§ 11.15 a.m.
§ Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)
I beg to move,That this House deplores the continuous increase in death and injury on our public roads in spite of many improvements in recent years, and feels that the time has approached when this serious problem must be thoroughly tackled at the source, and therefore calls on the Minister of Transport to see that there are far better and higher standards of driving instruction and education available by using more modern and scientific methods.It is just over two years ago, on 24th January, 1964, that I moved a Motion in this House deploring the loss of life and limb on our roads and declaring the House's intention to do everything to increase safety and the need to exercise the highest standards of care and personal responsibility by drivers. The then Minister of Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples), gave a very full reply to the debate and the House accepted the Motion.
Since that date, a large number of improvements have taken place under what are known as the "three Es"—engineering, enforcement and education. Under the first, improvement, both of our major and minor roads, are taking place all the time. There is also improvement in the design of cars. Perhaps the greatest factor here is the increasing use of safety belts, particularly for the passenger who sits alongside the driver and who always seems to be the worst sufferer in any accident.
Enforcement is still difficult and takes up a tremendous amount of time both for the police and the courts. Last Wednesday, in a very thoughtful speech about crime, my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) stressed that it is no good passing laws unless they can be enforced because that brings the law into contempt. That is the situation we have reached with some of our laws of motoring and perhaps is one of the reasons for the less good relations between the police and the general public.
However, in spite of these improvements, the figures of deaths and loss of limb continue to mount. This may, in part, be due to the increased numbers of 1450 cars and other vehicles coming on to the roads every year. The more I have studied this problem in the intervening two years, the more I am convinced that it is the human factor that is most important and that more education is needed. Loss of life and limb occur because of negligence, inattention, or the lack of knowledge of either one driver or two drivers at the same time, or of one pedestrian and one driver.
I am glad to say—and we must not underestimate this—that a high percentage of drivers, probably nearly three quarters, take great care and have not been involved personally in an accident. Nevertheless, that does not necessarily mean that they are really good and competent drivers. They may unwittingly have been the cause of an accident although not involved themselves. I think that we all have experience of the driver who will insist on going at 30 miles an hour plum in the middle of the road on a Sunday afternoon and never seems to get nearer to his own side. Therefore, I make no apology for bringing the House back again to this subject.
I am sorry that the right hon. Lady the Minister of Transport is not here personally to reply. I feel that she must have a very important engagement indeed that she should miss the opportunity of being able to deal with this subject concerning the loss of life and limb; and, of course, she had a precedent for the Minister in charge of a Department to come and reply to a debate of this sort from my right hon. Friend two years ago.
This is the third time in three years that I have been fortunate enough to draw first place in the private Members' Motions to be debated, perhaps a little compensation for the long years of silence which I had when I sat as a Government Whip on the Treasury Bench. On each occasion I have chosen the subject with a good deal of care, and one which I thought was topical of the day, and previously we have had the head of the Department to reply. I welcome the junior Minister who, I understand, will reply today. Although he is new to his office, I hope that he has some ideas of his own.
I have drawn my Motion reasonably wide to assist hon. Members who have particular points to raise, and who may be able to take part in the debate. I 1451 want to concentrate, in the terms of the Motion, very much on the "E" which stands for education, because I am certain that it is only by getting to the source of this problem that we can achieve real further progress. Let us remember the words of the garage proprietor who, when asked what was the most important bit on a motor car, replied, "The nut at the wheel". That is as true today as it ever was.
After the debate two years ago I was approached by the Professional Driving Instructors' Federation and asked whether I would become its president, as apparently, it rather approved of what I had said. I gladly accepted the post. It is an honorary position, and I certainly have not set myself up as a driving instructor. It has, however, brought me into close contact with many of the men and women who teach people to drive, and the conditions under which they work are more appalling and more chaotic than I think most people realise.
It is still incredible to me, as it is to many motoring organisations, that any boy, or girl, of 17 who has passed a driving test—and after all the driving test is only the floor before being allowed on the roads—can set up a driving school or pose as a driving instructor, without having any knowledge at all of how to teach, and without much experience of driving. I do not say that that frequently happens, but the figures show that of the large number of those coming forward every week to take their test, 13,000 go forward having been taught in a freelance manner by the boy friend, by the father—which I do not think is particularly good—by the husband, or by any other friend of the family, and it is not surprising that more than half of them fail to pass the test.
Accompanied by the Chairman of the Federation, Squadron Leader Healey, himself the owner of a driving school, and a very experienced instructor, I have had interviews at the Ministry of Transport in connection with road safety and driving, both with Lord Lindgren, the then Parliamentary Secretary, and with his officials. We have always had the greatest help and co-operation, even if there has been a difference in point of view, because we all have the same object in mind.
1452 I am sure that we are all grateful for the Road Traffic Act, 1962, under which driving instructors can get a qualification from the Ministry. This started to operate only in October, 1964. It is quite expensive for an instructor to take—I understand that it cost him about £10—but so far it offers no exclusiveness. After some initial difficulty, it has been reasonably well received by driving instructors, but we have been pressing the Ministry strongly to do more to support these men who take the test and to recognise them as capable and qualified instructors.
Nor has the Ministry yet laid down definite standards of driving drill, and there is, therefore, a wide interpretation of the methods of instruction. If the police method at Hendon College is best, this should be the compulsory system for everyone.
There is at present no professional status attached to these instructors, and yet thousands of lives and limbs are in their keeping by their teaching. It is during the first few lessons of the basic training that habits must be instilled into a driver. Every boy or girl of 17 will sooner or later want to drive a motor car. It is not just one section of our society, it is everyone, and this is the size of the problem.
To press the whole matter further, both in this Parliament and in the last one, I introduced a Bill under the Ten Minute Rule for the licensing of driving schools, but on both occasions I was blocked by the Government Whips of the day, on the instructions of the Ministry.
§ Sir H. Harrison
Why, when I was a Government Whip, I ever blocked a Private Member's Bill, I cannot think. I cannot understand this attitude. The purpose of my Bill was only to preserve life.
In almost every other profession and trade outsiders are not allowed to take part—we can go from doctors to engine drivers to see that—nor are they instructed in their trade by laymen. Doctors are trained by doctors. In the trade unions, carpenters are trained by carpenters, and not by the handyman at home. The provisions of my Bill were very simple. It provided that no one under 21 could set up a driving school, 1453 and that on the staff of a driving school there should be at least one instructor who had passed the Ministry's test. It also provided that within a limited period of time any freelance instruction should come to an end, and in a further period all driving instructors should be qualified by the Ministry. It is the principle that matters, not the detail.
Owing to the competition of freelance instructors the rates of pay of qualified instructors are very low compared with the rates of pay in other professions. Many of them have to work long hours of overtime—up to 60 hours a week altogether—to get a reasonable wage. A lot of this work has to be done on Saturdays and Sundays, and much of it in all weathers.
A year OT two ago my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Sir J. Lucas), who has a Motion on the Order Paper today, got a Bill through the House for the licensing of riding establishments, and we are trying to get another one through to license estate agents. Those are worthy causes, but surely the subject of this Motion is even more important? There should be far greater control over the type of car in which instruction is given. Only cars which have dual control should be used for this purpose, and there ought also to be a limit on the age of the car.
As I pointed out before, between the ages of 17 and 21—and in some European countries the age is 18—drivers are involved in a higher number of accidents than are drivers in other age groups. I believe that after passing a test they should be given only a provisional licence to drive without anyone else, and that if a driver up to the age of 21 is involved in any accident which leads to court proceedings, he should go back to square one and undergo instruction again.
According to the records, it is from 21 onwards that people become better drivers, up to the age of 50, when all our reflexes become much slower, but one hopes that by then we do not have quite the same urge for speed. My son is now 29. Today, he is a much better driver than I am, but, 10 years ago, when I was 48 and he was 19, I was, I would say, a better driver than he was.
The most effective legislation to reduce accidents was the imposition of a speed 1454 limit in built-up areas, as was reported by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. However, I am glad to see that this has now become more flexible, and that there are speed limits of 40 and 50 m.p.h. In 1964, with the help of the then Minister, I was table to aid this process by getting a small Bill through the House. By that Act the present overall blanket speed limit of 50 m.p.h. in holiday periods does not apply to dual carriageways. I hope that shows I am not opposed to speed in the right place. We now have an overall experiment of 70 m.p.h., and when the reports come in on it the Minister will be able to draw certain conclusions. I feel that this speed limit will not help to reduce accidents on our motorways when there is a fog. It is also a difficult restriction to enforce.
I hope that I have taken the House with me in stressing the need for better instruction and education. I am glad to see that on B.B.C. television road safety is now well to the fore, with quizzes and questions being put to various groups of drivers—men, women, professional drivers, and novices. This is an excellent thing, but not enough publicity is given on a national scale to rouse the nation's conscience.
The tragic disaster when an aircraft hit the top of Mont Blanc caused our newspapers to headline the news that 115 lives had been lost, but the same sort of publicity is not given to the fact that as many persons or more, are killed on the roads in one week. Because this happens week after week it does not make the headlines. We must never be complacent about the situation.
I warned the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that I would be referring to him. In a debate two years ago he followed me and took up a point that I had made on the use of simulators in the training of air pilots and the beneficial results that flowed from them. He said: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?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th January, 1964; Vol. 687, c. 1446.]1455 I find that I am always either in great agreement with the hon. and learned Member or in violent disagreement with him. On this occasion I could not agree more with him. I have talked to many pilots in Transport Command who have all attributed their great success in relation to the safety factor to the amount of time they are compelled to devote to refresher courses on simulators. These simulators can even show the characteristics which make some persons more accident-prone than others.
Since then I have carried out some study along these lines. I was activated by the thought that by the use of simulators we might be able to arrive at a common and best standard of driving instruction which could be taught to everyone, so that they could all be doing the same thing. At the moment, in spite of the Highway Code, no one is familiar with all the signals which are employed on our roads today. If an oncoming lorry flashes its headlights we do not know whether it means that it is going to slow down so that we can turn right or that it is going to come on faster. This creates a sense of insecurity.
My researches have brought to light the fact that in the United States a great deal of teaching is done by simulators. It has become an international organisation which has spread to Europe in the last two years. I have been privileged to see for myself the type of instruction that goes on. Four weeks ago I paid a visit to Zurich and Lucerne, and I cannot do better than describe to the House what I saw.
The pupils go into a normal type of classroom, in which there may be anything from 10 to 15 simulators. Each one is a mock-up of a normal, modern 10 h.p. motor car. They are expensive machines. There is nothing cheap about them. They cost about £250 each. I should like to describe one of these simulator motor cars, or drivo-trainee cars, as they are called.
Each one is a single unit, with dual controls—clutch, brake pedal, hand brake level, accelerator, steering wheel, gear lever, indicators, horn, ignition switch, starter, speedometer and adjustable seat, There is also the normal noise that one gets in a car, and an automatic transmission system. It is possible to stall the 1456 engine, as I did. All the controls are electrically connected to a recording unit, so that the instructor can see the reactions of each car driver on a graph.
Each member of the class is allocated to his own machine, and the instructor then goes through the whole drill. The pupil gets into the car, closes the door, makes sure the other door is locked, switches on, checks the petrol, puts the car into gear, and looks into the mirrors before starting off. There are also instruction films which have been made with the help of the Swiss police and road safety officers. These, in their proper order of instruction, are shown to beginners. They also show how easy it is to forget safety drill when leaving home in a hurry, perhaps because one is a few minutes late, and also if one has had a slight tiff with one's wife.
One film shows exactly what is seen if one is driving at 25, 30 or 40 m.p.h., and shows how one reacts when stopping at lights, or looking for traffic coming from the right, which is the law in Switzerland. One of the great advantages of a class like this is that it can be taken in the hours of darkness, up to 10 or 11 p.m. These classes are very popular, especially among those who work during the day.
The learner-driver gets the exact feel of what, to all intents and purposes, is a real car, with a moving scene in front of him, so that when he goes out with his instructor on the road he does not have the apprehension which so many learner-drivers have, and which I well remember having when I was a learnerdriver—looking down and groping for the gear lever and taking my eyes off the road. In Europe the results of training by this method have been staggering. A far higher percentage of learners are passing their driving test at the first attempt. The percentage of failures has dropped from 42 per cent. to 16 per cent. and these drivers are regarded as far safer than others.
This experience led me to go back further and check—through information I was able to gather and not through a visit—how this form of driving instruction has fared in the United States. It is common in their high schools and most of their cities. The Americans also pay particular attention to the personality of the driver. They feel that, 1457 just as is the case when children first go to school, the basic principles of writing and reading which are taught remain with one for the rest of one's life. It is felt that the initial lessons on road drill are very important for drivers.
Those of us who were in the Services remember the training we had there—in the Army, the Air Force or the Navy—and how necessary it was for the Service man to know his weapons backwards, and know exactly how he should act in arty given situation. It is through that discipline that commanders are able to be sure that in an emergency which is threatening their lives men will react automatically in the right way, and do the right things. In just the same way, this method of instruction instils the basic principles for all times, teaching drivers to do the right thing in an emergency.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Is this scheme in Switzerland a voluntary scheme, or is it run by the Government? Does the pupil have to pay?
§ Sir H. Harrison
I know that my hon. Friend has always taken a great interest in these matters. I am coming to that point, if he will bear with me a little longer.
Certain motor car insurance company underwriters in the United States have reduced by 10 per cent. the premiums paid by young men under 25 years of age who have received a certain number of hours' instruction—usually 30—in this classroom method. California has now made 30 hours of classroom instruction compulsory in its public schools for 200,000 youths reaching driving age each year. In Columbus, Ohio, boys trained by this method have only half the accidents of others. In the United States Air Force, they had a high percentage of accidents at the Geider Airfield at Washington and reduced them by over a half by teaching by simulators.
Manufacturing companies which run large fleets of lorries have achieved a reduction of 30 to 40 per cent in the accidents which they previously suffered. What I want to impress on the House is that this method is worth studying and it should be studied by the authorities in this country.
I should like to go on to another instrument of this method of teaching, a 1458 machine similar to the one which I have described, but with more free play for moving the steering wheel, by which adult drivers can be tested for their quick reactions in an emergency. When one sits in the machine, a film says that one will go through 10 emergency tests. I went to Lucerne to see this machine and, innocently and unexpectedly on my second day, found myself in it.
I was under a handicap because driving is on the right side of the road and the script was in German, which I do not understand. Therefore, I had to have a translator by me and I got the meaning just a moment late. The commentator tells one to start one's car, move off and accelerate to a certain speed, and as the speed of the car increases so does the film's speed. The commentator says, for example, that one is in a built-up area, travelling at 30 m.p.h., and then suddenly a child runs out. What is one's reaction? If one takes the proper action, so that no accident would take place, the film goes blank. If, however, one reacts wrongly, the film shows a bomb exploding, indicating that one is dead or maimed or someone else is.
This is most realistic and the pupil feels as if he is on the road. His reactions are recorded on an electrical graph which can be studied afterwards by him and his instructor and he cannot say that he did not do certain things. I was gratified to pass nine out of ten of these emergency tests. I failed the one which told me to drive on a fairly empty road at up to 50 m.p.h. I was approaching a slight bend, I decelerated to 40 and, as I went round the bend, I found a lorry approaching me with a private car overtaking it. I slammed on my brakes, but the film showed a bomb exploding. There would have been an accident. What I had done wrong was in not pulling the car more to the side of the road and on to the verge or pavement. This might have let the thug driver through, but would have meant less possibility of injury to myself or those in my car.
This episode impressed me. I think that, in future, I will make the right reaction in those circumstances. It is all the more tragic because during last summer in my constituency, through which runs the A.12 between London and Yarmouth, at the village of Little 1459 Glemham the road for a long stretch has no sharp turns but several bends and there were three fatal accidents in a short time. All were caused by overtaking. The innocent driver probably thought, "I am in the right. It is his fault as he is on the wrong side." Nevertheless, the innocent driver was killed. If he had mounted the verge, he might have got away with a lesser injury. At the subsequent court proceedings, the judge condemned the drivers who were causing fatal accidents.
The use of such a machine as I have described would be invaluable not only to driving schools but to private firms with lorries and to the services, the police and the Post Office. However good a record a driver has, he could face in one of these machines a difficult situation which he might not meet in many years of driving. Three or four films of emergencies like this are required. The graph which I mentioned is useful in showing a man's reactions in steering, braking, accelerating and using indicators. Of course, the learner-driver can take a similar test. It is here that the machine will show up the aggressive tendencies of the bad driver who is continually thrusting through and becoming involved in accidents.
