§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Charles Simeons (Luton)
I beg to move,That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to consider carefully the way in which use of the road system, vehicles, and existing legal penalties influence drivers' behaviour; and to act immediately in the light of the evidence obtained.It is a sad fact that some of the most important subjects which affect our daily lives are crammed into debates on Fridays, and then only accidentally if an hon. Member happens to choose the subject. Some of the subjects discussed on Fridays lately have been of sufficient importance, as was last week's and those on the environment, to cause a Secretary of State to come here.
This is the first occasion since June, 1970, that this subject has been discussed. The only other occasions when transport in any form has been discussed—debates have been confined to the nuisance of lorries in villages and towns and rural bus services—have been on Adjournment debates or during consideration of the Consolidated Fund Bill.
I chose this subject because looking at all forms of transport we find that road transport is the one we cannot do without. I do not suggest that we can do without the railways or aeroplanes, but if we are without those for a while the community does not grind to a halt. However, if the internal combustion engine disappeared and our lorries and cars disappeared from the roads, there would be chaos which would be unlikely to be equalled.
I am sorry that the Minister for Transport Industries has not seen fit—and I told his office—to come to hear what right hon. and hon. Members have to say on this matter on the one occasion, dur- 860 ing the whole period of this Government that the opportunity has arisen. I hope that his hon. Friend will convey that message to him.
I represent a motor constituency. I take a great interest not only in car driving, because I travel along the M1 regularly, but in the lives of lorry drivers. I have made a number of trips in this country and on the Continent as a passenger to discover their views. This is an occasion when one can put some of them over.
The Government, by the abolition of hire-purchase controls and the reduction of purchase tax, have done more to stimulate the motor industry than their predecessors. That is reflected in car production and it is just beginning to show in lorries. However, it must automatically result in some road congestion. Therefore, I should like to consider for a short while the better use of our roads and particularly our motorways. The fact that we have an extensive programme for extending motorways tends to make most people think they should become motorway users. We should define a motorway as a device which enables a congestion to move from one point to another at a faster speed than would otherwise be the case. Our main aim should be to reduce congestion wherever we can.
First we should look at the factors which stop the free flow of traffic on our motorways. On my way to the House this morning the traffic in front of me had stopped. For how long it remained halted I do not know, but had I not been on a slip road I might well still have been in the middle of that traffic block, and this was on a fast road.
I suggest that we should consider the use of motorways by slow vehicles. I should like to see a minimum speed limit, as in the United States, applied to our motorways under normal traffic conditions. One would have to decide what that was, but I understand that the only limiting factor is that a vehicle must have a capability of 25 miles per hour, which in this modern age seems a remarkably slow rate.
If one drives in a lorry along the M1 one can often find oneself behind a car which is running in, behind a couple who are out for a semi-joy ride, or behind a very slow lorry, and immediately 861 the free flow of traffic is impeded. The driver tries to move out into the central lane but finds that that is occupied by cars which are tearing along at 70 miles an hour, often very close together, and he is therefore unable to move out. He signals properly, and in due course, being totally frustrated and realising that he will get behind his schedule, he moves out into the centre lane. The result is a concertina-ing of the traffic behind him, or it moves over to the right, and if it moves over sufficiently it can go on to the central reservation. I should like to see slow and underpowered vehicles, as well as those which are running in, stopped from going on to the motorways and I suggest that that might be done by having a speed limit similar to that which is imposed in the States.
I think, too, that if we are to reduce congestion we might consider whether there are not too many slip roads giving access to our motorways. By all means have sufficient exits—keep the same number as there are now—but if there were fewer entrance points there would be fewer joy riders and fewer people causing congestion for a short stretch of the road. Further we should perhaps begin to use our motorways rather as we try to use our inter-city railway services. In other words, we should try to maintain a steady flow of traffic at an even rate.
Looking at other end of the scale, I believe that it is hazardous to have no speed differential at the maximum. One can, and does, find three vehicles going along at 70 m.p.h. It does not often happen, but it can, and it means that the vehicle on the outside has no means of getting away other than by breaking the speed limit or by slowing down which means that other vehicles on the inside lanes are forced to break the law by passing it on the inside. As the one occasion on which lorries can do 60 m.p.h. is on the motorways, I suggest that if there were a limit of 60 m.p.h. in the slow lane—a maximum—that would at least create a differential for half the motorway. I believe, too, that to have a limit of 70 m.p.h. on both the central and fast lanes creates a hazard which should be examined.
Next, I believe that the hazard warning lights have come to be associated with fog and that if these lights are on and there is no fog the immediate reaction 862 of the motorist is that someone has sat on the button and he takes little notice of the lights. When computer-controlled hazard lights are introduced they should be accompanied by two things.
First, it should be clearly indicated that a hazard of some type or other exists, and not necessarily fog. And because someone has seen fit to turn on the lights, and because a new situation exists, there should be a deterrent to going on to the motorway. I take the view that if it were to be made known that those involved in incidents when the lights were on would not be permitted to drive again until their cases had been heard—and for this purpose I should set up motorway courts which would have to meet within two weeks—the people would consider very much more carefully whether to go on to the motorways during fog or whether to continue on the trunk roads which are far less hazardous because in many instances they have overhead lighting, or there are hedges or they are narrower and therefore the driver can tell more easily where he is.
In this connection, courts which deal with lorry drivers, and in particular with those who drive articulated lorries, should not be manned by people who have never been in a lorry. Our transport system is becoming so complicated that even judges who hear appeals should not hear motoring case appeals unless they have been in an articulated lorry and have some idea what it is all about. How can someone listen to a speech in mitigation if he does not know what the person concerned is talking about and has to rely on someone else and accept what he says? One might consider, too, whether in magistrates' courts a majority of the bench should not at least have driving licences if they are hearing motoring cases.
I say that because the loss of a licence to a lorry driver is becoming increasingly expensive. Headlight, the lorry drivers' magazine, says:A 12-month ban could cost you £1,250 in wages",and if anybody thinks about it he will realise that that is true. That is three times the maximum penalty for assaulting a police officer. I believe, therefore, that we should look at the totting-up system to see whether circumstances have altered 863 since it was first introduced which mean that we should have different degrees of penalty. The fine imposed means very much less today than the loss of wages at a time when it is not easy for a lorry driver to get a job if he loses his licence.
It should not be just a question of endorsement for careless driving. When magistrates—or any court—are listening to pleas in mitigation, they should be told the exact circumstances of the offence. It seems to be extremely hard and out of all proportion to the offence for a lorry driver to receive an endorsement for an offence which is really dangerous, and receive a similar endorsement for getting his nose in a one-way street in the wrong direction, merely because he did not know the town, with very little resultant hazard, or for something which, technically, is careless in the eyes of the law, but which, in fact, is almost an act of God. When the courts are dealing with those who earn their living by driving they should look carefuly at the range of penalties with reference to the loss of licence.
Far more publicity should be given to motorway driving. At present it is fairly prevalent for people to pass on the inside, and there are no notices on motorways telling drivers that they should not do that. The answer will probably be that the drivers are told that in the Highway Code. If one asks who reads the Highway Code, one is told that sales of it have reached a certain high figure, but that does not mean that anybody reads it.
Most people and most establishments connected with motoring probably have a copy of the Highway Code, but the motorist needs reminding permanently, first, of the hazards of passing on the inside and, secondly, about the condition of his tyres. All too often one sees tyres which have burst and splattered into pieces all over the motorway. I am sure that if reminders were given more regularly that sort of thing would occur far less often than it does.
The flashing of headlights does a lot to stop good vehicle spacing. It is a regular event on driving up the M1 at 70 m.p.h. to find a car on one's tail flashing its lights so that it can get past and proceed at anything up to 90 mph. Just 864 as we do not permit the sounding of horns at night because they create a nuisance, so we should consider whether the flashing of lights on motorways should not be permitted.
The main remedy to this problem is enforcement, and I have been glad to see more police cars about, certainly on the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire stretches of the M1. One sees cars on bridges and on access roads, and I have been fascinated to see the way in which a car comes up flashing its lights and all of a sudden drops back to a reasonable distance of, say, 100 yards. On looking ahead one sees a stationary police car. Hon. Members will be grateful to the police for the extra attention that is being given to motorway supervision. This is commendable.
Only the fear of detection and the possible loss of licence will make bad drivers better and motorways safer. We must remember, however, that compared with many roads, they are relatively safe now. The trouble is that when there is a pile up—this is clear from the experience of Luton and Dunstable Hospital—the numbers involved are tremendously higher than in an accident on a normal road.
Concessions given to caterers to establish premises alongside motorways should be accompanied by a demand for continuing high standards. It is all very well for a caterer to be given planning permission to erect a transport cafe on a motorway, but we must make sure that the standards he maintains after setting up in business are high enough.
It is vital to have security parks at all motorway cafes. The other day I was talking to lorry drivers in a motorway restaurant park and was told that when transporting something like a consignment of whisky they must park by the cafe window so that they can keep an eye on the vehicle the whole time, particularly as such consignments are normally covered with only a tarpaulin. Operators should see that valuable cargoes are transported only in containerised vehicles.
Lorry drivers are, by and large, influenced by the type of job they do. If their employers give them generous times in which to make journeys, they need not exceed the speed limits. Trouble 865 arises when drivers are on a bonus system, and this applies particularly to those who drive tippers. One cannot blame them because by what they consider to be increased productivity—this is private enterprise—they can earn more. Unfortunately, this leads to hazards, and I trust that employers will take note of this. Then we have the cowboys who will do anything to get people out of their way so that they can overtake.
I am grateful to hon. Members who have come here today to take part in this debate and I look forward to hearing their contributions. I hope that the Under Secretary will convey to his right hon. Friend the strong feelings that exist on this subject. Although my right hon. Friend is unable to be here, I trust that he will shortly make an announcement about his intentions about some of the matters to which I have referred.
§ 11.23 a.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Simeons) for raising this important topic. Unlike him, I was not just a passenger in a lorry; I was a lorry driver. I am therefore grateful to him for referring specifically to various matters concerning the drivers of heavy goods vehicles.
Unlike the hon. Member for Luton, I do not leave the MI at his constituency. I continue on, right to the end, and join the M6 to Bedworth. I am lucky to have a motorway virtually right into my constituency, though unfortunately it does not extend right into London. Perhaps it would be asking a lot to have one stretch of motorway from Nuneaton to Westminster.
I support what the hon. Gentleman said about the need to introduce a code of motorway driving, and I was particularly impressed by his suggestion of more driver education on motorway conditions. The normal driving test encompasses reversing, three-point turns and giving hand signals. It should include a spell at higher speeds on motorways or at least on dual carriageways, for it is on these roads that one encounters a completely different code of conduct and set of conditions.
I wish to advance some of the recommendations made by the British Safety 866 Council in its "Motorway Charter" which was communicated not only to the previous Minister of Transport, Mr. Richard Marsh, but to the present Minister. The central theme of the charter was that the driving test should include motoring in dual-carriageway conditions at the very least, and preferably on motorways. It is not sufficient for people to be trundled round the back streets of small provincial towns, issued with licences and then told that they can drive anywhere, including on the motorways.
We need a graduated driving licence similar to that which exists in France and New Zealand because although driving schools must be registered with the Ministry of Transport, it is still possible for a learner to be pushed through the test too quickly. A further provisional licence for a short period after passing the test might help people to obtain more experience of road, and particularly motorway, conditions.
We must take this whole question of road and driving safety more seriously. I have never been a fervent admirer of some of the campaigning—perhaps I should call it lack of campaigning—on the part of ROSPA. The campaigning done in Sweden, particularly by poster, and some of the campaigns mounted by the Ministry of Transport in this country have been far more effective at getting through to the driver than a lot of the wishy-washy road safety stuff done by ROSPA.
We are, after all, discussing the problem of getting through to the person in control of the car. Once people get on to the motorway, especially if they have recently passed the test, they find themselves in unfamiliar conditions. They need educating in this type of driving before being let loose in these conditions, and constant attention to safety is vital if accidents are to be avoided.
The Parliamentary Secretary told me recently that the Department intended to spend £200,000 to educate motorway drivers. How much television and other advertising time does the Department expect to get for that small sum? Does it expect to issue many posters and conduct much driver education for £200,000? If the Department intends to take this matter seriously it will have to spend a lot more.
867 I have no doubt that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies—I am reasonably certain of this, having talked to the hon. Gentleman, who represents a neighbouring constituency—he will say that the total amount spent on publicity by the Ministry of Transport is far in excess of that sum. I accept that, but publicity must be concentrated in the way the hon. Member for Luton described, on educating drivers for motorway and dual-carriageway driving. Only such a campaign will avoid another horrendous motorway pile-up in fog. Let us have plenty of television time, posters, leaflets—the lot—and concentrate our publicity on motorway education.
The hon. Member for Luton referred to computerised signalling systems. I hope that they prove satisfactory, but all the flashing lights in the world will be pointless unless what they are designed to do can be enforced. We recall what happened to the flashing bicycle lamps and other ideas of the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples). Apart from the fact that the flashing lamps were quickly "whipped", even when people saw them they did not take them seriously.
§ Mr. Huckfield
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Ernest G. Perry) says that people in some streets will even pinch car mirrors, but I shall not go into that. At least we shall all know where to park in future.
I also believe that motorway patrols should be augmented and strengthened—and that we should have specific motorway patrols, which is another recommendation made by the British Safety Council. Apart from that, let us use the radio much more actively. We tend to fit in road announcements between records played by Tony Brandon or Tony Blackburn, and others. I certainly have no objection to that—I am always tuned into them when I am driving—but if we are to treat these road announcements and warnings as something to be fitted in between records, we cannot be taking the matter very seriously. Let us use the disc jockey sessions themselves more positively, and perhaps some hon. Members opposite who are interested in commercial radio could influence some of their friends, too.
868 Some very significant points have been advanced, and so far have not been answered by the Department's representatives.
I have always been a fervent advocate of the compulsory wearing of car seat belts. We are still at the stage where, if one gets into a car and fits the safety belt, one has almost to apologise to the driver for doing so. I have now devised for myself a form of socially convenient conversation. As I put on the belt, I say to the driver: "It is not because I don't trust you; it is sheer force of habit." One has to make some little gesture of that sort as a passenger when putting on a safety belt. Apart from its enabling one to get over the social inconvenience of giving such an explanation, I feel that because of the abysmally low figures of seat belt wearing that have been revealed the wearing of car seat belts must be put on a compulsory basis.
The Department's own surveys have shown that less than 20 per cent. of people in cars wear the belts. A survey conducted by the University of Aston on behalf of the British Safety Council showed that less than 16 per cent. were wearing their belts in cars. Those are national averages. What is the use of having these things dangling from the walls of cars, probably tripping passengers over when getting into the back seats, if people do not wear them? We have had some very good examples from Australia of how driving accidents have been reduced very significantly by the compulsory wearing of seat belts. Even the Road Research Laboratory has found that casualties and deaths can be cut by half by compulsory wearing.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I appreciate the point that the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) is making, but perhaps he will appreciate that on occasion in a crash the wearing of seat belts can result in the death of the wearer. I speak with a personal interest in the matter, as I was involved in a very serious road accident and if I had been wearing a seat belt at the time I should not be in the House of Commons today.
§ Mr. Huckfield
I shall not be tempted: I am glad to see the hon. Member here. I am sure that he realises—and I accept that in some circumstances he has a 869 point—that far more people are saved through wearing seat belts than suffer through wearing them. But I shall not be distracted on to that aspect this morning.
Suffice it to say that the Department should put its mind to this problem, and in fairness one must say that it has to its credit one or two campaigns in the North-East. If it turns attention to the subject, it can get seat-belt wearing up to 25 per cent. as it has proved, especially if it uses some of the posters used in Sweden. I know that those posters display a rather scantily-clad lady, but they do at least emphasise the point. But I shall not be distracted in that direction either.
The fact remains that we must pay far more attention to the wearing of car seat belts, and if the Department does not feel able to make their wearing compulsory, let it at least urge people to wear them far more often. As I say, my view is that people should be made to wear them at all times.
I want to make a few comments on a previous occupation of mine, which was long-distance lorry driving. I speak as a member of the Transport and General Workers' Union and as someone who attends as frequently as possible meetings of the Coventry Road Haulage Coordinating Committee of the union. Many of the points I am about to make have been put to me by my fellow union members.
First of all, there has been far too easy and far too frequent a tendency in some motorway pile-ups to put the blame on the heavy goods vehicle drivers. Many hon. Members on both sides do not seem to appreciate that a man cannot even drive a heavy goods vehicle today without having an HGV licence. Some hon. Members do not seem to appreciate that this test is so stiff—and it includes a medical—that in some parts of the country we have had a 40 per cent. failure rate. If people think that a man can pass his driving test in a mini and the very next day drive off in a 32-ton gross articulated vehicle they are mistaken. The HGV test is very stiff.
Again, it is not just a matter of a lorry driver losing his HGV licence and consequently his job and his annual income. I wish, by the way, that all lorry drivers 870 did make as much as £1,250 a year. There is also the fact that in many circumstances they lose their heavy goods vehicle driving licence, which means that they have been penalised professionally for something which in many cases they did not do professionally. A heavy goods vehicle driver can have his driving licence confiscated through driving a car, but in certain circumstances lie can still lose his HGV licence, which is his professional qualification.
I am all in favour of vehicle drivers being penalised for offences and being treated appropriately, but the Department should make an attempt to separate the HGV licence, which is the man's professional qualification, from the driving licence which is the basic ticket to drive on the road. Far too often the paraphernalia that has to be gone through to get back a lost HGV licence is much too complicated.
§ Mr. Simeons
Will not the hon. Gentleman agree that the lorry driver having lost his licence is not then eligible for unemployment money; and that this is even more serious?
