§ 11.14 a.m.
§ Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)
I beg to move,
That this House deplores the excessive loss of life and limb on the public roads and, whilst declaring its intention to do everything it can to increase safety on the roads, urges Her Majesty's Government to intensify their efforts to bring home to the public the need to exercise the highest standards of care and personal responsibility, and to remind drivers of motor vehicles that they have under their control a lethal weapon.During our five hours of debate, four people will be killed on our roads, and 50 seriously injured. On an average, 20 people are killed and 250 are seriously injured each day—the population of a small village. In 1962, the last year for which I can get complete figures—and I understand that 1963 may be slightly worse—6,709 people were killed on our roads; that is as though the largest town in my constituency, Stowmarket, were wiped out—man, woman and child—by an atomic bomb. In addition, 95,000 people are seriously injured each year—roughly the number who live in the county town of Suffolk, Ipswich—and 334,987 people are injured in some way or another.
That is the size of the problem. I would remind the House that this situation involves not only those who suffer death or loss of limb, but that six, seven or eight or more close relatives are caused sadness, bereavement and anxiety—the widows, the parents, the children. Some deaths are lingering, and many people spend a long time in great pain.
Eleven years ago I sponsored a Measure called the Road Transport Lighting (Rear Lights) Act to try to do something in a small way to solve this problem, and I think that it helped. Recently, there have been two or three very bad accidents in my division, and we were also all shaken and shocked by the very bad casualty figures at Christmas time, which averted public attention to this problem to a greater degree than usual. It is not surprising, therefore, that when I was fortunate enough to draw first place in the Ballot, for the second time within a year—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] Oh no, perhaps a little recompense for the long time I was silent as a Whip-—I chose 1436 this subject. Any doubts I might have had about whether I was right in so choosing were absolutely resolved by what transpired at Question Time on Wednesday, with the Minister's statement of the appalling crashes on our best roads, and his accusation, with which I agreed, of bad driving. I was also glad that the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) then welcomed this occasion to discuss the problem.
Perhaps ever since I have first driven a car I have tried to impose the one small rule that one should be able to stop one's vehicle in half the distance one can see ahead. If that rule were observed, we might avoid some accidents. I was also, I confess, involved in a minor accident six months ago, with no injuries to anyone, and I think that such an occasion gives one cause to think.
I should like to thank all the many people who have written or spoken to me about this Motion. I cannot deal with all the points they have raised—there is no one single solution; a number of things have to be done—but the more competent authorities all agree that the problem comes under the three headings of engineering, enforcement, and education and instruction. I want to make education and instruction my theme today.
The present position is a shocking indictment of our public life and actions—it is as bad as thuggery and robbery—and although much has been done, more can be done to reduce the causes of accidents. Most of them occur through human frailties—it may be physical or mental, or it may be just sheer lack of knowledge—and it is to this side of the subject that we must devote far more attention. All of us, whether drivers of vehicles, passengers, those who ride bicycles or those who walk on our roads, have to be reeducated to cope with the present-day problems. I am glad to say that at the present day in our affluent society we must regard everyone who reaches the age of17 as a potential driver.
I have just referred to accidents. I should like to eliminate the word "accident" from all the reports. The word implies an occurrence that was probably unavoidable. I would rather see in the 1437 Press reports the words "killing and maiming on the road." Statistics show that over 99 per cent. of road casualties are due to human factors. There may be one, two or three failures by human beings at the same time, and not always by the same person. It may be a failure on the part of one or two persons. Can we radically reduce these casualties? I am certain that it is possible, and I should like to quote a particular set of figures.
In 1930, with a total of only 2½ million vehicles on the roads, 1,685 children were killed; 32 years later, in 1962, with 10½ million vehicles—four-and-a-half times as many—the number of children killed was not four times greater, but under half. It was reduced eightfold, in relation to the vehicles, to 761.
What is the reason for this fine reduction?—though, of course, we should never be complacent. I am certain that it is due to the education of children in our schools by the police, teachers and officers of road safety organisations. I am usually very struck by the high standard of road sense shown by the children who cycle to our State schools every day.
I am told also that police accidents have been dramatically reduced as a result of training police drivers to advanced standards, and the same applies to many bus drivers. Hence, one is driven to the conclusion that by teaching and instructing far higher safety standards can be developed.
Apart from all the human misery, distress and suffering which is caused, it is estimated that the cost of road casualties runs at the rate of £227 million a year, or £4 per head of the population. Would it not be wise to spend even 10 per cent. of this sum on instruction and education to reduce this percentage of accidents, if not to prevent them altogether? I am certain that if this is to be done there must be full co-ordination under the Minister and there must be an overall pattern of instruction. The police have a system. If this is the best system, it should be followed by all other instructors throughout the country. Let us have a common way of driving and a common standard. We know, if a man follows a certain course of action, exactly what will follow.
A year ago I was a patient in a general hospital where, in talks with surgeons 1438 and nurses, it was forcibly brought home to me what an enormous amount of their time was spent in dealing with road casualties. Some of the hospital beds are occupied by these casualties when they could be put to better use for other urgent cases. I suggest that a person causing a serious accident might be asked to attend hospital for a day to observe these casualties.
Why do these things happen? Normally, the British are a kind people, but we do not always behave as such when we get into a motor car and drive it. Professor Buchanan has called the motor car a monster, and one of the nastiest things about it is its monstrous enlargement of human weaknesses. Someone who drinks a little, or pushes other people out of the way, or goes about dreaming when he should be minding how he goes, is no more than a nuisance when he is walking on the pavement. But at the wheel of a motor car he is a murderous danger.
That is why I have included in the Motion this words:…driver; of motor vehicles"…have under their control a lethal weapon.People who refuse to recognise their own deficiences, or, even worse, try to compensate for their personal insignificance by making the most of the power of their car, deserve to be treated no differently from those whose criminal tendencies show themselves in other ways.
The most important thing about death on the road is that the figures should not be shrugged off by the public or explained away. Bad driving does cause accidents, and must be recognised as criminal and contemptible. The criminals must be punished. Do we not think that because we pay a tax both on the car and on the petrol, we have some prescriptive right to the road. Surely we are rather there on licence, as a privilege.
I think that there is no one more alive to this problem than my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, whom I am glad to see on the Front Bench, and who, I understand, hopes to speak in this debate. He has said that roads and vehicles are as safe as the people who use them. I was recently looking at some figures and, not unnaturally, 1439 looked to see what was the position in the town of Wallasey, which my right hon. Friend represents. I then looked at the figures for the town below that, Walsall, which has a population of 12 per cent. more, Wallasey having 103,000. I then found two other comparable towns—Northampton and Oxford. I am glad to see in the Chamber the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse), who is also Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department.
I found the following figures relating to the three years 1960, 1961 and 1962. In 1960, for every person who was killed on the roads in Wallasey, 3 were killed in Walsall, 2½ in Northampton and 3 in Oxford. In 1961, for every person killed in Wallasey, 9 were killed in Walsall, 6 in Northampton and 8 in Oxford. In 1962, for every person killed in Wallasey, 2½ were killed in Walsall, 2 in Oxford and 2 in Northampton. I do not know—perhaps he will tell us—whether my right hon. Friend has been energetic in his own constituency in the cause of road safety. If so, it shows what example and instruction can do. These are built-up towns of comparable size and with probably the same amount of traffic.
There are people who put signs on their cars stating "Marples must go". I say to those people that I would rather go to the Minister's constituency than probably anywhere else in England. More often than not it is those ill-informed people whom one sees passing one's own car at very high speeds. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for being present and taking part in the debate today.
We have some responsibility in this House, because, when my right hon. Friend recently introduced a Bill to try to improve road safety, we found so many people and organisations lobbying us during the Committee and Report stages that we were, perhaps, guilty of trying to restrict the scope of the rules and regulations proposed by my right hon. Friend because it was said that we should not stop individuals behaving as they like.
I welcome all that has been done by my right hon. Friend, particularly in 1440 making better roads. We all have places in our constituencies which we know are dangerous. I think in particular of the A.12. As is well known, where a road is very narrow and twisting as it passes through a town there are, in fact, fewer accidents than on broader stretches. On a wider stretch of the A.12 as it passes through Kesgrave, there are many more accidents than in Wick-ham Market where it is narrow and twisting, and this piece of road is known locally as "murder mile". No doubt, all hon. Members have similar cases in mind.
The engineering and design of the car itself is important. Things are improving, with the padding of the facias of cars, and so forth. A constituent recently sent me the suggestion that more could be done with the car mirror, incorporating a prism to enable one to see round the corner a little more when coming out of a private way on to a narrow street. Such a device might or might not be useful. What is certain is that experiments must continue in all aspects of car design.
I am sure that all hon. Members at times receive letters from irate constituents who have been summoned for exceeding the speed limit on a stretch of road which they regarded as quiet, I always reply that I have little sympathy with them. It is one of the many small disciplines which we must accept in order to reduce accidents. The experiment in Birmingham of using dipped headlights at night seems to have saved some casualties, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend is considering whether it could be extended. I was very glad to hear him say, in reply to a Question, that he is to experiment in the use of a reflector triangle which motorists could carry and put on the road behind their vehicles after an accident has occurred.
I have often thought that this would be useful. It is done in other countries. I am not sure that a reflector triangle would be the best device. In part of my activities, I am concerned in the manufacture of ordinary hurricane lamps, many of which are used as a warning of road works and the like. I put it to the Minister that the ordinary red road lamp might well be as good as, if not better than, a reflector triangle.
Very rightly, we instituted the driving test, but the passing of the test 1441 is no more than, so to speak, minimum floor level. No one should think that, because he has passed the driving test, he is a competent driver. Unfortunately, statistics show that drivers between the ages of 17 and 20 have a very high accident rate, four and a half times that of drivers between the ages of 30 and 50. Other countries are experimenting with having a speed limit for newer drivers—50 m.p.h., perhaps, or something of that kind—or they are sometimes put on probation at that stage. Might it not be a good idea if such drivers, after having an accident during the probation period, had to go back to "square one," carry L plates and pass the test again?
I talked recently to pilots in R.A.F. Transport Command, who have the best record of safety of any air line. They constantly emphasised to me the value of the extra time which they are allowed to go back to the simulators for practice and instruction. If this is so with them, the same sort of thing could well apply to motorists.
In considering road users as such and the way in which they may cause accidents, it is very wise to pay attention to the Report of the Working Party of the Royal College of Surgeons on accident prevention. In this context, it listed these factors or characteristics; adequacy of training, experience, consumption of alcohol, vigilance, "way of life" concept, problem drivers, emotional instability and disturbances, age, sex and marital status, accident-proneness, anticipation and avoidance of accident situations, fatigue and skill-fatigue, visual efficiency, physical and mental defects, speed of driving in relation to traffic conditions, reaction time.
Inadequately trained and inexperienced drivers have a high accident rate. The idea is stressed that a man drives as he lives, and the Working Party quotes the result of investigations which found that a group of taxi drivers with a high accident rate, contrasted with a group with a low accident rate, showed marked intolerance for authority, aggressiveness, unstable home background and various aspects of anti-social behaviour.
I believe that the good citizen is more likely to be a careful driver than the man who, in other respects, is not such a good citizen. Is each of us always the same driver? Sometimes we drive less 1442 well. We may have had a bit of a row with someone, a salesman may have lost an order, or, on the other hand, be elated because he has just got a big one, a man may have gone to the races and lost his money—one can think of all sorts of things. We ought always to recognise the signs in ourselves and act accordingly.
I referred earlier to a small accident in which I was involved a few months ago. I have come to the conclusion that I created a small blind spot for myself. Like so many people over 45, I have to wear glasses to read. On that occasion, I was wearing my horn-rimmed glasses in order to read a signpost. I am certain that the wider strip at the side of these glasses overlapped in my vision the strut at the side of the windscreen, thereby creating a blind spot. Never again shall I wear glasses of that kind when driving. It is only a small point of self-discipline.
A word now about older people as pedestrians. Their sight is less good. Their limbs react more slowly than when they were young. They do not move as fast in later years and they cannot put on that little extra bit of speed. I feel that the magnificent results achieved among children could be followed by good results among older people achieved by similar means, by talks and education in the over-60 clubs and Darby and Joan clubs which flourish throughout the country. People must realise that, as they age, they react more slowly and that they must exercise more care when crossing the road.
The figures show that, between the ages of 15 and 40, people suffer fewer accidents as pedestrians. In the next 10 years of life the rate is up by 50 per cent., between the ages of 50 and 60 it is up by another 50 per cent., and it rises very high past 60. All of us, not only old people, must do all we can, when we walk about, to make life as easy as possible for the driver, not suddenly taking chances.
The driver has a lethal weapon under his control. There is precious little difference for the victim between being killed by a car and being killed by the gun of a thug, or between having his leg taken off by a lorry or losing it as the result of being beaten up by a bandit. The real art of driving is not suddenly or miraculously acquired. It is learned. 1443 and it can be improved after the driving test is passed. Safety is more important than speed. Ten minutes late is better than 40 years earlier in heaven. The Director-General of Ro.S.P.A. recently wrote:Perhaps it is also too much to expect widespread appreciation by the 10 million of the fact that the introduction, coupled with observance, of the speed limit in built-up areas has everywhere proved the biggest single piece of effective road safety legislation yet devised.One can sum it up well by the reply of the garage man who, when asked what. was the most important bit of machinery on a car, said, "The 'nut' at the wheel". Experience, judgment, eyesight and quickness of mind all come into play. We must all feel that we can improve our technique and that we have not learned it all.
A great deal of good work is done by the road safety committees of the highway authorities and also by many voluntary organisations. Without them, our record would be far worse. But there are a great many people keen to learn more. I am told that good lectures are packed out. There are not enough films on road safety, and those there are are heavily booked. In Manchester, a course at a charge of over £3 for driving instruction is over-subscribed. The papers, T.V. and radio point out the dangers, and still people are indifferent. My conclusion is that we need a far better instructional scheme co-ordinated under the Minister with power over these authorities.
After all, our schools are empty in the evening, and if we had the instructors, people could attend for various common faults to be pointed out. I believe, too, that we could see over the years whether those who attended these courses of instruction are concerned in a smaller percentage of accidents. It could be made compulsory for someone involved in an accident to have to attend for instruction. What is the point of fining a man £50 if he repeats that type of accident, because he is accident-prone or a bad driver? Should a man who is a known alcoholic, or a man suffering from chronic heart disease, be permitted to hold a driving licence?
I know that one has to declare these things on the licence form, but how often does anyone do that? Do we all help the police as much as we possibly can? I 1444 would like to see the public themselves take real action in these matters, as part of the campaign to reduce these casualties.
I have seen the report of a distinguished head of a road safety organisation of a journey he did on Boxing Day. He said that few drivers were of a thrusting, dangerous nature, but he saw a tremendous exhibition of lamentable ignorance of just safe driving methods. He instanced that on one day there was a film of frost on the roads, when any braking would cause skidding and any speed above 40 m.p.h. was dangerous. Yet the drivers of many family saloons, probably in ignorance, were going past him at over 60 m.p.h. A pile-up then is inevitable.
We are warned now to use headlights in fog, but there are risks taken by drivers, often in ignorance, and as a result collisions occur. I would like to see this House, through the Government, devote more money to instruct the general public in the dangers of using the roads. I believe that everywhere we ought to have testing yards, with instructors and classrooms, so that people can go there and be trained.
I am told that one of the best tests is to see whether one can drive a vehicle between two white posts on the ground when one is completely sober, and then try again after a couple of drinks. If one finds it more difficult then, surely this should be a warning to the driver how careful he must be if he has drinks, because his judgment is not as good.
I should like to pay tribute to the many firms who have excellent records amongst their fleet of drivers. I think that the firm's driver concentrates because it is his job to drive for a livelihood. The rest of us use driving as a means to do something else. Either we want to get there quickly to do it, or we are thinking about it on the way. I would suggest that many of our large companies should devote more time not only to the ability of their recognised drivers, but of the members of their staff, either in the offices or on the factory floor, who today, in increasing numbers, drive cars to work. It might not be too difficult to set up a little dummy course within a parking yard and have competitions carried out in 1445 the lunch-time break to get people interested in these things.
I was delighted to receive a letter from a firm in the north of England, which is tackling the pedestrian problem by itself erecting an overhead bridge, costing about £2,000, over a busy street, with its works on both sides, and it says that the cost is only £2 10s. a week. This firm is looking after its workpeople.
Then, again, I have a letter from an association called the Star Drivers Association, started in Dorset by men who call themselves, very rightly, Christian men, who are appalled by this problem, and are calling for higher standards. So there is a public conscience at the present time. There are many excellent road users without whom we should have many more accidents. They are the good preventative drivers. The remainder we must work on—the young first—so as to develop a social conscience in those who might otherwise kill and maim, and whom we accept far too readily as members of our society.
I should like to say a few words on enforcement, as the Joint Undersecretary of State for the Home Office is here and enforcement is his Department's responsibility. I am as sure, and I am certain from my own reaction, that when one sees mobile police on the road it makes people drive more carefully. There are not enough of them. I would call for an extra 2,000 or 3,000 mobile police cars, and even if they cost £10 million a year it would be cheap in the accidents they would prevent. Perhaps we should consider whether they should be on a national or a regional basis, as against being in the county forces.
Therefore, I would conclude by asking the House to devote more money to instruction and extension of education in our schools and afterwards, particularly starting with the young, and remembering that the problem is so big that everyone of 17 today, boy or girl, is a potential driver, whom we have to accustom to this way of life from early years.
I would like to see the Minister set up a road safety officer, co-ordinating all these very good voluntary or semi-voluntary organisations—a professional at the head who, through the Minister, 1446 would have power to act. We need a far bigger corps of trained instructors for lectures and tests. Bad drivers and other bad road users—and pedestrians, too—should go back to some form of school for instruction. Possibly, we need more details of drivers. Ought each of us to have, in addition to our licence, a record card which could easily be seen by the police, so that if one is stopped the police can see whether one is a good driver or accident-prone? The maximum amount of help should be given to all firms which run safety campaigns for their employees, and a very great attack should be made by the Minister on those areas where not enough is being done on road safety.
While I have been speaking, probably 1 person has been killed and 7 seriously injured. I have thrown out some ideas and other Members will throw out more. If actions flow from this Motion—the timing could not be better with the state of public opinion at the moment—it will have been well worth while, and I commend the Motion to the House.
§ 11.49 a.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Apart altogether from the question of pain, considering the expense of accidents to the nation, we are extremely parsimonious in preventing them. For instance, one very small thing, safety belts, would save an enormous number of lives. Surely there is a case for making compulsory not only the fitting of safety belts but their use.