I believe that a test like this would be very useful. If a man had had his licence suspended, it would be a good idea to require him to prove his increased aptitude by this means before it was restored. I was fortunate later on in my stay in Switzerland to meet an old friend, Mr. Suter. We were together in promoting the Anglo-Swiss good relations which have now existed for over 10 years on the ski slopes of Davos. He is the President of Migros, a very big co-operative in Switzerland which has a large educational and cultural side. His firm is interested in this method of instruction, largely on the cultural side rather than for profit, and he is most enthusiastic and said that this went for authorities in Switzerland as a whole.
There are about 40,000 tests a week in England and the pass rate is only just over half. There is a waiting lag of 12½ weeks. The Royal Automobile Club pointed out in a statement yesterday how the waiting lag has gone up from 11 weeks in 1964, through 8½ in 1963 to a 1460 waiting lag now, in some parts of the country, of over 20 weeks. Two-thirds of those who take the test go to schools, but 30 per cent. are still taught by freelance instructors. Results of my experience show that people taught by the method which I examined have a far higher percentage of passes.
I suggest the importance of studying this method of training in order to help clear the backlog. On average, I am told that it costs a would-be driver about £22 to learn and to pass the test in the traditional way. By this method, more drivers can go through one instructor's hands for the first half of their training before going out on the road, with the film always giving exactly the same lessons. The pupils can see their faults, and this method would raise the status of qualified instructors. We must think also of how people learn today. Seventeen-year-olds have been accustomed all their lives to watching television and we use visual aids in schools, so it would be natural for them to have this form of driving instruction.
I have had a long talk with representatives of the Automobile Association, who have told me that they are in favour of including this method of instruction with normal methods and are completely won round to the view which I have expressed in the House that only qualified instructors should be allowed to teach. I have also a letter from the B.M.C., the biggest driving instruction organisation in the country, saying that they are in favour of qualified instructors only. They have gone even further in their recommendations to suggest that those qualified instructors should also have periods of training. I understand that the A.A. and the police have sent representatives to Zurich to see these methods.
I believe that an invitation was sent to the Ministry of Transport but, as far as I understand it, no one from the Ministry has yet paid a visit to Zurich. If this is so, it is incredible. The Swiss are hospitable and are glad to show these facilities. If the Minister or his representatives want to go to Zurich, it can be arranged at short notice, for it takes only 1½ hours by jet flight. Has the Minister sent a representative to the United States? If not, why not? Their methods should be studied.
1461 I understand that there is a firm in this country which wishes to operate these methods and that the script of a film is being studied and collated. It is vital that the Ministry of Transport should not only give its approval but should be involved in the making of these films—probably a dozen will be required —so that some common standard and the highest methods can be incorporated. The use of the techniques shown in these films is most important. It might even be a good thing if the films were made and owned by the Ministry in conjunction with the police and safety officers and then supplied to the driving schools. I do not mind how the details are arranged for I am only making the point of principle.
It is clear that we must ensure that more instruction is given where 17 and 18 year-olds are gathered together, for example in schools, colleges and universities, and that this should be done by qualified instructors. As the tests are carried out by the State, it will probably be best if these qualified instructors come from recognised driving schools. I am also certain that there is a demand for more lectures and television programmes and more studies of this subject.
The cost of these tragedies, computed in money terms, is estimated to be £250 million a year. In addition, there is all the personal grief. This is a colossal figure. It is, therefore, not unreasonable that the Government should try to diminish this sum by further education. The problem can never be solved completely but we ought to go a great deal further towards its solution. Many good things have been done in recent years, and we must follow these up and report on them.
I make no excuse whatever for coming back to this subject in the House, and I warn hon. Members that if I catch Mr. Speaker's eye on future occasions I shall continue until I have won this battle. Indeed, there ought to be no resistance. This is common sense and common humanity. I wish that a great many other hon. Members could have seen the demonstration which I saw. I believe that we all think that this problem should be more vigorously tackled. Here is an opportunity for the Minister. I do not know what reply he will give today, but if he is slightly condemning in his attitude 1462 to new ideas or rather complacent, I say to him, new as he is in his office, that he should tear up his brief and give us a short reply saying that he has an open mind and that he will study these suggestions or that he has been convinced by my argument and will act vigorously and quickly. I remind him and the House that in all probability, by the law of averages, while I have been speaking one fit person has been killed and eight others seriously injured.
§ 11.54 a.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
The hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) has made a very forceful and stimulating speech. The whole House knows that he has a keen and abiding interest in problems of road safety. Indeed, there are few hon. Members with more detailed knowledge of these problems and, in particular, of driving schools and their standards. This is clear from his speech this morning. As the first speaker from this side of the House, I congratulate him on selecting a topic which is of considerable importance and widespread interest throughout the country.
I thought that the hon. and gallant Member was rather pessimistic about the nature of the reply which he would receive from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. For my part, I am satisfied that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will give a constructive reply to the debate and that we shall be satisfied at the end of the day that a very important service has been rendered by the hon. and gallant Member for Eye in having tabled this Motion for debate.
Having said that, I feel that the hon. and gallant Member is guilty of a non-sequitur or, at least, a wrong assumption in his Motion. The Motiondeplores the continuous increase in death and injury on our public roads in spite of many improvements in recent years…It goes on to say that theproblem must be thoroughly tackled at the source…Itcalls on the Minister of Transport to see that there are far better and higher standards of driving instruction and education available…For my part, I am not satisfied that the mounting casualty rate is caused only by poor driving instruction. I am sure 1463 that hon. Members will agree that there are other equally important factors which ought to be examined in a Motion which draws attention to death and injury on our public roads. Recalling Bob Newhart's famous sketch of a driving instructor, I might says that perhaps there are few lady drivers in this country who would reverse down their driveways at 70 m.p.h., but I have no doubt that our driving school instructors have their headaches and their narrow squeaks. Driving instruction is an important factor in road safety.
But to link the bad instruction of learner drivers with the incidence of death and serious injury on the road is to imply that there are bad examiners of candidates for driving licences. It is another assumption of the Motion—in my view a wrong assumption—that there are people who are unfit to pass the driving test but who nevertheless succeed in doing so. As the hon. and gallant Member for Eye said, it may be that driving ability deteriorates after the moment of success in taking a driving test. It may be that there is a strong case for the periodic re-examination of drivers. I trust that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will give us his view today on whether he is satisfied that one test in a lifetime is a sufficient qualification for driving on our roads.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
Do I gather that the hon. Member is satisfied with the existing degree of stringency of driving tests?
§ Mr. Morris
I am grateful to the hon. Member for his intervention. I am calling into question the whole matter of the adequacy of the existing tests. I feel certain that driving ability can seriously deteriorate after success in the driving test. There is a strong case for periodically examining the fitness of people to continue to drive.
§ Mr. Arnold Gregory (Stockport, North)
May I suggest that a rather shattering experience occurs once a driver has passed the test? Previously, he has been accompanied and instructed. When he passes the test, he is approved by the Ministry. The shattering experience is that for the first time he is alone in handling a motor car. This is the point to be borne in mind. Deterioration might 1464 well set in. There is a challenge to the driver to use his skill at this important part of his driving career.
§ Mr. Morris
I am satisfied that there are many hon. Members who would like to consider the point extremely carefully.
The hon. Member for Eye referred to American tests of personality. If one wants a quick idea of a man's personality, the best thing to do is to accompany him while he is driving a car. I am certain that a test at any time in a person's life would give the examiner a fair idea of the candidate's personality. Serious deterioration might occur by reason of failing sight and other faculties being impaired by age. I should very much appreciate a word from my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on his and his Ministry's thinking on this point.
Having expressed my feeling that most people take a sensible view about seeking adequate driving instruction, I must say that there are some people who recently have invited considerable public criticism. I was reading in the Guardian about the rally at Newport Pagnell. Hon. Members will remember that a short time ago there was a demonstration against the new experimental 70 m.p.h. speed limit on motorways. What was somewhat ludicrous at the rally was that people whose cars were capable of maximum speeds of only 75–80 m.p.h. were arguing bitterly against a 70 m.p.h. speed limit.
I recognise that people owning certain makes of car, Jaguars and others, capable of speeds in excess of 100 m.p.h. might feel that they have a case, but I understand that at Newport Pagnell people who were protesting against the 70 m.p.h. limit had cars that were incapable of doing much more than 70 m.p.h. The trouble about general rules is that they can penalise individuals rather unfairly. It may be that we need a general maximum speed limit of 70 m.p.h. for non-motorways but that speed limits on motorways should be geared to the capacity of the car. Many people have put to me the need to consider relating speed limits on motorways to the capacity of cars when the present experimental speed limit is reviewed.
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member for Eye would agree that speed is clearly a factor in the increased toll of death and serious injury on our roads. 1465 I notice that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Tom Fraser) was Minister of Transport, he said in reply to a Question from my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Rowland) that the Road Research Laboratory had compared injury accident rates on motorways in Britain with those in other countries and had found broadly that our rates were higher than in America, where nearly all expressways had speed limits, and were lower than on the Continent of Europe, where motorways had no general speed limits. There would therefore appear to be a case for considering the continuance of a maximum speed limit on the motorways. I ask my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary again to consider whether this could be related to the capacity of the car so that we avoid one of the worst pitfalls of general rules.
I ought, perhaps, to mention that the view of motorists themselves was tested as recently as December, 1965. A National Opinion Poll in December showed that 60 per cent. of motorists were in favour of the 70 m.p.h. speed limit, 38 per cent. were against it, and 2 per cent. had no opinion. I appreciate that there is a bitter difference between the two sides of the House at this time concerning National Opinion Polls and that hon. Members opposite will not take the same view as we do of the work and activities of opinion polls. I understand, however, that the poll in December was properly conducted scientifically. It would seem, therefore, that motorists see wisdom in a speed limit of 70 m.p.h. on motorways.
I have said that I agree with the hon. Member for Eye that good driving instruction is a factor in avoiding road accidents. I have said, secondly, that excessive speed is also clearly an important factor. I might also emphasise that excessive alcohol is a further factor of considerable importance. I should also stress, because of correspondence that one has seen recently on the subject, that for my part I wish to see no unreasonable incursion into the liberty of the individual. We should be extremely careful before we do anything which can be interpreted as an invasion of individual rights.
Nevertheless, when the right hon. Member for Marple was Minister of Transport—[Hots. MEMBERS: "Wallasey."]— 1466 I should explain that I have lived most of my life in a place which is equidistant from Marple and Wallasey. That is why both names come equally easily to mind. When the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) was Minister of Transport he came to the conclusion that only a blood, breath or urine test would check the large number of serious accidents in which drink was a factor, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton considered steps to give effect to that policy and also to put an end to the scandal of defective and overloaded lorries.
Those two subjects were outlined in the White Paper "Road Safety Legislation, 1965–66", which recommended a maximum alcohol concentration of 80 mm. of alcohol to 100 ml. of blood. The amount of alcohol required to produce that concentration varies greatly according to whether drink is taken on an empty stomach or with a meal. Again, as the House well knows, some drinkers are more tolerant of alcohol than are others. I believe that in order to avoid confusion, the public should be told the amount of drink necessary to produce that concentration in the worst conditions—that is when alcohol is consumed quickly on an empty stomach.
The point was made by the Southwark coroner a few days before Christmas, when he criticised suggestions that one might drink nine whiskies and yet have a concentration of alcohol in the blood below the level mentioned in the White Paper. He said that it was against the experience of his court that anyone could drink nine whiskies and still have an alcohol-blood concentration of only 80 mm. per 100 ml. of blood. He added:There is only one safe maxim: if you drive, don't drink; if you drink, don't drive.It is noteworthy that at the fourth international conference on alcohol and traffic safety, which met in Indiana in December, 1965, a resolution was passed to the effect that if all accidents caused by alcohol were to be eliminated, an alcohol concentration of more than 50 mm. per 100 ml. blood should not be allowed. I understand that the recommendation in that resolution was also approved by the Pedestrians' Association in representations to the Ministry.
On the question of individual liberty, I am satisfied that drivers generally have little time for those of their fellows who 1467 are prepared to endanger the lives of pedestrians by excessive drinking. I am also satisfied that in discussion about the effect of alcohol on road safety there should be present the parents of a child who has been killed on the roads, so as to give real meaning and feeling to that discussion.
Many pedestrians feel that this House has been more concerned with the problems of drivers than with those of pedestrians. I have had referred to me a note about one brilliant suggestion made by a writer in a newspaper that more room could be made for the flow of motor traffic to and from our cities if suburban front gardens were abolished. That level of enthusiasm may be reached by some on behalf of motorists, but there are bound to be pedestrians, owner-occupiers and council-house tenants alike, who will say, "We prefer our front gardens to be left as they are".
I have already briefly referred to the problem of overloaded vehicles—
§ Mr. R. W. Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of the alcohol factor in driving, will he not consider other factors? If liberty is to be taken away in that case, what about the man who smokes; the man who tries to light his cigarette simultaneously with driving, who gets the cigarette in the middle of his teeth and cannot take it out, and gets smoke in his eyes when he ought to be taking action? Could not that be a contributory factor? What about the man smoking his pipe on a journey between, say, London and Birmingham who so fills his car with smoke that the fumes do not enable him to take the action he should? There is also the man who takes aspirins—
§ Mr. Morris
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am quite sure that other factors that I have not so far mentioned are extremely important in our consideration of road safety and road accidents, but the fact is that there has been very detailed research, not only here but internationally, into the effects of alcohol 1468 on the competence of drivers. However, I am sure that other hon. Members will wish to contribute to this debate, and I hope that they will take the opportunity to deal with these other factors.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. Brown) intervened I was about to refer to overloaded and defective lorries. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, the then Minister of Transport, should be congratulated on his energy in framing measures to ensure the safer operation of heavy goods vehicles. His proposals, which are to be given the force of law by Regulations to be laid before Parliament, should go far to deal with the long-standing and increasing menace of defective and overloaded lorries travelling at excessive speeds. A number of recent Parliamentary Questions have referred to really dangerous loads being carried by defective lorries.
When vehicle tests were introduced by the right hon. Member for Wallasey and official testing stations were set up, heavy goods vehicles were the only vehicles not subject to a test—
§ Mr. David Webster (Weston-superMare)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With great respect, does this problem of heavy lorries come within the purview of this Motion?
§ Mr. Speaker
I think so, for the moment. I am waiting to see whether the hon. Member goes beyond the rules of order.
§ Mr. Morris
I have tried very carefully, Mr. Speaker, to keep within the limits.
Heavy goods vehicles were not then tested for the very practical reason that there were no testing stations to accommodate them, yet since 1957 the maximum permitted speed of these untested heavy goods vehicles has been raised from 20 m.p.h. to 40 m.p.h. My right hon. Friend did the obvious thing; he planned the establishment of testing stations, and other measures now set out in the White Paper.
I am certain that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will give an informed and able reply to this debate. I wish our new Minister of Transport well in what I know is considered by the general public to be one of the greatest 1469 problems facing people, and particularly parents, at the present day.
§ 12.19 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I, too, want to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison), not only on his choice of subject and his wording of this Motion, but also on his success in the Ballot. The fact that he has had three "firsts" in the Ballot in three years must have knocked the National Opinion Poll sideways.
This is the second time that I have had the pleasure of speaking in a debate on a Motion put down by my hon. and gallant Friend on a like subject, and I would confirm what he has said about experience in America. I was there last September, and my experience was that boys of 17 just coming out of school had been extremely well taught and were very adaptable to the motor car because of their instruction at school and entered on the road full of road sense even before they had driven a car.
I fear that this debate will be written about in the Press in the usual way, as a dull, routine Friday debate. The Press would no doubt like to see a debate on Rhodesia or Vietnam, or even on what my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) said or did not say on 31st January. On the other hand, the public say that we politicians do not deal with subjects in which they are interested. They say that they switch off their television because we do not come down to earth and are out of touch with their lives.
But this subject is one in which more than half the population are vitally interested. We have 14 million licensed drivers, and so, taking into account their dependants, there must be more than 30 million people who have a vital interest in the subject of driving, apart from pedestrians who from time to time may be the sufferers through bad drivers. Consequently, this debate is of much greater interest to the public than the more flashy debates that we have had on Rhodesia. Vietnam, and so on.
It is also a subject which should raise very great passions in the country and in the House. I recall the steam that was generated by the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill, both on the part of one's constituents and on the part of hon. 1470 Members; that we spent six months of Parliamentary time on the Bill when, whichever way the Bill went, the net result would be that only 10 or 20 people, more or less, would die in a year, that the murder rate would go on much the same, and might even be slightly increased.