§ Mr. Huckfield
I quite agree. In my constituency surgery I have found that far from pensions or housing complaints being the main items, for one or two weeks running I have had enough goods vehicle drivers in that position that I have thought it to be my principal constituency complaint.
Again, I cannot help feeling that this is all too often a symptom of the way the country tends still to downgrade the heavy goods driver far too much. We are dealing with an industry in which the majority of the men still function on the 11-hour driving day. They still have a very low basic rate. A lot of overtime is worked. We are still not regarding the heavy goods vehicle driver as a skilled man, but that driver has to know where to get the load, the route he has to take and how he must load his vehicle. Even now, although he has to pass a professional and very difficult test of his competence, we are still not according him the status in society and on the roads that he deserves. We are not nowadays dealing with people who have just passed a driving test but with people who are on the roads professionally all day long, and consequently have to know what the 871 job is all about. If they do not, they are not employed.
I only hope that my union, the Transport and General Workers Union, will enable the lorry driver to gain the status in society that the American lorry driver has. The trucker, represented as he is by the Teamsters Union, certainly has a much more elevated position in American society than his counterpart in this country. That is because America has been forced to realise that it cannot do without the trucks or the truckers.
Here I wish to refer to the big changes which will obviously come about in this industry through the introduction of the tachograph. This obviously has a direct bearing on the kind of driver conduct we shall have, because with the clock, the spy in the cab, the machine, it now becomes possible for the employer and for the police to find out exactly what a driver has been doing. Unless the driver has the back axle jacked up and the motor ticking over to try to fool the tachograph, and all the other things one can do in that respect, if he goes into a café, gets his head down in a lay-by or travels faster than 60 m.p.h. on a motorway, all of that can be picked up on the tachograph.
I shall not go into the social arguments for and against that, but when the Minister for Transport Industries—who I know has been in Brussels recently—makes representations to the other European Ministers responsible for transport, I hope that he will bear in mind that the British heavy goods vehicle driver is rather suspicious of having this spy in his cab and jealous of his tradition. He does not like feeling that the police and his employers are watching him all the time. He is not afraid of being observed, because that has to happen in most kinds of occupation. But, for heaven's sake let us bear in mind the feelings and aspirations of the man behind the wheel.
I cannot help feeling that it does the road haulage industry no good to have continual bickering between the Road Haulage Association and the Freight Transport Association. The hon. Gentleman said that we had to do something about the pirates, and I absolutely agree.
We have far too many cowboys in this industry—not only cowboys but people riding shotgun as well.
§ Mr. Huckfield
The only way to remedy the lack of professional standards in the industry is, first, to get rid of all the firms who pay "trip money". There are still firms who pay drivers by the trip; the more trips, the more pay. Let us get rid of them completely. Let us get a much higher basic minimum wage to cut out the need to work for 80 or 90 hours a week, which is still done far too much in the industry.
During the passage of the Transport Bill, some hon. Members on the Government side of the House referred to the fact that the whole Cornish fishing industry depended upon Cornish lorry drivers being able to drive from Falmouth to London for 11 hours non-stop. That was their kind of argument. We heard this same kind of argument for sending women down the mines and children to work in Bradford textile mills. In this more enlightened day and age we ought not to expect a man to have to work for 11 hours, or a 12½ hours spread-over, or whatever it is.
If we could get one professional body out of the Road Haulage Association and the Freight Transport Association to get rid of the pirates, we could have enforceable conditions and standards and could tighten up the system of operators and licensing and step up police surveillance. I believe that we can turn this industry into a kind of adult industry carrying 80 per cent. of the freight tonnage, as it is today.
Once more, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for choosing this subject today because, as he said, it is not very often that we have a chance to debate motorways and driving, and, even when we do, most of it tends to descend into personal reminiscences. I am grateful to him for the spirit in which he has avoided personal reminiscences, except that I hope that when he goes to Luton in future he will bear in mind that many of us on both sides of the House have to travel a lot further than that.
§ 11.44 a.m.
§ Mr. Roger White (Gravesend)
I join with the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) in congratulating my 873 hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Simeons) on giving us an opportunity to discuss driver behaviour in all its facets.
Deaths and injuries on our roads are as frightening, as is, unfortunately, the passive resistance with which any action to contain them is met by people until a tragedy occurs within their families or among their friends. The number and size of vehicles on our roads increases annually, from the private motor car to the heavy articulated lorry. In recent years it appears to me that all sorts of sizes of different coloured discs rush by at alarming rates. The vehicles bearing them occupy a motorway system in conjunction with the three-wheeled motor car and the moped, and the large panoply and scene of modern travel. It is confusing, diverse and an enormous challenge to every human being who travels on our roads.
Governments pass legislation, through the Road Traffic Acts, in which they try to deal with the many problems that our modern means of transport present and to enforce the rules and regulations that are necessary for safety. We bring into being traffic engineering and modern computer science to try to alleviate the complexity of inter-city travel in our towns and villages. At the same time, we are now finding that the pleasure of taking a drive out on a Sunday afternoon no longer exists.
No matter how we build our motorways or what rules and regulations we introduce, with the pattern of modern travel we return to the common denominator, the driver, male or female, who should be able to drive the vehicles. That we understand only too well. The British have a reputation for calmness and coolness, and this has always been the essence of our character. If one puts an Englishman on a boat on the Thames, or any river, he is always a charming, courteous and polite individual, but when some Englishmen are behind the wheel of a motor car, they become almost like frenzied lunatics when they drive through our lanes and cities. It is almost a Jekyll and Hyde situation that begins to erupt.
I have been compiling a list of categories of such drivers. The first comes under the terminology of the "EDS". These are express drivers but apparently 874 they have no understanding of, or certainly believe they have no reason to understand, any of the rules and regulations. They force their way through traffic on all sorts of sizes of road and make themselves a complete nuisance to everybody.
The second category is the "SIDS", the signal dispensation drivers. These people have no idea how to use a signal. Over recent months I have come to be-believe that signalling is going out of fashion. Some drivers at the front of a line of traffic, often appear not to care about following traffic. Many of them never bother to signal their intention to turn left or right but suddenly swerve to the left or the right, with the possibility of a serious accident.
Then there are the weekend drivers. These are described by the other two categories as people who should not be on the roads at all, who should keep off the roads in order that the first two categories can use them as and when they will.
Finally, there is that most maligned driver of all drivers, the woman driver. She is the butt of most people on the roads. This is becoming a music hall joke, and this must be stopped. In my experience the average woman driver is a very sensible, cool and calm driver. Occasionally a lady out for an afternoon drive in the centre of London can be a little irritating. But women drivers have very much for which they should be commended
§ Mr. Simeons
I remind my hon. Friend of the woman driver who, in reply to the question, "Who taught you to drive?" said "Men".
§ Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)
Does my hon. Friend agree with the contention that the lady driver is far more temperamentally suited to driving a car than is a man?
§ Mr. White
This is a matter of conjecture which I will not go into now. Certain solutions can be suggested in the matter of driving techniques. As the 875 hon. Member for Nuneaton pointed out, an entirely new technique is required for motorway driving. In the main, one drives by means of the mirror, using the mirror for lane control.
Our system of driving instruction should be re-examined. We have the system of the test and the certificate of motor instructors. I wonder whether consideration should be given to instituting motorway instruction, to take place not necessarily on highways but perhaps in special places such as disused airfields. In such places, too, people could learn to drive a car for the first time, going through the rudiments of starting, gear-changing, braking and signalling, rather than being taken out in a motor vehicle on to the roads without their having had previous experience.
We need to consider the extent of people's knowledge of driving signs and regulations, which abound and which differ from town to town. Advance warning is given before a motorway is to end, so that drivers can readjust their driving technique and reduce speed before regaining the ordinary highway. When motorists turn from motorways into ordinary trunk or subsidiary roads they often go from a derestricted road into a 30 m.p.h limit, which is a very dangerous change. Far more adequate warning should be given on trunk and subsidiary roads of a change in speed limits.
A few months ago I came across an example where, at the end of a de-restricted road, there was a 30 mph limit. The limit had been altered to 50 mph and those who had previously used the road and who normally travelled at 45 mph then began to increase their speed to allow for the 50 mph limit, and then they were confused with the sudden change of restriction on that highway.
The system in use in some continental countries of using headlights in inclement or wet weather has much to commend it.
The present regulations regarding pedestrian crossings should be examined. Immediately a pedestrian steps on to an uncontrolled pedestrian crossing, a motorist is required to stop. When a police officer or other authorised person is in control, motorists obey the authorised signals of that person. Often the person in charge of that controlled crossing is 876 not necessarily identifiable. If the police officer or other person were to wear a white armband motorists and pedestrians could see well in advance that the crossing was controlled. If the person in control stands on the pavement without wearing such identification, it is not always clear that the crossing is controlled.
Congratulations have been extended to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, both by the hon. Member for Nuneaton and when my hon. Friend tabled his Motion. I do not believe that Parliament or the Government can ever reconcile themselves to the consequences of human behaviour on the roads. It depends upon the individual. Much depends on people being properly taught at an early age. I was brought up to believe that the essence of driving a motor car or any other vehicle is to remember at all times that a person in charge of a vehicle on the roads is in charge of a lethal weapon. If everybody had that fundamental truth brought home to them, the sentiments behind the Motion would be much easier carried into effect and legislated for.
§ 11.57 a.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Southall)
There is no more profitable way of the House spending its time than that of debating the problems of road traffic and transport. Such questions will inevitably arise in the debate on the Motion, and the debate cannot be restricted to driver behaviour.
I am indebted to the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Simeons) for initiating this debate. I spent a great deal of my life in the railway industry. Since that time I have driven a fairly high powered motor car both in the course of earning my living before entering Parliament and also since I have been a Member of the House.
Parliament and the Government nave only a short time in which to come to grips with this serious situation. The age of the motor car is a hideous age. The motor car brines out all the latent fiendish qualities in mankind. If a Privy Councillor who is known for his great courtesy and impeccable behaviour in the House of Commons can, on becoming involved in the frustrating experience of having a car parked in his way, thus preventing him from going about his 877 business, act in the way that it is alleged that he did act, we can understand the nature of the hideous age in which we live. If the right hon. Gentleman does not cough up for those wing mirrors, I shall be delighted to do so.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and I were involved in an experience in the House of Commons parking area. Because I am considered to be a consistent attender at the House, on one occasion I was able to pair with an hon. Member opposite when my football team was playing a needle match in the promotion race to get out of the fourth division. I missed the first half of the football match because the car parked behind me was locked and the policeman was not able to move it out of my way. I spent an interesting half hour biting my nails in New Palace Yard. I do not remember that during that agonising period I ever thought of ripping the wing mirrors from the other car, though I did not feel too kindly disposed towards the car owner when he arrived. He patted me on the back and said, "I hope your team wins." It so happened that it did, so that I did not feel too badly about it.
§ Mr. Bidwell
Brentford. They were going out of the fourth division into the third division under the brilliant management of Mr. Frank Blunstone.
§ Mr. Bidwell
Indeed, an old Chelsea player and still with Chelsea connections —though not a Chelsea pensioner.
I recall the words of the late Mr. Gresham Cooke, formerly Member for Twickenham, who was very interested in road traffic problems and the motor car industry. He once used a phrase—I heard him before I was a Member of this House—which sums up one reason for drivers' bad behaviour on the roads. He said, "The motorist suffers from the malady of supposed urgency." His ill behaviour is not confined to the interior of the motor car. It spills over into his other activities. If his car is parked on a yellow line and he knows that he is in danger of being appre- 878 hended by the police while he is shopping, he becomes aggressive and elbows people out of the way in the shop.
We are, therefore, living in a pretty hideous age, and conditions will become worse unless we do something about them. We are facing not merely the problem of the two-car family but the problem of the four, five and six-car family, because people are becoming increasingly able to purchase a light petrol-using vehicle. There is a continual struggle by the growing population to maintain this pace, with the enormous economic and social cost which is involved.
There is, for example, the problem of the displacement of people from their homes. It is not without significance that an organisation calling itself, I think, the Homes Before Roads Campaign got a respectable vote in the local authority elections, indicating that there is a wide measure of public anxiety about this problem. This cutting across of normal party allegiances in local authority voting indicates a very deep-seated concern.
An old railway signalman friend of mine who sometimes has to work round the clock, returning home in the early hours of the morning and going to work late at night, said to me, "When I am riding on my bicycle which is properly lit, why should I have to dodge around stationary vehicles in inclement weather, when the railways are able to operate but when road traffic is brought almost to a standstill? Why should I have to put up with this kind of thing?"
Take, for instance, the roads in the older areas. I think of my own constituency where we have the biggest Indian community which has even been known in our country. This, incidentally, has been a great test in race relations and it has engulfed my life ever since I have been in this House. Because of all these parked vehicles we cannot sweep the roads properly. Most of these people are prosperous, I am happy to say, but in such areas the roads are cluttered up, so much so that many people have to park on grass verges because of the lack of garage facilities. Motorists are not allowed to do this in Tokyo where the issue of a driving licence is dependent upon the availability of parking or garage facilities.
879 We have to meet this challenge. We must provide decent public transport facilities, and they must be attractive in the sense of being an economic proposition so that people are encouraged to use public transport rather than the motor car.
Many people spend a lot of time under their motor cars, sometimes for the whole of a Sunday, because they cannot afford to take their cars to garages to be kept in tip-top order. They cannot afford the expert repair services. In fact, many people are frightened to death of taking their vehicle to a garage. I do not want to deny them the pleasure of motoring. It is, of course, possible to hire a car, but there is always the danger of cutting across the motor-producing interests.
We are in this mess, which leads to ill behaviour on the roads, partly because we are a motor-car-producing country and we have put a lot of eggs into this basket, for the sake of exports and so on. According to some economic thinkers, we cannot restrict the use of the motor car in this country and at the same time expect people in other lands to buy our products. But this is what we have got to do, and I think it can work if we direct our minds more vigorously to the problem. There is very little time in which to do so. Certainly the present Government are not doing so.
I am told by friends in ASLEF that there are plans to cut train services where statistics show that they are heavily used, the theory being that the fewer trains we run the cheaper the operations become. The Labour Government's 1968 Act was an intelligent approach to striking a balance. I do not say that it does all that I personally desire, and it certainly does not do all that the railway workers and their unions wish, but at any rate it laid down ways and means of curtailing this idiotic outbalanced development in British transport.
Perhaps I should not say much about the comparative abilities of men and women drivers, but, just for the record, I give my own opinion that women are marginally better drivers. At any rate, a good many of them are. Some of them are blooming awful. However, leaving that aside, I think that women are, in the main, better drivers, because a woman's character is generally less 880 aggressive. The male is a pretty aggressive animal.
§ Mr. Bidwell
I hear what my hon. Friend says, which reminds me of the story of the great big chap who had a little wife who always hit him every Friday night. He never seemed to do anything about it, and one of his friends asked why he did not make more fuss. "Well", he said, "it don't hurt me, and it pleases her". It is a fact of life that women are generally more cautious. They certainly give everything a very wide berth, it seems to me, when they go round it in a car.
I come to what I regard as the almost criminal situation in which so many people put themselves today. Hon. Members, now that they get a shilling a mile, spend too much time on the roads after an exacting week in the House. They would be far better off on public transport, road or rail, relaxing, catching up with their reading, or even having a sleep. This is only one example of the way in which people put a strain on themselves in using the roads. It is a hazardous thing to fall asleep on the motorway, for example, if one is mixed up with freight traffic.
We must come to grips with the inherent dangers in this situation. We cannot, of course, push everything on to the railways, but we ought to think in terms of divorcing freight traffic entirely from the motor car.
§ Mr. Simeons
I agree with the implications of what the hon. Member says about traffic late at night on the road. I had a salutary lesson the other night when I was going home from the House. I found that I was following a hearse with a coffin in it, and I noticed that the registration number was 341 XMP. I am not now inclined to use the road so often at night.
§ Mr. Bidwell
There is one well-known hon. Member, who has earned himself a reputation in the motoring world, who dotes on the usage of certain number plates. I can well imagine that he dreads the idea of coming across one with the letters "XMP".
881 Now, a word about the learner driver. It is absurd to send learner drivers out on the road, even with expert companions and dual-control vehicles. We ought so to arrange matters that learner drivers have their initial experience away from modern traffic thoroughfares. Learner drivers have just as much right as the rest of us to become motorists, although we must, I think, tighten up the rules regarding physical disabilities of one sort or another, including, in particular, the ability to see.
Sometimes, when pedestrians walk perilously into the centre of the road and give me just a few inches to get by, I wonder at their touching faith in the eyesight of most motorists. I am happy to say that my own sight was recently tested and I find, to my great joy, that my eyesight, both near and distant, is pretty good for my age. If anyone told me it was bad, I should think twice about ever driving a motor car again. Indeed, I think that I ought to be prevented in such a case from ever driving again. But we have not come to that yet. It is, so to speak, a matter of conscience, and, in the meantime, we should do all we can to provide alternative forms of transport.
There should be areas off the road where learner motorists may drive. I remember the experiences in my own family, with one or other of us struggling to learn, failing the test, having other bites at the cherry, and so on. It is an extremely anxious situation for anyone unused to being behind the wheel of a vehicle to be put on our roads today. There ought to be various training and testing arenas so that the learner driver does not have the psychological problem of having constantly to think about the stray dog, the child or the aged person but is able to concentrate on looking ahead as well as on the mechanism of the car itself. We ought not to put out on our busy thoroughfares people at that stage of driving. It is hazardous enough to themselves, apart from the risks to experienced motorists and all the others who use the road.
