owing to the fact that I was uncommonly acute in seeing that snag in time last week that I am here tonight.
§ Mr. McKibbin
I have been driving motor cars for many years, and I have used both types of headlights. I am sure that 90 per cent. of drivers are convinced that the old system was much better and safer than the new one, which manufacturers are foisting upon us because it is cheaper. The old type of lamp had dipping reflectors; with the new type it is the filament which goes out. It is absolutely wrong that the few shillings involved should be allowed to stand in the way of road safety.
Last Thursday I travelled on a London bus, and I felt very sorry for the driver. Cars with every kind of headlight approached. There were cars with double-dipping headlights; cars being driven with sidelights only; cars dipping one headlight, and motor cycles with single headlights almost as powerful as searchlights. In a well lighted city some arrangements should be made whereby people should drive either with headlights or sidelights on. That would cause far less confusion.
Paragraph 65 of the new Highway Code gives a good deal of advice about parking cars, but one piece of advice seems to have been omitted, namely, that cars should be parked on the nearside. One frequently sees them parked on the wrong side, and this is particularly dangerous when lights are on at night. I want to call the Minister's attention to that point.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. S. P. Viant (Willesden, West)
When I heard the Minister introducing this new Highway Code I was rather disturbed about his reference to the various sections of the community to whom the Code was to be distributed. I asked myself whether only 10 million people are likely to be affected. We are hoping that by the distribution of the Code we shall mitigate the terrible slaughter and disaster which takes place on our roads day by day. We know that one of the main factors in this matter must be education.
898 The Code is to be issued and distributed with a view to educating each and every citizen upon points which should be avoided if they wish to avert being slaughtered on the roads. Every household should have a copy of the Code. It affects not only motorists but pedestrians. Some people may not read the Code, but that is no reason why they should not be provided with a copy, and even exhorted to read it.
It is an exceedingly good document; a vast improvement on what has gone before, but we shall fall short of our duty as a Parliament if we do not ensure that every household has a copy. I hope that the Minister will reconsider his proposal in that regard. It may be expensive, but in considering that I would ask the Minister and, through him, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to remember the enormous sums which are being taken from the motorists every day, week, month and year.
My next point concerns the fourth of the exhortations on the inside front cover. It reads as follows:Alcohol, even in quite small amounts, makes you less safe on the roads. Be sure you are fit to use them.In place of the second sentence, I should prefer something to the following effect: "Be sure you take none when you are about to use the roads." Bearing in mind the large number of accidents which occur because people venture to drive vehicles when they are under the influence of alcohol, this would be quite a reasonable exhortation. Furthermore, I consider that we are entitled to request motorists not to take alcohol when they are about to drive a vehicle on the roads.
It was my privilege and pleasure, about two years ago last June, to open the debate on road safety. I want to give the Ministry of Transport its due for carrying out a number of the promises made on that occasion. It is not often we get an opportunity of candidly thanking the Minister of Transport or other Ministers, but there have been considerable improvements. On that occasion we were about to inaugurate the zebra crossings. They had been inaugurated in certain places, but we had had little or no experience of what their effect was likely to be.
We have now had a quite reasonable length of time in which to judge how the 899 zebra crosings operate, and I, from my own experience, want to praise them. I think they have been a great help. I am sorry that there has not been included in this Code a suggestion that I made on that former occasion, that a pedestrian, when about to use a zebra crossing, should give warning by raising his hand above his head. If pedestrians were to give that warning, motorists could tell whether the pedestrians were about to cross.
As recently as last Saturday, when I was coming from Harrow, between the lights at one point a lady looked one way but did not look in the direction from which I was coming, and stopped off the kerb. It was with extreme difficulty that I was able to pull up in time. Raising the hand before attempting to cross the road at a zebra crossing would at least give motorists a clue that one was about to do so. What is more important, the action would tend to make us conscious of the fact that we were about to cross the road.
This suggestion does not cost anything. It is a matter of education, and if it were adopted it would become a general mode of conduct. If there is a case against it I shall be interested to hear what it is, but up to now I have not heard any case against it. Even the police, when they desire to hold up the traffic to enable pedestrians to cross the road, invariably hold one hand above their head. I have not heard the case against this suggestion, and I am disappointed that it has not been incorporated in the Code.
When I first heard of the proposals for the Highway Code, and noticed that this proposal was not included amongst them, I wrote to the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor at the Ministry and suggested to him that it had been omitted by an oversight. I shall listen with patience to hear what the case is against that proposal. If there is not a strong case against it, I hope it will receive further consideration.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) that some notice should be given to oncoming motorists by foot passengers 900 intending to cross the road. I myself always give such notice, and I raise my hat on those occasions, because I am expecting a favour and wish to express my gratitude at receiving it. There is a good deal of uncertainty and dilly-dallying at crossings among drivers, but foot passengers tend to contribute to it, and it could be remedied to a great extent if pedestrians intending to use the crossings were to give a clear indication of their purpose. In this respect, I am in full agreement with the hon. Member for Willesden, West.
I am not so much in agreement with him or with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) in wishing this document to be given away free. I do not believe that things should be given away free. They are only valued accordingly. Things given away free are not valued. This Code costs a lot of money to print. The cost to the purchaser is 1d., but that is not the cost of the printing. For 1 million, this is a £4,000 or £5,000 job, and to give it away free would be a piece of public extravagance. What are we to say of any person who does not think that a handbook designed to save his life and the life of his fellow citizens is worth more than 1d.?
