HC Deb 22 May 1958 vol 588 cc1646-52

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Hughes-Young.]

11.5 p.m.

Sir Henry d'Avigdor-Goldsmid (Walsall, South)

Last week, when I had the honour to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, he called me by the name of the hon. Baronet, the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), who is a vastly more accomplished speaker than I am. Having listened to my rather pedestrian effort on that occasion, I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for his kindness in selecting my name for the Adjournment Motion tonight. I am sure that it is a tribute to the importance which Mr. Speaker rightly attaches to the question of road safety.

In a sense, this debate arises out of the matter which we have been discussing—the havoc caused by stationary vehicles. Now I want to draw the attention of my hon. Friend, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation to the havoc caused by fast-travelling vehicles. I know that, however inexpertly my words are put together, my hon. Friend will listen sympathetically and will understand them.

The subject of my Motion is traffic accidents on the Chester Road, which traverses the southern extremity of my constituency. It is only right that I should begin by explaining the size of the problem. This matter is not new to the Minister or to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, as I have had a very full exchange of letters with them over the past eighteen months, and I learn from the Clerk to the Aldridge Urban District Council that his Council took up this problem with the Minister as far back as 1953.

On this relatively short stretch of road, according to information I have had from the Chief Constable of Staffordshire, there have been no fewer than 79 accidents in the two years up to February. 1958, and between February 4th and May 4th of this year, there have been a further 15. Of these accidents, 45 involved personal injuries to one or more people, and three had fatal consequences; I believe that the death roll as a result of these three accidents is now six.

I would particularly draw the Minister's attention to the fact that the figures over the last three months show an annual rate of 60 accidents as against a total of 79 over the previous two years. Nor have we yet reached what would normally be the peak period—the summer motoring months. Therefore, I think it would be perfectly fair to suggest that, unless some action is taken, we may anticipate in the current year that as many accidents will take place as in the previous two years together.

I should like to read the Chief Constable's description of this road: This is a trunk road, classification A.452, and approximately three-and-a-half miles of its length lie in Aldridge Police Sub-Division. Its average width is 30 feet and apart from short lengths where the road is divided into two traffic lanes, three traffic lanes are in existence. The road surface is generally good but in parts is rather smooth and inclined to skidding in frosty weather. There is no street lighting but visibility is normally good. Five major roads cross the Chester Road on the stretch in question and there are five minor intersections. The surrounding area is rapidly becoming built-up—dwelling houses—and this road carries a large amount of commercial traffic and, at weekends and summer periods, a large volume of private traffic. The Chief Constable adds that the main cause of accidents appears to be excessive speed on the part of road users.

These facts are, I am sure, well known to the Minister, but the time has now come when the matter deserves to be looked at again. Of the three main road crossings with which I am concerned, on only one has the divisional road engineer thought it right to put up a "Halt" sign to warn motorists approaching the main road from either side. On the other two, he is of the opinion that "Slow—Major Road Ahead" signs are sufficient.

Having studied the area pretty closely I should like to say in the most emphatic terms that I consider that accidents will never be avoided, however the subsidiary roads are sign-posted, if the speed of traffic on the main road is not restricted in any way. It is a perfectly straight stretch of road with three traffic lines, between Shrewsbury and Castle Bromwich, and drivers are barely conscious of the side turnings. Were the main road perfectly flat I do not think this would constitute a danger, but the trouble is caused by the main road climbing and dropping, so that most of the turnings off it are in a dip. However slowly a car emerges from a side road, the driver is liable to mistake the speed of oncoming traffic. From my analysis of recent accidents, I am satisfied that more than one has been caused for this very reason.

We must all be conscious of the great havoc caused on roads through inexperienced or irresolute drivers who stall their engines at the moment of crisis. Naturally this state of affairs has caused great alarm to local residents, especially as the area on either side of the Chester Road is becoming increasingly built-up. Besides one of the most dangerous crossings, that of the Foley Road, there are now school buildings on the crossroads, and it is a most precarious business for children to cross the road to school, especially as school hours coincide with the rush hours when business people are going to their work in Birmingham.

Since I have had the honour of being their Parliamentary representative, the number of electors in this area has virtually doubled, rising from 2,400 in 1955 to 4,449 in 1957. Judged by current building activity, this rate of increase is being maintained. This makes the problem all the more urgent.

I understand that the divisional road engineer regards it as inadvisable to impose a speed limit on the main road that cannot easily be enforced. He is the expert, but my own impression would be that the imposition of a 40-per-hour speed limit might be appropriate. Nevertheless, the creation of an island roundabout at one of the road junctions—and my feeling is that the Foley Road would be the most suitable—would cause the traffic on the main road to slow down automatically, irrespective of whether the police were there to enforce the limit.