It is sometimes well-nigh impossible to identify the culprit or culprits when there is a pile-up on the road. Witnesses find it exceeding difficult to be sure what happened. It is outstandingly difficult to bring a case against a motorist. Even if one hears a crash a few yards away and 882 one turns to look, one is not entitled to say that one has seen the accident or to come forward to give evidence against, or in defence of, this or that driver.
Those are my thoughts on the matter, a little disconnected perhaps—I am sorry to have spoken a little longer than I intended—and warmly welcome the opportunity which the hon. Member for Luton has given the House for this debate.
§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)
I join the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Bidwell) in welcoming the debate and congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Simeons) on inaugurating it. I agree with the hon. Gentleman when he says that there is a limit to which we can go in trying to solve traffic congestion in our cities. We cannot, for example, go on pulling down houses, making underpasses and shaking London generally to its foundations.
I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman say that it would be better for Members of Parliament if they used public transport instead of their cars and took the opportunity to rest. Would that that were possible for me. Unfortunately, the rural bus services in Bedfordshire would not enable me to do my job properly as a Member, so that I am very much dependent upon my car.
The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) rightly drew attention to the unsatisfactory nature of the driving test, saying that he thought it essential that part of the test should include a spell of driving on a dual carriageway road or a motorway. Learner drivers are not allowed on motorways, and it seems somewhat ironic that, when someone passes his test, we then say to him, "You may now go straight off and drive on the motorway, even though you have had no previous experience of it."
I agree also with what the hon. Member for Nuneaton said about the general standard of driving by lorry drivers. I agree that it is high and that, in considering the possible causes of motorway crashes, too much emphasis is put on lorry drivers and not enough on what private motorists have done.
883 One of the principal reasons prompting this debate is the series of serious crashes on the M1 and the M6 in the past 12 months. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton is very conscious of that section of the motorway. The volume of traffic is rising rapidly every month on the Bedfordshire section, and the Government are directly encouraging this by encouraging industrial, housing and general development in areas of Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. It is no answer to say that it will soon reach such a pitch that we shall have to have another motorway in the area. That is simply not on. The destruction of housing and industrial development could not be accepted. We must, therefore, make the M1 safer and never hesitate to spend money on improvements to that end.
I am very glad that, at last, we now have crash barriers on the whole length of the M1, especially in Bedfordshire. Money has been spent on improving the surface. I hope that the Press reports are accurate when they tell us that the Government intend to spend money on overhead lighting along the whole of the Bedfordshire section and the section further south. I welcome the fact that there are to be two extra lanes on that deadly two-lane stretch in Hertfordshire. The Government have committed themselves to building them. In the meantime, we must put up with two lanes and the Government should consider as a temporary measure, banning lorries from using the overtaking lane. The slow lane should be for lorries and the fast lane for private cars. Heavy bunching of traffic occurs on this section when lorries wish to pass, as they are entitled to do at present. We hope that the computer-controlled hazard warning lights will soon be in operation on the whole of that section.
I believe that motorway driving leads to a relative feeling of security. There are no side roads and where there are crash barriers the driver can concentrate more on the traffic going his way rather than glancing anxiously at on coming traffic. Traffic can maintain a steady speed and this removes frustration because drivers feel that they are getting on with their journey.
884 There is one point I should like the Government to look into. I was driving on the M6 last Monday and major construction work was in progress. The system for filtering the traffic into one lane began operating at a point too close to the scene of the works. The three lanes of traffic were roaring along and were abruptly brought to a halt and this created considerable delay. The Government must sort out this filtering system. When there is major construction work traffic should be filtered for many miles back, first into two lanes and then into one. This would avoid the problem of bunching.
Our Continental neighbours are amazed that some of our motorways are in a bad state of repair. It is no credit that the M6 in Staffordshire requires so much construction work because I believe that it has only been in operation for five or six years.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment in reply to an Adjournment debate on motorway accidents on 16th December last mentioned two points which were being considered by the Government. On the question of fog he said that the Government were considering whether to install reflective studs on the fog-prone stretches of the motorways. He said that it was a simple point but he believed it could be of great help to the driver who was seeking to orient himself in fog. Have the Government taken that matter further than just considering it? Are they to install reflective studs in time for the foggy periods later this year?
My hon. Friend also said that the Government had noted the Road Research Laboratories progress on radio-transmitted verbal warnings. He said that this was under study along with a station-keeping indicator to tell the driver by visible optical-focussing arrangements when he is too close to vehicles ahead. Have these matters been taken beyond the consideration stage and may we expect some development later in the year?
There are certain lines of action we could adopt which would improve matters on the motorways. There could be motorway training for drivers before the driving test. This was mentioned by the hon. Member for Nuneaton, and I 885 think it should be considered. A large television advertising campaign explaining the dangers of bad driving on motorways is another possibility. There is a useful programme on Independent Television called "Police Five" which seeks to enlist the help of the public to enable Scotland Yard to solve particular crimes. I think the Government should select a peak viewing time for a large advertising campaign. Television is probably the most powerful medium for conveying advice about driving.
A number of educational authorities appear to be scratching their heads as to how to provide a useful and constructive course for children up to 16 in view of the raising of the school leaving age. At 16 they are only one year away from being able to apply for a test and, with films and lectures, it might be a good idea to interest children in driving in that last year. I agree with the hon. Member for Nuneaton when he says that the wearing of seat belts should be compulsory, particularly on motorways. But seat belt manufacturers should realise that they could do more to make it easier to put a seat belt on. A lot of people are deterred from wearing a seat belt because of this difficulty.
We should certainly improve facilities at service stations. There should be more washing equipment so that reflector lights and windscreens could be washed more easily. We must also seek to raise the standard of mechanics at garages throughout the country. There are too many cases of people having their vehicles improperly serviced as a result of which an accident has occurred.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton said, more police patrols on the motorways are a deterrent to bad driving and lead to a greater awareness of the need to take care. I believe that the majority of accidents are caused by tiredness and mental aberration and a general dislike of one's fellow mortals on the roads. This cannot be cured by legislation. It is a matter for persuasion and education. We must accept that in this small, over-crowded island there is a limit to the amount of road and motorway building that we can do. We deceive ourselves and the country if we say that we can solve traffic congestion. It is a virtually insoluble problem and all we can do is to reduce the congestion. The 886 Government will do themselves a great deal of good if they keep the public regularly informed through the newspapers and television about how motorway and dual carriageway construction is progressing.
Next week my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is to open the Ml-M6 link. Is it incredible that 13 years after the MI was built we are still waiting for the industrial North-West to be linked by motorway to the industrial South-East. I am delighted that the link will now be made.
Public transport is also tied up with traffic congestion and needs a great deal of detailed study which unfortunately we do not have time for today, but I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton for inaugurating this debate because it has served a very useful purpose.
§ 12.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I do not wish to detain the House for long and I apologise for not having heard the opening remarks by the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Simeons).
We seem to have a mistaken belief in this country that once a person has passed the driving test he can then drive. I take a different view from this. The fact that a driver knows the Highway Code and has been examined to see that he can drive around town at the right speeds and put his hand out at the right time does not mean that he can drive. The new driver does not appreciate the hazards that can develop in road conditions of which he is unaware. I was driving down the M6 after passing my test and I ran into a snow storm. No one ever told me what to do in a snow storm. A driver perhaps would know instinctively that he should reduce his speed and not get into slush. But I did not know and I got into slush. My car turned over. Nobody had told me that this was a hazard. We must do far more to teach learner drivers. A driver cannot merely pass the present test and feel that he is completely proficient. Drivers who have just passed the test are not aware of the many other harzards that they have not encountered.
I raised the matter at Question time recently, when I said that when he passed the test the driver should put a disc on 887 the car to show that he had another year before he was considered to be at least reasonably safe and a sensible driver. Perhaps the Minister could stop looking at his papers for a moment and take note of this point.
§ Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Keith Speed)
I am listening to the hon. Gentleman with great interest. I have the facility to follow his point and read the piece of paper that I have here.
§ Mr. Heffer
I hope so, because I have written to the hon. Gentleman's Department about the matter, sending it a sample disc. I have not yet had a reply, but I hope the matter is being looked into. After I made my comments in the House I received letters from a number of people who had been making similar proposals over a period. I hope the Minister will deal with the point in the debate. It is of fundamental importance.
There should be definite attempts to initiate learner drivers into the art of motorway driving. They cannot go on the motorway while they are still learner drivers, and therefore they do not really understand what happens on the motorway. Motorway driving is different from any other driving. When they get on to a motorway, drivers become transformed in imagination into great, high-speed international drivers. They want to prove their manhood or womanhood, and they belt down the motorway at fantastic speeds. I find that the 70 mph limit means absolutely nothing. Drivers pass me when I am travelling at 70 mph as though I am standing still. They roar past me, despite the big notices saying that there is a 70 mph limit.
There needs to be greater supervision on the motorways. We need more police patrols. That means that we shall have to pay more to attract policemen into motorway patrols, but it will be money well spent. America does not have the same problems as we have, because there are far more motorway police patrols there. The Government must face the fact that we shall have to be prepared to have more patrols on the motorways than we have now.
We also need to do far more about car safety. I do not think that cars produced in this country or in most other 888 countries are safe enough. The campaign conducted in the United States, which has led to a tightening up of the laws there, is totally warranted. The Government should look much more closely into the whole question of motor car safety, as previous Governments should have done. Present windscreens can be very dangerous. I do not know why we cannot adopt the type of windscreen that just fractures, without the whole thing turning into a sort of milky way as it does now. Such a windscreen would cost more, but it would be safer. There would be less risk to the driver and those travelling in the opposite direction, or in the same direction if he is on a motorway.
We should consider how far we can adapt the American safety laws to our circumstances and ensure the production of much safer motor cars—[Interruption]—My hon Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Bidwell) is probably going to say that that means smaller profits will be made, and there will not be the same incentive for the motor car manufacturers.
§ Mr. Heffer
We certainly do. Profits should not come before the lives of people, whether the drivers of motor cars or pedestrians
. As a result of congestion, many of our major cities are being torn apart by the introduction of all sorts of over-passes and under-passes. The centres of cities are very complicated nowadays, and the idea of their being city centres has practically gone. They have been transformed into central motorways. Birmingham is an example, and my own city of Liverpool is increasingly becoming dominated by the car instead of the car being put in its proper perspective. People are being moved out of city centres into areas five, six, seven or even 10 miles away. The centres are becoming depopulated. Vast motorway systems are developed. The whole concept of a city is being transformed as a result of the motor car determining the future pattern of our city life.
The situation must be examined. Sooner or later someone will have to have enough courage to say that the 889 centres of cities will have to have only public transport in them, that those of us with motor cars will have to leave them at certain points and use public transport. We may have to have new forms of public transport in our city centres. Sooner or later in our modern society the problem will have to be tackled. A lot of guts will be needed. We shall need a Minister for Transport Industries who is prepared to he extremely unpopular for a time. I see no reason why we in Britain should not tackle the problem first and give a lead.
I again thank the hon. Gentleman who initiated the debate, because we are considering a most important question.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Miss Janet Fookes (Merton and Morden)
I rise as one of that much maligned group, women drivers, but I speak, of course, without the expertise of the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield), who was formerly a lorry driver, or of those hon. Members who habitually use motorways. My contribution must simply consist of observations I have made as an ordinary woman at the wheel, so to speak.
I do not know whether there is any analysis of road accidents which could give us the answer conclusively, but from my observations I would guess that mechanical faults and what I would describe as genuine errors of judgment made in good faith are far less responsible for accidents than selfishness, arrogance and thoughtlessness on the part of a good many drivers. Sometimes, when I have seen accidents, I have wondered not that there are so many tragedies but that there are not many more.
There are, I believe, various aspects of driver behaviour which can give us great cause for concern. I think of those who take tremendous risks in overtaking on narrow roads. Very often, a few hundred yards further on one finds that they have reached their destination or have turned off into a quieter side road. One wonders then what matter of life and death had made them take such risks not only with their own lives but the lives of other people as well.
There is also that curious phenomenon which hon. Gentlemen may not have realised. Then are some male drivers who find it intolerable to have a woman 890 driver in front of them, and if she happens to be in a powerful car that is rubbing salt into the wound. They will take tremendous risks in order to overtake her and presumably prove their superiority. I am assured by a man friend who does a great deal of driving that this is not just my own female prejudice but is in fact quite a common occurrence.
Then there are those young men who borrow father's powerful car without proper experience and who again take frightful risks. It is very difficult to change human nature but at least we could perhaps change a few of the rules in order to help the situation. I suggest that those who have newly passed their test should not be permitted for a period of time to drive powerful cars. I am no expert in the varying power of cars and I leave it to others to decide what would be a suitable car for such drivers. Presumably, this could be done quite easily. The driver should have a clean record with ordinary cars before being permitted to drive very powerful and fast cars.
I also endorse heartily those who have suggested that there should be motorway training for drivers. I perceive the difficulties in that one would have to lift the rule which says that no learners may be permitted on motorways, so that drivers could get training before the test. Alternatively, there would have to be a second test for motorway driving, with drivers permitted to go on motorways only after they have taken that second test.
I am sure that I shall be told that this is not a practical proposition, that the waiting list for tests is already so long. But would it not be better if the rule about learner drivers was lifted on motorways so that at least they would he under the care of experienced people? Perhaps permission could be sought before they actually went on the road, with the requirement of a signed undertaking by the instructor that they had reached a stage in their learning when they were fitted to do so. I offer this as a suggestion for my hon. Friend's consideration.
But it is not only motorways which cause difficulty, and accidents are not always the drivers' fault. I refer in particular to the type of road which offers many hazards even when one has the 891 best of intentions in driving. This is the three-lane road, where there is a lane for each direction with a lane in the centre for overtaking, which must be used by cars travelling in opposite directions. This seems to me extremely foolish. No one knows who really has the right of way. It encourages those who are willing to take risks to do so. I strongly suggest that the Ministry should end all these three-lane roads and perhaps introduce some arrangement whereby the right of way could be reserved to one lane of traffic for a certain period, switching over to right of way for the other lane for a further period. These roads present a very real danger.
I also feel that many roundabouts are far too wide, permitting drivers to go round them at speed and to criss-cross. One such roundabout is on the road from my constituency to this House. I have often been in peril of my life there because drivers criss-cross. It is a very wide roundabout. Greater consideration should be given to narrowing roundabouts so that criss-crossing can be avoided.
I am also concerned by the inadequate lighting of some cars at night, particularly when they use only the small lights. I believe that dipped headlights are far more sensible, I agree that these need to be correctly aligned, if they are not to be a hazard to others, but it is not always easy to pick out other vehicles, particularly bicycles with very little lighting, and some pedestrians, who can give motorists a real fright. Pedestrians who dress darkly and may even be dark skinned as well offer very real dangers. They often look just like shadows and suddenly materialise into human beings. It is a frightening experience which can happen even to the safest and most careful drivers.
Another aspect concerns the construction of cars. Most of us have had experience of the so-called "blind spot", which I am convinced exists and which can, in certain circumstances, though perhaps rarely, be a very real danger. Greater consideration should be given to overcoming this in the construction of cars.
I am also much worried by two other aspects, one of which has not been considered at all in the debate so far, and the other has only been touched upon 892 lightly. The first is the question of eyesight. It seems to me that the present eyesight test is wholly inadequate. It is just not good enough to be asked to look at a number plate at a certain distance away. It gives no indication of the quality of either eye but only both together. It gives no indication of the range of vision, and I have known people whose vision is much restricted to what is before them, whereas a driver needs to be able to see at the side as well. Nor does it give an indication of colour blindness. A far more stringent test should be operated and, what is more, should be operated at intervals. Eyesight can deteriorate. I suggest that for a start we could introduce eyesight testing at 10-year intervals.
Secondly, we are living in an age when many drugs are being taken. I am not referring in this instance to drugs such as heroin or cannabis, to which people are addicted. But many people have to take drugs for medicinal purposes—sleeping pills, pep pills, and so on. Even now, there is disquiet about the widespread use of barbiturates. Has any research been done into what effect these have on drivers and whether they should be more widely warned of possible hazards and asked not to drive? This aspect has not been given a great deal of attention. If it has been, I should he glad to be told that I am wrong. I should like to hear from my hon. Friend about drug taking, especially in combination with alcohol, which makes the situation far worse.
Finally, I have a suggestion which I do not doubt will be greeted with horror by the Department. I believe we are coming to a time when not only should there be a driving test which includes motorway driving and more adequate eyesight testing, but one which is taken every so often by all drivers, irrespective of their record or age. In other walks of life, particularly in teaching, with which I am particularly concerned, there is an increasing awareness that it is not good enough to be trained and then assume that one is competent for all time. One of the major features of the James Report on teacher education is its emphasis on in-service training so that people are kept up to date. I believe that if it is good enough for the professions it is certainly of the utmost 893 importance to driving, where not only is one's own life at stake but the lives of others as well. We cannot look at the accident rate and say smugly, "There is no need—the standard of driving is excellent." Would that this were so.
I am sure we shall be told that, with all the queues of learner drivers waiting for tests and the number of examiners available, this is not a practical proposition. This is a long-term suggestion which should be followed up as it would have the salutary effect of making people give up driving of their own accord when they have passed their peak. As it is, people can go on driving for many years, and they may or may not be competent to do so. It is difficult to make a person take a special test, but if everybody had to take a test at regular intervals there would then be no stigma.
I ask my hon. Friend to consider seriously this particular aspect. We cannot be complacent about the accident figures and the tragedies which occur every day of the year.
§ 12.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Normanton (Cheadle)
The debate has lasted nearly two hours, but it would be both churlish and thoroughly unrealistic to say that there has been one minute which has not been filled with positive, constructive contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House. I deeply regret—I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Simeons) also regrets—that attendance at this debate. important as it is, has been so small. But perhaps the contributions have more than made up for the smallness of numbers.