Very little has been done by way of accident simulators on the road. This is the only way of bringing home to the learner driver the sort of sudden emergencies he will meet on the road and of giving him the opportunity to practise his reactions to them. No pilot is allowed to fly an aeroplane without experiencing the emergencies which he will meet in the air. Should not that be applied to cars, too?
Skid schools could easily be set up. By that I do not mean skid pans, which are really for performing circus tricks, but a genuine skid school with a piece of road on which drivers can practice. There is one in Leicestershire. I went down there and, frankly, I have not had a skid since. These are just random suggestions. 1447 I want to say a few words about the M.1, because I experienced the recent fog on this road. I use M.1 about twice a week and know it very well. I am bound to say that I envisaged these accidents occurring. What happens is this. As one is travelling on the M.1 at about 70 or 80 miles an hour, which a great many cars do and which is a perfectly safe thing to do, one comes to patchy fog andslows down to about 50 miles an hour. A man feels that he is going dead slow having become accustomed to a higher speed. When driving in fog, one has a feeling that things are all right if there is another car acting as pilot and one keeps a reasonable distance behind him. A man has confidence in his brakes and believes that they are as good as those of the car in front. But the fact which he has not taken into consideration is what happens, not if the car in front brakes, but if it stops by crashing into something. I know the confidence which this open road gives—a feeling that the car's speed is quite slow whereas, in fact, it is travelling much faster, and that all one has to do is to follow the red light in front.
During the recent fog I was travelling in the centre lane at about 40 miles an hour with an uncomfortable feeling that it was rather too fast. At one point an enormous lorry came past me doing at least 60 miles an hour in the fast lane. That impressed me enough to make me leave the road at the next turning. I could see what might happen.
What are we to do about this? The first requirement is education. I believe that the recent happenings have been a wonderful educator. People have been impressed by the tragic pictures on television. The people who do these things do not realise that they are being reckless. They are not bad people. They are not even bad drivers. They are put into the frame of mind which this excellent road induces. I therefore think that education is the first requirement.
Secondly, I think it would be worth having neon lights on the bridges to show when there is "Fog" or "Ice". Thirdly, I would tell the drivers of police cars to get into the fast lane and to travel down it at a speed which they considered to be safe. Motorists would not be able to pass them on the inside lanes. By 1448 this means all traffic would be steadied up. I think this is an idea worth trying. It would be much better than arbitrary speed limits. The motorist has no confidence in speed limits. He does not think that they are sensibly applied. They do not have the basis of his belief in their necessity, and they are in fact ignored. My feeling is that, generally, speed limits are rather useless.
In clear conditions the driving on the M.1 is generally admirable. There is good lane discipline. Motorists on this road, and on this road alone, recognise that it is their duty to assist the faster car which has caught them up to overtake them. The moment a motorist sees a car flashing its lights in the fast lane he does his utmost to clear the lane. There is not this extraordinary jealousy about being overtaken and accelerating the moment one is being passed. As I say, generally, the driving on the M.1 is excellent.
There is only one small suggestion which I wish to make. I think it would be worth while to confine lorries and buses to the inside lanes. I think that there is more possibility that very big vehicles which pull out into the fast overtaking lane will impede traffic than there is that they will gain anything themselves, and I think that this practice is a bit dangerous. My suggestion is this. If a crash barrier, which would save lives, is too expensive, an antidazzle barrier should be erected, because in my experience the continual dazzle on the road reduces drivers' efficiency by tiring them.
I turn to consider the causes of accidents on other roads. First, I want to say a few words about drink. I do not often have anything good to say for the Daily Express, but I think it has done something to reduce this aspect to reasonable proportions. I think that a very large percentage of accidents in which someone involved has taken drink is caused by the alcoholic—that is, not the ordinary drinker but the excessive drinker. An alcoholic is an intense danger when he has had one drink. A breathalyser is no use for him.
The other aspect of this matter concerns the psychopathic driver. The number of people who have committed serious motoring offences and who have a criminal record in other respects is 1449 remarkable. The psychopathic driver is a menace if he has taken one drink. The breathalyser is no use for him. The ordinary person who has had a drink or two may be responsible for an undue proportion of accidents at Christmas and on occasions like that, but I think that we are quite wrong in exaggerating this element—
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
I do not think the hon. and learned Member can say that without producing figures to back it up. The Ministry of Transport's own official figures show that in one accident in five in which death or serious injury was caused the driver or pedestrian had been drinking. These figures are known seriously to underestimate the effects of alcohol.
§ Mr. Paget
Those figures include pedestrians, who are often a great problem. I do not quite know how one is to prevent the chap who staggers across the road from a party. This, however, is an aspect in which one should look at the figures and not approach the matter too hysterically.
My impression is that far and away the largest single cause of accidents is resistance to overtaking. It is the most curious thing that anywhere except on M.1, the British motorist does not seem to feel that it is anything to do with him to assist the man who has caught up with him to overtake and get on. Indeed, he regards it as something which he should probably prevent when he can. One sees people with a notice in the back of the car "Running in, please overtake", yet none the less sticking to the middle of the road and making no effort to pull in and let the other man pass.
Again, one sees a number of cars following each other at reasonable intervals. A faster car catches them up. The driver passes two or three of them—it is perfectly safe to do so—before the next corner. He is about to pull back to his own side of the road when the last chap whom he has overtaken accelerates violently to close the gap into which he is moving. One sees this happening time and again and done with a sort of sense of self-righteousness that the faster car in overtaking has done something wrong.
In a measure, the Ministry of Transport must, I think, be blamed a little 1450 for that. In one of the films which the Ministry put out on television, the road hog was shown as the chap who was overtaking and not the chap who closed the gap into which the overtaking car was moving. This creates a quite wrong atmosphere.
I believe that motorists should now have a green flashing light at the rear which they switch on, which should operate, perhaps, for not more than five seconds so that people do not absent-mindedly have it on, which would be an invitation to the car which one sees in one's mirror and which has caught up with one to overtake.
§ Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)
If an accident results from somebody overtaking in those circumstances, is the person who switches on the light to be held to blame or the person who actually overtakes?
§ Mr. Paget
It would be a substitute for the hand signal, which can no longer be given in the ordinary saloon car. The signal would say no more than this: "If you choose to take this opportunity to overtake. I am co-operating with you. I have seen you. I am getting into my own side and I shall not accelerate when you come alongside me." It should not say more than that.
If we had means of saying that, and the very fact that the gadget was there would male the motorist conscious of his obligation to the traffic that had caught up with him, perhaps a few prosecutions for driving without due consideration—there was one the other day, simply upon the ground that a motorist was impeding people who caught up with him und not driving in a proper manner to allow them to pass—would do a great deal of good, because it would put less strain on the patience of the motorist who had caught up with the car in front. It is when that motorist gets impatient, and the drivers of cars in front are apt on occasions to cause him to do no, that one gets probably the largest single cause of danger.
Those are the short points which I wanted to make. I rarely speak in this House when I cannot stay until the end of the debate. On this occasion, however, I have to go to Birmingham University and I hope that the Minister will not think it discourteous on my part to have done so. I intervene only 1451 because I was probably the only Member who was actually in the recent fog on the M.1.
§ 12.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith (Brentford and Chiswick)
I very much agree with some of the points made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) on his extremely topical choice of subject and for the wide-ranging and thoughtful way in which he presented his remarks.
I think it is true to say that most families have over the years lost a relative, a friend or a close acquaintance as the result of a road accident. Indeed, since 1945 ten Members of the House of Commons have been killed on the roads. One remembers some of their names—people like Richard Stokes, Wilfred Fienburgh, Tom Cook, Richard Fort, Sidney Dye and, quite recently, Jack Jones.
In taking part in this debate, I speak as one of the survivors, for in company with a number of hon. Members—notably my hon. Friends the Members for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) and Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price) and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot), who is still not back with us—I was seriously injured in a road accident. My crash occurred three years ago and I was fortunate not to be killed. Among other injuries, I sustained a broken hip that I shall have to learn to live with for the rest of my days and I count myself extremely lucky that I did not appear in the "killed" section of my hon. Friend's annual road statistics. I give this information to stress the fact that we who are survivors—and there are thousands of us—are particularly conscious of road safety.
Nowadays, those of us who have survived seldom, if ever, drive at high speeds. We do not jump traffic lights. We flash our headlights at crossroads at night and we hold back in the face of oncoming traffic, even if we are late for an appointment. We know from personal experience that death and disaster are all too close when we are sitting comfortably at the driving wheel and we know this despite the nonchalance and aggressive tactics of many other drivers on the roads when we ourselves are on them. 1452 The accident in which I was concerned was not my fault. I know that this is the common plea of everyone who is involved in a collision. In my case, the other party was prosecuted and convicted. I am, however, convinced that despite that, as a result of my experience, I am a better and more careful driver than I was.
I hate also being driven by anybody else who goes a shade too fast or who appears to be a little careless in his approach to the road. It is the same, I believe, for the thousands who have undergone the same terrifying experience of being prised out of a wreck in pain, half conscious and probably seriously bleeding. The pain and disorganisation which one's life suffers as a result is sharp reformative medicine for anyone who is unlucky enough to be involved in a serious crash.
That is why I favour very much some of the shock treatment which has been tried from time to time in publicity about road safety and death on the roads. I am convinced that a new and drastic attitude is required in our approach to slaughter on the roads. A tremendous amount has been achieved by my right hon. Friend the Minister, who is attacked up hill and down dale by all sectional interests among motorists, but who has, within the limits of the law as at present defined, done everything that is humanly possible to try to improve our road system and the performance of those who use the roads.
But, as my hon. and gallant Friend said, "Road Safety" is a rather comfortable sounding, and rather dull title which conjures up visions of worthy gentlemen who at sub-committee level discuss this round the table as members of local authorities. I think that we should begin to term it "Road Slaughter", and road slaughter is a scandalous thing in a civilised society. It needs constant and top level governmental attention, and I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend has done a service in showing that the word "accident" is rather a misnomer when applied to the question of road safety.
I am positive that a determined effort on the part of all concerned, with Parliament leading the way, could lead to a considerable reduction in the deplorable figures of the thousands who are killed 1453 and maimed every year. I believe that public opinion is moving towards a point where it is prepared to accept stringent measures to make sure that people are curbed where they are definitely a menace on the roads. The changes which I would introduce seem commonsense ones, and I know that they appeal to many hundreds of other people. They are changes which are easily available to any Government, and they could well be part of an intensive campaign to stop the slaughter on the roads.
In my view there are far too few police cars on traffic patrol, and I think that police cars, including those that are now operating, should pay much more attention to the bad driver; to the driver who is committing even only technical offences, rather than be obsessed purely with stopping people who are breaking speed limits, but who still may be driving perfectly carefully.
On the question of speed, we must have a realistic reappraisal of our roads. Some roads are unrealistic at 30 miles an hour. They could be traveled over at 40 miles an hour. On the other hand, there are many roads on which the speed ought to be brought down, and there are certain black spots which allow a driver to do 50 miles an hour, but at which I am sure many people will agree a driver should be restricted to 30 miles an hour. I put forward a personal plea on this, and I may not be supported by hon. Members, but I think that speed kills. I feel that on ordinary roads one should be restricted to a speed of 50 miles an hour, and on motorways to 70 miles an hour.
Manufacturers and certain sections of the Press are largely to blame for the fast cars that we have in this country. The designers make cars capable of 100 miles an hour or more and flaunt the attributes of these vehicles in headlines in the Press. Motoring writers write ecstatically about the fact that certain vehicles are capable of 110 or 120 miles an hour.
It is far too easy for any silly young fool who has a rich father to possess a high-speed sports car and then proceed to kill himself and perhaps somebody else's near and dear ones who happen to be in the way. We all know that speed kills, yet designers and manufacturers, rather like cigarette manufacturers, 1454 bolster up the mortality statistics by providing the public with the fast cars for which they crave but which they should not really have.
In trying to bring about improvements in our attitude to conduct on the roads, we must make driving tests more strict. At the moment anyone of even minor intelligence can, with a little practice, easily pass the driving test. The driving test takes no account of driving in darkness, or in varying conditions, such as bad weather, or fast roads, or in places where there is known to be a particular traffic difficulty.
In my experience, and I imagine in that of most hon. Members, the people who are the biggest menace on the roads today—apart from the pathological type to which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton referred, and also the drunken driver and the man who drinks too much anyway in his ordinary everyday life—are the very young and the very old. The young because to them speed is an elixir and they see danger much less readily than the more mature person. If any one disputes that, I ask him to consult the insurance companies who are increasing rates for young drivers to a high degree.
The old are the second category of bad drivers. Although I would not condemn all old drivers, many of them have never passed the test, nor, if they were put through the hoop, would they be able to do so. These are the people whom one sees pottering around at weekends putting out a left indicator and then turning right, and generally going much too slowly and causing these "concertina" accidents about which we have heard.
§ Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)
Is not the hon. Gentleman really saying that a lot of the trouble stems purely from bad drivers of all ages? I am surprised that he did not follow up the point about testing rather more, because I think that the answer to a lot of these problems is to ensure that those who have never had a driving test take one, and that those who passed their driving test, ten, twenty or forty years ago, take another one.
§ Mr. D. Smith
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. I think that everybody in this country who has never passed a test should be made to undergo one. 1455 Also in the category of those who cause trouble I put lorry drivers and van drivers, many of whom seem to exceed speed limits without the slightest twinge of conscience, and yet they bear a special responsibility because of the size and weight of their vehicles. The police are far too indulgent towards them, as are some magistrates. I do not think that magistrates should always take into account the fact that a man's licence should not necessarily be removed because his livelihood depends on his being allowed to drive. A high degree of responsibility is called for from those who earn their living by driving.
Drink and bad roads have been mentioned, particularly in relation to the slaughter which took place last Christmas. They are serious contributory causes, but I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh). I think that most of the accidents in this country are caused by rank bad driving; by people who are not efficient enough on the roads. Most accidents are caused by thoughtlessness or carelessness on somebody's part.
It is interesting to read in today's Daily Telegrapha special Gallup poll survey on the subject, in which most people agree that heavy penalties for offending motorists are perhaps the best solution, but it is significant that it adds:As might be expected, the motorists placed heavier penalties second to better roads. And lower down the scale they put slightly more emphasis on heavier penalties for offending pedestrians than the public would".Most drivers consider themselves to be good drivers, but lamentably and unhappily a large number of them are not fit to travel on our roads, particularly at high speeds.
I would also introduce further road safety education for children, not only for while they are young, but for their future years. Despite the welcome reduction in the number of deaths among school children, which my hon. and gallant Friend mentioned, I still think that teaching in schools has some way to go because there are a tragic number of deaths among children under 10.
I would also separate the lanes of traffic much more and abolish the suicidal three-lane roads on which high speeds can be seen at any time. Only 1456 this morning on a three-lane road I was passed by someone in a 12- or 15-year old car which overtook me in the face of oncoming traffic. He then pulled in again sharply and I had to brake to allow him to get back. He actually had on "L" plates, and two people were in the vehicle. I can hardly believe that an "L" driver would take such risks, however; the only unusual thing was that he did not have a sticker on the back, "Marples must go". Many vehicles carrying that legend behave most irresponsibly on the roads.
I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton about safety belts. If I were Minister of Transport, I would do my best to see that they became compulsory. At the present time there seems to be a falling off in the number of people using them, after an initial good start. Some people seem to use them only for long journeys, which is a fallacy, because people are as likely to be killed in Parliament Square as they are when driving to Scotland. I am sure that if we made safety belts compulsory the casualty figures would drop dramatically. I understand that they cut the risk of serious injury in a car crash by as much as 60 per cent., and we know that most accidents in this country take place at speeds of less than 35 miles an hour and within 25 miles of one's home. I can confirm those figures, because my serious accident occurred when I was travelling at 25 miles an hour, and was only about 13 or 14 miles from my home.
We would do well to remember that roughly one person in every 150 of the entire population becomes a road casualty every year. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye quite dramatically called attention to the fact that probably somebody had been killed and several others seriously injured during the time he had been speaking. I understand that there is a road casualty every 90 seconds of every hour of every day and night.
We must do more about this. It is not enough to be a careful driver oneself. It is no protection against those who are not careful. I have spoken today as a survivor of something that happened to me in the past. Only Providence can tell whether I shall be involved in another accident or whether 1457 any other hon. Member present is involved in one. All accidents cannot be eliminated, but the time is coming when they will be regarded with the same urgency and horror as some of the dread diseases of the past which with modern techniques and skill applied to them have been largely combated and cured. In due course, given the right approach by Parliament taking the lead and the country following, we can take much of the sting out of these serious problems.
§ 12.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)
If I had succeeded in the Ballot I would have chosen this very subject. The House should be appreciative of the choice which the hon. And gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) made, because the country is demanding that the House should look again at this great problem. I do not think that the Minister will find great difficulty in accepting the form of words in the Motion which the House is asked to endorse. If I had been the author of the words I think that they would have been much stronger.
Nevertheless, the Motion reminds each one of us that when we are behind the driving wheel we have the equivalent of a gun in our hands. Although I am very disturbed about this subject I have decided not to be in any way emotional, and I am delighted that so far this morning these problems have been put before the House without emotion.
Points have already been made in the debate with which I firmly agreed before I rose to speak. The hon. and gallant Member for Eye put his finger on one of the main problems, which is that if a driver is by nature somewhat anti-social in his habits he becomes inevitably a driver who is a danger to other motorists. The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith) implied that the House might be falling behind public thinking on what is required to ensure a reduction in the casualty figures. We do not need any more statistics. We had plenty over the Christmas period and again last week, and not only with reference to the M.1
I recollect driving in fog outside Manchester a fortnight or so ago in an area where I have lived for over 40 years. I told my passenger to keep an 1458 eye on the pavement and I drove at10 m.p.h., but on the two lanes alongside of me there were motorists driving completely blind at 30 m.p.h. and 40 m.p.h. I listened with great care to the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) when he said that the time has long since passed when there should be any question of option in the matter of examination on suspicion of being under the influence of drink. The evidence before Christmas and in the last week or two is adequate to prove that beyond a shadow of doubt. The public are ready for it and are demanding it.
In this category I include nine out of ten motorists who want to be protected from the driver who is showing all the normal signs that alcohol is affecting his driving. The public expects the House to pass as soon as possible a Measure requiring compulsory testing where there appears to the police to be cause for it.
§ Mr. Mapp
My hon. and learned Friend's intervention makes his contribution a little clearer. He has accepted the principle that once the police have cause to think that that there is some impairment of driving and there is evidence that there has been some form of drinking the driver should be compulsorily tested.
