HC Deb 09 June 1969 vol 784 cc932-4
16. Mr. Eadie

asked the Minister of Transport if he proposes to alter his method of publishing road accident statistics during holiday periods following representations by the motoring organisations.

Mr. Marsh

No, Sir.

Mr. Eadie

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some organisations have expressed the view that the publishing of road accident figures for holiday periods serves no useful purpose and have made an appeal that new methods should be tried?

Mr. Marsh

I am aware of a recent speech made on this subject. There are two arguments here. First, this practice gives us the opportunity four times a year to get over to people just how important this issue is. We are talking about the large numbers of people who are killed and injured on the roads. When we look at the figures for 1968 we see that the daily average was 261 and, apart from Easter, the number was higher at holiday weekends. At Whitsun it was 291 and at the Summer Bank Holiday 337. This gives a convenient opportunity to get across to the public this serious problem and it is worth taking advantage of the opportunity.

Mr. Michael Heseltine

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that by focussing attention on the figures at peak weekends he may give the impression that driving standards are markedly different then—[HON. MEMBERS: "They are."]—whereas in fact the overall number of fatalities is much the same throughout the year? By concentrating on peak weekends, is it not possible to give an impression of a degree of complacency about other parts of the calendar about which figures are not published although they are much the same?

Mr. Marsh

Fatal and serious casualties tend to be higher on the occasion of holiday weekends when there are many people on the roads and these weekends tend to be a drinking time. The driving tends to leave something to be desired. People should not be at all complacent about the toll of the roads. They need take only 30 seconds to think of this. We are talking about close on 400,000 people killed or injured every year. There is certainly nothing to be complacent about.

18. Mr. Gardner

asked the Minister of Transport what were the total road casualties in England and Wales between the hours of 10.30 p.m. and midnight for the first quarter of 1969; and how these figures compare with the same period in 1968.

Mr. Marsh

Figures are not readily available in the precise form requested. Between 10 p.m. and midnight fatal and serious casualties in Great Britain totalled 960 in January, 1969, and 686 in January, 1968. I will send my hon. Friend the figures for the whole of the first quarter when they are compiled.

Mr. Gardner

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the deterrent effect of the Road Safety Act is now wearing off? Will he therefore ask the Home Secretary to issue new advice to chief constables about the use of the breathalyser test?

Mr. Marsh

I think one should pause before trying to form conclusions from these figures, because in January there were big increases in areas not normally associated with drinking. Also, while this is not a satisfactory position, late-night casualties are still 20 per cent. lower than they were in 1967. Police enforcement has increased and there were nearly 40 per cent. more breath tests in the first quarter of 1969 than in the same months of 1968.

Mrs. Thatcher

Is the Minister aware that one should be very much on guard about drawing too much in the way of conclusions from these figures? Can he give some idea of what weight we should attach to them by saying how many hours were travelled in these times, because it is not only the number of casualties but the number of casualties in relation to the number of hours travelled?

Mr. Marsh

We want to go even further than that. January was a very bad month for accident figures. The February figures seem to be better. We must first establish how far these figures are typical. We cannot take one month on its own; we need a longer experience of this. It was always thought that there would be some wear-off from the initial impact, but we still remain about the only country in the world that has reduced road accidents in two successive years.