The contribution by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield), with his long-standing experience both outside and inside this House, was naturally heavily concentrated on goods vehicles and commercial vehicle driving. I was reminded of the way in which for many years it used to be the tradition to talk of knights of the road. Knights of the road do and did exist. They were and are drivers who showed their widespread, intensive interest and sense of responsibility not only to other drivers of commercial vehicles but to the general public.
I urge that the practice of holding competitions for driving excellence should be extended. I know that certain 894 magazines, such as the Commercial Motor, hold tests from time to time to highlight the importance of excellence in driving techniques and to give recognition to people by giving them the award of driver of the year. Certain British motor manufacturers have been continuing this practice for a long time. Is not this an area in which the Department might take some constructive part?
Commercial vehicle drivers who do not come up to this standard of excellence call upon themselves and the whole group of drivers a considerable amount of public anger. Reference has been made to cowboys. In my constituency I and my constituents have painful experience of the way that cowboy operating exists. Certain vehicles, used ironically for delivering stone for motorway construction operations, tear down side roads at speeds which defy even the police to catch them.
Undoubtedly there are many sectors of British industry where one can look forward to the future with confidence in their being growth centres, but there is no one sector which falls into this category more conspicuously than the international operating of trucks and vehicles of all kinds. This matter raises a number of problems and doubts in the minds not only of the British operators of trucks but the general public. There are some doubts whether the operators or the drivers of trucks coming into this country have gone through the same highly specialised and exacting standards of testing to which our heavy goods vehicle drivers are subjected. I suggest that this is an area which might be investigated to allay such fears as exist.
Coaches form another sector of international operating. Coaches which go from this country to tour Europe and also come from the Continent to tour here are increasing in numbers. One has only to look along Millbank and Parliament Street, even today, to see the extent of these operations. This trade is fast expanding.
The standards of the British coach drivers are and always have been exceptionally high. I urge the Minister to consider whether the standards of drivers coming from the Continent are up to those to which we are accustomed here. I make these comments not in any way to be critical of Continental drivers of 895 trucks and coaches but to allay public doubts and suspicions whether standards are adequate.
I do not wish to introduce any controversial issue into the debate. Suffice that whether or not we are anxious to enter Europe—perhaps that is the controversial point in this Chamber—there can be no doubt that as yet Europe is a long way from having a standard uniform policy to cover transport. It should be recognised and noted in this context that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries is this year Chairman of the European Committee for this industry. I am convinced —certainly my right hon. Friend can be assured of support from this House—that we have a great role to play in influencing, if not formulating, the establishment of a European transport policy including the users and the construction of vehicles and the construction and design of motorways and highways.
Safety must undoubtedly concern all citizens of this country whether they have a direct interest in the manufacture or use of vehicles or in the construction of highways. Therefore, I should like to make a number of suggestions.
Despite the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) that it should be compulsory for safety belts to be worn not only by the driver but by all who occupy a car, I know that there are difficulties in trying to enforce such a regulation were it to be issued. I suggest that to encourage this to be done, insurance policies might be required by statute to include special clauses that there should be either additional penalties or bonuses to the insurer, whichever way one wishes to operate this system, so that, for example, in the event of an accident occurring, if the driver is not wearing a safety belt he should be penalised. Put the other way, if, in the event of an accident, he was proven to be wearing his safety belt, he should derive some benefit from that.
I am not antipathetic towards motor cyclists, but I am bound to express continued anxiety about the way in which they, and more dangerously pillion riders, tend to ignore the requirements of safety and either wilfully or consciously refuse to wear their helmets. I know that regulations have been issued 896 on this subject but, despite that, there is ample evidence of the extent to which this requirement of the law and of safety is being flaunted by far too many people. I suggest that strict penalties might be invoked or exacting regulations imposed in this context. Anyone who goes to a hospital—as I have done and, indeed, as my wife has done on many occasions—and sees the number of pillion riders who are admitted after accidents will not from that moment onwards challenge the desirability—indeed, the vital necessity—of people wearing crash helmets.
Safety can be adversely affected by distractions, not only of the driver but of other drivers. Is it not high time that a regulation was introduced banning the affixing of golliwogs to windows? All too often one sees a golliwog, a dog, a cat or a tiger, sometimes with illuminated eyes bobbing and dancing in the back window of a car. They are a distraction to the driver, who should be able to see clearly through his rear window, and they certainly distract the attention of following drivers. Displaying these objects in car is an extremely dangerous practice, and I hope that it will be banned.
Brighton may be a beautiful place for a holiday, but the way in which some cars are plastered with advertising signs results in considerable distraction for all concerned. People do not advertise Cheadle very often, but as it does not produce labels to be gummed over windows that is perhaps a sign that it is showing a high sense of public safety and responsibility. In some cars both the back and side windows are covered with labels. They are a distraction, and they increase the danger not only to the driver and passengers of the car concerned, but to other road users, too.
I have had—fortunately not for myself, but for other road users—to have recourse to a first-aid box. On occasions I have been deeply distressed at the absence of such first-aid facilities as I think should be provided and required under legislation to accompany every commercial vehicle. I should go further and suggest that a small first-aid box should form part of the tool kit of every car on the road. It may involve expense but, as has been said, expense must be equated with safety, and where time is of the essence the availability of a modest first-aid kit can be of tremendous value.
897 We have heard a lot about driving tests this morning. I wonder whether there are any regulations—I have not seen them, nor has any member of my family—laying down a requirement for a test to include the ability to drive on the right of the road as well as on the left. The number of cars being taken on to the Continent for holidays and for business is increasing at an enormous rate, and even though a driver may have passed the test to drive on the left hand side of the road, I question whether he is necessarily a safe driver on the right.
I am not suggesting—nor, indeed, would the House like to see a suggestion put forward and translated into effect—that all our practices in Britain, including that of driving on the left, should be switched to conform to Continental customs and practice, but I question whether this is not a matter which requires a certain amount of investigation.
Attention should also be drawn to the extent to which "L" plates appear to be left affixed to vehicles when clearly there is no learner on board the vehicle. Where there is only one person in the car, and that is the driver, it makes it obvious. I understand that it is an offence to use or affix an "L" plate unless it relates to a learner driver. It is a danger, because it can draw attention unjustifiably to a standard of driver efficiency which is not appropriate. I hope that the legal aspect of this will be considered and advice given to the police to tighten up if, as I believe, there are breaches of the law.
I support the suggestion that there should be two stages of "L" plate—one for those who really are learner drivers and have not passed the test, and one which would apply for one year, or perhaps longer—I should say a minimum of one year—after a person has passed the test, because it is only after passing the test that the real experience is built up and during that time one is continuously at risk and exposes other road users and pedestrians to danger.
I do not wish to be destructively critical of any sector of the British transport industry, but I hope that I can be constructively critical of the British commercial driver and of the Transport and General Workers Union. I suggest that in its negotiations on behalf of this group of workers far too much emphasis is 898 placed upon wages, and there appears to be a total inability, or unwillingness, to consider another facet of the driver's interest, and that is his comfort.
The number of drivers who are prepared to put up with freezing driving conditions and a cab which is as near as possible to an ice box is a condemnation not only of manufacturers and those who maintain, or do not maintain, the vehicles, but also of themselves for being prepared to continue driving in such conditions.
I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Nuneaton refer to the standard of driving in the United States. He will know that the Teamsters Union has in the last four years made a strenuous drive to improve conditions for its members.
It is undoubtedly true that the need to eliminate draughts in and through cabs, to eliminate or reduce to acceptable standards engine noise and to make similar improvements to commercial vehicles is not adequately appreciated by the trade unions which negotiate on behalf of drivers and perhaps by the commercial vehicle fraternity in this country. If more attention were paid to achieving improvements of this kind, a considerable contribution would be made to the safety of drivers, their loads and the public generally.
§ Mr. Simeons
Does my hon. Friend agree that most commercial vehicles designed for British roads are meant for short runs? I agree that we are on the brink of entering Europe and that, leaving political considerations aside, many of our vehicles will be running further afield, to Strasbourg and Italy. It is therefore vital for us to come up to the standards of the Continent in the design of our vehicles and cabs, including the provision of bunks, radio sets and other amenities.
§ Mr. Normanton
That is substantially true, but the extent to which the motorways are opening up great stretches in this country means that we are distributing goods here, let alone on the continent, over vast mileages. For a commercial vehicle to travel half a million miles a year is by no means unusual, and that is driving in Britain. Colossal mileages are done by these vehicles and I hope that transport operators and trade unions will place greater importance on the need for improved driver comfort because this 899 will make a considerable contribution to road safety.
There is no doubt that our motor industry can fill this requirement. It has the expertise and facilities to do it, but unfortunately many haulage contractors are not prepared to pay an extra £100 for a particular type of driver's seat or an extra £50 for more comfortable driving surroundings. All these are extra as far as the operator is concerned and this is clearly the case of penny wise pound foolish, with the public, because of the reduction in safety, paying the price.
I am not being cynical when I say that we are spending a great deal of time these days thinking and talking about the environment. It is, therefore, in this context that I urge the Minister, to whom I have frequently made representations on this subject, as I did to his predecessor in office, to pay special attention to the planning of motorways and highways.
There is totally inadequate machinery for consulting people affected by planning decisions. This is not a party issue but is inherent in the whole system of central and local government, and from the public's point of view decisions appear to be taken without any reference whatever to the individual.
I had a classic example of this in my constituency. A motorway feeder road was under construction and a major gantry was required. One of my constituents said that he went to bed one Saturday night and awoke the following morning to find sticking out of the ground like a beanpole only 10 yards from his bedroom window a giant gantry. This sort of thing is appalling and I hope that in future when we are planning motorways and highways more attention will be paid to discussing with and enlightening the community generally and individuals in particular on what is proposed.
I deplore the extent to which multi-tone horns are still being used. I understand that they are illegal, but one still hears many of them sounding their refrain, peeped or squeaked out on these dreadful horns. I hope that more stringent measures will be adopted to bring the use of these instruments to an end. They are a distraction and any distraction on the road is bad for safety.
We still have a long way to go before achieving effective engine silencing and 900 bring it to an acceptable level. This is less of a problem with motor cars than with motor cycles and it is obvious that the exhaust systems of many motor cycles leave much to be desired.
Although the silencing requirements of the Ministry for trucks lay down certain standards—these standards will be higher next year—we have a long way to go before reaching noise levels which will be acceptable by the public. It is to be hoped that more progress will be made in this sphere.
I was delighted to hear that the M1 and M6 are at long last to be linked. For far too long drivers on their way to Lancashire have faced the frustration of traversing the impossible link road which has existed between the M1 and the M6. I welcome the announcement that the link is shortly to be opened and I hope that it will soon be completed to full motorway standard.
I have always been deeply annoyed by the extent to which grease thrown up from vehicles in front, especially when it is raining, lands on one's windscreen and makes driving hazardous. This is especially the case on motorways. Is it possible for the Ministry to devise a means of degreasing motorway surfaces? This greasing process is caused by the lubrication systems used on certain commercial vehicles. It is also caused by the absence of adequate mud flaps on all vehicles.
I hope that regulations will be introduced soon demanding the incorporation of effective, long-lasting mud flaps, on all vehicles, including trailers and caravans. Such regulations apply in some countries and the difference when driving behind vehicles equipped with adequate mud flaps is remarkable.
Most cars are now offered with a heated rear window as an optional extra. I know that such installation means extra cost to the user but it also offers extra safety to those in the car and to the public outside. I earnestly hope that early consideration will be given to making it obligatory for manufacturers to fit a heated rear window as standard equipment and not as an optional extra.
I was delighted to hear reference to dipped and dimmed headlights. I have always believed that these make a con- 901 siderable contribution to road safety, but what we in Britain appear to be doing in this respect leaves very much to be desired. I hope that the Ministry will decide on a standard and uniform technical procedure of installation, and universal enforcement of the use of such headlights.
A regulation was recently issued authorising parking without lights on roads. Though I fully respect the thinking which has gone into that regulation, I am deeply concerned lest the result will be a very considerable increase in danger to road users. I hope that the decision will be given urgent reconsideration after a period of, say, 12 months, or two years at the most, and that if there is evidence of an increased danger the Minister will be courageous enough to rescind that regulation.
I should like to see extra mirrors fitted on both front mudguards as standard and not optional items. The fact that in many conditions the rear windows of most vehicles are misted or in other ways obscured may accentuate my request. I am certain that compulsory fitting of these mirrors would materially increase safety when driving and parking, and especially when reversing.
Safety belts should be fixed as standard equipment on all four or five seats, and should not in any circumstances be charged for or referred to in the manufacturers' sales list as extras. They should be standard, and seen clearly by the price to be standard.
The standard of manufacture of silencers in this country varies greatly from extremely high to what one might have great reluctance to describe adequately in parliamentary language. I urge that the standard be raised substantially. The Ministry should insist on minimum standards for both the original silencer fitted and for any replacement. Most of us have seen silencers, or the tail pieces of silencers, or exhaust pipes littering the motorways and offering clear evidence of the way in which these things corrode and then drop off. Indeed, I have been told that they are only fitted with a view to lasting for two years from new and then being replaced. That is an unjustifiable practice, and one that is inimical to the safety of road user and operator.
902 Caravans and boat trailers form an increasing part of our highway scene. I welcome this, as I am sure every hon. Member does, but are there adequate regulations or is there adequate checking machinery in respect of suspensions to make sure that reasonable road safety standards are maintained? At the same time, I hope that any regulations which may be introduced will in no way inhibit the expansion of this trade, since the British caravan industry is one of the most successful stories of post-war industrial development, not only here but abroad.
Ministry of Transport testing has come under considerable criticism from time to time, and I believe that the variations in standards between one testing station and the next are too wide. I would not be prepared to go so far as to suggest that all testing stations should be brought under one ministerial or national control, but I certainly urge that careful assessment be made of some of the vehicles one sees every day, the bodywork of which is such as Ito cause great danger to the public generally. There must be some way of getting off the road, without waiting for the date of the next MOT test, vehicles which are no more than rusty tin cans.
Since we are deeply concerned about public safety and ministerial concern for planning, I must point to a great anomaly which operates to the detriment of road users and vehicle drivers. I refer to the way in which an estate car differs technically, in the eyes of the Customs and Excise, from a light van. The moment one puts a window in the side of a light van, that vehicle at once falls into an entirely different classification for purchase tax. It is then classified as an estate car. I should like to see an insistence on a certain area of window in the side of a van, on both the front passenger's side and the driver's side, and just behind the front door, through which the driver could see more clearly what was happening, without such fitting bringing in its train the financial impact of falling into the estate car category.
Some considerable time ago the practice of advising road licence holders of the approaching renewal date of the licence was ended. This has caused a considerable amount of difficulty, and has 903 embarrassed many who have overlooked the renewal date. I hope that the Government and the licensing authorities will give urgent consideration to reintroducing a reminder system for vehicles requiring to have their road tax renewed.
Lastly, and appropriately, perhaps, I endorse and support all those who sum up their views as, "Drink but do not drive," or, "Drive but do not drink". The courts have leaned over backwards to a quite unreasonable point in far too many cases. I should not like to think that we would go quite as far as introducing regulations similar to those which apply in Sweden or, worse still, those which apply in Finland, where if one is stopped in one's vehicle and there is the slightest evidence, almost superficial evidence, of one's having consumed alcohol, within days one finds oneself breaking stones on the highway in almost penal servitude. That is carrying things too far; but we lean over far too much to be lenient to those who are caught under the influence of drink and in charge of a vehicle.
There can be no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton has done a very great service to the country at large by tabling the Motion, which has given an opportunity for considerable and constructive contributions to be made on a non-partisan basis. At the same time, this has highlighted the need for very much more to be done still to promote road safety, safety to the users and to the environment, and, indeed, a general raising of standards.
§ 1.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I shall make only a very brief contribution to the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Simeons) for airing this very important subject today. It is one of vital importance to this country. If because of the debate driving behaviour throughout the country is improved, even only fractionally, the result will have been very positive.
I do not intend to touch on the many technical and detailed matters which have just been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton), although each and every one is of great importance. Similarly, I do 904 not intend to mention the commercial aspects of driving which the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) spoke about, although naturally I agree with every point he made. He gave way to me earlier in the debate when he was talking about safety belts in cars. He hoped that the Government would, perhaps, introduce regulations to enforce the use of seat belts on all occasions.
I interjected to say that together with my wife and family I had been involved in a serious accident in which if I had been wearing a seat belt I should very likely have been killed or seriously injured. That accident occurred on a Sunday morning after I had left a church service in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. A vehicle coming from Manchester to Abingdon market to collect strawberries for the Monday morning travelled far too fast on a wet road, the brakes were applied far too late and, as a result, the vehicle skidded very badly.
That vehicle took away the whole side of my car, which obviously indicates clearly that if I had been wearing a seat belt I should have been removed, as the side of my car was; I should have been removed into the back of the car. Fortunately, I was able to dodge to the passenger side and avoid serious injury.
However, I hope that the Government will encourage people to wear seat belts, because I believe that in most accidents, particularly head-on collisions, the wearing of seat belts will save lives. Surely, the debate is about the saving of lives. I hope that the service which my hon. Friend the Member for Luton has done by airing the subject will save lives and improve driving behaviour.
My one plea is that people on the roads, all of us, whether driving cars or larger or smaller vehicles, should realise that they are on the road for a purpose, and that is to get from A to B or to transport some material commercially from A to B. I hope that each and every one of us will remember that we are there for a purpose, that roads are designed for a purpose, and that our behaviour and manners on the roads are of the utmost importance. Even a minor slip, however unimportant it may be, can still result in the loss of life. The loss of a single life may not seem all that important, but we should think of the 905 heartache it can create for many families, particularly if the person who is unfortunately killed is the breadwinner.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will illuminate by his remarks the many excellent proposals and suggestions put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton.
