§ 7.27 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John Horam)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Paper on A Proposed New Highway Code.
§ Mr. Horam
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for kindly allowing a few minutes for the House to recover its breath after those momentous events.
The present version of the Highway Code was published in February 1969. Since then changes in the law and in traffic and road conditions have made it out of date in several important respects and many minor ones too. It badly needs updating. Since 1969 the total volume of traffic on our road system has increased by more than one-fifth, and the volume on motorways has more than doubled. Many measures have been introduced to improve the flow and safety of traffic, such as zigzag markings at zebra crossings, mini-roundabouts and a big increase in the number of pelican crossings.
Power to revise the Highway Code, under Section 37 of the Road Traffic Act 1972, rests with the Secretary of State, and any revision is subject to approval by both Houses. When the present version was laid before the House in December 1968 hon. Members were understandably critical that they had not had an opportunity to debate it before it was laid before them.
To ensure that hon. Members could consider the present proposed revision the Government published in January 1975 the Green Paper "A proposed new Highway Code", which was also available to anyone with an interest in the subject. As an additional help to hon. Members we have prepared a "Paper for Parliamentary debate", a white-covered document—not a White Paper—for the debate; it is available in the Library and sets out on the left-hand pages the text of the Green Paper draft and side by side on the right-hand pages a further revised version prepared in the light of the comments received on the Green Paper. We are debating tonight the white-covered 126 paper which contains the original Green Paper proposals on the left and the revised proposals on the right. The next stage in this long gestation period will be to prepare the final text in the light of hon. Members' comments this evening and comments in another place and to lay that text before both Houses for approval.
I hope that the present position is clear, and that what we are debating tonight is also clear. In referring to rule numbers in this debate, I shall be referring to those on the right hand side of the white-covered paper which is the most up-to-date revised document.
I wish to take the opportunity of thanking all who commented on the Green Paper, including many interested organisations, and Members who made comments themselves or passed on comments from their constituents. This is the first time that a proposed revision has been so widely circulated for comment, and the response has shown that it has been well worth while. Some of the suggested additions or amendments have been accepted, and included in the draft before the House; others have not. I welcome this opportunity of hearing Members' views.
The Highway Code is a familiar document to most people, at least in the sense that we remember that we once mugged it up—or some of us did—before nervously presenting ourselves for our first driving test. Having disposed of that hurdle, we probably put it in a bottom drawer where it rests to this day—or at least it remained until it was thrown out some years ago. In a sense it is like a set book at school: we learned it because we had to do so to pass an examination. I wish to suggest that it is worth reading again, and that it will be more so in its new revised form.
This brings me to an important point. The Highway Code is not just for learner drivers, or for children taking the cycling proficiency test. It is a digest of the rules of the road, the rules of good conduct, for road users of all ages and degrees of experience: pedestrians, cyclists, motor cyclists, drivers, and people riding on horses or leading animals. It sets out the broad framework designed to regulate the flow of traffic of all types, so that it can move at 127 reasonable speed with the minimum of confusion and the maximum of safety. The code does not attempt to deal with every situation, but to be adequate for modern traffic conditions.
The rules are sometimes complex, and there are many of them, but the precepts behind them are simple and the intention is that the code be drafted in straightforward language which is readily understood.
I shall turn shortly to the main changes which have been proposed since the present version of the code was published, but before that there are one or two general points. The code is not a statutory one in the sense that failure to comply with its provisions is a criminal offence, but non-compliance can be cited in legal proceedings astending to establish or to negativeany liability in question in those proceedings.
Two things in particular flow from this—namely, that the code ought to be kept up to date, and that it should be revised at reasonably frequent intervals. The fact that the present code has remained unchanged since 1969 is a matter for concern.
The second point is that the code can only embody practices which have been developed and tested to the point where they are accepted as good practice. The Highway Code is not the place to introduce new driving techniques, new road markings or the results of the latest experiment at the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. All these must be widely tested before they may find a place in the code. This is absolutely right and I hope that Members will recognise a familiar ring to the provisions of the code to which I shall now turn. Members will not want me to comment on all the detailed changes from the present code, so I shall concentrate on the main changes and those points in the draft Green Paper that drew most comment.
The first part of the code contains advice for pedestrians. This is not new to this revised version, but it needs to be more widely understood that the Highway Code is for pedestrians just as much as for any other class of road user. In recent years more emphasis has been 128 given to the provision of facilities for pedestrians, and it is worthy of note that this has been accompanied by a steady drop in the number of pedestrian casualties—down from 84,000 in 1972 to 69,300 last year. This is an encouraging trend, but it must not lead to complacency.
The Green Cross Code—Rules 7 and 8—which was introduced in 1971 as a replacement for kerb drill is now included in the present code. It has been given a great deal of publicity in its own right, and, although many people commented on points of detail, there has been virtually complete acceptance of the Green Cross Code as the safest way to cross the road. It is for use by all pedestrians, but has been devised with children especially in mind, and it is intended that the wording of this part of the code be understandable to young children. The aim of the Green Cross Code was to give pedestrians, particularly children, enough information and advice in a form that they can understand, without encouraging the ritualistic approach—"Look right, look left, look right"—of the old kerb drill. The Department was greatly helped in devising the new wording by a committee set up by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and by research carried out by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory to discover how children react to various traffic situations and the form of words they would understand and translate into safe actions.
There is still one point that worries me and that is the use of the word "refuge" instead of "island". Possibly I am a little old-fashioned, but when I remember learning these things as a child they were traffic "islands" rather than "refuges". However, the word "refuge" appears in the revised version. This is something on which hon. Members may care to comment.
The emphasis in the Green Cross Code is on helping children to understand the procedure. It is not enough that children should recite the words. This in turn brings out the need for adequate teaching, and this is an area, particularly with young children, where parents must play a key rôle. Up to the age of 5 a child's safety is entirely the responsibility of the parent or guardian. After that, they must still play an important part in advising and helping their children. The 129 Department began a campaign last year, using leaflets to draw parents' attention to the problem and to offer advice. Incidentally, since the introduction of the Green Cross Code child pedestrian casualties have dropped from 39,300 in 1972 to 30,400 in 1975.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I am interested in these figures because I had a good deal to do with the introduction of the Green Cross Code. How does the drop in casualties relate to the number of vehicle journeys? Is it an absolute drop, or a relative drop in terms of the number of vehicle miles?
§ Mr. Horam
I think that it is probably an absolute drop, but I shall check.