I feel that when the last Road Traffic Act was before the House not very long ago the Minister would have liked to have gone further than he was ultimately able to do in that legislation. I make no exception when I say to the whole House that we must not avoid our public responsibility and that we must put on one side the special pleading to which we are subject from various sources, which I need not identify. There was considerable pressure in Committee to ensure that the Minister did not go too far.
The Minister is examining the situation with great care and vigour. The House should help him forward to carry out most of the things which it is 1459 obvious he would like to do. It is no good receiving letters from outside or writing all sorts of curious articles unless we are prepared to tell the lobbies who lie behind this subject that their special cases will have to give way to the greater good.
I should like to be allowed to make a possibly provoking comment. Is there not clear evidence from the pile-ups in conditions of fog that all but the first driver should be proceeded against on a charge of careless driving? It is careless driving if one drives in such a manner that one cannot pull up to avoid some obstacle or stationary vehicle in front.
§ Mr. Marsh
Does my hon. Friend not think that it is a rather novel proposition to decide that people are wrong and guilty of an offence, which might have involved serious injury, without any evidence of the facts? Will he bear in mind that it is not without significance that, as far as I know, none of the people involved in these particularly tragic incidents had been drinking?
§ Mr. Mapp
I was going on to develop the reasons why I had reached that conclusion. In the first instance, and as the facts will present themselves to the police authorities, this, I would imagine, to a logical mind, would be in the first place the prime argument for making further inquiries. No one is surely going to argue that to drive blind in a fog is not careless driving.
That is what has been happening, let us be quite frank about it. The hours spent on inquiries by the police in building up a charge against all the drivers involved in a pile-up of vehicles will be in addition to the other duties which the police have and the reticence of courts to face their obligations, and that is why I believe that a combination of such circumstances will not do what I would like to see, which is to bring about the re-enforcement.
That brings me to the main point that I want to make, which is enforcement. I am not quite sure whether there is any point in passing further laws about highway discipline if, in fact, we are conniving at and accepting the fact that the police are quite unable, because of the volume of their responsibilities, to effect enforcement. 1460 The police are involved with all sorts of crime, which is on the increase. The House of Commons have placed on the police, from the highway point of view, probably more obligations and duties than other obligations placed on them under other legislation. All of us who have had magisterial experience—and this point has twice been made and is one with which I thoroughly agree—realise that there should be more mobile police. Frankly, the police are unable to carry out all the legislative requirements imposed upon them by this House.
This is one of the major fields in which, not for lack of intelligence or desire but simply through lack of means of so doing, that the police are unable to carry out the obligations placed on them by the House. We all know that.
The point I wish to make is whether the existing police organisation is suited to the requirements of the present age in terms of highway discipline. For some three or four years now I have come to the conclusion that the time is overdue for our police forces as we now know them—another suggestion will come before the House in due course which I cannot talk about now—to be augmented by a separate highway control board, separately organised in every sense of the word, so that the police system, as we now know it, will be left free to deal with the more criminal aspects of law breaking. There should be a separate organisation to deal with highway discipline.
At this stage one cannot argue in detail about a general principle, but I would put it to the House that, sooner or later, this principle will become self-evident and we shall then have to argue the details of how it shall be arranged. Only then will there be concentrated attention on the question of discipline on the roads, whether by pedestrians or drivers, whether by stationary or moving vehicles. Only then shall we be able to pay real attention to the problem and enable the police, as it were, to hive off their duties in respect of road discipline and concentrate their attention on our other great difficulties.
I want for a moment to consider engineering which I regard as quite secondary to the problem of enforcement, but it is still important. What I 1461 have in mind would be a relatively non-costly engineering project. I know that the Minister of Transport has introduced many great schemes which are costly and that he has before him a picture of what he would like to do. I want to be pragmatic and consider some of the ordinary towns in which there is great congestion in the shopping thoroughfares and the streets around.
Would it not be a simple matter to erect more guard rails than there are at present in at least the inner areas of most of our towns? This would not be a costly operation. We should not have to buy premises in which to place the guard rails. We can mitigate the problem of the loading and unloading of the shopkeepers' goods and in this way we should, I think, be able to segregate to some degree the pedestrian from the moving vehicle. As a pedestrian, I know when I see guard rails that I am safer, and, as a driver, I know that I have a narrower field in which to face probable difficulties.
Is it possible for the Minister to institute research in typical areas where guard rails are in operation, or could be put into operation, and where there is proper access to business premises for the loading and unloading of goods and proper pedestrian crossings at reasonable points? Could research be made into the cost of doing that and into what the traffic and accident consequences would be? I believe that this is the pragmatic answer to the problem. By erecting more guard rails we should be shielding the very young from the dangers of their impetuous movements and the very old and infirm from behaving on the roads in a way in which those of us who are younger would not normally behave.
This would also enable traffic to move more easily and would eliminate some of the danger points to which drivers are exposed, except, of course, the obvious ones such as pedestrian crossings. To do this would be very beneficial for all concerned. This is not a new point. The only thing new about it is that it seems so simple. It is a matter which could be easily dealt with.
Pedestrian crossings have been with us now for many years and the beacons carry the name of a former Minister of Transport. As a motorist I find that 1462 the driver is, generally speaking, not alerted soon enough when approaching a pedestrian crossing, especially if he is driving in an area which he does not know because, very often, of the multiplicity of lights. I suggest that some better system of identifying pedestrian crossings might be considered. The idea may upset some hon. Members, but I am sufficient of a "crank" to think that pedestrian crossings should be raised about three inches above the normal level of the highway, even though this might necessitate having pedestrian crossings at least six feet wide. That would ensure that the motorist would know when he encountered a pedestrian crossing and he would have to take care, if only to preserve the springs of his vehicle. I should also like to see central island refuges in the roads so that the hazard confronting a pedestrian when crossing the road could be divided into two parts.
The things which I have been discussing are unlikely to appear in any legislation passed by this Parliament. But I hope that something may be done by the next Parliament, irrespective of its political complexion, because these are not matters of party politics. We shall find at the time of the next General Election that the public will expect a greater appreciation by Parliament of the need for road discipline and the enforcement of regulations. I doubt whether people will be distracted by special pleading. There are many things which occur on the roads and which contribute to their dangerous state. I will mention one. It is the incentive offered by some firms to drivers in their employ to cover a journey in a shorter time than is consistent with safety. It might be considered whether such inducements on the part of commercial firms are ethical.
I have called the attention of the Minister to the fact that over a distance of 40 miles of road between points in Yorkshire and Lancashire, and in a period of 10 years, there have been, within a four-mile area, four fatal accidents and numerous other accidents. It is fair to add that the traffic on this road represents 25 per cent. of the traffic in that commodity, coal, and that the other 75 per cent. is conveyed by rail. But we must examine whether the 1463 necessary road discipline has been observed, and whether the speed limits were complied with, because the toll of four lives which were lost on a stretch of road representing only one-tenth of the journey involved is so great that a halt must be called.
The present Minister of Transport has made some progress in this matter. But I think that from the next Parliament the public will demand far greater improvements and a greater degree of discipline on our roads.
§ 12.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I am pleased that I have the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp), because I, too, wish to stress the importance of the enforcement of the law and the creation of discipline on the roads.
But, first, may I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) not only in the traditional way because of his luck in the Ballot, and on his choice of this subject, but also, most sincerely, on the way in which he put his case before the House. I do not wish to stress the arguments about education, as he did. I agree that there are the three E's—engineering, education and enforcement—which are the basis of any measures for road safety. I do not deny the important part which each has to play, but I feel that we have now reached the stage where enforcement has the biggest part to play in respect of road safety.
On the subject of engineering, I hope that the Minister will resist any campaign for road improvement in which "improvement" means faster traffic on the road. I hope that my right hon. Friend will define "improvement" as making roads safer. There are engineering improvements which could be made and which would benefit every road user, pedestrians as well as motorists, such as the provision of more pedestrian crossings with pedestrian actuated traffic lights.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
Is my hon. Friend saying that one cannot make road alterations and improvements which would result in the roads being safer and traffic enabled to travel faster?
§ Mr. Page
I am sure that where a road is improved so as to make the traffic flow more smoothly, and at perhaps a greater speed, one must introduce safety measures as well. Surely that is evidenced by the recent accidents on the M.1. We must have safety precautions if the speed of traffic is to be increased.
On the question of education, I wish to ask my right hon. Friend to consider national advertising instead of leaving the matter to local road safety committees. The way was indicated recently in the campaign for road safety by national advertisers which had a salutary effect. But the present practice of conducting road safety campaigns by means of posters, and fiddling little comic strips and rhyming jingles, changing from locality to locality, makes no impact on the public.
As a further point on education, I am distressed to learn that in a number of areas the police authorities are discontinuing the practice of providing policemen to lecture on road safety in schools. I appreciate that police forces are short of personnel and that some chief superintendents consider that the local authorities are not doing their job and ought to undertake this work. They think it a strain on police personnel. But no one can do this work in the way that the police have proved that they can, and their efforts have resulted in a considerable reduction in the number of accidents.
I now come to enforcement. The enforcement of the law on the roads must mean compulsory discipline. That means three things, the apprehension of the offender, the efficient adjudication of any charge brought against him and the imposition of a proper punishment. First, in regard to apprehension of the offender, could there be any greater self-indictment of our police system of road safety than the report we received on the M.1 accidents? The police in their present strength were incapable of stopping speeding in fog on that road. Obviously, there were not enough motorised police to do the job.
Hon. Members no doubt received in their post this morning a pamphlet from the Police Federation, which had the heading, "The thin blue line". The blue line is far too thin to enforce road 1465 safety measures. The greatest deterrent of any offence is the certainty of being caught. In motoring offences there is about a 99 per cent, certainty of not being caught. We shall never reduce accidents effectively while the police are so thin on the ground. I doubt, however, whether we shall reduce accidents by merely increasing the number of police in the general police forces.
Here, I agree with the hon. Member for Oldham, East that it is necessary to produce some form of national police patrol on the roads. How many different forces, for example, are in control of M.1? I am not sure, but I think that there is a great number. Are those who are patrolling M.1 in radio communication with each other, or do they have to communicate with their headquarters and their headquarters have to communicate with the next section of road? This is a Gilbertian situation, in whichThe policeman's lot is not a happy one".I am sure that Gilbert would have been able to write another verse on the situation in which the police forces find themselves in trying to enforce road safety measures. It is absolutely necessary to have some form of national police force for road safety. It could be started without any legislation by a pilot scheme, by delegation of jurisdiction to a central body by the local bodies. If my right hon. Friend would be prepared to carry out some pilot scheme in a particular area I am sure that the result would be beneficial for road safety.
It is quite ridiculous that chief constables or the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police even down to chief superintendents can decide whether or not they will recognise the law in their particular area. There have been general directions in some areas not to charge for exceeding the speed limit or directions to give warnings only even for gross carelessness on the roads. The result in those areas has been an increase in the number of accidents. I do not want to make the Minister a dictator in this matter, but he ought to have power to give directions to local forces on road safety matters.
§ Mr. Page
I have statistics which I shall be happy to give the hon. and learned Member. I have not got them with me at the moment, but they show the increase in accidents in the London area when the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police directed that there should not be charges for exceeding the speed limit over a period of 12 months. This has been commented on in Questions in this House.
I come to the next point about enforcement namely, adjudication.
§ Mr. Page
I think that I can satisfy the hon. and learned Member on that point, also. The proportion was greater in the London area of the Metropolitan Police during that period than might have been expected from the increase in the rest of the country.
I come to adjudication. We ought to have some fresh thinking on the competency of the lay magistracy to deal with motoring offences. Because of the grave disorganisation of the normal criminal work of the lay courts, they do not deal efficiently with traffic cases. The sort of sausage machine method brings those courts into contempt with the public when they are dealing with road traffic cases. As long ago as the early 1930; I gave evidence before a departmental committee on the proposition of separate road traffic courts and I set out the proposition in some detail. I believe that such separate courts would restore to their proper status offences against traffic laws and therefore make them a greater deterrent than these laws are at present.
As to punishment for traffic offences, it is difficult to say in any particular case that a. punishment is too lenient or too severe without knowing the facts of the case and the circumstances of the offender, but when on average the punishment turns out to be so much less than Parliament has said it should be, there must be something wrong. I think greater use of penalties provided by statute would be a greater deterrent, although I agree that that might be only marginal. I do not lay very great 1467 stress on the increase in punishment as a real measure of safety on the roads.
Over the whole subject of enforcement of the law to create discipline on the road there hangs a strange aura of courtesy in motoring offences. There is the idea that we must not persecute the motorist, that we want his co-operation and want to establish a relationship of respect between the road user and the police and so on. We shall not get the co-operation of the 90 per cent. of motorists who are decent law-abiding drivers by being polite to the 10 per cent. who are offending. It is the fellow who gets away with it—the road hog, the cheat on the road, who causes the decent motorist to get bloody-minded. It is the co-operation of the good, decent motorist which is required. I should like to see the persecution, not of the motorist in general, but of the bad motorist. That does not necessarily mean the bad driver. Many good drivers are bad motorists, bad users of the road with bad consideration towards others on the road.
I comeback to enforcement of compulsory discipline on the road. Surely we should be far more definite about offences on the road. There are certain offences in law which are offences even though no immediate and apparent danger is there. There is the observance of such things as halt signs and traffic lights, the enforcement of speed limits—whether on roads or on vehicles—driving licences, tests of cars, and so on. There are absolute offences there in which bad conduct is an offence even though there is no immediate and apparent danger. These, if all strictly enforced, would undoubtedly reduce accidents.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said that speed limits were "pretty useless". I think that was his phrase. When the 30 miles an hour speed limit was introduced in built-up areas, and enforced, it resulted in a reduction by 50 per cent. of accidents in which cars not previously subject to speed limit were involved. There was a reduction of 50 per cent. over the 12 months after the speed limit had been introduced. I challenge the hon. and learned Member to show me any case in which a speed limit has not resulted in reducing the 1468 number of accidents. Wherever a speed limit has been introduced the safety on that road has been increased.
§ Mr. Philip N. Hocking (Coventry, South)
Is my hon. Friend advocating that the 30 m.p.h. speed limit in this country should stay for all time regardless of any advance which may be made in the motor vehicle?
§ Mr. Page
I believe that the 30 m.p.h. limit should remain for all time that we can foresee in built-up areas. There may be technical advances in the mechanics of the motor car but there are no technical advances in the human being. The speed limit is placed in a built-up area because there are different types of road users in such an area. As we have heard, for example, elderly people have difficulty in coping with traffic. I have no reason to foresee any cause why the 30 m.p.h. speed limit should be increased in built-up areas.
I think that we should go further in enforcing these existing laws concerning what I call absolute offences—the offences in which there is no apparent immediate danger. I should like the police to make it clear that prosecutions will be initiated for careless or dangerous driving whenever certain acts are detected whether there has been an accident or not. There is a general view that prosecutions follow only when an accident has happened.
The sort of case from which I should like to see prosecutions flow, whether an accident has happened or not, is that which is shown by statistics in general most frequently to cause accidents—turning to the right without any warning, driving so as to be unable to stop within the distance which one can see ahead, particularly in bad visibility such as fog, and overtaking on approaching a pedestrian crossing. These are acts which have been shown to cause accidents very frequently—so frequently that they ought to be treated as careless driving whether in the circumstances an accident has occurred or not.
I believe that if we were more specific in what we mean by careless driving and 1469 if we let the public know the acts which come within that definition we should go a long way towards making the roads safer. After all, careless driving is driving without due care and attention whether there are others present on the road at that moment or not.
This would involve more personnel in order to enforce the law to enforce discipline on the roads. It would involve direction and, as I have suggested, direction from the central Government. I believe that it would mean the power to enforce these directions by some form of national safety corps. I therefore plead for the enforcement of discipline on the road by law and for the provision of the means both in men and money to do it.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I was particularly interested in the interjection of the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Hocking) when he asked whether the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) proposed that we should maintain the 30 m.p.h. speed limit for all time irrespective of technical advances. The whole point about the debate is that we are discussing something which is not a matter just of technicalities. It is a matter of technicalities and technical advance related to the human factor. Surely, whatever technical advances there may be in the speed of cars, the human factor remains.
There are some cars in this country which can easily travel at 100 m.p.h. and which have a wonderful braking power. Is he suggesting that such a car should be authorised to travel at such a speed through a built-up area because it is technically capable of doing so, irrespective of the human factor, which is limited in spite of any technical advances ever made?
§ Mr. Hocking
It seemed to me that my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) was arguing that there should be no change whatever in the speed limit. When the speed limit was first introduced I was comparatively young and there were many bicycles on the road which are not there today. I am not at all certain that the improvement in braking and in horsepower is not a factor which has helped the motorist to cut down the accidents, and 1470 I should have thought there should be some variation in the speed limit.
§ Mr. Hynd
I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Member. Many hon. Members wish to speak, and if hon. Members are to make long speeches in the form of questions it will be difficult to complete the debate.
The question at issue is whether we should maintain for all foreseeable time the 30 m.p.h. speed limit in the built-up area. The principle is clear. It is not merely a matter of the technical capacity of vehicles or of brakes; it all has to be related to the fact that it is human bodies which are limited in their reactions and that pedestrians and children are exposed to all these technical advances. We are discussing a fundamental issue of the present time which we have never known before. It is a situation in which we set free millions of indiscriminate individuals of all standards of capacity and all kinds of personality—the psychopath, the alcoholic, the irresponsible person, the careful driver and the careless driver—to take vehicles on a road and to hurtle them along the road at greater and greater speeds in all conditions. This is the problem, and as long as we have a system of open roads on which individuals in such numbers—millions of indiscriminate individuals—are allowed to be in charge of vehicles which can travel at the speeds of which motor cars are capable today, and will be more and more capable tomorrow, we shall permanently be faced with this problem, and, whatever else we do, there will be a continuing increase in the number of casualties on the roads. That is self-evident.
We are only starting our experience of these motorways, but in Germany, Italy, France and elsewhere they have had experience over many years. On these great motorways in Germany and elsewhere the casualty lists are infinitely higher than on the ordinary roads and are increasing. It is an accepted fact that it is a danger to drive on the motorways, and anyone who drives on them realises this and takes the risk. In the present conditions of our civilisation we must accept risks. If one has a mission in a far country and has to be back in this country within two days, then one goes by plane—and one is taking a 1471 risk. If one goes by boat, one does not know what will happen, and if one travels on the road one knows that one is taking a risk.