I believe that a little earlier, when unfortunately I had to leave the Chamber, the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Bidwell) alluded to an incident which occurred in New Palace Yard some weeks ago, when unfortunately I parked my car right behind his, thus preventing him from getting away to see a very important football match. However, I believe that the result of that match was favourable and that a certain football club has now been promoted from one division to another. I congratulate the hon. Member for Southall, who supports that club, on the fact that the club has gone to a higher division.
May it go out from the House of Commons today as a result of this debate—in which, unfortunately, not sufficient Members have participated—that we are concerned about the way people behave on the roads. The breathalyser test introduced some years ago has saved many lives. It has been unpopular, but it made me think twice before I have driven after I have had a drink or two. This is all part of behaviour. The debate is about saving lives, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on initiating it today.
§ 1.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)
I associate myself with the congratulations offered to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Simeons) for having brought this subject to the attention of the House. I think that this is the first time in the last 18 months that the House has had the opportunity to debate the problems relevant to driving and driving behaviour.
I can claim to have had considerable personal experience of car driving in that for some years I clocked up not less than 25,000 miles and sometimes 30,000 miles a year, the majority of which was in the London area. That brings me to my first point, which was also referred to by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). I cannot say that 906 I very often agree with what the hon. Member says in the House, but when he referred to new drivers who had just passed their test, I found myself very much in sympathy with his view. When I passed my test—I did so at the first attempt, although I had had some training in the Army which perhaps helped—and when I got my civilian driving licence, I found myself launched on to the London roads, very often in the rush hours. For the first three or four months I was quite uncertain, and it was more luck than judgment which prevented me from being involved in quite a few minor accidents. But, quite inadvertently and because of my lack of experience and minor mistakes, I clearly annoyed a substantial number of other road users. The irritation I caused them must have increased their chances of being involved in minor accidents.
There is an overwhelming case for new drivers having a probationary period. This could be done by their being compelled to display on the back and front of their cars, for not less than six months after they pass their test, a little badge containing the letters "NQ"—"newly qualified". This would enable every driver, particularly experienced drivers, to recognise newly qualified drivers immediately and to give them a little more road space than would otherwise be the case. I believe that this would go a long way to reducing the number of minor accidents which occur.
With this must surely be combined the whole question of road courtesy. Is it an exaggeration to say that 50 per cent. of minor accidents occur through lack of courtesy and lack of consideration for other users? Road courtesy and consideration for others has steadily declined for many years. I have found—this was particularly true when I was doing a great deal of driving—that when I make a mistake, as all drivers make minor mistakes on occasions, it takes a little steam out of the incident if I acknowledge that I have made a mistake by giving a friendly wave to the person who might have suffered as a result of my mistake. Nothing infuriates me more than for somebody to make a mistake which inconveniences me; but if that person gives me a friendly wave, to indicate an apology for what he has done, my temperature drops to normal.
907 If it is accepted that many accidents are caused by minor irritations which can often be magnified to massive proportions, there is a case for investigating the cause of minor irritations. Lack of courtesy is one of them.
Another cause of irritation are our old friends the yellow lines. We are rapidly reaching the situation where a motorist cannot travel through any town without finding yellow lines down the sides of the vast majority of streets. It might well be useful for the Minister, perhaps with the help of the Road Research Station, to consider whether the yellow line system does not need substantial revision.
It often occurs in Brighton and elsewhere that people park on double yellow lines and do not seem to be approached by the police or traffic wardens. This creates intense anger amongst other drivers whose way is blocked and who think, "Here is some confounded idiot parking on a double yellow line in a congested area, when only yesterday I was fined heavily for parking on a single yellow line in a relatively quiet area". I suggest that consideration should be given to the possibility of introducing a double yellow line with a red centre, to indicate to any driver who parked on such a combination of colours that he would face a stiff fine, to the extent on a first offence of a minimum of £20. Corners and dangerous spots must be kept free if there is to be a free flow of traffic.
Another cause of irritation for many drivers is lack of lane discipline. I do not claim to be blameless in this respect, but I become angry, in common with other drivers, when I have just turned a corner and when somebody, without having given any indication, cuts immediately in front of me and moves into my lane. There is a case for a publicity campaign combined with what the Ministry is already doing, to emphasise the importance of lane discipline being maintained.
I turn to the effect upon driver behaviour that pedestrians can have. The chief responsibility for road safety is that of the man behind the wheel. He is in control of a lethal weapon. Because he has this lethal weapon in his hands, invariably a driver who is involved in 908 an accident of any type tends to be blamed, even though on many occasions the blame might be divided equally between the driver and a pedestrian or when the accident is the sole fault of a pedestrian.
When I was driving to the station this morning my view was partially blocked by traffic coming the other way and suddenly in the middle of the road there appeared a lady pushing a pram containing two children. She started to ease the pram in front of her, almost as a protective barrier, daring me not to stop. This was well away from any pedestrian crossing or traffic lights, or even a crossroads. I stopped and the lady crossed. What frightened me was, not just that she risked her own life, but that she risked the lives of two innocent children in the pram.
On how many occasions have we approached zebra crossings to have the experience of somebody leaping on to the crossing when our car is almost on top of it? An amazing number of people have a blind faith that some magic hand will protect them from being hit by a car once they are on a zebra crossing. There is a considerable case for turning the light of publicity and education on to pedestrian behaviour, because we are all pedestrians for a substantial part of our time.
I come to the problems of parking and their effect on driver behaviour. We must all feel sorry for those who earn their living by driving heavy goods lorries of various sorts and whose homes are in relatively narrow roads with no garages and parking areas. This sympathy must be extended to the residents in those areas.
Lewes Road in Brighton is one of the areas where, night and day, the small roads are clogged up by traffic parked right outside houses. Often it is a solid line of traffic on each side. The residents suffer from excessive noise 24 hours a day and great danger is involved for the children living in the areas.
As the yellow lines creep more and more along the main roads and as the new parking orders force an increasing number of people—lorry drivers and others—to park in the side roads, the situation is getting steadily worse, and for many residents life is becoming an 909 absolute misery in these areas. Too often local authorities and, I suspect at times, the Ministry have failed to consider the overall implications and results of actions that they take. They tend to look at the single problem put in front of them. They may answer that by some form of restriction and control, but too often they fail to realise that in solving one problem they have created three, four or five other problems affecting a large number of people. Perhaps more time could usefully be spent in an overall study of the effects of traffic orders, restrictions on waiting and parking, not only in dealing with the immediate problem but in dealing with the effects on other people in the area affected.
I turn to the point that I emphasised at the beginning of my speech. One way of reducing a large number of minor accidents must be to increase consideration for and understanding of the needs and requirements of other road users. I am not ashamed to say that I believe that good manner and courtesy are the essence and a vital part of a civilised society. Good manners and courtesy cannot be any more important than in the use of our roads, whether by drivers or by pedestrians.
§ 1.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
On my own behalf and on behalf of my hon. Friends I should like to extend my congratulations to the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Simeons) on having utilised his good fortune in the Ballot in such a constructive and positive way by permitting us—an all-too-rare occurrence—to debate a matter of vital concern to the average citizen, namely road safety.
I share the hon. Member's feeling that this House could often be more profitably employed if we had this kind of debate on days other than a Friday. We understand why many of our colleagues who would wish to be here cannot take part in the debate. There are many of us here today who do not attend on other Fridays, and it is no use ignoring the realities of Members' commitments elsewhere. As I have urged on many occasions to the Government, we should have a debate on road building and all its implications, as well as on the subject which we are discussing today, namely 910 road safety and what we and the Government can do to increase it.
Since this debate has been wholly nonparty political, let me say to hon. Members who are in this Parliament for the first time that it is not only this Parliament which has been remiss in this respect. It is characteristic of other Parliaments, no matter which party has been in office. The fact is that this House is not designed to deal with things that concern the majority of people in the country. We have a rather inefficient legislative machine, and many issues of this sort are never debated except by chance when hon. Members have an opportunity of raising them. That is why we are so indebted to the hon. Member for Luton.
Party politics are not and ought not to be involved in road safety. This matter is one of growing concern on both sides of the House. In fact, the only spark of controversy was struck when the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Roger White) paid a tribute to women drivers. At the risk of compounding that controversy, I should like to endorse that tribute and at the same time to declare an interest. It happens that when my wife and I travel by car, as we often do, she always does the driving, and I should like to place on record many thousands of safe miles in a motor car driven, in my judgment, by a very competent woman driver.
I am certain that if the hon. Lady the Member for Merton and Malden (Miss Fookes) drives with the same characteristics of responsibility and common sense that she showed in her speech, she, too, must be a very good driver. She raised some real problems and she had obviously given a great deal of thought to them. As one hon. Member said, it may be that women are more temperamentally suited than men to driving. It may well be that they have far more patience and are better able to cope with the enormous frustrations on congested roads. Certainly my wife contains herself much better than I do in such circumstances.
That apart, I do not think there has been any controversy, and many constructive ideas have been put forward. But we would delude ourselves if we thought that it was easy and in many cases 911 practicable to deal by legislation with what is essentially a matter of human conduct, human relations and human responsibility. I am surprised that some of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite—surely, in this House we ought to know better—show such great faith in legislation in this field when we know in other matters affecting human relations how difficult and often quite impracticable it is.
One basic factor that we must understand is that there is an enormous range of drivers. There are good, bad and indifferent women drivers, and the same applies to men. But the same person is probably a different sort of driver four or five times in the same day. He may be desperately late for an appointment and will take chances which horrify him when he sees the same chances taken by other people. If he has had a row with someone he may be as emotionally disturbed as if he had had a lot to drink. The hon. Lady mentioned the consequences of people taking drugs for medicinal purposes, quite apart from other purposes.
As I say, the same person can be a different kind of driver several times a day, and certainly as between one situation and another. All the tests in the world cannot take account of these considerations. Many accidents are caused by highly competent drivers who could pass any test that one cared to devise. The reason is that if one is trying to pass a test one does not do the kind of thing which one thinks one can get away with in other circumstances when one assumes that the man driving on the other side of the road in the opposite direction is as skilful as one is oneself. The most highly skilled drivers are not necessarily the most courteous or the most responsible. People are schizophrenic in their approach to driving.
I do not know anyone who does a lot of motoring who does not ideally want a motorway within a mile of his home to within a mile of his destination —his country cottage, his constituency or whatever it may be. But woe betide anybody who suggests that a motorway should be built near where he lives or his country retreat or constituency. What happens to all the people who are living in the hundreds of miles in between? If 912 applied the same criterion, we would not get any new roads.
I find that the same approach applies to speed limits. I have yet to meet anyone who was not strongly opposed to the idea that the street in which he lived should be subject to anything higher than a 30 mph sped limit. Naturally, in the street where he lives, he is slowing down to park or to turn into the front drive. But the same fellow, away from his own street, if he goes down a road subject to the 30 mph speed limit—one can be fairly sure that, if there is not much traffic about, he will go at more than 30 miles an hour—says that it is ridiculous that a road of that sort should be subject to anything less than a 40 or 50 mph limit.
The same motorist will be a different sort of person when he is looking round for somewhere to park as opposed to wanting to drive through a town. The same chap will be annoyed one day when he sees a car parked on a double yellow line, although he might well have been guilty of the same offence somewhere else the day before if he thought that he could get away with it. I was interested to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) about more and more vividly coloured lines. I cannot help thinking that they might well have much the same effect as three-line, two-line or one-line Whips on this side of the House. Unless one receives a thick three-line Whip, one is inclined to think one need not be there at all. I suspect that all these devices would be of uncertain success.
One message which will have got home to the Minister is the need to go ahead with the road programme. The present Government programme was jazzed up a bit, as one would expect, by the Secretary of State for the Environment, but it follows broadly the lines of the White Paper which I presented to the House in May, 1970. We must build more roads. At the same time, there is nothing inconsistent in saying, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said, that there must be controls over motor cars in our great cities, for otherwise we shall completely destroy the life of our cities.
It would be useful if, on a day other than a Friday, the House could have a 913 debate, without a vote, on the motor car itself. I stick my neck out, in a personal capacity, and say that I believe that the motor car has been the means of greatly improving the quality of life for very many people, and I would not wish to be thought to be among those who would try to put restrictions on it. Perhaps I may say in passing that I always made it a rule, when I had anything to do with these matters, to ensure that, when there were public inquiries about roads and the like, adequate car parking facilities were available. I always notice that a great number of those who seek to oppose the building of new roads and other highway developments travel to such inquiries in their own motor cars, and I resent the idea that some people hold that it is all right for them to have motor cars but they do not want a lot of others to have them, too.
Because of the failure of public transport—it is a chicken-and-egg situation—because the services are not there, people find it essential to have cars to take them to work and so on. Then, as the use of public transport falls off, it becomes more difficult to sustain it, and things go from bad to worse. There is nothing inconsistent in wanting more roads as a factor in improving the quality of life, improving the efficiency of the nation's road transport system and reducing the carnage of road accidents while, at the same time, urging the Government to give much more attention to saving and maintaining public transport.
In this debate, it would be wrong to say much about railway problems, but I thought that the Minister's answer to one of his hon. Friends this week about the railways' share of freight traffic was most significant. Last year, the railways' share of total freight carriage fell again as a percentage—it has been consistently declining for some time—and also in absolute terms by reference to the number of tons carried. This is particularly depressing. It is depressing because freight is important for the viability of the railways. I have said on previous occasions that it is wrong for an industry of this sort to try to hold back proper remuneration for its workers because its financial circumstances are such that it says that it has not got the money. The railways need more freight traffic to remain viable. What is more, if we could take a lot of 914 heavy freight off the roads, there would be a net gain not only to the railways but to other road users and to the community, too.
I realise that there are problems, but I urge the Government to look again at their attitude in not implementing the quantity licensing provisions in the 1968 Act, which, I understand, still remain law. Somehow or other, we must find ways of ensuring that the railways carry more freight, particularly the long or difficult loads which cause such havoc and environmental problems when they go by road.
There have been several suggestions for changes in the law. As I said, when one examines these ideas, one finds that they are not so easy to put into effect as might be supposed. For example, there have been suggestions for new driving tests. There is probably a good deal to support the suggestion that the Department should look again at the driving test. However, when it is said that people should have motorway experience before being qualified to drive, I wonder, as one who uses motorways to a considerable extent, whether we should like to see a large number of trainees on our congested stretches of motorway. Almost by definition, they would be on the more congested parts of the motorways, on the M4 between here and London Airport, on the beginning of the M/ and so on, and, because of work commitments, they would probably tend to be there at the busiest times of the day.
§ Mr. Simeons
Motorway driving is totally different from any other form of driving, is it not? The whole pace, the way one goes from one traffic stream to another, the way one overtakes and so on, are quite different. My son realised this and thought it wise to be accompanied by an experienced driver on his first few occasions on the motorway. That is an example of the sort of approach which we seek to encourage. I do not say that we should make it legally enforceable, but we should encourage people to adopt that attitude.
§ Mr. Mulley
There is great force in that argument. I am merely pointing out the problem. Three-quarters of the problem, I suggest, lies in trying to translate 915 generally agreed propositions into practical reality—even down to the chap who is in favour of abandoning all sorts of speed limits except the one in the street where he lives. That is an exaggerated example, perhaps, but it illustrates what I mean.
One cannot test whether people are qualified to drive on motorways unless there are facilities both for training and for the test to take place. As the Minister who had to raise the charge for the driving test, I can assure hon. Members who have ideas about an extended test that getting the money for it will not be a popular exercise. It will add to the waiting lists, too. A driving instructor or driving examiner is subject to all kinds of strain, and his is not the most sought-after occupation.
These are all good ideas, but, when one considers how they can be implemented, at considerable administrative cost, the question arises whether the money and resources could be spent to better advantage in some other way. I should hate to see the road building programme, although it is expensive, curtailed for the sake of a number of other things which, at the end of the day, would not necessarily add up to the same measure of advantage.
It is better, I suggest, not to have too many committees or too much consultation. I sometimes feel that the consultations go on over far too long a time, and some small organisation, although fully entitled to have its view heard and considered, probably has almost a veto over the taking of action. I am sure that, very often, these things go on and on and the Ministers concerned just do not know that this or that body is holding up a project which could well be for the general benefit.
I illustrate that by reference to what seems to have happened regarding the speed limit for caravans, to which the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) referred. There have been proposals since 1969 that the speed limit for caravans should be raised from 40 m.p.h. to 50 m.p.h. This seems to be extremely reasonable, certainly if it were coupled, as I think the National Caravan Council and the Caravan Club and the motoring organisations would wish, with a regulation to ensure that the car weight 916 and the weight of the caravan were suitable for this speed. We must consider the congestion that the caravan owner causes if he sticks rigidly to the 40 m.p.h. speed limit and I am quite certain, in view of the improvements there have been to caravans, that this change should be made. I do not know why some decision about this has not been taken.
I also wonder why it takes so long for these changes to be brought into effect. I hope that the limit for caravans will be changed because large lorries can travel at 60 m.p.h. on motorways, quite sizeable lorries can do 70 m.p.h. but modest caravans are restricted to 40 m.p.h. which is quite absurd, particularly on motorways.
We shall never get agreement about what the proper speed limits should be. There is only one safe speed limit and that is zero miles per hour. Even before the motor car there were such problems. Enthusiasts for the Forsythe Saga will recall the twist in the story when someone was killed in the fog by a horse and carriage. There is no way in which such accidents can be totally avoided.