It is very important that the Code should be bought. It should be sold for 6d. rather than Id. Nothing impresses the value of anything on the mind more than having to pay for it. I hope there will not be a free distribution, for that would not only be undesirable but disastrous, and I hope that my hon. Friend will not accept the pleas put forward, no doubt for very good reasons, by the Opposition that the document should be distributed free. It should be an expensive one. Teachers should say, "You will buy a copy of this and take it home."
The Stationery Office should make window displays of the Code. I see that the Code may be purchased direct from the Stationery Office or through any bookseller. Booksellers are having an anxious time, and I do not see any bookseller wanting to sell this handbook at 1d. a copy and without a margin. If it were 6d. retail booksellers, no doubt, would be pleased to buy and sell it to all their customers, especially if they were able to get 13 for 1s. with a discount 901 of 25 per cent. on a bulk order, but the present selling price will not attract booksellers to advertise it—or the public to buy it. If it were 6d. or 1s. it would be more likely to sell, and to get in the hands of the right people, and would certainly be more valued. I say that because things that are cheap are not valued.
That is a principle I cite on many occasions, but specifically on this. When one wants a railway time-table one buys it. Time-tables are not issued free by British Railways. If one wants a bus time-table, one pays for it; at least, one does in my part of the country. Why should we not pay for this document as well? I hope that my right hon. Friend will not entertain this idea that there should be a free distribution of this handbook throughout the country, and that he will bear in mind that that would reduce its value and cause it to be looked upon merely as a leaflet handed out at a by-election at which the return of the Labour candidate is certain.
I draw attention now to a sentence at the bottom of page 12 of the Code. Many Members of the House, notably the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) have been preoccupied with the subject of drink, which is not one which is easy for us to deal with, but at the bottom of page 12 are some words that should resound throughout the country, because here is a problem with which we can deal. We cannot control irresponsible persons who get drunk, I regret to say. I wish we could. However, we can control dogs.
§ Sir W. Darling
The way to the hon. Member's heart is to be a teetotaler. The hon. Member thinks that the first prerequisite of virtue is to be a teetotaler. He will not expect me to share that view.
The words at the bottom of page 12 are:The presence of dogs and other animals in the carriageway contributes to 4,000 accidents a year.That is a very serious number of accidents, every one of them avoidable. Some time ago, on television, I spoke on the subject of dogs.
§ Sir W. Darling
I had 450 letters. Every one of them was against me The 902 sacred cow of the British proletariat is the dog. I came forward with the view that the dog is a nuisance, is a possible carrier of disease, and is certainly a danger on the roads.
Since the days of Benjamin Disraeli the tax on dogs has stood at what it stands today, 7s. 6d. I had to advise my right hon. Friend on this matter when he was Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I suggested to him that if he wanted to raise the revenue there was this tax, which stood at the same figure as it stood 50 years ago. I am sure that the lovers of dogs will be the first to agree with me that the carelessness with which dogs are allowed to wander on the highway is dangerous to the dogs and dangerous to human life. If we are a nation of dog lovers, I should like to see that dogs are properly licensed and under control.
§ Mr. Follick
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that it is almost equally dangerous to have dogs inside a car, especially large dogs?
§ Sir W. Darling
To have a dog inside a car, particularly in proximity to the driver, is probably just as dangerous. I should probably be out of order if I were to pursue this subject very far, but I suggest to my right hon. Friend that it is clear that for safety's sake there should be proper control of dogs by registration and taxation.
Today, the dog is registered at the post office, whereas it should be registered at the local authority offices. The licence fee of 7s. 6d. goes to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and not to the local authority, who tidy up after the dog. The money all goes to central Government funds, although I admit that grants are made from these funds to local authorities.
I should like to see dogs more firmly under control. I see that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) is here, and I suggest to him that there is no reason why the dog tax in Kensington should not be five guineas, for in Kensington a dog is a luxury. A dog in Lanark or some other country town could be taxed at 5s.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I think the hon. Member is developing the question of taxation and is going beyond the Highway Code.
§ Sir W. Darling
I agree that I am going a little wide of the subject, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I take it that we are allowed to comment upon the extent to which the dog is responsible for road accidents and, if that is so, to what extent it should be controlled. One of the minor ways of controlling things is by charging for them. To discuss giving away the Highway Code for nothing is obviously in order, but charging more for a dog licence, which would have an effect on road safety, is out of order, as I agree.
I come to the subject of bicycles. I drove a car until 1918, when I abandoned it because I was told that my reactions were too slow and that I was constitutionally unsuited to such activities. The House should know that at this point I decided to enter public life. When I drove a car I found that one of the great nuisances on the road was the cyclist. I think that the cycle and the dog on the roads are two subjects which might be considered from the fiscal point of view as well as from the road safety point of view. I know that this is not a popular suggestion; to tax the cyclist and the dog is in the interests of road safety, but it is not such a popular idea as the free distribution of the Highway Code. While it is not as popular, in my view it is just as important.
The problem of safety on the roads must be approached from every conceivable angle. I am at one with the hon. Member for Ealing, North—who rides his favourite hobby horse into every circus that he can find—in saying that the consumption of alcoholic liquor is detrimental to the sensibility which one requires when one is in charge of a car. I expected to hear the hon. Gentleman challenging the statement on the back page which contains a sentence to which, I hope, he will not take great exception:Do not give a cup of tea or other fluid.I quite agree that the reference makes it plain that this is concerned with first aid on the road. We are told that apparently it is equally undesirable to do two things—to have alcoholic stimulant and to havea cup of tea or other fluid.904 Thus we note that teetotallers and others are joined together at least on the back page, under the heading of "First Aid on the Road."