I turn to the question of zebra crossings which are the subject of Rules 10 to 13. These crossings have been with us for many years and are accepted as one of the safer places for crossing the road. However, a study undertaken by the TRRL has shown that crossing the road within 20 yards of a zebra crosing is three times more dangerous than crossing on it. The revised code also explains the procedure when a pedestrian puts one foot on the crossing to gain precedence. Provided that the pedestrian gives drivers plenty of time to stop and the drivers themselves are aware of their responsibilities towards pedestrians on the crossing, dangers or difficulties should be minimised. In 1971 zigzag lines were introduced to mark the danger area.
I turn to the subject of pelican crossings covered by Rules 14 and 15. These crossings are now being installed in greater numbers throughout the country. There are now more than 2,000 of them and they have been the subject of a number of comments. It became clear that there was a need for more guidance on the use of these crossings than had been given in the draft code, and, therefore, we have rewritten the advice to make it clearer to drivers and pedestrians.
So much for the user on foot. I turn to the road user on wheels and the subject of drink and drugs which is covered by Rule 29. The advice about drinking and driving and the use of drugs and their effect on driving ability has aroused a good deal of comment. Most of it has asked for expansion to give more de- 130 tailed advice. However, it is difficult to formulate specific advice to cover all cases which would not be open to misinterpretation. On balance, this is as far as one can go in the Highway Code. There is, however, a need for more general information about drinking and its effect on driving in a form which would he useful to the driver, and the recent report of the Blennerhasset Committee on drinking and driving drew attention to this need. I am, therefore, considering how much information might best be provided, and in what form.
In a new rule about buses and bus lanes, Rule 48, drivers are reminded that buses sometimes have difficulty in reentering the traffic flow in busy urban streets and are urged to give way when they safely can. This is in accord with an international convention on road traffic which the United Kingdom expects to adopt in the near future. There has been some comment that this advice conflicts with the earlier Rule 37 about moving off, but the words "you can do so safely", together with the cautions included in Rule 37, are a clear indication that all drivers in this situation are expected to exercise the necessary caution.
Bus lanes are now being installed in many towns and cities to make more efficient use of road space and to assist the flow of public transport, particularly at peak times. The relevant rules in the draft code have been expanded to cover this, and it is proposed to include illustrations of the bus lane signs and road markings.
I come next to driving in fog—Rule 49. Accidents in fog are a continuing cause for concern. Although they form only a comparatively small proportion of injury accidents there is evidence that in fog the frequency and severity of accidents are higher on fast roads and motorways than on other roads. Some measures to reduce the rate of these accidents have already been introduced, such as lighting selected stretches of road, but there is no substitute for better driving behaviour. The same features which make driving on motorways comparatively easy and safe in normal conditions make it harder in fog. More restraint and self-discipline is needed, and, above all, slower speeds and adequate separation distances.
131 The "Fog Code" brings together the most important rules of behaviour for driving in fog. These have been subject to various suggestions for amended wording. No great advantage has been seen in most of the suggestions, but the revised draft includes advice not to speed up because of a close following vehicle, which was one of the points most often made. It also takes account of new regulations requiring the use of headlamps in poor daytime visibility.
I turn next to roundabouts, Rules 99 to 105. Mini-roundabouts are now sometimes constructed at junctions normally controlled by traffic signs or traffic signals, and studies have shown that they can reduce the number of accidents by up to 30 per cent. Various organisations have asked for an illustration of a mini-roundabout and for more detailed advice about how to negotiate such a roundabout. The rules on procedure at roundabouts were compiled with mini-roundabouts also in mind, but Rule 99 has been expanded to cover the situation where the normal "Give way" rules do not apply. I am considering whether advice on mini-roundabouts should be separated from general advice on roundabouts, and I should welcome Members' views. An illustration will be included of the most usual form of mini-round-about, but it will not be possible to show any of the more complex arrangements.
Rules 125 and 126 deal with what to do at an accident. The revised draft contains more detailed advice on action to be taken by those who are first on the scene of an accident—Rule 125—and new advice on what to do if a vehicle containing dangerous goods is involved—Rule 126. This is related to the new system of "hazard labels" which is being introduced for such vehicles. The labels will be illustrated in the new revised code.
In response to demand from the voluntary aid societies advice on first aid has been restored to the code and is contained in a section at the back.
Rules 127 to 134 deal with cyclists, and there are some extra rules for cyclists. This section contains only minor changes from the present Highway Code, but 132 many comments were received suggesting that Rule 129 contained an error and thatRide in single file on busy narrow roadsshould read "busy or narrow roads". The omission of "or" from what is in the current code was intentional. Strong representations had been received from cycling interests that "busy or narrow roads" was too restrictive, and the point has been accepted.
The draft code includes advice about an alternative procedure for cyclists at roundabouts where, because of inexperience or any other reason, a cyclist did not feel able to follow normal roundabout procedure. The wisdom of having such alternative advice was doubted by some commentators, but there is a risk that, if the code were inflexible on this point, inexperienced or timid cyclists might feel bound to follow it, perhaps to their cost. The alternative procedure is therefore maintained—Rule 132.
I come next to the road user and animals—Rules 135 to 141. More people now ride horses for pleasure, often on public roads. There is, therefore, a greater risk of accident between them and vehicles. This section incorporates a change in procedure in that persons leading an animal are now advised to do so on the left, keeping the animals on their left—instead of leading on the right, as previously. This change resulted from consultations with representatives of horse riding interests. There was conflicting advice on this, but the clear balance of opinion was in favour of the change. I do not pretend to know a great deal on this subject, but that was the advice we received.
The next heading is motorway driving, and I direct particular attention to motorway signals—Rules 163 to 167. We have expanded the advice about motorway signals by explaining exactly what to do when red lights are flashing over one or more lanes. Police comments indicated the need for this advice.
I come next to the road user and railway level crossings—Rules 173 to 182. This section of the code has been revised to explain how to use the various types of level crossing. Most important are the updated rules dealing with the 133 use of automatic half-barrier level crossings. These follow new safety precautions and procedures which were introduced as a result of the inquiry into the accident at Hixon level crossing in 1968.
My next heading is metrication. A considerable number of suggestions were received that the Highway Code should show metric units in all cases in addition to or in place of imperial units. This would pose a difficult problem: the complexity would tend to confuse most road users, particularly since speed limits and road signs will not be metricated for some time. This is probably a case where the Highway Code should follow other decisions rather than lead them.
A number of comments were received expressing concern at the length of the revised code. Many other letters asked for even more items to be included. Obviously, the aim must be to keep the code as short as possible; but the volume of modern traffic and the complexity of roads and legislation inevitably meant that additional advice had to be included, and therefore, the number of points has increased from nearly 150 to about 180. However, I am confident that every effort has been made to make the code as short as possible, and I assure the House that, as long as I am a Minister in this Department, that will continue to be the case, for, as I have said before, my personal belief is that the complex of laws, regulations and advice which confronts the motorist should be kept as simple as possible.