These questions cannot well be settled on the green benches at Westminster; they need some action on the spot. It is the earnest hope of my constituents that my right hon. Friend will ask the divisional road engineer to take a very early opportunity to meet representatives of the Aldridge Urban District Council and of the local residents of Streetly on the spot during some rush hour period. I am sure that a thorough examination of this problem by the people chiefly concerned would produce a satisfactory result. Failing that, this stretch of road, known to residents as the "murder mile" by reason of the toll it exacts, may lead to an increasing loss of human lives.

I read recently that one death by violence is an accident or crime, 100 deaths constitute a disaster, and 1,000 deaths are simply a matter of statistics. I put it to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that we are now verging on disaster on this stretch of road. I hope most sincerely that neither he nor his right hon. Friend will treat this problem of human life simply as a matter of statistics.

11.15 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) on securing this adjournment debate, and I see from our files that he has had a lengthy correspondence with my right hon. Friend over the past eighteen months. I appreciate his anxiety on the matter.

In regard to the schoolchildren crossing there, the right arrangement on a busy road of this kind is to secure a school crossing patrol, which is the only safe method. I agree that the accident rate on this road is distressingly high, but in the context of the national road accident figures, which run at over 250,000 a year, the figures for accidents on this type of road, with this density of traffic, are not exceptional. That underlines our difficulties. We have such a queue of road problems with which to deal, and such long arrears to overtake, that even such circumstances as these, which, considered on their own would impel anyone to action, do not necessarily rank for immediate and expensive attention.

In the matter of a speed limit, I see there was a request from Aldridge Urban District Council in January last year, and that the divisional road engineer then examined the matter. He was still not convinced that speed was the main factor, and announced that he wished to consult the Chief Constable of Staffordshire. He said he would like to consider any objections which the motoring organizations and others would certainly make to a proposal for a speed limit, but he was prepared to consider the matter further after his consultations with the Chief Constable. Having had those consultations, he replied that the concensus of opinion was that there was really no significant change in the picture since his earlier refusal in 1953. But what he did say, and what I am prepared to say now, is that if and when Parliament decides that the 40 m.p.h. speed limit may be extended from the Metropolitan area to the rest of the country, we would certainly be ready to consider this particular length of road for that restriction. But that obviously will not be until we have had a chance to see how it works in the Metropolitan area, and it may be another twelve months or so before we are able to consider it.

My hon. Friend referred to "Halt" signs, but as he did not pursue that topic, he will not wish me to deal with it in detail. It is true that a roundabout at one of these junctions would slow up the traffic flow on the trunk road, but one of the factors for which we are responsible is to try to improve the traffic flow on the trunk roads, and the result is that we have to consider any application for a roundabout in the light of traffic needs. We are not justified in using it as a road safety device to slow up traffic.

The standard that the roundabout has to survive is that there is sufficient turning traffic at that particular junction to warrant a roundabout, and that is not likely to be so at any of these junctions. It is also costly. The same considerations apply to traffic lights. Nevertheless, we have asked the county surveyor to carry out a traffic census at the Foley Road junction to determine whether there is sufficient turning traffic there to warrant either traffic lights or a roundabout. Personally, I would prefer a roundabout, because I think traffic lights on an unrestricted road are a menace.

That census is now being analysed and studied by the county surveyor and as soon as that is completed and we have been able to look at the matter in the light of the census, I should be pleased to ask the divisional road engineer to meet the local representatives in the way that my hon. Friend has requested, and to do what he can; certainly to hear and consider their views, and to explain to them the point of view that we take—to do anything that is possible, within the narrow limits to which we are confined, to improve this situation.

I do not regard this as a matter of statistics. Part of my job is to deal with these problems of road safety, to try to encourage and give a lead to the thousands of devoted people who work in the cause of road safety. Nobody appreciates better than I do that these accident statistics are not just numbers. They are not just lives lost and limbs injured, but each one of them is a personal tragedy in some family. Therefore, anything that we can do within our limits to reduce accidents and to improve road safety I am very glad to do.

Unhappily we live in a world of movement. It is part of our job, as I say, to facilitate the movement of vehicles along the roads. The nation lives by its trade. Commerce relies on the movement of vehicles along the roads, and so long as vehicles move along the roads, so long will there be danger to people trying to cross them. That is one of our dilemmas today. Certainly I will do my best in the most sympathetic way possible to try to help my hon. Friend within the limits that I have described.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-one minutes past Eleven o'clock.