I return to my central theme, which is that we should not give away the booklet free; that we should consider the possibility of controlling dogs, unpopular as such a proposal may be; and that we should look at the arch-wobblers of the road, the cyclists.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) will, I know, excuse me if I do not follow his argument. If I did I might be telling some shaggy dog stories. The hon. Member spoke of his own reactions. We know very well that he becomes increasingly stimulated by his own humour. He is never anxious to deal with the subject before the House, but always seems to deal with a subject of his own which amuses him greatly.
I have had a good deal to do with motor cars for many years, and I am glad that this booklet is called a Highway Code. I disagree with the suggestion that, in the main, it should enumerate the laws on the subject. I recall a man who, in his home, was most fastidious, careful, quiet and patient, and who took hours to do the most simple job. Once he was in his motor car and on the road, he was a maniac; everybody was too slow and he cursed them in a most frightful fashion. To handle a car well on the road demands not laws and regulations but character, competence, courtesy and good behaviour. That is why I am pleased that this Code is a code of behaviour and conduct.
This summer I was driving on a long stretch of road on which I encountered some acute corners, where the road had been well banked. It was possible to take them quite easily at 30 to 35 miles an hour, or even at 40 miles an hour. A mile further on we came across another corner, which was not banked at all. Unless one had one's eyes on the road, one would not notice the absence of this banking. We saw three cars in the ditch. The drivers had come from a good stretch of road, well banked, on to a piece of road which was not banked, had skidded on the wet road around the bend and driven into the ditch.
905 The first point addressed to drivers of motor vehicles on page 29, is:Before driving, make sure that your insurance is in order, i.e. that it covers the liabilities in respect of third party risks of yourself, and any other person who may use your vehicle.I remember borrowing a car a couple of years ago. My wife and I were making a journey. The car insurance was in order, but I had not travelled very far from the house before I discovered that the car brakes would not work. I had to drive for 14 miles on the gears. Yet that car was insured.
I am not a motorist now because I cannot afford to be, but as an engineer I am interested in these problems, and in my view too many cars go on to the roads carrying third party insurance but not fit for the road. I should like to see a Highway Code, indeed, an Act of Parliament, which would strengthen the provisions dealing with the insurance of cars so that each year they would have to be taken in for a thorough inspection before another insurance was issued. Some cars on the roads today are 20 years old. Some of them are good cars, but I have handled cars within the last two years which are quite unfit to be on the roads.
I remember the circumstances before the war when four-wheel brakes were introduced and when some of us had only two-wheel brakes. I remember the old "T" model Ford with the brake on the drum of the back axle. If the back axle went, one could not hold the car. One could have driven into a house or into a brook when the brake went. In those days, once we lost the brake of the old "T" model Ford we had finished.
Between the wars, four-wheel brakes were introduced. I remember that the old 1923 bull-nosed Morris had four-wheel brakes. We did not have them and we should have run into the back of the preceding car if we had been driving too close to it. That sort of thing has passed, because all cars have four-wheel brakes, but we still have accidents because the car in front has good brakes while the car behind has no brakes or brakes which have not been inspected for a year or two. We know that some motorists do not bother or cannot afford to have their cars overhauled, and even when they take them into garages to have them overhauled the people in the garages do not always overhaul them. Time and 906 again cars are taken in for overhaul, but a thorough overhaul is not carried out.
In my view, the answer to all this is that when an application is made each year for the renewal of a car insurance, that car should be taken for inspection and should be passed as fit for the road. I believe that is the main answer to the problem.
I want to support the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North on the question of alcohol. At a recent social function, I was pleased to see two gentlemen there who refused to take a drink all the evening. They were asked to have a couple of drinks before they left, but each had a car and each said, "No." They said that when they were going to drive a car, they never took a drink. I complimented them. When one goes round the country, one sees road-houses with dozens of cars and coaches outside, and there is no doubt that excessive drinking of alcohol, or even the drinking of alcohol in small amounts, affects a driver's reactions and causes many road accidents.
On the question of clogs, which was raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South, I think it is important that in built-up areas we should ask people to keep their dogs on leads. I lost a dog of my own through not doing so. It was my own neglect. A child plays with a ball, a dog runs into the road after the ball—and the dog is run over. It may be that on a wet road the car skids and mounts the pavement. It is very dangerous for dogs to be running loose on the roads. In built-up areas, people should be strongly exhorted to keep their dogs on leads and not allow them out alone in the streets.
§ Sir G. Braithwaite
If people would look, they would find the necessary exhortation on the back of their dog licences.
§ Mr. Bence
I think that this could be brought out a little more strongly in the Code than it is. I wholeheartedly support the Highway Code, and I think it is much better than the previous one. But I hope that the Minister will not take the advice of his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South and have this Code printed on special paper, autographed by himself, and charge two guineas for it. I think it should be read 907 by everyone, because I know that there are docile people who are very placid in their homes and at work but who, once they get into their cars, become almost lunatics.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
I have been sent to this House by the electors of Ilford, North, and my constituents are in the front line of the road war. That is so for one particular reason. Through my constituency runs a trunk road. It is one of those areas in which a trunk road runs through a heavily built-up residential area. It so happens—and I am sure that this also applies to other constituencies which are subjected to similar conditions—that on one-fiftieth of the length of the road running through my constituency 50 per cent. of the lamentably high number of accidents which occur take place. When I was invited to contest the by-election in Ilford, North, earlier this year, I went to the constituency to start my campaign and had not been there two days before I had seen three bodies lying on the road in various parts of the constituency, covered with blood.
