HC Deb 27 January 1960 vol 616 cc150-3
57. Mr. Bence

asked the Minister of Transport what steps he now proposes to take to curb the taking of alcoholic drinks by persons in charge of motor vehicles, in consequence of the increase in road accidents over the Christmas period.

60. Mr. Wade

asked the Minister of Transport what information he has gained from his visit to the United States of America as to the effect of the consumption of alcohol on the number of road accidents and the methods adopted to lessen such accidents; to what extent he proposes to introduce similar methods into this country; and what other steps he proposes to take to prevent road accidents of which the consumption of alcohol by drivers is a contributory cause.

Mr. Marples

In addition to what I learnt in the United States I have now received from the Medical Research Council a summary of selected investigations concerning alcohol and road accidents. I also have the report published by the British Medical Association on the relation of alcohol to road accidents. I am most grateful to both these bodies for the valuable work they have done on this subject, and I am at present studying the extensive information available in these reports.

Mr. Bence

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is aware that road casualties at the present time are very serious indeed. Does he know that after 11 o'clock at night in a certain area on New Year's Eve it was very dangerous to be on the road whether in a car when certain pedestrians were on the road, or as a pedestrian when there were certain cars on the road? In view of what has been said, will the right hon. Gentleman take immediate steps to stop the drinking of alcohol by drivers in charge of motor vehicles?

Mr. Marples

It is obvious that the first thing to do is to make a scientific assessment why the deaths were caused. We have not got the figures for New Year's Eve, to which the hon. Member refers, but we have them for Christmas Eve, when 66 people were killed as against 33 the previous Christmas Eve, and 14 as the normal daily average. They are very serious figures, and I have asked the Road Research Laboratory to investigate every one of the 66 cases in order to obtain positive proof why they happened. When that information is received I shall proceed on a surer foundation.

Mr. Wade

In studying this problem and considering whether any new measures are necessary, will the Minister keep in mind the fact that the consumption of a comparatively small amount of alcohol may affect the ability of a driver to make a quick decision, which is very necessary on the roads today and which might make all the difference between an accident taking place and an accident being avoided?

Mr. Marples

That is included in the B.M.A. report and, like all matters in that report, it will be considered when we have an analysis of the 66 deaths.

Mr. Page

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that a great proportion of accidents are caused by an error of judgment, and that it has been shown by the Drew report and the B.M.A. report that the taking of alcohol even in small quantities impairs judgment? Would it not be possible to apply some limitation to the drinking of alcohol by a stricter enforcement of the law, either by a test or in some other way?

Mr. Marples

All these points will be borne in mind. One of the most impressive things I found in my visit to America concerned Chicago, where, with half a million cars in 1948, there were 500 deaths and then, after they had introduced certain remedial measures, in 1959, when there were a million cars, there were only 300 deaths. In other words, there were twice the number of cars and little more than half the deaths. I do not suggest that 300 deaths are nothing, but this was a step in the right direction.

Mr. G. Thomas

In the meantime, will the Minister ask the B.B.C. and the Independent Television Authority to give less advertisement to liquor? Does he appreciate that if only one life is needlessly lost through somebody being so selfish that he must have another drink, there will be no sympathy from the public at large, and that the Minister cannot take too strong an action for the public?

Mr. Marples

There is nothing wrong in liquor by itself. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. In this House we are used to controversial observations.

Mr. Marples

It depends on the nature of the liquor and whether or not the person is driving.

Mr. Nabarro

Could not we have this breath test before the 10 o'clock Division one night?

Mr. Speaker

That question is not properly directed to the Minister of Transport.

Mr. Rankin

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that it depends not only on the nature of the liquor but on the day when it is taken? Is he aware that at the beginning of this year a magistrate—one of a body upon whom the Minister depends for carrying out the law—excused three drivers for offences they had committed because they occurred on Hogmanay?

Mr. Marples

I must be very careful about making any criticism of the Scottish nation.

Dr. Summerskill

When will the Minister make a statement on the British Medical Association's recommendations on this subject?

Mr. Marples

I would ask the right hon. Lady to put down a Question on that subject. I received the report only last week

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