HC Deb 15 December 1971 vol 828 cc439-43
12. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has for increasing the efficiency of the fog warning light system on the M1.

31. Mr. Madel

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he is satisfied with the fog-warning lights system on the M1; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Michael Heseltine

The present temporary emergency warning signals over the whole length of M1 are being progressively replaced by computer controlled signals. These are already operational on M1 in Yorkshire and I expect that the gantry signals at the southern end of M1 will be operational by mid-1972. Delays have been caused by technical problems.

Mr. Whitehead

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that hon. Members on both sides of the House are among the most frequent users of the motorway and that anyone who has been on the fringe of one of these hellish accidents in fog must be concerned about the inadequate fog warning light system? Can the hon. Gentleman say what is the average distance between the lights on the M1 compared with what it was, say, a year ago? Can he also say what proportion of them were in working order during the last serious accident on 29th November?

Mr. Heseltine

The new system of computer control which is being introduced will have lights spaced at two-mile intervals. The present temporary system had lights at one-mile intervals. But we are introducing a more complicated and sophisticated system. Details of which lights were in operation at the time of specific accidents is a matter about which I must write to the hon. Gentleman unless he cares to table a specific Question to me.

Mr. Madel

Is my hon. Friend aware that overhead lighting on the M4 has reduced accidents considerably? Cannot we have more of it on the M1?

Mr. Heseltine

This is a matter which my right hon. Friend has agreed to look at.

Mr. William Price

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that if he put fog lights every five yards some drivers would ignore them? What can he do about that?

Mr. Heseltine

It is impossible for me to ride in the car of every driver. In the end it is a matter of personal responsibility.

Mr. Awdry

Will my hon. Friend consider bringing in regulations compelling motorists to drive with dipped headlights in conditions of poor visibility?

Mr. Heseltine

This is one of the matters which will be considered by the group looking at these problems. Again, it is a matter of supplementary interest which we might deal with by correspondence.

17. Mr. William Price

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what recent discussions lie has had with police forces about accidents in fog on the M1.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

My right hon. Friend and I met representatives of police forces and users' associations last Friday to consider the problems of motorway accidents in fog generally.

Mr. Price

Is it not clear that successive Ministers of Transport, including the present Minister, have done everything humanly possible to reduce the level of road accidents but that the carnage continues much of it caused by excessive speed? Is not the time coming when we shall have to deal much more severely with the lunatics who take absolutely no notice of warnings or the conditions? Would the Minister start by at least considering the possibility of automatic suspension for all speeding offences?

Mr. Griffiths

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will consider all suggestions that would help to reduce the carnage on the roads. Regarding, speeding, I remind the hon. Gentleman that it is first necessary to catch those who speed and, second, it is a matter for the courts to punish them.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Would my hon. Friend agree that, apart from increasing the lighting on motorways, it would help if he encouraged the experiments conducted by some police forces of moving motorists in convoys when thick fog is known to be in the section for which they have responsibility?

Mr. Griffiths

Yes, Sir. With the willing co-operation of the police we have set up a working group to examine the convoy system, lane discipline and traffic segregation in fog.

Mr. Mulley

In this context, will the Under-Secretary also consider the serious allegations made in a Sunday newspaper that part of the safety barrier on the M1 is an element of danger rather than safety? When will he be able to reassure us on this matter?

Mr. Griffiths

This matter is being examined but, contrary to some reports, the barrier was not breached. We shall look at the question whether there were other incidental factors that require examination.

30. Sir Clive Bossom

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether, during the next four months of foggy weather, he will co-ordinate a plan for all motorway police patrols and the motoring organisations to hold a campaign for warning drivers to keep their distance from each other.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

My right hon. Friend and I have asked the Freight Transport Association, the Road Haulage Association, the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club to impress on all their members the need for sensible behaviour, and particularly keeping a safe distance.

Sir Clive Bossom

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Would he not agree that the best way to control and calm down mad, reckless drivers on motorways is to have more mobile police patrols? Therefore, could he approach his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to try to get local police authorities to put on the maximum numbers during the next four months?

Mr. Griffiths

This is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but I am sure that, within the limits of their resources, the police do their utmost to patrol motorways and to bring offenders to the courts.

Mr. Paget

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this is not a problem of reckless drivers but of drivers, otherwise careful and conscientious, who will drive a few feet from the lorry in front? Would it not be possible to install on some of the bridges a cinema which took a picture and on the basis of that cinema to prosecute a number of people who were too close together? That is the only way of bringing this home to people, because they are not conscious that they are doing it.

Mr. Griffiths

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will consider any practicable suggestion to reduce these accidents, but I am a little at a loss to understand how having a cinema on bridges would concentrate peoples' minds on the car immediately in front—

Mr. Paget

I meant a camera.

Mr. Griffiths

I beg the hon. and learned Gentleman's pardon. Of course, if it is feasible to do as he suggests, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will carefully consider that suggestion.

Mr. John Hannam

As someone who was involved in the recent crash on the M1, may I ask whether my hon. Friend would accept that it is absolutely vital that a way is found of introducing much lower speed limits in foggy conditions? The difficulties are immense but there must be a solution to this problem. Would he look into this carefully?

Mr. Griffiths

That is one of the many important steps which were discussed by my right hon. Friend with the police and the representatives of the user associations last Friday, and I can assure my hon. Friend that we have this difficult problem very much in mind.

Mr. Will Griffiths

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in all weathers the 70 m.p.h. speed limit is consistently and repeatedly broken on motorways by many motorists, as everyone knows who uses the motorways? Is he satisfied that the police do their utmost to enforce the law SO as to confine motorists to the existing speed limit?

Mr. Griffiths

Yes, Sir, I am satisfied.