§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.26 a.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
In dealing with road safety measures it is difficult not to deal with them from either the emotional or the statistical point of view. It is difficult not to deal with them emotionally, not to paint a picture of the individual tragedies which result from road accidents, the tragedies to families, and the terrible sufferings of individuals who are condemned sometimes to a life of twisted limbs or twisted mind.
It is difficult to deal with this subject without going into statistics. One can talk about the 17.9 people killed on the roads every day; the 240 seriously injured every day, meaning that some bones have been broken at least; some 673 less seriously injured on the roads every day, less seriously because no bones have been broken. One can talk about it statistically by saying that a year's casualties on the roads represents putting the whole of the people of a town such as Nottingham in hospital.
I want today to deal with the subject neither from the emotional point of view nor from the statistical point of view, because I think that it must be clear to the House that over the past years neither fear nor reasoning have had any effect in reducing the number of road accidents or in reducing the steady increase in the number of road accidents. Therefore, I propose to deal with the matter today as dispassionately as possible and to start from the simple proposition that if one brought all traffic to a standstill there would be no accidents from vehicles.
Of course, that is quite unacceptable in modern civilisation. It is an approach which we have got to recognise is quite impossible, because for social and commercial reasons the country is prepared to pay a price in life and limb for the amenities of the motor car. The question for all of us is—and, in particular, for my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport— what that price shall be, what we are prepared to pay in life and limb for 564 the pleasure, the convenience, the commercial value of the motor car on the road.
I think that we can all agree that the price at present is too high. Five thousand deaths a year on the roads and over 300,000 injured is much too high a price to pay. If we do nothing about it we can estimate fairly accurately this year that the price will be up on last year, that is to say, that the figures of road accidents and casualties on the roads will increase if we do nothing about it. We shall not bring the figures down by merely wringing our hands and saying how dreadful they are.
We should realise that the public is not accident conscious. The driver does not, naturally, go about with ideas of safety in his mind, and neither does the pedestrian. We shall not bring the number of accidents down by road safety campaigns, by urging people to be more courteous on the road. We have tried all that. It has had no effect on accident figures.
Accident prevention must be deliberately enforced. Only twice during the history of the keeping of accident statistics has that upward graph shown a downward kink. This was once in 1935, when the speed limit in built-up areas was imposed, and once in 1952, when the zebra crossings were introduced. It has been only when positive action has been taken in the nature of legislation. Therefore, we know that by positive action of a legislative nature, effectively enforced, we can reduce accidents.
I would go further than that. I would say that by means of the very valuable service which is now provided for us by the Road Research Laboratory we can see by how much accidents will be reduced by means of any one particular measure. The laboratory has investigated, not all measures, but a large number and is able to tell us almost exactly the percentage reduction in accidents that can be achieved by applying a particular measure. I would say to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, by quoting his own words, that this is not "acting on hunches". I know that he has studied the reports from the Road Research Laboratory. There is plenty of material there for the application of road safety measures.
565 With the increase in vehicles on the road and the increase in accidents we must have more enforced discipline on the roads. The accident rate is now becoming greater. It is increasing more rapidly than the number of vehicles on the road. The proportion of serious accidents to the whole is increasing more rapidly than the vehicles on the road and the mileage run by those vehicles. The Bill endeavours merely to pick out one or two of the items in connection with road safety measures which may have effect in reducing accidents.
The Bill is not intended in any way as a road safety code, for two reasons. The first is that the Minister already has plenty of powers without any further legislation to apply a great number of road safety measures. Under the Vehicle Construction and Use Regulations, and under the Road Traffic Act, 1956, the Minister already has these powers. Secondly, the Bill is not intended as a safety code because no Private Member's Bill could possibly attempt to provide such substantial legislation.
Right hon. and toon. Members will see that the Bill is divided into several parts. In Part I, I am endeavouring to say, "Let us use in full the existing road safety laws, the laws against dangerous driving, against careless driving, against a breach of the speed limit, and so on." How many times a day does one see dangerous conduct on the road? Any hon. Member who drives or walks in the street sees dangerous or careless conduct on the road innumerable times a day. [An HON. MEMBER: "Including by pedestrians."] Yes, including pedestrians.
One could take the number of the car of the driver who was driving carelessly and one could stop the pedestrian who was walking carelessly and take his name and address, and go through the elaborate procedure of endeavouring to get the police to prosecute, or the procedure of a private prosecution. But in doing that there is a sort of feeling that one is snooping. It is not quite the thing that one could ever persuade the British public to do. But does one not wish, when one sees dangerous conduct on the road, that there was a policeman about to take the necessary action?
There are not enough police to enforce road safety measures, and such as there 566 are are not properly equipped to tackle the modern problem of road safety. Where there have been sufficient police and they have been properly equipped, such as in the experiments in Lancashire and Oxfordshire, there has been a dramatic reduction in road accidents. If we are to do anything about road safety it is essential to increase the numbers of the police. I should have thought that from the point of view of expenditure of money by the Treasury that is more important than many of the things into which money is being poured at present. It would be saving life, whereas much of the taxpayers' money that we spend today is merely spent on providing some amenities.
All I ask in this part of the Bill is that the police force should be brought up to establishment. I wonder whether, in that connection, I need a Money Resolution for Part I of the Bill. The police are hopelessly below establishment. If we are to endeavour to find the required number, then let us make those whom we find into a special force to deal with this major problem of road safety.
This will be more and more necessary as my right hon. Friend develops his road programme and produces the motorways. It really is farcical that a motorway such as M.1 should be split up under a number of county police controls. In the Bill, therefore, I am proposing that there should be a special force of police, in whatever form one would like to make it. If my drafting of this part of the Bill is wrong it can be corrected later, but I suggest that there should be a special force of police whose duty it would be to attend to road safety matters. I would be prepared to let a few other police duties lapse to enforce road safety at present, because, that is really the most important duty.
So much for the enforcement of the existing law. In Part II of the Bill there are proposals for creating new offences. These proposals I base on two facts. The first is that some conduct on the road is so potentially dangerous that it ought at all times to be forbidden. On that basis, we introduced the speed limit in built-up areas. At any time it is so potentially dangerous to exceed a certain speed within a built-up area that it shall be a crime to do so, whether at the time one is doing it the danger is apparent or not The few offences men- 567 tioned in Part II are created on that basis.
The second reason for introducing new offences of this nature is the following. It is never "I" who drive dangerously. I recognise dangerous driving in other drivers, but I never recognise it in myself. Therefore, it would be a good thing if I were told that certain things are dangerous, that certain things have attributed to them a large number of accidents. I refer hon. Members to Clauses 6, 7 and 8 of the Bill, where certain new offences are created, such as turning to the right without giving warning and overtaking at a pedestrian crossing. I do not wish to give a large number of statistics, but each of those actions have attributed to them in the official statistics a substantial number of accidents. If these were created as specific offences, the majority of drivers would not be inconvenienced in any way. They do not commit them Others do, and they are the killers.
Included in that part of the Bill there is, in Clause 5, the provision concerning drivers who have been drinking. I am sure that the House will agree that the majority of accidents are caused by an error of judgment, by a wrong reaction to a situation, by a temporary lack of skill, by having put it out of one's power to avoid an emergency It is a well proven fact that alcohol, even in small quantities, impairs the judgment, retards reaction and reduces skill. At the same time, it creates a feeling of overcon-fidence. If we could diminish or elimnate all cases in which the error of judgment is due to drinking, or has resulted from drinking, we could produce a dramatic reduction in the accident rate.
Here I will refer in a little more detail to Clause 5. Hon. Members will see that in the first few lines of the Clause it is intended to make it an offence to have a certain quantity of alcohol in the blood of any person using the road; that is to say, when using a vehicle on the road or when walking on the carriageway unaccompanied. The figure I have inserted in the Bill as the quantity of alcohol in the blood which would constitute an offence is, I admit, a very high one, namely, 0.15 per cent. or more by weight of alcohol in the blood. In Scandinavian countries the figure is very much lower, 0.05. If it were approved by 568 public opinion, I would be only too pleased to reduce the figure because I believe that if we could carry public opinion with us, we ought to say, in substitution for the usual phrase, "One for the road," "None for the road," because it is dangerous to take any quantity of alcohol before driving.
I say that as in no way a teetotaller. I am fond of alcohol in reasonable quantities. I admit frankly that I take it, so I do not speak from any crank point of view. I speak merely from the evidence which has been produced by the Drew Report and later by the British Medical Association Report. In face of those reports one cannot deny that drinking, even in small quantities is the cause of many accidents.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
The hon. Gentleman has stressed one point which has worried me. We have had conversations about it previously. Is he sure that he has fixed the figure high enough, bearing in mind the variety and capacity for intake in the individual? Will he say something more about the basis of his figure?
§ Mr. Graham Page
Yes, but may I dispose first of some of the details of the Clause? I refer hon. Members to subsection (4), which provides thatA police constable in uniform may arrest without warrant any person whom he has reasonable cause to believe is committing an offence …In other words, he may arrest without warrant any person whom he has reasonable cause to believe has been drinking to what I would call the excessive figure which is mentioned in the Clause. Having arrested the person, the police constable would then take him to a police station, where clinical, medical or chemical tests could be carried out of the blood, or urine, or breath, whichever might be thought the most accurate form of testing.
At present, the medical authorities seem to confirm that the test by breath is very accurate as taken against the actual blood content. It may be that a simple method of testing the quantity of alcohol in the blood can be provided by the instrument known as the breathalyser. Any person who refused the urine or breath tests would be guilty of an offence of obstructing the police, unless he was prepared to have a blood 569 test. This gives full protection to those who might believe that the urine test or the breath test is not accurate.
Subsection (6) retains the present offences of being in charge of a vehicle while under the influence of drink or drugs—
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
In respect of subsection (5), would the person charged be entitled to have his examination carried out by his own doctor?
§ Mr. Graham Page
He can, of course, call in his own doctor in addition to the police doctor. He has that right at present and it would remain. Perhaps my hon. Friend feels, as others do, that this Clause might be an infringement of the liberty of the subject in some way, but that is rather straining the position. We recognise much greater infringements of the liberty of the subject in the law. For instance, hon. Members might be shopping peacefully in a large store and at any moment be arrested, without a warrant, for shoplifting, even though they might be innocent.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
If it can be proved that there is no reason for such suspicion, the person concerned has the right of an action for damages.
§ Mr. Graham Page
Not at all. If the person who arrests the person has reasonable suspicion that he may have done it, that is sufficient for arrest on a felony without a warrant. He may be taken to a police station and, uncharged, he may be searched to see whether he has anything damaging on him or has stolen property in his possession. When charged he may have his fingerprints taken.
If all that can be done over shoplifting, surely we can recognise that in saving life and limb on the roads the use of such an instrument as a breathalyser is scarcely an infringement of the liberty of the subject, especially in the face of the conclusions reached by the special Committee of the British Medical Association when investigating the effect of drink on driving.
One of the conclusions reached by the Committee was:The Committee believes that a substantial reduction in the number of accidents caused by alcohol has been achieved where it has been made an offence to drive a motor vehicle when the concentration of alcohol in the tissues is in excess of a certain level.570 In dealing with that level, if I may quote from the conclusions of the Committee,The Committee considers that a concentration of 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood"—which is .05 per cent. the figure adopted in the Scandinavian countries—while driving a motor vehicle is the highest that can be accepted as entirely consistent with the safety of other road users. While there may be circumstances in which individual driving ability will not depreciate significantly by the time this level is reached, the Committee is impressed by the rapidity with which deterioration occurs at blood levels in excess of 100 mg./100 ml. This is true even in the case of hardened drinkers and experienced drivers. The Committee cannot conceive of any circumstances in which it could be considered safe for a person to drive a motor vehicle on the public roads with an amount of alcohol in the blood greater than 150 mg./ 100 ml.which is a comparatively small amount of alcohol.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)
Would not my hon. Friend agree that it is not a question of the actual concentration of alcohol in the blood, because the individual tolerance to alcohol and the ability of individuals varies? Surely it is the ability to carry out a specific task or performance rather than the actual level of alcohol in the blood which matters, and here there is a great variance between individuals. A young person who has drunk one glass of gin may be completely incapable of driving, whereas someone who is an experienced drinker could have a great deal in excess of the figure of .15 which has been mentioned, and would be capable of driving.
§ Mr. Page
This has not been found to be so either by the Drew Committee or the B.M.A. If I may read a paragraph from the Report of the Drew Committee dealing with small quantities of alcohol, it states:Within the limits of the sample"—which was approximately three pints of average beer or five fluid ounces of whisky—age, sex, previous drinking habits, skill at the experimental task, and amount of previous driving experience showed no relation to these individual differences in response to alcohol.I agree with my hon. Friend that that is rather an astonishing conclusion, but it is the medical conclusion on the subject. It may be that a man who is an experienced drinker has far more confidence in his ability and is, therefore, 571 perhaps even more dangerous. I do not wish to detain the House with figures of quantities of alcohol, and so on; I wish to paint the broad picture that drinking and driving cause accidents.
§ Mr. John Hall
This is rather an important matter. Can my hon. Friend produce evidence, apart from the clinical tests to which he has referred, showing that there is a direct association between road traffic accidents and the amount of alcohol taken below that necessary to make a person incapable or obviously drunk?
§ Mr. Graham Page
Certain tests were carried out, as my hon. Friend will discover if he reads the Report of the B.M.A. Committee. One test was carried out by Miss Jeffcoate. As a result of her survey of 376 fatalities and road accidents, she found that in 17 per cent. of the accidents, and 62 per cent. of accidents after 10 p.m., it was known that someone involved had been drinking alcohol. The graph of accidents shows a very steep rise immediately after the closing of the public houses in the evening, and there are certain conclusions which obviously one can draw from that.
§ Mr. Graham Page
If hon. Members wish to differ from the B.M.A. Committee's Report and the Drew Report they are at liberty to do so. I prefer to take the conclusion of the medical men that alcohol, even in the quantity I have mentioned, causes accidents. If we can reduce the number of drivers on the road who drive with this quantity of alcohol in their blood, we shall reduce the number of accidents.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
For the benefit of the uninitiated, can my hon. Friend relate the figure of .15 per cent. which he mentioned to a certain number of single whiskies or some other amount of drink which we can understand?
§ Mr. Graham Page
I related it just now to the figure of .05. I suppose that .15 would represent something like six or seven pints of beer. That is the figure I have put in the Bill and which. I think, is very high. As I said previously, I should be prepared to reduce it to some- 572 thing in the nature of the sample taken by both the B.M.A. Committee and the Drew Committee.
May I pass now to Part III of the Bill which deals with penalties? Disqualification is the most effective deterrent and certainly the most effective protective punishment, that is, protecting the community against the bad driver. But the fact is that it is not used to a very great extent by the courts. This part of the Bill seeks to set out something of a code of disqualification. The periods which the magistrates will apply, the details of the minimum periods, are, I suggest, immaterial at this stage. If I have got them wrong, it is a matter which can be dealt with during the Committee stage of the Bill.
There is no doubt that if disqualification were used more and were something of a certainty after conviction, greater care would be used on the roads. This part of the Bill adopts a novel idea in connection with disqualification. It is not much protection to the public if a bad driver is allowed back on the road after a month or two of disqualification without any remedial process. By using a sort of semi-disqualification, the use of the provisional licence and the resultant need for a test, we might cure some of the bad drivers. At any rate, we should find out a lot about the faults of those who are involved in accidents.
So I have suggested in this part of the Bill that the magistrates should have power to disqualify a man from driving except upon a provisional licence, which, of course, would oblige him to take a test before securing a full licence again. Were this method adopted it would be absolutely necessary to improve the whole system of testing. More examiners would be needed and a far more objective test used than at present. I agree that if those provisions were applied at once, it might mean a very long period of driving with a provisional licence.
Part IV of the Bill deals not with the criminal liability, but the civil liability, and this is based on a Bill which passed through another place many years ago. In industry, we recognise that accidents are bound to happen because, for the benefit of the community, industry cannot be slowed down to the point of absolute safety. The community pays for 573 the results of those accidents, not only when it is a true accident but even when the victim has been negligent. Road accidents are as inevitable as accidents in industry unless we apply restrictions which are unacceptable.
I might perhaps have said in the Bill that if the community wants the amenity of the motor vehicle it should pay for the results even when the victim is negligent, and that road accidents should be put on the same basis as industrial accidents. I do not go so far as that. All I say is that so far as the victim is not proved to have brought about his death or injury by his own negligence he should be covered by the insurance of the vehicle owner. I have in mind particularly the killed or injured pedestrian, the killed or injured passenger in a car, in both cases where it is frequently almost impossible for the victim to prove positively the negligence of the driver of the vehicle, if such be the case. All that this part of the Bill would do would be to place the burden of proof on the person who brought the lethal weapon on to the road.
I sum up what the Bill contains. In Part I, the enforcement of the existing law. In Part II, the creation of certain new offences, or rather a specific definition of parts of existing offences. In the next part, provisions for deterrent and protective penalties, and, lastly, alleviation of the hardship of victims. Safety has surely become such a major issue now that one doubts whether it should be included with other Ministerial matters in the Ministry of Transport which, by its very name, deals with transport rather than with safety. Safety is spread over other Ministries; the Home Office, the Ministry of Education, and even the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Works. One wonders whether the time has not come when one separate Minister should have the duty of being responsible for safety, both in the home and on the road—a Minister of Safety.