A number of suggestions have been made as to how we can cope with the problem. Stricter tests have been suggested. It has been suggested that we should try to ensure that anybody who is in charge of a vehicle, which is a death-dealing instrument, should at least be subject to tests to such a degree that we can be reasonably sure that he is a responsible and capable person to be in charge of a vehicle. If this were carried to the point where we were able to select those physically and otherwise fitted to drive modern cars on modern roads with safety, we should eliminate so many people that we should be able to close down large parts of the motorways and return to the other type of roads.
Ways of increasing the efficacy of signals—for instance, by coloured lights and by flashing lights on overhead bridges and elsewhere on the Ml and other motorways—have been mentioned. Keeping certain types of vehicles in the fast lane and others out of the fast lane and restricting them to the slower lanes has been advocated.
What we are trying to do is to establish on the roads a state of affairs which has existed for generations on the railways. We have been told by many Ministers of Transport in transport debates—they have said this with great pride—"Not a single passenger has been killed on British Railways in the past twelve months". We are talking in terms of thousands killed on the roads every year, with sometimes hundreds killed in one week.
The wonderful record of safety on the railways has been brought about for the following reasons. First there are separate tracks for the different types of vehicles—slow and fast—on the railways. Secondly, there is a signal system which has been carefully calculated in order to bring about a system which is 100 per cent, safe, so far as that is possible, for everybody travelling on the railways. The third reason is that everyone who is allowed to drive on that "road" has to pass such a severe test of capability—an eyesight test, a 1472 physical test, and a psychological test—that we know that all drivers on the railways are almost certain to be men in whose hands lives can be placed with the greatest possible confidence.
These are facts. Will it ever be possible to institute such standards in relation to the roads? The whole point of some roads is to allow millions of people of all kinds and of all grades of capability to drive individual vehicles. On the roads the system is that an individual motor car is at everybody's disposal, whereas on the railways a limited number of people driving a limited number of engines transport the greatest possible amount of passengers or goods.
I do not believe that we can enforce such standards on the roads. Not only are the drivers of the vehicles on the railways tested individually for their eyesight and physical capacity. They have also got to learn thejob. They do this, first, in the shops, where they become acquainted with the machine for which they will become responsible. They learn the job, secondly, by being firemen in company with drivers, so that they can watch them, study them and learn from them. They then go on to small shunting engines; they can shunt about with safety in the practising areas. They then transfer to the short distance engines until they become long distance drivers. This is an enormously high standard which it is inconceivable that we can enforce in relation to the driving of individual vehicles on the roads.
I draw attention to this for two reasons. First, I want to point out that we are dealing with an entirely new factor. We can never reach the standards that we should be able to reach if we were concerned only with the safety of individuals and of eliminating the dangers on the roads. We cannot eliminate the dangers on the roads unless we can reach a standard such as that I have referred to in relation to the driving of trains and the operation of the railways. We must accept that this terrible problem will be with us as long as we have the system of individuals each one in charge of an individual vehicle on the roads, each one being allowed to travel with or without restrictions on speed in all types of areas.
1473 This is a somewhat limited debate, because the idea is to mitigate the situation and we are not concerned today to find the solution. We cannot find this solution in terms of road traffic. I was surprised to hear my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) suggest that, when the driver of a car seeks to overtake a line of other cars which are moving more slowly and then suddenly finds that he cannot over-lake them because there is something round the corner and he should not be overtaking anyhow, he should be allowed to pull in somewhere in the middle of the line and, if not, the man who draws up and prevents it should also be subject to prosecution.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
To be perfectly fair to the hon. and learned Gentleman, he did not say that at all. He said that, if a driver is attempting to overtake the car in front and the driver of the car in front accelerates at the same time and fills up the gap, it is a very bad offence.
§ Mr. Hynd
no. I listened very carefully. My hon. and learned Friend was not talking about one car; he was talking about a line of cars. If it were an individual car, I could understand the point and I would not have mentioned it. What I have in mind is oneof the causes of accidents. A line of cars may be following a lorry or an old car or somebody who is driving too carefully. The fact that they are following one after the other is ipso facto an indication that it is difficult for any one of them to pass the other in the circumstances, otherwise surely one of the row of cars would be in a position to pass a slow vehicle.
What usually happens, as everybody knows, is that suddenly from behind there shoots a fast car which is taking a chance on passing the whole row instead of waiting until somebody at the front of the row passes the slower vehicle. This is one of the most criminal things which can be done on the road, this constant rushing past the queue and taking chances. It can be seen also in towns at the traffic lights: often when there are two rows of traffic a car will shoot round overlapping the white line to try to get nearer the front. This action is difficult to control, but it can come under the heading of careless driving.
1474 This brings me to the question of the police force. I can understand the case that has been made by the hon. Member for Crosby and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton for a highway patrol. I can see the necessity for the control of traffic being co-ordinated over the whole road network, instead of it being broken up into counties and the various police areas. I should like the Minister to make some comments on the pros and cons, because I am sure that there are some cons as well. Would not this tend to lead to the creation of a corps whose only hope of promotion would be to show that they were doing something active in this job? The ordinary policeman is not always concerned with getting prosecutions in order to get promotion, because there are so many other things he has to do which can indicate whether he is doing his job satisfactorily. Would not this system tend to lead to traffic policemen or highway patrolmen being concerned only to chase individuals and get prosecutions? This seems to me to be the danger of it.
If we could find a way of enlarging the existing police force and bringing about co-ordination, even if for traffic purposes only, we should put on the roads police men with a much wider sense of their social responsibilities, because they would be concerned with all the aspects of public protection and might well be a better safeguard of the individual's interests as well as of the security of the traffic on the roads.
Are we giving the police sufficient encouragement to deal with these problems? I am sure that many hon. Members will have been concerned about the difficulties which are placed in the way of the ordinary policeman in bringing some prosecutions. I was indirectly involved in an accident, almost a fatal one, as a result of which the police brought a prosecution before a magistrates' court in north London. I was a witness in the case, since I was an occupant of the car in which another occupant was injured. The police brought the prosecution because there was a clear case of one party being responsible for the accident—he had driven through a crossing when he should have stopped and the lorry which he was driving 1475 crashed into the car in which I was travelling.
The magistrates were divided because while the policeman had to go into the dock to give evidence and present the case, the defendant was able to employ a lawyer who, naturally, put up a wonderful case. He invented all sorts of circumstances which no one could prove had not existed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] Yes, and practically accused the policeman of telling lies. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame".] The unfortunate policeman had to address counsel in such terms as "Yes, Sir" and "No, Sir" while this was going on. I do not know how widespread this practice is, but this case was certainly an unhappy experience for the policeman concerned, particularly since the case was dismissed. I cannot imagine that policeman feeling anxious to bring a similar prosecution.
The reports of a number of interesting motoring cases appear in the Press this morning, and hon. Members may recall reading recently about two policemen who were prosecuted for exceeding the speed limit in the car in which, they stated in court, they were going to court to give evidence in a case. They stated that they realised that they were exceeding the speed limit but, since they were on their way to court and were anxious not to be late, they took a chance. They were penalised for doing so.
How many hundreds of thousands of private motorists do the same kind of thing? How many motorists know that they are breaking the law and are liable to be fined for driving at 35, 40 or 50 m.p.h. in a built-up area? Obviously, they consider that to exceed the speed limit is worth the risk, particularly since the chance of being caught is remote and, even if caught, they are prepared to pay the £2, £3 or £5 fine.
That is the basis of the problem. How are we to enforce the provisions already laid down in legislation to prevent motorists exceeding speed limits and indulging in other forms of dangerous driving? While considering this question, it is well to remember why the police often do not take action against one of those leather-jacket boys—the type who does a "ton-up" past your house in the dead of night—who has been reported for causing a nuisance. 1476 If the police happen to bring a charge against one of these individuals one usually finds that the case is dismissed because there are no witnesses. How can a policeman bringing such a charge produce witnesses when the public will not rally round him and help him prove his case?
It is not so much a question of penalty but of enforcement. Having decided on the penalty, we must see that the rule can be enforced and we must encourage the public to assist the police. In this connection, one cannot help referring to the reports which we received with dismay on the radio, television and in the Press about the number of casualties on the roads during the Christmas period, a time when the number of casualties in this and many countries is normally high.
The striking fact about those reports was that there was not a single death on the roads in Denmark during the same period and there were only one or two deaths in Sweden. The contrast between the number of accidents in this and those countries was dramatic. We must consider why; and we know some of the reasons. Part of the success of other countries lies in the breathalyser and the fact that fines are related to incomes. This means that fines are real because they hit more heavily one class of the population than another.
In Sweden people are afraid to drive if they have had a single drink and, as we know, in that and other countries people have arrangements whereby they either hire cars to get them home if they have been drinking or they decide who that night should not drink but drive the car. There must be something we can learn from these examples. One reason why we do not apply such rigorous measures in Britain is the all-too-often heard cry that we are interfering with personal liberty. It is time that we realised that personal liberty in these matters may have to be restricted in the interests of human life and suffering.
I have contrasted the situation on our railways with that on our roads. The terrible casualty figures we have seen in recent years will always be with us while millions of people are released on to our roads in charge of engines and tons of metal with which they can charge 1477 about. This must continue to happen while the motor age continues. The building up of our railway system could check the loss of life on our roads if traffic were transferred to the railways. Hon. Members opposite may find this amusing, particularly since the railways do not pay, but how much has been done to calculate the financial and other losses to the country from road accidents'? How much do we consider the profitability of every mile of road before we decide to act?
The present Minister of Transport is directly and deliberately responsible for a policy which involves the closing of a large part of the country's fast and efficient transport system—the railways, which do not involve any danger to human life. The deliberate transfer from this form of transport to the roads has been responsible for the build-up of road casualties. As more traffic comes on to the roads the accident problem will be intensified.
I take this opportunity to appeal not to the Minister, because he is committed on this matter, but to the Government to review this whole question of allowing more and more people loose on our roads each year instead of diverting them on to the railways, a public service which could adequately cater for them and also reduce the number of road accidents. The Government must do this before it is too late. If they are not prepared to do it now I hope that the next Government, which will be in power within a few months, will take the necessary steps to do so.
§ 1.29 p.m.
§ Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)
I cannot pretend to be in entire agreement with most of what was said by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd). At moments he was inclined to speak rather wildly and, I am sure, inaccurately, particularly when he spoke about there having been hundreds of deaths in one day resulting from road accidents. That is an extremely unlikely figure and I doubt whether he would be able to name many days when 100 people were killed in road accidents in Britain. I am sure that he must have made a mistake.
§ Mr. Channon
It is rather difficult, when listening to an ex parteversion of what may have happened in a road accident, of which the hon. Member for Attercliffe had some knowledge, to consider the case in all its aspects. He implied that the person concerned had been wrongfully acquitted. No doubt the case to which he referred can be traced. There is no truth in the suggestion that people are not prosecuted because the police are frightened to bring prosecutions, since they may be cross-examined vigorously by defence counsel.
We are all very much indebted to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H Harrison) for introducing this subject now, when the topic of road accidents has, unfortunately, been so very much in the news during the last few months. There is no doubt that all over the world the story of road accidents is a terrible one, but people sometimes lend to make the situation even more dramatic than it is. They should reflect on the record of road casualties—and particularly of road deaths, which are the most tragic of all—over the past years, both in this country and abroad.
While listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), I reflected on the record of the last year for which we have complete figures—1962. In that year, fewer pedestrians were killed than in 1928, when there were only about a fifth of the present number of vehicles on the roads. It is, therefore, not fair to say that there has not been a tremendous improvement in the standard of driving, and in what has been done by successive Governments—and, in particular, by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport—to improve the situation
A great deal more can be done, but motorists on take some pride in the fact that in 1962 there were fewer people killed on the roads than there were in 1930. It is very remarkable. Further, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) reminds me, when people argue that the introduction of the driving test made all the difference, they should realise that the casuality figures were much higher in 1939 and 1940 than in 1962.
1479 There is much more in the road accident problem than meets the eye, or is realised by many people. One of the prime needs everywhere is that even more money should be devoted to research. Two favourite remedies are being put forward at present. There is tremendous agitation for the use of such devices as the breathalyser for testing drunken drivers. I am not particularly opposed to that idea; if it is the wish of the House and the country, it does not worry me—if people are foolish enough to be drunk when driving, they must pay the penalty—but before any of these things are used we must be sure that certain technical requirements are met, and that we can arrive at a safe limit for the test. At the same time, I do not think that they will result in a vast reduction in accident figures.
A number of hon. Members have spoken of the measures taken in Sweden. I know that statistics can prove anything, but I am interested to see that, over the last 20 years, the annual rate of fatal road accidents in Sweden has increased about seven-fold, while there has been only about a 20 per cent. increase in this country. If it is said that to quote that period is unfair, perhaps it will be agreed that 1946 makes a fair comparison. The number of cars in Sweden in that year was roughly in the same proportion as here but, even so, the number of deaths in Sweden then was only half the number in 1962, but there has been very little increase in Great Britain.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) described speed as the killer, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith). That statement needs testing, because the evidence is not all one way. Quite by chance, I read a most interesting article, which I thoroughly recommend to hon. Members, in Life Internationalof 16th December, 1963. It was headed "The Case for Fast Drivers", and advanced an argument for speed as such. It was based on an American Government Report, of which I have a copy.
It is a Report to Congress by the Department of Commerce, which deals with public roads in the United States of America, and is dated 27th February, 1480 1959. I can recommend it to those who believe that, automatically, speed is the great factor. On page 72, there is the following:High speeds… have borne the brunt of criticism among many efforts in safety education, promotion, enforcement, and regulation. The results of this extensive study of major highways in rural areas, however, show that drivers who were travelling at speeds below 40 miles per hour were involved in accidents at a rate several times higher than that of drivers travelling at faster speeds. The day-time involvement rate was lowest for speeds between 55 and 70 miles per hour and increased at higher speeds…".That fact has not been so much brought out in this country. A graph in the Report shows that the involvement rate at 80 m.p.h. is about the same as that at 45 m.p.h.
This is a very detailed examination, and a very authoritative study of the whole problem of highway safety and accidents in the United States. It goes on to say that this is not, of course, a case for doing away with speed limits in urban areas, but is just an example of what happens on motorways or highways in rural areas.
That brings me to saying that I entirely disagree with the hon. and learned Gentleman and, to some extent, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick, who talked about motorways being killers. I suggest that the motor ways are the safest of all our roads. From what I read about the accidents on the M.1 the other day, I cannot believe that a speed limit would have made any difference. The trouble about a speed limit is that in some cases it is quite unsafe to travel at 20 m.p.h., while other times it is quite safe to drive at very much greater speeds. Obviously, the trouble on the M.1 the other day was that drivers were travelling at 20 m.p.h. or 30 m.p.h. in conditions that made that speed totally unsafe. I was horrified to hear the story told by the hon. and learned Gentleman of the lorry overtaken at 60 m.p.h. in such conditions—
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
And will my hon. Friend point out that one of the great advantages of the motorways is that no pedestrian or cyclist can be killed on them, because they are not allowed on them?
§ Mr. Channon
That is a very important point, and that is why it is much 1481 safer to travel on motorways. I therefore hope that nothing said in this Chamber today will go out as meaning that we do not want more motorways built. We think that it would be very much safer to have more of them. I do not go entirely with the Daily Express when it says that bad roads are the only cause of accidents, though they are certainly part of the cause.
Nor do I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye that twisty, winding roads are safer—
§ Sir H. Harrison
I was trying to point out that a very narrow and bad road is better, not than a dual carriageway, but a broader winding road on which people can go at higher speeds but cannot sec far enough ahead.
§ Mr. Channon
Yes, and it is certainly better than the three-lane road, and in that connection I can suggest something to my right hon. Friend that would cost very little money. Where we have three-lane roads, is there any reason why we cannot adopt the system used abroad whereby, for half of the time traffic in one direction has two lanes and, for the rest of the time, the people coming in the other direction have two lanes?
If that system exists in this country it must be on a very small percentage of our roads. I do not think that I have seen it at all in this country. It seems to me to be much safer than the usual system under which one has to estimate the speed of a car travelling in the opposite direction before deciding whether to overtake.
There should be more money available for promoting road safety, and one of the best methods of spending that money would be on providing more driving instructors and paying them better.
§ Mr. Marples
It is not a lack of intention. The difficulty is that we get a lot of applicants, but they are not up to the required standard.
§ Mr. Channon
I accept that. Nevertheless, I am sure that over the years we should try—as I am sure my right hon. 1482 Friend is trying; he took powers to do so in the Road Traffic Act—to create an ever-increasing corps of qualified driving instructors. I am sure that it is difficult, bur I hope that it is being pressed on with all vigour.
I should like us to get to the stage where anyone who was convicted of a serious driving offence would not only be disqualified, but would have to take a refresher driving test before being allowed to be in charge of a car again. Indeed, I would go much further, and I feel that my right hon. Friend will agree with me in this suggestion. People who drive fast cars should have to pass a more advanced driving test than those who drive slowe-cars. Driving tests could be graded according to the horsepower of people's cars. I would also like more instruction to be given to enable people to cope with skids, as has been suggested from the benches opposite.
My right hon. Friend has been extremely bold with experiments; he has not been afraid to have experiments. I welcome them, and I hope that he will have more. Unless we have experiments with maximum and minimum speed limits and all the; other factors involved, we shall never get a first-rate body of opinion to decide the causes of road accidents.
I do not believe my right hon. Friend is anti-motorist, as is so frequently alleged. He has done a splendid job in trying to keep down the accident rates. I suggest, however, that the worst time to decide how to deal with traffic accidents, which is an extremely complicated problem—and, no doubt, hon. Members are not the best people to do this—is in a mood of panic. I am glad that the House has lot shown any such mood this afternoon. The accident figures for Christmas and for this week are terrible, and something must be done to improve standards.
But the problem of road accidents is not as simple as it appears. It is not merely a question of speed or of drink. It is a combination of many factors, and the best thing to do is to have a higher standard of driving, fostered by driving instructors. If there are not as yet enough adequate people to instruct, as my right hon. Friend says there are not, really energetic measures should be taken to increase the number of instructors and train people who will be required to 1483 do the training later. Only in that way shall we get sufficient adequately trained drivers, and when we do so the accident rate will decrease further.
§ 1.44 p.m.
§ Sir Barnett Janner(Leicester, North-West)
I, too, think that we are all indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) for having introduced this subject today. Unfortunately, I was detained on the way here by slow traffic, not heavy traffic, and I could not get here in time to hear the hon. and gallant Gentleman's opening speech. Incidentally, in London the question of speed limits is not so serious as the question of slow speeds.
I agree with much of what has been said by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) and, therefore, do not propose to add to those points. I want, if I can, to aid his argument and to express my views on some of the matters where I think the Minister has failed. The Minister will not be surprised to hear me say that, in view of the Questions I have put to him and the replies I have received, which have not entirely satisfied me.