But here we are dealing with a subject covering 20 deaths a day, so we ought to be 365 times more passionate about it than we were about that Bill. When I think of the correspondence that I had with constituents about a life for a life, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, I think that we ought to pay rather less attention to the law of Moses and more attention to the law of the motor car.
Our system of driving instruction and driving tests has been successful over the last 30 years. There is no doubt that the driving test has brought about a great improvement in the standard of driving. One can show that by two simple comparisons. In 1938, there were 465 drivers for every death, but last year and the year before there were 1,574 drivers for every death. In other words, there were three times more drivers for every death on the road.
It is the same with vehicles. In 1938, there were 3,094 vehicles for every death, and now there are 12,306. That shows that the traffic is increasing faster than the road death rate, and that is a satisfactory trend. I do not conceal for a moment—I take it very seriously—the fact that deaths overall have increased, but they have not increased as fast as the amount of traffic or the number of vehicles.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that, in giving such figures, one must take into account as well the increase in the number of vehicles registered, for it means that there are many more drivers and many more vehicles, so his figures are not as comforting as one might assume at first?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
But I have quoted actual figures showing that for every death on the road now there are three times as many vehicles today as there were in 1938. If road deaths had risen purely mathematically one would 1471 have expected them to be 18,000 today, not 6,000 or 7,000. The fact that they have remained at about 6,000 or 7,000 is satisfactory. But I must add that I am not at all satisfied with the present situation.
I attribute the more satisfactory trend since 1938 to education and the driving test as well as enforcement. But it is obvious that we can improve the quality of instruction. That is why I so warmly support what my hon. and gallant Friend said about the necessity for registration of driving instructors. In Sweden, it is compulsory for anyone who wants to be a driving instructor to pass a test. But in this country anyone coming out of prison can start up a driving school, and I think that is wrong. Driving school instructors ought to be qualified, and I should like to see them qualified by 1968 at the very latest. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will say that he will adopt the little Bill which has been put forward for two years by my hon. and gallant Friend.
I have only one reservation about the present driving test. By and large, it is very well conducted, but it is disappointing that a young person going in for it has the chance in most cases of driving only in a built-up area up to 30 miles an hour. Such persons do not get taken out on the open road to see what they are like at 50 or 60 m.p.h. That is a weakness of the system, and I should like something to be done about it. I agree, of course, that if a person starts his test at Charing Cross he has to go a long way to find an open road, but in the smaller provincial towns it should be possible to take young persons out on the road to see what they are like at speeds higher than 30 m.p.h.
I am not one of those who criticise the younger generation. I believe that they take their driving test seriously, and that most of them are well-informed. Figures show that in the first few months after passing the test the driver is at about the safest period of his life, but, of course, he becomes confident and deteriorates after that. But it was encouraging—I am sure that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will agree—that in the two very interesting television programmes last year, one in the summer and one at Christmas, on driving in- 1472 cidents, when there were competing teams giving their views on what drivers should or should not have done in a series of dangerous incidents—there were teams of professional drivers, veteran drivers, housewives, commercial travellers and so on—in the August television test the novices came out second and in the Christmas test they were first. The novices obviously knew the Highway Code better than the professional or ordinary drivers did, and I thought that that was satisfactory.
The problem is how to maintain the knowledge, interest, patience, and so on, of the young people on the road as they grow older, how to prevent them becoming impatient, selfish and reckless, as they begin to about the age of 21. Dr. Willett, in his recently published book "Criminal on the Road: A Study of Serious Motoring Offences and Those Who Commit Them", has done this House and all who are interested in road safety a great service. He points out that a significant proportion of those who commit serious motoring offences are not respectable citizens. Of the 653 offenders that he investigated in a fairly representative police district, 23 per cent. had convictions for non-motoring offences—they were criminals of another type altogether—and another 9 per cent. were "known" to the police.
I feel that if magistrates have in front of them a person who is a criminal of another type who is then convicted of a serious motoring offence, he ought to be knocked off the road altogether by disqualification, because he himself has proved that he is not a responsible type. He certainly would not be responsible in charge of a vehicle, in my view.
Leaving aside the criminal type in serious motoring offences, which is quite a high proportion, how can we prevent the remainder of the public, in which one includes oneself, from becoming impatient, selfish, and reckless? I wish to draw attention to what is known as "the Terrell plan", of which hon. Members may have heard before. I raise this matter today for discussion. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and other hon. Members will give their views. The Terrell plan has been advocated for some years now. It has been revived again by Mr. Edward Terrell, who is a Queen's Counsel, Recorder of Newbury, 1473 author of a book on running-down cases, and is, I gather, head of a chambers which has great experience of motoring cases of all kinds.
Mr. Terrell's plan is simple. He says that there are seven basic rules of the Highway Code which, if broken, give rise to more accidents than all the other rules put together. The rules are—those relating to overtaking; following too closely; ignoring a halt sign or a give-way sign; failing to give way at a pedestrian crossing; exceeding the speed limit by, say, 50 per cent.; driving at excessive speed in the circumstances; and crossing double white lines.
Mr. Terrell tells us that his investigations with the police show that those are the seven rules which, if broken, lead to more accidents than others. Mr. Terrell advocates the passing of a Bill providing that, if anyone involved in an accident can be proved to have negligently broken one of those seven rules, he should be automatically disqualified for three months. No matter whether the person concerned be taxi-driver, lorry driver, doctor or whatever, he should be automatically disqualified, because that is the punishment above all others to which motorists pay very serious attention.
I have heard Mr. Terrell speak. In fact, I debated against him 12 years ago on this very subject. I have my reservations about the Terrell plan. Nevertheless, I believe that it should be seriously discussed. One effect of the plan will be to slow up traffic. In London and other large conurbations traffic on ordinary wide built-up roads does about 45 m.p.h. Motorists would obviously be frightened of doing that.
There might be an increase in congestion, because motorists would have to drive further apart than they do now. The other day I was in a taxi. We pulled up at our destination in St. James's Square. Another taxi drove straight into us from behind. That taxi driver was driving too close. Every motorist in London and other large conurbations drives too close. Motorists drive at 30 or 40 m.p.h. with about two car lengths between them and the vehicle in front. If the Terrell plan were implemented, that practice would have to stop, because the motorist would run a grave risk of losing his licence if he were involved in an accident. These simple rules in the Terrell 1474 plan would, if brought into law, substantially reduce the number of accidents. I state that as my considered opinion.
Would the public stand for it? Could it be done in a democracy? There are about 300,000 injury accidents a year and probably 600,000 accidents of all kinds. Thus, about 300,000 people a year would be deprived of their licences for three months. Would we politicians on either side of the House ever be reelected if we so enacted? Would democracy stand for it? Is it too perfectionist? Many people would say that it is far too perfectionist.
I wish that the Terrell plan could be operated in one town for, say, three months, to find whether it worked, whether it brought traffic to a standstill, or whether people found that it was so onerous that it could not be worked. I do not know whether it would be possible to do this, perhaps on some voluntary basis. If it could be done for a short period, it would be interesting to learn whether the standard of driving was greatly improved, as I believe that it would be.
I throw this idea out for discussion. I hope that other hon. Members will give their views. This debate is not on party lines. One of the questions raised by the Terrell plan is whether we would be justified in making suspension a rule in regard to every accident or only in regard to accidents involving injury. At present, motorists do not have to report accidents which do not involve injury. There are hundreds of such accidents every day in great cities.
If the plan were implemented, with the result that many more cases came before the magistrates, the number of magistrates' courts would have to be increased. As everyone would try to attend to defend themselves, and as they obviously would not want to go to court in working hours, in my view the courts would have to sit in the evenings. This would raise another difficulty, because there would be another 300,000 cases a year for magistrates to deal with.
The debate will obviously be very useful. I shall listen with interest to other hon. Members. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will answer some of these points and, in particular, 1475 tell us how he thinks the Terrell plan would work out and whether he thinks that it could be justifiably adopted in a democracy.
§ 12.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
I make no apology for speaking in this debate, not as a driver, but as a passenger —an expert one—and a pedestrian. I do so, first, to put one general point and, secondly, to raise a question which has been put to me by a constituent of mine and which, I think, is relevant to the whole question of the operation of driving tests.
We all welcome this debate because there is no question, whatever view one takes, but that this is a matter of very serious public concern and it is right that we should discuss it. It is also right for us to observe a sense of balance about the other factors involved, as well as the main problem to which we are devoting attention today, which is the operation of the driving test.
I found it a little difficult to understand the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) about relating the speed of vehicles to their capacity. I should have thought that this was a very confusing and dangerous proposal. I should be interested to hear the Parliamentary Secretary's reaction to it. Clearly, in another context we come up against the whole question of the manufacture of vehicles. Can we be satisfied that manufacturers pay sufficient attention to the question of safety? My hon. Friend referred to checks on heavy lorries. There have certainly been some very tragic accidents which have raised the question whether there had been an adequate check on the brakes of heavy lorries.
The House will be grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) for raising the question of the driving test. Why does not this country adopt the American practice of holding a written test before a candidate goes forward to the practical test? One of the problems here to which reference has often been made is the shortage of examiners. There is a growing waiting list of those who wish to take the test. As matters stand, examiners must spend part of their time asking oral questions to test the examinee's knowledge 1476 of the Highway Code. Would it not be possible to conduct part of the test by means of a written examination prior to the practical test? Would not this save some time and also deal rather more fairly with examinees? It is argued sometimes that it is a little unfair to carry out the oral examination in the actual conditions of the practical test. These are two fairly distinct matters which could be dealt with separately.
Another question that my constituent has raised with me, I think in a very public-spirited way—he made a number of comments on the whole question—is that up to now, at any rate, the part-time driving instructor is not allowed to take the Ministry's qualifying test to which the hon. and gallant Member for Eye referred. This seems to me illogical. There must be very well-qualified persons who may not, for a multitude of reasons be able or wish to give full-time instruction, but who are able to give part-time instruction and who wish to take this qualifying test. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Eye that we should encourage the fuller use of that test.
Would it not be wise to enable those who may not be able to give full-time instruction to take that qualifying test? I gather from correspondence that I have had with the Ministry that this matter is being considered by the Ministry. I appreciate the care that the Ministry has taken in this matter, but I hope that it can be cleared up fairly quickly. I appreciate that discussions have to be carried out with many interested bodies and organisations, but I should have thought that this should not take very long, and I hope my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary can tell me that a reply can be given in a reasonably short time.
A further matter that my constituent raised with me was the question of the separate classification of automatically-controlled cars. Here again, I believe that the Ministry is looking at this question and that, as this matter has support from many of the official motoring organisations, a change may be made, the point being that automatically-controlled cars should be classified as a separate group for both driving licence and test purposes.
Those are the two particular matters that my constituent has raised at some 1477 length and, I think, very rightly, because this question affects people throughout the country, whether as drivers or whether as people who are affected by other people's driving.
While we are discussing questions of the more efficient testing of drivers—whether we should rely on drivers having only ore test or whether there should also be a second test in the later stage of a driver's life—I would point out that there are, of course, very many who have not had a test at all because of the date at which they started driving. This includes many of my friends, and it certainly includes my wife who, if I may say so, is one of the best qualified drivers I know. But to be fair to the drivers with many years' experience, it is worth considering whether some further measures should not be taken in the training and education of pedestrians as well. When we refer to the bad or drunken behaviour of drivers, there are undoubtedly occasions when the same criticism could well be made of pedestrians who put themselves and drivers in jeopardy.
We urgently need a sense of balance in this matter. There is in this day and age a need for general education in the behaviour of everybody on the roads, whether drivers or pedestrians.
I repeat my gratitude to the hon. and gallant Member for Eye for having given us the opportunity to raise these matters, and I look forward to the comments of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Sir Clive Bossom (Leominster)
I was very interested in the views which have been expressed by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop). I agree that a written test should be tried out, and it would certainly save the time of instructors.
Next I want to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) on having initiated this debate. Driving education is the real basis of safe driving, and if one can indoctrinate people at an early age in the right attitude we shall have gone a long way towards producing safe drivers for life.
I hope that the new Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary have one 1478 aim—to become the motorists' friends. I think that with the help of the Chancellor of the Exchequer this could be possible. They must continue to hot up the campaign to reduce death and mutilation on our roads, and they can go a long way towards achieving this, first by being allowed to build more and better roads between and in towns, and secondly by tightening up the law still further.
I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) said about the Terrell plan. The dangerous, careless and reckless fast driver must be jumped on much harder, and I believe that we should consider whether he could not be automatically disqualified and his licence removed for a matter of three or six months, or even a year, depending on how bad the offence is. I am sure this would prove the greatest deterrent to bad driving. It might be unfair to a few people, but it would save the lives of many. As my hon. Friend said, we need to experiment because I believe there is something in this plan and we must be tougher in administering the law.
Thirdly, the Minister could help by launching an all-out campaign for better driving education. This could be done by continuing to improve the standard of driving instructors, and by having more Ministry of Transport examiners, for we certainly have not got enough of these. The national average waiting time is about 12 weeks, and in my area in the West Midlands I have heard that it is possible to wait up to 20 weeks. At present is very hard to organise a properly planned course finishing up with a pupil who is ready to be tested when we have these long waiting periods. Therefore, the answer is that we need many more examiners.
I agree also with the hon. Member for South Shields that there should be a searching written test as well as a harder practical test. Every time a motorist applies to have his licence renewed, he could be asked to take a vision and law test to see whether he is up to date with the present rules and regulations. Also, at the examiner's discretion, he could be asked to take another driving test, even if he had to take it on a simulator, which is nearly as good as going out on the road. In any case, I am certain that 1479 if we could get more examiners, everybody who has an accident should be obliged to take a test after that accident.
The Minister must watch out for this new danger, which the hon. Member for South Shields has pointed out, and think about having separate classes of driving licences, one for driving a car with an automatic gear box and one for driving with the manual type gear box. It is all right for people to take a test with the manual type, because with a little practice they can switch over to driving with the automatic type, but if one learns and takes the test on the automatic type it is not so easy to switch to the manually-operated car. This is a point about which the driving instructors are already worried.
In September 1964, I made a detailed study of driving education throughout America and I did the same last year. The 1964 trip was at an interesting time, because the new President had just ordered his great "action programme" on traffic safety. I have never taken the view that everything that goes on in America is marvellous, and I was very pleased to find that the Americans are terribly jealous of our Road Research Laboratory. They have nothing like it in America and cannot touch us in any way in that respect. Our safety records are also better than theirs, if one takes the yardstick of road deaths per 100,000 of population. In America they work out at about 25 compared with 13.3 in this country. The figure for Sweden is 14.7, for Italy 19.5, for France 21 and for West Germany, the highest, 25.6. We have not done too badly therefore although it is nothing to be proud of.
When I was studying road safety and driving education in America in 1964 the entire nation was appalled by the figures of 1963, because 43,600 had been killed in accidents involving motor vehicles and 1½ million injured, which meant that about one driver in every five had been involved in some kind of accident. Although our own figures for last year are much better than that, they too are nothing to be proud of. The latest available figures show that in the first 10 months of 1965 we had 6,399 people killed and 80,000 injured.
I should like to refer to some of the lessons which I brought back from 1480 America. The American programme of road safety education in schools of all types is outstanding. Some high schools spend 3 per cent. of their time on driving education. They rightly say that there is no subject that the student, boy or girl, will use more often in later life.
The American problems are different from ours. Most States grant driving licences at the age of 16 and in one State a licence can be obtained at 15. We, on the other hand, have done and are doing a remarkable job of instruction in all our schools, starting at the age of five with lessons in road safety and kerb drill. Some schools follow this up with bicycle riding instruction. All this has paid dividends and our young children are very conscious of how to avoid road accidents. But after this type of education in schools there is a noticeable gap in our road education.
I must here disclose an interest in that I am a member of the Policy Committee of the R.A.C. Since 1959 we in the R.A.C. have run junior driving courses. Children can enrol at the age of 16 and they are given lectures on road safety and vehicle maintenance, and off-the-road driving tuition in school grounds. We are very pleased with these courses. We have taught about 3,000 children, which is very good, but that number is only a fleabite compared with the number which should be taught in our schools.
I do not think that we stress sufficiently that during the first half of one's life one is more likely to die in a car accident than from any other cause. Over one's life's span as a whole only heart disease, cancer and stroke are more dangerous than the car. People tend to think that accidents happen only to other people and never to them. Today to be a good citizen one must be taught to be a safe and lawful driver and one needs to acquire the right attitude. The crucial word here is "attitude". To get this one must start young and one must be taught wherever possible by a properly qualified instructor. The theme throughout this debate has been that a qualified instructor is the best though not the only answer to this problem.