The House will recollect that recently it has been discussing a Bill called the Population (Statistics) Bill and hon. Members may also recollect that the "parent Bill" of that Measure appeared in 1938, when Sir Alan Herbert, during the Second Reading debate, delighted the House with certain verses. I had 574 occasion to refer to it the other day and I noticed a most appropriate stanza on road safety which ran as follows:Five hundred brand new motor cars each morning rode the roads,And flashed about like comets or sat motionless like toads.Whichever course they took they made the public highway hell,And everybody wondered why the population fell.I thought that that expressed the situation so well that I was tempted to bring it up to date in these words:Eight million motor vehicles they put upon the road;Great monsters, finned, with radiators grinning like a toad;Some advertised to do one hundred miles per hour at least.And everybody wondered why the accidents increased".Sir Alan's muse having seized me, with apologies and acknowledgments to Sir Alan and with the indulgence of the House, which it usually gives on Fridays, I continued in much the same strain:They limited the speed to thirty, forty, miles per hour,And over that, the J. Ps. said, 'What naughty boys you are'.The limits weren't enforced because the roads were unpoliced.And everybody wondered why the accidents increased.They said they'd test the older cars and really put them through it,But four years went and still there wasn't anywhere to do it.By ten per cent. the casualties could thus have been decreased.And everybody wondered why the accidents increased.In London, in the West End, they made a zone of pink.Pedestrians who wished to cross stood sardined on the brink.Or started off to cross, alive, and finished up deceased.And everybody wondered why the accidents increased.They said that dang'rous drivers should be more severely fined,But magisterial benches couldn't bear to be unkind.They refused to tell offenders that their driving days had ceased.And everybody wondered why the accidents increased.The terrifying tankers, with tremendous tonnage weights,On the winding ways of Britain went at ever greater rates.On the skiddy roads of Britain, all so beautifully greased.And everybody wondered why the accidents increased.575The god of speed was worshipped and his altar was the street.The sacrificial victims, those who dared to use their feet.The driver who'd been drinking was officiating priest.And everybody wondered why the accidents increased.
§ 12.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
I am sure that I voice the feeling of hon. Members on both sides of the House, whether they agree with what the Bill proposes or not, in congratulating the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) on an extremely admirable speech. In particular, we all enjoyed the poem with which he concluded what he had to say, and I am positive that all of us will look forward to reading it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
I support the Bill and hope that it will be given a Second Reading and that the Amendment on the Order Paper to reject it will not be passed. Although the hon. Member for Crosby has only his own name on the back of the Bill, had he wanted other names and canvassed hon. Members he would have found a very large number of us on both sides willing to put their names to it.
It is a very far-reaching Measure. It is, I suppose, rather unusual for a Private Member's Bill to contain some of the suggestions and proposals which are in this Bill. I make no complaint about that. A Bill of this kind is long overdue. The Minister himself should have brought in a Bill containing many of the proposals which this one contains. It is a pity that it has been left to a back bencher to do it.
I do not know how far the Bill will get. It may well be that when the Minister replies he will kill it by saying that this is the kind of thing which must be left for the Government to tackle, that their inquiries are not yet completed, and that as soon as they are he hopes to promote a Measure much along these lines.
I hope that the House will reject that plea. The slaughter on the roads has been a crying scandal for many years. During recent years we have had a number of traffic Bills and it has been open to this Government and previous Governments to bring in, as they should have done, a Bill along these lines. As 576 that has not happened and as the position is terrifying—I use that word deliberately—I am grateful to the hon. Member for Crosby and hope that the House will not let this opportunity pass without at any rate agreeing to give the Bill a Second Reading.
I realise from interjections which have taken place that some hon. Members abject to certain provisions. I remind them, if they need any reminding, that if the Bill is permitted to go to a Standing Committee all these can be there thrashed out and hon. Members sitting on that Committee can, if they are so minded, amend the Measure more to their liking.
The Minister quite recently—in particular when he answered Questions two days ago—whilst admitting that 87 people had died during Easter compared with 71 last year—took comfort from the fact that the daily average was 0.5 per cent. less than it had been in 1959.
His complacency is not justified. I am no mathematician, but what the right hon. Gentleman was doing was to compare the average of 4 or 5 days with an average of 365 days. But figures cannot be so married in this instance, for what is quite plain is that 87 people were killed during Easter this year as against 71 last year. It is true that during the Easter holiday more private cars were on the roads, but we must not forget that heavy lorries and commercial vehicles of all kinds were not. So, although the number of private cars on the roads may have increased, there was undoubtedly a diminution in the number of heavy lorries and commercial vehicles on the highways.
I know that most lorry drivers are very careful, but nevertheless we must remember that fact and not assume that the number of vehicles on the roads was vastly increased because, as a matter of common knowledge, many vehicles were not on the roads during that period.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that a great many caravans were on the roads during Easter, blocking them up?
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I do not stress the point. What I am trying to do is to assure the Minister of Transport, if he needs any assuring, that the figures he gave are not quite so hopeful as he tries 577 to pretend. There were very large numbers of vehicles off the roads during Easter, although quite a number of private vehicles came on in greater numbers than normally.
I listened very carefully to what the hon. Member for Crosby said. I agree generally with the suggestions he makes for tightening up the law. Penalties have been imposed in previous Measures, but they have not got us very far and, apparently, have not reduced the accident figures, despite the fact that they have become part of the law. The more I look at this problem, the more I am inclined to think that permissive penalties are not much use. That is why I am glad that in parts of the Bill at any rate the hon. Member for Crosby has made it obligatory on magistrates and others to take certain action where certain offences are proved.
One of the difficulties with some benches of magistrates is that they are inclined to think, "There but for the grace of God go I." They are, therefore, inclined to be lenient with motorists and to let them off with a lighter penalty than the offence warrants, if they are permitted to do so. Before we go very much further, it may well be essential to take offences of this kind out of the hands of lay magistrates and put them into the hands of stipendiaries or some other court so that they can be treated much more seriously than they are treated at the moment.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
Is my right hon. Friend sure that he is on a good point? The trouble is that most motorists now elect to go before a jury. It is often the slowness of jurors rather than magistrates.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I was going on to say that I would not allow cases of this kind to go to juries, because jurors and lay magistrates—not always, but sometimes—are inclined to treat offenders of this kind more leniently than they should be treated in view of the gravity of the offence.
One reason why I welcome the Bill is that for the first time it attempts to tackle the menace of the driver who has been drinking. This is the first time that either a Government or a back bencher has attempted to face up to this problem, for that reason, I hope that we shall give the Bill a Second Reading and thrash out 578 in Committee the percentage of alcohol which may be in the blood when driving. The time has long passed when some Minister of Transport should have taken his courage in both hands and done what the hon. Member for Crosby seeks to do.
The Minister himself has talked a good deal about drunken driving and drivers on the road having taken drink, but so far he has done nothing about it. As a result of the terrible loss of life at Christmas time, when 154 people lost their lives on the roads, he promised to have those cases analysed. I hope that before the day is over he will tell us the result of his inquiries. It is obvious that this country lags woefully behind other nations in the way in which it regards drinking and driving on the roads.
I have here a newspaper report of a speech made by the Minister at the Press Gallery luncheon on 28th March. He said:Road deaths in January were greater than at any time since the blackout, and February showed the same trend.I am horrified at this continual slaughter which goes on.The Minister then made reference to what he had found when he visited the United States.In Chicago the number of cars had doubled in ten years, but the number of deaths had been cut by half because of stricter tactics on alcohol.In Detroit, in three years, deaths had been reduced by 90 per cent., and there they had the 'breathalisers'.'The police in Chicago have stopped most Christmas parties in offices because this is the day they get the greatest number of deaths.'To drop from the sublime to the ridiculous—if I may use that expression—he went on to say that the new Traffic Bill which he hoped to introduce before Easter would apply throughout Britain, but would not deal with this particular matter. I ask him now, and I hope the House will unanimously ask him, how soon, if this Bill is not accepted, he intends to deal with this problem. The Liverpool Daily Post, which I do not think is an anti-Government paper, had a leader about the Minister's speech at the Press Gallery luncheon, and said:What a curious example of double-talk was. Mr. Marples' speech to the Parliamentary Press Gallery. First he stressed the continual and increasing slaughter on the roads, and that in Chicago and Detroit road deaths had been cut by half and by nine-tenths respectively by stricter tactics with regard to drinking drivers 579 and, in Detroit, by the use of breathalisers which gauge the amount of alcohol in a driver's system. Then he went on to make it pretty clear that his new Traffic Bill, which is in print, and which he hopes to have in force by July, does not include provision for physical tests to determine competence to drive where a driver is suspected of having taken alcohol.This criticism is quite legitimate. The right hon. Gentleman is an extremely energetic Minister and has great courage. For those reasons, he should wish to go down in history as the first Minister to tackle this problem, because unless something is done, and done quickly, it is unlikely that all the other provisions in this Bill or in any other will have their full effect. What is holding him back? Is it fear of public opinion? I may be wrong, but my reading of public opinion Is that more and more people are realising that the driver who drinks is a menace on the roads and ought not to be allowed there. The Minister should take his courage in both hands, because the path before him if he does will not be so terrible as he may now imagine.
He is supported to begin with by his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who, I understand, is the Minister in charge of Government propaganda and whose job it is to put Ministers over to the public in the best possible light. I have here a cutting of a speech he made recently. He said:Ordinary quantities of alcohol, reasonable in an armchair at home, can be deadly dangerous when inside a driver on the road. Many drivers, although horrified by the slaughter on the roads, just cannot believe that modest quantities of alcohol really matter. If we could only eliminate that 'one for the road' we should save hundreds of lives and thousands of limbs.No one drives better after a drink. He just thinks he does. The truth is his driving is worse. The plain fact, long proved, is that alcohol, even in moderate doses, does two things. First, it lowers driving efficiency by lengthening the reaction time—the interval between seeing the danger and acting to avoid it. Secondly, it reduces one's capacity for self-criticism, so exaggerating one's satisfaction with one's self. It over-eggs the ego.Here we have not only a Minister of the Crown talking but a man who was at one time, and possibly still is, well known as a medical practitioner and expert. What he was doing in that speech was to bear out the findings of the Drew Report and the Medical Research Council. Not only does the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster support the view expressed very ably by the hon. Member 580 for Crosby, but almost unanimously in January the public Press took the same line.
I suppose that never before has the Press been so united at any time as it was then, and as many newspapers have been since, on this question of drinking and driving. Some of the headlines in the early days of January, when the figures of Christmas fatalities were known, were very outspoken. The Daily Mail, for example, under the heading:It's the drinking driver who is the biggest menace.went on to say:It is time the truth was told about the slaughter on the roads.Were you drinking last night with killers? Were you in a merry homicidal group in the bar, having that last whisky before driving home from the office or the local?Britain has just achieved a new production record. Christmas was the most murderous period in motoring history. Weather was clear; traffic only trivially heavier; yet 154 died in car accidents over the four-day period.Do you know the reason? There are no official statistics to prove it—yet. But I can give you the answer with certainty. Drink.The day is nearing when the British motorist—and that, in the prosperous present, means most of the community—will have to face the truth about the lethal link between drinking and driving.I could give quotation after quotation to show that the public thinks it is time the Government tackled this question of alcohol in the man in charge of a vehicle on the roads. I do not want to say that I would like to see everybody robbed of the right to take alcohol if they are so minded, but drinkers owe it to the community to see to it that when they are in charge of a motor car all their faculties are present, and that they are clear of any taint whatever of having alcohol in their blood.
I hope for that reason alone that the House will give a Second Reading to this Bill, and that when it reaches the Committee upstairs we shall be able, between us, to work out the proper percentage of alcohol which it is safe—if any percentage is safe—for a driver to have, and to put into force very stringent penalties for anybody who does not comply with the law.
§ 12.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
I would like to offer sincere congratulations to my hon. Friend the 581 Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) and to assure him of my very strong support for what he has put into this Bill. He has no small reputation in this House for Private Members' Bills over the last few years, and he has in no way diminished that reputation by this latest effort.
It is perhaps significant, in considering the speeches we have heard today and the many other speeches made in the House over the last ten years, that this is, I believe, the first Bill ever introduced into this House which is called a "Road Safety Bill." In this day and age it is high time that we produced such a Bill devoted exclusively and entirely to that object.
This Bill has a number of innovations, and we in this country are slow to embrace innovations. We have to be convinced, and more than convinced, and perhaps the best way of convincing everybody is by showing that it is a matter of life and death; and it is matters of life and death with which this Bill deals exclusively. The remedial measures which have helped road safety problems have, in their day, been innovations. I can recall the Belisha beacon some years before the war. That was almost the first move to segregate a portion of the road for pedestrians to use with, it was hoped, the co-operation of the motoriste. Since 1952 we have had the zebra crossings. As my hon. Friend said, the introduction of those crossings—maligned and criticised as they undoubtedly were during the first two years—put the second downward kink in the upward graph of the number of accidents.
Innovations are in the air. My right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Minister of Transport are responsible for several innovations in the new Road Traffic and Roads Improvement Bill, now before a Standing Committee. One thing I want to emphasise above all else is that we shall never make any great impression on the toll on the roads until we embark on some brand new thinking on the whole subject. Two things are wrong with our present approach. First of all, again and again we try to change the old shibboleths a bit, alter them a little, to see if we cannot make them work.
Secondly, with very great respect to everyone concerned, both members of 582 the Government and of the Opposition— and I also include myself—I believe that we lack courage to deal with something which, above all else, needs courage if we are to preserve human life. Until we get that into our heads we shall not solve the problem. We shall not solve it by having portions of the road segregated to a particular use, nor shall we solve it by any kind of special regulation and the like.
One thing we must surmount is a certain attitude of mind. If an accident, even a fatal accident, happens to someone else, we read it in the newspaper and we are shocked, but it is still only something that we read, and it does not impact on us. The only way it will impact is if it is one's own wife, mother, father, or one's child. We must get over that attitude of mind. We must make every person on the road, pedestrians and motorists alike—for both have a responsibility—understand that in their actions they carry a power of life and death.
At the present time, a national newspaper, the Daily Mirror, is running an exhibition to try to bring home drastically to people—including children, I am glad to see—what an accident looks like, and what can result from it. I am very glad of that. I express my own personal thanks—and I believe that many other people would wish to express theirs —to the Daily Mirror or to any other newspaper that tries to help in this way.
This exhibition displays that famous poster of the widow, with the caption "Keep death off the road". It amazes. me that that poster, so I understand, was withdrawn some years ago because it offended the susceptibilities of some of those who looked at it. It was withdrawn, regardless of whether or not it was bringing home, in a way as never before, just what was happening, and what was causing accidents on the road. I do not mind how many people's susceptibilities are offended if even only half a dozen lives are saved. All desperate diseases need desperate remedies.
This Bill contains innovations. For the first time in a Measure, Government or private, we have a proposal for the appointment of commissioners of road safety, and of safety enforcement officers. Why not? I am sure that 583 nobody, from my right hon. Friend the Minister downwards, would be willing to close his eyes to something that was good just because it was new. I am convinced, as I have said, that we shall not solve this problem by using only the present highly orthodox methods.
The idea of a commissioner of road safety may be unorthodox. The title and its newness will probably shock some of my more orthodox friends but, after all, we have today Ministers with titles that are new. For instance, a year ago we did not have a Minister for Science, and there are several other Ministers whose titles were unknown before the war. Perhaps in the appointment of these special commissioners lies one answer to the present problem.
I turn briefly to the question of the consumption of alcohol—the driver who drinks. Here, again, it is the old, old story. Nobody except the person convicted takes very much notice if he is fined £25 and his licence suspended for six months provided that no one was killed while the man was driving his car. If, however, someone is killed, that makes front page news, and everyone says "What a shocking fellow. He had no right to be in the car."
The fact is that that driver is on the razor edge; he was caught before he killed someone, and was fined on the technical offence, whereas if he had not been stopped he might have been facing a charge of manslaughter. It is as close as that. We can never substitute the potential crime for the actual crime, of course, and I would not wish to do so.
The Bill introduces a brand-new idea about drivers who drink. It does not require them to be drunk within the meaning of the existing Acts. In the present requirement lies a lot of the origin of the accident rate. Many accidents are due to the fact that a driver involved has been drinking—he is not drunk or incapable, but he has been drinking.
Under the present law he cannot be indicted for being drunk, but is charged with one of the lesser offences of careless or dangerous driving. There is a long way to go in danger, and there is a long way to go in the possibilities of lethal accident before we get to the stage when a man or woman can obviously be seen 584 to be drunk and incapable. Up to the present we have burked the issue and have refused to charge these people with drunkenness unless they can obviously be seen to be so.
The Bill goes many steps further. It is not a question of being drunk—that word does not appear in the Measure. The Bill makes it a question of the assessment of the amount of alcohol retained in the blood. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby, in answer to an intervention when he was speaking about the fairly high assessment of 015 per cent. by weight of alcohol retained in the blood, was, I think, a little doubtful about the suggestion of the variation in tolerance of liquor by an individual.
The drinking driver is probably one of the greatest single factors in the causation of accidents. The other great factor is speed. Some two or three years ago the authorities in one country—it is a matter for serious consideration that it should have been thought necessary for human beings, but it was a wise precaution— announced that if people who had cars with them were returning from Christmas parties and felt that they were not capable of driving home, all they had to do was to ring up the police, when the situation would be attended to. They would be brought back home, and no charge would ensue. Even something like that, expensive though it may be in public time and money, is better than the sort of casualty lists we get at Christmas, Easter and on other Bank Holidays. Apart from the fact that so many people are not really concerned when they read about a drunken driver being charged, unless he kills or injures somebody—and this applies to myself as well as to other people—we also tend to forget that there are so many accidents which we never hear about in other parts of the country and not in the vicinity in which we live.
I read the other day of a case which was reported in a national magazine of a man who went to a very respectable and proper party. It was not a drinking party. He had a number of drinks; he may or may not have had the equivalent of 0.15 per cent. of alcohol in his blood. He appeared to be quite normal when he left the party. He drove away, and after a while his driving became erratic. He hit two vehicles in his movements 585 across the road. He hit an old lady and carried her for some distance on the bonnet of his car, I believe after she was dead. Eventually, of his own volition, he stopped in a side-street where the police caught up with him. I think one of his first questions was, "Is she dead?"
That is a very good example of the borderline between drunkenness and incapability. This man was sensible enough to realise that something untoward had happened. He even knew that he had hit a lady and was sensible enough to ask that pathetic question. He was also sensible enough to stop in due course. In the meantime he was more dangerous than an army of pests invading a tract of agricultural land. He was a menace to himself and to everybody near him. He was more menacing than a madman carrying a loaded revolver in the midst of a crowd.
We have got to stop that sort of thing. Until we stop it, that lady and thousands like her—millions in the course of years—are so many more figures in the statistics. All the bewailing and use of words like "terrifying", "shocking" and "appalling" will not save a single life unless we transform our thoughts into something practical.