Finally, I repeat that this is not the debate after which the new Highway Code will, or will not, go into operation. That has yet to come. What we are doing now is inviting Members' comments on the proposed code so that we may study those comments before submitting a final text for parliamentary approval. I assure hon. Members that we shall listen most carefully and sympathetically to all the points made tonight.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)
This is a short debate and I shall be brief. On the last occasion when we debated the Highway Code, Richard Marsh was Minister of Transport and, with the endearing frankness 134 which was and is his characteristic, he observed that, with a bit of luck, somebody else would be dealing with the next debate on it. However, I doubt whether even Richard Marsh believed that the next debate on the matter would be delayed for another eight years, for he spoke those words in December 1968. That, of course, is the first point to be made about the debate, though I hasten to say that I make no party-political point, for I do not believe that issues of safety are in any way matters for party-political dispute.
There has, however, been a substantial delay, and the result is that the code, which is intended to be a complete guide to anyone using the highway, has not been comprehensive. It contains no mention of new developments such as temporary speed limits. That is one matter which comes to mind, and it has been one of the major points raised by organisations outside the House. Both the AA and the RAC, for example, hope that the procedure for making changes can be streamlined, and I must say that I have a good deal of sympathy with that view.
Indeed, I go rather further. It seems to me that, in parliamentary terms, road safety is a Cinderella subject. For good reason, there are debates on specific items of legislation, as, of course, there have to be. But a general debate on road safety is a rarity.
Yet, if any subject deserves the regular attention of the House, it is road safety. Last year, 83,000 people were killed or seriously injured on our roads. They included 35,000 drivers or passengers in cars, 20,000 pedestrians, and 16,000 riders of motor cycles, mopeds, or motor scooters. The figures for accidents among children are particularly serious—500 children are killed and thousands more injured a year. These figures alone call for the regular attention of the House.
I hope that it is recognised that there is a limit to the amount of legislation which can he passed in this area. The law clearly has a place, but what also must be recognised is that laws to be effective must be enforced, and that puts extra burdens on the police service, which is already overstretched and overburdened. Therefore, we must as a nation place more and more emphasis on preventing accidents. The public, 135 whether as motorists, motor cyclists, cyclists or pedestrians, must take more action to guard themselves.
Within this voluntary action, the Highway Code, which basically lays down guidance rather than law, as the hon. Gentleman said, has an important part to play. But if I am right in saying that the emphasis today should be on prevention, upon guidance, upon persuasion, it is a process that this House should lead rather than debate it irregularly and at lengthy intervals. I suggest that our aim should be an annual debate on road safety. Sometimes the time may be required for considering further amendments to the code, but when it is not required in that way we should debate the issues of road safety generally.
That would meet both points which are causing concern—first, the necessary consultation with Parliament before changes are made in the code, and, secondly, the assurance of time being regularly made available to debate what is surely in terms of loss of life and injury one of the most important issues that we face in this country.
Clearly, there are criticisms and omissions from the code to which we shall come, but I think that the starting point is that, for all its omissions, even now it it is a code which, if followed, would dramatically reduce the number of accidents. The most important question is how many people actually read and take note of the code, how many know well the advice that it contains—and the research which has been conducted into that aspect is not, to put it at its mildest, reassuring.
The code appears to be one of the great unread classics. Almost everyone knows of it, but few dip into it, at least once their driving test is successfully out of the way. It is a work of high repute but, regrettable, not much heeded.
I give an example. The AA magazine Drive carried out a survey of 100 motorists. It asked them to answer 10 questions set by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. The results showed that 78 out of the 100 scored less than 50 per cent. and 18 scored less than 25 per cent. The motorist with the lowest score, who had been driving three years, got only 6 per cent. correct answers.
136 Another survey, carried out among primary school children between the ages of eight and 11, set a much simpler test. The results were a little better, but even so 70 children out of 180 returned a score of less than 50 per cent. We shall discuss the detail of the code tonight, but let us also remember that the major problem remains of getting the message over from the code, a message on which there is little disagreement.
That message has to be given more impact. Clearly, different parts of the code will require emphasis at different times. For example, it may be necessary to hammer home the message in the code about driving in fog. The Department, through its vehicle licensing office at Swansea, now sends out by post reminders to motorists that their road fund tax is about to expire. There seems to be no reason why this opportunity should not be taken for campaigns based on the code itself. As these notices have to go out anyway, it will surely require little extra effort by the Department to include a message from the code which it wants to put over in campaigning terms.
I want to deal with four points about the code itself. The first criticism is that the opportunity should be taken to advise drivers on passenger safety. This point was also made by the Association of County Councils. It pointed out that this is of particular relevance to the safety of children in the need, for example, to use child safety locks when they are fitted.
Another point, raised in Committee on the Seat Belts Bill, is that children should travel in the back seat. Indeed, in Austria, West Germany and Luxembourg, I understand, it is the law that children under the age of 12 shall not travel in the front of a car. When this point was raised in Committee on the Seat Belts Bill the Government replied that it could not be included in that legislation, but I think that there is no reason why guidance to that effect should not be included in the code.
Secondly, there is the subject of seat belts and the need to wear them. The point is made in the code, but should be underlined, that wearing seat belts makes sense and saves lives. It is important that that point should be made because, whatever differences there may be about compulsion, there has never been any conflict 137 about the advice that the motorist and the passenger should wear seat belts. It is important to emphasise this, because the Seat Belts Bill appears to have run out of parliamentary time. But that does not diminish in any way the message itself. Indeed, it probably makes it more important that a new effort should be made to promote the voluntary use of seat belts.
Thirdly, I welcome the attention given in the code to two groups often ignored the motorcyclist and the cyclist. The latter requires special consideration. Having borrowed a bike for National Bike Week and in a moment of supreme folly cycled round Parliament Square, I speak with some feeling on that subject, and I welcome the special section devoted to cycling in the code.
The motor cycle is becoming increasingly popular in this country, yet there is no compulsory training for the motor cyclist. Doubtless the argument will be that compulsory training at present would cost too much to introduce and would be a matter of great complexity. I accept that argument at this stage, but at some stage we should contemplate embarking on compulsory training. In the meantime, there is no reason why brief details of the training courses available should not be published—courses like the old-established RAC-ACU scheme and the excellent training programme which I recently visited at Birmingham.
