HC Deb 24 November 1965 vol 721 cc512-7

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

63. Mr. HEFFER

To ask the Minister of Transport, whether he is prepared to put a 20 miles per hour maximum speed limit on motorways during dense fog.


To ask the Minister of Transport, what further action he is taking to prevent collisions on the M.1 in conditions of fog.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Tom Fraser)

With permission, I will now answer Questions Nos. 63 and 77 together.

I am pressing on with a comprehensive study of signalling systems in order to decide what permanent arrangements we should adopt.

For the immediate future, I have decided on two main measures. The first is an ad hoc advisory speed limit of 30 m.p.h. for temporary application on lengths of motorway where there are serious hazzards such as fog or other specially bad weather conditions. The restricted lengths will be indicated to drivers by vertical pairs of alternately flashing amber lights, placed at one-mile intervals along the motorway and at entry points. They will be switched on and off by the police as conditions warrant. The system will give advance warning to drivers to reduce speed down to no more than 30 m.p.h. as they approach the hazard. When the hazard area is actually reached, drivers should reduce their speeds still further according to the conditions prevailing. I am planning to have this advisory system on the motorways ready for operation by Christmas.

The arrangements made for the Meteorological Office to pass fog warnings to the police and broadcasting authorities are being extended. The plan is for weather bulletins to give warnings when fog is forecast for motorways. As an entirely new feature, special announcements will be broadcast on radio and television when the warning system is operating on a particular stretch of motorway. I am grateful to the televi5Aon and radio authorities for their cooperation in this valuable safety measure.

Second, there will be a general speed limit of 70 m.p.h. on motorways and all other unrestricted roads for an experimental period of four months from Christmas until after Easter. This measure should diminish speed differentials and thus lead to a reduction in accidents. The results achieved will be carefully analysed as the experiment proceeds.

These measures are designed to improve driver discipline on motorways and on other roads throughout the country as a whole. I hope that they will be accepted in this spirit, because safety—first and last—is the inescapable responsibility of every individual driver.

Mr. Heffer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that statement will be widely welcomed throughout the entire country? I should like to ask him to have a further look at this question of the 30 m.p.h. limit during dense fog? Could this not be reduced to 20 m.p.h.? Secondly, why must it be only for an experimental period that the 70 m.p.h. maximum limit should be applied? Could this not be applied now as a permanent feature of motorway driving?

Mr. Fraser

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he probably knows, I have discussed the proposition that we should have a temporary limit in bad weather conditions of 20 m.p.h., but in the discussions I have had with the many organisations particularly concerned, it has been suggested that this would be too low a limit to lay down. In any case, I would say that it is quite impossible to lay down a safe speed for driving in fog. The speed at which one may reasonably travel then depends, of course, on the density of the fog and one's range of vision.

On the question whether we should have a permanent 70 m.p.h. limit on motorways and other unrestricted roads, I think we have to proceed by experiment here. I have decided to make this experiment for a period of four months, and I hope that by the end of three months we shall be able to get such information as to be able to draw conclusions—particularly that the Road Research Laboratory should be able to draw such conclusions—to enable me to decide what the position should be at the end of the four months' period.

Sir M. Redmayne

Is the Minister aware that his own words "it is impossible to lay down safe speed limits in fog" defeat his own policy? A 30 m.p.h. speed limit could very well be unsafe. Would it not be much wiser to have a variable limit to be imposed at will by the police with a system of lighted signs? Does the right hon. Gentleman not appreciate that we would have much more faith in his flashing lights system if he would leave the matter to the discretion of the motorists about the limits which they think will be safe in fog? As to the overall 70 m.p.h. speed limit, will he appreciate that we have got this really as a defeatist policy, that in point of fact motorways are built for good motoring by sensible people, and that the sooner we adhere to that doctrine the better off we shall be? But the whole matter really rests on the quality of enforcement both of speed limits and of all the law relating to driving, and what is the Minister doing to see that the means of enforcement are adequate?

Mr. Fraser

Taking each of the points in turn, I said in my original statement that after the motorist reaches the point at which he sees the flashing amber lights he should reduce his speed still further according to the conditions prevailing. We all know perfectly well that in really dense fog there is no safe speed at which one can drive. When the driver sees the signs he should reduce his speed from above 30 to 30 m.p.h. The amber lights are switched on by the police before the fog area. The lights are switched on as warnings that there is this hazard ahead. When he gets to the hazard itself the responsibility must be on him, the driver, to drive within the range of his visibility.

On the question of a speed limit of 70 m.p.h., I am bound to remind the House that whenever speed limits have been introduced lives have been saved. This is the experience in this country. This is the experience in the United States with their speed limits on motorways. This is the experience in Germany where they have imposed their upper limit of 62 m.p.h on the autobahnen. So I think we owe it to the motoring public of this country to afford them the protection which is afforded to other motorists in other parts of the world.

Mr. Edelman

Is my right hon. Friend aware that while his limited measures will be widely welcomed, they will be completely frustrated unless there is an increase in mobile police patrols in order to make them effective, and, in these circumstances, would he not only do this but also urge the police patrols to endeavour to uphold good driving discipline both by private drivers and also—above all, perhaps—lorry drivers?

Mr. Fraser

As the House knows, I have had discussions with the chief constables and other county officials of all the counties with motorways. They have generally approved what I have now announced to the House, and they have told me they will do their utmost to ensure success in enforcing the 70 m.p.h. limit. One knows all the difficulties. One know the difficulties the police have with the 40 m.p.h. limit and the 50 m.p.h. limit imposed on other, restricted, roads at the present time, but they are satisfield that the imposition of this limit will lead to a reduction in the very high speeds which are attained at the present time and that they will be able to achieve a reasonable success in enforcing these speed limits.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Is the Minister aware that he is to be congratulated on adopting my idea of the speed limit in fog—though I did suggest that it should be variable? But has he thought about speed limits and flashing signs being applied in snow conditions, particularly to heavy vehicles?

Mr. Fraser

I said that this limit would be discretionary. It is within the discretion of the police that the flashing of the amber lights will be undertaken not only in fog but in other bad weather conditions. There was a very bad accident on the M.1 the other day when there was no snow, there was no fog, and it might have been avoided had these flashing indicators been operating—in other very adverse weather conditions. The object is to use them whenever there are any hazards on the roads.

Mr. Bence

While thanking my right hon. Friend for his statement, may I ask him, in the interests of the average family motorist who is deeply concerned at some of the dangers on the motorways today, whether he will give further consideration to the adoption of the Continental system of using a red triangle when a motor car has broken down on the road? It is placed at the rear of the car. It is a useful device for saving a pile-up behind a car which has broken down. Will my right hon. Friend give that consideration?

Mr. Fraser

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I am in fact consulting the organisations that I have to consult in these matters about this very proposition at the moment.

Mr. Lubbock

Whilst welcoming the Minister's announcement about this new warning system on the motorways, may ask him whether he is aware that many experts consider that a major factor in road accidents is the consumption of alcohol? When can we expect legislation to be introduced providing for a maximum concentration of alcohol in the bloodstreams of drivers?

Mr. Fraser

The Gracious Speech mentions the fact that we are going to bring forward this Bill. I had anticipated that some time ago. I would like very much to introduce it before the end of the year. If I can do it, it will be introduced. In any case, there will be no avoidable delay.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must protect the business of the House.