There has got to be discipline all the way down—first by the Government of themselves to take the necessary steps, with the support of all Members, and then on the part of motorists and pedestrians. They have got to do all they can to save their own lives and the lives of people around them so that this becomes the pattern of behaviour and we are really good pedestrians and good motorists, instead of merely thinking that we are good pedestrians and good motorists.
I am tempted to use a remark which I have used over a good number of years in this sort of debate. It is a very simple remark, as perhaps some of the most telling ones are. I think it is original; I myself have used it a number of times. The remark is that when a man is a motorist he is a motorist and when he is a pedestrian he is a pedestrian. That must not be, and we have got to have a larger degree of co-operation between pedestrians and motorists. My right hon. Friend the other day said that there was something slightly nasty attaching to the word "motorist". That 586 must go. The motorist is a man who drives a motor car and the pedestrian is a person who walks across or on the highway. We must have co-operation between them. We must not perpetuate the idea of motorists and pedestrians falling into two separate compartments, for that has been one of the troubles.
If I drive my motor car, however disciplined I try to be—and I think I am no particular exception—I start off with the idea that I am using a highway and I hope I remember that I have got to co-operate with the pedestrians, but there is no question but that some of us are always ready to be critical of the pedestrian who is using the same highway. Exactly the same applies if one is a pedestrian in the midst of a lot of traffic; one objects to the selfish motorist in not giving way if one wishes to cross the road.
Coming to Part II of the Bill and the Clause dealing with inability to stop within distance of vision, I wonder how many of us really appreciate the implications of this Clause. I was listening the other day to a very authoritative member of a road safety organisation, and he said something with which I doubt many hon. Members will agree. He said that a motorist driving at night with his headlights dipped should not exceed 40 m.p.h. Indeed, he put a rather lower figure than that, but I am being generous in order not to exaggerate the matter. I wonder how many hon. Members, including myself, keep to that sort of limit. That was stated by a man whose job is to promote road safety and who has had years of experience. In answer to a question of mine, he said that he did a large amount of night driving himself. If that figure is accurate, then I would say that every hon. Member, including myself, probably offends against that standard every time he drives at night.
§ Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)
Surely it has always been an elementary part of the Highway Code that a motorist at night should drive within the beam of his lights. Any motorist who does not do that should not have had a licence because he clearly does not know the Highway Code, and, in any case, he should not have been driving at all.
§ Mr. Cole
I agree, but that is not the point. The point is that we drive according to our personal opinion of the distance of vision, however good our lights may be. I doubt if a single hon. Member has ever considered that his length of vision with dipped headlights was such that he should not drive at more than 40 m.p.h. Of course, a motorist must always drive according to the distance of his vision by day or night, but the point is that he may not realise that his distance of vision at night is such that he should not exceed 40 m.p.h.
There are other matters in this Bill which test and challenge our intelligence. I should like to refer to overtaking at pedestrian crossings. The Bill provides that a motorist who is within 45 ft. of a pedestrian crossing should not overtake another car which is approaching the crossing. That is a very wise move. We all know of the case when someone is about to use a crossing and sees a car slowing up to enable him to do so. The driver of a second car has his vision of the pedestrian obscured and drives past, and there is an accident.
I have a strong objection to drivers who approach a pedestrian crossing and take on themselves, however benignly, the powers of dictatorship and signal to people on the pavement that they may use the crossing. It may be intended to be helpful and co-operative, but no one motorist can speak for half-a-dozen other motorists. There is the danger that such a motorist is assuming responsibility which belongs to the person whose life is involved, namely, the pedestrian, without having the means to carry out that responsibility. I have recently stopped members of my own family from doing that.
It is quite clear to the pedestrian if a driver is stopping, but for a driver to indicate that because he is stopping the road is therefore clear enough for the pedestrian to use the crossing is to take upon himself a greater responsibility than he can carry out. I hope that fact will be borne in mind.
§ Mr. John Hall
Will my hon. Friend tell me how he would deal with the hesitant pedestrian who, when a car stops, stands hesitating on the brink not knowing whether to cross or not? Is the 588 motorist to wait until the pedestrian makes up his mind or is he to drive on?
§ Mr. Cole
What my hon. Friend means is, how long should one wait and delay one's journey? The answer is that it is much better to be a hesitant pedestrian than a dead one. If a person is hesitant, the driver may be annoyed, but within a matter of seconds it will be quite clear what is happening. I would sooner the pedestrian hesitated for his own safety, even though my hon. Friend or I got a little annoyed because he took his time waiting at the crossing and we thought, "Why the dickens does he not go across?" There have been occasions when one has stopped, but the man coming up on one's off-side has not stopped and the pedestrian who was just short of the refuge was put in danger by the oncoming car. The pedestrian can see from where he is, but the driver coming up on one's off-side cannot see what is happening. It was considerations of that kind which moved my right hon. Friend's predecessor some time ago to make regulations about parking within a certain distance of zebra crossings.
These matters, compared with the big issues, are small, but each could save ten or twelve lives a year in this country, and they are examples of the kind of thing we must consider in the progressive thinking to which we must now devote ourselves. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby said that campaigns would not answer the problem. I do not go all the way with him in that because I believe that campaigns keep people road safety conscious, which is a good thing. But, of course, he is quite right to say that they will not by themselves save lives.
What will save lives can be summed up in this way. Firstly, from the Government and from motorists and pedestrians themselves, there must be a determination that, come what may, we will find a way of preventing our present heavy road toll from continuing, especially since there will be millions more vehicles to come on the roads in the next few years. Secondly, there must be a new approach, a close appraisal of every kind of innovation or new thought coming forward, of every kind of new idea—the sort of ideas we find in this Bill—and we must not be 589 shocked, by any suggestion, however novel it may be. We must examine and sort out all the suggestions which are made, determined all the time that, even as the problem itself becomes larger over the years, we must in our thinking keep pace with it and solve it.
Something has been said this morning about infringing the liberty of the individual. I am second to none in my reverence for the freedom and liberty of the people of this land; it is probably our outstanding characteristic among all nations in the history of the world. But I end on this solemn note, very appropriate, I think, when the subject of freedom and liberty is raised. There is no greater infringement of the liberty of the individual than to take his life away.
§ 12.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) has not really contributed much to this debate except a few prejudices. His remarks about new and novel thinking were a bit sloppy in the context of what is happening on our roads today. We must all declare an interest here. The interest I declare is that I have held a driving licence for over forty years and that I earned my living in road transport before I came to the House.
Lest it should go unremarked in reports of this debate which may appear, I must take up straight away what the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South said about pedestrian crossings. The real point in driving or, indeed, in teaching people to drive or testing them —as I have done, for commercial vehicles—is that one's decision must always be firm. Those following the driver must always know what he is doing and he must make his intentions absolutely clear on the road. As we all know, the good driver is the man in front of us who makes us understand exactly what he intends to do. The drunken driver, of course, is not such a man.
I offer it as my advice that, at a pedestrian crossing, one should halt a reasonable distance from it. After all, one has three mirrors nowadays, if one is a sensible driver, and one knows what is coming up behind. With the window down one can put one's hand out and 590 give the following traffic a signal that a pedestrian is crossing. That is the sort of co-operation that is wanted. The pedestrian is not a thought-reader. While the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South is waffling about and wondering what will happen, all sorts of cars are coming up and the drivers of them think that he is a dilatory and procrastinating motorist, which he probably is, and no one knows what is in his mind. Perhaps I should not mention it here, but I am reminded that my wife sometimes says, when there is a doubt in our household, "We have made up our minds." But one cannot do that sort of thing on the road.
We owe the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) a considerable debt of gratitude. As we all know, most back benchers who ever get anything done in the House are one-idea people, as he is on this occasion. After all, a crank is only someone with an enthusiasm for a subject about which someone else does not happen to agree. But I do not regard the hon. Member for Crosby as a crank in this matter. I can pay him no higher compliment than to say that he is in line with Samuel Plimsoll and all those who have believed that one thing at a time, if they can achieve it, is probably as great a contribution as any single back bench Member can make. Even if we do not accept it in its entirety, we must approach the hon. Gentleman's Bill with great respect because of the sense of dedication which he brings to it.
The hon. Member for Crosby enlivened our proceedings with a rhyme at the end of his speech. I should have thought that the most appropriate limerick, even at the end of the speech of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South, would have been:This is the tale of Johnny Gay,Who died protesting his right of way.He was right—dead right—as he strode along,And now he's as dead as if he was wrongThat is really the idea we must keep in mind every time we are on the road. It is the unpredictability of the other "bloke" which really causes all the accidents.
I do not entirely agree with the hon. Member for Crosby when he said something about people always thinking, "It is not I who drive dangerously". I do 591 not really believe that that is so. I am conscious of having done wrong myself many times. At the end of a journey, very often, after some incident, we question our own judgment very much and we think to ourselves, "That was a damn silly thing to do". Unless we do that sometimes, we ought not to be on the road at all.
A week or two ago, all the Press was full of reports of the fact that 50,000 people marched from Aldermaston to London. There were 11 Members of Parliament in that procession. I must assume that they enjoyed three days of footsoreness and sublimation in protesting against the wrath to come, against a bomb which, if we are sensible enough, will never be dropped. The Government themselves have chucked away Blue Streak, so, perhaps, they are becoming right-minded. Those 50,000 people were protesting about a horror which might befall us.
I should not be so silly or cynical as to doubt the sincerity of anyone in that march. Each one of them believed that he or she was doing something, bearing witness of faith in protest against a horror which they regarded as a disgrace to the human race. They were protesting because man, who has won every victory, has, as yet, not won victory over himself.
On the other hand, I wonder whether we dramatise such things too much from time to time. I can remember similar processions before the war in support of the Peace Pledge Union and all sorts of other things. Demonstrations of that kind are, I believe, fundamentally negative. Life does not entirely depend upon whether a bomb will be dropped in future, although we are determined to see that it is not. I have no figures for the number of people who were killed by strontium 90 during the last twelve months, but what we do know, as surely as that the sun will rise tomorrow, is the number of people who will be killed on the roads.
There are no demonstrations against death on the roads. Occasionally, we find people holding up traffic on a particular road when they are protesting about a bridge, a by-pass out of London or a threat to a school, but that is all. Yet we know with sure predictability that a certain number of deaths will 592 occur on our roads. The figures I have for 1959 show that 6,520 were killed and 326,933 were injured, a total of 333,453 casualties in one year.
That is the sort of problem we are up against. I suggest that against the background of those figures, it is a trifle irresponsible for the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper) to put down an Amendment, "That the Bill be read a Second time upon this day six months." Before he moves that Amendment—and I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a minute, or when he rises to speak —perhaps he will tell me what are the statistics for the Borough of Ilford for the last twelve months.
§ Mr. A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
If the hon. Gentleman will do me the courtesy of waiting until I make my speech, perhaps he will understand more fully the reason why I have put down that Amendment on the Order Paper.
§ Mr. Pannell
I have never said before that, unfortunately, Mr. Speaker called me too early. I will do the hon. Gentleman the courtesy of listening to his speech, but I am asking him now whether he can give me the statistics for the Borough of Ilford for the last twelve months.
§ Mr. Pannell
Can the hon. Gentleman give me the statistics? Has he got them? I presume that he has not got them.
§ Mr. Pannell
All right. The hon. Gentleman has time to look them up between now and the time he makes his speech. I doubt whether he has got them. This is a debating assembly, not a place where one reads turgid essays, and I am not that sort of debater.
If the hon. Gentleman produces the statistics later, I shall probably say that he has had time to get them from the Library or Ilford Town Hall. It is fair enough. I am accusing the hon. Gentleman of impertinence in putting down this Amendment, in view of the 593 enormity of the problem, and I am wondering how far the hon. Gentleman is briefed about what happens in his own constituency. That is all.
Various suggestions appear from time to time, even apart from what the hon. Member for Crosby said, as to how we are to meet this problem. Sir Bernard Docker, of all people, has suggested that every motorist should pay the first £20 or £30 worth of any damages, and he feels that if they did that, instead of leaving it to the insurance companies, it would have a very salutary effect on motorists. All I can say about that is that it would have a far more salutary effect on me than on Sir Bernard Docker. And what about the poor lorry driver? This is a subject which has become so vast that everyone—every cockeyed person—can write to The Times about it.
The fact that we have to face today is that of the great increase in the number of motor cars. I must tell the Minister that the most depressing thing which I find about this whole business concerns urban development. When I come up from Kent to London, whether by the New Kent Road or the Old Kent Road, I see that we are still catering for not more than three or four lines of traffic over the whole road, and when I come to the bottlenecks which I have to face morning after morning I wonder what will happen in five years. If the Minister is telling me that I should not come in a car, but should ride a bicycle, as he does, I can only reply that I live too far away.
Over and above all this, the Minister has got to take a stern look at the built-up areas of our cities. I do not think that the accidents take place on the by-passes that I use when coming up, but when I begin to enter London, with the pedestrians trying to cross the road despite the signs "Don't Cross Here", I cannot find any planning of our roads for the next decade, and that is the most depressing thing of the lot. The hon. Member for Crosby said that neither fear nor reason seem to enter into this. I must say I rather disagree, and I am quite sure that there are many other hon. Members who are oppressed by fear of the roads. I was speaking the other day to an hon. Gentleman opposite, who tells me that when he comes up to London for a social occasion, he books accommodation at an hotel for himself and 594 his wife for the night, because after a few drinks on such social occasions he feels, as a Member of Parliament, that he would not like to be involved in any trouble afterwards. I would take him as being a responsibly-minded man.
One of the things on which I disagree with the hon. Member for Crosby is that I recognise the increasing sense of responsibility of many good motorists about this problem. The hon. Member for Crosby seems to think that a speed limit has an effect, but I agree with a previous Minister of Transport, who, I think, was absolutely right to increase the speed limit from 30 to 40 m.p.h. on certain stretches of roads, where 30 m.p.h. is unreasonable. Many of our roads were built for faster speeds, and yet they are being over-built by ribbon development. I should like to see the statistics of accidents for these roads on which there is a 40 m.p.h. limit, and I think that, on balance, they will show that there have been fewer accidents. Certainly, it has released police for other sorts of work.
The Minister of Transport has spoken about his experiences in America. I suppose that when he was there he went to the special traffic court in Detroit. I remember being there, when I sat as a distinguished visitor beside the judge and saw the breathalyser and drunko-meter and all these weird and wonderful devices, but I came away with the idea that they were rather hard on the motorist.
Apart from that, and in spite of what has been said on the other side, I affirm that there is no doubt that the question of the amount of alcohol imbibed is not so much one of rendering a man incapable to drive, but one of the over-confidence that flows from it. The test of it all, as every report which I have ever studied makes clear, is that a driver does suffer from the hallucination that he is better than he really is, and that is really the point.
After all, we have often spoken in the past about "fighting drunk" and the tot of rum before sending "over the top" a man whose nerve is on the point of breaking. It is only a form of Dutch courage, instead of the cold courage we want, but the point here is that the intake of alcohol really does impair his judgment. That is why I asked the hon. 595 Gentleman whether his figure of 0.15 was high enough, bearing in mind that there are people who can take a larger amount of alcohol than others. However good their intake may be, the fact remains that from the very moment that they begin to take it their sense of judgment is not as cold, as precise, or as deliberate as it would have been if they had taken none at all.
People have spoken about Christmas parties, and hon. Members have referred to the experiment in Chicago in forbidding Christmas parties on certain days. I should have said that one of the few benefits we could confer on the future would be if we could abolish the cocktail party. If there is an abomination in social life which I dislike, it is the cocktail party. The idea that one can cram as many people as one can get into one room, with people talking all the time, where no intelligent conversation is possible, is ridiculous. The conversations at cocktail parties are, in the main, rather lower in intellectual capacity than those in the average public-house bar. I should have thought that if we could abolish the cocktail party as a social device, we should make some progress.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman in saying that we should have commissioners of road safety. It really is a great mistake to believe that if we lump all the risks together, we will necessarily make for greater safety. If we consider the safety provisions in factories, the inspection of boilers and industrial machinery, as well as the difficulties in the home in regard to accidents, and all these considerations, which come under the control of the Home Office, we find that they are not the same sort of things with which we are dealing in considering safety on the roads. Often I think that there is greater precision when we departmentalise. I am surprised that such a high Tory as the hon. Member for Crosby should advocate more centralisation in a matter like this.
Generally speaking, the fact that a man is drunk in charge does not bear the same social opprobrium as many other offences. I am sure that we are wrong about this. There are far too many scenes on television of drinking, as if a person must drink too much to be 596 civilised. There is far too much which tends to teach young people that this is the done thing. Perhaps I can leave the House with this thought. Everyone knows—we have had sad cases in this House—of acts of minor indecency which have led to the ruin of the person concerned. Acts of incipient homosexuality carry with them the blot of complete disgrace. There was the case, fairly close to this House, of a Member whom we respected. If he had not been "tight" at the time, it would never have happened.
In spite of the fact that careers may be ruined because of acts like these, for which there is often a very good medical reason, some who have been found drunk in charge have come back here as large as life and have spoken on road safety, traffic control and transport matters with all the brazen effrontery under the sun. That is a fact. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh".] I will tell the hon. Member the names afterwards. He would not expect me to declare them across the Floor of the House. I should have thought that social convention should condemn a man who is drunk in charge.
There should be certain things that magistrates have to do. I have had occasion to be an expert witness in motoring cases. We all know that if a man goes before the local court, especially if he knows the reputation or has been advised by solicitors of the reputation of the magistrate he is to confront, he usually opts to go for trial by jury in the belief that a great deal of forensic eloquence will be poured out to the 12 good men and true, or 12 good women and true, as the case may be, to the effect, "There but for the grace of God go you," and all the members of the jury think, "Yes, it might have been me."
There is no doubt that juries tend to be sloppy in this matter and that statistics tend to prove that the motorist gets an easier crack of the whip if he goes for trial by jury than by being dealt with by the lower court. Often by the time the man appears before the jury the case has been forgotten and the horror of it has largely departed from him. He does not feel the same sort of penitence as the man who has committed a shocking act immediately feels. He is 597 probably full of self-righteousness, and his evidence becomes tainted.