It has been rightly said today that three factors have to be taken into account in considering this question of road accidents—education, engineering and enforcement. Whether we like it or not, we must accept the conclusions in the Buchanan Report. We are faced with the fact that by 1970 the number of vehicles on the roads will have doubled, and that shortly after the turn of the century the number will probably have quadrupled, when the result will be that there will probably be as many vehicles in Great Britain as there are men, women and children today.
That is the situation we are facing, and all the king's horses and all the king's men will not be able to reverse that natural—or unnatural, if one likes—state of affairs. Therefore, we have to consider the question of safety against the natural desire of people to exercise their right to use a motor car, whether for profit or employment or for enjoyment. These are the facts, and whatever we do we shall not prevent this natural desire and its human consequences. 1484 The important point we have to consider, therefore, is prevention. I am not minimising the question of cure, but prevention is a very important factor in considering human safety on the roads. In that connection, I disagree that the rate of progress in providing the kind of roads which are necessary for this purpose is satisfactory. If one considers the situation throughout the world, one finds that our rate of progress in providing the necessary roads to deal with the situation is far slower than it is in other progressive countries. This is a very sad and unfortunate state of affairs.
I agree with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) that some of the road congestion must be relieved and transferred to the railways, and unless and until these two methods of transport are co-ordinated we shall face a most serious situation. That does not detract from the fact that people insist on using the roads, and we must make the necessary provisions. It is shocking to hear that only about 28 miles of new motorways will come into use during 1964. There was a spurt last year, but the effort is faltering very badly. What about the Government's promise of 1,000 miles by the early 1970s? It is becoming extremely remote.
I believe in the provision of more motorways. I think that two kinds of hazard must be taken into consideration. A very important and pressing one is the hazard to the pedestrian. We must remove as much of the traffic as we possibly can from the place where it can cause hazard to pedestrians, and in this the motorway plays an extremely important part, taking the pedestrian away from the place of risk, so that that part of the problem is met, much as the railways do, of course. Anything that can be done to prevent the atrocious risks to pedestrians should be done.
What work is going on in the construction of motorways? Six months ago, 142 miles were under construction. Now there are only about 108. The total mileage currently in use is 282, representing an average of a little under 60 new miles each year since the first stretch was opened in 1958. Progress is to fall off considerably by the end of the year, yet the figures show that it is 1485 necessary to open about 80 miles of motorway a year even in order to reach the target given by the Government.
On the motorways themelves and on the other main roads which are used so heavily, money spent now will lead to the saving of life and limb in the future. It is terribly bad policy to skimp expenditure on the roads now because not only does this have the disadvantage of not providing the necessary safer roads we need now but it reduces the scope of the whole large road planning concept which could save a considerable amount of expense and tragedy in human suffering in the future.
I turn now to one or two problems which I have put before the Minister at various times. I refer, first, to the roads programme generally. He should press at the door of the Treasury, constantly, until he is given sufficient money to enable him to proceed with the provision of a complete and satisfactory set of roads. I speak of motorways and other roads, including roads within urban areas so that our towns also can deal efficiently with their traffic problems. It is no good having bottlenecks all over the place. The scheme must be a comprehensive one, prepared and carried into effect with a wide vision.
The Minister should pay more attention to what is done in other parts of the world. The road safety problem is a universal one, and many of the questions which are troubling us are the subject of study elsewhere. Some of the things now troubling us have been dealt with very effectively in other countries. Of course, this means incurring expense, but I believe that the public generally would be prepared to accept that if they were clearly shown how important it is to do the work and that it is being effectively carried out.
Last Wednesday, the Minister answered Questions about accidents on the M.1. Nearly two years ago, an excellent suggestion was made to the Ministry to the effect that speed limit signs should be installed on the motorways for use when weather conditions warranted. There is a precedent for this in the mechanically operated traffic barriers on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, which I have seen and which, in my view—the Minister may think that I am wrong—are very effective. Similar 1486 devices are used in other parts of the United States.
When I raised this matter with the Minister at Question Time last Wednesday, he replied—I ask him to think about it again—They did not slow down for the police on this occasion…any speed limit would be arbitrary and, most of the time, inappropriate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd January, 1964; Vol. 687, c. 1083.]He completely misunderstood the suggestion I was making. I agree with those who have said that the question of a speed limit is not necessarily the only important one, but there are times when speed limits should be imposed. We must not ignore the human element. After all is said and done, not every driver is a transgressor against the law. It seems that some are talking of the citizens of this country as though they go about intending to break every law there is. But this is a false accusation.
Weather conditions at one end of a long stretch of motorway may be perfect while they may be bad or dangerous at the other, or at intervals along the route. It should be possible for mechanically operated signs to be put up to warn a motorist in advance when patches of fog, ice or other dangerous conditions warrant a speed limit being imposed. Hon. Members know the kind of thing I have in mind, a sign giving a warning that conditions are bad along the road and then, a short distance on, a speed limit imposed. Then if someone transgressed the speed limit he could be brought before the courts. The consequences of an offence are not so small now, particularly since the provision for suspending a driver's licence after committing three offences. It is no good saying that people will not take notice. I believe that they will. Quite apart from whether an accident occurs or not, if someone were caught exceeding the speed limit on a stretch of motorway he would be liable to a penalty.
I have read in the Press since the Minister answered Questions last Wednesday that the Government intend to experiment on the M.5 with some form of automatic signs operated by the local chief of police from a central switch. It seems, therefore, that there is a definite possibility here. In the 1487 past, when we have made the suggestion we have been told that the Minister had no control over the local police and that all sorts of ideas about speed limits would prevail, some saying one thing and some saying another. Now, in spite of the answer which the Minister gave to me on Wednesday, it seems that experiments are to be conducted in the use of a mechanical sign. Why was nothing done two years ago?
I do not know exactly what the device is to be, but I understand that it is to be a lighted sign of some kind. Why not say clearly, "You are warned that one mile from this point the speed limit will be"—such and such. If the fog has cleared or the danger has passed, so much the better. If it has not, the sign and speed limit will be of some importance. In fact, a speed limit is of definite importance on the road when there is fog. It is no good saying that these accidents occur because of speed, because some vehicles were going slowly and some were going too fast, overtaking others and then colliding. The fact of the matter is that if there were a speed limit of the kind I have suggested there would be something at least to curb the kind of conduct which occurred on the M.1 a few days ago. When a speed limit is imposed, drivers generally tend to slow down. They may not slow down to the actual limit, but they do not drive at mad speeds. If they do they know that they can be charged, heavily fined and in due course may have their licence suspended.
If the Minister does not believe in speed limits in an arbitrary way, why does he impose a speed limit of 50 miles an hour at weekends during certain periods of the year? He cannot have it both ways. If he says that drivers must not travel at more than 50 miles an hour at weekends, he realises that there are times, obviously, when these signs have to be put up—in this I agree with him—when the conditions warrant it. One of the conditions should be that when there are heavy loads of traffic, the speed of vehicles should be restricted.
At the present time there is nothing other than his own safety and other people's safety to stop a driver travelling say at 100 miles an hour on the motorway in fog or icy conditions. 1488 Drivers take chances in exactly the same way as chain smokers take chances with cancer. It is all part of the gambling spirit of the individual. He says, "I will take a chance". In taking a chance by smoking, he is taking a chance only with his own life and health, but on the roads the driver is not only taking a chance with his own life and health but with other people's.
The Government must stop this by taking strong action. Unfortunately, the Minister has spent a great deal of time in condemning the motorist and continually making him out to be a criminal—let us face up to the facts—and a nuisance to the community. Practically the whole of the community will eventually be involved. If the Minister would realise that a large proportion of the community now drive cars, it would perhaps be better if he used some milder methods of convincing them. I am not saying that on conviction a motorist should not be heavily fined or have his licence taken away, but at least the Minister should try to realise that he is dealing with human beings.
Some of the recent accidents on the M.1, occurred because of cars leaving the lane they were travelling on and crashing into cars on the other side coming in the opposite direction. For a long time I have been putting forward, through Questions in this House, a suggestion that the central barriers of motorways should be planted with rose bushes of a certain type called Rosa multiflora—the Japonica type. They would not be there just for beauty, although they would make the roads more pleasant as well. I am informed that they have a gripping effect which prevents a car from going across to the other side of the road. That could considerably minimise the effect of an accident, or a series of accidents, which occur on one set of lanes. That, incidentally, is one of the things which makes me differ from the hon. Member for Southend, West who said that it would perhaps be advisable to have different lanes in use at different times. I do not think that he could have meant motorways—
§ Mr. Channon
I said that when we have three lanes—certainly not on the motorways—we should paint lines on the road and have two lanes for use in one 1489 direction at one time and, at another point, have two lanes for use in the other direction.
§ Sir B. Janner
I am not quite sure that I understand what the hon. Member means. I know that we cannot do this on the motorways. I will not dwell on it.
I have consulted one of the greatest experts on roses and rose trees in this country, and he assures me that the planting of rose trees is very effective. It is fairly expensive, but it should be done immediately. It should not be a question of waiting until we have centres of roads so small that we cannot plant trees. When planning our roads the middle lane should be sufficiently wide to enable this kind of planning to be done. Why is it not done? It costs money, but it would save lives. It would also have an anti-dazzle effect.
Arguments have been put up about economy, but the economy of the thing is nonsense. One cannot deal purely with economy in this matter. This is a life saving device which ought to be put in practice on our roads. It would have an anti-dazzle effect as well as preventing cars from skidding or otherwise crashing across the middle lane and causing damage on to the other side of the motorway. Mr. Wheatcroft, the expert to whom I was referring, is of the opinion that after these roses have grown for two years they would provide an anti-dazzle screen and that after four years' growth they would bring fast-moving cars to a halt in a short distance after striking them.
In my own constituency of north-west Leicester there is a large factory, the A.E.I., producing automation instruments. This is one of the most important industries of the future as well as of the present. It needs a service road in order to transport its goods and to avoid the killing or maiming of people by having too heavy traffic on the other roads nearby. Could I persuade the Minister to deal with this matter?—not at all. He said let the local authority deal with it. The local authority is overburdened with rates. It said, "We will do our share, but we want 75 per cent. of the cost from the Government". The Minister then said that it was not a question which was regarded as a 1490 priority, either by him or by the local authority. He is wrong. The local authority considers it a priority question, but, unfortunately, it has not the money to do the job.
The nation has the money. We must have money for this kind of thing because lack of action in this is slowing up traffic and transport from an industrial area which is of extreme importance, and consequently is delaying the transport of goods and putting a larger cost upon the goods themselves, which affects the export market. It is not a trivial thing. This is an important industry. Again people have to rush here, there and everywhere in order to be safe when walking from the factory and other nearby factories to their homes, when their children are walking from home to school, and all the rest of it. Where is the sense of all this?
The whole subject has to be dealt with on the essential basis of how we can prevent accidents and isolate the traffic from the pedestrian. We must educate our people, of course. We must educate children in the schools on road safety measures. We must have people properly examined before the, are allowed to drive and so on. All these are terribly important matters. The situation is such that our motorways and roads should be properly lighted and dealt with in the way I have indicated. Above all, the right amount of money should be spent on the roads, whether it has to be borrowed or obtained from the taxpayer. If it comes from the taxpayer, I think that he will be grateful for the result.
I hope that the Minister will regard the criticisms which we have put forward as constructive and not as criticisms intended to tie his hands. If he has trouble with the Treasury, we shall do everything we can to help him.
§ 2.10 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) has put forward the very interesting and valuable idea that plants, like roses, should be grown on the dividing strip of motorways to help antidazzle and to prevent people from running across the road. I hope that my right hon. Friend will go into that point. It is one which I suggested a year or so 1491 ago, and I feel that it should be followed up.
I add my congratulations to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison). For a long time, despite being a Whip, he has taken a great interest in this subject. Before I became a Member of Parliament, I collaborated with him in drawing up a small Bill, which he successfully introduced, for improving the rear lights on motor vehicles.
I do not want to minimise the gravity of the problem, but I should like to follow up what my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) said, namely, that it is extraordinary that, relative to the number of vehicles on the road, we have greatly improved the position since 1928 and, again, since 1939, because the accident rate, instead of increasing four or five times, as it should have done in relation to the number of vehicles, has increased by only a half since before the war. I think that that is evidence that the steps which we took before and after the war have had the desired effect.
The introduction of driving tests and, I would go so far as to say, of the 30 m.p.h. limit in built-up areas, although unpopular at the time of introduction, have had a beneficial effect. The training of children has had a tremendous effect in bringing down the number of deaths on the road. The engineering improvements on the roads, the Road Traffic Acts which we have passed since the war and the introduction of vehicle testing have also played their part in improving road safety. This is a great problem all over the world. Our record is better than that of Western Germany, Italy and France, but not as good as that of Scandinavia, particularly Denmark.
I want to clear one thing out of the way. I have always given the maximum weight to the reduction in accidents which can be brought about by road improvements and road engineering. An action of mine some years ago in getting a local authority to recamber and resurface a particularly dangerous corner resulted in the number of accidents being reduced from an average of to or 12 a year to three or four a year. I notice that in its Report for 1961 the 1492 Road Research Board of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research said in connection with the bypassing of seven small country towns:At every site except one"there was a reduction in accidents.For the group as a whole there were 25 per cent. fewer injury accidents and on the old roads alone there were 60 per cent. fewerin the seven towns. That is significant. We know that the M.1, M.10 and M.45 to Birmingham are about three times safer than the old A.5 and A.45. We must admit that road improvements reduce accidents.
However, if we brought every road in Great Britain up to the Ministry of Transport's best standards, and if we had a complete system of motorways, we should, in my opinion, still have three-quarters the number of accidents which we have at present. I do not think that road improvements can reduce accidents by more than a quarter.
May I take as an example a road which I use every week. The Great West Road from Hammersmith to the junction of the Staines Road at A.30, a 7½-mile stretch of road, has two flyovers on it, the Hammersmith and Chiswick flyovers. It is a dual carriageway road for its entire length. It has three lanes on each carriageway. Every junction is protected either by lights or round abouts. Yet on that road last year there were 237 injury accidents and four fatal accidents. One has only to read the columns of the Middlesex Chronicle, which circulates in my constituency, to learn of these accidents, many of them dreadful, because people still turn right without signalling, jink from lane to lane, drive too fast, jump the lights, and so on.
That road has an accident rate about a third better than that on the ordinary urban road, but despite all the improvements, we still have two-thirds the number of accidents which occur on an ordinary road. I emphasise this because it is popularly said by motorists, and particularly over Christmas by a motoring correspondent whom I normally respect, that if only we paid much more attention to the roads we should get rid of accidents almost completely. I do not believe it. There is one disease far worse than that, and that is the disease 1493 of M.S.U.—the malady of supposed urgency. That is much more significant than road conditions.
The averages about which we read conceal an enormous number of differences. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has broken down the averages into types of vehicle in relation to accidents. It is interesting to note that, on average, the motor scooter travels about 55,500 miles before being involved in an injury accident; a motor cycle 56,000 miles; public service vehicles 102,000 miles—I suppose that that is because they work in very crowded conditions—a moped 118,000 miles; a pedal cycle 126,000 miles; a light goods vehicle 224,000 miles; a car and taxi 271,500 miles; and heavy goods vehicles 363,000 miles. The comparatively low mileage covered by a scooter and motor cycle before an accident is incurred brings out the point that these are vehicles driven by young people who have a much higher accident rate than average drivers. The number of people between the ages of 18 and 24 who are killed on the road is, relative to the number of people driving on the road, very much higher
We can say that the 363,000 people injured by goods vehicles is the price that we have to pay for fast transport. We may say that it is worth it. Personally, however, I think that we can considerably improve on this figure if we take certain steps. I have been connected with the Institute of Advanced Motorists since it was formed about six or seven years ago. We have 20 examiners throughout the country who are ex-Grade 1 police drivers. We have tested 80,000 pupils. They were volunteers and, presumably, regarded themselves as the cream of the motoring fraternity because they went in for the test. We also have a Government representative on our council.
Six hundred magistrates have passed the test, which is done on a responsible basis. Of the 80,000 drivers who took the test, 40,000 have passed. Fifty per cent. showed that they were not up to the standard of skill, competence or responsibility of an average good driver, although they thought that they were. I do not blame them for that. People think that they are good drivers, but they are not as skilled as they think.
1494 Tests were done for a large number of volunteers by the Bradford police and the figures are interesting because they coincide with those of the Institute of Advanced Motorists. The Bradford police found that 8 per cent. of the motorists who presented themselves were above average, 44 per cent. were average to good, 34 per cent. were below par and 12 per cent. were very bad indeed.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
My hon. Friend says that 8 per cent. were above average and 34 per cent. were below average. Surely that is mathematically impossible.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I am sorry, I should have said that 8 per cent. were very good, well above average. Forty-four per cent. were average to good. It was found that 48 per cent. were either below par or very bad. That more or less coincides with the figures of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, except that we do not find in the advanced motorists such a high proportion of very bad drivers. There are, of course, dangerous drivers who display faults such as overtaking at a railway bridge.
If we could take the Bradford sample as relating to the 13 million drivers as a whole, it would be found that about I½ million drivers on the roads today are very bad—and that figure might not be far wrong. I think particularly of those who have the notice in their rear window "Marples must go". There are probably about 100,000 drivers on the road who fire either subnormal or, perhaps, criminal types. If one visits a magistrates' court, one is struck by the number of people who are brought up for a serious motoring offence who also have a serious criminal record. That is something which should not be lost sight of.
We have to face the situation that if we want seriously to reduce accidents we must greatly increase discipline on the roads. I go so far as to say that we want a national mobile police force and I go even further and say that we should give them the right to fine on the spot. I know that this would be unpopular, but I argue the case as follows. First, we want a national mobile police force, because it is ridiculous that if a policeman is chasing somebody along, say, the Staines bypass, he must stop at the 1495 Runnymede Bridge because he is leaving the Metropolitan area and entering Surrey. The mobile force must be national. I know the arguments against a national force—for example, that it might be used politically—but I cannot believe that a national mobile police force could be used politically.
Why I say that the national mobile police should have power to fine on the spot—subject, of course, to appeal—is this. There are many people who commit an offence such as jumping the lights and should be dealt with at once, and probably, if they were stopped within 100 yards of the lights, they would say to the policeman, "I admit that I jumped the lights. I admit that I was wrong. I am ready to pay a fine and take my medicine."
If, however, they have to wait two months until the case drags its weary way to the police court, with the defendants thinking up all sorts of excuses and getting various people to defend them, or, alternatively, they plead guilty and simply wait for the time to come along, their appearance at court has no effect on them. I am sure that particularly in the case of young people, it would have a great effect on them if they were hauled up straight away.