I would not like restrictions on which class of vehicle could use which lane, because I can see enormous enforcement problems there, but I would support a differential between the maximum speed limit on the motorway and the maximum speed limit on other roads. It may be argued that some dual-carriageway roads are almost as good as motorways, but they have traffic crossing them. I would like to see perhaps a 75 m.p.h. limit on motorways and a 65 m.p.h. limit on non-motorways. There is a case for a higher speed limit on motorways. I stress that this is a personal view and I recognise that it invites the criticism that all the statistics show that the higher the speed the greater the danger of accidents.
One problem is that the regulations and the law are so complicated that most drivers do not know about them. I am told that it has even appeared in many newspapers that the speed limit on caravans is 50 m.p.h., whereas it is 40 m.p.h., and this is the subject of great confusion. I believe that when caravan owners have asked a number of policemen what was the speed limit they have been told that it was 50 m.p.h.
The appearance of a policeman in a motor car has a dramatic effect on driving 917 standards. I know that cost is involved, but if we could have regular police patrols on the motorways and on the main roads, the money would be better spent than if it went towards some of the other devices that have been suggested. I know a difficulty is that the transport authorities are not the enforcement authorities.
Some of the most important things are not the most expensive. I remember that when I was the Minister it took a tremendous time to get what was to me an essential safety step put into operation. This was the simple white line painted at the junction of every minor road with a main road. The cost was only that involved in the erection of a sign and the painting of the road. In many areas it was quite uncertain which was the main road and without this simple guidance large numbers of accidents have occurred.
As the hon. Member for Merton and Morden said, perhaps the most dangerous roads are the single-carriageway, three-lane highways where the driver is uncertain whether he will be able to overtake before an oncoming car decides to pull out. In many areas, the danger has been eliminated by the simple and inexpensive device of painting the road so that traffic can overtake and use two of the lanes for certain stretches, but is restricted to one lane at other points to enable the oncoming traffic also to overtake. It is not always possible to make the road into a four-lane highway but by the use of white lines, drivers can be prevented from overtaking when they cannot see sufficiently far ahead. Overtaking is probably the biggest single cause of accidents. The remedy does not cost a great deal and I urge the Minister to ensure that local authorities use this device wherever possible to cut down the road accident figures.
I would like to repeat the tribute which my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) paid to lorry drivers. For the most part they are extremely courteous and responsible road users. I also echo the warning which he gave the (Minister about the problems which will be caused if the tachograph is introduced thoughtlessly, as it could be. I know that we must observe certain European regulations, but many people are attracted into road haulage because it gives them an outdoor life and, to a 918 large extent, independence. They are highly skilled but their wages are not high in view of the hours they work, and it is not the money which attracts them to the job.
It gives them a chance of being on their own, but with the tachograph they will become the most closely observed of all workers. Hardly any worker, even in a factory where there is supervision and a written record of the work done in an eight-hour shift, has every working moment recorded on paper. We can understand the reaction there will be if the road haulage worker changes from being semi-independent to being the most closely observed and the most recorded worker of all. It is important for the Government to appreciate these psychological problems.
I ask the Government to consider giving time for a debate on the subject of the roads when many hon. Members, whom I know are unable to attend now, could take part. But we must also remember that hon. Members, who because of the nature of their business must travel great distances by road, probably have more experience of using motorways than almost any other group.
From my postbag—and I am sure that many other hon. Members would agree—I can see that there is a great public interest in road safety because it affects everyone every day of his life. Since the Minister will no doubt say something about publicity and the expenditure by his Department on the suggestions which hon. Members have made today, I ask him not to neglect what is perhaps the most effective publicity of all—free publicity. There is a great possibility of television, radio and the newspapers dealing with this subject simply because of the public interest.
In my constituency the Sheffield newspapers have promoted the driving competition which was suggested by the hon. Member for Cheadle. There are regular supplements in the Sheffield newspapers on the subject. When I was the Minister I wrote personally to the editors of all the national and the principal provincial newspapers about this. It took me a long time to sign the letters but I received a tremendous response. I believe they would be willing, given the lead by the Minister, to intensify their coverage of road safety and kindred matters.
919 I hope, therefore, that the Government will press on with their own publicity. There is no political argument about this. A debate in the House could also have a bearing on the matter. I hope they will consider the possibility of using all the media to the greatest possible extent to bring home to people that at the end of the day, no matter what Parliament does or does not do, there is a tremendous responsibility on every road user not only to preserve the lives of other people but also to preserve his own life and the lives of his family.
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Luton for giving us this opportunity to discuss the subject.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Hall (Keighley)
May I tell the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), on the question of driving on motorways, that when we see an L-sign on a car, we do not know whether drivers have passed the test only two minutes previously, two months or 22 years.
§ Mr. Mulley
If the hon. Lady had been here she would have heard this point made many times. Various proposals have been put forward. When I see an L-plate on a car I do not know whether it is being driven by a learner, because very often it stays on the whole time, whether or not Johnny or Joan are undertaking driving instruction. Even if a car bears the letters "NQ" for "newly-qualified driver", as one hon. Member suggested, how are we to know that the person concerned is driving the car? If policemen stopped cars to find out, what kind of congestion of the motorways would that create? It is not easy to make satisfactory provisions. Sensible people, like my own daughters, would not drive on the motorway without a qualified person being with them for the first time or so. Even the L-plate, or another sign, is not a guarantee that the person concerned is driving.
§ Miss Hall
The right hon. Gentleman's intervention proves that we can probably talk longer on this subject than any other, and still beg to disagree at the end of the day.
Several hon. Members have mentioned women drivers in particular. There is a 920 lot of unfair criticism of them, and they are always a good subject for a joke in any gathering. Before I entered the House I used to drive about 22,000 miles a year, so I reckon I have a little experience of driving. I believe the average family man drives about 8,000 miles a year, much of which is at weekends. I find weekend driving very different from driving during the week. People who often drive in their occupations treat driving as a business, whereas at weekends it is treated as a day out for a bit of respite and fun and games.
The Road Research Laboratory report issued last month contained some not very fair comments about women drivers. I read that it investigated only 247 accidents, which I do not believe gives a fair picture for the whole country. The important comment was:It is also valid to say that women were worse than men, but we could not generalise to say that they always are.That proves the saying that if a woman is a good driver she is the best of the bunch, but if she is not good she is the worst of the bunch. We perhaps tend to have the extremes.
Most women do not drive long distances but drive from the home to the shops or take the children to the school. They do not have much opportunity to practise and keep their hand in, certainly not at the faster motorway driving. That is a drawback which perhaps gives rise to some of the rude comments about the ladies who seem to spend their time talking in the car and not looking where they are going.
One of the things I find most difficult is to drive behind a car in which I think there is just the driver and suddenly see three pair of hands, arms legs and feet shoot up from the back seat, where the children are having fun and games. It is disconcerting for the driver behind, because it takes one's attention off the road. It is the sort of occasion when accidents can happen. Only the other week I was travelling at some speed on the motorway, thinking that the car in front contained just the driver, when suddenly a pair of legs shot up from the back seat. Next there were three children peering out of the back window making rude faces, which is jolly off-putting. If a little more were done to keep the children in order in cars it would help 921 both the driver and those who are following who have to try to anticipate what will happen.
I was interested to read of an insurance company which allows 20 per cent. off the normal premium where the driving is restricted to a woman policyholder. The insurance companies must act from some experience that women are better driving risks than men and that they do not have to pay out so much on accident claims by women. The company I insure with, like a number of others, bases its premium on the policyholder's age and occupation and not on the car driven. This is a much fairer system. People who drive high-powered cars and sports cars are penalised at present, but it does not necessarily follow that a person who drives a high-powered car or a sports car is a bad driver. Perhaps history points to this, but individuals matter, and it is much fairer if premiums are based on occupation and driving history. I hope this system will grow.
With many younger people learning to drive today, the question of driving classes in schools is important. For some time they have been available in some schools. The system gives rise to varied comments from those who are in favour and those who are against. If young people are to drive at an early age they should be taught properly, but I do not think they should be taught in the school curriculum time. It is an activity that could take place very well out of school time but with the co-operation of the school authorities. We should examine the matter. My experience of driving is that one of the main essentials is discipline, but from what we have been hearing about schoolchildren and discipline this week we might think they are the last people who should be learning to drive, because discipline seems to be lacking in certain schools, particularly in the London area.
Drivers have to make quick decisions. There is nothing worse than being behind a driver who starts to pull out and then goes back again, unable to make up his or her mind whether to pass. It is very frustrating for drivers behind. In driving one must make up one's mind and get on and do it or stay behind. Many people today have boring and repetitive jobs and do not have to make big decisions in their daily lives, and therefore it is much 922 more difficult for them to have to make an important decision in driving, a decision which can be very nearly a matter of life or death.
That brings me on to a point about the driving test. We can always be a little more outspoken about the test when it is safely behind us. My experience is that it is not stiff enough. We should accept that there are people who are not capable of driving in a highly-mechanised, motorised and heavily-populated country such as ours. This is not perhaps a happy thought for certain people who might never pass the test, but for safety reasons it must be realised that they are not capable of driving on our roads today, which are a great deal busier and more hectic than they were even 20 years ago and certainly 40 years ago.
It is a pity that motorists probably do not learn driving by night until after passing the test. Not many people have much experience of it before they pass the test. This is an acquired skill. Unless one has had experience, it can be extremely dangerous, even after passing the test.
We are told that there should always be courtesy at all times. Perhaps some are more courteous than others at different times. An hon. Member last Monday found himself broken down at the side of the Ml. He had to wait one and three quarter hours before anyone stopped to help him. The first person to do so was a lady driver.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Keith Speed)
I echo the thanks and congratulations expressed by lion. Members to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Simeons) for initiating an extremely useful debate, to which I have listened with great interest and which I shall report back to my right hon. and hon. Friends. But I must rebut his implied criticism whereby in some way he felt that anyone less than the Minister for Transport Industries himself was inadequate to answer the debate. One of the great advantages of the new Department of the Environment is that we are, to a large extent, interchangeable. We all look at these matters from the point of view of road safety, highway 923 construction, drivers' behaviour, environment, the total transport package—all within one Department. Therefore, it is no implied discourtesy or criticism of my hon. Friend that I should be answering the debate and not my right hon. Friend; it is in fact the way in which the Department should deal with these matters.
§ Mr. Simeons
I was not suggesting that it was not, but if this is the only debate on the subject which we have had in this Parliament, and considering the multitude of problems which arise, one might have supposed that the chief man would want to be present to hear the debate directly.
§ Mr. Speed
The chief man will certainly be hearing, if not directly, then indirectly when I speak to him about it on Monday. But of course this is a very important debate, and I take the point of the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) that perhaps Parliament should not take such a long time again before discussing the whole question of car transportation and other matters. But that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and not for me. I will draw his attention to the views expressed during the debate.
Road safety is a subject on which, as the right hon. Gentleman said, we do not divide on political lines. His speech, with his experience of running the Department, showed more practicality and awareness of the limitations on policy than some of the other speeches we have heard today. But, having said that, I say at once that there have been some positive suggestions in the debate, which will be looked at carefully.
I turn first to the question of road accidents. This has concerned the House very much today, quite naturally. Every day of the week, more than 20 people are killed on our roads and nearly 1,000 are injured. Last year, 7,700 people were killed, 90,900 were seriously injured and more than 250,000 were slightly injured. No one can accept this rate of accidents, with all the dreadful waste and personal tragedies involved, as inevitable. If the past trends continue—hall see that they do not—the casualties could reach 500,000 a year by 1985. Of this half million, some 140,000 would be serious or fatal. Deaths alone could total 924 over 10,000 a year. Obviously, this is quite unacceptable.
Apart from the suffering and hardship and personal tragedies involved, there is of course the economic cost. The minimum annual cost of accidents in economic terms which can be calculated for 1970 was some £350 million. This, again, is apart from the personal factors, which are obviously the most important. There is a very considerable strain upon our resources, not least those of the National Health Service.
A lot of concern has been expressed, particularly in recent months, about motorway accidents and motorway pileups. The debate has been very staid and sensible about this. No one has got hysterical. But notwithstanding the serious pile-ups of the past few months, it is helpful to remember that if there were no motorway accidents at all the number of deaths and serious injuries would be reduced only by about 1 per cent., although motorways carry 4 per cent. of all traffic. Over 70 per cent. of the accidents are in the towns, and many are at or near junctions. The other thing which perhaps is of concern is that pedestrian casualties account for 40 per cent. of all road deaths, and 95 per cent. of them are in the towns.
One thing which does particularly concern my Department—and I hope it concerns all right hon. and hon. Members—is the question of accidents to children, because these figures are not good, either in national terms or by international comparisons. Over 2,600 children aged four years or under are killed or seriously injured in any particular year. This is in spite of the fact that in the first 18 months of life, by definition, they are not likely to form a major part of the pedestrian population, and that up to the age of five, if not more, children should never be allowed out on their own. Nevertheless, there is this terrible annual figure of over 2,600 children under the age of four killed or seriously injured.
I speak as a parent, with a child of four and another of 18 months, and I hope that all parents will take these figures very much to heart. Nearly half the pedestrian casualties are children under the age of 15. In the past five years, some 56,000 child pedestrians have been killed or seriously injured in road 925 accidents. Half of them were between the ages of five and nine, and a quarter were under the age of five. Almost all child pedestrian accidents occur in urban areas—85 per cent. of them when crossing the road. So, when talking about driver behaviour and the whole problem, I hope that these severe and grim figures of child accidents will be kept in mind.
I want to deal now with some of the points which have been raised by hon. Members. I hope to cover them all, but if any hon. Member—and I know that one or two have had to leave, for which they have apologised—feels that he would like further or fuller information, if he will write to me I will do my best to provide it.
A number of hon. Members have spoken about the need for roads and about the road construction programme. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman argued forcibly that one of the ways one can reduce accidents is not to ease up on the road construction programme for other matters which might appear superficially to be more attractive. I think he is right. Certainly, the target of 1,000 miles of motorway, reached when the M4 was opened last December, is a major incentive and spur to us to make sure that the next 1,000 miles will be open by the early 1980s. Altogether, £2,300 million-worth of motorway and trunk road programmes are in preparation or are the subject of feasibility studies. By the early 1980s, we plan a primary network of 3,500 miles of high quality strategic trunk roads, and 2,000 miles will be motorway. At the same time, we are not neglecting roads in or around urban areas, for £600 million-worth of local authority schemes have been added to the Department's preparation list of £2,000 million worth of principal road schemes.
The environmental factors are extremely important. A number of hon. Members have suggested that we should not completely gut and destroy our cities in order to give way to the motor car. The Government will be studying in the months ahead a new total approach to transport policy. The first steps were outlined by my predecessor when speaking during the Committee stage of the Local Government Bill. Increasingly, there will be a new form of partnership between the Government and the new 926 local councils in having a total look at transport in an area, including public transport, private transport, car parking, commuter transport, roads, and so on. We shall thus be looking at the total package.
§ Mr. Bidwell
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously saying that when we look ahead to the rise in population—when there may be as many as four road vehicles or even more to a family—we must go on blandly trying to cope with that situation? Does he accept that we will have to cry a halt?
§ Mr. Speed
I am saying exactly the opposite. We must look at the matter as a total problem. It may be that in certain places—I am now thinking two or three years ahead—the whole of the centre of a city may be pedestrianised, as is happening to a limited extent already in places such as Leeds and Norwich. The local authority with the financial assistance of central Government might decide for its own policy reasons to allow only special electrically-powered vehicles in the city to avoid pollution and to keep other forms of vehicles out of the centre altogether. The whole question of population and that form of environmental pollution is concerned with this matter.
My hon. Friend, when addressing a local government committee, said that we must stop trying to tackle the situation piecemeal. Public transport, particularly in the conurbations, is constantly being hit by motor cars and motor cars in turn are being hit by other factors. The whole set-up of central Government funds to local authorities in this connection seems to be geared to attack the problem on a piecemeal basis rather than looking at it overall. These thoughts and policies will be developed over the months ahead as they are integral with the re-organisation of local government finance and local government structure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton mentioned the totting-up system for disqualification which is mandatory following three convictions within a three-year period. That system was introduced in the 1962 Road Traffic Act. If I understood my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) correctly—the hon. Member for 927 Nuneaton has apologised for having to leave—they argued that the heavy goods vehicle driver is in a special position because of his professional status. They said that if he loses his heavy goods vehicle licence—the Traffic Commissioners can suspend the licence over and above the normal affairs of the court—he will be in an even more difficult situation and will be punished twice. That was the tenor of their remarks.
I cannot accept this basic argument. The totting-up provisions are not only applied to heavy goods vehicle or PSV drivers. Commercial travellers depend just as much on a motor vehicle as an HGV driver for a living. Many people who have to travel around the country rely on a car for their living. Doctors, veterinary surgeons and even, dare I say it, Members of Parliament, who live in widespread rural constituencies, as I do, rely on their motor cars. Without cars most hon. Members would find it difficult to carry out the work for which they are paid.
This problem—I accept it is a problem—does not only apply to heavy goods vehicle drivers or passenger service vehicle drivers; it goes wider than that. If it goes wider than that, there is the principle whether we should countenance a lower standard from the professional driver or a different form of punishment for him if he transgresses. I do not think that is right. We have to take the line that the holding of a driving licence is not for anyone as of right; it is a privilege that has to be earned. That privilege can from time to time be withdrawn. In exceptional circumstances, it can be withdrawn for life. That is the way it has always operated.
Looking at fatal and serious collisions involving cars and heavy goods vehicles—I accept that the vast majority of heavy goods vehicle drivers, the professional drivers, are extremely good; it is only a small minority who give their colleagues a bad name—we see that fatalities occur in one in 27 of two-car collisions, but in one in six of collisions between a car and a heavy goods vehicle.