This debate is thus of great importance to my constituents as well as to others in similar circumstances. It has a particularly tragic relevance for me and for the people of Iford today because it so happens that yesterday evening two elderly ladies, one 70 and the other 75, on their way to church, tried to cross Eastern Avenue—the ancient high road from London into East Anglia which runs through this part of Ilford—and were knocked down and killed by a motor car.
The point to note about that particular occurrence is this: so far as one can see at this stage—and I do not imagine that it will prove to be different—no one was really to blame. The two old ladies looked both ways when crossing the road and thought that it was clear; the motorist came along at, I understand, a reasonable speed; yet there was this tragic and fatal accident. The tragedy is made more fearful by the fact that we know perfectly well that there will be, in such places, many more accidents. We could order the gravestones now for the people who will be killed in similar circumstances in my constituency.
908 What the House wants to know, and what people outside want to know, is what is the remedy for this intolerable state of affairs. It is all very well to welcome, as we do, this Highway Code. But we must recognise that it is only a minute contribution to the effort which should be made to bring the toll of deaths on the road under control. What is much more important than any code of conduct or any legislation is that there should be improvements made in the actual roads themselves, so that legislation and codes may be operated in reasonable circumstances.
§ Mr. Iremonger
If the hon. Member will follow my argument a little further, he will see that I am thinking very much along the same lines. The point which I wish to make is that it is not enough to lay down general codes of conduct and not enough to enact legislation. What is more important is to provide the conditions in which the legislation and codes of conduct can be applied.
In the case which I want the House to consider now—the case of trunk roads running through built-up areas—what is required are lights, "cross-now" signs, subways and bridges over the roads. Unless these are provided, it is quite possible for every one concerned to do all those things that they ought to do and to do none of those things that they ought not to do, and still for pedestrians to be killed.
I should like to see, in my constituency and in other places similarly situated, more subways and bridges and controlled crossings. And in this connection I consider that one part of the Highway Code which should be particularly emphasised is Part 1, paragraph 9, which says:Where there is a pedestrian crossing, refuge, footbridge or subway, use it.I think that there are not enough of these crossings, refuges, footbridges or subways, anyway, but that even where they are provided they are too often not used.
909 Quite recently a child was killed in my constituency actually on a part of the roadway which had a subway directly underneath it. Therefore, although I do not think that the Highway Code itself is enough, I do think that it should be specially emphasised in the Code that such important provisions for road safety as may be made ought to be made full use of by the public. As it is, there are not enough such provisions made for pedestrians, and this has the result that people cross the roads without expecting facilities to be provided to enable them to do so safely.
I think that the House should urge upon the Minister that although we welcome and recognise the value of this Highway Code, and, in the quaint phraseology of the Order Paper, "take note" of it, we do not think that it is enough, and we do not delude ourselves into imagining that this Code has even touched the fringe of the real problem.
We admire my right hon. Friend's energy, and we should encourage him to use it to do what is really required—that is, to press upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer the claims of his Department for more funds so that money can be diverted to improving roads. It is really a very cheap insurance against the kind of tragedy of which at present I am particularly aware, because its attendant sorrow happens to be sweeping through the streets of my constituency. If my right hon. Friend can get from the Chancellor of the Exchequer the extra money that is required to make the Highway Code have some real meaning and use, he will be paying a very small premium to help prevent numberless tragedies that will otherwise occur. It will be a small ransom to pay to Death for those mothers' children he would otherwise claim.
It is primarily the very old and the very young who suffer death in circumstances which the Government and this House should regard as their responsibility to try to prevent.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
I wish to intervene only briefly in this debate with a contribution which, I hope, will be acceptable, in that it is based on personal experience as a driver. First, I would reinforce what was said by 910 my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) about pedestrians giving a signal before they use a zebra crossing. I really believe that if this were generally done it would make the zebra crossings far safer. When the pavements are crowded with people it is virtually impossible for a motorist to anticipate their intentions. Unless a motorist is to regard every zebra crossing as a sort of "Slow—major road ahead" sign, he is bound to approach it at a normal speed, and in the event of somebody moving on to the crossing he is bound to have to stop very suddenly.
I do not know the actual figures, but I should say that a number of collisions between cars must have been caused because a driver, faced with a sudden decision, has stopped suddenly and has been struck from behind. I have been in that position myself, having been hit from behind when I had no option but to stop, although it was imposible to anticipate that a person was coming on to the zebra crossing.
My second point concerns traffic lights. Traffic signals are an efficient means of controlling intersections, but I think we are much too generous to the motorist in giving warning that the lights are about to change to green. I see no reason why a group of stationary traffic should be given any warning that the lights are changing green in its favour. This is not done in some other countries, and certainly not in the United States, although the practice there varies from State to State and from city to city. Even when there are three-colour lights, the lights go direct from red to green when moving in favour of the traffic which is about to start.
§ Mr. Iremonger
One great virtue, which I hope the hon. Member will not overlook, in allowing the lights to go amber is that it gives a driver a chance to start moving, so that the people behind do not press their hooters.
§ Mr. Benn
I hope that the hon. Member, who made such a thoughtful speech, is not seriously advancing a flippant argument like that in favour of his case. We all know the definition of a split second as the interval between the lights going green and the sounding of the horn in the vehicle behind.
911 The danger arises mainly at night. When a car is coming along an empty road, it touches the pad and turns the lights amber in the driver's favour. He thinks that he can still carry on, and that by the time he reaches the intersection the light will be green in his favour. The interval of amber varies, but is generally, I believe, about three seconds; that is to say, an amber light for one road, and red-amber for the cross-road. One finds from calculations that a car approaching an intersection at night with the lights against it, striking the pad and then proceeding at 30 miles an hour towards the intersection, will be over the intersection before the lights have turned green in its favour.