In five years or even less 99 per cent. of all families will have one car and 1481 some will have two. It is therefore vital to start proper instruction in our schools as soon as possible. I should like to see the larger county councils considering having mobile trailer classrooms. In America these are 50 feet long and are fitted with 12 "Drivotrainers", as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye has explained. Inside the trailers films are shown which can create every possible driving situation. These mobile classrooms are first-class. They are expensive but they do the job. They could be used to visit schools in this country and a permanent driving instructor should give the course.
I feel that within the schools themselves we could do much more in enabling our technical students to cut open scrap engines for instructional purposes. Manufacturers could be asked to give, as I think they would, sectionalised model motor cars so that vehicle maintenance could be better explained. One sees these at the Motor Show. I am sure that manufacturers would be prepared to help in this respect, and it would be a good advertisement for their products.
In America they have really "gone to town" on driving education. I found that in 35 States they used an "Auto-trainer". It is not quite as good as the "Drivotrainer". It is simply a miniature car on a moving belt in front of a driver's seat, rather like what one sees in piers and in amusement parks. Twenty-five States have off-street car driving ranges. There are several of these in this country but I feel that schools should be provided with them. They are equipped with a refined type of "Dodgem" car with which one can get the actual feel of driving without getting involved in driving in traffic. Twenty American States use television instruction which I am sure we could use more in our schools.
To lay on such a programme and set up this type of equipment will take time. In the meantime other non-Governmental organisations should be encouraged much more to help and to promote driving education. We do not make enough use of such excellent organisations as the county motoring clubs. Car dealers, chambers of commerce, parent-teacher associations and young farmers' clubs could do more. Petrol companies 1482 already give generous help with the supply of films and charts to schools free of charge. All these bodies should aim to develop a pattern of attitude and skill in drivers to deal with new and sudden situations encountered in driving today.
Let us encourage these voluntary bodies to help begin a new campaign of driving education. They can do a lot by starting the young learner driver, but, of course, as has been said over and over again, the final rounding off of young drivers can best be done by qualified instructors who have passed their own stiff tests. These driving instructors should be certificated, of course. We have a certification system in the R.A.C., and at present there are 5,062 certified instructors on our books. The Ministry has about 3,000 on its books.
Very high standards must be insisted upon if we are to have the right type of instructors. The R.A.C. has been running its certificate system since 1935, and it insists on a very high standard of practical ability to give good tuition. There is also the need to investigate the character, morals and general integrity of instructors. This is important because they will be dealing with young boys and girls, and it is most important to have the right type of instructor.
I have discussed driving instruction at length, pointing out that one answer to the problem is to have more qualified instructors and more modern scientific equipment, but, at the same time, the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary can do a lot to help by devoting a little more attention to an overhaul of our present 30 m.p.h. speed limits. Many of these need rechecking. It must not be forgotten that 70 per cent. of accidents take place in built-up areas.
Next, we must have many more mobile traffic police in every county throughout the country. The Chancellor could help a good deal here, because it will call for a lot more money. It is no good having speed limits if they are not enforced. This is where the present system breaks down so badly. Our speed limits are not enforced and many drivers take little or no notice of them, yet it is amazing how they take on a halo effect when they know that there is a police car in the vicinity. We must have more police cars cruising around. I am 1483 convinced that this would make for far better and more careful driving.
There is another lesson to be learnt from America—I was most impressed by it—and which could be followed here at both county and national level. I refer to the need for much more and better traffic accident information than we have now. The Americans have devised a first-class national accident record system. Our police must develop a complete, more accurate and uniform accident reporting and recording card system than anything we have had hitherto. Such a system would help not only the police and insurance companies but even county surveyors, enabling them to pinpoint accident black spots and decide what should be done in the way of widening and alteration of roads and so on. It would be of the greatest value in furthering our road safety programme, enabling all concerned, in effect, to know where accidents are liable to occur and to take action before they actually happen.
Manufacturers would be greatly helped as well because they could improve the pattern and mounting systems of safety belts, the special glass used in motor cars, the crash padding, and so on. In this connection, I give another run to a hobby-horse of mine, that is, a standard height for bumpers. I know that all cars are different in this country, but it is time we thought about this matter again. A standard bumper height would save insurance companies many thousands of £s, quite apart from its many advantages in other ways.
The A.A.A. in America, with its many affiliated clubs, has a membership of about 9 million. Its driving education programme for schools is something which we in this country should study. I am sure that both the R.A.C. and the A.A., if they were approached, would be willing to do much more about driver education in our schools than has been done in the past.
Although I am not at all satisfied with the accident rate in this country, it is true that the figures have been drastically reduced over the years. This seems to show that the road safety work and driver education which has been going on have produced results. Some figures 1484 were given earlier and questioned. I have some other figures here which are, perhaps, a little clearer. In 1938, there were 3,065,000 vehicles on the road, and the total of all casualties was 233,359. In 1964, there were 12,120,000 vehicles, and we had only 385,499 casualties. This means that the number of casualties has risen by about 150,000 in that period, although the number of vehicles on the road has risen by 9 million. As I say, I am by no means satisfied with the situation, but it does, at least, show that all our efforts are not in vain. We are tackling the problem, though there is much more yet to be done, that could and must be done.
We have all talked about driver education today, but only one hon. Member has mentioned pedestrian education. Pedestrians cause about 15 per cent. of road accidents in one way or another, by jaywalking, by failing to observe traffic signals and by drinking too much. This is a very serious matter. In this connection also it is wise to remember that 70 per cent. of accidents occur in built-up areas. I suggest, therefore, that we should have a "blitz" on pedestrian road education as well as on driver education.
§ 1.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
The Motion is a narrow road restricted to driving instruction and education, but, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to point out that Mr. Speaker did allow it to become a rather broad highway through road safety generally, and I hope that, with your indulgence, I shall be allowed to stray a little beyond the narrow Motion itself.
The first part of the Motiondeplores the continuous increase in death and injury on our public roads".Here I quote some figures from, of all things, a booklet called "A Monthly Bulletin", a magazinerepresenting the determination inside and outside the brewing industry to improve public houses and to maintain an adequate licensing law.In the latest edition of this magazine there is an interesting article dealing with this very point which, in the first place, tells us thatroad accidents in proportion to the volume of traffic have not increased but decreased. The latest figures available at present show 1485 road deaths to have risen by 5 per cent. and injuries from road accidents by 4 per cent., while the volume of traffic has risen by 6 per cent.Therefore, although we are rightly concerned about the total number of accidents, injuries and deaths, we should not be too despondent about the efforts which have been made to reduce the proportionate rate of increase.
The Motion urges also that the problemmust be thoroughly tackled at the source".There are, in fact, many sources, of which education and training are only two. Hon. Members can bring a wide range of personal experience to this debate. I think that it is too often forgotten outside by motorists that the majority at least of the Members of this House are motorists themselves, and we have a very great interest and concern in this matter. It is also true that we are also pedestrians. The hon. Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom) has no doubt been aware that for some time the President of the Pedestrians' Association has been a Member who sits on the Opposition Front Bench, the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page).
There is also amongst us a wide range of experience as members of local authorities, and road safety committees and organisations of that kind. I myself have had some experience of that, and I may wear at the front of my car a badge which says I am a Knight of the Road. It is probably the only knighthood which we on this side of the House are likely to get this Session or any other. Moreover, I understand that the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison), who moved the Motion, is honorary President of the Society of Motor Driver Instructors.
I was surprised that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) said that the Press would regard this as a rather dull debate. I do not see why he should think so. I have noticed before that when we have discussed subjects in the House interested parties outside let us have their comments. A magazine called Car Mechanics, commenting on some of the proposals made in the House, and particularly about the 70 m.p.h. limit, had an article illustrated with a picture of the Palace of Westminster and the clock arid a headline saying, "They're 1486 trying it again". That was after we had discussed something here.
So, knowing that this debate was coming along, I endeavoured to obtain as wide a range of points of view as I could from as many interested parties as I possibly could who would give me this information, including the Automobile Association, an organisation of which the hon. Member for Leominster is a member, the Royal Automobile Club, the chairman of my own road safety committee, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the Pedestrians' Association, the Huyton School of Motoring—which, I thought, would have a particular interest, since the constituency has a very special Member in the House—the British School of Motoring, and Mr. Stirling Moss, who was most helpful. I do not think that anyone in this House has experience of racing driving, though I do not know. I also read many motoring magazines.
The Automobile Association told me that it felt stronglythat familiarity with the motor vehicle and its potential cannot start too young. If children still at school were to receive instruction in the principles of the correct control of a vehicle they would be potentially better drivers when they become old enough to take the test. They could undergo instruction in actual driving on school playing fields and so forth in the care of qualified instructors. The Association has, in fact, pioneered a scheme at the Blackwell Secondary Modern School, in Harrow, where courses in road familiarity and driving instruction are given to senior pupils by experts from the Automobile Association and the Metropolitan Police. It is a simple fact, as demonstrated by American research into the subject, that the age group of 18 to 25 has the highest proportion of accidents".These figures are, I think, confirmed by our own figures in this country.If driver training could be begun as a school subject in the last year at school great numbers of young men and women would drive far more responsibly when they finally pass the driving test.The second point which the A.A. made was that there might bea valuable contribution to better driving and, therefore, to road safety if all learners were required to get approval from an accredited professional driving school to state that they were ready for a test. If the learner driver could not apply to the Ministry of Transport for his driving test until he had got this preliminary sign of approval it would cut out much of the time wastage caused by people who apply for tests long before they are ready to take them and would contribute to a reduction in the enormous backlog of 1487 driving tests. It should raise the incidence of successes in the test and should save a great deal of time for the harassed examiners as well as contributing to an overall improvement in the standard of driving".Generally, what the Royal Automobile Club told me has already been stated by the hon. Member for Leominster, but again, it emphasises that in 1964 the Ministry of Transport introduced a similar voluntary registration scheme. It said that there are at present approximately 3,000 driving instructors approved by the Ministry of Transportof which a high proportion were previously R.A.C. registered instructors".The R.A.C. said that remarkably few complaints are made from those who have been through driving schools regarding the standard of instruction. It thought a substantial period at driving school of instruction by registered, qualified instructors would be a guarantee that anyone wishing to become a driver could take the test at a suitable standard of instruction.
The chairman of my own road safety committee, the Liverpool Road Safety Committee, Councillor Durnford, says:All driving schools must employ instructors who have been authorised by test by the Ministry of Transport and the school registered thereby. The existing test should be set to a far higher standard than that at present employed.He mentions the possible inclusion of a night driving test and of a written examination which should be introduced and he adds:Intending motor cyclists should be required to undergo a course of off-the-road instruction prior to being granted a provisional licence.This is important, for we tend to think of the four-wheel drivers and not enough of the two-wheel drivers.
ROSPA did not say very much but what it did say was very practical:About a year ago the Society considered a resolution, submitted by one of the accident prevention federations, that the driving test be brought more into line with modern driving conditions and should include derestricted areas and night driving. The Society was unable to support this resolution since it considered that what was needed was a better all-round standard of driving instruction. It welcomed the Ministry of Transport's newly established register of driving instructors as being a step in the right direction. Since then the Society has not altered its view. We realise the 1488 practical difficulties in insisting on any immediate change to the present position. It seems a pity, however, that there are so few facilities available for would-be instructors to receive the training necessary to bring them up to the desired standard.The Pedestrians' Association from its headquarters hoped that the Motion would be allowed to go wide and said there would have been more room for manœuvre had the Motion included the need for a higher standard of test for the would-be driver. It went on:The two most important omissions from the existing test are that there is no test for night driving, although there has been a continuous rise in the proportion of accidents occurring at night. For example, in the last ten years the proportion of casualties during the hours of darkness in the Metropolitan Police area has risen from 26.6 in 1955 to 34.5 in 1964.It went on:The other omission is that there is no eyesight test.This is not absolutely correct, because, after all, when one comes out of the office when taking the test someone points out a car and asks, "Can you read the number on that number plate?" What the Pedestrians' Association is saying is that there should be a more effective test of eyesight. It also says:The need for a better standard of driving efficiency, and hence of driving instruction, is shown in the fact that of drivers or riders of vehicles the number killed or seriously injured in 1964 totalled 51,377 and of those aged under 25, 1,401 had been killed and 26,298 killed or seriously injured.From the Huyton School of Motoring the suggestion comes:Until all driving schools are registered and potential drivers are forced to undergo professional tuition the standard of driving will cause trouble in the form of accidents. Following the example of continental countries, L plates should only be issued by the Government to registered schools. This would stop the loose approach which now exists, whereby anybody can purchase a set of L plates and teach Aunt Maggie or Uncle Bill. It could and will he argued that such procedure is taking away the liberty of the individual. Better to take away the liberty of the individual than the life of other individuals. Many learners, self or relative taught, lack the professional tuition to deal with the many dangers on the roads today, and so, in their ignorance, provide a situation which can only result in an accident. The armed forces of this country are taught to use killing weapons only by those who by their experience know the danger of the weapon, pilots are taught to fly planes by those who have the experience, etc., etc.1489Faults existing within the Ministry of Transport should be sorted out. I know that the examiners go to school for a month's training, but, human nature being what it is, each and every examiner arrives on the testing ground leaning to his own pet theory on what standard he wants. And so the situation is, what would please one examiner displeases another.In Liverpool, and I suppose elsewhere, we are faced with the position of advertisements offering driving lessons at the silly price of 14s. per hour! I am fully aware that the public are to blame, but in all honesty these people should be debarred from teaching the control of a killing weapon.Certainly, there is a strong case for believing that no one can put a car on the road with a really good qualified instructor for 14s. an hour.
The British School of Motoring, which is the largest organisation of its kind in the country, says:It really is ludicrous that there should be no compulsory training for qualification as a driving instructor. The analogy between a doctor and a driving instructor is not too far fetched. For, after all, both are—or should be—in the common field of saving lives. But the modern driving instructor is today where the medical profession was in the middle ages, when any Tom, Dick or Harry with a saw and a strong right arm could set himself up as a surgeon.This is a nation-wide problem. For the number of cars on the roads is increasing; the number of car-owners is increasing; and the number of learners is increasing too. Proportionately the number of qualified driving instructors is not.The B.S.M. goes on:What we would like to see is a full national appreciation of the necessity for fully-qualified instructors; a rigorous course, setting a common standard of an instructor's capability to teach; and periodic government inspired tests after the instructor has undergone the full initial training, to ensure that standard; are maintained.When the 70 m.p.h. restriction was introduced there was a suggestion that Mr. Stirling Moss should be invited to contest the seat of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. Mr. Moss declined. I have no idea of his politics. However, he did suggest that perhaps my right hon. Friend would welcome advice from a group of people in motoring with experience of all its aspects. He said that he himself would be prepared to offer any advice or experience if such a request were made. I wrote to Mr. Moss and talked with him on the telephone and he sent me this reply:The following are a few suggestions, which are not in order:1490(1) Licences should be graded so that the novice driver, who has just passed his test would be able to drive vehicles, such as a Morris 1000, Ford Anglia, etc., whereas the more experienced drivers would later be able to qualify to drive vehicles with potentials up to Jaguar E type, etc(2) Any person undergoing a serious accident; either to the head or the body should have to take a driving test before going back on the road.I recall Mr. Moss's own unfortunate experience some time ago in considering that wholehearted support for a new driving test for a person who has been injured.(3) People should have to pass driving tests every five years, as a refresher, but if this was impractical because of the limitations of driving testers available, it could be reduced to persons over 65 having tests every five years.(4) Driving instructors and testers should be told to impress upon the novice how important it is to position the car in the right place, use the rear view mirror …In a very important passage Mr. Moss sums up the whole concept of driving. If it is good enough for Mr. Moss it should be good enough for us outside. He says that drivers should drive… realising that other people may not have as much ability as they would like.In effect, one must expect the other person to do a foolish thing rather than assume that he is a good driver.
Mr. Moss concludes:I hope that one or two of the things I have mentioned will assist you somewhere, but if you wish to go further, please do not hesitate to call me as I have a whole file on road safety.Surely a letter from such a driver as Stirling Moss shows that there can be nothing soft or "pussy-footed" about a good driver or his interest in good driving.