As I have said, social convention should condemn drunkenness while driving. It should be considered unthinkable. When I was in charge of drivers, it was a rule of the company for which I worked that no man could take a drink until the day was done. He could not even leave a lorry outside a "pub". If he did, he was dismissed. If the police want a job, I suggest that they should be stationed at some of these far too elaborate car parks outside "pubs". I do not speak as a teetotaller, but as a moderate drinker. I can only say from a lifetime of experience of both sides of the matter, sometimes interviewing the victims of tragedies, that I take a very dim view of drunken driving.
I therefore hope that, although the Bill has been introduced rather late in the Session and may be no more than a propaganda effort on the part of the hon. Member for Crosby, the Minister will take the sense of the House that we all believe that the time is long past when we should bother about the susceptibilities of the irresponsible people in our community, and that the Government will ensure that measures to deal with this problem are not delayed. Because of the increase in vehicles coming on to the road, something must be done now.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Nugent (Guildford)
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), who was in his customary good form and had some sharp comments to direct against this side of the House before settling down to his interesting speech. I listened with great attention to his comments on the problem of drink and driving. He is an expert on the subject and, therefore, his words carry particular weight. Although I do not disagree with the general principle of what he had to say, I am by no means convinced that this Bill is the right method of dealing with the problem, and in my speech I should like to deal in a little detail with some of the points which have been raised. I am with the hon. Member 100 per cent. in wishing to see a provision added to the Bill to make cocktail parties illegal. I dare say that many of us agree with him on that point.
To turn to the main theme of the Bill, I should like to join in the congratula- 598 tions to my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) for introducing the Bill. I well know my hon. Friend's deep interest in road safety, and I appreciate the work that he has done in preparing the Bill and bringing it before the House. I also enjoyed listening to his little flights of poetry, which added point to what he had to say.
No one is more concerned with the present toll of the road than I am. Over the last three years, while I was in the Ministry of Transport, I have been directly connected with it and, therefore, felt special responsibility for it and had the opportunity to give special study to it. My doubt is whether this Bill, admirable though its aim is, will meet the needs of road safety and reduce accidents in the way that we wish. If I may transpose an aphorism of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I would say that road safety is like happiness. It is not to be possessed by snatching at it. It depends on a balance of complex factors, and I should like to comment on one of two of them.
We know a good deal about road accidents from reading the annual reports which are compiled for us containing fairly full analyses of the primary causes of accidents, the times at which they occur, and so on. We also have our personal experience while driving ourselves, watching other people drive, or walking along the roads. From these two sources of information, each one of us has a fair picture of what happens on the roads, what causes road accidents and, therefore, the broad lines that must be followed if there is to be an improvement in road safety.
First, we know that three-quarters of the accidents take place in urban areas, because there is a greater density of traffic and a mixture of road users, with motorists, cyclists and pedestrians mixing together on the same road surface. Above all, there are these conflicting movements of vehicles and pedestrians which are the chief source of road accidents. The annual report on road accidents gives a very interesting analysis of the primary causes of them. The great majority are due, as has been said earlier, to simple errors of judgment on the part of drivers and pedestrians. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby will take note of the fact 599 that about 20 per cent. of recorded accidents primarily are due to carelessness by pedestrians.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
There is also a percentage of accidents that is due to dogs. Dogs, pedestrians and "drunks" comprise a fairly good proportion of the causes of all road accidents.
§ Sir R. Nugent
I have referred to the list of causes, and it is a long one. I was dealing with the main causes and was just about to come to the exceptional ones.
A dramatic cause like speeding accounts for a certain number of accidents, about 4 per cent., or 10,000, which is a serious number, but it is a small minority in the total picture. We simply do not know the number of accidents that are recorded as being directly due to drink, but it is very small. We all suspect that the actual number is higher, but we simply do not know.
My point is that the vast majority of accidents are due to simple errors of judgment. The quotation given by the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall), from the Daily Mail, dramatising the number of accidents due to drink, gives probably a completely false perspective of the broad problem of accidents on the road.
The broad conclusion, therefore, that we can reach from the annual reports on accidents and our own experience is that there are three main lines of reducing accidents and improving road safety. The first is road building. We should press ahead with the biggest possible road programme, not merely improving old roads, but building new ones and improving the danger spots, with as much speed as the nation can manage.
The other two points which I want to discuss come more into the direct context of the Bill. The first is that there should be more training of road users —in other words, the human factor. The second is the elimination of traffic conflicts by the scientific design of traffic movement—that is, by the introduction of the traffic engineer in a general way into traffic movement in our cities. I might call this the scientific factor as opposed to the human factor. There are, of course, other minor causes, as the hon. Member for Leeds, West rightly said, in- 600 cluding some important ones such as vehicle testing. These other minor causes of accidents can, and should, be dealt with and the sooner they are dealt with, the better. There are others, including, of course, the important factor of drink.
As for the main problem of training and the human factor, everybody who has read and keeps the Highway Code will drive well and safely. We can safely say that if every driver and pedestrian who went on the roads knew and kept the Highway Code, there would be no accidents. It is as simple as that. Provided that a driver goes on the road in a normal state of mind, with 100 per cent. concentration on the job and with a sound vehicle, he will not have an accident.
Most accidents, however, happen when the driver or the pedestrian is thinking of other things, when his attention is wandering and he is not giving 100 per cent. concentration to the road. This may happen when a lady is driving and she is thinking of her family or housekeeping. It may happen when a man is driving when he is thinking of an appointment to which he must hurry. Above all, it happens at the peak traffic times of the morning and, especially, the evening, when the commuting traffic is going home.
At that time of day, drivers are thinking of one thing only. They are thinking of getting home and they stop thinking about the road and its dangers. The result is something that all of us see every day when the traffic is speeding out of London. Far too many drivers cease altogether to think of the dangers of the road and the safety of other drivers, pedestrians and themselves. Their minds are preoccupied with getting home. The result is that during that period, the accident rate rises steeply. Between 4 and 7 p.m., the accident rate rises to double the average throughout the 24 hours. That makes the point that the average driver is good until his mind is deflected from the safety and the dangers of the road, of which he should be thinking.
The difficulty of training the minds of drivers and of getting a message over to the people is that the average driver does not identify himself with his standard of driving when he has his lapses. Because he knows his Highway 601 Code, or knows it roughly, and because he drives: more or less in accord with it most of the time, he does not assess himself in terms of his standard of driving when he is in a hurry or is thinking of something else.
I came in contact with a fairly wide survey that was conducted in America to discover the effect of mass propaganda. The first question that was asked was, "Who is an average driver?" Ninety per cent. of those who replied said that they were above average, which makes it rather difficult to discover who is the average driver. Included in the survey were a number of drivers who had had prosecutions for traffic offences recorded against them. One hundred per cent. of them considered themselves to be above average. I dare say that if a survey were to be taken in this country, we would get much the same result.
This is one of the dilemmas of dealing with road safety and reducing accidents. Because an individual, whether a man or a woman, can drive well when giving his full attention to the road, he reckons that he is a good, competent driver. He forgets what he is like when he is in a hurry—when he is hurrying home, for example—and his mind is not on the job and that he is then a bad driver, dangerous to everybody and setting a bad example.
I do not claim that I am better than anybody else. After quoting this American survey to a road safety conference, I was asked whether I regarded myself as an average driver. My reply was that I thought I was above average, too, as I had passed the advanced motorist's test and that sort of thing; but I am not. I have had to think carefully about all these matters and I am not above average at all. If I am average, that is as good as I am. When I am concentrating, I am a competent, safe driver, but if I am in a hurry and not concentrating, I am not safe and I am no better than anybody else. The problem of getting the message over to the community as a whole is to get it into people's heads so that each person has an individual responsibility to make the roads a safer place in his conduct of driving or walking upon them.
The point which I make against the Bill, and particularly against Clauses dealing with drink, is that if we over- 602 dramatise a cause of this kind, which, at most, affects only a small minority of accidents, it deflects attention from the broad picture of accidents which happen through carelessness, or through an error of judgment by the average, decent person who is not paying attention. It gives an alibi and makes it more difficult to get over to the community as a whole that each one of us has a responsibility to try to make the roads safer.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
Is the hon. Member sure that that is a good point? Is it not a fact that to condone unworthiness becomes an unworthiness itself? If we are prepared to tolerate anti-social conduct because it is rather conventional to allow drinking among a small number of people, does not that tend to label all motorists as bad and tend, sometimes unfairly, to indict the motorist who has had just one or two drinks?
§ Sir R. Nugent
I think that I am on a good point, otherwise I would not have made it. This is a serious debate. I am not, in principle, against dealing with the question of drink and motoring, but I am concerned that we should get it in the right perspective.
The main cause of road accidents is not the driver who drinks or speeds, but the average driver who does not pay attention. Somehow, we have to train the minds of our people so that every time they get in a car they will concentrate on the job. This must be done by training in schools particularly, not because the youngsters are more dangerous than older people—probably, on the whole, they are not so dangerous— but because they are more receptive. If we can give training in the schools, and turn people out on the roads with a better understanding of the dangers, the younger people will probably be better than the older ones.
That is not to say that there is not a great deal to do in terms of propaganda and training, but my general point is that it must be very specific. It is no good having general propaganda campaigns. They go straight over the heads of the ordinary road user, who always regards them as directed at the other fellow. The ordinary road user does not think that he himself is a bad or dangerous driver.
603 My second point is the scientific factor, the matter of introducing traffic engineering and the setting up of traffic authorities in our cities, and accompanying that with 100 per cent. enforcement. This will do two things. First, it will progressively work out better patterns of traffic movement, thus eliminating conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians and such problems as the right-turn, which is so frequently a cause of accidents, overtaking, and so on. Secondly, there must be gradual training of people into better road habits and strict enforcement of the law once it has been made.
Here is a point which I should like to make every time I get a chance. Under the new regulations which my right hon. Friend will have power to introduce if his own Road Traffic Bill becomes law, it is essential that they should be accompanied by quite a long series of propaganda, even six or twelve months of propaganda and education of the road-using public, whether drivers or pedestrians, before the regulations are introduced. Then the public will really understand what the benefit will be before the regulations are brought in. Then enforcing them becomes a reasonably easy matter.
It is this kind of training which, I think, is really basic in a small and limited field. This will gradually train us as a community to better and safer road habits. My right hon. Friend's new Road Traffic Bill will do exactly this. It will give my right hon. Friend a chance to show what he can do in London and that example, I hope, will be followed by every large town and city in this country. These two lines of approach which I have indicated, especially the second one of the scientific factor, are two main ways of reducing accidents and making the roads safer.
Those of us who have visited American cities, and seen the results of applying traffic engineering effectively during the past ten or twenty years, will have been enormously impressed by the progressive reduction in the number of accidents, as the methods of the traffic engineer have been progressively improved. I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend's Bill will have the effect, over the next decade or so, of saving thousands of lives and preventing hundreds of thousands of 604 accidents by dealing with this dreadful problem on these lines.
I have given a few of my own constructive ideas on the broad lines of dealing with the problem of road accidents before making some specific criticisms of my hon. Friend's Bill.
My first criticism would be that Part I of the Bill, which, in effect, sets up a new force of officials who would be responsible for enforcing the road traffic laws, does, in effect, duplicate the police force. That must be completely wrong. It also cuts across the county police forces and is bound to make for confusion and conflict. Far from making the law clear and better understood by the motorist, it will tend to confuse him and make it more difficult. That cannot be right.
Coming to the part of new offences, I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Leeds, West that people who drink unreasonable quantities of alcohol and go on the roads are anti-social. I think that it would be most valuable to the community as a whole if that feeling grew so that social disapproval would in itself become a deterrent. I agree with him, but I am most anxious that we should not overstress this point in the general picture.
Especially am I concerned about the introduction of the system of blood tests by breathalysers or any other methods which is undoubtedly an interference with the person accused, with the liberty of the subject. I am also concerned about the test itself. As to whether it is really 100 per cent. reliable, I do not know. I have read the reports to which my hon. Friend has referred. It may be reliable. My conclusion about this Clause is that at present our people as a whole are not convinced that either the test is entirely effective or the case is entirely made out.
As it stands now, the impression is that legislation of this kind would be retributive against the motorist—an anti-motorist Measure. I am sure that that would be fatal. I am not saying that legislation of this kind may never be necessary—it may be—but before legislation of this kind is introduced I would wish to see the case much more clearly made out and be completely convinced that this test is entirely satisfactory. I should like to have a clearer view of exactly what has happened in other 605 countries. I am glad to see that my right hon. Friend is investigating that point. I should certainly like to see that if any legislation as important as this is being introduced the Government themselves are responsible for it.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I want to dispel the idea about the Bill being anti-motorist. My hon. Friend will observe that in the Clause as drawn it is an offence for a pedestrian found on the carriageway to have the same quantity of alcohol in his blood.
§ Sir R. Nugent
I did see that and I appreciate the even-handed justice my hon. Friend was proposing. Even so, I think that my criticism is valid. But before we advance in this extremely difficult field it should be the duty of the Government to make the most complete investigations and to ensure that our people as a whole are really convinced, so far as it is possible to be convinced, that this is a wise, necessary and justified Measure. At present, I am not so convinced, but it may be that something will come in the future which will convince me. I am not opposed to the principle. We must be in favour of the principle.
As for the other offences which my hon. Friend has put into his Bill. I feel that there is some danger of vagueness. It is not possible to be certain that these actions would always be dangerous and so constitute an offence. On the whole, I do not think that these sources of accidents, serious though they are, are best dealt with in that way. I think that, on the whole, it is better to deal with them as we do now by the offences of careless driving or dangerous driving, where specific evidence on each case is dealt with on its merits.
As to Part III, dealing with penalties, I do agree with a number of my hon. Friends that the penalties imposed by the courts are often too low today. The right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) had something to say about this, with regard to disqualification, and I am bound to say that I agree with him, but, of course, the fact is that at present the courts do have power to impose disqualification in dangerous driving cases, but they simply do not use it.
Whether the time will come when, because of the sheer volume of motoring offences, it is decided that it is neces- 606 sary to have traffic courts I would not know, though I think it is very likely; but they do have this advantage, that they have a uniform standard, whereas at present there is a most unwelcome variation in standards between different courts. That cannot be right. I would say that, broadly, the problem is that at the present time it is not so much that the penalties are too low as that the courts vary too much in the way they impose them. Particularly, I should like to see courts ordering convicted drivers to take the driving test afresh. They have the power to do that now, but they never use it. What a valuable corrective that would be, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.
Because I feel that the Bill is out of the perspective of the two or three main lines of improved road safety, and because I doubt whether, specifically on the question of drink and driving, the Bill will sufficiently meet it, I would advise the House not to accept this Measure. At the same time, however, I congratulate my hon. Friend on putting before us once again this extremely important subject.
§ 1.42 p.m.
§ Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) who, we all know, takes great interest in road safety. He took a great interest in it when he was at the Ministry, and I am glad that his interest is still shown by the prominent part he takes in these debates. I am sorry that I cannot accept his advice to the House not to vote for the Bill. My advice to the House is to give the Bill a Second Reading.
Speaking a short while ago on road safety and on traffic congestion, I said how new roads were wanted, parking places were wanted, underpasses were wanted, and that the job of providing these was one we wanted the right hon. Gentleman to do, but the greatest problem of all, I think he will agree, is to stop the slaughter on the roads. When one reflects that 14 people are killed every day on the roads of Britain one feels the great courage of the British people, in that the sales of motor cars increase and do not decrease. British people, motorists and pedestrians, are decent, law-abiding people, but, somehow or another, these figures of casualties mount, the death toll goes up. The nation, Parliament and the Press, 607 have not brought the lesson home, and so I feel that we can congratulate the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) on bringing in this Bill.
I congratulate him not only on this Bill. Since I have been a Member of this House he has been the most consistent champion of road safety, and this Bill is a tribute to his work. I advise the House to give the Bill a Second Reading because there is good material in it. If it is given a Second Reading it can be examined in Committee and can be amended.
The hon. Member's proposal for road safety enforcement officers is a big step forward. As for road offences, I have never felt that speed helps traffic conditions or that speed helps the motorist. Speed kills. The hon. Member for Guildford pointed out that three-quarters of the casualties on the roads of this country are in the urban and rural areas—not the big cities, not in London, Glasgow, or Birmingham. Why? Because the motor car, because of the congestion of traffic, is compelled to go slow.
§ Sir R. Nugent
The hon. Member has misunderstood what I said. I said that three-quarters of the accidents took place in the urban areas, that is, the cities and the big towns and their surrounding urban areas.
§ Mr. Hunter
My study of the problem has led me to the view that speed is against not only the interests of the motorists but the interests of the pedestrian. The Ministry breaks up the figures, and if the Minister examines the figures of casualties and of deaths and of accidents on the roads he will find that a large proportion of pedestrians killed on the roads are young children and middle-aged people. That gives me the impression that the children at a young age have not yet got road sense and that the middle-aged people cannot cross the roads quickly enough. That is a point which I hope the Minister will examine.
The figures last year showed 6,000 killed and over 250,000 injured. I think 608 one should repeat those figures, so that we can impress upon the road-using public the great need for safety measures. I have mentioned before in the House that if an earthquake took place in one of our towns and we had 6,000 people killed and 250,000 injured the whole nation would be shocked and in sorrow. Yet we have these great figures of road casualties every year, and so far we do not seem to have made a great impression upon the public. I should imagine that since 1945—I have not worked out the figures, but, roughly, I should imagine—nearly 80,000 have been killed and millions injured in road accidents in this country, far more than the casualties caused by air raids on this country between 1939 and 1945. That, I think, should make every Member of this House reflect —and also every member of the public.
I feel that the Minister can do a lot with pedestrian subways. I think that pedestrian subways are necessary. If one checks on the number of people killed on pedestrian crossings and the zebra lines one is startled at the number of people killed on those crossings, people who imagined, when they stepped on the crossings, that they would be able to cross the road in safety.
The problem requires bold measures. I hope the Minister will go into the question of road safety enforcement officers and the question of road offences. Also very important is the Clause in the Bill dealing with civil liability, compensation for those injured on the roads. That is most important, and I hope it will receive the support of the House, and that the Bill will receive a Second Reading.