I have been involved in an accident in exactly the same way. I was driving with immense care. In fact, I was a witness, and the police prosecuted the other driver. I went back to the intersection at the same time of night as the accident occurred and measured the distance between the pad and the lights. I telephoned to the Road Research Laboratory to ascertain stopping distances, average speeds, and so on. I worked out to my own satisfaction, though it was never brought out in court, that even if a driver did not cross the lights until they had turned green in his favour, it was theoretically possible at an intersection with this system to have an accident without either driver committing any offence or having been negligent.
I am not an electrical engineer, but I am sure that all that is needed is a simple adjustment to the traffic lights. In other words, it should be possible to arrange that when lights turn to green they change straight from red to green. When turning to red, however, there must be the amber period to give the warning which is necessary in order to stop. There is the bigger question of whether the three seconds' amber interval is adequate for most intersections. One might be able to argue that it was necessary on very wide roads, where a driver going through on the amber light does not have time to get right across during the amber period. I wish that the Ministry would consider this seriously.
Those of us who drive home, especially when the House has been sitting late, and the streets are empty, find that there is nothing more tempting, on touching 912 the pad and seeing the light turning for us, than to think that by the time we get to the lights they will change to green. Perhaps the Minister has statistics of the number of accidents occurring at intersections from this cause. If so, it would be interesting to hear them.
I hope that in considering road safety the Ministry will consider particularly the position of the motorist and the necessity for incorporating in the design of new vehicles the experience gained from the older vehicles already on the roads. One feature is the simple trafficator arm which moves up and down. In modern motor cars most trafficators, especially of the rising and falling arm type, are placed slightly behind the driver. It would be a great convenience if they were placed in such a position that the driver at the wheel could see whether the signal was, in fact, operating. At night I can just see whether my little trafficator arm is reflecting a yellow light; otherwise, it is impossible to know whether one is giving the signal. With any older cars, which nowadays are getting somewhat ancient, the arm sometimes dithers a little. It does not always come fully up, and sometimes it falls back before one has made the turn. In the construction of vehicles, therefore, attention should be given to these problems as a means of eliminating unnecessary accidents which are in no way due to carelessness.
It is true that carelessness is the cause of most accidents, but other accidents could be corrected without the exhortation to continue to do the right thing. It is easier, and it is fun in a way, to tell people that they ought to be responsible. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling), gave us the benefit of his advice free, although he wants the Ministry's advice to be charged for. We love giving people advice, but there are more concrete possibilities of correcting faults.
Another point relates to the visibility that is available to drivers, particularly of lorries. It is sometimes amazing that drivers of big heavy transport vehicles—that, for instance, with what is called a mechanical horse in front and an enormous trailer behind—can see adequately when they wish to overtake. I do not propose to go into the point at length, but I should be greatly relieved 913 if the Parliamentary Secretary, in replying, would give an assurance that in this connection the Ministry is in close touch with the manufacturers of road vehicles.
With those three points—signals on zebra crossings; the traffic lights point, which is of the greatest importance, and the constructional question—I add my congratulations to the Minister on producing an excellent Highway Code.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
I hope the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) will forgive me if I do not follow him in the few remarks that I have to make.
It is a curious result of our procedure that the remarks which we make on this occasion and the suggestions and the criticisms which we put forward can have no effect whatever upon the Highway Code we are discussing, because it has to be accepted or rejected by the House as it stands. On the other hand, it may very well have a considerable effect upon the next Highway Code which, no doubt, will have to be published in some years' time in the light of experience.
The criticisms which were made and the wide discussion on the Highway Code in 1946 have borne such good fruit that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) very generously acknowledged that he was able to describe this Highway Code as almost perfect. Let us bear in mind that, although we have to accept this Highway Code as it stands or reject it entirely, nevertheless the value of the suggestions which have been made on both sides of the House will not be ignored in the long run.
The only addition to those suggestions that I have to make is a somewhat unusual one. It arises out of paragraph 69, which says:If you are riding a horse, keep to the left.A horse, even the most controllable one, is a somewhat unpredictable animal, even when well driven. It is frequently—and I speak from personal experience—the case that the counsel of perfection might not always be followed in riding a horse. If I may, I should like to give an example. Supposing a rider is going along a road which runs parallel and fairly close to a 914 railway line. The horse he is riding is not accustomed to see and hear trains rattling by. If the rider wishes to save his own skin and perhaps prevent an accident he will be wise to ride that particular horse on the side furthest from the railway.
§ Mr. Renton
I would not regard that as a counsel of perfection.
If only for future reference, I would suggest that this paragraph in the Code should read:If you are riding a horse, keep to the left, unless circumstances dictate that you should keep to the right,or something to that effect. I would say that paragraph, like many other paragraphs in this Code, has got to be interpreted reasonably, and, indeed, the experience of the courts over the years is that sometimes there has got to be a broad interpretation of some of the advice contained in the Code.
When the Highway Code is being revised in future years, I hope that the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) will be borne in mind. His was a most interesting speech. I do not say that all his criticism should be accepted, but I think my right hon. Friend and his predecessor have done a very tine job in producing this highly original as well as sound Code. Nevertheless, we can always learn by further experience, and the remarks of my hon. Friend were, indeed, most pertinent.
The only other plea I would make is that my hon. Friend the Minister should take very seriously the advice given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall—he probably intends to—to give this Code the widest publicity and, as he has suggested, make it the focal point of a fresh campaign to reduce accidents on the road.