As there is no compulsory training, many new owners may not know where to look for guidance. A reference in the Highway Code to the courses which are available would be of considerable public benefit. Equally, perhaps there should be reference to clothing. Crash helmets are not the only protection for motor cyclists, and perhaps the code could include guidance about wearing strong clothing and clothing which shows up in the dark.
The fourth point I wish to make is about disabled drivers and their passengers. This is a category which gets insufficient attention in this House. Mr. Peter Large, the much respected chairman of the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled, has approached the Department with the suggestion that the new edition of the Highway Code should contain an illustration of the orange badge 138 and the optional rear badge, as well as a brief description for the non-disabled driver of the orange badge scheme itself.
He also suggested that there should be a reference in the code telling non-disabled drivers not to use parking bays labelled "Disabled drivers only". Perhaps these should be labelled not "Disabled drivers only", but "Disabled persons only". This would be much better, as it would avoid arguments which might arise at present if a wheelbound person is not the driver of the car. I believe that the interests of disabled drivers and passengers should be looked after very carefully by this House.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
Would the hon. Gentleman accept that it is also very important that parking bays for disabled drivers should be more accessible than they are? For example, it is incredibly difficult to park in Star Chamber Court and in the few bays reserved for disabled drivers in the Palace of Westminster.
§ Mr. Fowler
That is a good point, but it goes a little wider than the scope of the Highway Code. Nevertheless, I agree with the hon. Member.
It does seem right to emphasise that the issues paramount in this debate are that there should be regular debates on road safety in the House as a contribution to reducing the toll of accidents, particularly among children, so that changes in the code can be made more readily and more speedily than they are, and that we should get over the message of the Highway Code itself. Unless we can do that, argument about the details is of very little avail.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
I shall not keep the House more than a few minutes as I wish to raise only two points with the Minister. I understand that the Automobile Association has made few comments about the Highway Code and, therefore, it is obviously satisfied with it, and the RAC has told me that the amendments which it submitted have been taken into account in the code. I congratulate the Government on that, and I am sure that the document is a first-class one which should be brought in as quickly as possible.
139 The first point I wish to make concerns hard shoulders on motorways. The white document tells us at Rule 169 that we must not park on the hard shoulders of motorways except in emergencies. But I know one or two fairly classic cases of people driving down motorways in the early hours of the morning and being extremely tired. This happened to me during the referendum campaign, when I realised that it was very stupid to try to travel 150 miles after midnight, when I was already tired.
There was a case in my constituency when a man who had not been drinking felt extremely tired, so he pulled on to the hard shoulder of the motorway and drank some black coffee. The police came along and prosecuted him. They were within their rights to do so, and I am not complaining about that. The magistrates proved the case. However, I think that this is a matter in which common sense should prevail. I do not want everything written into the Highway Code, as we cannot provide for every eventuality, but I believe that there should be some guidance about situations like that.
Another point I wish to raise concerns giving way to the right. Of course, we know that a motorist must give way to the right at roundabouts and mini-roundabouts. But at certain road junctions—there are two in my constituency—there is doubt about which is the principal road. Sometimes the main road comes in on the left and then goes off sharp left, and there is dispute about who should give way to whom. Both roads may be marked with dotted lines. Often drivers start to cross the lines and then stop because they are not sure whether they should give way. This is a matter which should be considered—whether it should be a requirement to give way to the right at crossroads when no particular road is the principal road.
I realise that although the Highway Code mentions seat belts it cannot say anything about compulsion. However, I hope that the guidance on seat belts will take account of roads which run alongside rivers and canals such as in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud). If there are accidents on such roads, drivers quite 140 often finish up in the canals or the rivers. One of my constituents was driving along Ryde Pier, which is the longest pier in Britain now that Southend Pier has been badly burned, and he did not know that a cross-Solent steamer had hit the pier in the middle. Consequently he went straight into the "drink", and he was wearing a seat belt. He was very lucky to get out alive. Therefore, perhaps some advice could be given about the times when it is better not to wear seat belts. I hope that the Minister will give further consideration to these points.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
The Minister was right to use the phrase "a long gestation period". The proposed Highway Code has been waiting for a long time for this debate. Those of us who in the previous Government were responsible for road safety much regretted the fact that we could not bring it forward then. I am glad that the Minister has been able to do so tonight.
I have three especial interests in this matter. As the House knows, I am connected with the police, and I shall to some extent reflect their views. I was previously involved in road safety at the Department. I have also one or two small constituency points to put to the Minister.
Most of us are rather schizophrenic about the motor vehicle, which is the cause of much of the problem. To me it has always been half mistress and half monster: half mistress in the sense that I doubt whether there are many possessions on which the average citizen lavishes so much loving care—or, indeed, so much money—as the motor car; half monster in the sense that in our modern society the motor car kills, maims, pollutes, deafens, and takes up far too much valuable space whether parked or moving, in the centre of our great cities. We all recognise the motor car as a creature which extends our freedom. It is indispensable to our society. But none the less it wreaks much mischief—not least in that it kills, maims and pollutes.
We are also schizophrenic in our attitude to the use of the motor vehicle. When people are driving through my village, I like them to drive at 30 mph, taking care of my children and looking after my environment. But, of course, 141 when I am driving through other people's villages and I see 30 mph signs used in what appear to me to be quite unnecessarily restrictive ways, I wonder why on earth the authorities have put up such useless signs. So we all have a different attitude towards the use of the motor car in the area in which we live as opposed to its use in areas in which we drive.
There are three respects in which Government and Parliament can operate to prevent accidents and to assist road safety. These relate to the vehicle, the road and the driver.
With regard to the vehicle, the first approach must be at the construction end. We must make sure that the manufacturer engineers as much safety as he can into the vehicle itself. This is something which all Governments require by British Standards and through the Construction and Use Regulations.
Having manufactured the car, we have then to make certain that it stays safe. This is where inspection arises. It is an important duty that the Department's examiners carry out.
But I am quite sure from my own experience that the ways in which we can achieve most improvement in respect of vehicles are through the use of seat belts, improving the standard of tyres, endeavouring to make much more progress with anti-jack-knifing devices for heavy vehicles and by making greater progress with international agreements concerned with the safety of vehicles in Europe.
I need not elaborate on these points, but I urge on the Minister that if he wishes to be taken seriously—as I know he does and deserves to be—in this matter of road safety to find parliamentary time to get the seat belt legislation on the statute book. I was never in favour of compulsion but I became persuaded after having seen a very large number of cranial injuries which would not have happened had seat belts been required to be worn. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be able to get that legislation through quickly.
I should also like to know from the Minister how far the Department has got with the anti-jack-knifing arrangements for heavy vehicles.