The motoring journals often take a keen and critical interest in what we say. I decided to give them an opportunity to be included in the debate. Incidentally, that is an extremely good way of getting the motor magazines free, because when I contacted them for their views they all sent me free copies. The editor of Motor wrote:I think you could express Motor's policy as being that the present standard of driving tuition leaves a good deal to be desired, but that this is mainly because driving schools concentrate their efforts on the rather obvious aim of getting their pupils through the Ministry of Transport test. We know, for example, of driving habits which, in our view, are quite reprehensible—such as keeping the car in gear with the clutch out while waiting at traffic 1491 lights, which are taught by even the biggest and most 'respectable' schools in the country. It seems, therefore, that we are unlikely to achieve a better standard of driving instruction without first making the driving test not only more severe but more realistic.The editor of Car Mechanics was very helpful. We discussed the matter and he has made a lot of information available. He writes:The thing I feel most strongly about is the present complete lack of control over driving schools. It would be fair to say, I think, that every other field of instructing endeavour today demands qualifications of the highest order. But driving instructors, with no background at all, can set themselves up in business as completely reputable organisations and pass on (at a high price) information and habits that are not only incorrect but, in certain cases, downright dangerous.The voluntary qualifications (R.A.C., Ministry of Transport, etc.) do not impress the public as they should simply because the public—very naturally—assumes the driving school to be staffed by highly skilled technicians.With over 8,000 deaths and well over a quarter of a million injuries on the roads every year, the time is more than overdue for amateur driving instructors to be banned. There must be some sort of M.o.T. compulsory test for instructors in just the same way as there is a compulsory test for L-drivers.The time is here when all schools should include driving as part of the normal curriculum for older children. The cost, arranged through qualified driving schools, local councils and education committees, need be no higher than providing any other facility—and the long-term benefits would be immense.The R.A.C. has sponsored a private junior driving course which is being taken up by the more progressive schools and the very high standards of driving achieved by the pupils completely justifies the cost. The R.A.C. also offers a truly splendid motorcycling instruction course that has equally good results.The only drawback is that these schemes are private and, therefore, limited in their scope. But, with ten million vehicles at present on the roads, the time has surely come for national instruction in the use of these vehicles to be part of the younger generation's way of education.The editor of Autocar says:We feel that new drivers should be given experience in night driving and motorway driving before going solo and we believe that there should be facilities for new drivers to gain experience of handling cars in difficult and extreme conditions. If drivers knew what it felt like to skid on ice and to lose steering control through emergency application of brakes, regaining it when the front wheels are no longer locked, they would have a better chance of avoiding collisions.1492We have not entirely resolved our thoughts on these matters but it may be that following the provisional licence there should be a first year licence and that during the first year of driving a certain number of advanced lessons could be given before a permanent licence was issued. This would not necessarily mean a second test if the advanced lessons were given by approved and licensed instructors using recognised and standardised methods.I am pleasantly surprised at the remarkable degree of agreement among the people and organisations to whom I have referred.
My experience has been as a driver and instructor to members of my own family, two of whom I helped to teach and who passed their tests. I do not know whether they did so because I taught them, but it was certainly a remarkably revealing experience to me. I learned more about how I drove by trying to teach somebody else, and that did me good later. It certainly did no harm to me to try to teach someone else to drive.
Lastly, I propose to deal with the question of advanced training available to motorists. The Lancashire County Council has a scheme for advanced motorists. The Liverpool City Police Force also has such a scheme, and no doubt many other police constabularies have, too. Often these schemes are run by the local road safety council. There is no difficulty about the cost of taking such a course. The Institute of Advanced Motorists has its own courses, as has the League of Safe Drivers, and the British School of Motoring has a specialised course for high performance cars. This is an interesting development, which will I am sure pay dividends.
Those courses are not expensive, but those who run them are preaching to the converted. The people who so far have been taking these advanced courses are good drivers already. They want the qualifications which can be obtained, but it is good driving for good driving's sake. We are not getting at the bad drivers, and I wonder whether some incentive could be provided, either by insurance companies through a reduction in the rate of premium for those who have advanced driving qualifications, or by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If the cost of the Road Fund licence were reduced by even £2 10s. it would 1493 encourage people to get better qualifications.
The purpose of the debate was to draw attention to a need, and to make a variety of suggestions which could be studied not only by hon. Members but by the Ministry and various interested persons and organisations. This has been a useful debate. One conclusion which no one can deny is that the solution to this problem lies in the solution of human failing. No matter whom we believe, it is not the car which causes road accidents.
§ 1.34 p.m.
§ Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)
I add my congratulations to those which have been offered to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) both on his luck and his judgment—his luck, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) referred, at being first in the draw on three occasions, and his judgment in using this occasion to initiate this important debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham said, we maim, mutilate and kill more people on our roads than are murdered, yet there is less heat generated on this subject than there is on a death penalty.
It is also felicitous that we are debating this subject today because, if my arithmetic is correct, we are nearing the thirtieth anniversary of the inception of the driving test, and I think it is a good thing that the whole system of instruction should be reviewed. My hon. and gallant Friend has done the House a service in raising this subject today, and we respect and admire his determination to persevere with it. I do not propose to anticipate next week's debate on the Road Safety Bill, or on any Prayer which might be tabled with regard to the 70 m.p.h. limit. These matters are better left for debate on those occasions.
I should like to concentrate on this exceedingly important subject which is the basis for the standard of driving of people in this country. As has been said, a large percentage of accidents are caused by people in the age group of my children, 17 to 25. It is in that group that the instruction must get to the root of the matter and get at it quickly.
I welcome the Parliamentary Secretary to our discussion. I am glad that he has left the corridors of power and come 1494 to this Department, to what I hope will be to him a transport of delight, but I wonder whether it will. I hope that he will be able to give us assurances about the future course which his Department proposes to take on the subject of driving instruction.
I think that we must define the purpose of instruction for driving a motor vehicle. It is surely to teach people to use the vehicle on the road to the maximum advantage of efficiency and safety. It is also important to teach them what I think is fundamental to both those aims—pride in driving. We must teach them to be efficient so that they do not dawdle down the middle of the road. This in itself causes many more accidents than a lot of people realise. We must, in effect, teach people lane discipline, because many of our roads, not so much in London, but in the provinces in the North, and in the sleepy South-West, where I come from, are not used efficiently, for the simple reason that people do not have an adequate sense of lane discipline.
The next important factor is safety. It must be said time and again that the motor car is a lethal weapon. All other lethal weapons have to be handed in, or controlled and checked most thoroughly. The motor car is lethal and the person in charge must he competent, efficient, and safe. Those who have been trained in commerce know that when a sales representative, who has been trained to drive for his living, takes his sales manager out, he drives to the best of his ability. He is trained by proper instructors to use his gears when going downhill and to decelerate, something which many people forget.
Lord Strathcarron, who used to write to The Field, had some wise and readable things to say on the technique of driving. His comments were not only pleasant to read, they were highly instructive. We all have to learn—especially those who have passed the glorious age of 40—that the likelihood of dying in a road accident is less than by coronary thrombosis or other complaints. We must realise that we must never stop learning. New techniques are always being evolved, and we need refresher courses to keep up with them.
I start, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom) did. 1495 with the pedestrian, the child at school. We must not forget them and their kerb drill. We must not be content to leave it to school teachers to instil in young children a sense of kerb discipline. Parents have a tremendous responsibility in this matter. They must teach their children how to cross the road, and which way to look before they do so.
Next, I deal with the cyclist. As has been mentioned, one can now get a certificate of proficiency in cycling. This is a good thing, and I notice with some slight irony that on the day when my right hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) passed his advanced motoring test, my daughter passed her cycling test, and both were given a certificate and diploma. I congratulate them both.
I sometimes wonder about the value of instruction given on a bicycle. During the war, before I joined the Air Force, an A.T.C. officer insisted on my doing formation flying training on a bicycle. It was a very inefficient method. There are limitations to this sort of thing. His enthusiasm was greater than his skill on a bicycle, so that course of instruction lasted for a very short time.
The trouble with so many driving instructors and pupils is that they do not aim at maximum efficiency; they aim at the minimum that will get them through the test. The number of failures in the test is deplorable. I am told that it is slightly over 50 per cent.—and that does not discriminate between the first and second attempts, or even the third. I believe that one lady has taken the test 35 times. Possibly, with an adequate course of instruction with a certificated instructor, she would have done better.
I agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) that it is totally wrong—although he instructed his own children—for many people to act simply as baby sitters in cars. They sit there while the learner does his driving. They are not qualified to instruct. Often they are in a car over which they have no control, because they are sitting on the near side and the handbrake is on the off-side. If a disaster threatened there would be little that they could do, except to sit there passively and close their eyes. We must move more in 1496 the direction of the type of instruction that is given in schools.
The hon. Member also referred to the experiment, encouraged by the A.A., at Blackwell Secondary Modern School in Harrow, in vehicle familiarity instruction and driving instruction. This is part of the school curriculum. I do not know whether this instruction is given entirely at the expense of A.A. members or whether the children contribute. I should like to know. I am glad to know that State schools are doing this. Although I am a supporter of public schools, I do not decry what State schools are doing in this matter.
I hope that in praising what is being done by the secondary modern school at Harrow, however, we will not forget that the public school there has been doing the same thing for 20 years. Instruction is divided into three parts. First, there is roadcraft. This is very important because it is only in a school, where discipline can be imposed, that efficient roadcraft instruction can be given to boys. The boys join the driving club, as it is called, at about the age of 15. The second class of instruction is concerned with the mechanics of the car, so that when a boy lifts the lid of a car he does not see something which merely looks to him like a sewing machine; he knows what the engine is like, and how to nourish it and handle it properly. The hon. Member referred to the question of remaining in gear at traffic lights. A boy doing this course discovers what damage can be done to the clutch plate by this practice.
Thirdly, at the age of 17, comes driving instruction. The boys make regular visits to the Police Driving School at Hendon. My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster talked about motor manufacturers providing cut-away chassis. There is one at Harrow, which is most useful for the boys. There is also a working chassis for instruction. I hope that public schools, private schools, grammar schools, comprehensive schools and all the other schools will do more to encourage their pupils to learn how to drive properly, because this is something which can make or mar their lives. It should be treated as of the utmost importance.
We must insist on attendance at road-craft instruction in our schools, including 1497 instruction in such things as the proper way to approach a corner or roundabout. Any police officer will give instructions in this. There must also be adequate instruction in the use of gears. It is difficult to enforce this instruction outside schools, but this is a question in respect of which the Ministry of Education could give encouragement, and I hope that it will do so.
I say, with a certain amount of deference because it is not a straightforward subject, that people who have been taught to drive by their fathers—and I may say that I shall not teach any of my children; they are lucky in that respect—or other private instructors ought first to go to a driving school for two or three sessions of instruction. I agree that if the driving school is not very reputable it will be tempted to say that further instruction is needed, so that there may be some abuse, but I still believe that this practice should be encouraged, because it can do no harm.
Then there is the question of the registration of driving instructors. I believe that it was in 1935 that the R.A.C. began a system of voluntary examinations, as a result of which successful drivers were presented with a learner-plate badge, with the letters "R.A.C." on it. In 1964 my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) proposed, as a result of the 1962 Traffic Act, a Ministry of Transport registration system on a voluntary basis. It has no badge as yet, but now that we have a new Minister coming in at the same time as the disappearance of the Castle Class locomotive from the Great Western Region, perhaps we could call it the Castle Class test of progress.
In all these matters three criteria must be insisted upon. The first is an adequate knowledge of roadcraft and mechanics. The second is driving skill, and the third is the ability to impart instruction. As they say in the old wives trade, many a teapot makes good tea, but they do not all pour out very well. One needs all three faculties before one is capable of being regarded as a first-class instructor.
It is pleasing to note that there are 5,000 instructors on the R.A.C. list and that since 1959 there has been an R.A.C. junior drivers' course, which is carried 1498 out in schools. Having given the A.A. a handout I thought it only right to preserve the balance by referring to what the R.A.C. is doing.
I understand that about 6,200 people have applied for registration under the Ministry of Transport test and that slightly over half—3,200—have been approved, according to the latest figures. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can correct me if he has more up-to-date figures. In this there are two factors to bear in mind. This number is part of a total of 10,000 instructors of whom we know, but we do not know how many other instructors there are. For instance, a retired bus driver may take up instruction as a sideline. I was taught by one myself, and his instruction was first-rate. He may have done it on the side, and he may not have declared it for Income Tax, because of P.A.Y.E. and all the other domestic problems that we know about.
It is difficult to know how many instructors there are. A very small proportion pass the test, although a large proportion have attempted to pass it. If we were suddenly to say that this test was compulsory and would immediately have the force of law many people might he deprived of a livelihood. Therefore, although I agree with the principle of the proposal, I think that if it is carried out it must operate over a period of two or three years, so that the people concerned can go in for an adequate course of instruction, perhaps through the Institute of Advanced Motorists.
The change must be made, because we are concerned with people's lives, but there must be a transitional stage. I should like to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary what steps are to be taken to encourage people to apply for this test and to receive the necessary certification. I wonder whether he or his Minister has in mind a gradual process of making the test compulsory. Someone has told me that he is horrified that a young man of 17 who passed his test at 11 o'clock, when my hon. Friend moved his Motion, might, at 11.30, go out and set himself up in business as a driving instructor.
I may be wrong, but my information is that a person under instruction, a learner-driver, is not allowed to exceed 1499 30 m.p.h. He certainly may not do so in the towns and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham said, most of his instruction would take place in the towns. Therefore, the large majority of these people have no experience of driving over 30 m.p.h. They are then allowed to go on a motorway or open shop as a driving instructor. Last week, with no difficulty, we gave a Second Reading to the Estate Agents Bill. I hope that, if my hon. Friend is lucky in the draw, he will, in time, introduce a Driving Establishments Bill to make a gradual step in the same direction. Caution is required, but we must go further in this way.
We must be aware, also, that if we legislate to make registration of driving instructors compulsory, there will be a danger of a loophole in the law. Many people legitimately and rightly choose to teach their own children or their girl friends, but any romance which I might have had would have been completely destroyed if I had attempted to do so. I do not recommend it to any hon. Member of either sex—
§ Mr. Molloy
Surely the hon. Member will agree that one of the dangers today is that a man tries to teach his wife to drive, he loses his temper because she does something incorrectly and the grim probability is that some innocent person is the victim? We ought to legislate against this practice.
§ Mr. Webster
I respect the hon. Gentleman's view and I think I showed that my views on the subject are not far from his. On the other hand, we must also be practical and accept that, in the depths of the country, it is almost impossible for people to go to a driving school. This may be one of the reasons why many of my excellent constituents—though worthy in other ways—are not the best drivers if they live in the depths of the country. They are more used to a tractor than a motor car.
One might make legislation far too impracticable if we made it compulsory to have driving instruction at a driving school. An example of this is the position of people in the depths of the country in far Wales, of which I think the Parliamentary Secretary is the only representative here today. People on the top of the mountains in Wales would find it 1500 difficult to get down and go to a driving school frequently enough to pass the test. This is one of the dangers of which we must be aware.
I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether there will be easier identification of those who have passed the Ministry of Transport test. Will there be a badge or an attachment to the L plate? Some form of authority can be put in an advertisement. One is not allowed to advertise that one is M.o.T.-approved unless it is true. This is reasonable, but could we not go further? From my conversations with people in the business, I believe that they are a little depressed because there has been no further encouragement since the voluntary scheme was introduced.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us assurances today that he will give this encouragement, if he can assure us of nothing else. I hope, however, that he can assure us of a great deal more. Is it advertised that this Ministry of Transport registration is available—
§ Mr. Gregory
I agree that incentives should be given, but I understand the position to be that an applicant pays £10 for the plate, gets it and, in many cases, working as an instructor, he will receive only about 5s. extra a week. Would it not be an encouragement to driving instruction organisations to give greater incentives on behalf of their employees?
§ Mr. Webster
Again, I respect the hon. Gentleman's view and I hope that we shall have an answer on this from his hon. Friend. I am not attempting to "pass the buck", but I think that it is the Parliamentary Secretary's job to answer that and tell us what he proposes. I do not disagree with the hon. Member.
I come back to the fact that nearly or slightly more than—it varies in each year—half the people who apply for the first, second or third attempt fail. This is disastrous and disgraceful and means that there is a complete waste of driving testers' time and a prolonged queue for the driving test. When there is an artificial queue, there is always an artificial demand and people therefore try to apply earlier than they should—before they are really qualified and able. The effect is cumulative.
1501 I support what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye said. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he can give us an answer and whether he will send an official—perhaps one has been sent— to Zurich to see the type of technical training to which my hon. Friend referred. It is an interesting subject. When we are trying to get closer to the Continent—an aim with which I know the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary will agree—it would be unpleasing and wrong if this approach were not taken up and, perhaps, reciprocated.