I quote from a letter in the Daily Telegraph of 10th January, in which a correspondent stated:The reason that the Danes are able to keep down their road deaths is not due to any high standard of car handling, but that their road discipline is so good, which also applies to the rest of Scandinavia. The reason is the elementary one that the punishment for bad driving is swift and very heavy.If a driver is observed exceeding a speed limit or crossing a white line, police patrols are empowered to levy a fine of as much as £10 to £15 on the spot and endorse licences; this can, in turn, materially affect an insurance premium.We should have to give the motorist who is caught by a police patrol the right of appeal to a police court if he wished. I visualise, however, about 500 police patrol cars dotted up and down the country, with a high standard of police driver, perhaps an elite, even university graduates, driving them. This would not cost the country more than about £3 million a year and I believe that it would be a good investment. In our next Road Traffic Bill we could go 1496 so far as to say that anybody convicted of reckless or dangerous driving should automatically take a new test. I put forward this suggestion to my right hon. Friend for possible inclusion in the next Road Traffic Bill, no matter by whom it is introduced.
I have mentioned the number of accidents that happen to young and in experienced drivers. The State of Victoria, Australia, recently introduced a probationary licence for the first three years so that if a young driver is convicted of an offence during his first three years of having a licence, the licence will be cancelled for three months and he has to be re-tested. That method is worthy of our consideration.
We should go back to the pre-war special test for drivers of heavy goods vehicles. Before the war, the heavy goods vehicle driver was known as a knight of the road, but now, as we have heard, these drivers are becoming rather M.1 "cowboys". Any lad of 21 who has taken out a licence on a light motor car can immediately drive a 20-tonner if his employer so employs him, whereas before the war—the test was stopped only by the war—it was necessary to have a special licence to drive a vehicle of 3 tons or more. Possibly we should make the figure 5 tons, but, nevertheless, we should reintroduce that kind of licence.
I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye that we want much more training and education. The thirst for knowledge of driving by the majority of drivers is a deep one. We are waiting for the result of the survey on the Christmas accidents. There are 6 million motor cars in this land. I dare say that at Christmas 5 million of them were out and about, and I expect that the drivers of about 4½ million of them had had a drink. It is, therefore, ridiculous to say that people should never drink before driving. One can never stop it. All we can stop is the driver having the extra drink that he might have had if he was not driving.
If we have to have the breathalyser in the background as a deterrent and not as complete evidence of drunkenness, I for one would come round to the view that we must have the breathalyser if the Christmas survey reveals, as many people thought, that drink was a big 1497 contributory factor. Undoubtedly, inexperience was a big factor, because over the Christmas period one saw getting out on to the road a number of inexperienced drivers who do not normally drive on weekdays. With two or three drinks inside them, those inexperienced drivers can, as happened on that occasion, come to a bad end. If we have the breathalyser, however, I ask that the test be set rather higher than in Sweden, where it is set for two drinks. I suggest that it should be set for at least four rather than two.
If my right hon. Friend or his successor took some of the steps which I have outlined, however unpopular some of them might be, he would certainly bring down the accident rate and we would bring great relief to the mothers, wives and children of those who are killed or seriously injured on our roads.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke). When he first started the Institute of Advanced Motorists he asked my opinion about it. I told him that it was a good idea, but that it did not excite me very much. I withdraw the unfair criticism I made at that time, because, as events have turned out, the Institute has made a valuable contribution to safe driving on the road, and I am glad to acknowledge my error in that respect.
I warmly thank the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) for bringing this important matter before the House today. I congratulate him on his informed and balanced speech, which we all appreciated. He made a variety of points, and many valuable suggestions, as, indeed, did hon. Members who followed him.
The purpose of a discussion of this sort is to consider whether the steps which have been taken to prevent accidents are sufficient, and, if we think that they are not—and I think that most of us do—to urge the Minister of Transport to take further steps, and, if necessary, to criticise him for not taking the steps which we think he ought to have taken.
In the past I have gone out of my way—which is a dangerous thing for 1498 someone in my position to do—to congratulate the Minister on the action he has taken to further the cause of road safety. I think that he has done a great deal. He has taken many actions which have been wise, but unpopular, and I repeat my view that, on the whole, his record in this respect is a very good one.
When I nee a car carying the device, "Marples must go"—advice with which I entirely agree—I always feel that the reasons which have impelled the owner of a car to put up that notice are wrong. Many of us want him to go, but for very different and much more important reasons.
I should like, first, to say a few words about the pile-up of vehicles on the M.1 and the accidents which took place on the other motorways on Tuesday. Here the Minister made a grave mistake and appeared to be evading his responsibilities. I think that it is one's duty to say that in view of the general background of satisfaction with the work the right hon. Gentleman has done for road safety.
What happened? We have had many explanations of the causes of the crashes on the M.1. I think that we can all understand how they happened. There is no doubt that the cause was, in part, careless, or dangerous—and in some respects wickedly dangerous—driving. I think that they were also due in a large degree to very stupid driving. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who drives frequently on the M.1, as I do on some occasions, explained how, almost naturally and inevitably, accidents occur.
People reduce speed from 70 to 50 m.p.h. They feel comfortable following the red lights of the car in front. They want to see those lights. They do not want to drop to a lower speed, as they might then see nothing. They do not realise that, as they can see only the lights, and not the car itself, if that car suddenly stops they will not be able to brake in time, and a crash will result. That happened on a large scale, and it was very stupid driving on the part of many people.
When the Minister made his announcement in the House he contented himself 1499 with severely condemning the dangerous driving of motorists. It may be true that many people drove dangerously, but it is the duty of a Minister of Transport to realise his responsibility in this matter. After all, the battle for road safety during the last 20 to 30 years has been a battle to prevent motorists from driving dangerously or carelessly, and if Ministers of Transport in the past had contented themselves, as the Minister did the other day, with saying that these accidents were caused by the wicked driving of motorists, nothing would have been done.
The Minister's prime responsibility is to ask himself, "Could I have taken action which might have prevented these accidents? Could I have taken action which would have prevented this careless driving? What action can I now take which will prevent it happening in the future?" The Minister posed no such questions to himself, and I suggest to him that a lack of action on his part may have been responsible for these pile-ups.
The M.1has been in existence for four years. It is only now that an experiment is to start on the M.5 to erect warning signs of various kinds in different parts of that road. The first is to be erected in a month's time. The signs will be centrally controlled, and, presumably, they will be highly illuminated. Motorists will expect them, and if the experiment is successful, it will have some useful effect in controlling driving during periods of fog. Why has this experiment not been undertaken before?
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
Will the right hon. Gentleman take his argument further for those who are interested in this matter and say what effect the signs might conceivably have? It is no good putting up a sign saying that there is fog, because, due to the fog, it may not be possible to see it.
§ Mr. Strauss
I am assuming that one of the purposes of this experiment is to ensure that the notices are illuminated in such a way, by strong lights, maybe by neon signs, that they will be visible in the fog. Motorists will be aware that when conditions are dangerous these signs will be illuminated, they will see them and take notice of them.
§ Mr. Strauss
They would say several things. The Minister said that the signs would say, "Dangerous", "Fog warning", and things of that sort. If motorists knew that they were to be warned by illuminated signs of danger, it might affect their behaviour. It is very bad to have waited four years before conducting these experiments.
To prevent a similar situation occurring in future, the Minister ought to consider the imposition of speed limits under the very special conditions of dense fog. In fact he turned down that proposal. I can see no reason in the world why, when there is dense fog, the motorways should not be subject to a speed limit, either over their whole length, or over short distances, of 40 m.p.h. or less in some conditions. There is no doubt that if such a speed limit had been obeyed by motorists these crashes would not have taken place.
When that suggestion was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner), the Minister said that such speed limits would be arbitrary. All speed limits are arbitrary. He said that they would not be appropriate at all times. That is perfectly true. He suggested that they would not be obeyed by the motorists. The right hon. Gentleman has no reason to suggest that. Experience shows that generally speed limits are obeyed by motorists. Usually, motorists travel at about 5 m.p.h. above the speed limit, but they keep within reasonable measure of the limit imposed.
The right hon. Gentleman ought to be considering the imposition of speed limits on the roads, shown to the motorist by signs carefully thought out and operated centrally on these special occasions. These may be good or bad things. I think that they are good and that they ought to be examined, but the Minister contented himself by condemning bad driving.
The right hon. Gentleman left it at that, without any thought as to whether 1501 he could have taken action to prevent these things happening, as I think he could have done. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton said that these accidents were inevitable under the prevailing conditions but the Minister is not considering seriously and urgently what action he should take to prevent them taking place in a fog next year.
§ Sir B. Janner
The introduction of a speed limit was suggested to the Minister two years ago, but he turned it down because he said that he could not control various areas.
§ Mr. Strauss
one argument put by the Minister was that motorists did not obey danger signs put up by the police half a mile from the spot where an accident had occurred and if they did not obey those signs then obviously they would not obey any other illuminated signs. This docs not follow at all. We do not know how long after the pile-up took place these signs were put up. We do not know whether they were visible in fog, or whether they were erected too close to the scene of the accidents.
What we do know, and what I put very strongly, is that experiments should be hastened. These experiments should have been made a long time ago on the lines I have suggested, and perhaps on lines which traffic authorities have in mind. The Minister should not condemn motorists as anti-social people and leave it at that.
There is a further criticism I should like to make with reference to motorways. Hon. Members and people outside the House have suggested for a long time that there ought to be an antidazzle and anti-crash screen along the centre of the motorways. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West suggested it again today. We have been told that experiments are taking place. We were told on 27th November last that anti-dazzle and anti-crash screens made of mesh and of hessian were being tried out.
There seems to be a strong prima facie case for such screens. I do not suggest that they should be erected permanently before experiments are completed, but is not the Minister extremely slow in carrying out these experiments? Should he not have 1502 carried them out immediately after the motorways were opened? He is open to severe criticism and, indeed, censure for his slowness in these matters.
As for the accidents which took place during the Christmas holidays, it is possible to say, as the hon. Member for Twickenham said, that the extent of these accidents can be exaggerated in view of the large number of cars that were on the roads at the time. But I am sure that the hon. Member will agree, and that the whole country feels, that if any action can be taken to prevent this doubling of deaths and serious injuries during the festive season it should be taken.
I am sure that the Minister agrees. As I have said before, the right hon. Gentleman is very keen on these matters and his heart is in the right place. His actions, however, are sometimes slow and, as I shall show in a moment, he has a bad habit of evading responsibility in a really disgraceful way. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he will first have an inquiry made. That is all right. The more information we have about road accidents the better, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not doubt, and that no one in the House or in the country doubts, but the major cause of the big increase in road accidents over the Christmas period was increased drinking. There is no question about that at all. Surely we can start with that assumption, although other contributory causes may be discovered.
Whenever the suggestion is put to the Minister that he should do more about this than he has done, the right hon. Gentleman's attitude is remarkable. First, he quotes the changes made in the 1962 Act. He refers to the legal changes making enforcement more likely and providing a new definition of drunken driving. These were all steps in the right direction, but I do not believe that anybody at any time thought that these changes in the law would have any significant effect on the amount of drunken driving or that the number of accidents resulting from drivers being drunk would be seriously affected. We welcome these changes, because they tighten up the law and make an improvement but they could not have much effect on the casualty rate.
1503 The one thing which could have had an effect would have been the proposal, which is in many people's minds and which has been urged in the House, to make it an offence to be found driving with more than a certain amount of alcohol in the blood. I will not argue whether or not that is a wise provision. We who urged it during the passage of the 1962 Act thought that it was wise and still think so.
I want to draw the attention of the House very seriously to the Minister's attitude and the explanation he offers on these matters. He has given this explanation sometimes in the House in an offhand way, but he gave it in a more definite and a reprehensible way in an interview, which was heard presumably by millions of people, when he was subjected to cross-examination on a commercial television programme on 2nd January. I received many complaints from people who knew the facts, and I have obtained a copy of the broadcast from which I should like to quote the relevant passages.
§ Mr. Marples
The right hon. Gentleman is one of the fairest debaters in the House. If he had been courteous enough to give me notice I would have refreshed my memory about the Second Reading, the Committee stage, the Report stage and the Third Reading of the Bill, but he did not do so.
§ Mr. Marples
I did not refer to that. I referred to one of the courtesies of the House. I said that the right hon. Gentleman is one of the fairest debaters and that if he intended to make a specific reference to this matter he could at least have given me advance notice.
§ Mr. Strauss
we are always subject to attack in the House for what we say and for our attitude towards certain Bills. Surely I am entitled, on this occasion, because it is highly relevant to what we are discussing, to bring this matter up.
This is what the right hon. Gentleman said and the answers he gave to questions on 2nd January when he was being cross-examined by a Mr. Wilcox: 1504Mr. Marples, how many more people are going to be killed on the roads before you can introduce legislation to make it an offence to drive with some alcohol in the bloodstream?I quote the relevant part of the answer:…I can only go as far as Parliament and public opinion will allow me.The right hon. Gentleman went on to say, of the last time that this matter was before the House:…I didn't get the whole of my own way by a long chalk.Wilcox: Well, what did you want?Marples: I wanted a lot of things. This is what I read out, and I'll read it, for purposes of greater accuracy I'll read it out on a Third Reading: I said, as the Minister in charge of the Bill, I'd not got my own way and I'm sorry about that, because I think that my own way would have been better than the way imposed upon me by various pressures from all sides. However, that is our democratic way of procedure'.Now the right hon. Gentleman says, in answer to the question, "When will legislation be introduced to make it an offence to drive with alcohol in the bloodstream?", that when the Bill was before the House he suggested that he would have liked it included but was stopped by opposition from both sides of the House.
What, in fact, happened was this. The very proposal which he was being asked to adopt was moved from this side of the House on Report, because we believed it right and desirable. After we had moved it a speech was made from the Government Front Bench by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department in which he gave reasons why the House should turn it down, why it was impracticable and undesirable. A Division took place and the right hon. Gentleman voted against this proposal.
How can he now honourably pose to the House and the public as the innocent victim of outside force and say that Parliament did not allow him to do what he wanted? He was the Minister in charge of the Bill and must surely take responsibility for the contents of the Bill and for what was not in it. If this proposal was not inserted in the Bill it was because the right hon. Gentleman and his Government colleagues advised the House not to accept it.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
surely the right hon. Gentleman would not propose that the Minister should become a dictator. 1505 It seems that that is what he is trying to say. The fact was, of course, that my right hon. Friend the Minister introduced a Clause before the whole Committee, that the Committee discussed it and that there was a lot of opposition to it from hon. Members on this side, and that, as a result, the Clause was modified. That is proper Parliamentary procedure.
§ Mr. Strauss
The hon. Gentleman's interruption is not relevant.
The Minister is saying that this is not the law because Parliament would not let him make it the law. But the Minister advised the House not to accept the proposition and voted against it. Therefore, I say that it is distasteful to suggest that this omission in the law at the moment is not his responsibility. He is as responsible for the absence of that law as anyone. He opposed it, and to say anything else is unworthy of any Minister of the Crown.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
The right hon. Gentleman will know that I was one who did my best to see that my right hon. Friend did not get all his own way when the Bill was before the House. Is not the quotation which he has read to the House really saying that the Minister, when asked how many people would be killed on the road before such a provision was passed, answered that it was not for him to pass provisions but for Parliament, and that the last time he introduced a Road Traffic Bill he by no means got all his own way. That was not said specifically in relation to this provision.
§ Mr. Strauss
What happened behind the scenes is nothing to do with it. The Minister is saying that in a Bill for which he was responsible he was the victim of circumstances and that the omission of this desirable provision is not his responsibility at all. After persuading the House not to accept the proposal and voting against it, I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman must take responsibility for his actions and for what is in the Bill and for what is not in it. When he turns down an Amendment moved by this side of the House to improve the Bill in this direction he has no right to speak as he did.
There are only one or two other things I wish to say. I want to make a sug- 1506 gestion that might improve the position concerning road accidents. I think that further action will have to be taken to stop drunken driving. The facts are well known. There has been a great deal of research into the matter in this and other countries, including the research carried out by the British Medical Association, which set up a special committee for the purpose. There is an enormous amount of evidence from the United States and elsewhere, and, while the figures vary in detail, they all boil down to the fact that at least 10 per cent. of the accidents occur because someone involved in them has been drinking. In some cases, it may be the pedestrian. It amounts to 700 people a year being killed. It is also well established that about 50 per cent. of road accidents happen after 10 o'clock at night because someone has been drinking.
In my view, there is an overwhelmingly strong case for taking action in the matter. The argument put forward by the Minister and by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department during the discussion on the Bill, that the taking of such action would be in excess of what public opinion would tolerate, is absolute nonsense. I have not the slightest doubt that if a poll were taken public opinion generally would welcome drastic action being taken against the drunken driver.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the television interview with my right hon. Friend. Did he see the television interview of drivers who admitted to a great deal of drinking? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that such people would be very much against the introduction of such a provision?
§ Mr. Strauss
I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that if a poll were taken as to whether there should be stronger action by legislation against drunken driving public opinion would be in favour of it. Even those people who are inconsiderate and drive when they have been drinking would, if the matter were put seriously to them, vote for it. I am sure that it would have the warm support of public opinion if the Minister took such action.
1507 The other points I wish to put very briefly are these. I hope that the Minister will speed up the experiment on motorways in anti-dazzle screens and crash barriers. They may save many lives. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has been much too slow. I wish, too, that he would take more drastic action than he has in the past on safety belts. I know that he is very keen about them and, in the early days, was responsible for initiating and supporting the idea and did a good job. What is the position now? There is not yet even an agreed standard for the anchorage which should be fitted in new cars.
There seems to be an intolerable delay in the matter and steps should be taken to speed up the standardisation of such anchorages. It is true that many manufacturers are supplying these anchorages as standard fitments and that a good many people do not use their safety belts. There has been a serious lack of propaganda on the matter during the last year or two, except by the manufacturers of safety belts, who are, naturally, rather suspect.
If there were a national campaign to encourage people to use their safety belts on all occasions it would be very worthwhile. We must not forget that carefully carried out experiments over a long period show that the general wearing of safety belts would prevent between 50 and 60 per cent. of the accidents to car occupants which now occur as a result of collisions.
Finally, I wish to endorse the proposals put forward by one or two hon. Members that today the most effective way to bring down the number of accidents would be much more effective enforcement. By "enforcement" I do not mean tightening up the law or making a gesture by increasing penalties by doubling or trebling fines. I do not believe that that has any serious effect. Today, people are driving carelessly in greater numbers because the chances are a 100 to 1 that they will not be found out. One of the reasons why there is much better road discipline in the United States than in this country—that is, I think an undoubted fact—is that there is much more patrolling by the police.