142 With regard to roads, there are two primary aspects. The first is to build better and safer roads. The second is to put signs or regulations on those roads to encourage people to use them safely.
I very much regret that, due to our economic circumstances—and also the wrong priorities of the Government—the road programme has been slashed so heavily. I am sorry about this on road safety grounds. Well engineered and well constructed roads make a substantial contribution to road safety. They reduce the number of people killed and injured. This is particularly true of the motorways. I regret that our economic circumstances led the previous Minister to conclude that we could no longer have six-lane motorways, and that the number of lanes must henceforth be reduced to four. I believe that was a mistake which we shall regret.
Bypasses unquestionably cut casualties. They are beneficial to the environment of very many villages. They are also cost-effective in that they speed up the traffic, and therefore the business life and exports of our country.
I urge the Minister, in the course of the transport consultation work now going on—which we failed to debate the other night—to have regard to the enormous sums of money fed into the deficits of British Rail. If only a fraction of that money were to be expended on bypasses, there would be a benefit to the economy and the environment, and a very substantial improvement on the road safety side which would more than justify a switch of expenditure in that direction.
Concerning bypasses, I have one constituency point. I do not expect the Minister to answer this evening, but I hope that he will ask his officials to deal with it. In my constituency, in the small village of Beyton, there have been some quite brutal accidents recently. I should be glad if the Minister, in the context of road safety, will look at what is being done to improve the road in question and at the behaviour of motorists, and let me know whether some improvement can be made very quickly.
With regard to the signs and the regulations that we place upon the roads, the Minister will know very well that all over the country there is immense pressure 143 to have 30 mph limits. Often these are not justified. I hope that he will stick to the policy of successive Governments and apply consistency in speed limit cases. The worst contribution to road safety that we can possibly make is to allow local pressure groups to force through inconsistent speed limits as between one place and the other. As soon as the driver loses confidence that objective criteria have been applied, more harm than good is done to the cause of road safety.
Another point I make is that it is quite abysmal for so many traffic orders made by county councils in the interests of road safety not to have been applied because of disputes at the London Gazette. Owing to these disputes, the orders could not be published and until they are published they cannot legally be enforced. All over the country important traffic orders relevant to road safety—I believe that there are 40 in my own county—have not been put into effect simply because of a printing dispute. This is not satisfactory. It can cause loss of life.
Having dealt with the vehicle and the road, we next have to consider the user of the vehicle and the road. We have the driving test to make sure that the driver of a vehicle is competent. I believe our driving test people do a good job, but I sometimes think that they ought to be able to deal with more applicants in the time available. It is a very expensive apparatus, and if the Minister compares the output with that in the United States, Germany, France and so on, he will find that we are meticulous to a fault in the way in which we perform these tests.
Next I want to touch upon drinking and driving regulations. They are enormously important. I am not in favour of random tests. But there is no getting away from the fact that the effect of the regulations has fallen away quite dramatically over the past five years or so. There are many reasons for this, but there is no doubt that the impact of the initial legislation has worn off to a considerable extent.
Next, I take a point from the proposed new code, namely, the paragraph about overtaking. A great many accidents arise from overtaking. I wonder whether the Minister has considered the possibility 144 that at least on our six-lane motorways there should be a requirement that the really heavy goods vehicle travelling at a slow speed, especially uphill, should be confined to a "crawler" lane. This is generally done in Europe. It is required in Germany and France. It enables faster vehicles to overtake safely at least on three-lane motorways without, as so often happens in the United Kingdom, the heavy goods vehicle pulling out and attempting to overtake on long hills, thereby causing frustration which in turn breeds impetuosity on the part of some drivers. In my view, there would be a great deal of merit in insisting on crawler lanes for heavy vehicles on uphill stretches of motorways.
Finally, I want to discuss briefly the problems arising with horses. I declare an interest in that Newmarket is in my constituency and that I convened the meeting of the various horse associations, the NFU and the rest about the recommendations on which some of the passages in the new code are based. At the time, I disagreed with the conclusion reached at the meeting, and I still disagree with that which is embodied in the code.
A horse, like a woman, can be a volatile creature. If a vehicle approaches from behind, the horse does not see it coming and can be very frightened when it starts to overtake and suddenly produces noise and a sense of movement. But if the horse can see the vehicle coming towards it, its rider can rein it in. It is thus much less likely to kick and become excited.
This is why for centuries in New-market, which probably knows more about horses than any other town in the country, it has invariably been the case that we have made our horses face the traffic. Rider and horse alike then know what the problem is. The arguments on this matter are complex. They are finely balanced. But I put it to the Minister that, if I were in his shoes, I would look at that part of the code again.
I conclude by wishing the code well and by making a plea for what at the end of the day is most important of all in road safety, namely, good standards of driving. Far too often we are all careless and inconsiderate. We drive too fast and without due care. I believe 145 that it is a combination of this lack of consideration, carelessness and thoughtlessness which leads to the appalling carnage which my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) illustrated by the catalogue of death and maiming with which he introduced his speech.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
I wish to refer briefly to one aspect of the proposed new Highway Code which very much affects disabled persons. It concerns the use of zebra and pelican crossings. A number of us have been decrying zebra crossings, but we have many of them and they will be with us for a very long time.
I paid very close attention to the reference made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to the drill to be employed on approaching such a crossing. However, if I can convey anything to him I hope it is that these crossings present some of the most dangerous aspects in the country in terms of road safety.
I have a zebra crossing close to where I live. When I was a county councillor, I was instrumental in having it installed at that point. We have had some of the most tragic accidents imaginable, especially to young schoolchildren, on that zebra crossing simply because due care has not been taken by all road users. We require to take some very special steps to make them a little more safe.
I want to draw my hon. Friend's attention to the use made of these crossings by disabled persons. I ask him to consider the case of a blind person with a stick who approaches a crossing. If he misses the kerb, he may well find himself lying like a bundle on the roadway. I have never been able to understand why we do not ramp the approaches to zebra crossings for disabled persons, such as a blind person who uses a white stick.
But this affects not only blind persons. Physically disabled individuals are also sorely troubled when they try to negotiate a crossing from the kerb on to the highway. Again, one small mistake could result in an accident to a disabled person who is using some form of walking aid and attempting to cross the highway. By ramping and thereby removing the kerb at the approach to a crossing, we could 146 greatly assist disabled persons. I can even recall the lady with a baby in a pram who tried to negotiate a crossing. When the pram went over the kerb, it tilted and her child, who was not strapped in, landed on the highway and suffered minor injuries. This would have been avoided if the mother with her baby in the pram could have approached the crossing down a ramp instead of having to drop the pram down over the kerb.