I have talked about the period after the driving test and I would repeat that we never stop learning. Some people believe that it is wrong that, immediately he passes his test, a man can go on the motorway and drive at up to 70 m.p.h. Instead of a 70 m.p.h. speed limit, I would rather refer to the idea that a person in his first year of driving should have a probationary plate on his car which could be easily identified. It has been suggested—I have not considered the idea long enough to digest it—that in the first year after passing a test, if one is under 21 or 23—the age could be decided later—one should display a probationary plate.
I am rather worried about this, because many people have their L plates up with no accompanying driver to instruct. 'This is an argument, perhaps, against my case, but it is still a case worth considering. Through that period, they should be limited to driving at 50 m.p.h. and if they are guilty of any dangerous activities in that period, they should have to have another test. Also, in cases of dangerous or careless driving, just as in the case of a murder or any other crime, we might send for a medical report, and it might be appropriate to order another test and send for the tester's report to see whether the person is qualified to drive or whether he was thoroughly qualified and was totally negligent in his activities. These suggestions are worth consideration.
I have said something about the part-time driving instructor and we do not want to discourage him. I agree with the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) that these people have tremendous experience in police instruction and perhaps in instructing the drivers of buses and taxis. They have wide 1502 experience of driving and can be of great value. They should also be able to continue to earn.
Another aspect of driving is the type of enforcement. I rang the Parliamentary Secretary's office about this, as it is slightly complicated and does not concern him alone. I refer to the experiments which we in the West Country have had with what are known as the "white cars"—white police cars which go over one county boundary. During an experimental period of six months last year, these vehicles, in about four or five counties, co-operated with each other and were very conspicuous. Because of their consciousness in the area and the roads they patrolled, the accident rate went down considerably. I regret that the Home Office is not represented in the House today, but I hope that either the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport or the Home Office will tell us whether this scheme is to be continued next year, or extended, or what the plans are.
This is a form of instruction. The policemen can act as "courtesy cops", although I believe that this has not been done so far. They can give instruction, particularly in lane discipline on motorways, which is disastrously bad in this country. When driven in a police car—on a voluntary basis, may I say—I was impressed by the view from the wheel. I remarked to the police driver who was taking me on my journey that everybody on the road was driving in an excellent manner. He said somewhat wryly, "Yes. We always notice that when we are driving in a police car, but when we return to the station and then drive our own cars home, we notice what they are really like."
I do not accept the argument that there are not enough police. I would rather that the police were seen to be on the roads in conspicuous cars, because I believe that we should then see a great improvement in the standards of driving. It would improve public relations with the police, if, rather than lying in wait with breathalysers and the whole apparatus of chemical appliances, they were of assistance to the public in the manner which has been adopted so well in the West Country. As usual, the West Country has a clear lead over the rest of the country.
1503 My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye has rendered the House a service. He has asked the Joint Parliamentary Secretary some excellent questions. We know that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be sympathetic. We hope that he will tell us that progress has been made and we hope that he will outline the intentions which he has in mind. The motor car is a lethal weapon. It should be our servant and not our master, and not our murderer. We must ensure that we have the highest standards of understanding of the use of the roads so that the car may be a service to humanity and not a scourge.
§ 2.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Murray (Gravesend)
I should like to associate myself with all other hon. Members in thanking the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) for giving us an opportunity on a very bare-bench day in the House to discuss one of the most important subjects not only of today, but of the future.
The hon. Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom) said that the new Minister of Transport and the new Joint Parliamentary Secretary ought to be the motorist's friends. I do not think that that is their job. They certainly have to protect the interests of the motorist, but perhaps even more they have to protect the interests of the pedestrian. I believe that in doing that job they have to take a much closer look at the standard and the general regulations involved in the issuing of driving licences and the general supervision of driving instruction. If we are to stop the slaughter which is taking place on our roads every day of the week, then driving instruction becomes one of the most important matters.
I suppose that I have had more letters recently from constituents on the introduction of the 70 m.p.h. speed limit on motorways than on most other subjects. My answer to my constituents is that if the Minister of Transport introduces measures which reduce the road toll by one accident a day, or one a week, then most certainly I am in favour of such measures.
But, as the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) said, I believe 1504 that in looking at the question of driving instruction the Ministry must consider the introduction of such measures over a period of time. Certain factors ought to be considered about driving licences within that period. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, a person can be issued with a driving licence, having passed his test, and within half-an-hour can open up his own motor school. What is even worse, within half-an-hour he can be driving on one of our motorways in a much more powerful car than that in which he was instructed. I took all my driving tuition in a small family saloon at a driving school, but when I had passed my test I drove a much more powerful car. We ought to consider whether there is some method of ensuring that the driving test is taken in a car similar to that which the driver will ordinarily be driving, or whether the driver ought not to return within a certain period for a further test in his own car.
This point applies, in particular, to youngsters who ride motor cycles. The motor cycle is a most lethal weapon for the rider. If a motorist hits a pedestrian, it is more likely that the pedestrian will be killed than that the driver will be killed. But statistics for motor cycles show that in an accident the rider of the motor cycle is most likely to suffer.
In the debate we have been allowed to roam a little further than the question of driving instruction. I suggest that when a driving licence is issued to a youngster or to a person of any age who wishes to ride a motor cycle, one of the terms should be the compulsory wearing of a crash helmet. Perhaps my hon. Friend will consult the Chancellor of the Exchequer about taking Purchase Tax off crash helmets if the compulsory wearing of crash helmets were made one of the conditions of the issue of the driving licence.
A person can pass his driving test and within half-an-hour be instructing his wife, if he feels brave enough to do so, or instructing any other person to drive. I believe that if a driver intends to give instruction either to a friend or to a relative, we should consider whether he ought to have held a current driving licence for one or two years before he is allowed to give instruction. Alternatively, if we did not wish to judge it in terms of 1505 time, we might consider how many road miles he had clocked.
The registration of driving instructors ought to be compulsory within a certain period. When the Ministry introduced the voluntary test, it was found that in the first year only about 75 per cent. of the 2,760 who took the test in fact passed it. We should bear in mind that this figure relates to those from reputable schools. Beyond that figure there must be many hundreds and thousands of people who are giving driving instruction and who would fail the Ministry of Transport's voluntary test.
§ Mr. John Harvey (Walthamstow, East)
The hon. Member has pointed to a number of anomalies in pre-test and post-test circumstances. Does he share my concern at the fact that a man may pass a test in an automatic car, knowing nothing at all about changing gear, and then receive a licence entitling him to drive a motor car with a synchromesh gear-box?
§ Mr. Murray
That point has been made in the debate, and I accept it. It ties up with my point about people passing a test in one class of car and then driving a more powerful car. Having passed a test in a Ford Anglia family saloon, a man drives off in a 3.4 Jaguar. Certainly, that is something the Ministry should consider.
Experience is the greatest teacher in terms of driving. Here we have another point. Within a very short time of passing the test, which is usually done during the hours of daylight, a driver can be driving along the MI in darkness without having any previous experience of night driving and all the hazards that that brings. Obviously, with the number of driving examiners that the Ministry has, it might be difficult to do anything about this. It is, however, worth considering whether driving schools when giving instruction should not give some of the instruction under night-driving conditions. In view of the figures of night accidents, this should prove at least to be of some value in cutting down the toll.
The ideas which have been put forward about the possibility of instruction in the schools are certainly worthy of consideration. To go perhaps a little outside the subject of driving instruction, I would say that the Ministry could do something more valuable if there were more prosecutions for the parking of 1506 cars outside schools during school hours. In the schools, the children are given the Highway Code and told what and what not to do, but when they come out of school they find the roadway cluttered up and many road hazards are caused as a result. If we are to cut down the rate of road accidents, we have to take drastic steps.
I have listened carefully to what has been said concerning infringement of the liberty of the individual. This is a very difficult matter where the lines are drawn somewhat narrowly. The Ministry of Transport has to consider all these aspects very carefully. The liberty of having a driving licence is not a licence to kill or to cause damage and distress to other people.
§ 2.13 p.m.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
We have had an extraordinarily good debate on the scientific and technological training of people and the use of all sorts of aids. Before I go further, however, I wish to add my thanks to the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) for giving us the opportunity today to discuss this important subject.
I was intrigued by the opening observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) when he submitted his prognostications that we might have some useful comment today from my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I certainly hope that those prognostications prove to be correct because, as has been stressed time and time again, we are discussing an extraordinary aspect of our behaviour as a nation and we are discussing something in which, unless we are prepared to say that for our own sakes and for our own good health and peace of mind we must accept more restrictions on certain aspects of our liberty, we will be heading for a form of national disaster.
The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) mentioned, quite rightly, that when we sit behind the driving wheel of a car we are in a very responsible position. The hon. Member said that we might be sitting behind a lethal weapon. We have, perhaps, the responsibility for sitting behind a guided missile, which sometimes becomes really dangerous when it ends up 1507 as a misguided missile. The awful tragedy is that very often we do not learn the lessons until we have been involved in creating agony for someone in the maiming or destruction of another human being.
One of the things that we must examine closely is the reason that causes this kind of change in an individual. The moment we get into a motor car we seem to be a different sort of people from when we walk down the street. I think that most hon. Members would agree that there is something in what I say. I have spoken to people who have driven for many years. They say that it is a peculiar aspect of our makeup that when we get into a motor car we sometimes behave in a manner which is not only unbecoming, but is strange, even to ourselves.
I will give a small example. I often travel along Western Avenue to my constituency and on the return route I sometimes use Greenford Road. Both these roads are restricted, one to 30 m.p.h. and the other to 40 m.p.h. In my view, they should both be restricted for their entire length to 30 m.p.h. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has noted that suggestion. When I drive along Western Avenue or Green-ford Road—not simply because I am in my constituency, although the Member of Parliament, of all people, does not want to be nobbled by the "coppers"—I become the most unpopular person on the road. I drive along in my little car rigidly conscious, watching the needle.
When I stick to 30 m.p.h. on Green-ford Road or 40 m.p.h. in Western Avenue, I discover that I am holding up a lot of people who are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to break the law. They come whizzing past. Then, one gets the incredible person who speeds up to overtake, who is annoyed with me because I have not presented him with an opportunity blatantly to break the law and who, as he draws level, lowers his window and pours out a stream of vituperative abuse.
No doubt that person has a responsible job. I say this not in any sense of class distinction, but sometimes the posher the car, the bigger the Jaguar, the bigger the nit behind the wheel. That 1508 is what happens. I wonder why people who have responsible occupations behave like this when sitting behind the wheel of a car. I wonder whether we are all beginning to suffer from a form of national masochism when deliberately, for some reason, we want to commit mayhem and have an excuse for doing it either by injuring others or ourselves because we are driving a vehicle?
We read in the Motion that this serious problem must be thoroughly tackled at the source. Where is the source? If only we could discover it we might begin to find the answer. Is the source in school? I am all in favour of having children taught road safety. I compliment many of the police divisions in London which send senior officers with great experience to the schools to teach children road safety. Many of our local authorities, particularly in the old metropolitan boroughs, were keen to get this sense of co-operation between the police and the children in the schools.
I wonder, however, whether we should not extend that a little further. Without actually teaching children to drive cars we should instil into them the responsibility which they have to themselves and to others if peradventure they decide to become a driver of a car. It may well be this escalation in progress from the time when young people leave school is a contributory factor to their becoming dangerous drivers. It will be agreed that many riders of scooters have a deplorable habit of weaving their way in and out of traffic just to get that couple of yards or so ahead of other drivers. Very often when young people leave school they cannot afford a motor car, so they get a scooter and then get into this habit of weaving in and out of the traffic. Then when they can afford a motor car they carry on in the same way.
We have all seen—and many of us will have to admit that we have behaved in the same abominable manner—drivers overtake us just to get to the traffic lights first to stop. That is the sort of daft thing we do. A contributory factor may be that young people have not been taught the responsibility of sitting on a vehicle or driving inside one. They should be taught to show as much responsibility when driving a scooter or a cycle as when they are driving a car. If we could instil that sort of behaviour into 1509 them at an early age, we might get some reasonable rewards when these people later become car drivers.
We also have to acknowledge that the fault does not always lie either with the motorist or the person who is learning to be one. Officialdom has contributed to confusing people. I sometimes wonder how the ordinary person can assimilate the meaning of all the different signs we see around the country. A classical example is near in the Earl's Court Road, where, at one little junction, there are between 18 and 24 signs. They have been there for about three years, and are popularly known as "Marples' Folly". That sort of thing brings authority into contempt.
At this place there are four or five signs saying that one cannot turn right, or go straight ahead, and can turn left only in certain conditions. To comply with the regulations I sometimes think that the driver should get out of his car make a few notes—and, perhaps, a little sketch. Then, having done all that and held up all the traffic for miles behind, he could proceed on his way. Officialdom, too, has made some ridiculous bloomers.
The gravamen of my case is the need for good behaviour at all times, particularly when one sits behind the steering wheel of a motor car. People whose knowledge of driving and ability to drive is expert sometimes become exceedingly silly and dangerous drivers just because of that ability and knowledge. They know that theirs is not the responsibility to give way at a particular crossing or roundabout, so they charge on. Then the other fellow does not obey the law, does not give way, and there is trouble. This attitude of mind seems to fit in with the philosophy that these people do not mind being "dead right".
In order to get away from these dangers, I believe that we need a big "Good behaviour" campaign. We should start it at school, where children learn their kerb drill, to use pedestrian crossings and not to run out from behind stationary vehicles. We do that when they are 8 or 9 years of age, but we ought to do it again when they are 18 or 19 years of age. People can be as irresponsible or daft at 19 or 90 as at 9. A person of any age can walk out from behind a stationary vehicle, or march arrogantly 1510 over pedestrian crossings without giving the oncoming motorist a chance to pull up in time.
Mr. Speaker, you have graciously allowed us to push the boundaries of this Motion a little further than, perhaps, we ought to have done, so perhaps I may say that we are not dealing only with the behaviour of the motorist but with that of the pedestrian as well. Sometimes we are pedestrians and sometimes we are motorists, but we have to remember that at all times on our roads we must be on our best behaviour, and be courteous and considerate. To instil that feeling into people would be a far better contribution to road safety than solely to train them to drive expertly.
The hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) suggested that the tests should be made rather more severe, and I have some sympathy with that idea. But I believe that the driving test should be in two parts. First, there should be a preliminary test which might be equated to the present test. I am told that on average it takes 20 or 30 hours to learn to drive a car, after which a person can drive wherever he wants and in any manner as long as he keeps within the law. A training period of 30 hours is only the equivalent of a London bus driver's work for one week, and that amount of training in simply how to manœuvre a vehicle is not enough of itself. That should be the preliminary test.
I suggest that six months after passing the preliminary test there should be an advanced test. In the intervening six months his behaviour as a driver could be examined. Faults might come to light. It might be found that although he knew precisely what to do when he had an examiner alongside him, his psyche might be so maladjusted that he became totally irresponsible when driving on his own. In any case, I believe that these two forms of test would bring home the fact that people have a serious responsibility to themselves and to other road users.
Many serious accidents can be attributed to the person who gets away with it scot-free. We have often seen the bully on the road—the man who may literally get away with murder. There is need for a campaign against such drivers. One of the slogans of a "Good behaviour" campaign might be "Ban the bully on the roads". Ordinary people 1511 could make this very effective. If we see someone behaving in an appalling manner we should be prepared to give evidence against that person, particularly if the behaviour has caused loss of life, or has resulted in someone being maimed, blinded or otherwise seriously injured. We should have the courage to say, "I am willing to volunteer evidence about that person's bad behaviour. It is not a question of behaving in a sneaking manner; the subject is far too serious for us to shut our eyes to it, and pretend we have not seen.
The great tragedy here is that far too often we never arrive at the frontiers of understanding of what it is to be a responsible driver until we are involved in some serious accident in which either we are maimed or we have taken away another person's life, or sadly smashed or damaged another human being. We must arrive at that frontier long before we have landed ourselves in such a gruesome mess.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Arnold Gregory (Stockport, North)
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) stressed that, unless very carefully handled, the motor car can be a lethal weapon. This was also stressed by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), who said that the control of a vehicle depended not only upon the skill of its driver but upon how well he had been trained to handle and control it.
When discussing road safety we have to consider how individuals react, whether they are pedestrians facing the hazard of crossing roads used by fast traffic or motorists manœuvring through heavy traffic while trying to face up to their responsibilities, and we have also to take into account the views of people who are responsible for advising Government Deperatments and committees and giving leadership in road safety.