In conclusion, I feel that we should pay a tribute to the vast amount of back-room work which has been done by those not only in the Ministry and on the road safety committees, but in the motoring and pedestrian associations, and all concerned. I sat on an unofficial sub-committee connected with one of the motoring organisations when it was considering this Code, and I remember we 915 spent a whole afternoon on one paragraph. There were many meetings by many committees, and Parliament today is considering the fruit of all their work. It should be extremely grateful to them.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I am glad that the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) has not left the Chamber, because I wish to comment on the speech which he made. I was astonished at some of the things he said, and I disagree entirely that this Highway Code is only—to use his own words— "a minute contribution to the problem of road safety and the reduction of accidents on the road. He followed that up by the equally astonishing statement that this is only—again using his own words —"touching the fringe of the problem." He went on to the conventional topic of spending more money on the roads as a solution to the growing problem of the gravity of road accidents.
I am sure the House will agree with me when I say that if this Highway Code were observed there would be a remarkable fall in the rate of accidents without spending another £5 on the roads themselves. After all, this influences the minds of drivers and pedestrians, and it is there that the accidents really take place, because they arise from such things as faulty judgment, failing to be aware of danger, and so on. It is not the failure of the road to carry the vehicles, it is not the failure of the bend to take the car; it is the failure of the car to take the bend, and if drivers exercised more care and observed the rules, then I do not doubt for a single moment, even though more money on the roads would help, that this would prove an essential part, indeed, the predominant part, of the campaign for road safety.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way, but, in justice to what I said, I think it is only fair for the House to remember that what I argued was that, in the particular type of locality with which I was concerned in my own constituency, Where a trunk road runs through a residential area, it is quite possible for everyone to do everything he or she ought to do, and yet for an accident to take place; and that the only cure for such a problem is physical alterations to the conditions obtaining.
§ Mr. Houghton
I fully appreciate the hon. Member's point, but I thought it was a little misleading to make a general statement based on a particular question like that of a trunk road running through his constituency.
§ Mr. Iremonger
If the hon. Member's old mother had just been run down, his approach to this matter might be rather different.
§ Mr. Houghton
I will leave the speech of the hon. Member. He is evidently not in the mood to receive criticism of what he said, so I will now address my remarks to the Minister and to the Parliamentary Secretary. I will deal with the points in the order in which they come in the Highway Code.
I do not think we should always leave to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) the problem of alcohol as a danger on the road. I think the Minister has allowed this matter to be dealt with rather too lightly. I think he should be stern about it. The Code says:Alcohol, even in quite small amounts, makes you less safe on the roads. Be sure you are fit to use them.This looks as if one were talking of delicate matters that one's best friend would not tell one about. We want to be quite frank about it and I think that some such words as:Leave it alone when you are going to driveis what we want. There is not the slightest reason why we should not put it that way. The trouble is that many drivers who are unfit for the road believe they are fit for it.
§ Mr. Houghton
What we want to impress on them is that if they leave drink alone when they are going to drive, and then they are unfit to do so, it is not drink that has done it. What would we say if we saw engine drivers and bus drivers coming out of public houses, laughing and talking, and then getting into their driving cabins? We would say it was a public scandal and should be stopped. Yet people driving private cars do it every day in the week.
My second criticism, a minor one, is of the signature of the right hon. Gentleman 917 the Minister. I am sure he can write better than this. The hon. and learned Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) has said that we have to approve the Highway Code as it stands or not at all. That does not mean that we must approve of this scrawl which the right hon. Gentleman presents to the public as "John Boyd-Carpenter." I think the public are entitled to know the identity of the Minister who has written so attractive an introduction to the Code. I hope he will do something about that, but if to write his signature more legibly is beyond him, may I suggest that he has it printed?
I pass next to page 9, "Extra Rules For Pedal Cyclists." I am sure that all motorists will, at different times, have noticed that the pedal cyclist does not always glance behind, but merely puts out his hand and then turns. Sometimes I think cyclists scarcely realise how near to an accident they have been. It seems a pity, therefore, not to have emphasised that point, since it seems to be so little used by cyclists as a safeguard.
Another thing I notice is the absence of any words to motor-cyclists. They ought to be warned against weaving their way in and out of traffic, cutting in from the left and then the right, and regarding any line of driving as proper to them as long as there happen to be two or three feet to spare. Motor-cyclists cause much risk to motorists as well as to themselves, and there ought to be special mention of their responsibilities, because they are more manoeuverable on the road and should take greater care in consequence.
My next point arises on page 25, which gives examples of "Signs Which Inform." Here I detect the nationality of the Parliamentary Secretary. He is a Derbyshire man, like myself, but does he really want a lot of people ringing up the Ministry to ask how to pronounce "Uttoxeter"? After all, the Minister is presenting an example which will interest people, and while they will know about Nottingham, Ashbourne and Buxton, Uttoxeter is a problem for the ordinary person. The Minister, therefore, might have chosen a place with a more obvious pronunciation. However, that again is a minor criticism.
Now I turn to the next page. Cannot Her Majesty's Stationery Office do any better with the reproduction of the amber 918 colour? This is not amber, it is pale yellow, and in the picture where the amber stands alone, it is hardly noticeable. I should have thought that a better colour could have been given to us there.
Finally, in regard to "The Law's Demands," in page 27, I appreciate the view expressed from this side of the House that this is a Highway Code and not a statement on the law; it is intended to get co-operation, it is not a peremptory warning to everybody, it is not a "stand and deliver" document. It is purposely a psychological approach, and I agree with that, though it is proper before the document ends to say something about the law, because the law stands behind a great deal of what is in the Code.