This is not a party matter. There are no politics in it. We are all interested in road safety and friends of us all are liable to be killed on the road. The House of Commons should give a lead to the country, and I have a suggestion to make to the Minister. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has been to America and it may well be that what I am about to suggest has not been a success there. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Crosby when he says that he has not much faith in road safety campaigns.
My suggestion is that the Minister should consider a one-day national road safety campaign organised throughout 609 Great Britain in which every motorist, pedestrian and policeman, and in fact everybody engaged on the road would be on his or her honour to make that day accident-free. The Minister should organise such a day with a terrific publicity campaign behind it by Press, television and radio. Fourteen people are killed every day on the roads. If that number were reduced by such a campaign to eight it would have saved six lives. It would be worth while if it saved one. We know that the Minister has great energy. If he applied that energy to get such a campaign going in every town and village throughout Great Britain he might well be surprised by the good result. If he managed to get through that day without there having been one accident, one death or one casualty he could say, "If it can be done on one day it shows that it can be done every day".
I hope, therefore, that the Minister will not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill. The hon. Member for Crosby has made a sincere attempt to tackle this problem. The Minister utters words and I like his words, but in the final analysis it is deeds that count, and deeds must be done if we are to make the roads safe not only for pedestrians but for motorists, as well. It is in the interest of the motorist and his family, the pedestrian, the motor cyclist and the cyclist, and indeed the whole general public, that this should be done. The securing of safety on the roads is one of the great problems of this century.
The Church Council has issued a booklet to call attention to this problem and I believe that if the Minister gives a lead the British people will not lag behind him. The hon. Member for Crosby, in a powerful speech recently, called attention to the fact that fourteen of our fellow countrymen are killed daily on the roads. We all wish to have regard to the liberty of the subject. I want people to enjoy the motor car, but I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading because it will be in the interest not only of the motorist but of the pedestrian and of the British people as a whole.
§ 1.53 p.m.
§ Mr. A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
I beg to move, to leave out "now" and at the end of the Question to add "upon this day six months."
610 I move this Amendment for two reasons which I shall develop in the next few minutes, but before I develop them I should like to add my congratulations to those of others to my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) on his diligence and hard work in this field. I know that whatever the fate of the Bill today the debate, at any rate, on this vitally important subject will have been well worth while.
I have not moved the Amendment because I am any less conscious of the need for road safety than any other hon. Member. My reasons arise from the fact that I do not feel that the Bill goes far enough, which may surprise many hon. Members. The first of my two reasons is that the subject is so complex that it is inappropriate for a Private Member's Bill. I envisage that for all the schemes which many of us think may have to be developed over the next few years to bring about a greater degree of road safety a great deal of public money will have to be spent, and private Members are always very limited in what they can do by way of legislation which calls for the expenditure of public funds.
My second reason is that the Bill, in my view, is a bad Bill and is virtually incapable of amendment in Committee to make it effective. I hope to show the reasons why I think that. Quite obviously, the rising toll of road accidents cannot be lightly dismissed, but we must beware of taking panic measures which on mature reflection will be seen to provide no real cure at all. All must agree that drivers who are drunk must be heavily penalised. Severe penalties exist at present, but the inclusion in the Bill of a reference to a quantative percentage of alcohol to prove incapacity to drive is premature, in my view. The B.M.A. has already done much work on this subject, but the law on the same subject in other countries is by no means uniform and I submit that we do not yet have sufficient evidence to be as precise as Clause 5 would demand.
In any event—and I think that the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) must be read most carefully in this context— drunkenness or alcoholic excess accounts for a relatively small percentage of road accidents. Nobody has ever been able 611 to be precise about the percentage of accidents that drunkenness causes, but on the best evidence available, which I admit is imprecise, it is doubtful whether drunkenness causes more than 5 per cent. of the total.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
This is a very important point. One of the difficulties in which I think the hon. Member finds himself is that without some standard medical test for drunkenness it is impossible to determine how big an element drunkenness is in actual accidents, although from the tests carried out by doctors and others it is quite clear that in the laboratory it is proved that a high level of alcohol reduces reactions and affects safety factors.
§ Mr. Cooper
All I am saying is that, so far, our knowledge on this vital subject is imprecise. If it were precise, then presumably the law on the subject here, in American and Scandinavia would run on pretty parallel lines, but it does not and there are very wide differences of opinion on this matter.
I have the report of the B.M.A. on the subject, and if it is read carefully it will be found that that also is not as precise as the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) would have us suppose. I hope, therefore, that when the Working Party goes to Scandinavia it will return with a great deal of information on the subject. Undoubtedly, in the Scandinavian countries a great deal of case law has been built up over many years. The Working Party will be able to come back with far more information and be able to give us precise experience which will be of more value to us than the imprecise knowledge which we have at present.
I am as anxious as anyone to see drunken drivers off the road, and I cannot believe that we can devise penalties sufficiently severe, but let us not use a steam hammer to crack a walnut and to bring within the embrace of the law people who are not by any means incapacitated from driving because they have had one or two sherries.
§ Mr. Cooper
Yes, but the hon. Gentleman overlooks a vital fact, that if a person has not had much food and happens to have a light head for drink, one sherry can make him incapable of driving a car, or indeed of walking down the street. On the other hand, if he has had a substantial meal and has enjoyed some drink with it, the alcohol absorption of the food is much greater and he can get away with quite a lot. The relative reaction of individuals to alcohol, and the circumstances in which it is consumed, are all-important in a discussion of this subject. This is one more reason why I feel that at this stage we do not have sufficient information to enable us to embody in an Act of Parliament a precise yardstick by which this can be measured.
Before proceeding to Clauses 6 to 8, it should be said that there is no one single cause of road accidents. If it were so, life would be very simple. Also, we cannot make people good drivers by legislation. We must also try to avoid giving the impression that all accidents are the result of bad driving, because that simply is not true. The irresponsible pedestrian is an important factor in many accidents, and also, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, West pointed out, runaway dogs. Again, accidents are caused by children running unattended into the road. All these are contributing factors to the appalling number of casualties in this country every month and every year. Of course there are bad drivers, but they are a small minority, and our task is to examine objectively all causes and to find out what we can do to solve the problem.
It is wrong to be dogmatic on this or any other subject. Lloyd George once said that the noble Lord Stansgate, father of the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), was the modern Moses.
§ Mr. Cooper
It seems that the mantle has fallen upon the son who, with a flamboyance and confidence that even Prince Monolulu would envy, has come down from the eyrie in Transport House, where these things have birth, proclaiming "I've got a plan." His ten points might be called the modern commandments. The only thing about 613 the plan is that it is impracticable and has no real bearing upon the problems we are discussing today.
§ Mr. Cooper
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right, but somehow, over a long period of time, we have tried to live by them and they have provided a code by which mankind has developed, because basically there is some fundamental good sense in them. There we part company with the ten would-be commandments of the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East. The burden of this plan is the implication that drivers are medically sub-standard and have below-average vision or, if not, they are invariably drunk and drive around the countryside murdering the population at large. It is complete nonsense. There are about 14 million drivers in this country today and medical statistics show that the health of the nation has never been higher. That is also true of people's vision.
In any case, to follow up commandment three in the hon. Gentleman's plan, there are not sufficient doctors in this country to make a special medical examination of 14 million drivers in any reasonable space of time. Of course, they could do it over many years, but presumably the object of what I have called commandment three is to ensure that within a reasonable period people are medically capable of driving a car. This suggestion is so utterly impracticable as to vitiate most of the other points of the hon. Gentleman's plan.
Coming back to the Bill, Clause 6 deals with turning right without warning. Why only turning right? Why not turning left, as well? If one is travelling behind a careless driver, it can be equally embarrassing if he suddenly turns off to the left without giving warning. If statistics were available, it would be interesting to find out the proportion of accidents arising from people turning either to the right or to the left without giving a warning signal.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
The remedy is to ensure that this Bill gets a Second Reading. Then the hon. Gentleman can put that into the Bill if he is so minded and gets support for it.
§ Mr. Graham Page
Before my hon. Friend rises to his feet, may I say that there are statistics which show that accidents occurring through failing to signal when turning to the right are five times as great as when turning to the left.
§ Mr. Cooper
That gives some point to my argument. If there are statistics showing that turning to the right without signalling can cause a certain number of accidents, when drafting a Bill to deal with that problem why not include a provision that turning to the left without a signal is equally bad?
§ Mr. Cooper
It causes accidents and, as I understand it, the purpose of the Bill is to avoid accidents. The point I am trying to make is that we have this Clause, literally dreamed up, about turning to the right, when there must be dozens of other causes of accidents which every driver in this House knows about. Why not embody the lot in the Bill? Why select just this one?
Now I come to Clause 7, which appears to be in two parts. The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) drew attention to this point in an intervention. I assume that the main point my hon. Friend has in mind is the one of driving at night and keeping within the limit of the beams of one's headlights. Of course, every reasonable driver does that, but again there is the driver who does not. However, this Clause applies equally to driving in the day-time, because the provision is not limited to night-time driving. When one considers the possibility of this in the day-time, one sees its utter impracticability. The Clause states:Any person who shall use a vehicle on a road so as to be unable to cause the vehicle to stop within the distance which he can see to be clear of obstruction….What does that mean? If one is driving on the M.1 it can mean ten or 15 miles, which is as far as one can see. There cannot be a car on the road in this country that is not capable of stopping within ten miles.
§ Mr. Cooper
He is not committing an offence, but the purpose of the Clause 615 is to ensure that the car is mechanically sound and can stop within a reasonable distance. I am simply pointing out that, under the construction of this Clause, anyone driving on the M.1 without having any brakes on his car can do so without committing an offence.
Now I come to Clause 8, overtaking at pedestrian crossings. I do not understand this provision. If there are no people about when two cars are approaching a zebra crossing, that piece of road is not sacrosanct, it is part of the Queen's highway. There is no doubt that two cars should be able to pass over the zebra crossing, one overtaking the other, if there are no other people about. It seems to me that the result of this provision might be to slow up the traffic in heavily built-up areas and achieve the reverse result of what the hon. Gentleman is trying to achieve, which is to clear the roads and to let the traffic move.
There is a great deal to be said for the new penalties which have been put into this Bill, but I wonder whether my hon. Friend has thought out the full implications of them. In Clause 13 there is a list of offences for which there is a minimum of a month's disqualification and also the necessity for prescribing a test of the driver's competence before a licence can be obtained. The object of a driving test is to ensure that a person is a competent driver, that is to say, he is able to drive a car safely.
A number of the offences in this classification do not come within that category at all. They are what one might term technical offences which have no regard to the competence of the driver as a driver: for example, driving without a licence or failure to comply with the conditions of a provisional licence. The commission of either of those offences does not mean that a person is not capable of driving a motor car competently and safely. Of course, there are other factors where that would be the case and where if a person has been driving in an incompetent manner he should have another test before getting his licence back.
I am not so much concerned with that as with the apparent impracticability of dealing with this question at all along the lines suggested by the provisions in 616 this Bill. A lot of evidence has been submitted from hon. Members opposite to the effect that more and more cases involving driving offences are being heard before juries. The suggestion has been made that they should be heard by stipendiary magistrates in order to avoid the trial being held before a jury. Whether motorists appear before a magistrates' court, or a stipendiary court, or whether the verdict is decided by a jury, if the penalties in this Bill became law, the great majority of motorists when charged with one of these offences will not plead guilty as so many do today but, in order to preserve their driving licence, will take their case to court and plead not guilty.
The effect of this would be, I am advised, that the courts would become cluttered up. Already the courts are heavily pressed and it would be months before cases were heard. That would be the reverse of what was mentioned by the hon. Member for Leeds, West. The crime, as it were, would be tried so long after the event that the effect of the original impact on witnesses would have been completely lost. We must not lose sight of the fact that if these new provisions were brought into effect it would have a serious effect on the courts.
Why are there no provisions in the Bill, except the one for drunkenness, and why are there no penalties against the irresponsible pedestrian? We must not create the idea in the public mind that the motorist is the villian of the piece. We are all villains in one way or another. We must all play our part, and co-operation between all sections of the community is essential if we are to succeed at all. One thing I wish to point out to my right hon. Friend, and with which everyone would agree, is that one of the main causes of accidents is the frustration suffered by drivers and pedestrians, especially the commuting pedestrian who wants to catch a train and rushes across the road without bothering to look where he is going. Example of that may be found at Piccadilly Circus, or even across the road from this Chamber, where extra policemen have to be posted in order to signal pedestrians across the road, or try to keep them back on occasions so as to allow motorists to move for at least some 617 of the time. At Piccadilly it is even worse. In many cases pedestrians make no attempt to walk according to the traffic lights. They will deliberately walk across when the lights are against them, and it is a common sight at all hours of the day to see motorists trying to thread their way through even when the lights are in their favour.
There are the "black spots" and even bad roads. There are all these conditions which cause queues morning and night. All this sort of thing causes frustration among motorists or pedestrians and gives motorists the idea that they should take a chance. It may be that as a result an accident occurs. It seems to me, therefore, that a great deal more research has to be done on our roads and more energy shown in clearing away more of the "black spots".
I wish to ask my right hon. Friend whether it is possible for work to continue day and night on some of the main roads where construction and repair work is being carried out. When the M.1 was being constructed work went on all round the clock. But on many roads today work goes on in a perfunctory sort of way and months elapse before anything seems to be done. We could all tell the right hon. Gentleman of certain "black spots" where it seems as if nothing is being done. Here we are, at the beginning of the holiday season, and still there will be impossible delays for traffic travelling through Staines. There will be delays for traffic travelling through the town of Honiton because parking is permitted there on both sides of the road. It is a common sight to see queues of cars for five, six or seven miles on either side of Honiton. We must try to get more "clearways", as I think they are described by my right hon. Friend.
We must do much more about educating people on this subject. I understand that road safety is not a compulsory subject in all our schools. There are many where it is not on the curriculum. I ask my right hon. Friend to have discussions with the Minister of education to see whether road safety may be made a compulsory subject in our schools. I stress the importance of that because I feel that if children are educated at an early age in the knowledge of the Highway Code and the dangers to be found on the highway, 618 they may carry that knowledge through life. That seems to me the most profitable way to reduce accidents in the future.
We could do far more on television than is being done at present. I should like to see my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster secure some films which could be shown on television to indicate to drivers the dangers which result from certain actions. In parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire, there are still main streets which are paved with cobblestones and the slightest amount of rain makes those roads very dangerous. How many people in this country know how to get out of a skid? It is not part of the training when one is taught to drive. It seems to me that in fundamentals such as these, far more could be done to educate the people by means of television programmes and in other practical ways.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
The hon. Gentleman surely would not advocate that we should teach children in the schools how to get out of skids?
§ Mr. Cooper
The hon. Member must not try to be so facetious all the time. It may well be that the use of the little go-carts and such vehicles in which children ride about would provide an opportunity to impart some valuable information to the children about road sense.
I have already emphasised that we must try to understand that motorists do not drive round the countryside trying to write each other off. They have as much desire to live happy and peaceful lives as anyone else in the country, and we must not create the impression that these 8½ million motor cars are in the hands of about 14 million people whose sole desire is to kill off their neighbours. It just is not true.
Some householders act in an irresponsible manner regarding the control of their dogs. I was nearly involved in a serious accident this week because of that. There were three cars in front of me in Cable Street, in the East End of London, when two unattended dogs suddenly rushed out of a house, followed by a child aged about four. Fortunately, the driver of the vehicle in front was able to pull up. The dogs 619 escaped injury and the child just brushed against the front of the car. No blame could be attached to the driver. He happened to be a good driver who avoided a serious accident. In heavily built-up areas efforts should be made to ensure that children do not run around the streets unattended and that dogs are not permitted to rush out of houses.
In some parts of the country there are byelaws which make that an offence, and one would like to see them extended to other areas. We could learn from the experience of towns like Slough where there is a system of controlled traffic lights which are linked together and extend a considerable way from the centre of the town. That is something which could be copied in many parts of the country, but we do not seem to be very quick at adopting those sort of ideas.
The problem facing us is a serious one, and I do not believe that there is any easy solution to it. It is wrong to suppose that by a wave of a wand everything can be put right overnight. It is a continuing problem. As more motor cars come on to the road it is likely to increase in severity, and because I do not believe that this Bill, as at present drafted, can deal with the problem I have put down the Amendment.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper) promised me that during his speech he would give me some statistics about his constituency. I have had to rush into the Chamber, leaving my roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, in order to hear this information. I have bolted my food and given myself indigestion in order to be present to hear the hon. Gentleman speak about that fact, but he has not done so.
§ 2.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)
We are all grateful to the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) for drawing attention to such an important matter as this. I was a little disturbed by some 620 of the remarks of the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper). I tried, as I understand is the custom, to follow his remarks but I met myself on the way back so frequently that it was difficult for me to steer a very straight course.
In Clause 6 of the Bill there are penalties against motorists who turn right without signalling. The hon. Gentleman made great play with that and asked why we should have restrictions against drivers who turn right without signalling and not against drivers who turn left without any signal.
The hon. Member said that, if there are any accidents as a result of vehicles turning left, the Bill is obviously no good unless there are regulations to deal with every conceivable cause of an accident. If one followed the logic of the hon. Member's argument, if that is the right description of his remarks, obviously the only way to meet the problem would be by banning vehicles altogether. This is an attempt, which can be criticised on many points, depending on one's viewpoint, to decrease some of the appalling tragedies on our roads.
The hon. Member for Ilford, South criticised Clause 7, dealing with vision. I cannot speak for the hon. Member for Crosby, but I should imagine that it is not night-driving which is envisaged in Clause 7, but the problems of overtaking on hills and corners. I am very worried, because the points made by the hon. Member for Ilford, South and by another hon. Member about driving within the limits of one's headlamps show a deplorable lack of familiarity with the Highway Code. These points are made in the Highway Code. All that the hon. Member for Crosby is doing is recognising that to ask people to take note of these dangers just has not achieved very much and that there is now a need to try and take the next step.