The same could be argued for the shopper. Today our housewives like to visit the big stores, and they take trolleys with them. When they approach pedestrian crossings, they find it difficult to negotiate the kerb. I remember an incident where sugar, jam and other precious goods were scattered over the highway because a housewife had difficulty in negotiating the kerb.
I cannot understand why we have not taken action long ago to remove kerbs at pedestrian crossings. Indeed, if in the first place kerbstones were dispensed with at crossings, this would represent a saving because the cost of them would not have to be met. It is as easy to ramp the approach from a pavement to a crossing as it is to install a kerb and expect people to negotiate it.
I appeal to the Minister to consider this problem. I am not suggesting that we should start to remove all kerbs on crossings throughout the United Kingdom from Monday next week. I recognise that it would be a costly experiment, but we could at least make a start in phasing out kerbs and phasing in ramps at zebra, pelican and other crossings. When road improvement schemes are approved, an integral part of the work should be the ramping of all approaches to all crossings. This would be of manifest advantage and benefit, especially to disabled people.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Sir John Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)
The Minister said that this publication had had a long gestation period. In my criticisms of it, I recall the observation which Sir Winston Churchill is supposed to have made about a camel—that it looked like a horse designed by a committee. I have many criticisms of the document, but I shall not take the time of the House in outlining them all.
147 When I first read the Highway Code, it was free. Later, one had to pay a penny for a document of three or four pages and after that sixpence for a book of eight or nine pages. We now have 60 pages and a document which costs 50p. It would be irresponsible to say that the only deduction from those facts is that the more pages in the Highway Code, the higher the accident rate.
My instinct is to disagree with the document. It goes into enormous depth and there are 7½ pages setting out the regulations and laws we have to obey. There is even a statement at one point about how to ride a bicycle. Most people can do that without advice from the Minister.
If the document is to go into all this detail, there should at least be an index. I should like to look at the Minister's instructions on riding a bicycle, but I can do so only by thumbing through the whole book. An hon. Member spoke earlier about service areas. Unless one knows the code intimately or is lucky in thumbing through the pages, one cannot find the section dealing with service areas. The document has a list of contents, but that is not an index.
The section on silencers says that they should be efficient, but the mind boggles to contemplate what the word "efficient" means, especially when one considers that all over the country silencers are modified to make more noise rather than less.
For a 60-page, 50p document this has several matters omitted. There is, as far as I can see, no reference to tanker safety markings. I know that discussion of this subject has been going on between the Department and interested authorities for some years, but in a document such as this, the public should be let into the secret.
If something can be said briefly, it is certain that the Department will find a way to say it at length. I used to ask the Ministry of Transport to introduce pictorial road signs and was always given the reply that they were not a clear statement of the legal position. I tried to get the Home Office to approve the use of the word "taxi", but they insisted that "for hire" was the clear statement of the legal position. I have news for the Gov- 148 ernment—many more people understand "taxi" than" for hire".
There is no advice in the document on standardisation. I have urged the standardisation of bumper heights. Quite serious accidents can be caused when cars' overriders get hooked together. I should have thought that some space could have been found to include advice on this subject to someone, even if only to British Leyland. I wrote to Lord Stokes on this subject suggesting that if all cars had the same bumper heights, a great deal of trouble and misery would be avoided.
I have been told that European countries would not agree to this standardisation and that we must await international agreement. I cannot see that international agreement is made easier if we are at sixes and sevens. It would be much easier if we at least had started the process. I understand that there is an EEC directive on the subject which we have accepted and since ignored. I believe that the Swedish Government have introduced standardisation.
I shall not go too far into the advice that is given, but this is an extensive document. The stealing of motor cars is a great evil. The Minister should know that one can get into practically any British made car with two bent spoons. I will show him how to do it if he is interested: I did it recently. A friend of mine—not me; I could not afford it—has a Rolls-Royce. He had left the key inside. We tried to break the window with a jack. Unfortunately, it was made of bullet-proof glass. So we had to get in by using two bent spoons.
Sir J. Langford Holt
We used two bent spoons to get into the Rolls-Royce. That is the kind of standardisation that I should like to see, but I understand that it does not come into this document.
Not enough is said on the subject of motorways. We are told about braking distances, but there is nothing about the rows of heavy goods vehicles which thrash up and down motorways at enormous speed. I see them every weekend nose to tail—just like a lot of randy dogs—going all the way up the motorway. Those chaps cause the accidents. 149 When a crash occurs, one knows that it is a multiple crash because a whole lot of vehicles bump into each other.
Nothing is said about GB-plates. These plates are presumably to guide the police in identification—not the GB-plates, because they are put on British cars when they go abroad. But in this country if a car has an I-plate, it is supposed to mean that it is an Italian car; if it has a "P", it is from Portugal; and if it has an "A" it conies from Austria.
I have taken up this matter with the Department. I have suggested that we should have some clarity. Recently I passed a car—I reported it to the Department; the Minister can look it up in the files—which had a GB-plate, an I-plate for Italy, "P" for Portugal, "F" for France and "D" for Germany. Heaven knows where that car came from: I did not know. I am sure the police did not know, and nobody else would know. I was told that it was not possible for this kind of thing to be included in this document.
I have read through this document as far as I can. I was told in correspondence with the Department that it would endeavour to include a passage about L-plates. Time and again one sees cars with L-plates being driven along motorways. One knows that learner-drivers are not allowed on motorways. If a driver is not a learner, he is misleading other drivers on the road if he displays L-plates on his car. It should be made clear that it is not correct—I shall not use the word "illegal'—for people who are not learner-drivers to drive on motorways with L-plates on their cars, because they mislead other drivers.
The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) referred to drivers getting tired on motorways. I must tell the Minister that one need not be careless, drunk, or, as the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight said, have spent over many hours in this House to become drowsy on a motorway. Motorways have a mesmeric effect on drivers. It cannot be helped. I have driven on motorways and known that I have been an absolute menace because I could so easily have gone to sleep between one branch-off and the next. Yet I had to go on because, had I pulled in, I should have been prosecuted for doing 150 so. However, I must have been much more dangerous on the road than if I had been able to pull off on to the hard shoulder.
My last point concerns the changing of road signs. I get the impression that local authorities are involved in a lot of unnecessary expense in making road signs bigger when the smaller one have been understood for many years. I believe that we are now changing the 30-milesper-hour sign because the figure"3" can be confused with the figure "5". That does not say much for the people who originally designed those road signs.