When we were considering imposing a 70 m.p.h. speed limit on motorways and other main roads, the Chairman of the Road Safety Advisory Committee commented that he drove at 110 m.p.h. on the M.1 when conditions were right but with mist and damp conditions he was content with 60 m.p.h. This was at a time when we were considering making all roads safe for users, bearing in mind 1512 that many people can, and wish to, travel at high speeds but that we have to give consideration to other road users. We were saying that under conditions of mist and damp we should regulate the speed of the vehicles to those conditions.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) said that we have responsibilities in relation to not only motorists but pedestrians. It is interesting to examine the problems of pedestrians in moving around our cities. Like motorists in modern traffic conditions, pedestrians suffer from our crowded conditions and narrow streets, and have a very difficult task in moving around our towns in highly congested traffic conditions.
We have had the reactions of people who have a responsible attitude towards the development of our towns and the arranging of traffic conditions to ensure that people can move about safely. It is important to get the motorist and the pedestrian to co-operate. We have to ensure how motorists are to be instructed it the very best techniques and to attain the highest degree of ability. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North, wondered where the source of all the trouble was, the point at which we should begin to arrange this sort of thing.
The Motion makes reference to scientific and technological methods which should be applied to driving instruction. We have to consider not only the availability of science and technology in this respect but how we should treat the people who offer that science and technology. We must consider whether they are receiving a square deal in their efforts to impart their instruction and ensure that the drivers of high-speed vehicles know the problems they face.
The driving instructor has a very vital (Ole. Driving instruction is a specialised and skilled undertaking. The instructor not only passes on skill and knowledge about how to manoeuvre and control a vehicle at high speed, but also demonstrates the fundamental techniques of handling a car, and does this in the face of all the regulations which are imposed upon him. He has to be sure that he does not pass on bad habits and ill-advised short-cuts which come to a driver naturally after long practice of driving under modern traffic conditions.
1513 The science and technology of the matter arise from the fact that certain people devote a great deal of their time to studying what happens under modern road conditions and apply their findings as a code of conduct and learn how to teach others those techniques. The driving instructor is a key man in the whole business of making our roads safe. We place a tremendous responsibility on him. The Motion suggests that the science and technology of the matter should be sponsored by the Ministry of Transport and others interested in road safety research. We must remember, however, that it is the driving instructor who is the medium by which good habit, knowledge and technique are passed on to other members of the community.
We ought to ask ourselves whether in fixing the conditions under which the driving instructor works, whether by registration or by certificate, we ensure that he is fairly treated after being attracted to his very important teaching profession. We ought to ask ourselves whether he has the full backing of the community to ensure that those who are instructed are protected from some of their bed habits. If we regard the driving instructor in parallel with the doctor or dentist, if we say that it is a life and death issue and a matter of reducing the pain in society under modern road conditions, we should ask ourselves whether we accord him even the slightest degree of professional recognition in conditions and pay.
The matter of registering the instructor and giving him professional status is only a slight technical point. We must ensure that he is given a fair crack of the whip in regard to conditions of work and pay in relation to the responsibilities of his task. We cannot afford to argue for two or three years about registering him. Registration is not important in this respect. We must be concerned with the science and technology of the use of the motor car in modern conditions and the ability of the instructor to pass on knowledge to the learner. We must try to reduce the waiting list for undergoing the test.
More important, the instruction given to learners must be of a kind appropriate to modern conditions. It is not a question of struggling for recognition or registration. It is a question of getting to 1514 the core of things and ascertaining how quickly the technique can be transferred and used in modern driving schools.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) referred to the life and death question of road safety, it occurred to me that we must tackle the question of making information available to instructors and their passing it on to learners. One leading motor school has got down to the question of how it can assist the Minister and others in improving school techniques. A document which I hold in my hand emanating from the British School of Motoring says that for years the school has emphasised how ridiculous it is that anyone with the necessary resources can, after passing the Ministry driving test, set himself up immediately as an instructor.
The extent and nature of the problem must be appreciated. It is important that Parliament should make it its business to ensure, not only that motor schools are equipped with the best means of giving learner-drivers the right information, but also that a successful examinee, armed with the most meagre amount of information cannot automatically take on the rôle of instructor. This present possibility weakens, if not destroys, the whole system of driving instruction.
I hope that in his reply my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will give consideration to the fact that we are now very much concerned to ensure that instructors obtain the best possible assistance and guidance from his Ministry, thus helping instructors to pass on the best techniques and skills in regard to handling a motor car in very difficult conditions.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Bernard Floud (Acton)
Most hon. Members who have spoken have rightly and properly concentrated on the safety aspects involved in the Motion. Naturally I support everything which has been said about the importance of high standards of driving instruction and strict tests being applied both to those who instruct and ultimately to those who are allowed to drive.
There is one aspect of the problem on which I ask my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to comment in reply. Virtually all driving instruction takes place on the roads. This may seem 1515 very obvious. However, it seems to me, from observation in my constituency and from complaints which are made to me by my constituents, that a very large part of the instruction which takes place in London takes place on the roads in my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) may receive somewhat the same complaints, his constituency being next to mine.
A case has come to my notice recently of a lady living in a quiet residential road. She went to live there precisely because it was a quiet residential road. She was able to record over quite a short period that more than 20 different driving schools in the West London area and from even farther afield were using that quiet, secluded road to give driving instruction. I am not necessarily blaming the driving schools for doing this, because they must use some road in which to give instruction.
However, it can be a source of great discomfort and inconvenience to many residents in the road. This is partly because there is more traffic along the road than there would otherwise be. It is partly because, inevitably in the process of driving instruction, and perhaps particularly in what would otherwise be a quiet road, the pupils are taught in that road how to start and how to stop, with all the revving of engines which drivers of cars know inevitably happens when somebody is learning to drive.
Worse than that, the pupils are taught to back in and out of turnings. Doubtless this may be very valuable to them later, but it is again a source of trouble to those who live in the road. Perhaps worst of all, some driving instructors teach their pupils how to park their cars between other parked cars. The parked cars made use of during this manoeuvre are owned by residents or by visitors to residents. I have received many complaints, not of very serious damage, but of a certain amount of damage being done by pupils of driving schools who, no doubt trying their best, and doubtless with good instructors, try to park their cars in a small gap but in the process damage the cars on either side.
At the end of last year I had some correspondence on this subject with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry 1516 of Transport. I gathered that there was nothing that the Ministry could do about this, at present at any rate. Nobody is breaking the law. The police could not take any effective action. All that the aggrieved resident in a particular road can do is either to complain to the police, which is not likely to produce any very definite action, or write to the driving schools and ask them to choose some other route, at any rate for a period of time. When the resident to whom I have referred did this, there was a response for a period.
I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to state whether I am right in my suspicion that examiners tend to use very much the same routes when they are putting examinees through their test and that it is only a short time before driving schools come to know which roads will be used for the test. Naturally, they then decide to use the same roads to train their pupils. Obviously, somebody who during his instruction has constantly gone over the same route, up the same little hill, down the same little hill, in and out of the same places, is likely to make a very much better showing in a test than he would if he were taken to some completely new area. I should like to know whether my suspicion is right, whether it is certain that instructors do not use the same routes largely because they get to know—there is nothing nefarious about this—the route which will be used during the test. Not only can this be a cause of considerable inconvenience, discomfort, and sometimes slight damage to property, to residents in those roads, but it would also lessen the value of the test when taken.
I therefore wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary could tell us if driving instructors and trainees could vary their routes much more than they do at present. If this were to mean that instead of the roads in my constituency, for instance, being clogged up for a certain period of time by learner-drivers, the roads in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North, were clogged up instead, this would perhaps be something which one would have to face—provided that it does not all seem to take place in one particular area.
The kind of thing to which I have referred will inevitably continue to occur 1517 to some extent so long as driving instruction takes place on the roads, and I should like my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to comment on the possibility, which I am sure has been raised on many occasions in the past, of having special places—disused airfields have been used—where people can obtain their initial driving instruction, where they are not on the crowded roads from the first moment that they sit behind a driving wheel, where they can begin to get some kind of knowledge of driving a car, of reversing it and even driving it forwards, so that they can obtain a basic knowledge of what a car is and how to manoeuvre it before they actually go on the roads.
§ Mr. Molloy
Would my hon. Friend not also agree that such a procedure would put drivers, when they go on the roads, in possession of a very important item, namely, a little more confidence?
§ Mr. Floud
I am grateful for that intervention. I think that is certainly so. I belong to a generation which did not have to pass a driving test, and I sometimes think that I am lucky that this situation still obtains so far as I am concerned. In those days when one first went on to the roads there was very little traffic indeed, and I do not remember feeling any particular fear or lack of confidence, because there was so little traffic and the driving instructor was really in a position to take command very quickly and stop anything dreadful happening.
Today, however—and I have noticed this when my own children have been learning to drive—from the first moment that people take their first lesson, particularly in the London area, they are plunged straight into driving on crowded roads, with huge buses bearing down on them and all the paraphernalia of modern traffic which frightens a good many of us. Anything which can be done by mechanical or scientific methods, or preferably by making available special areas which would give trainee drivers a reasonable amount of training in the handling of a car—how to start it and stop it and so on—before meeting the hazards of other traffic, would give them a great deal of confidence, would mean that they were in a better state to come on the roads and would cause less con- 1518 gestion and less trouble for other road users who undoubtedly in some areas are held up considerably by cars which are driven by learner drivers.
This would also do something to overcome the annoyance which I have mentioned, of the quiet residential roads being made noisy, inconvenient and uncomfortable for residents because of the high proportion of driving schools which use these roads not as roads but as training rinks for drivers, many of whom are not able to handle a car very well.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say something about this aspect of driving instruction.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Mr. George Rogers (Kensington, North)
I shall not detain the House long because I want to make only one point, following the vigorous contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy).
Before making that point, however, may I say that I think the House ought to thank the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) for moving the Motion and particularly for the way in which he did so. I thought his speech was an admirable example of the sort of contribution to the proceedings of this House which is of interest to all Members and is of service to the nation at the same time. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has made himself an expert on the subject and I am sure that we were all much impressed by his obvious mastery of the various theories in vogue and for the future about driving schools.
I wish to emphasise what my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North said about the necessity for a second test. As other hon. Members have said, although driving instruction may or may not be adequate up to the moment of passing the driving test, there is no doubt that, apart from the increased skill which most drivers acquire after they have passed their test, there are some drivers whose skill deteriorates in the course of years.
I remember that some years ago Lord Latham put forward the suggestion that for a certain period after the passing of the test and dispensing with "L" plates motorists should be required to carry on their cars a plate bearing the letter "P" for "provisional". It struck me at the 1519 time as a very good idea. I was never quite sure whether the Ministry of Transport had a case against that suggestion, but when one realises how long it takes the Ministry to make up its mind about new ideas one is not altogether surprised.
I remember that the first time I made a suggestion about traffic wardens was in an article in a trade union journal 20 years ago. It took about 16 years, I believe, for the idea finally to become popular amongst traffic experts and the police. It may be that this idea of a "provisional" plate is suffering from the same sort of circumlocution. At least, I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give the suggestion very serious thought because I think it is an admirable idea after a motorist has passed his provisional test he should carry a "P" plate for perhaps six months and should then have another test to see what experience he has derived from driving on the roads in normal conditions without an accompanying expert driver.
I feel, too, that this test, if it were taken later in life, would eliminate a number of old people who are today dangerous drivers. I am not now referring so much to the use of the "P" plate. I drive a good deal in the suburbs, and I suppose most of us do. One of the causes of irritation amongst drivers is the driver who delays traffic, such as the middle-aged woman shopping in a "Mini". Very often cars are parked on either side of the road. Such a driver gets into the habit of driving on the crown of the road and, because there is no urgency about the shopping or the driving, she tends to think that nobody else on the road has any urgency either.
I think that some further instruction and testing would emphasise the necessity for keeping to the nearside of the road wherever possible, and would help to speed the flow of traffic and help to eliminate much of that irritation which some drivers experience and which sometimes leads to accidents when they try to overtake such drivers.
§ Mr. Floud
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that there should be some kind of special test for middle-aged women? Although this may be his experience, I hope that he is not putting forward the 1520 idea that it is only women who are sometimes to blame in this respect. I should have thought that there was plenty of evidence, if my hon. Friends keeps his eyes open when he next goes through the suburbs, that middle-aged men, and perhaps not only middle-aged men, are sometimes just as much offenders in this respect as the ladies.
§ Mr. Rogers
I am obliged to my hon. Friend but I think that he might have realised that the term "man" embraces woman, and this might apply to middle-aged Members of Parliament as well. I merely said that this was my own experience when doing the family shopping, but I must insist that there are leisurely drivers in the class I mentioned who delay travel and tend to cause trouble on the roads in the suburbs.
A driving test might be taken in middle age. I had the experience recently of being driven by a man of 80 who offered to give me a lift. It was the most frightening experience that I have had in my life. He started off by driving on the right side of the road but rapidly went on to the wrong side and drove over the edge of the kerb on that side. Clearly he had no business to be on the road at all and was likely to cause a serious accident before very much longer. I think that this question of extra instruction and a later test which has been mentioned should be considered seriously by the Ministry.
§ 3.1 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Morris)
The whole House will agree that we have had a most valuable debate on a subject which is important to all of us. I regard it as a privilege to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) on taking up this most important subject. We all know that his interest in road safety is not transient and that over the years he has a long and proud record of having brought to the attention of the House this important matter. During the course of his interesting and valuable speech today, covering a wide range of matters pertinent to road safety, the hon. and gallant Member did a service to the House as a whole and I am grateful for the opportunity in my reply to take up some of his observations.
1521 I cannot ask for a great deal of indulgence today from the House, although it is the first time that I stand here in a new capacity, but I am fortified in knowing that in transport matters there are about 50 million experts in this country. All of us, almost from the cradle to the grave, are bubbling with ideas, if not solutions. This general consciousness of the problem of transport reflects the fact that it crosses the lives of the whole of Britain. No one, without contracting out of life in the latter half of the twentieth century, can escape it.
The motor car, in particular, over the years, has more and more dominated our lives, and from being the plaything of the rich and the adventurous it has come to be regarded as the almost universal necessity of 8 million owners. In the heart of every schoolboy and schoolgirl, as the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom) has said, there are aspirations of seeing oneself at the wheel. This is the age of the democratisation of the motor car, and we must learn to live with it. We all know the hazards of driving a car and the hazards of the non-motorist. The motorist and the pedestrian each demands and deserves a charter.
I think that it was the hon. Member for Leominster who invited the Minister and myself to be the motorists' friend. We would be delighted so to be. It is our duty to he both the motorist's friend and the pedestrian's friend, because when we look at the scale of this problem of the national tragedy which we face day by day and year by year in the vast rate of casualties we cannot blind ourselves to this great national trend. We can never accept the pose of the ostrich.
Today, we are dealing with one important aspect of transport, the problem of safety. In essence, we are talking about the right to live. The picture is one of unending carnage, with casualty list after list making it, unfortunately, a never-ending but bloody battle. The hardship for the individual and his family is obvious, but the totality of the hardship and loss to the nation as a whole is enormous. Try as we may to improve national productivity and effort, our total efforts will be severely hampered if no solution is found to heal or, at least, better to control this terrible running sore. This 1522 is why we are most grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for having chosen the subject today.
The accident picture is a black one. In 1964, the number of casualties was the highest in peacetime. There were 292,245 road accidents and resulting from those accidents there were over 385,000 casualties. I have to tell the House that the latest figures available for the first 11 months of 1965, when compared with the corresponding period in 1964, show that the total was even higher. This, unfortunately, has been the trend since 1949, apart from the year 1962.
One thing we can say is that the casualty rate has fallen even though the total numbers have risen. This was the significance of some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke). The accident rate per 100 million vehicle miles has gone down from 612 in 1949 to 437 in 1962, and, although the fall in the casualty rate since then has, unfortunately, slowed down, in 1964, the last year for which figures are available, it was 422. This is a matter of some significance, and, without sticking my neck out, I go so far as to say that there must be reflected in that trend the result of the immense amount of propaganda which has gone on over the years and the improvements which have been made in our roads.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman invited us to tackle the problem at source, and he dwelt at length on the issue of training. I have tried to look at the various aspects of the situation, who suffers these accidents, who or what causes them, and who has been responsible. Coming fresh and, perhaps, empty-headed to the subject, I thought first of the learner-driver. In 1964, out of almost 14½ million licences then current, there were 2.1 million provisional licences. The total of fatal and severe accidents was over 85,000, and the number of learner-drivers involved in those accidents was over 7,500. There is, therefore, no significance in the suggestion that there is a higher accident rate among L-drivers than among others. Indeed, the reverse appears, pro rata, from the figures.