However much one regrets the need for legislation and restrictions upon freedom, we are dealing with a problem where thousands of people lose their lives each year. We have tried to meet the problem in the past by appealing to the common sense and reasonableness of road users. Year after year we have produced the Highway Code, which has laid down certain suggestions for good driving. The debate this morning makes 621 one wonder at times how many of even the suggestions in the Highway Code are familiar to many drivers. They have not had very much effect in reducing the number of accidents.
It is impossible to overestimate the tremendous amount of quite unnecessary heartbreak which occurs in this country daily as a result of road accidents, and I appreciate that the hon. Member for Ilford, South is as worried about this as everyone else. One of the things which is obvious is that we have become so used to this, it is so much a part of the national scene, that no one takes much notice of it. If the number of casualties which occurred over the Easter holiday had occurred as a result of any other accident, the country would have been shaken. There would probably have been some reference to it in the House, and messages of sympathy and condolence would have been sent. It would have hit the whole nation.
On the morning after the Easter holiday we saw big black headlines in the national newspapers telling us of the casualties. There was nothing very surprising about them. Nothing much had happened which we had not expected. We were told, as happens on every Bank Holiday, that many people had been killed in the course of the holiday. One of the most serious factors is that it has become so much a part of our national life that most of us are in grave danger of taking it for granted that people will just go on dying in this quite unnecessary and stupid way.
Another terrifying feature is a very considerable lack of Government action. The Daily Mirror recently, by its own unique methods, has probably done more to focus attention on this problem than anything which has been done by the Government. This is an issue which should affect the Government. The hon. Member for Crosby will probably agree with those of us who have suffered the horrors of trying to introduce Private Members' Bills in the House that anything of this size is more a matter for a Government, if a Government are going to do it, but the Government have not done it.
It would be quite unfair to say that the Minister of Transport has not been very active. We have had large numbers of publicity stills—"Minister 622 helping old lady across road"; "Minister riding bicycle".
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
Perhaps the old lady did not want to go across the road.
§ Mr. Marsh
As happened to the electorate recently, the old lady was led where she did not want to go.
We have had stills showing us the Minister with the old lady, the Minister on a bicycle, and the Minister off a bicycle. None of this is a substitute for real action. We have all spent a great deal of time talking about this problem. We do not like road accidents and this toll of death on the roads. We do not like lots of things.
I do not like fowl pest, pickled onions, or the party opposite, but it does not achieve anything merely to dislike. One must do something about it. I do not think that campaigns of pure publicity achieve very much. The type of driver who drives with a disregard for human life and comfort and the type of pedestrian who wanders about the roads as if he is strolling in his bedroom in the middle of the night do not take very much notice of posters and impassioned appeals.
The hon. Member for Ilford, South made the very real point that the driver is not the only villain of the piece. Those of us who drive—practically all of us in the House do—have a very real responsibility.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
Will not the hon. Member agree that a large measure of success in reducing accidents to children has been achieved from the extremely good road education system?
§ Mr. Marsh
I accept the point which has been made about children. There is a great need for a tremendous inculcation of information and habit-forming in children. Adults are not quite so receptive. The hon. Member for Ilford, South mentioned the problem of education of children as well as pedestrians.
We have all had motoring experience. If a driver is driving his car even at a perfectly reasonable speed, it is asking 623 more than he is capable of to expect him to be able to deal with a pedestrian who strolls straight off the pavement in front of him or with a pedestrian who believes that, somehow or other, the mere act of getting onto a zebra crossing gives him an area of untouchability. A driver cannot be expected to deal with a pedestrian who strolls on to a zebra crossing when a one and a half ton car is five yards away, travelling at 25 miles an hour. He cannot be expected to deal with pedestrians who stroll aimlessly across the road.
The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) talked about educating children. This is a very real point to which we should pay great attention, but it is frequently forgotten that we are a nation of dog lovers and dog owners. One can educate dogs. I am not only a dog lover, but a dog owner and a dog trainer. It is a pity that people who go to the trouble of keeping dogs do not spend a little more trouble on training them, because there is no reason whatever why a dog cannot be trained.
A dog in the road endangers not only his own life. Although I am an animal lover I place human life way up the scale when it comes to a choice between animal life and human life. A dog on the roads endangers the lives of humans. The police should take much stricter action about dogs which are put out deliberately and stroll about the roads and increase the possibilities of accidents. In some boroughs facilities have been granted, with some assistance, to enable local dog owners to train their dogs. If this were done on a national scale, something useful might be achieved.
Drunken drivers have been discussed, but I wish that we could devote some attention, also, to drunken pedestrians. Owing to the peculiar hours which one works in this "firm", I leave the House to drive to Bexleyheath very often about closing time. I make my way through about 15 miles of danger and people who do the most extraordinary things on the roads, apparently with impunity.
While it is true that one should take action against the driver who is drunk in charge of a vehicle, action should be taken more frequently against 624 pedestrians who are drunk on the roads and in danger of life and limb. I agree that pedestrians are included in Clause 5. It is a good thing that they should be, but one of the problems of legislation is that the inclusion of penalties does not always mean the application of those penalties. I hope that the police will realise that, while it is probably useful to descend upon motorists parking in places which to any normal motorist appear quite safe and reasonable, it would be at least as useful to spend some time on drunken pedestrians on the roads.
I want to deal with the problem of drink, because this is a major part of the Bill and it is one of the parts about which I am not very happy. I do not think that any person should drive a car if he has drunk anything at all. Without being pious, very few of us can say that we have not done that on more than one occasion. It is one of those things which we do. There is no excuse for it. It is stupid and wrong.
One naturally turns to a method of forcing people to stop doing it. I am rather afraid that the proposals in the Bill might well have an opposite effect to what the hon. Member for Crosby intends. In common with other hon. Members, some time ago I saw the breathalyser and examined it. Indeed, I participated in it. I have not the slightest intention of telling anybody what the result was. It was rather intriguing that, at the demonstration of the breathalyser for road safety, there was more drink lying around than I have seen at any other function in the House. That is one of the illogicalities of this legislature.
One thing which worries me is that the minimum figure which can be used with accuracy is 0.15 per cent. of alcohol, and I understand that in recent weeks challenges have been made of even that degree of accuracy. The figure of 0.15 per cent. is a very high degree of alcohol. Most hon. Members will agree that no person should be driving anywhere within that range. It amounts to between six and seven pints of beer, or three, four or five reasonable size whiskies. Any person who drinks that amount and drives a vehicle justly deserves anything the law justly imposes upon him.
625 The great problem of laying down maxima is that they so frequently become minima. I had a tremendous shock when I discovered what 0.15 per cent. of alcohol in the bloodstream meant in terms of drink. I was thinking of a minimum of probably two or three pints, and I was not very happy about that. When I discovered that it was this amount of alcohol I was astounded. If this became a statutory figure, there would be a tendency for many people to say, "I have had only three pints. I can have another and I am still safe."
At present, most thinking people tend to have an uneasy conscience after about the second drink. This is something which is a matter of opinion. It cannot be proved one way or the other. I fear that if we were to introduce a specific figure such as this we would have a large number of people drinking to that figure instead of preventing them from doing so.
The standard of driving also effects a number of accidents. It is all very well saying that the standard of driving on the Continent is worse. It is fair to say that, but there is also more room there, and better roads. But the standard of driving in many cases in this country is appalling. Many people have never taken a test at all. As one of those who, by virtue of late birth, was not allowed to drive without taking a test, I cannot see why anyone should be allowed to drive without taking a test.
Even a test does not necessarily produce a high standard of driving. There should be regulations about driving instruction. Too many people are being taught by the chap around the corner who has driven a 5-ton lorry and does not realise that an 8 h.p. saloon car needs a different technique.
Speed itself is not dangerous. The big problem is that of badly maintained vehicles, about which we do not appear to be doing anything apart from saying that we do not like them. Another factor is bad roads, about which we are doing something but not nearly enough, and another is careless driving generally. There are also too many vehicles on the roads. Our towns are too crowded with cars. If there is a need for an overall fuel policy, there is also a need for an overall transport policy.
626 Many Government Measures in relation to transport, by increasing railway fares and making public transport more infrequent through economy, immediately increase the number of people who use cars. In the surburban London area particularly, if traffic facilities were more frequent and cheaper, fewer people would take cars into Central London because the difference in price and discomfort would be too great.
Another factor which causes accidents is that a driver can achieve a dangerous state of mind by frustration—for instance, by an argument with his wife, which is always frustrating because one can never hope to win, or in places such as that in my own constituency, where a driver may spend half an hour or forty-five minutes in the Blackwall Tunnel, coming out late for an appointment and, therefore, in great difficulty.
These are things which need legislative action and large quantities of Government money. Another problem is street lighting. In Bexley, the street lighting is disgracefully inadequate. I have spent the last six months here trying to lay down minimum lighting standards for offices. We should have minimum standards of street lighting.
It is not good enough for a Member to get up, as did the hon. Member for Ilford, South, and say that he is opposed to road accidents, that something should be done, but that he is against legislation. We have reached the stage where the situation is now very serious indeed. There is a need for action on a big scale. Preaching and exhortation have achieved very little.
The hon. Member for Ilford, South criticised my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) for his 10-point plan. The same criticisms might have been directed at Moses, but he managed to get something done. If an hon. Member wants to criticise proposals from this side he is only justified in so doing if he produces better ones and is prepared to back them up with action. I could criticise many parts of the Bill, but on Second Reading one determines a principle, and the principle here is whether we are to say merely that we do not like accidents or whether we intend to do something about this problem.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)
It may be for the convenience of the House if I intervene in the debate now. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) both on his lucid exposition of the subject dear to his heart and on his skill as a writer of poetry. He is not likely to lose his seat, because it has a substantial majority, but if he did he could secure a very good living by writing poetry.
The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) mentioned the fact that people tend to take road accidents for granted. The reason for that is that these accidents happen to the individual. When there is a major disaster involving a large number of persons, people are horrified. A few years ago, at Munich, there was a tragic air disaster, in which nearly half the Manchester United football team was wiped out. That filled headlines all over the world. But last year alone the number of people killed on the roads was equivalent to about 550 football teams—and a lot of it went unnoticed.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) scarcely did me justice in one part of his speech, which was courteous, well-reasoned and well-balanced, as always, when he said that at Question Time the other day I seemed content with the road casualty figures for Easter. I am not at all content. But Easter, for some reason, sparked off a Press scare. All the headlines were devoted to the number of deaths on the roads. To accidents they devoted little space, but deaths did hit the headlines, shocked people and galvanised the two hon. Gentlemen opposite—the "terrible twins" as I call them—into activity. I want to get this into perspective and what I have in mind—
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I am sorry if I did the right hon. Gentleman an injustice. It is the last thing I would want to do to him.
§ Mr. Marples
I accept that from the right hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) is always very courteous and does a great deal of homework and research in this matter, but he has, on this occasion, overstated the case. I was 628 trying to put it into its proper perspective, and that was all. On 20th April he wrote a letter to me—a copy was sent to the Press—which said that the bloodshed on our roads this Easter had assumed the proportions of a national disaster.
I have looked at the figures, and these show that in England and Wales the average number per day for the five days was 17.4 deaths. That is 17.4 deaths too many. In the whole of 1959, however, the average was 17.9 for Great Britain and a great deal of that was not mentioned by Members opposite in the debate on 10th December last year. If it was a national disaster at Easter, it was a national disaster when we had the debate in December; and it was not mentioned. I do think that the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East rather overstated his case by describing it in that way.
§ Mr. Benn
Would the right hon. Gentleman comment on this? His argument is that people are killed every day on the roads and the Press does not take any notice, but when a football team is killed, then that catches the headlines. Is it not the point about Easter that for the first time it looked as if the Press was taking road deaths seriously, and this presented him with the opportunity to make use of public feeling to do something active and positive for road safety?
§ Mr. Marples
I was not complaining about the Press putting road deaths in the headlines, but that it was out of perspective to call what happened at Easter a national disaster in view of what happens normally.
I will not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper) in his references to the Ten Commandments, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) about the young lady who said that the Commandments put a lot of interesting ideas in one's head and then started forbidding one to do them. That might well happen to these "ten commandments" as well. I will make general observations on road safety and then deal with the Bill.
There is too great a feeling in the country of asking, "What are the Government going to do?" and concentrating 629 efforts on that question. This is a partnership, an effort between the central Government, local authorities and the individual. I want to deal with those three in that order.
The Government have to deal with legislation. They have to give a lead— a coherent and complete policy. They have to get the climate of opinion satisfactory. They have to prod, and they have never to be satisfied. That is what, as I hope to show, we want to do.
The local authority's duty is to be a nucleus round which all local activities centre. For example, there is the training of children as road users—child cyclists. The local authorities have the initiative to take a large number of traffic measures, all of which will help safety. The initiative is theirs. In many cases they can act without permission of the Ministry, but I can assure them that, where I have to give permission under the Statute, I shall examine any proposals they make, and, wherever I can, give permission as speedily as possible.
For example, one-way streets do much to reduce accidents. The local authorities can have many more of these, if they wish. It is up to them to make proposals. Then there are waiting restrictions. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South spoke of Honiton. The local authority there could make waiting restriction proposals. It is difficult for a central Government to know sufficient about all local activities to be able to tell the local authorities What to do. The initiative is with the local authority, and that is often forgotten.
Again, I am a great believer in guard rails for stopping children getting on the streets at the wrong point. Children are thoughtless and, when playing with a ball, are apt to rush unthinkingly into the street. Local authorities can also apply to designate various streets as streets on which dogs must be kept on a leash. At Slough, a most comprehensive experiment was authorised by my predecessor. It was for a limited period only, because the scheme was experimental, but I have extended it and made it permanent, because it has succeeded in greatly reducing accidents.
I know from my own personal experience that dogs that rush at cyclists and motor-cyclists are a menace. There is no doubt about that—none at 630 all. When I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, under the Prime Minister, and we were dealing in Committee with the Town and Country Planning Bill, I came to the House on my bicycle. The Committee stage is always interesting on that fascinating topic, town and country planning. Near Victoria, a dog ran out from a mews and knocked me off my bicycle. I told the police, and ultimately the owner sent the dog to the country because it had done the same thing to about half a dozen other cyclists.
Incidentally, I attended the Committee that morning. There was an Amendment tabled by an hon. Member opposite, and I was so shaken that I read out my brief, word for word—but it was the brief on another Amendment. To my astonishment the mover of the Amendment said, "I withdraw the Amendment in view of that satisfactory explanation."
There was recently another very serious accident. A dog ran out into the road at a bus. The bus driver swerved, and the bus conductor was thrown off the platform of the vehicle and killed.
I invite—now—any local authority that thinks it has certain roads or parts of its neighbourhood where dogs are dangerous, to submit its scheme to the Ministry as quickly as it likes. That is the sort of positive measure that we can take, and it means that people do not merely ask, "What are the Government doing?" There is also the question, "What is the local traffic authority doing?"
§ Mr. C. Pannell
The right hon. Gentleman will remember that I moved the original Amendment relating to dogs in the 1955–56 Measure. I am sure that he will find that the vast majority of local authorities have not implemented that provision. Does he not think it about time that he sent them a circular, with the threat that if they do not implement that provision fairly quickly it will be made obligatory in the present Road Traffic and Roads Improvement Bill?
§ Mr. Marples
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I will consider that. A whole lot of local authorities have taken advantage of the provision, but I will 631 certainly consider that suggestion in the course of our Committee deliberations on the Government's Bill.
Again, what can we do when people are careless? People ask, "What are the Government doing?" Suppose a driver goes round a bend on the wrong side of the road and collides head-on with a vehicle coming in the other direction, and both drivers are killed. There is nothing that the Government can do in such a case. It is an error of judgment.
Three very intelligent and highly respected Members of this House have been killed fairly recently when driving. There was Wilfred Fienburgh—killed in a tragic accident. He was a young and very intelligent man and, if I may say so, very promising in this House, and outside it. He died on 3rd February, 1958. He swerved, and hit a lamp-post There were no other vehicles near. He died two days later.
There was Sidney Dye, another respected hon. Member who represented Norfolk, South-West. He died on 9th December, 1958, after a head-on collison with another car. He slammed on his brakes, and nothing happened. It was discovered that there was no brake fluid in the braking system. The car was 28 months' old. Vehicle testing, to which I shall refer later, might have prevented that particular accident.
Then we had Richard Fort, who did great work on the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. He died on 2nd June, 1959 He collided with a coach, whose occupants saw him slumped over the wheel as though in great pain just before his car hit their vehicle. The medical evidence suggested that he might have had a gallstone attack, the pain of which made him lose control of the vehicle.
I quote those cases only to show that, although, in one instance, vehicle testing might have helped, in the other two there was nothing at all that any Minister of Transport, from whatever part of the House he might come, could have done. Human errors cause more accidents than anything else, and humans err for a variety of reasons.
First, there is lack of skill, but that is not always the main reason. In fact it is, I think, the cause in only a minority of cases, There was that tragic busi- 632 ness of Mike Hawthorn—was that lack of skill? He probably had more skill as a racing driver than any Member of this House, yet he was killed, and no other car was involved in the accident. One does not like to say so, but there may have been a degree of recklessness there that should not have been displayed at that time and in the circumstances then prevailing. Therefore, it is not lack of skill that is the factor in the majority of cases that happen every day.
The other day I was travelling in a taxi eastwards along the Cromwell Road. A car came from a road on the left, and the driver, without looking, swung straight in front of the taxi that I was in. The driver of the taxi was extremely skilful. He jammed on his brakes, and I was flung to the floor as a result. The car then proceeded to do a U-turn. The taxi driver said, "The trouble with these lunatics is that they have not learnt to drive properly." That was not the case, however, because if that man had been having a driving test, with an examiner sitting next to him, he would not have done that. It was not lack of skill—it was pure carelessness.
Then there is impatience. One gets a narrow road with a vintage Austin 7 going along. There is no doubt that people do tend to get impatient after having drooled along for miles behind a vehicle like that. As a result, they take risks, and it is when risks are taken that danger threatens.