1508 I warmly endorse the proposal that there should be mobile police patrols on a national scale—or if not nationally, locally—which would be on the roads the whole time. A man who was about to overtake, or do something which he ought not to do, or who might be likely to drive carelessly or dangerously, would all the time have at the back of his mind the thought, not that he was unlikely to be caught but that there might be a police patrol about who would see him. The fear of being apprehended would have more effect on a man's driving than the possibility of a fine or some other form of punishment being imposed on him in the unlikely event of his being caught. I think that a great deal more money should be spent on police patrols.
I would advocate that, if necessary, and if possible—I see no reason why it should not be done—police patrols should operate in plain clothes. The moment a motorist sees a car behind him with "Police" marked on it, he drives more slowly and carefully.
§ Sir H. Harrison
But is not that exactly what we want people to do? Is it not because they see a police car that they conform with the law? I am told also that the introduction of plain clothes patrols could lead to a great deal of abuse.
§ Mr. Strauss
That may be. But I should have thought that we want both uniformed and plain clothes patrols. At any rate, we require experiments to be carried out on a considerable scale. Of course, patrolmen in plain clothes should have some easily recognisable way in which to identify themselves when they stop a motorist.
§ Mr. Hocking
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the main problems with which the police have to contend is their inability to get the average man-in-the-street to co-operate with them, and that this is largely because in some parts of the country motorists are stopped by police patrols operating in plain clothes? I think also that a great deal of ill-feeling between the public and the police has been caused by the introduction of the radar speed trap system.
§ Mr. Strauss
The hon. Member may be right, but I doubt it. A great deal of strong feeling has also been aroused by the amount of bad driving which takes place on the roads and the absence of police patrols to deal with it. I put forward the idea—I do not bind myself to it—that it would be a good thing if some experiments were carried out with police patrols on a large scale and that some patrols should be in plain clothes.
Looking at the problem as a whole, it seems to be that although much has been done it is not sufficient. I do not believe that enough money is being spent on road safety measures in comparison with the amount being spent on the roads. Apart from all the pain and anguish caused to the victims of accidents and their relatives, we should bear in mind that accidents cost the nation over £2 million a year. We spend several hundred million pounds on the roads, but the amount spent on road safety, despite the fact that the number of cars on the roads is increasing, is wholly disproportionate. The time has come when there should be some correlation of the two amounts, and the Minister should consider that if we are spending millions on the roads we should spend £2 million or £3 million more a year on road safety.
Campaigns should be carried out on a national scale. I agree that local campaigns for road safety, which are conducted by very worthy people with the best of intentions are usually rather feeble. Campaigns should be conducted on a national scale and to a greater extent than at present. They could be carried out in a variety of ways, and a large amount of money should be spent upon them. More mobile police patrols should be provided to improve road discipline. These proposals, together with many others which have been suggested, would, if implemented, have a sensible and worthwhile effect in reducing the incidence of road accidents.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)
Before I reply to the rather heated accusations made by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), I wish to say how grateful the House is to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) for a speech 1510 which was constructive in its approach, very moderate and reasonable in its tone, and very lucid in its presentation.
I am also extremely grateful to him personally for his reference to Wallasey. I have always known that Wallasey had great political sagacity. That obviously goes for road safety, but I shall not be drawn into comment about Wallasey's accident record and that of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse), who is Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, and whose efforts in this direction do not seem to have been so successful as those of Wallasey.
I am taking part in this debate—not instead of the Parliamentary Secretary, but with him here—for two reasons. First, we are both desperately keen to do all we humanly can to reduce accidents on the road, what my hon. and gallant Friend called killing and maiming. Secondly, we both find this the most difficult, intractable, frustrating and baffling problem we have ever faced. On average, four people will have been killed on the roads during this debate. I have been present throughout most of the debate People say, "Why should four people be killed in that time? What is the Minister of Transport doing about it?" It is not easy to answer those questions.
If during the course of my answer to this debate I do not deal with all the points which have been made, I promise hon. Members that I shall read HANSARD carefully and I shall write to them on any individual points I may miss in my speech. I accept the Motion. The hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) was right in suggesting that I would accept the words of the Motion. I advise the House to accept it.
Before coming to the main theme of the debate and dealing with the points which were raised earlier I shall deal with the points made by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall. He is about the fairest of opponents and the most logical as a rule among hon. Members on the other side of the House, which is not noted for logic. He is very logical and he is also extremely courteous, normally. He was generous in his remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) and 1511 the Institute of Advanced Motorists. He admitted his error. I think that the Institute of Advanced Motorists has done a remarkable job in increasing efficiency among drivers.
The right hon. Member went on to congratulate me for what I have done in the past, but that was a sort of hors d'œuvre to what was to come. He talked about stickers on cars which say, 'Marples must go". That was the first, but the latest is "Wilson must not come". I saw that on a car the other day. For the best of reasons it was in very small print, so that it did not obscure the vision of the driver. No doubt, the driver had good reasons for putting it on his car.
The right hon. Member accused me of three things and he also made a suggestion. He first accused me that the erection of signs on motorways which might have affected what happened in the pile-up on M.1 had been unduly delayed. His second accusation was that we should have speed limits on motorways of a more variable nature according to the circumstances from time to time in different areas. His third accusation was with reference to the television interview. I shall deal with that. His suggestion was that there should be plain clothes patrols as well as uniformed patrols. I shall deal with the four points in that order.
On the question of signs on the motorways to indicate that fog is there, we are carrying out a remarkable experiment on M.5, with 22 signs. These are good, but they give only advance warning of intermittent dangers such as ice or fog. The first reports I have received about the accidents on Tuesday are from the police who were on duty there. We shall have a full inquiry and the details will be given to me. I promise the House that I shall make another announcement, but I should like to reserve my position until I get the whole of the details and the ultimate facts about the position. The preliminary report was that there was dense fog for mile after mile.
If a motorist is in the middle of dense fog, what is the use of a sign saying that there is fog? Does a person who is in the street outside the House of Commons, who is wet through because 1512 of the rain, which is "coming down in sheets", want the police to switch on a light saying that it is raining? This fog was there to be seen. The real reason why accidents happened was that the motorists were not driving with a proper regard for the prevailing conditions. They were unable to pull up within the limits of their vision.
If people drive like that, if they ignore three police signs which were illuminated the whole time, at intervals of ½ mile, 1 mile and 1½ miles from the accident, if they ignore the police driver waving them down on one lane with his hand, if they ignore the passenger in the police car, who was a policeman, waving them down on the other lane, I do not think that another illuminated sign would have meant the difference between vehicles piling up and not piling up. The right hon. Gentleman was less than fair in this respect, as he will see when the final report is issued.
The second argument, which is a repetition of the case advanced by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner), was that there should be a speed limit on M.1 and the various motorways when there are adverse conditions and that some authority should put on illuminated signs what that speed limit is—namely, 5 m.p.h., 10 m.p.h., 15 m.p.h., or 20 m.p.h. Presumably, they could cover all the speeds from 2 m.p.h. to, say, 60 m.p.h.
If these signs are to be placed every mile, where is the Solomon coming from who will decide what the speed limit should be for the first mile of M.1, the second mile of M.1, the third mile of M.1, and so on? The right hon. Gentleman mentioned 40 m.p.h. In dense fog, when visibility is down to 15 or 20 yards, 20 m.p.h., 30 m.p.h., or 40 m.p.h. is lunacy.
If it is merely light fog and the speed limit is fixed at 15 m.p.h., what happens if in the middle—after all, the density of fog changes from minute to minute—it suddenly becomes dense? What will happen if a man is going at 15 m.p.h. and hits something and has another pile-up? He will say," The police told me that 15 m.p.h. was the speed limit". If the right hon. Gentleman thinks about it deeply and carefully and examines the 1513 reports made by the various authoritative bodies, he will see that the whole thing is in cloud-cuckoo-land.
§ Mr. Strauss
The right hon. Gentleman told us in the previous sentence that the whole length of the M.1 was in thick fog. Would it not have been sensible to have put up police notices at both entrances to M.1 saying, "Fog the whole length", with a speed limit specified? Somebody in responsibility should be the judge whether it should be 20, 30 or 40 m.p.h. It could be clearly marked. Might not that have avoided some of the accidents and some of the injuries?
§ Mr. Marples
No, because the accidents did not take place at the beginning of M.1. They took place in the middle, after people had been driving in the fog for mile after mile after mile. They could see the conditions. They were there to see them for themselves.
§ Sir B. Janner
Is not the right hon. Gentleman advancing a fallacious argument? Is he suggesting that, when a speed limit of 15 m.p.h. is applied, it means that no one should travel at a slower speed if conditions arise? Of course it does not. It means that it is dangerous to drive at a speed in excess of 15 m.p.h. within a certain area, but, nevertheless, motorists are still liable to be charged with dangerous or negligent driving if they drive too fast.
§ Mr. Marples
If there is a speed limit, motorists can go up to the speed limit. They do so. The point is that it encourages them. If one says that 15 m.p.h. is safe and 15 m.p.h. is not safe, and one keeps telling them that every few minutes, there will be confusion and chaos. I am certain that neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the Labour Party will get any support for this proposal in any of the technical Press.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
Is there not another unanswerable argument against the speed limit being in patches? If we put on a speed limit of 10 m.p.h. on a day which was not one of continuous fog and suddenly there were several clear miles of road, would not every motorist disobey the law, because they could not be so mad as to travel at 8 m.p.h. on a perfectly clear road?
§ Mr. Marples
I agree. The Opposition have not thought out the technical considerations behind their suggestion. This controversy can go on for a long time, but I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman will lose it.
The right hon. Gentleman got very heated about the television interview. I point out that people who write to me and ask me questions on television and elsewhere assume that I can pass a law myself, overnight, without help in this House or in another place. [An Hon. Member: "Nauseating."] This is true. It is no use the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) shouting, from a seated position, that it is nauseating. Perhaps he looks a bit nauseating sitting there.
This is a popular misconception which is wrong. On television, I pointed out that it is Parliament which legislates and not I and that I can go only as far as Parliament will let me go.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)rose—
§ Mr. Marples
The hon. Member has not been present until now. He can, therefore, sit down and listen for a bit.
§ Mr. Howell
on a point of order. Whether I have been present or not, is it not the custom when a Minister refers to an hon. Member as the right hon. Gentleman has done for him courteously to give way and to let the hon. Member reply?
§ Mr. Marples
If the hon. Member had been courteous enough to sit throughout the debate as other hon. Members have done, I would have given way to him, but as he has only just arrived I shall not give way.
§ Mr. Marples
I mentioned the hon. Member only because he was shouting from a sitting position. If he had kept quiet instead of making a speech while sitting down I should not have mentioned him. I think that my hon. Friends will give me credit when I say that I did not get my way in that Bill. I am sorry 1515 that I did not, but that is our machinery and I accept the democratic machine.
The fourth point concerns the question of the police and enforcement. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that enforcement police should be in plain clothes as well as in uniform. I am informed by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department that this is a matter for each chief constable. They vary in the way in which they administer the law and enforce it in their own areas. He tells me that in many cases these experiments are being carried on. Some chief constables have authorised the use of plain clothes men in the circumstances envisaged by the right hon. Gentleman.
Many hon. Members have mentioned traffic courts, including my hon. Friends the Members for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) and Twickenham, the hon. Member for Oldham, East, and the right hon. Member for Vauxhall. It has been suggested that we should have a traffic police, uniform in its administration over the whole country, and various other suggestions were made. My Ministry have had discussions with the Home Office about the adequacy of the traffic organisation of the police, and there is a newly established police research and planning branch to establish new methods of traffic control and of enforcing driving discipline especially on motorways. This is now being dealt with in Committee on the Police Bill upstairs, and perhaps it would be inappropriate for me to deal with the point at greater length. This is a matter for the Home Office, and I hope that any hon. Member who is a member of the Committee upstairs and is not present today will read the speeches that have been made and will make these points in the Committee.
The position of the Minister of Transport in all this is sometimes not very easy. When the number of accidents goes down—and I am glad to say that there has been a downward tendency in the last few years due to the tremendous efforts that have been made by all sorts of people and organisations—the motoring organisations say that drivers are driving splendidly, magnificently and with care. When the number goes up they all want to know what the Minister 1516 is doing about it. Whatever happens it is heads I lose, tails I do not win.
Today's debate, like the previous ones we have had on road safety—and I was careful to read them before coming into the Chamber—have shown two things; first, that every one deplores deaths and accidents, agrees that the number of them should be reduced and that drastic measure should be taken and, secondly, that people go on to give their remedies but that, unfortunately, each person has a different remedy, one often clashing with the remedy of another.
Today, for example, we heard my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby talking of speed. He suggested that there should be a speed limit of 50 m.p.h. on major trunk roads and 70 m.p.h. on motorways. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), on the other hand, thought that it was not a question of speed. He produced facts and figures to show, he thought, that the slow driver was not the safest, certainly on some occasions. Here we have one hon. Member wanting speed limits of 50 m.p.h. and 70 m.p.h. and another hon. Member taking the reverse view. This shows the divergent opinions that exist on this subject.
Two important points have been raised in the debate. The first is the dreadful series of accidents in the fog on the M.1, M.5 and A.1, all splendid roads, and the second is the increased number of deaths recorded in the provisional Christmas accident figures. These cases focus attention in a dramatic way on road accidents. Normally they are not noticed, but we must remember that this dreadful toll of death and injury is happening all the time.
I have just received an analysis of the accident figures for last November. They will be published this afternoon. They show that the number of casualties rose by nearly 14 per cent. compared with November, 1962. This represents a further deterioration over the disappointing trend of the first 10 months of 1963, when casualties rose by 4 per cent. over the corresponding period of 1962. This reveals an accident rate that is distressing, and I agree with hon. Members who say that the human suffering and waste of life caused by road deaths is desperately tragic. 1517 I wish to stress, as has been stressed in the debate, that we should be prepared to consider this matter in its right perspective. No one cares more than I about the road accident problem, and we have tried our best to solve it. But we must not be alarmists or allow ourselves to panic as a result of short-term trends or make the figures seem worse than they are. At the same time, we must never be complacent because if there are half a dozen deaths, they are half a dozen too many. Nevertheless, we must get this problem in its right perspective.
Over the last 15 years the annual number of road casualties has almost doubled and the number of deaths has risen by 40 per cent. That is bad enough. Over the same period the volume of traffic on our roads has nearly trebled, so that the accident rate in relation to the amount of traffic on our roads has actually fallen. The risk of being involved in an accident is less than we should have expected with the increase in traffic that has taken place.
This is encouraging and it shows that some of the measures we have taken to try to reduce accidents have been successful. It also shows that we should be able to do better still. As I said, there are no grounds for complacency. In the next six years we expect the amount of traffic to double. The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West quoted from the Buchanan Report. We cannot be certain what will happen, but we believe that by about 1970 we will have about twice the amount of traffic we have now and that by about 1980 it may be three times above the present level. These are the most difficult years that face us. Unless we can continue to keep ahead of the rising volume of traffic, and reduce the accident rate still further, by 1980 there will be, not 7,000 killed each year, but 21,000; and not 350,000 injured but over 1 million. That is a very sobering thought.
We all deplore this situation, but what is the solution? I must stress to the House that there is no one single solution—not even a single road accident has just one cause, but, generally speaking, many causes. If we accept that proposition, it means that there is no one spectacular thing to be done to reduce the number of road accidents. We have 1518 to tackle the problem on a broad front, and make small advances as a result of patient research into a large number of different problems.
The causes of accidents, and the methods we can take to prevent them, fall, in my view, under three headings—the road, the vehicle, and the driver and human behaviour. Before I deal with them, however, I would ask: what do we know about the causes? It has frequently been said recently that we should have more research into finding out the causes, but many people underestimate what we now know, and perhaps I may be allowed to refresh their memories.
First of all, we have a great volume of statistical information which is obtained from the regular returns made to us by the police about every fatal and serious accident, and we get slightly less detailed information about slight accidents. These figures tell us a great deal. They tell us, for example, that certain classes of vehicle are more likely to be involved in accidents than others; that certain classes of people, such as children and the aged, are more vulnerable than others. They tell us to direct propaganda, advice and instruction to the quarter where it is most needed.
These returns also give information about the manœuvres most often involved in accidents, and we therefore know that overtaking and turning right are situations in which the risk is greatest, and in which the drivers must exercise the greatest care. It is for that reason that we have started the great operation in London to eliminate, wherever possible, the right-hand turn. That administrative action is based on this research. Overtaking is a matter for the judgment of the driver.
One of my hon. Friends asked whether we could not have more painting of the three-lane single carriageway. We are doing that on these roads, particularly on hills, and one day I will take my hen. Friend on a journey by car and show him the painting that is being done on some of these roads.
In addition to all these comprehensive statistics, a great deal of work on particular problems is carried out in a variety of ways. For instance, some 1519 police forces carry out their own inquiries into serious accidents, and a notable example is the Metropolitan Force, which set up its own accident research branch last July—
§ Sir B. Janner
The right hon. Gentleman speaks of the inquiries that are being made into causes of roadaccidents. Is he aware that many of us are dissatisfied with the kind of report for which he is asking, and feel that he does not get full and comprehensive information of the accidents, and the various evidence given? Would he take samples of the returns over a period, so that they can be properly subjected to research?
§ Mr. Marples
If the hon. Gentleman will be patient enough to allow me to finish this part of my speech and to tell the House all that we are doing, I think that his question will be more relevant.
The Ministry has its own vehicle examiners, who are brought in by the police to examine vehicles involved in accidents and which are suspected of being defective. We have divisional road engineers to examine road layouts where there have been accidents to see whether those places can be made safer.
Then we have the regular research into road safety by the Road Research Laboratory, which does the work both theoretically and in a practical way by field tests. The Laboratory has recently produced a book summarising the results of its research on road safety, and it makes impressive reading. There are over 600 pages in the book, which shows that a great effort has been made. I shall send a copy to those hon. Members who may like to read it. I would have thought hon. Members opposite would have read it, but apparently I am mistaken. I shall send it to them. It is impressive and it is worth studying.
What the Road Research Laboratory is doing is this. The moment an accident occurs in its locality a team is sent to the spot and it gets from the police all the information required. It can have the vehicles tested, the road examined—the camber, the turn, and so on—and, if necessary, it sends to the coroner for an analysis to find out whether there was alcohol in the blood 1520 of the person killed, and so on. This team has at its disposal a whole array of evidence necessary to evaluate the circumstances scientifically. It might suggest some remedial measures and have a count taken of accidents before the introduction of those measures and afterwards. This sort of research is most helpful.