I end as I began. This document puts in far too much, and I should like to see it reduced to three-quarters of its present size. If that is done, let us have an index, and let us have some of the matters to which I have drawn attention included in the document.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. John H. Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)
This debate on the proposed Highway Code is important. Those taking driving tests the year after next will have to know what is in this document, and those who are enthusiastic motorists and the motoring organisations will study it so that they know the right thing to do on the highway.
In his opening speech the Minister referred to Rule 68—the new Rule 75—dealing with bus lanes. He knows that I have asked a number of Questions about this, and he then referred me to the Government booklet on traffic signs. When is a bus lane a bus lane, and when is it not? The rule does not tell us very much. I do not think that the Highway Code is nearly explicit enough on this issue, though I received an assurance in correspondence that the matter would be made more explicit.
Let us consider first the situation in London. On some roads one sees a heavy white line, and between, say, 8.30 a.m. and 10.30 a.m. the bus lane operates as such, but for the rest of the day the lane is open to other traffic. Other bus lanes operate in the evening from, say, 4.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. Yet other roads have bus lanes which operate as such morning and evening. In Sheffield there are bus lanes which, though badly sign-posted, are for buses only for the whole 24 hours. Different signs in different 151 parts of the country have different implications, and I think that the new rule has little regard for that.
Even more complicated, however, is the operation of bus gates through which private vehicles cannot go. Some lanes and gates are open to buses and taxis, and some are not, yet there are no illustrations in the Highway Code indicating signs to the appropriate effect. I do not see any reference to this at the back of the publication. There are disparities throughout the country, and if we are to improve road safety we must explain the situation to drivers.
Some hon. Members know that some months ago I had an unfortunate incident when returning home to Holland Park from the House of Commons with a taxi driver. Going past the Albert Hall at Kensington, a taxi driver became irritated that I was travelling at only slightly over 30 m.p.h. I was doing that because I thought a bus was clinging to the bus lane. There is no doubt that the taxi driver wanted to pass me, and he was irritated because I stayed in the middle of the road. I knew that he was irritated, but I did not bargain for what happened later. About a mile beyond that point he crowded me and nearly put me on the pavement. If that could happen to a Member of Parliament going home at night, it can happen to any citizen, but that is another story. By not understanding, and I have since investigated the full implications of the appropriate bus lane signs, I had obviously irritated another road user. On another occasion shortly after that, just before midnight I gained the impression that the driver of a bus going down this same bus lane thought that it was a bus lane for 24 hours a day and objected to my being in that lane.
Bus lanes are a good and a worthwhile new experiment, but every bus driver on his route must know what is involved. Every taxi driver and every car owner, too, must know what is involved, yet there are only two lines on the subject in Rule 68 in the proposed Highway Code. It may be right that we should deal with it in only two or three lines in the Highway Code, but there should be other documents to inform drivers. Does the Highway Code even now do this sufficiently elaborately?
152 I turn to Rule 149, dealing with driving on motorways in fog. The South Yorkshire police categorically recommend that at night, and particularly in fog and bad weather, drivers should use headlights on full beam as against dipped on motorways. Again, I raised this with the Minister's Department and was told that it had been properly researched by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory and would be dealt with in the Highway Code. There is little guidance in the documents before us in that respect about what is likely to be in the new Highway Code.
In a steel-making area such as South Yorkshire, I think I am right in saying that anything up to 10 tons of scrap is taken off the motorway each week in that area by one police authority alone. I had an unfortunate experience driving up the motorway at night when my car hit a billet which tore out the tube between my petrol tank and the carburettor within a matter of at most a minute but nearer 30 seconds. Obviously, I was unable to progress any further. When I had stopped I found that petrol was pouring out of the rubber tube near the engine on to the road.
There is obviously an advantage in using full-beam headlights in certain conditions. The Highway Code states that a car driving at 70 mph needs a 315-ft stopping distance. The disadvantage is that the driver of a car may be embarrassed both by the full headlights of a car behind him and by the full headlights of an oncoming car, even though he may have an anti-dazzle mirror, if these recommendations are followed. This is not referred to in the Highway Code, and perhaps it ought not to be. I understand that the Minister may be thinking about this.
The third point I wish to raise concerns the use of hazard warning lights and the red triangle. To what extent is a motor manufacturer expected to provide hazard lights? To what extent should the motorist be made at all times to carry the triangle? There was one occasion this year when I was stuck descending an icy mountain pass, when I welcomed the fact that on a slippery hill vehicles had a 100-yard warning of trouble ahead. Should not drivers be obliged to carry such a triangle?
153 I ask for guidance about situations concerning animals. I looked for this in the Highway Code. I do not know where one gets such guidance. Perhaps it is in some law referred to at the end of the code. If a dog crosses in front of a car, I have always understood that, even at the risk of the life of the animal, one should not risk oneself, one's vehicle or other road users. This matter is not touched upon in the code. Is it intended that this should be avoided in the Highway Code?
On page 61, under the heading "Prevention of theft", it is stated that a driver should never leave a driving licence and insurance certificate in his vehicle. That is sensible, but on the other hand it probably means that the driver must carry both documents on his person. That is particularly important outside this country.
Finally, I refer to the European driving licence and international standards. I wish to concentrate on international standards in so far as they involve drivers throughout the European Economic Community and elsewhere. To what extent is this code similar to that applied in the United States, Canada and the Community countries? To what extent have we idiosyncrasies of our own? To what extent are these discussed with the international organisations to try to achieve conformity to make it easier for drivers who choose to drive in other countries?
I cite the problems which I feel must be looked at, although I am not certain whether they should be looked at in the Highway Code. The purpose of these questions is not to seek an immediate answer this evening. Rather we should consider whether they should be tackled in the Highway Code or in other documents so that the driver knows what he is about once he has passed his driving test.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
I declare an interest as honorary president of the National Association of Approved Driving Instructors—I would stress at this time, the honorary! I wear a slightly different hat from the last time I spoke on a transport measure since there has now been an amalgamation between the National Association of Driving Instructors and the Society of Approved Driving Instructors in order to make a larger, 154 more powerful and, it is hoped, more effective unit representing the interests of thousands of approved driving instructors in Britain. With that additional authority, I welcome the new Highway Code and wish it well in its aim to reduce the appalling carnage on our roads.
I need not take time repeating the many points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) with regard to improving the code now before the House, or the further remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). I did not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds, either on behalf of my Association or personally, with regard to the need to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory. However, much of what else he had to say was important and useful and I commend my hon. Friend's remarks to the Minister.