Another factor is power. The hon. Member for Greenwich was quite right when he said that people get a sense of power in their cars. Very few people can run a mile in four minutes, although we have one hon. Member—naturally, he is on this side—who can run a mile in that time. Not many other people could. Certainly the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), who has got indigestion, could not run a mile in four minutes at the moment. The moment 11 stones of flesh gets into a motor car and is able to travel a mile a minute by the merest flicking of the right foot, the driver gets a sense of power which goes to his head, and he uses it. Lord Acton, in another context, said that he distrusted power more than vice. When a man gets into a motor car he gets all this power underneath 633 his foot, and I sometimes think that it is a case of original sin multiplied by the number of horses under the bonnet.
Another cause of accidents is bad temper. A person with a bad temper is unreasonable all round. He is unreasonable with other people. He plays a bad game of bridge and tennis, and he drives badly as well. If anybody is in a bad temper he makes a bad speech. That is why I am making such an agreeable speech this afternoon; I am not in a bad temper.
It is a fact that temper plays a large part in these matters. Every man and woman has a duty and responsibility as a citizen to behave well when driving and to set a good example. We have our statutory rules and regulations. We insist that driving mirrors shall be fitted. There are good driving mirrors obtainable which can be adjusted so that the headlights of vehicles following do not dazzle the driver. We can insist on the driving mirror being fitted, but only God and the driver can make sure that it is used. No Government can make a driver use his driving mirror. I always use mine. I am virtuous in that respect. I do so because I was once caught by a policeman on a motor-cycle for speeding, and after that I was determined never to be caught again. That may not be a good reason but it shows the power of enforcement.
I would beg of all hon. Members to concentrate on two points when they are speaking in their constituencies. First, every motorist should cultivate what is generally known as defensive driving. That means that a motorist should look on everybody else using the road as an absolute fool who will do the wrong thing. If a motorist sees a child playing he should say to himself, "That child will run out into the road". If he sees a car coming round an awkward bend he should say to himself, "That car is coming as near as possible to the crown of the road; I had better get out of the way".
I also ask that in view of the density of cars now on the roads, drivers should concentrate on what they are doing. If one's concentration wavers for 15, 20 or 30 seconds one may be faced with an entirely new situation in the traffic.
I should like to come to three headings—what are known as engineering, 634 education and enforcement, which are the three prongs of road safety. On the engineering side, there is no doubt that new roads and the improvement of old ones make a great deal of difference. The total accidents on Ml and A5 together are one-third less than they were when we had A5 on its own. It is clear that this point has a tremendous impact.
Then there are improvements at black spots to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South referred. This is constantly under consideration. I went recently to the Road Research Laboratory for a whole day to see what was being done there. I was shown an experiment which was being carried out near the headquarters, at a point where accidents were constantly occurring at a corner on a new road. The material used in the road had a tendency to cause skidding. Tests are being carried out on different types of stone. It is not necessarily a rough surface or a new surface that prevents skidding. The properties of the stone used in the road play a great part. A very small area of the road was resurfaced, and the accidents dropped by an incredible amount straight away; they dropped by more than half.
That sort of thing is constantly being done, including the removal of hedges and the resiting of signs. All these things help and they are going on every day. If anybody goes to any part of England which he thinks is a black spot he should write to the local road safety organisation or to me and I will do my best to look at the black spot and see whether it can be eliminated.
We have also been marking roads with the double white lines, and this has been most effective. This system has been applied to 50 per cent. of the trunk roads. They have been surveyed scientifically and painted, and that has been pretty useful.
On the question of vehicle testing, frankly the difficulty here has not arisen with the trade or in getting the necessary personnel and technical facilities. The difficulty has been, as often happens in this House, a legal one. It is very simple to put forward a general proposition to proceed with vehicle testing, but when a number of lawyers get together to try to decide on suitable wording capable of legal enforcement we get a 635 very tricky situation, as all hon. Members know. We have had our difficulties and vicissitudes, but we have now sent round to the trade our proposals and we hope to have its comments shortly.
Without any promise at all, I will put it in this way. I am working in the hope that we can actually introduce vehicle testing early in September. If we can do it, I think that it will eliminate some of the cars which are defective. At any rate, it will make things a little safer for some other road users. I have seen cars on the road with the bonnet hanging off at the front, with parts hanging off at the back, or obviously without decent brakes as one can see from the difficulty the driver sometimes experiences in pulling up.
I come now to education. The hon. Member for Greenwich spoke about children. I should divide education into the formal education one can give to school-children because they attend school and the rather informal education one has to give to adults because they are not forced to go to school. The two techniques are different.
I am delighted to say that our educational effort with the children has been a success and most effective. The national child cycle training scheme has just completed its first full year, and 100,000 children have been taught. The scheme has been very effective. From the Ministry, we have attached one special cycle training expert to each of the divisions of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. They are not there to test the children, but to organise things and see that the tests are carried out on a comprehensive scale. We hope to do many times more than that each year in the future.
The result can be shown in the figures. In 1938, the number of child deaths was high, 1,130. Twenty years later, in 1958, it was 717. In 1959, it was 680. It really means that, since 1938, the deaths have been halved although the number of vehicles has slightly more than doubled and although, of course, the number of children has increased enormously as a result of what is known technically as the wartime bulge. The so-called bulge has given us more children, and, with more cars on the road, we have yet been able to halve the number of deaths.
636 The education of adults is more difficult. I do not think that we ought to stop in our efforts, because if we can save only three or four lives by our propaganda it will be worth while. It would be a counsel of despair to stop because the going is hard. The campaign has been quite effective. On Monday next, I hope to start the new campaign this year—"Stop Accidents—Honour Your Code"—at Wellington Barracks, and I hope that we shall have as much publicity for it as possible so that the lessons will sink in throughout the country. I hope, also, to arrange an exhibition in this Palace for hon. Members to see some of the posters and some of the things which Ro. S.P.A. is endeavouring to do. I hope to show some of the films which are being prepared, because films are extremely useful.
We, the Government, pay for a good deal of films and some private companies, such as Shell-Mex and B.P., have spent considerable sums of money in making excellent films for both children and adults. I shall consider whether it is possible to show them so that hon. Members may see them and make their comments. I pay a tribute here to the Independent Television Authority and the British Broadcasting Corporation. They have been most generous in allocating time free of charge for this purpose. What they have done has been most helpful and I am certain that it has been a success.
I associate myself with what the hon. Member for Greenwich said about the Daily Mirror. The Press as a whole has devoted a great deal of space to road safety, and I am grateful to it for that. But the Daily Mirror, in particular, has launched a most brutal exhibition, and I am glad that it is brutal because it brings home the facts of life as only brutality and vivid presentation can. It is no good handling this problem with kid gloves. One must reduce the statistics to terms of human tragedy; then people can identify themselves with what is happening. I am grateful to the Daily Mirror both for its presentation and the time it has spent on it.
I come now to the subject of alcohol, which is dealt with in Clause 5 of the Bill. The right hon. Member for Colne Valley spoke about my trip to America. I will be quite frank with him. When 637 I went to America, I thought, at first, that there was not very much in the problem of drink and driving. I had not made up my mind, by any means, but just had a feeling that it had been exaggerated. When I went to Chicago, Baltimore and Los Angeles, and met some of the very tough policemen there, who were not by any means teetotallers, I am bound to say that I was impressed. I will not requote the figures, because the right hon. Gentleman gave them in his speech, but Detroit reduced the number of deaths by 90 per cent., which is a tremendous figure.
I can promise the House that the Government will analyse this matter most carefully. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) that, in the minds of many people, the case is not wholly made out, and I take it as my job either wholly to make it out or to prove that it is not possible. I think that that is my responsibility and my job, and I am going to try to do that. For that reason, the Road Research Laboratory—to which, again, I am most grateful for its scientific evidence; the people there work long hours for my Ministry—is looking into the Christmas accidents with a fine tooth comb, so that we shall know just what part drink played in them and what other factors entered into them. If they are not satisfied with that, they will make their proposals to me, and I shall do my best to help.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
My right hon. Friend knows that I am interested in this question and in the analysis of this matter by officers of his Department. May I ask him whether it is one man who is doing this? Has he got a team, has he the motor engineers and somebody like an insurance assessor? Has he got the staff which will enable him to analyse carefully the precise causes of a very wide range of accidents?
§ Mr. Marples
Yes, they have, and that is why their investigation will be rather prolonged, because they are doing it thoroughly. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot have a snap decision in a week, together with thoroughness. I must present some sort of evidence to the House and the nation which will be convincing. I will be quite frank with the House. I hope that I can do it. I shall not be afraid of unpopularity if I 638 can. I shall try hard, but if I should fail I shall be equally honest and say that I have failed. This is a scientific investigation and analysis into what is wanted, and not what I might call a hunch.
We are sending a team to Scandinavia, and we are making the arrangements now for it to go in May. The team will analyse exhaustively what happens there.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he thinks it would be possible for him to go to Scandinavia? I think that it would be very useful if he could manage the time.
§ Mr. Marples
I am hoping to do that, but I did not want to say so, because it had not been arranged. The team will spend ten days in Scandinavia, including a week-end, and I hope that I might go over during that week-end. We have the Committee stage of a very important Bill, on which the Opposition have been very helpful, and I express my gratitude to them. I should like to go to Scandinavia.
I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that I am not a teetotaller, or a crank either. I am a great lover of wine. I propose to continue drinking, but I do not propose to continue drinking and driving together. If I drink, I have made an arrangement with my wife that she will do the driving and I shall do the drinking, which I consider is a very fair distribution of responsibility in matrimonial circumstances. Therefore, I hope that the House will accept it from me that that is what we are trying to do.
Now I come to the question of mopeds and cycles. I would again appeal to hon. Members, when speaking in their constituencies, to urge motorists to give a wide berth to cycles, mopeds and motorcycles. They are running on only two wheels and the advantage of the moped and the scooter is that they are relatively cheap to buy and run. For people in the lower income groups, these are all they can afford, but they are bound to wobble when they start off on only two wheels, or when going up a hill, because it is difficult, or because they have a heavy load on the back, or perhaps because there is a head wind. While 90 per cent. of motorists already give a wide berth to cyclists—and I speak 639 here with some feeling, as some have come too close for my liking and have been going fast, I beg hon. Members to bear that point in mind.
It is clear from this debate, which has been most agreeable, that everyone in the House is concerned with road safety and accidents. I do not think that anyone doubts the sincerity of hon. Members in expressing their views. We are in favour of the principle of the Bill, but it is no good having a Bill the terms of which are unenforceable. This is the difficulty which we come up against in this Bill. I agree with the desire of my hon. Friend, but the Bill will not carry it out, whatever we do in the Committee.
Take, for instance, Clause 7. This makes it an offence for a vehicle to be driven at such a speed that it could not be stopped within the driver's distance of vision. It would be excessively difficult to prove that in the courts of law. If we in this House put Measures on the Statute Book which cannot be enforced or defined clearly the law is brought into disrepute. That is what the Government are trying not to do. It was because the law was in disrepute that we introduced the Betting and Gaming Bill. The reason why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was very successful with his Street Offences Bill was that the law was being brought into disrepute. It is no good having a series of laws if they are unenforceable.
§ Mr. Graham Page
Surely my right hon. Friend knows that this is the very thing which is being proved every day in the courts in cases of civil liability. The question whether a man could draw up within his line of vision is inquired into to decide whether he was negligent. It is not such a difficult matter to prove. It is dealt with in the Highway Code.
§ Mr. Marples
If a policeman sees that sort of thing he can consider whether a charge of dangerous driving should be brought. Hon. Members who are lawyers are nodding, not because they are against road safety, but because, even though the Bill is entitled a Road Safety Bill, it does not, ipso facto, deal with road safety satisfactorily. That is the fallacy of the Bill. Merely because it is entitled a Road Safety Bill it should 640 not be thought that that is what it would bring about, because I do not think that it would.
Therefore, from the Ministry of Transport's point of view, the Bill is unacceptable. My hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State proposes to intervene for a few minutes later to give the Home Office point of view. Much as I would like to ask the House to accept the Bill, I cannot do so because I do not believe, and I do not think that any of us would believe after the closest study of its provisions, that it would be effective. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby will not be too disappointed if I cannot give my backing to the Bill. We can get together on the matter of breathalysers and other things afterwards. I hope that I shall have the benefit of his advice in private even if I cannot accept his Bill in public.
§ Mr. Hunter
I made the suggestion of organising a national road safety, accident-free day. Will the right hon. Gentleman give consideration to that?
§ Mr. Marples
I think that the best thing that I can do is to pass that suggestion on to Ro. S.P.A. and to my Road Safety Committee for consideration. I think that that will meet the hon. Member's point.
§ 3.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
I should like to join with hon. Members who have spoken in the debate in congratulating the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) on his Bill. As everyone has said, he has a long reputation on road safety. He has done a great deal of work in preparing the Bill. It should be stated publicly again, lest it be forgotten, that a private Member, however good his Bill may be, is not given the help of Parliamentary draftsmen. If there are defects of a technical character in the hon. Member's Bill, it reflects discredit not upon him but upon a system which permits private Members to have to continue to operate on their own without skilled assistance.
I have a feeling that this debate inaugurates a new era in road safety. I hope that I am not being unduly optimistic, but I detect one difference between this debate and similar debates of the past. It is partly that the many years 641 of road safety propaganda carried out by the pioneers in this sphere, including the hon. Member's own organisation, the Pedestrians' Association, have produced results. Partly it is that there are more cars on the road and that there are more accidents, but the important thing that has occurred in the last few weeks is that public interest in road accidents has begun to rise. That was why I deplored the phrases used by the Minister when, unless I misunderstood him, he referred to the treatment of the Easter events by the Press as something of a scare. Indeed, last week in the House, he rebuked my hon. Friend the Member for Ber-mondsey (Mr. Mellish) and myself for what he described as doing a disservice to the cause of road safety by drawing attention to it.
In politics, everything depends upon the timing. If we could get, as I believe we have today, a coincidence of public desire for road safety with the support of the Opposition, which is not given to every Minister on every occasion—[Interruption.] No, it is not. It is unusual for a Minister to find himself in the happy position of public opinion being prepared to accept legislation and the Opposition being prepared to back it. Those, however, are the circumstances in which we find ourselves today. It is not without significance that this Bill on road safety has been presented by a back bench Member. This indicates that the pressure for greater strength of road safety precautions is now coming from the public and not from the Ministry.
§ Mr. Marples
The point I was making was not that the Press had had a scare —I am delighted it did, and I said so just now—but that after the publicity had been obtained the hon. Member referred to it in what I thought were extravagant terms as a national disaster.
§ Mr. Benn
The Minister is not one to complain about dramatising. He dramatises everything, and I do not blame him. He has a flair for linking himself to the public, which is good for politics. It is a good thing that the public should have a Minister who senses their needs in terms of publicity, but it is not fair to say that the Opposition followed in that way.
What worries me is that the public will not look to our politicians to give 642 a lead. On 16th December, we presented a Bill which would have given the Minister, by Statutory Instrument, the power to act in the case of road safety. The right hon. Gentleman must not, therefore, say that we on this side have not urged the necessity for more powers in this direction.
We have had an agreeable, interesting lecture from the right hon. Gentleman. If I were the chairman of a women's club and I wanted a good lecture on road safety, I would ask the Minister to come and tell us what he has done today. There is, however, a difference of view, not between the parties, but as to the rôle of the Government in road safety. We do not want personal malice or ill-will to enter into this, because it does not, but there is growing up a difference of view between the official Ministry viewpoint as given by the right hon. Gentleman, by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and by the hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), that most accidents are due to human errors and, therefore, the Government rôle is limited. The other view, which is voiced by the hon. Member for Crosby and is shared by many—perhaps not all—of my hon. Friends, is that there is more that the Government can do. What the Bill and today's debate are about is where to draw the line with Government action.
In saying that, I do not want in any way to appear to pay less than justice to the argument that human error is at fault. It obviously is a fault. When my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) suggests an accident-free day as a way of dramatising the personal responsibility of road users, I give him full support. But it is not only human error that causes accidents.
Our view is, not that there is one easy way to reduce the figures of accidents on the roads, but that there are a thousand ways in which minor improvements can be made and that the sum total of all these different pieces of activity will be to reduce the total.
The Minister gave some interesting examples of three Members of the House who had been killed, including the late Wilfred Fienburgh. We all share the sense of loss expressed by the Minister. As I understand it, however, Wilfred Fienburgh would have been saved by a 643 safety belt. He was injured, I understand, in the head as a result of being thrown forward, as many other drivers are, upon his steering wheel and upon the instrument panel of his car. It may well be that compulsory safety belts would in the long run reduce deaths enormously. They would not reduce accidents, but they would reduce deaths that are caused by collision at high speed.
§ Mr. Marples
That enables me to add something which I omitted from my speech. We are trying to get a safety belt to British Standard specifications so that it is first-class. Then we will see what we can do next.
§ Mr. Benn
I am delighted. That is very good news.
In America, safety belts that go across the middle of a passenger seem to be of no use. One I saw the other day, which people use in Scandinavia, connects from the side down and keeps the head from going forward. Undoubtedly, it would have meant that that particular man would not have died, although, of course, if his car had struck a child the child would not have been saved. It would, however, have reduced the total deaths by one.
The approach by the Government to accidents must be to examine the elements in accidents in enormous detail, including the vehicle, the driver, the medical condition of the driver, the condition of the road and the behaviour of pedestrians to see whether any one of these factors of risk could be reduced by Government action. I recognise that the Government are only a part of it, but they are an important part.
The whole purpose of my speech and of the ten points, which came under criticism by the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper), is to see whether there is room for advance by Government action. The hon. Member for Ilford, South has an Amendment down that the Bill should be read this day six months, but after hearing his speech I think that that is when he intends to read the Bill. I do not believe he has studied the Bill. He is not in the Chamber, so perhaps he has gone to discover the accident figures for his borough.
644 I come on to the provisions in the Bill all of which are included in the ten points which we put before the Minister at Easter. First, many of us now believe that tougher regulations would succeed in reducing accidents. The hon. Member has included many of them in his Bill, for example, that there should be no turning right, no overtaking at pedestrian crossings, both very important, and there are others as well.