Could we not, then, be a little sterner there in showing what are the law's demands by using heavier print for the "musts" and "must nots"? These are only typographical points. I am sure that the Minister must have a thick file of all the suggestions made by those who have studied the document in draft form. If these points have been considered and rejected, I have no complaint, but sometimes even the casual reader may see something that an expert has overlooked when going through a document thoroughly. We might show a policeman there, so that, after having made the tactful approach, when we come to state the law's demands, we could be more forthright.
Those are my observations on this document. Generally, it is an attractive one. All we need now is closer observation of the Highway Code so that, with the co-operation of all concerned, we may hope to see a reduction in the accident figures.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)
My right hon. Friend wishes me to express to both sides of the House his gratitude for the friendly reception which has been accorded to this new edition of the Highway Code. I am sure, also, that those in the Ministry and outside, who have worked so hard to bring this production up to the standard which has given satisfaction to the House, will read with 919 pleasure the expressions of gratitude of hon. Members in all parts of the House.
The right hon. Gentleman for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) opened the debate for the Opposition in a generous speech the tone of which has been followed throughout. Naturally, it is gratifying to us to find that, although seeking conscientiously to discharge the duties of the Opposition, and looking through a magnifying glass at the Highway Code to find errors of form and substance, the right hon. Gentleman was good enough to say that he had not been successful and that he considered the production excellent.
The right hon. Gentleman and several others asked why there is not to be a house-to-house distribution of the Code. It is the experience of everyone, and especially of politicians at Election time, that when literature is distributed free and pushed through or under doors, it does not always obtain that careful and respectful attention from the householders which in the case, I am sure, of all political literature it is entitled to have. We feel that a house-to-house distribution of a code of this kind, which after all is not new, would result in a great expenditure for not the greatest return.
Under existing legislation, which might well be regarded as obsolete, we are obliged to sell this production, which costs at least 21½d., for the small sum of 1d. We thought, therefore, that it really would be better to concentrate the money available for this purpose upon those particular sections of the community, including the older children at school, who would be most likely to benefit from receiving and reading it when it was given to them free.
§ Mr. Molson
That is a matter which the Ministry of Education will work out. They will be the top ages in the schools. It must be remembered that this initial printing of 10 million copies is not the total that will be printed in the whole of the time during which this Highway Code will be in circulation. If it is desirable, we shall be able to print more. My right hon. Friend will consider the question of printing it in Welsh. I am not sure that we should get a full return if we produced a French edition, but we shall certainly consider all the points which the right hon. Gentleman made.
920 The right hon. Gentleman, like a number of hon. Members, has urged that we should accompany the publication of the Highway Code with an intensive campaign of publicity on the road safety. We entirely sympathise with that idea. Every year the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, in agreement with the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, conducts a special campaign. We have only just come to the end of a three months' campaign in July, August and September, in which we have tried to concentrate attention on the importance of reducing the number of accidents to children under school age and on the importance of giving proper instructions and efficient bicycles to children who cycle on the roads. No hon. Member has mentioned that campaign, which came to an end about six weeks ago.
I believe that we must beware of constantly urging additional campaigns, because if we are having an intensive campaign all the time it really becomes the ordinary day-to-day work of the Royal Society. We are, however, considering at present a special campaign next year to deal with the important matters raised by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence). He emphasised the unsatisfactory condition of a great many vehicles that are on the roads.
My right hon. Friend, in consultation with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, will consider whether, instead of conducting that campaign next year, it will be better to concentrate specially on the Highway Code. We have been in touch with the B.B.C. who have promised us again what they have given so very generously in the past—full cooperation both on television and sound broadcasting in giving the fullest possible publicity to the importance of the Highway Code and good conduct upon the roads.
On an earlier occasion the right hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) drew special attention to the importance of the Highway Code and I then promised careful and sympathetic consideration to all the suggestions which he or any hon. Member cared to make. That we have done. The right hon. Gentleman has again today made a most valuable suggestion which my right hon. Friend will 921 be happy to adopt. The right hon. Gentleman gives much of his spare time to a very valuable form of public work in sitting on the bench. He has suggested that we should issue a copy of the Code to all justices of the peace. We shall be very happy indeed to do that.
The right hon. Gentleman was the first of a number of hon. Members to suggest that we should introduce into this country something analogous to the French rule of giving way to a vehicle coming in from the right. That has been considered, but up to the present it has been thought better not to adopt it. It is not as simple in its operation as it sounds, and it was represented to us by some people with experience of driving on the Continent that it led to danger. It is not a plain and simple rule that anything coming from the right has to have priority. There must be some exercise of discretion as to how far away the vehicle should be which is approaching from the right; but our minds on this matter are not closed and at the request of my right hon. Friend I am raising it with the Road Safety Committee at our next meeting on 9th December.
I am sure that we were all glad to hear a speech again after a long interval, from my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, South (Sir A. Gridley). We were all very glad to hear of the occasion when the police appeared to have done wrong and had the grace to apologise for what they had done. My hon. Friend's suggestion that a car which had in any way been responsible for an accident should be impounded reminded me of something that I learned as a student of the law. Under the old Anglo-Saxon remedy of "Deodand" anything that was responsible for the death of an individual was declared forfeit. That was only brought to an end towards the close of the 19th century and the last thing that was declared forfeit under that law—in Victorian times—was a steamroller.
The hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) made a number of interesting suggestions about zebra crossings. Our new regulation forbidding the parking of a car within 45 feet of a zebra crossing should have some good effect. The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) asked whether pulling up at zebra crossings, although resulting in the reduction of accidents to pedestrians, might not 922 have resulted in a greater number of collisions between vehicles. I have no information on that subject at the moment, but I will make inquiries. If I find any significant information I will write to the hon. Member.