My Department, my colleagues and I, have looked at the propositions put forward by my hon. Friend and others, but I could not advise that there is any pros- 928 pect of a change in policy. If there were to be a change, it would have to go much wider than heavy goods vehicle drivers for the reasons I have outlined. This would not be right in equity so far as the general public is concerned. It is not unreasonable to expect the people who need to use motor vehicles, particularly for their livelihoods, to observe the same high standards of conduct and behaviour that we expect even the weekend motorist to observe.
My hon. Friend talked about speed limits on motorways and, in particular, minimum speed limits. It is true that a number of American States have requirements of this kind. We have looked at what has happened there, but we have not been persuaded to follow their example. In the first instance—this comes back to quite a number of things I shall be saying this afternoon—there is the problem of enforcement. It is pointless having laws that cannot be enforced. This matter has come through in the remarks of many hon. Members. We do not want to create new laws that cannot be enforced. We have seen no evidence to suggest that where minimum speed limits have been used abroad they have improved safety levels. One study which took place in America concluded that the results were not only disappointing, but undesirable. Drivers tended to move into the faster lanes of traffic and this general shift led to a reduction of mean speeds for vehicles travelling in the fast lanes. More vehicles then pass on the wrong side, sometimes longer journey times resulted, and the accident record could possibly have been adversely affected.
My hon. Friend mentioned a problem which I appreciate as I use the Ml considerably. This problem occurs more sharply at the southern end of the M1, but I go a little further north. I have used other motorways. Although there is the same problem, between the start of the Ml at Hendon and Northampton and a bit beyond it occurs in its most severe form. No doubt I shall be seeing it tonight when I drive along that stretch. I refer to the under-utilisation of the Ml. Many vehicles travel in the centre and offside lanes leaving the nearside lane occupied at infrequent intervals by the odd lorry going along. This wasteful use of the road could create a dangerous 929 situation. It means that the overall speed level of traffic movement is restricted and hampered, people get more frustrated, and this can lead to unfortunate incidents.
There is a provision in the Road Traffic Act, 1960, or as it will be amended and come into force in a couple of months' time in the Road Traffic Act, 1972, for the police to take action in cases of careless or inconsiderate driving. I doubt whether that will meet this particular problem. This tends to be a rush-hour phenomenon with many cars going out. It has to be said very firmly that this is a question of much more education being needed by drivers to point out that one should always drive in the most left-hand lane and that the extreme offside lane should be used for overtaking and not for aunt Flossie or anybody else pottering along in a Ford Popular doing 40 or 50 m.p.h. This situation has been happening for some time.
§ Mr. Mulley
There is another problem in this context which should be examined. It is not only a breach of the Highway Code, but of the law to pass on the inside. It happens every time there is traffic congestion. When there is congestion on the inside and outer lanes all the people on the inside lane are breaking the law if they pass the other two lanes. Many conscientious drivers drive in the nearside lane, but others drive in the middle lane because if they come across an Aunt Flossie doing 45 m.p.h. in the centre lane they have to go right round in order to overtake. If it were permissible on motorways, where lanes are clearly defined, to make it an offence for people to move from one lane to the other without due warning, and one could pass on the inside lane, that might help. That is something that should be examined. I would not like to be categoric about it.
§ Mr. Speed
This is something which should be examined. I was in a similar situation the other day. Everybody was purring up the centre and offside lanes at about 50 m.p.h. The nearside lane was virtually empty, and 60 m.p.h. would have been a safe speed. This is something that worries many people and it is one reason why, with a sheep-like mentality, many people stay in the centre or offside lane. I say the centre and offside lanes, because we compound the problem by talking about the fast lane. 930 The offside lane is not the fast lane. Some people think that if they are in a car which does 65 m.p.h. or 70 m.p.h. they should stick in that lane. That is not so. The offside lane should be used for overtaking, whatever speed one is doing. As the Highway Code and the Department's driving manual makes clear, one should use the centre or offside lanes provided they are reasonably clear and one has not to weave in and out of lorries changing lanes.
My own feeling—and my hon. Friend will probably confirm this—is that the problem on the Ml—which is a particular problem—is tending to get worse and that we have to do a lot more in the way of educating drivers about the problems. Perhaps the police will have their attention drawn to the debate and will keep a close eye on the situation. We have to consider some of the problems mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Miss Joan Hall
One reason why people do not travel in the nearside lane behind lorries is that the exhaust fumes make them feel like expiring.
§ Mr. Speed
There are regulations to deal with exhaust fumes. If someone finds himself in that situation he should shut off his ventilating system, because quite often it is the low-mounted intake under the bonnet which draws in the fumes. The ventilating system can be switched on again once the offending vehicle has been passed. There are regulations to deal with this problem, and there are many prosecutions for emitting more than the permitted amount of exhaust fumes, but no doubt tougher regulations will be introduced in the near future.
There is a problem about enforcement. At present, traffic law enforcement on motorways and roads generally accounts for about 10 per cent. of the total police manpower. I think it would help if there were police cars not just sitting on the bridges over motorways but travelling up and down them. Such cars advertise that they are motorway patrols, and they have a salutary effect particularly on the selfish or inconsiderate type of driver.
The deployment of these patrols is a matter for the chief constable concerned. Many county police authorities are still under establishment. As they come up to establishment, no doubt chief constables 931 will be in a position to do more in this respect, but this is something which, essentially, we leave to them. We do not think that it would be right, when police forces are under establishment, to impose upon them new tasks which they could not carry out.
I now propose to say something about the major problem areas. My hon. Friend spoke largely in terms of motorways, but I think that it would be helpful to see which are these areas, because we have to identify the problem if we are to tackle it in an effective way.
In any international comparison this country comes out quite well. Taking the figure of road deaths per 100,000 of the population, only Poland has a lower figure in Europe, though one does not, of course, want to be complacent about the present rate. It is obviously still too high. Over the last 20 years road casualties have doubled, but in the same period the amount of traffic has trebled, and from that point of view this is a negative productivity which we welcome. Road deaths increased by 57 per cent. over that time while the population increased by only 10 per cent., but road traffic increased dramatically. The individual's chance of being killed in a road accident is now 100 to 1, instead of 150 to 1.
Perhaps we could now consider the major problem areas and the question of age. As I have said, there are high casualty rates for young children. The most important problem relates to young pedestrians in the five to nine age group, followed by pedestrians and pedal cyclists in the 10 to 14 age group, followed by motor cyclists, drivers and passengers in the 15 to 19 age group, and finally there is the 20 to 24 age group comprising drivers, passengers and motor cyclists. The 20 to 24 age group is particularly susceptible, having about two and a half times the casualty rate of the other groups.
Old people—they are defined as those aged 60 or over—present a problem. Their reflexes are slower, and they cannot take evasive or avoiding action. They must be considered because accidents involving pedestrians account for a relatively high proportion of the total. About 73 per cent. of all accidents occur in urban areas, many of them within 20 yards of a junction. Figures show 932 that 62 per cent. of all fatal and serious urban accidents occur within 20 yards of a junction, so there is obviously something to be learned from that.
§ Mr. Bidwell
In considering these depressing figures, relating to young people, and while thinking about the future, does the Department take into account the fact that they are out of the home more than are people in other groups? They are the active element of society, and generally they do not want to stay indoors and watch television. They want to be out and about, and that inevitably means out on Britain's roads. When thinking of the future—and the not-too-distant future at that—one obviously must allow for the fact that this tendency will increase.
§ Mr. Speed
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised the matter. I had intended dealing with it later, but perhaps I should refer to it now. We are particularly concerned about the 20 to 24 age group, which I think is the one the hon. Gentleman has in mind. Because of the accident figures, we feel that we have a great deal to learn about this group. The Road Research Laboratory is about to conclude a contract for a major research project which will look at this group as a whole in an effort to discover why it has so many accidents. The project is to be carried out by the Applied Psychology Research Unit at Cambridge and the Department, being the sponsoring body, will work through the laboratory.
We are concerned about the problem, but I would rather not give the hon. Gentleman an answer, because to do so would be to prejudge the conclusions of the investigation. The question that he has asked is just the sort of question that has to be asked and answered before we can see what to do about it.
A number of hon. Members raised the question of alcohol. It is interesting to note that although the breathalyser legislation has had quite an effect on social as well as on driving behaviour, and has undoubtedly considerably cut the number of accidents and fatalities, if one looks at the proportion of drivers killed one finds that 26 per cent. were over the legal alcohol limit. This figure relates to the 10 months' period December, 1970, to September, 1971.
933 It is clear from the figures that there must be no let up. The number of prosecutions for driving when over the alcohol limit is rising. Considering that over one-quarter of all drivers killed were above the alcohol limit set in our present legislation, I hope that one message that will go out from this debate on driver behaviour is that one should not drink and drive and that if one must drink, then it must be kept to a very modest level indeed. The figures show that the difference between tragedy and alcohol is very close.
My hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) raised the question of drugs. It is an offence to drive if one's ability is impaired by drugs or alcohol. The position is set out clearly in Section 5 of the 1972 Act. As far as we can see, drugs as a factor in accidents is small, but it is a factor nevertheless.
It would be difficult to pass legislation relating to drugs similar to that for the breathalyser, not least because of the wide variety of drugs prescribed for individuals in different ways. This means that one does not have a standard type of driver or reaction, and a lot depends on individual psychological factors. Much the same applies to alcohol and it is clear that both drugs and alcohol can make a Jekyll into a Hyde within a very short period, even within a journey.
We think that the best way to deal with this problem of medicinal drugs is to get doctors to draw the attention of patients to the effects of drugs and to advise them accordingly. People should know whether the drugs that have been prescribed for them are likely to affect their reactions, vision, driving behaviour or in any other way to impair them adversely. I hope that each prescribing authority will make clear to patients the dangers of any drugs that are being prescribed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton questioned me about the possibility of having differential speed limits on motorways. Presumably he has in mind minimum and maximum speeds for individual lanes, primarily to overcome some of the difficult problems that have arisen not only on the M1 but on other roads.
Having said that drivers should always use the most leftward lane available, 934 whatever the speed, one would get into all sorts of difficulties and dangers if one then imposed different speed limits for different lanes, which is what I understand my hon. Friend is advocating and what he has advocated before. There would certainly be the problem of enforcement.
Presumably the minimum and maximum speeds which my hon. Friend has in mind would have a relatively small band between them, and this would obviously make it difficult for drivers to be sure of falling strictly within those limits. My hon. Friend will appreciate that such an arrangement would throw a major problem on the police. I am by no means certain that the drastic change he has in mind would achieve anything like the result that we are all anxious to see. Indeed, it might make matters worse by encouraging people to travel more in the offside lane, with the result that the present difficulties could be compounded.
I agree that education is absolutely essential so that, for example, we do not get vehicles driving at 70 mph lined up in the three lanes of a motorway. I accept that this does not happen often, but it is terrifying when it does. I stress that if drivers will follow instructions and keep to the most leftward lane available, whatever their speed happens to be—except, of course, if the leftward lane is blocked by a series of slow-moving vehicles—we shall overcome many of these problems.
My Department has produced a film in colour especially suitable for television dealing specifically with lane discipline. Those who have taken part in party political and other propaganda will know that it is no good getting the message across once or twice. It must be hammered home time and again, and only after one has bored oneself to distraction by getting it across will the message have got through to a small percentage of the population.
By the same token, it is no good showing a film or programme once. I am advised that this film—I have studied the script and scenario although I have not seen the film—gets the message across and that it was shown 54 times on television last year, 52 of those occasions on ITV. These are free slots which occur at times of natural breaks, or 935 perhaps I should call them unnatural breaks in the sense that they arise when something has gone wrong and a film of this kind is slotted in. To have shown the film 54 times is quite good, but we hope that it will be shown by the television companies and the BBC much more this year.
I shall be seeing what further can be done in the way of positive publicity—and I refer not only to this film but to other aspects of publicity on lane discipline. At the same time, our main road safety advertising programme is already fixed.
I hope that those who have responsibility for these things, both the independent television companies and the BBC will read this debate. They and the Press can play a major part in the constant education that is needed to get people, particularly on the motorways, to appreciate what are the proper lane disciplines.
Motorway fog accidents cause particular concern. Headlights must be used in conditions of bad visibility, and my right hon. Friend will later be bringing in regulations to that effect. Far too many people in fog or bad visibility still switch on only their headlights. They think how marvellous that is, and that their duty ends there. One can test this for oneself, particularly in fog. One advantage of using sidelights is, I suppose, that the rear lights of the vehicle are illuminated so that one is showing some illumination to following traffic, but for oncoming traffic and for pedestrians sidelights only are virtually useless in such circumstances.
One should in these conditions—and on this subject the instructions are quite clear—drive on dipped headlights, as one should even if there is any doubt about the situation. Far too many drivers think that by putting on their sidelights they have done all that is necessary, and there are also far too many who do not switch on any lights at all in bad visibility. As I say, steps are being taken to deal with the situation.
We are considering installing some overhead lighting on foggy lengths of the motorways and a major operation is being conducted to try to identify those lengths. One such site is near the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton where these problems have been 936 encountered. My right hon. Friend hopes to make a decision on lighting more foggy lengths of motorways in the very near future.
We are also considering various possibilities of increasing the rear end illumination of vehicles in fog, and we are also considering, though it is a difficult matter, the regregation of traffic in fog: in other words, moving heavy goods vehicles and others of a similar type into one lane and having private cars in a separate lane. Very considerable problems are involved, not least for the police, but we are looking at the possibilities.
The hon. Member for Nuneaton spoke of the BBC and said that when driving round the country he listened to Tony Blackburn, or some other gentleman. He questioned the whole basis of making flash road announcements on the radio. This is happening frequently now on Radios 1 and 2, and this is one of the big advantages of car radio, apart from any psychological advantages there may be. But a number of drivers, including myself, prefer Radio 3 to Radios 1 and 2, and just because one prefers Beethoven or Bartok to Tony Blackburn does not make one a superior person who is able to anticipate some major pile up there may be ahead. We are trying to ensure that major emergencies are also announced on Radios 3 and 4, as well as broadcasting the routine information on Radios 1 and 2. I am sure that that is right.
We are considering also a system of full and helpful public announcements at service areas where they can be readily brought to people's attention. There are announcement boards at these places at present, but that provision does not meet the case. Where new routes are planned account is taken of all known facts about fog conditions.
Several hon. Members have suggested, as have various other people, that the present winking light system on motorways is not satisfactory. I am not here talking about the computer controlled system but about the rather ad hoc system which had to be introduced. This system is not satisfactory. The lights are operated by the police by means of a type of electronic ray gun and, clearly, the lights cannot all be switched off or on at the same time, so there are delays. On occasions in the past the lights have been 937 set off by electronic emissions from aircraft. This means that one has what I call the "wolf-wolf" syndrome, where one is driving on a motorway and things look normal and reasonable, and then one sees these winking lights. Consequently, people tend to ignore them. That is obviously not good from anyone's point of view.
I stress that these lights are not used only in fog. Some people think that they are only for fog. They are used for any emergency or hazard, whatever it may be. We are going ahead as fast as we can on the question of the computer controlled signalling system. At present 180 miles of it is already in operation, and this figure should rise to 500 miles by the end of this year, and it will eventually cover all motorways. Our experience so far of this very expensive and sophisticated system suggests that the lights are a value aid in avoiding pile-ups.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton talked about having special motorway courts for people who ignored the lights and were involved in a collision in fog. This is one matter that one could look at, but the whole question of special road traffic courts is a wider issue than that of tying the problem down to motorway courts. My hon. Friend suggested that until the case had been tried there should be an automatic suspension of licence for anyone involved in that sort of accident. But that would not be in the best interests of natural justice. Why should one single out this sort of situation on a motorway when often it may be that someone is innocently involved and is ultimately acquitted by the court? My hon. Friend was arguing, as were other hon. Members., that the suspension of a licence over a long period could be a cause of great difficulty to professional drivers.
§ Mr. Simeons
One of the effects might well be that people would keep off motorways. The other day a lorry driver told me that when he was caught in fog he rang up his firm and said, "I am staying here until the fog lifts", and the firm agreed, telling him to do so. If human life may be involved, it is well worth doing something in this respect.
§ Mr. Speed
I agree that it is well worth doing something, but we have to 938 make sure that what we do will be effective. After all, the ultimate sanction in this matter, if someone is stupid in this sort of bad visibility, is his own death—and that is quite effective! I am not too sure that the suspension of a licence until a case is heard will he any more effective than, as it were, the ultimate deterrent. There are all sorts of difficulties involved in this, not least that of natural justice.
But I accept completely that when one has a dangerous situation, the best action is to get off the roads altogether. However, it is statistically accurate that even in fogs motorways are safer than ordinary roads. We have to be very careful about this. We could even arrive at a worse situation on the trunk roads. They could become overloaded in fog—more overloaded than the motorways. But when there is extremely bad visibility, the most sensible thing is not to continue one's journey either by motorway or by trunk road but to pull off and wait until the visibility has improved.
A number of hon. Members referred to women drivers. I associate myself with the view admirably described by the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park. I am a little dubious about the obvious cordiality between the Front Benches, because it looks extremely suspicious. But about the only person in the country with whom I can happily travel as a passenger—and I have reclining seats in my car on which I can go to sleep if I wish—is my wife, and that is a tribute to her.
If I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Miss Joan Hall) correctly, she said that a lady had stopped by the side of a motorway to give help to her friend. That lady was being very naughty if she did so. She should have got in touch with the emergency services. She should not have pulled up on a motorway, however courteous she was. There are special services to render assistance in those circumstances. I am sure that my hon. Friend was not saying that the lady stopped on a motorway. If she were, I hope that she was not! Women are drivers and men are drivers, and there are good, bad and indifferent drivers. The sort of nonsensical general, remarks sometimes expressed do nothing for the relationship between the sexes.