I should like to see an absolute speed limit on all roads. I do not see why we should not have an experiment to enable us to try out an absolute speed limit and to see whether it has any effect over the Whitsun holiday. I should like to see the Minister apply an absolute speed limit. If I were asked by the Parliamentary Secretary to say what I meant by detailed safety regulations, that would be one of them. On the tremendous through-ways in the United States there are absolute upper speed limits which reduce the risk of accidents, although only very slightly, but with other factors that reduction is an important element. Of course, if there is an accident, lower speed definitely saves lives. The other thing is overtaking.
One of the points not mentioned today, but which is very important, is that the most dangerous road of all is the three-lane traffic road. A man will go through the countryside for miles officially able to overtake but not sure whether he will be able to overtake. Finally, he takes the risk and there is a head-on collision. It would be much better to make it a two-lane way for a mile one side for overtaking and then two lanes on the other side for another mile.
Another thing is pedestrian control. There can be no question that the road is for a specific purpose and all the users of it, whether pedestrians or motorists, have to fulfil certain conditions. This is not an anti-motorist or an anti-pedestrian provision. It is a recognition by the community that when a man uses a road he is engaged in an activity in which the public has the legitimate right to lay down certain conditions.
I have mentioned the safety belt. One other safety regulation interested me very much when I was in the United States last summer. These regulations are, of course, made locally. It is a 645 regulation in Cincinnati, Ohio, that one must not open the offside door of a car. How many bicycles are hit by the opening of a car door; how many people are killed when they jump out of the offside door? This enforcement that an individual shall not open his offside door makes a definite and definable contribution to the reduction of accidents. There are many other possibilities of this kind. We are in favour, quite frankly, of giving the Government power to try out these things. We recognise that they may not succeed and may meet with difficulties, but we want to see the Government taking power which would enable them to do that sort of thing. Bicycles' lights are another example which, I think, is extremely important.
There is very little left for me to say on the subject of drunken driving, for it was dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) and by the hon. Member for Crosby. I do not want to enter into the figures. What really alarmed me in the reply to our letter on drunken driving was the statement that the Minister intended to send a team to Scandinavia, because are we really to understand that there is no one in the Ministry of Transport who is studying foreign experience all the time? I am delighted that the Minister is going to Scandinavia himself.
§ Mr. Benn
He is hoping to go. I think it is a grand thing that he should go to see things for himself and study things for himself, but the safety policy of his Department ought not to depend on whether or not he is himself free to go to see for himself. The safety policy of the Ministry ought not to depend on a casual decision to send a team. I should have imagined that in the Department there would have been somebody all the time studying the safety regulations of every other country so that the experience of every other country could be considered as soon as it became available, and that the improvement of our regulations would not be dependent on public pressure for things of this kind. Perhaps that is taking place, and perhaps there is someone to watch these things continuously. I feel sure that there are changes going on in the Ministry about 646 which the Minister does not tell us. I think that in some ways he is modest about what he is doing in his own Department. Some of these things are very important indeed.
Now we come to the question of severer penalties. There has been much discussion whether we should introduce minimum sentences for certain offences. I think there is a strong case for this, particularly if we do not intend going in for traffic courts. There is a Government Bill in Committee now, a five-year Bill, and at the end of that time permanent legislation will be required, and I feel that traffic courts will have to be considered at that stage. There is a very strong case indeed for building up experience in case law in the treatment of road offences. For example, for some offences there might grow up an arrangement for a short prison sentence. That is used in the United States quite regularly for drunken driving. Imprisonment for one or two days is commonly used in the United States, and it alters the public attitude towards the offence of drunken driving.
I am not saying that that is necessarily the right answer, but I am saying that we ought not to rule out any possible way of bringing home to the people the severity of road offences. It is perfectly plain to me that at the moment the public does not take road offences of any sort seriously enough. When a well-known racing motorist had his licence suspended the other day for what seemed very like a patent case of dangerous driving the Press treated it as if the end of the world was approaching because such a thing could happen in a British Court. As a matter of fact, while I do not make any personal reference to the gentleman concerned, that case has probably done something to draw attention to the fact that dangerous driving regularly goes on and is accepted, so that if a driver hits a man with his car he is not as ashamed as if he had been caught shoplifting, which is a much less serious offence. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] I think it is very questionable whether road offences and even drunken driving are treated seriously enough at present.
If a man is convicted of drunken driving his car might be marked for a period, which would not only have a humiliating effect for the driver himself 647 but would be a warning to others that it would be likely to be dangerous to be near his car.
These may sound very drastic measures, but it would be a great mistake if the debate today were just to evaporate in an exchange of good will between a few people on each side of the House with a few bright ideas.
I come to the question of the retraining of people after being convicted of road offences. This is in the Bill, and I know it is supported by the Chief Constable of Southend. It would be most rewarding if a man convicted of dangerous driving, who may be one who has never had the test because of age, who may be a man who is, indeed, medically unfit, though we do not know about it, had his licence removed and was subjected to having another test. It would have a salutary effect upon him, so that in the future he would not cause as much danger again; it would give a very rich opportunity for research into driving habits, and that would be of benefit to the Road Research Laboratory; and at the end we should be likely to have a better driver. We think that a provision of this kind merits a great deal of consideration.
Now we come to the points which are not included in the Bill but which I want to see included in any Bill for road safety presented to the House. Many references have been made to vehicle testing. I do not blame the Minister. He has been the Minister for only about six months during the period of four years' delay, but vehicle testing has been going on in other countries and we do not accept that a four-year delay is justified. We know that there are legal difficulties, but we do not believe that any legal difficulties could possibly justify a delay of four years. I believe also that vehicle testing can only begin with old vehicles and must go on to all vehicles. A man who buys a new motor car and fails to maintain it will then have a fast, dangerous vehicle on the road within a matter of months of buying it. All vehicles should be tested.
Then there is medical examination, and it is extraordinary that this should not be regarded as extremely important. I was trained as a pilot during the war and there were stringent medical require- 648 ments. There were testing physical examinations and all the other examinations as well, because of the risk of having a dangerous pilot. Yet there is absolutely no requirement at all, as far as I know, for the medical examination, even the eye-testing, of people who drive.
I know that it would only reduce the risk of accidents in a small number of cases. Nobody is suggesting that there are a lot of blind motorists driving around, but the power of the court to commit a man for medical examination after he has been convicted of a motoring offence should be seriously considered. If he is found on medical examination to be unfit to drive, it should be the duty of the courts to prevent his driving in the future. I should like to see this matter looked at and, particularly, a start made with vision testing.
§ Mr. John Hall
Can the hon. Member say whether he thinks the medical profession would be able to cope with such a load on their services?
§ Mr. Benn
Could the medical profession cope? This is a matter which must be examined in the long-term. In our letter we spoke of gradual introduction. We must decide how much effort is worth while putting into it to reduce the number of accidents. I certainly think that the question of a simple eye-test should be looked into quickly.
As for the police, the simple fact is that all the forces are under establishment and the speed limit is widely disregarded. If we apply the Minister's rule that one should not have unenforceable laws one would expect him to remove the speed limit, as has happened in the Royal Parks, because the Minister of Works knows that there nobody takes any notice of a 20 m.p.h. limit. Incidentally, I am in favour of a 30 m.p.h. limit there anyhow, but one of the reasons which the Minister of Works gave was that the limit could not be enforced. We believe that more police are a necessity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) spoke about the need for a transport policy. The Minister is already pledged to double expenditure on the roads in the next five years, and we are looking forward to 649 hearing about this. But we want him to present his plan to us as a White Paper. We do not want to be entirely dependent on Press releases from his Department announcing his plan day by day, authorising this or that piece of expenditure without any conception whether the balance of expenditure between motorways and the removal of accident black spots is the right one. Road research is very important, and I hope that when the Minister gets figures for Christmas he will publish them so that the whole House can have an opportunity of studying their effect.
Shock treatment has been discussed. I detect a certain complacency on the question of road safety prapaganda in the country as a whole. I do not believe that a picture of a zebra skipping across a field and a little notice, "Use your zebra" makes any impact whatsoever on the public mind. I recall the very successful, as far as I know, precedent of the V.D. film used by the Services during the war. It was shown to all the Services. It was a deliberate attempt to shock people into a recognition of that particular risk.
I am very much in favour of the Press treating this more seriously, and particularly of the Daily Mirror exhibition. Yet my own view is that the proper way to use road safety propaganda is to convince the public of the need for new laws; that is, to introduce the tougher safety legislation I have mentioned and then to use propaganda to persuade the public of its necessity.
Here we come to driver training, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell). I am certain that a great deal more could be done if we got drivers at the point at which they were learning their craft. A lot more could also be done at schools. If we take the ordinary projection of car ownership forward twenty years, every child in the schools of Britain today will be a car owner. That is not an unreasonable prediction. Therefore, it may well be worth while beginning some elementary car training in schools, as is done in many American schools.
A child is incredibly receptive to motor car training at an early age. My own child, at the age of 8½, in a field on a farm, has been able in two days to take control of a car with myself sitting beside 650 him. At that age it is easy to learn to get used to a car, although he will have to wait the equivalent of all his life before getting on to the road. At any rate there is no harm in teaching children, particularly in secondary schools, in a practical way.
The whole purpose of this debate from our side of the House is to urge the Minister to do more. We ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has any plans for ensuring that Whitsun is not as dangerous as Easter was. We ask him whether he has any legislative plans at all, and if so, when he will introduce the Bill and what opportunity we shall have for discussing it.
Finally, I remind him that he is a Minister in an unusually fortunate position, in having the support of the Opposition and having a bipartisanship on road safety which is not available on other subjects. I do not believe that he is inactive but I suspect—indeed this debate has proved it—that there is opposition to tougher road safety measures, some arising from some of his own back benchers, and maybe from members of his own Government. If it is of any help to the right hon. Gentleman to get the offer which we gave in the letter, of time for legislation and support for serious measures to make an impact on the road safety figures, we offer it to him sincerely.
Honestly, talk about road safety is not enough, even in as charming a way as the Minister did it this afternoon. I believe that the public wants action and is not content to listen to speeches and to the argument that it is just a question of human error and that the Government's r61e cannot be usefully increased. I feel that the public recognise now that the problem of road accidents and road deaths is one of the major domestic problems of our generation, and I believe that if the Minister attacks this problem and tackles it seriously and boldly, he will have made a real contribution to solving a vital question of domestic politics.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)
I hope that the House will grant me the indulgence of two minutes of its valuable time to make a brief statement on behalf of my right hon. 651 Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department about Part I of the Bill, which proposes that there should be a national road safety enforcement corps as a separate force from the police forces of the country.
In the view of the Government, the establishment of a new national police force separate from the regular police would not make a useful contribution to road safety, or to better enforcement of the traffic law. Indeed, we feel that it might lead to appalling confusion. So far as the object of the Bill is to provide some support for the police in traffic matters, this problem is being attended to by our own proposals for the appointment of traffic wardens under the Road Traffic and Roads Improvement Bill, which is now going through Standing Committee.
Even if we should do what was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), and introduce a new national road safety force, it would be a matter of major constitutional importance which is not suitable for a Private Member's Bill, nor would it be right to do it while we have a Royal Commission considering the whole position of our police forces.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mackie (Enfield, East)
There is a lot which I should like to say on this most important subject were there time to say it, but as there is not I will make just one or two points which, I feel, might assist in the consideration of this matter.
I was interested in what was said by the hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) about accidents caused by the attention of the driver being distracted by passengers in the car. I wonder whether a case could be made out for providing a separate driving compartment in the car so that the attention of the driver could not be distracted in this way.
We hear a lot about head-on collisions which occur during the night time along stretches of straight roads and for which there would appear to be no explanation. I drive about 30,000 miles a year, a great deal being done at night. I am convinced that a lot of the trouble is caused by commercial vehicles which are parked on the road side, or which 652 are moving slowly. However large may be the red rear lights on these vehicles, it is difficult for other drivers to judge the distance between their own vehicle and such vehicles as these, and I wonder whether commercial vehicles could be fitted with blinker lights of a different colour which it would be easier for other drivers to identify.
I do not wish to belittle the Bill in any way, on the contrary I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) on introducing it. On the question of alcohol and its relation to motoring, I know of a lady with whom I would not drive round the block after she has consumed a glass of sherry, and I know a gentleman with whom I would drive to Timbuctoo after he had consumed half a bottle of whisky. There is a tremendous difference in the amount of drink which different people can consume without affecting their ability to drive.
I am sure that many accidents are caused because of bad road surfaces and I see no reason why the responsible authority should not be legally compelled to keep all road surfaces in good order. The Minister was correct in saying that much work has been done on the material used in road construction to ensure that no bits of road are allowed to get into a dangerous state. But I consider that it is equally dangerous to have a bad road as to drive a vehicle which is in an unserviceable state. Legislation has been introduced in Denmark to the effect that from October until May people are not permitted to drive a car which has smooth tyres. A number of accidents are caused by worn tyres, and that is a piece of legislation which might be applied in this country.
I think that all driving mirrors should be concaved in order to give a complete view all round the car. I know that wing mirrors are helpful, but a concave driving mirror is much better. I always fit one to my car. It is difficult to use a driving mirror and a wing mirror, because they are not in the same focus, unless one fits the wing mirror as near to the windscreen as possible.
I do not think it would be right to have a fixed speed limit. A sports car with disc brakes is safer travelling at 60, 70, or 80 miles an hour than a small 653 light-weight car travelling at a slower speed. The same applies to the bigger cars, such as a well-equipped Bentley with good road-holding ability, good suspension and first-class brakes. That kind of car is superior to the lighter type of American car. I think that it would be unfair to apply a general speed limit, but perhaps we might devise a system of discs displaying the maximum speed for particular weights and types of cars. That would be a fairer method than a general speed limit.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (Billericay)
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has said that the rô1e of the Government in road safety is limited, and with that I agree. But I urge on him that the Government could do and must do much more to assist the country to travel the road which we have to travel towards safety.
In Part II of the Bill reference is made to a number of things which happen on the road, but I suggest that this Measure fails to identify and deal with what I suggest is one of the primary causes of road accidents today. I refer to the dangers of two-way traffic. I suggest that one does not need to be an expert in road transport to recognise these dangers. One need only travel on the motorways to appreciate that in a sense one is there protected against the dangers of two-way traffic and I urge the Minister to give anxious consideration to what might well be a solution which might be applied immediately.
If it be right that the primary, or one of the primary, causes of road accidents is the presence of two-way traffic on undivided roads, I submit to my right hon. Friend that he should consider making as many main roads in this country as possible into one-way traffic roads. There is hardly a city, a town or an important centre in the country which cannot be reached by a number of alternative routes.
I urge my right hon. Friend to seize upon this remedy immediately in the few weeks which remain before Whitsun. It is a perfectly practical proposition. It will cause grave inconvenience to many people, but we are not considering inconvenience. We are considering lives and injury.
654 As many of our main roads as possible should be made into one-way traffic roads, and the return routes could be provided by the alternative secondary roads now existing. Although this solution may be beset with difficulties, the sooner my right hon. Friend takes action of this kind the sooner will a reduction in the number of people suffering and dying on the roads be brought about.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
I want to speak in support of the Bill. Although I have not heard the whole debate, I have heard a fair amount of it. I listened to the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper) moving his Amendment. Although he scraped the barrel in trying to find reasons why we ought not to have the Bill, he in no way convinced me that the Bill was bad.
The hon. Member gave two main reasons for his refusal to support the Bill. One was that it did not go far enough. I often feel, even about Government legislation, that a certain Measure does not go far enough, but that does not mean that I vote against it. If it contains something which I support, \ believe that when the Bill goes to Committee I and others can do something to improve it before it goes on to the Statute Book. I cannot accept from any hon. Member that his feeling that a Bill does not go far enough is a sufficiently good reason for voting against it if it contains excellent material.
The second reason of the hon. Member for Ilford, South was that Bill was a bad Bill. I can understand an hon. Member voting against a Bill, or trying to prevent a Bill getting a Second Reading, if he considers it to be a bad Bill. But the reasons that the hon. Member gave for considering it a bad Bill were not sufficiently important when they are considered in the light of the toll of death on the roads today.
We know that between now and tomorrow morning a number of people will lose their lives. In the main, those who lose their lives in road accidents are young children and elderly people. When I have been driving my own car in cities I have often been heartily sorry to watch elderly people who are not sufficiently sure of their own legs trying to cross streets. It is of the greatest importance 655 that whoever is behind the driving wheel of a car should have all his faculties unimpaired.
I turn now to that part of the Bill dealing with alcohol. I do not believe that the minute that anyone sits behind the driving wheel of a car he is out to cause accidents. However, there is no doubt that when some people get behind the wheel of a car, even if they have not taken alcohol, they feel that they have to go as quickly as they can. I cannot agree with the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) that in a certain type of car it would be quite safe to go at 90 miles an hour. I cannot agree with that, no matter what make of car it is.
§ Miss Herbison
I do not even agree with that, no matter what it is compared with. If anything untoward or unexpected happens with any type of car going at 90 miles an hour, there is no hope for the driver or occupants of that car, or of the car with which it comes into collision.
Many people feel that having a drink makes no difference to their driving. We are told that there are to be severe penalties. There is no doubt that policemen and others interested in this important subject feel that many drivers get off and are not accused of drunken driving because they are able to pass the present test given for drunkenness, even though the policemen and doctor concerned in the test are absolutely certain that, if the driver had not had drink, the accident would not have taken place.
For those reasons, I support the Bill and I hope that every hon. Member who is in the last concerned about the numbers of people killed on the roads, particularly children, will give the Bill a Second Reading and will try, in Committee, to do something about those parts with which they disagree. If they do not do that, but are determined not to give the Bill a Second Reading, they are doing everything possible to continue the shocking toll on our roads.
§ Miss Herbison
I am convinced that it is a Measure which should at least have a chance of being improved in Committee.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
One point which I do not think has been sufficiently emphasised in the debate is that many accidents are caused by exasperation—exasperation at driving for miles behind one or two filthy old motor cars driven by poor and inconsiderate drivers; exasperation caused by driving in the Easter holidays behind a caravan improperly driven at the wrong time of day by an inconsiderate driver. Exasperation is also caused by obstructions of one kind or another. One can go down the main street in Bristol and find single-line traffic because someone is unloading—
§ It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday, 13th May.