References have been made to drunken drivers, and heavier penalties have been advocated for those convicted of drunken driving. There is a great deal to be said for heavier penalties being imposed by Parliament, but it must be remembered that the imposition of these penalties is a matter of discretion for the justice of the peace. I think that there is a widespread opinion that in many cases discretion is exercised in an unduly lenient manner, as though sympathy was extended rather to the neligent and drunken driver than to his victims.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), who, in his snare time from attending this House, is the Chairman of the Pedestrians' Association, did not seem to be quite as satisfied with the Highway Code as most other hon. Members. I did not entirely follow the line of his reasoning. He seemed to think that the Highway Code should devote more attention to restating existing legislation upon the subject; but the legislation which is on the Statute Book does not need any restating. This is merely an appendix to the Highway Code for ready reference and for convenience.
As one or two other hon. Members afterwards mentioned, the purpose of the Highway Code is to draw attention to the importance of courtesy and consideration by drivers. Obviously, they are lacking in courtesy and consideration when they do anything which breaks the law, but there is a great difference between enacting something in an Act of Parliament and being able in fact to enforce it in the courts. There is all the difficulty of having the witnesses and getting hold of the person who is responsible. Civilised society demands a code of decent conduct. It is not only necessary to lay down what is a crime, but also to state the rules of considerate behaviour; and nowhere is that more true than on the roads.
As for putting the guidance to pedestrians before the guidance to those on wheels, I think that that can be amply justified. Everybody is a pedestrian on occasion, but not everybody is a motorist. At the risk of deeply offending the 923 Chairman of the Pedestrians' Association, I would be inclined to say that a larger proportion of the motorists of the country than of the pedestrians are familiar with the rules of the Highway Code.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) was good enough once again to express his satisfaction at the wording we used with regard to alcohol. When subsequently the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) expressed his dissatisfaction, I said to myself, "Well, having at long last got as far as obtaining the approval and support of the hon. Member for Ealing, North surely we have gone far enough."
§ Mr. J. Hudson
I think I ought to say that I could go a great deal further than I did tonight, but I was anxious to appear in as reasonable a guise as was possible. At the same time, I believe that I am being helped by those who point out that further things are still to be done in the matter about which I was giving an opinion.
§ Mr. Molson
Perhaps I was really unwise to draw attention to this matter. I feel now that the hon. Member for Ealing, North will regard himself as having been convicted of being merely tepid in his zeal to advocate the principles of temperance and this, no doubt, will start him off on a new campaign.
The hon. Member also made a most helpful remark about child cyclists. He said he was quite sure that in his childhood he would not have been allowed on the roads on a cycle—sometimes on a cycle too large and unsuitable for a child —without proper care and attention. As I have said, for three months we have been carrying on an intensive campaign, urging what I know is very hard for many busy women in this country to do —make certain that children under five are never allowed on busy roads unattended and that before children are allowed to ride bicycles on the roads they shall have had some instruction in riding.
The hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) referred to the desirability of a household distribution of the Code and I have already answered that point. I much appreciated what he was good enough to say about zebra crossings and the good that they have already done. 924 He asked me why we did not recommend in the Highway Code that a pedestrian, before stepping on to a zebra crossing, should hold up his hand. The reasons are twofold. In the first place, if we recommended that a pedestrian should always raise his hand before stepping off the pavement that might come to be regarded as an obligation upon him so to do.
After careful thought we have come to the conclusion that when the pedestrian stepped off he should obtain priority over vehicles in so far as that was possible. I think it would only lead to confusion if we put anything into the Highway Code recommending the raising of the hand of a pedestrian stepping off the pavement. There is, of course, no harm at all in a pedestrian who wishes to do so giving an indication in that way to oncoming traffic.
The other and even more serious reason against such a recommendation is the limit which naturally applies to all zebra crossings. A pedestrian stepping off enjoys priority, but it is essential that pedestrians should use that right with reason and should not step off at a time when it is quite impossible for the oncoming vehicle to stop. It is very largely in order to draw attention to that scientific fact that we have illustrated the table at the back of the Highway Code showing how long it takes for vehicles travelling at different speeds to pull up. It was for those reasons that, after consideration, we decided that, on balance, it would not be desirable to include a recommendation of that kind in the Code.
We all enjoyed the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling). I think I have already dealt with most of the points raised in the constructive speech of the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East. I have already dealt with one or two points raised by the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East. I will go into the matter of lights, which he raised, and write to him about it. We are in close touch with the manufacturers of vehicles upon all matters connected with road safety.
The hon. Member for Sowerby dealt with several matters, some of a serious and some of a more flippant kind. I hope that I have now dealt with most of 925 the matters that have been raised in this extremely useful and constructive debate.
§ Mr. Molson
I did not mention that point because I found the reasoning of my hon. Friend a little difficult to follow. If the House will turn to page 6 of the Highway Code it will see that paragraph 18 was what incurred the disapproval of my hon. Friend. Although he liked what was contained in it, he thought that it should have been given greater prominence, that it should have been printed in heavy type, thus:Never drive at such a speed that you cannot pull up well within the distance you can see to be clear.At the bottom of the page there is a note to which he takes exception:Going too fast contributes to 7,500 accidents a year.Having complained that we had not given sufficient prominence to this point earlier in the page, I do not understand why my hon. Friend should wish to remove the note at the bottom of the page in which we emphasise it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Paper entitled the Highway Code, a copy of which was laid before this House on 26th October, and approves the revised Highway Code contained in pages 4 to 26 thereof.