Nevertheless, these figures are not conclusive in themselves in that some provisional licensees give up after a few weeks and one does not know the vehicle 1523 mileage which L-drivers cover. Therefore, even an examination on that basis cannot be conclusive.
As some hon. Members will know, there was in 1958 a study of accidents to young motor cyclists in particular. It was shown then that motor cycle riders aged between 16 and 20 with under six months' experience were involved in twice as many accidents per mile driven as those with more experience. These are tragic figures. Taking the question on a vehicle basis, all the figures show that it is the two-wheeled vehicle which is most vulnerable. In 1964 the casualty rate for two-wheeled motor vehicles per 100 million miles was 1,953—almost 2,000. For other motor vehicles it was just over 200.
These are staggering comparisons. Excluding passengers, when one examines the chances of survival of the car driver and the motor cycle rider one sees that the chances are that the motor cycle rider is 20 times as likely to be killed as the car driver. The risk, of course, varies within each group. I will not weary the House with details, save to say that the risk is very much less for drivers of mopeds, going up substantially for riders of scooters, and then for motor cyclists.
This is the terrible canvas which we have to face. It is a sad, miserable, but challenging, picture. What the House is entitled to know is, what can be done about it?
I think that it was the hon. and gallant Member for Eye who dealt with the human factors involved. Whatever we do in improving the roads, improving vehicles, improving flows of traffic, dealing with the drink aspect, and all these are so important, at the end of the day it is the human factor, the conduct of the individual, human driver which is the most significant matter of all. This is where the importance of good training comes in; the ability to control vehicles, the knowledge of road procedures—all these to all of us who drive motor cars, are very important, we know, both as regards our own safety and that of other road users. After training, after testing, the driver is on his own.
Every means has been used which is at the disposal of the Government, of the motoring organisations, and of the 1524 Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, in constantly striving to inculcate safe behaviour. We have had over the years constant streams of publicity and efforts by the police in enforcing as much as they can the traffic regulations. I shall a little further on refer to it again, but reference was made by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) to the experiment in policing in the West Country.
I think that from all this we should try to gain some comfort, even though this picture is a very black one indeed, but when one looks at the rate of casualties and at all the effort which has gone into this subject from all sides it must have had a significant effect over the years. But it is not enough. There must be much, much more over the next years.
Before going into the details of all the important points which have been raised by hon. Members, perhaps I could deal, first, with the main burden of the speech by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, in courtesy to himself, as regards the simulators he referred to. He told the House earlier of his visit to Switzerland and of having seen tested and tried, as I understand, two kinds of simulator. He also referred us to simulators, perhaps of a different kind, used in the United States of America.
§ Mr. Morris
I am very grateful to the hon. and gallant Member.
First, he asked me a question as to whether the Ministry of Transport had been invited to see the simulators in Switzerland. I am given to understand that we have not been invited, but I am sure that in due course—I shall refer to this later—we shall take a very great interest in this matter. An invitation, issued or not, is not stopping us from looking into it and keeping a close eye on its development. We have throughout, through the Road Research Laboratory, kept in touch on this issue with American thinking.
We are told that American research workers in their field are not yet by any means convinced that car simulators have the value which is sometimes attributed to them. When we hear claims in favour of simulator training I can only refer the House to the American National 1525 Commission on Safety Education, which, in 1964, reported to the effect that there were so many factors involved that the advantages claimed for simulator training may in fact be attributed to a range of other causes. It could not come then to a firm conclusion.
This same body has said that there may well be some value in substituting simulator training for a proportion of the early training on a dual control car. But they advise that, where this is done, four hours of simulator instruction should be given for every hour's reduction in the amount of time spent on driving on the road.
Reference has been made to the use of simulators for the training of pilots. That is rather a different matter from training a car driver. The aircraft simulator is successful because the visual panel is simple enough to simulate fairly easily. To reproduce the effects of driving a car a very much more complicated display is required, including nearby obstacles and other vehicles moving on more or less unpredictable courses. This requirement increases the cost enormously. However, I will not go at length into a comparison of simulators. In this country so far, simulators have not been used very much for driver training. As I have said, to reproduce realistically the sensations of driving—if it is possible at all—would be very expensive indeed. I was most interested in the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Eye about costs.
No one, I think, would claim that, whatever merits they have, simulators can convey the same sensations as driving on the road—for instance, the relationship between brake pedal effort and deceleration, the feeling of danger when emerging from a T-junction into a traffic stream; and consciousness of what is going on around and behind as well as in front.
We know, however, of the simulator that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has recently seen in Switzerland. He invited my assurance that this method is being studied by our authorities. I can give him the assurance that we will certainly make, and will continue to make, full inquiries about it. We have heard that the Swiss are very pleased with it and we are seeking official confirmation of 1526 the results. We have heard the claims for it.
The House can be assured that we shall go into this very fully to see whether a device has been produced which will enable drivers to be better taught and which can be purchased at a price which makes it a commercial proposition. But I should add that successful experience in Switzerland would not necessarily mean equal success here. This could depend on the relative difficulty of traffic patterns and standard of driving competence necessary to deal with them.
I can give the hon. and gallant Gentleman the assurance that we shall study closely and investigate as fully within our means as possible any development of this kind. We are grateful to him for drawing the attention of the House to his experience and the time he has spent in his investigation. I will ensure that, should an invitation be extended to look at this machine we shall accept it.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman, with others, referred to the Ministry's Register of Approved Driving Instructors. The register came into operation in October, 1964. There were then 2,000 names on it and the latest figure I have is that it now stands at 3,300. I think that meets the point put by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare.
We have said all along that this register and its progress will be watched. We will not hesitate to take further measures if it is not fulfilling its purpose, and the first steps to be taken to ensure the continued growth of the register are now under consideration. The most obvious step is the removal of the present restriction, in that it is confined to full-time instructors, and the views of the representative bodies in the profession have already been obtained on this.
The next step is the more fundamental one of making registration compulsory. This means—and let us face it—making it illegal for a professional instructor to give tuition for gain unless he is on the register, and that possibility is certainly not discounted.
I am aware of the other problems and considerations raised and dealt with very fully by the hon. Member for Westonsuper-Mare. I cannot give any undertaking on those points now, but we are 1527 deeply aware of the importance of this register and consultations are taking place with the representative bodies in the profession.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman also paid tribute to the importance of using our most important media of publicity, B.B.C. television, and so on, and I am sure that the House was as pleased as I was with his remarks.
One other important issue which was raised, I think by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), was the need for the periodic re-examination of all drivers. There are real difficulties about this, in that at the moment—I am not going into the merits of the issue—it would be impracticable. There are 2 million tests annually, with 500,000 applicants waiting, on average, about 13 weeks for a test. Everything possible is being done to recruit additional examiners.
We know that this waiting period is too long, and that there is this backlog, but this does not mean that a learner has to wait 13 weeks or more to take a test, because it is now the general practice for learners to apply for a test fairly soon after beginning their driving lessons. The true waiting period is the period between the time when the learner considers himself ready to take a test, and the time he takes it. We have been recruiting more examiners as rapidly as we can, and in fact the backlog has been reduced by more than 70,000 in the past 12 weeks.
This morning's Daily Telegraph carried a report that there was about a 20-week delay in the London area, in the West Midlands, and in southern Scotland. We have confirmed this morning that there are no centres in those areas where the waiting period is as long as 20 weeks. In the West Midlands there is one centre where tests are being booked 18 weeks ahead, and in the Metropolitan area the situation is much the same, but in London, in particular, if people are prepared to travel a few miles they can get a test in a much shorter period. For example, in Barnet, because of a sudden fall in applications, tests can be arranged within seven weeks. On the other side of the coin, in Southern Scotland the bad weather has increased waiting 1528 periods, but even so the delay is not as much as 20 weeks. We will do what we can to ensure that the waiting period is kept as short as possible.
The hon. Member for Twickenham referred in some detail to the Terrell plan. I must confess my ignorance of this plan and I am sure that he would not expect me, having regard to all the other considerations and aspects of Government policy on matters of this kind, to give him a decision today. I shall look into this matter and write to the hon. Member in due course. I am grate. ful to him for his observations.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
This was fully put before the previous Minister of Transport in the summer. It is in the possession of the Ministry.
§ Mr. Morris
I am grateful to the hon. Member for that information. I am sure he will agree with me that having been only a few weeks in this important Ministry I cannot be expected to know all its ramifications. It will take very much longer than that. However, I shall look into the question.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) referred to the question of people taking tests in cars which were automatically controlled. I presume that he was referring to cars without the normal type of clutch. The question of restricting the licences of such people is being actively considered. That is all that I can say on that point at the moment.
The hon. Member for Leominster referred to the question of the Road Research Laboratory. We share his pride in this establishment, which serves a very important purpose. This organisation, financed by the Government, comes under the wing of the Ministry of Transport, and is able to investigate the causes of accidents, besides examining motor cars and the design of roads and vehicles. It can tender to the Minister of the day the best possible advice. I am sure that we all take great pride in this laboratory. I hope to see it myself during the next few weeks.
The hon. Member also raised the important issue of training in schools, and referred to the gap that exists between the training that is received when we are little more than toddlers—when we 1529 learn the proper kerb drill—and the time when we try to drive a motor car. Everyone is concerned in the prevention of accidents on the road, and we must try to narrow this gap. We have heard today of schools which carry out training in driving. The hon. Member for Westonsuper-Mare referred to such a school. Every effort must be made to ensure that in this training young people are given the necessary knowledge to enable them to preserve their lives.
The hon. Member also referred to the question of vehicles displaying a special sign for a probationary period after their drivers had passed the test. This proposal was made during the Committee stage of the Road Traffic Bill, 1962, in the House of Lords. Newly qualified drivers were to carry a distinguishing mark on their vehicles for a probationary period. This proposal was rejected, the main objection being that a fixed period of probation does not correspond with any degree of additional driving experience.
The indications are that the period during which the new driver is most likely to be involved in an accident due to inexperience continues for several years, and to display some kind of distinguishing plate for such a comparatively long period would mean, in these days when so many more people are learning to drive, that these plates would tend to be ignored by other drivers. The position is quite different from that of the almost completely inexperienced learner-driver.
This problem has been studied in the past, and if there is thought to be any further merit in it there is no bar against its being considered again in the future. My investigations lead me to believe, however, that there are some rather formidable obstacles to accepting such a suggestion.
The hon. Member also mentioned the police experiment in the South-West. He told us of the white motor cars which are used by the police over a wide range of counties. The men were instructed to enforce the law—not to be "courtesy cops"—but the patrols were intended to cover 100 miles in an eight-hour tour of duty and they had to spend part of the time standing by their vehicles in conspicuous positions. The experiment was mounted by the Home Office and is being evaluated by them. I should pay a tribute 1530 to the hard work put in by all those concerned, from the organisers to the men on patrol. We await the evaluation of the results with interest. This was a particularly important effort to discover scientifically what would be the effect and whether the accident rate could thus be reduced.
Although certain observations have been made, it is not possible yet to come to a firm conclusion without looking at all the figures—
§ Mr. Webster
I would thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. Can he put any influence on the Home Office for a quick reply? It is not long to Easter, and if we could have an evaluation before Easter, Whitsun and the difficult summer period, it would be immensely valuable. Would he press the Home Office very hard on this point, as it is important?
§ Mr. Morris
I can assure the hon. Member that I will do what I can. The interim report is available, but we want a full evaluation of the results of this most important experiment.
I have dealt with a number of points which have been raised in the debate. If I have not been able to deal with them all, I am sure that hon. Members will not regard that as any discourtesy on my part. I will study HANSARD and write to hon. Members in due course.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
Could the hon. Gentleman pay special attention to a subject on which I put down several Questions to the previous Minister—that of propaganda on the use of safety belts?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Could my hon. Friend say anything about what I and others said about the division between the written examination and the practical test for driving?
§ Mr. Morris
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have tried to telescope my remarks as I know that another hon. Member wishes to raise an issue before four o'clock. I will try to be as brief as possible. On my hon. Friend's reference to written tests, I would say that it is not always understood why we prefer to ask oral questions on the Highway 1531 Code. Examiners, I am advised, are able to relate questions to what the candidate has revealed in his practical test. The two are not divorced and, often, examiners can clear up certain doubts about the candidate's ability as shown by his performance in the practical test. This is perhaps much fairer to the candidate and is better than having two different and separate tests. Both are part and parcel of the test and the examiner can discover whether the applicant is fit to drive a motorcar on the road.
I believe that it is obvious to all of us who have listened to this important debate that there is no one answer to the terrible problem of road accidents. As every speaker has stressed, this is a great and continuing challenge. The Minister is determined that every effort must be made to contain this national drain and to reduce it at the earliest opportunity. The suggestions of hon. Members may be divided into three groups. The first deals with the need for better structural facilities, which means better roads, better signs and even better motorcars, which comes back to the Road Research Laboratory and its investigations.
The second point was the need for higher skills and better training, including qualified instructors. There is also the important problem of the motor cycle and the tragic record to which I referred earlier. If we can learn anything from the simulator, then I give the fullest possible assurance that we shall study it.
Finally, hon. Members referred to the need for better human behaviour. All of us who are motorists, even the most skilled of us, suffer lapses from time to time. I am sure that we can all confess that. Sometimes when driving we hold up our hands in horror because we have seen other road users behaving badly. We see people drive straight out of side roads or start off without warning and we comment that they are very bad drivers. But I am sure that none of us can say that on no occasion are we blameless.
It is important that we should have constant propaganda and publicity by the motoring organisations, to which I am grateful for their great efforts over the years, and by the voluntary organisations, 1532 as well as by the Ministry. We are grateful for all that has been done, using the most modern media of communication. We have to do this. We cannot afford not to do it, because the price of failure to the nation and to the individual is so great that there is an overwhelming need for a greater and greater awareness of the problem.
Training, testing and supervision of the driver can stand us in good stead, because even if we have a blameless record over the years, one lapse at one crucial moment may mean the end of our lives or of the life of a pedestrian, some other innocent motorist or some bystander. Of course, not all accidents are caused by motorists. Many of us, when driving our cars, have seen pedestrians negligently step out on to the road without warning and without due consideration for other road users. On those occasions we have to take immediate action, but it is not always effective action to save ourselves and other road users.
Safety on the road demands continuous training almost from the cradle. The hon. Member for Leominster stressed the importance of training in school from the earliest years. But at the end of the day there is a personal responsibility for all of us, however good we are, whether we are pedestrians or motorists. And even that is of little use in saving our own lives if there is some other silly fool on the road, whether motorist or pedestrian. This is a constant battle for survival for everyone who uses the roads.
I am grateful, as I am sure is the House, to the hon. and gallant Member for Eye for having raised this important matter. My right hon. Friend has said that road safety is one of her main concerns. I am sure that the House will see that her Ministry is active in seeking new avenues to avoid this great national loss. This is a responsibility on the Ministry and on every road user. Having regard to what I have said, I ask the hon. and gallant Member to be so kind as to withdraw the Motion.
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ Sir H. Harrison
By leave of the House, may I say that we are all grateful to the Minister for what he said. There is nothing which divides us on this subject. I escaped during the debate to 1533 have something to eat and to read the report of my speech. We are grateful to the Minister who has been in the Chamber throughout the debate.
I should have liked to see the Motion recorded in the Journals of the House of Commons, as mine was two years ago. However, I have listened to what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has said. To a lot of it, we would all agree that he has brought a refreshing mind and approach, although I felt that one or two of the old arguments were being underlined in perhaps the parts of his speech which did not come entirely from his own original mind—for example, the rather slow way of dealing with simulators and the argument that because there are only 3,300 qualified instructors, in fairness to others we must not apply compulsion. We must move quickly in these matters.
However, this is a matter in which there is no party feeling. I should hate it to be thought that there was any party division. I recognise that the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary are new to their office, but I should like an assurance from the hon. Gentleman particularly about simulators. There have been some fairly inferior ones about in the last few years. Whether the last one I saw might be described as the ultimate Rolls Royce. I do not know but I considered it to be fairly good and that it would help.
If the hon. Gentleman can find the time, I should like to come and talk to him rather more fully about these things than I was able to do in my speech today. In that spirit and in the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman has accepted the debate, and because of good will and the desire to make headway, although I warn him that if on either side we see any slipping back instead of headway we shall probe this matter further by Question and Motion, I beg to ask lease to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.