939 The tachograph was mentioned particularly by the hon. Member for Nuneaton and the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park. We are well aware of the sensitivity of this subject and of the way to proceed quite properly with regard to it. Certainly the hon. Member for Nuneaton, who is an expert on the subject, is in constant touch with the Department, and we listen to a lot of what he says about it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton then raised the question of the standard of motorway service area catering. The original service areas 10 or 12 years ago were far too small. The service areas now being built are about three times the size and aesthetically are much more attractive; they provide much more room for proper car parks, lorry parks, and so on. We are now paying for skimping on the design and the amount of land made available for the original service areas. There is a marked difference between the facilities and landscaping applicable to the earlier service areas—on, for instance, the M1—and those on the newer ones.
Many criticisms are made of the standards of the meals provided and the way the service areas are run. It must be appreciated, however, that service areas have special problems. Most of them are in relatively rural parts and must bring in their staff, which can be expensive. It is difficult to form a judgment about the flow of customers. A restaurant in a fixed place in the middle of a city or a town has peak lunch time and evening periods.
To give but one example of this difficulty, on one morning in 40 minutes 118 coaches arrived on one side of one service area alone, in addition to the normal traffic. The coach passengers represented live times the total catering capacity of the service area. Some service areas are operating a system of advance notice being given by coach operators to try to overcome these rushes.
In making any comparison of service area prices, the total facilities provided by the service area must be borne in mind. The service area is run on a commercial basis and, normally speaking, provides services for 24 hours a day. In this respect, motorway service areas are 940 in a rather similar situation to the catering staff of the House of Commons. The House of Commons Refreshment Department, which as we know runs at a loss, must provide facilities 24 hours a day, if necessary, for hon. Members attending all-night sittings in the House and in Standing Committee. Motorway service areas must provide free lavatory and wash room facilities and parking facilities, which all motorway users use. Many people pull up at service areas merely to stretch their legs, go to the lavatory and wash, spending no money in the restaurant. This is one of the reasons why service areas are provided at regular intervals on most motorways, but the facilities I have just mentioned put nothing into the coffers of those running the service areas.
As to the question of refuse disposal, I am fascinated to learn that Keele Service area on the M6 can pick up as much as one and a half tons of litter off vehicle parks alone on a Monday morning after a busy weekend. This must be done by those running the service area, because it is not done as part of the normal free refuse collection on the rates.
The problem which has been mentioned about lorries and security will be covered by the system of lorry parks which my right hon. Friend hopes to set up over the next few years. Undoubtedly, security provisions will be on a major scale at these lorry parks, which will be situated very near to the major trunk roads. This will be one way of getting large lorries off residential streets and will help lorry drivers themselves, because proper facilities will be provided for them.
The hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Bidwell) and others mentioned the question of rail services. Last year £64 million was paid in grants on unremunerative passenger rail services. There is a large capital investment programme in rail schemes in urban areas—the Merseyside Tunnel loop costing £10 million, the Fleet Line, the Great Northern electrification.
The argument is that it is important to shift a whole lot of transport from the roads back to the railways, thereby making life easier for ordinary drivers. However, it is very difficult to do this.
941 At present 205 million tons of freight go by rail and 1,670 million tons go by road.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Roger White) referred to controlled pedestrian crossings. A policeman or traffic warden controlling traffic must be in uniform, but there is no requirement for him to be in the middle of the road or to wear an armband. This is a matter for the police who are very conscious of the safety requirements, but, of course, it is very rare that one sees a policeman or warden controlling traffic from the side of the road.
Reference was made to driving tests. May I first of all say this, and I am sure that if one thinks about it, it must be self-evident. We cannot devise a driving test situation to cover every eventuality. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) suggested that there should be a driving test on the right-hand side of the road, in case people want to drive in France. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) referred to the first time that he drove in slush and snow. In parts of the United Kingdom if one waited for slush and snow before taking a driving test one would have to wait for three or four years. Therefore, the test has to be a compromise.
May I put a plug in here for something of which I know the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park will approve. If the hon. Member for Walton has been worried about slush and snow, he should know that this subject is dealt with in the Department's manual on driving which is still selling at 62½p. If he had read this before setting out on that journey it might have saved him from a nasty accident. This is part of the postgraduate education after passing a drive test. The driving test is, after all, but a start in road education which continues through one's entire life.
It has been suggested that driving tests should be allowed on motorways and that learner drivers should be able to use the motorways. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman dealt with that point pretty well. There is no evidence that new and inexperienced motorists on motorways, having just passed the driving test, are a substantial cause of accidents. However, if we were to allow learner drivers on the M1, in the congested situation of which we are all aware, it could cause 942 grave problems. Certainly what my hon. Friend's family did is very sensible. For the first few occasions when a newly qualified driver goes on to a motorway it is obviously a sensible precaution that he should be accompanied by someone who knows the ropes and who can give him guidance. But one could not enforce it.
As to the standard of international driving mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle, this is a question of international agreements, with different testing arrangements in different countries. Again, there is no evidence that this has any significant bearing on traffic accidents, and within the Common Market there is likely to be harmonisation of these standards.
A number of hon. Members have argued for a "P"—"Probationer"—or "NQ"—"Newly Qualified"—badge on cars for six months after drivers have taken their test. There is such a system in Northern Ireland and in other countries. It applies particularly in New Zealand, although I understand that it has not worked very well there. That was one of the first countries to have such a scheme, and it is now, proposed to abandon it, because there is no evidence that it has produced any demonstrable benefit. One does not close one's mind to the suggestion, but the evidence that we have of what has happened elsewhere indicates that it would not affect the accident record. There is a problem, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, of people having these badges on their cars when they were not newly qualified. In fact, this already happens with "L" plates. We shall consider the suggestions which have been made, but I do not think this would be a significant or enforceable factor in our efforts to reduce accidents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden raised the subject of driving tests in fast and more powerful cars. In fact, there is no necessary correlation. It may sound extraordinary that if one passes the test in a Ford Prefect one can immediately drive an E-type Jaguar, although it seems to be the case that people who pass the test in a Ford car are seldom able to afford an E-type Jaguar. In any case, there is no evidence that the introduction of a test for driving a high-powered car would reduce the accident statistics. One has the added 943 complication that a number of small cars—Minis are an obvious example—can be tuned or dealt with in some way so that, while still giving relatively small brake horsepower, they have a performance considerably in excess of that of much more powerful cars. There are problems of definition.
Moreover, the more powerful and more expensive motor car will often have much more sophisticated steering and suspension systems and may, indeed, be much easier and safer to drive than the relatively cruder, smaller and less powerful car. I have to tell my hon. Friend, therefore, that this is a matter which we have looked into but we are not at the moment persuaded that it would be the right way to go.
Driver training in schools was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) and others. We should like to see more done in this way, and we are always glad to encourage it. We have issued a booklet, "Driver Training for Young People", containing suggestions to heads of schools and others, and it has been well accepted. We do not yet know how effective driver training in schools is in reducing accidents. Salford University is conducting a research study on behalf of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, so we shall in due course have more figures to show whether such schemes are doing what we hope and believe they will do. A survey carried out two years ago showed that 10 per cent. of secondary schools were offering some form of driver training, and the present evidence is that the numbers are increasing fairly rapidly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden mentioned the question of eyesight and the wearing of glasses. I do not know whether she is aware that the Faculty of Ophthalmologists published the report of a survey which it had carried out on drivers who had been admitted to the Royal Berkshire Hospital as a result of road accidents. This was its conclusion.The number of visual defects that occur in drivers who have been involved in accidents is negligible and in any case is equivalent to the number of visual defects found in drivers who have never been involved in accidents.In the light of that and other evidence, we do not consider that we should be 944 justified in testing nearly 6 million drivers every year, or every two or three years, as the case might be, to check their eyesight.
It has been suggested that there should be a stamp on the driving licence showing whether the driver needs glasses of some kind and whether he ought to wear them while driving. Again, one would have to be careful to ascertain the right prescription for the glasses, and so on. There is provision already in Section 42 of the Road Traffic Act, 1962, that it is an offence to drive if one is not able to meet the required standard of vision, with or without glasses, that is, able to read a vehicle number with letters and figures 3½ in. high at the prescribed distance of 25 yards.
As a matter of interest, that standard is comparable with the standard in force elsewhere throughout the world. The police have power to check that a driver complies with the requirements, and if it is found that he cannot, a prosecution may follow.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) spoke of the psychedelic embellishment of the road surface with yellow and red lines. We must keep these things simple, if there is to be enforcement at all. If one already has a severe "No waiting" restriction, to add to that a super-priority severe "No waiting" restriction would, I suggest, compound confusion. I am not, therefore, greatly attracted by my hon. Friend's suggestion.
Several hon. Members spoke of competitions to promote better driving. This is something which the Department encourages. Many local newspapers sponsor such competitions, as do commercial organisations and trade journals. Both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries have presented prizes to prize winners in national competitions. Obviously, anything that can be done to improve driving standards and behaviour is much to be welcomed.
I come now to the Ministry of Transport vehicle testing scheme, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle and other hon. Members. At present, discussions are going on between my right hon. Friend and those interested 945 with a view to a reduction in the number of testing stations from 22,000 to under 2,000.
Within the last few days, the working group of the Noise Advisory Council has issued a report on the enforcement of vehicle noise regulations, and one of its recommendations is that there should be a visual check on silencers and exhaust systems in the Ministry of Transport test. This is one of the matters now being considered by my right hon. Friend.
Multi-tone horns must not be fitted on vehicles first used after 1st July 1973. The hon. Member for Walton spoke about laminated and toughened windscreens. At the moment 90 per cent. of vehicles in this country have toughened glass. Laminated screens cost about £15 and toughened screens cost about £8. The cost-benefit statistics do not suggest that laminated screens will be justified but the Transport and Road Research Laboratory is studying the matter further. Most European countries use toughened glass. Major exceptions are Sweden and Italy. The United States prefers laminated glass.
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South West)
The hon. Member has been talking for an hour already.
§ Mr. Speed
We have had a very wide debate and I am trying to deal with all the points raised by individual members. I am sorry for the length of my reply but it is out of courtesy to the many hon. Members who have spoken.
As for laminated windscreens or toughened screens, if more use were made of safety belts there would be no problem because the belt would restrain people and they would not hit the screen. The general consensus of the House has been that it would like to see the use of safety belts regularly enforced. This is the situation in Australia and we are studying the experience of that country. We should very much like to persuade people to use seat belts because there is clear evidence that their use reduces casualities. A major exercise was carried out in North East England some time ago which resulted in a considerable increase in the numbers wearing safety belts. Unfortunately, since that publicity campaign the area has reverted to about the national average of 17 per cent. of people in vehicles wearing seat belts. I hope that 946 hon. Members will certainly set a good example because we have estimated that there would be about 15,000 fewer fatal and serious casualities each year if safety belts were widely worn.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
The Under-Secretary will be aware that all those admirable regulations that already have to be enforced are very rarely enforced. He is quite right in asking hon. Members to set an example by wearing safety belts, but surely the best thing would be for the police—whose job it is to enforce the other regulations, which invariably they cannot or do not—to set an example. Not one out of 100 policemen driving cars uses safety belts.
§ Mr. Speed
This is up to the police. They do not make the laws but they enforce them. As we make the laws we should set an example and my Department is trying to persuade people voluntarily to wear safety belts. The police must act as the individual chief constable decides. Drivers who do not wear seat belts at the moment are not breaking the law, but my right hon. Friend is looking at this point and perhaps at some time in the future it may be illegal not to wear them.
The question of motor cycles was raised by one or two hon. Members. My right hon. Friend announced this morning that he is making a grant of £10,000 in the current year towards the cost of the training schemes which are run for motor cyclists by the RAC and ACU. This will be in addition to a capitation fee of £2 paid for each pupil enrolled, which will amount to £12,000 a year for 6,000 pupils. If motor cyclists are involved in accidents they are particularly vulnerable to injury. As an active motor cyclist I should like to see many learners go through the training courses provided by the RAC-ACU schemes. The centres can accommodate many more learners and I very much hope this additional help will result in an increase in properly trained and skilled young riders and will help the motor cyclists.
I have already mentioned the work going on into the particular problems of the under-25s.
There are many papers on the fatigue and psychological factors of driver behaviour, both in this country and throughout the world. We still do not know 947 enough about it. We are not complacent. This country has a good international record. I do not join those who constantly criticise and moan about British drivers. Most of them are reasonable and sensible. But driver behaviour can be improved. There is much that my Department still has to do in its road schemes and that local authorities still have to do. There is much more that we still have to find out. But at the end of the day the answer to the problem of reducing the tragic toll of accidents rests with the drivers.
All the suggestions made in this debate will be seriously considered. I again thank my hon. Friend the Member for Luton for introducing such a constructive debate on such an important subject.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)
I apologise for having missed the first part of the debate, but I was very pleased to hear the extremely full and careful survey of many different aspects by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Simeons) on initiating a debate on a matter which is very much in the minds of the majority of our people.
I should like to deal briefly with just three ahpects of the Motion in so far as they raise specifically questions in connection with the possibility of legislative reform. Every advocate who practises regularly in the criminal courts has come to be aware of the enormous weight of the multiplicity of criminal motoring regulations. The time has come when a long cool look could be taken at the question of motoring law to bring down the enormous number of different prosecutions, possibly even to simplify the law for the benefit of the individual, having only basically two classes of offence—really serious negligent or dangerous driving and careless or selfish driving. Many different categories of offence exist, and this brings the law into bad repute, whether because they are the cause of bringing a multiplicity of respectable citizens before the courts for comparatively trivial matters or, as has been the tenor of so many matters rightly brought before the House by the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), because they are not enforced.
948 A matter of great concern to some members of the legal profession is the existence of the altogether unfair offence of causing death by dangerous driving. The true gravamen of that offence is not that death took place, but that there was dangerous driving. The offence was introduced only because juries were reluctant, many of them being motorists themselves, to convict a driver of motor manslaughter under the old law. Very often it appears where the real gravamen of the offence is the dangerous driving as such that the mere element that it has caused a fatality, which is in the strictest sense of the word irrelevant to the offence, is allowed to dominate the feeling of a court with regard to the offence. I should like to see a close examination of the whole subject to make it more easily understood just what is the law on motoring matters as they affect the individual citizen and also to avoid the enormous number of minor prosecutions that take up so much of the time in the magistrates' courts and cause such a backlog of work for both the courts and the police.
I am delighted that not only my hon. Friend but also the Home Office have treated with the utmost seriousness over the past few months the risks inherent in the carriage of corrosive and toxic materials in large loads by road. It is a matter of the utmost gravity for many of us who have urban constituencies with through roads on which such loads are carried. I hope that with the advent of the Common Market this subject will be given increasing attention.
I also hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will have another look at the raising of the minimum age for riding a motor cycle. I believe that to raise it was a retrogressive step. It is too early to say what the accident figures will be, but there is a risk here both from the social and road safety points of view. Many young people between the age of 16 and 17 are now kept off the roads because there they cannot ride motor cycles at a time when they could have been gaining experience at an age where experience is so necessary. We have a ludicrous case in my constituency. One of the brightest stars on our speedway team, the Ipswich Witches, is aged 16. He can ride any sort of 949 cubic capacity motor cycle on the track but when he goes home on the road he can ride only a moped.
I believe that mopeds as such are perhaps more dangerous in the sense that they lull the young into a sense of false security, and they are socially disadvantageous in that, at a time when it is necessary for people to look outside their immediate neighbourhood for jobs, many young people cannot afford a car, cannot travel on a motor cycle and therefore have to travel 20 or 30 miles on this small, light vehicle, which can create a genuinely dangerous situation for them.
When the figures are available for the first year in which the new age limit has been in operation, I ask my hon. Friend to look carefully at what they show. I welcome particularly the concern of the House and especially my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for making the whole position of the use of the roads clearer to the individual citizen. I hope that we shall concentrate on making the statutory provisions equally clear.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Simeons
I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members for having come to the debate, giving up a Friday in their constituencies to bring us their experience on this subject. In particular, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for his great trouble, and also to those who have assisted him through their research into points we have raised and who have provided answers. If perhaps my hon. Friend doubted my motives and comments earlier, I remind him that I represent a motor town which is a large employer, pays good wages and provides—
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not the custom for an hon. Member to ask leave of the House to speak a second time?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
I understand the dilemma of the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), but if a nhon. Member is in charge of a Motion or other business 950 he is entitled to reply without seeking permission.
§ Mr. Simeons
I carried out some research into this point beforehand in order to ascertain the position.
As I was saying, I represent a motor town which is a large employer, pays good wages and provides a great deal of revenue through income tax, purchase tax and excise duties. The motor manufacturers are enormous exporters. Those involved feel, therefore, that I should demand a voice in the same way as when I protested against the imports of Japanese ball bearings.
If it is thought that I singled out lorry drivers in my speech today, then I did so because the motorist is better catered for, whether he be a professional motorist or someone out on a jaunt. His insurance, travelling conditions, overnight conditions and food and everything else are of a much higher standard than those of the lorry driver. What I am seeking is a lorry drivers' charter which will not only recognise the, great skill they have but will see that the standards they are offered are raised.
I would not seek a difference between motorists and lorry drivers with regard to penalties, but I feel that endorsements cover a whole range of degrees of carelessness. If we question whether the man who is technically careless should be treated as harshly as the man who, through a deliberate act, drives in a way that is little short of dangerous, a little more justice will be brought into the law.
I thank my hon. Friend for the detail into which he has gone and I thank all my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite for having contributed to the debate.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to consider carefully the way in which use of the road system, vehicles, and existing legal penalties influence drivers' behaviour; and to act immediately in the light of the evidence obtained.