§ Mr. Marsh
If the right hon. Gentleman says that this is a cause for complaint and he now says that he has got the information, one wonders why there is any argument as to what he should do. If he has got the information, he has had 12 years and surely by now he should have made up his mind on what he is going to do about it.
§ Mr. Marples
That was not as useful as most of the interventions of the hon. Gentleman. I was glad to see him here at the beginning of the debate, although he left quickly. If he had sat here the whole time he would have heard some of the answers to that question.
Last year, I set up two experimental area road safety units. One was in Hampshire and the other in Warwickshire. They are developing new methods of investigating accidents and carrying out analyses in those areas.
We need to know more about the human factors in road accidents, and there has recently been a lot of talk about this all over the country. We in the Government have appreciated this difficulty for a long time. Psychological work in the field is being carried out by the Road Research Laboratory, and we have extended that department. There is now a Human Factors Group alongside the other groups in the Road Research Laboratory's traffic and safety division. It comprises 13 members including psychologists, physicists and engineers. The sort of subjects on which initial studies have been made are, first, drivers' attitudes, their behaviour and their judgment; secondly, emotional response when driving; and, thirdly, driver training. This group is associated with the special investigation being carried out into the Christmas fatal accidents.
Perhaps I may now come quickly to the subject of roads. It has been rightly said that better and safer roads are one of the most important ways in which we 1521 can help to reduce the accident rate. I agree, and it is a point that I have never disputed. What I have contested is the idea that better roads are the only solution to the problem, and that there are not other important ways in which accidents can be prevented. I say to the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West, who made a suitable selective statistical analysis, that it is not only completions which count. Also important is the amount of money that is spent, the starts and the work in progress. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are confident that by the early 1970s we shall have the 1,000 miles of motorway which we have been talking about.
May I give the House some figures, and then hon. Members can judge whether or not I am right. On M.1 and the new dual carriageways such as A.1 the accident rate is about one-third to one-half the rate on unimproved trunk roads. In England and Wales, in 1956–57, public expenditure on new construction and major improvements on the motorways, trunk and classified roads, was less than £20 million. This year, about £120 million is to be spent, and expansion of that programme is to continue. By 1968–69 expenditure will be well over £200 million in a particular year. This is not a growth industry, but a growth Ministry. The growth of money being spent on roads by my Ministry is greater than the amount being spent on any other project under the present Government.
Small-scale improvements also can have a dramatic effect on the accident rate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby pointed out. The Road Research Laboratory reports that in 17 cases of realignment there was an 80 per cent. reduction in personal injury accidents, seven diversions gave a 95 per cent. reduction, six improvements to visibility gave a 60 per cent. reduction, and six improvements of camber gave a 65 per cent. reduction. Of the £120 million for the current year, £26 million is for schemes costing less than £100,000.
§ Sir B. Janner rose—
§ Mr. Marples
no. I have not the time to give way again. The hon. Gentleman spoke for half an hour.
1522 If we spend a small amount of money selectively and wisely, this is very much better than spending a large amount of money in other ways because one gets more out of it from the point of view of safety. We are aiming to eradicate black spots as quickly as we can. [Laughter.'] I am sorry if the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West thinks it particularly humorous.
I come new to the question of signs and road markings. We can make the roads safer by providing better signs and road markings. On the motorways we already have good modern signs, but on other roads many of our existing signs are too small, badly sited and difficult to read at night. The new signs recommended by the Worboys Committee should put an end to this. They will be larger, clearer, properly sited and effective by both day and night. I hope to bring regulations before the House by July to introduce these new signs. We shall then aim to introduce them, first, on the main through routes, where they will replace existing signs in three years, and on other routes as soon as possible afterwards.
Road markings are extremely important. Personally, I think that we do not in this country use, and never have had the tradition of using, paint in the same lavish fashion as it is used in America. I think that it is much better to use a lot of paint rather than a little. I will give the House an example. Over half of all fatal or serious road accidents take place at road junctions. On the basis of the Worboys Committee's recommendation, we now propose to mark every junction to distinguish clearly the major from the minor road so that drivers will know in all cases which vehicle has precedence. I think that this is most important because of the volume of accidents at intersections.
Now, vehicles. A badly designed or badly maintained vehicle can increase the risk of accident. I have already mentioned what the Road Research Laboratory is doing. It has found that, on roads near the laboratory, vehicle defects were a major factor in no less than 15 per cent. of accidents. It is exceedingly important, therefore, that we have proper maintenance. The Government and vehicle manufacturers have their part to play in making vehicles safer 1523 in design. The Road Research Laboratory is doing a lot of work on skidding, the best design for tyres, road surfaces and ways of preventing wheel-lock. Its discoveries find their way gradually, but steadily, into new design, and, where necessary, I include new safety requirements in the regulations with which vehicles must comply.
But maintenance of the vehicle, even if it is in first-class condition when delivered, is the owner's responsibility. I appeal to all concerned—motorist, motor cyclist and road haulier—to make sure that their vehicles are in good condition and to maintain them well. I wish that I could say that the vast majority of vehicles are already in good condition, but I cannot. Spot checks and surveys of vehicles on the roads have shown a very high proportion with some defect or other. In our samples, we take a new car and an old car. We areas fair as we can be. The police stop cars at the roadside and my examiners make a spot check there and then. I can tell the House that drivers are 100 per cent, co-operative and are delighted to have the defects of their vehicles pointed out to them.
Because of the low standard of maintenance, we introduced the annual vehicle testing scheme, and, if I may so, no one did more to that end than the right hon. Member for Vauxhall, who speaks for the Opposition on these matters. The testing scheme now applies to 4½ million vehicles and is being gradually extended. I am at present considering the possibility of applying it to heavier goods vehicles in addition to the spot checks which they already undergo.
The testing scheme, although it is not as good as I should like, has had some effect. When first introduced, 40 per cent. of the vehicles failed at the first attempt. When I say that, I mean that 40 per cent. of the vehicles submitted by the general public failed. We had the motoring correspondents of the Press there, too, and their rate of failure was much greater than that of the general public. During recent months, the percentage has fallen to 26, which is an improvement, but it is still not good enough. It points to this, I think. We shall have to look at certain items on a car much more closely in the future.
1524 I do not really want a car to be able to move fast, or to have its engine in good condition. I am interested in the brakes, the steering and the lights, the things which affect safety. There is no excuse for any of them to be defective.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)
This is one of the most important points my right hon. Friend has mentioned. Will not he agree that it would be a good idea if, in the ordinary driving test which a driver has to undergo, there was a requirement that he must show some sort of mechanical knowledge of the dangerous vehicle which he drives? Might not that be made a compulsory part of the test?
§ Mr. Marples
I should like to think about that and I will answer my hon. Friend by way of letter. We have to be careful before we introduce these things. I should like to know the ramifications and repercussions of such a suggestion.
All aspects of vehicle maintenance are of great importance and I should like to issue this warning. If people use vehicles in a dangerous condition they may find that they will receive an endorsement on their licence, which will count in the totting up procedure and in automatic disqualification for six months if they are convicted of two further serious offences within three years.
§ Mr. Hocking
my right hon. Friend has mentioned the condition of vehicles. One point which I wanted to bring out today, had I been called, is the question of vehicles which are tampered with by the owners and improved in an amateurish way. Is he entirely satisfied that these small cars which are "souped-up" by their owners are really in the best interests of road safety?
§ Mr. Marples
probably not, unless it has been done by someone really skilled who knows all the strains and stresses that come on a car, the chassis and the body. I would never have an amateur tinkering with a car of my own. I would rather take it to the makers and ask, "Is this the right thing to do?", I think that in most cases that is what the motorist ought to do.
I now come to the question of personal responsibility. It is true that the motor car, which has been called a monster by, I think, Pro- 1525 fessor Colin Buchanan, in the book "Mixed Blessing" which he wrote, has been a powerful force for good. It has enabled families to go into the countryside to take their holidays, and workers to go to work in a more convenient way, but, like all powerful forces, it can be a powerful force for good or for evil. Concerning accidents, there is no doubt that it is a power for evil.
I should like to say that whatever any Minister of Transport does—the right hon. Gentleman has been at the Ministry—whatever the local authorities do, whatever the road safety organisations and whatever the Road Research Laboratory do, and whatever roads we improve, ultimately, with one man behind the wheel of a car where he can take it where he wants, how he wants, and on the spur of the moment, it boils down to the skill, behaviour and the attitude of the driver and the pedestrian. It is bound to come down to that in the end. I think it fair to say that, with the exception of a very small proportion of accidents, there is no accident that could not have been avoided if those involved had shown more skill, more caution or more consideration towards others.
I am not too sure that we are right when we keep harping on the question of whether a man has sufficient skill. Of course, that is important. But is it not more important that he has consideration, courtesy and patience. Many skilful racing drivers have shown themselves to be unfitted to have a licence to drive on the roads, and they are more skilful than anybody sitting in this House today.
With regard to the multiple crashes on the M.1, I think that people should drive within the limits of their vision. Some people say that human nature is quite unalterable and there is nothing that we can do to improve the standard of driving or the standard of courtesy. I do not believe that to be true. Good driving entails no more and no less than the continuous application of the principles of safe driving as laid down in the highway code. It is very easy to say that. It should not be difficult to do it. It is not asking a lot of people to wait 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour over the whole length of a motorway, which would have avoided the accident that 1526 occurred the other day. I believe that we can alter people, although not altogether, in some respects.
There are two classes of people to whom we must appeal. The first is the driver, who must have more personal responsibility. But should not we appeal to society as a. whole? At the moment, if we cheat at cards in a club to which we belong or hit our wives on the head with a hammer everybody ostracises us and says, "You have done a bad thing." But if we are convicted of a motoring offence people slap us on the shoulder and say," Bad luck, old boy; you were found out." Society's attitude to the behaviour of the driver is as important as the driver's attitude.
That is why, although I will read carefully the points which have been made about educating and re-educating people, I think that the most important consideration is the matter of courtesy and getting rid of the very bad driver who, to use a phrase used by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby, but which I would never normally use, makes the other chap bloody-minded. That is true.
I agree with the remarks which have been made about the test itself. The object of the test is to ensure that in normal traffic conditions someone who asks for the privilege of taking a car on the road—and it is a privilege, not a right—can control it properly and drive without danger to and with due consideration for other road users. This is what the present test does just as effectively as it ever did. It is the beginning and not the end of what a driver can acquire in the way of skill.
I am sure that the increasing amount and complexities of traffic imposes its own rising standard. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith), I should very much like to see a higher standard imposed. I make no bones about it; that would be my wish. It is not practical at the moment, but I assure him that I do not disagree with him in principle. If I can see ways and means of bringing this about I will certainly adopt them.
No examination can do all this, but I feel that when it comes to education we have had at the Ministry much success in educating children in the schools for 1527 a period going back ten or fifteen years. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye was perfectly right in what he said. I am considering whether, in order to rivet the attention of children in the schools, it would be a good idea to get some of the glamorous racing drivers to go round the schools and give lectures. I think that children would listen to them.
Driving tuition can play a vital part. Hon. Members who were present during the passage of the 1962 Act will remember that I took powers to set up a register of approved driving instructors. I hope to be able to announce details of my scheme soon. I believe that we must have a register of approved driving instructors. It is high time that we had one. The result will be a valuable guide to the person learning to drive in showing him where he can get first-class instruction. One of the subjects which the human factors group at the Road Research Laboratory will be exploring is the effectiveness of driving training methods. I hope that in the long run this will enable us to improve the general standard of training and driving behaviour.
Apart from driving and testing, other chief ways in which we can try to influence drivers' behaviour is by advice and propaganda and through the effect of traffic law. I am appalled at the attitude of many drivers to the law. It is obvious, not only from the behaviour of drivers on the road but from the vast volume of correspondence received by my Department, that many drivers think that many of the traffic laws are unnecessary and that they can flout them at liberty. But, as the House knows, traffic laws are not made for the sake of making them. It is impossible for 10 million vehicles to move about the roads of this country without there being a large number of rules and regulations to govern their movement.
Most traffic laws are specially designed to reduce the risk of accidents. During the passage of the 1962 Act, we had many long sessions in Committee and on Report. With all our disagreements, the House was genuinely trying to find what it could do and the legislation that it passed was what was thought to be in the best interests of 1528 safety. While we may not have gone far enough, we tried very hard. Speed limits are one example. They are unpopular and are widely disregarded by drivers who think that they know better and can drive safely at a higher speed.
In the past, however, some speed limits have been at an unrealistically low level. This is one of the reasons why speed limits are brought into disrepute. They are being reviewed and adjusted more closely to the conditions of the roads. There is, however, no doubt that speed limits save lives. All the evidence shows that wherever speed limits have been introduced in various parts of the world, they have reduced accidents and fatalities by an appreciable amount. It is estimated that the introduction of the 30 m.p.h. speed limit in 1935 cut down fatal accidents on those roads by 15 per cent. Speed limits are, therefore, of value, even if a large proportion of drivers continue to ignore them. The saving in death and injury could be even greater if they were universally observed.
I do not want to say a great deal about drink, to which several hon. Members have referred, because we are awaiting the evidence of the Road Research Laboratory into the inquiry concerning the Christmas fatal accidents, which, I hope, will be able to throw light on the relationship between drunken driving and accidents.
We had an interesting contribution to the debate from the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, who talked about the alcoholic, and we had another interesting contribution from the hon. Member for Oldham, East. I have never pretended that drunken driving, any more than bad roads, is the sole or even the major cause of road accidents, but there is fairly conclusive evidence that it has some effect and that the number of accidents involved is much higher than is shown in the official statistics.
It seems likely that in a normal period, alcohol may be a factor in about 18 per cent. of cases and at particular times of the year, as the 1959 Christmas accident inquiry showed, this proportion may rise to as high as 56 per cent. Past research has shown clearly that even small amounts of alcohol—say, two 1529 pints of beer or three single whiskies—can impair a driver's reaction and increase the mistakes which he makes by about 16 per cent., and that drivers are unaware of this deterioration in their performance because alcohol impairs their judgment.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall referred to the television interview. I do not know whether he saw the previous part of the programme, in which the man from the independent television company who was asking questions spoke to a number of persons who were leaving a public house on New Year's Eve. It was the most distressing series of interviews I have ever seen. I was scared stiff at the sort of things which those men said. One said that he had had about eight or nine double whiskies and six pints of beer but he was all right because he knew when to stop. Another fellow said, "I will drive all right. I am a member of the Advanced Motorists". I can tell him that they are still trying to find his name and address. If he volunteers this information, they will tell him what they think about him. It might be a good idea to show those interviews to Members of the House of Commons, because they were a salutary lesson. I thought that that kind of thing was bad. but I never knew it was as bad as that. I am sure that everybody who saw the programme will agree with me.
It was for that reason that we altered the drunken driving law in the 1962 Act, which came into force only in May, 1963. Some of the provisions, therefore, have not yet been in operation a full year. Obviously, we must see what effect it has. I have said that if the Christmas accident inquiry provides us with even more conclusive evidence of the effect of drink on accidents and the powers of the 1962 Act are shown to be inadequate, I shall not hesitate to come before the House of Commons with fresh proposals. I make that quite clear.
Pedestrians have their part to play in preventing road accidents, just as much as the motorist and the cyclist. On our busy city roads the time is rapidly coming to an end when pedestrians, in the interests of their own safety, can be allowed to walk on the road wherever and whenever they please. Whether they like it or not, if the number of cars 1530 on the road doubles by 1970, and trebles by 1980, it will be hazardous to cross the road anywhere except at selected points.
That is shown by the experiment carried out in Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street. They were two-way streets, but were converted for one-way traffic only. Cars went much faster. In point of fact, they travelled just slightly more than twice as fast as they did before. Pedestrians could not cross wherever they liked because the traffic was going too fast. They had to cross at controlled places where there were lights. As a consequence, accidents to pedestrians were reduced by more than 25 per cent. Discipline was enforced not by regulations, but by the mere physical fact that cars were going too quickly and pedestrians could cross only where there were red lights.
Last year we started an experiment on roads in three London boroughs. During most of the day it was made an offence for pedestrians to walk on the road except at special crossing places where they could cross when the lights were in their favour. It was a bargain whereby pedestrians gave up their rights to cross the road whenever and wherever they pleased at risk to themselves in return for the right to cross in safety at specified places at specified times. The experiment started last September and will continue for twelve months. The first reports indicate that in general the experiment is working satisfactorily, and when the full results are available I shall consider extending it to other areas.
One other decision that we have to announce shortly is that concerning the panda crossing experiment. This was introduced to provide better facilities for pedestrians when neither a zebra crossing nor an ordinary signal-controlled crossing was appropriate.
Perhaps I might sum up what I have said before I sit down and the House decides whether to accept this Motion. There is no one solution to this problem. I think that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye was generous enough to admit that was so. We have to tackle this on a broad front. We must go on finding out as much as we can about the way in which accidents happen, and, based on those findings, we must take measures to reduce the risk of 1531 accidents and to ensure that accidents which do occur are much less severe.
The Government, local authorities, and other official bodies do a great deal to deal with this problem but, whether we like it or not, whether we dodge the issue or not, we cannot escape from the fact that the final responsibility rests with the individual road user. I do not believe that people's behaviour cannot be changed. I think that it can be influenced by training. I think that it can be guided by reasonable and necessary rules laid down by law in the interests of safety, and we shall go on trying to influence road users, whether they be drivers, cyclists, or pedestrians, to exercise greater skill and care on the roads, and give them all the advice and practical guidance that we can.
Most of this work is done on my behalf by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and by local authorities. Each year the central Government makes grants totalling over £750,000 to them for this purpose. These bodies do excellent work and will, I know, value any support which hon. Members can give them in their constituencies.
One scheme which is particularly attracting my attention is the R.A.C.—A.C.U. scheme for training learner motor-cyclists. Apart from the work done by these organisations, we produce road safety films, and show them during breaks in television programmes. Both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. have generously given a great deal of time for this purpose, and 80 films have been commissioned.
We have had a long and exhaustive debate, with just a little heat engendered in the middle. I think that more light than heat has been engendered, and I hope that the House will accept the Motion and thank my hon. and gallant Friend for moving it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ That this House deplores the excessive loss of life and limb on the public roads and, whilst declaring its intention to do everything it can to increase safety on the roads, urges Her Majesty's Government to intensify their efforts to bring home to the public the need to exercise the highest standards of care and personal responsibility, and to remind drivers of motor vehicles that they have under their control a lethal weapon.