I am not quite sure what status pages 53 to 60 of the proposed new Highway Code, dated 1974, now enjoy in relation to the document we are debating tonight. Speaking as a lawyer, I think people would find it extremely valuable—perhaps a means whereby they might avoid getting themselves into the hands of lawyers—if the new Highway Code contained "The Law's Demands" section. I do not think that it is proposed to add them to the document before us or it would have been included, but it would be useful for citizens to be able to cast their eyes down such an exhaustive list, even though that might not meet with the approval of my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Sir J. Langford-Holt) who was asking for a slimming down of the document. It would be useful for citizens to cast their eyes down and literally see what the do's and don't's rendering them liable to criminal prosecution were.
One part which might be improved is the section on page 58 headedIf you are involved in an accident".There is always a lot of confusion about whether one has to report an accident to the police. As I understand it, the position is that if it is a damage-only accident, and if one exchanges the name and address of the owner and the registration number of the vehicle, one does not have to report the matter to the police. However, if one is in an injury accident it is 155 not enough to exchange the name and address and the details of the car—one has to produce a certificate of insurance to the other party or to the police officer on the scene and, failing that, one must report to the police.
Those facts are repeated in this document, it is true, but by putting together the words damage and injury in the phrase:If you are involved in an accident—which causes damage or injurythe document makes it difficult for the ordinary person to see what he must do if he is engaged in an injury accident as opposed to an ordinary damage-only accident. If it is the law that a damage-only accident does not have to be reported to the police if names and addresses have been exchanged, that should be more clearly stated so that anyone who is in a bit of a panic, as is common at many accidents, can understand that. He should also be able to understand, if that is the law, that an accident involving injury need not be reported provided that insurance certificates have been exchanged. Common sense dictates that if that is the law, it should be clearly set out.
The most important point which I make on behalf of driving instructors is that this revised code has existed unimplemented for nearly three years. Let us get it into action quickly, with no more time wasted. If its proposals are sound, and if they are likely to save life or injury, every week's delay might mean death or injury which could have been avoided. If properly presented to the public the introduction of the new code will cause many more people than perhaps read the old code to do so. This is a golden opportunity, which the Minister must not let slip, to secure a substantial improvement in driving standards from the moment of presentation of this new document.
Because of the delay in introducing the document, two problems have faced many learner drivers in some parts of the country. First, the existing Highway Code has gone out of print and has become difficult or impossible to obtain, particularly, I understand, in the London area. That certainly causes unnecessary irritation and may in some cases delay the qualification of drivers. That is wholly undesirable.
156 Second, some examiners are asking questions about pelican crossings, uncontrolled crossings and zig-zag markings, although those matters do not figure in the existing code. That is unfair. Both those problems would disappear with the speedy implementation of this code.
No group of people are more dedicated to the cause of road safety than the approved driving instructors whom I represent. It follows that no group of citizens are more anxious to see the speedy introduction of the code. We hope that the new and necessary legislation will not be long in coming.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)
I, too, welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate, not least because I spoke the last time that we debated the Highway Code, in November 1968, although at a rather later hour. Then, the House rose at 11.31 p.m. and the debate was curtailed, so I congratulate the Government on at least having put down the subject for debate at this time.
But the Government have been slow in bringing this matter forward. Last time, they went to the opposite extreme: they bounced it on us and produced the Highway Code before Parliament could discuss it. Mr. Marsh then rightly said that in future he would ensure that we had a chance to consider it in advance. The Government have kept that pledge, but they have been slow in bringing the code forward. However, we are discussing it now and I hope that it will be published before long.
I do not often quote my own speeches—they are not very exciting even at the time that I make them—but I did make a couple of points in my speech on the last occasion which have not been fully taken into account this time. Nor did I have an answer last time.
The 1960 code advised pedestrians in shopping centres always to use zebra crossings. The 1968 code left out the word "always", an omission which is perpetuated in the code today. I feel that the advice would be strengthened if "always" could be reinstated.
In the same debate I referred to parking. The code provided that cars should not be parked opposite each other if that would result in narrowing the road to less than the width of two vehicles. In the 157 1960 code "nearby" was also included. The code provided that cars should not park opposite or nearly opposite each other. The provision is not included in the proposed Highway Code and the code would be strengthened if it were. We all know from our own driving experience that on narrow roads it is just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, for cars to be parked on either side of the road near each other as it is for them to be parked directly opposite each other.
In the previous debate my great friend David Webster, speaking from the Front Bench, asked whether free copies of the code would be available for use in schools. It is essential that the code should be widely available, but now that the price has increased considerably, that may not be possible, and I urge the Minister to make available free copies of the code for use in schools.
My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) referred to Europeanisation. I am glad that we have not included in the code the phrase "Every motor vehicle must have a driver".
In my previous speech I said:I hesitate to suggest that the code should be longer than it is, but the former code contained a section … concerning first aid."—[Official Report, 18th November 1968; Vol. 773, c. 1063.]I am glad to see that the Minister has reinstated the first aid section.
I am sure that drivers of vehicles bearing L-plates on motorways are not learners, but I agree with hon. Members who referred to such drivers in our previous debate and said that something should be done to prevent cars with L-plates from being on motorways.
It is right that there should be warning signs on motorways advising drivers to slow down, but the warnings appear far in advance of minor obstructions, such as when painting is being done. That is crying "Wolf". A person who has had to slow down to 40 m.p.h. when he could safely have continued at 60 m.p.h. or 70 m.p.h. for a couple of miles may later take no notice of the warning signs when there has been a serious accident. I am all for being on the safe side, but that is to overdo it.
There is only one short reference in the code to disc zones. I imagine that in future there will be more disc park- 158 ing and I hope that the Minister will extend the reference to disc zones.
Details of the sizes of lorries that are permitted to park at night without lights are given in the code, but trailers are being left without lights and without identification. There is a suspicion—and I have discussed this matter with the borough engineer in my constituency—that trailers are brought by lorry and parked in residential streets and then, in the morning, are taken away by a different lorry with a different number plate. I understand that there is a loophole in the law in this connection. Obviously, the police have more important things to do than to spend their nights observing trailers, but I hope that the Minister will examine the law in this respect and will see whether the advice in the Highway Code could be improved.
Much has been said about pelican crossings, which I welcome because they have been a tremendous help. However, I am doubtful about the new criteria which the Government have recently adopted. Instead of going on the old criteria involving the number of people crossing a certain road and the vehicle traffic flow, the situation now appears to be governed by the number of accidents on a road. It would be unfortunate if a certain number of accidents had to occur before the need for a pelican crossing could be established.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Does not my hon. Friend agree that one of the difficulties about pelican crossings is that they are far more expensive than they need to be? If the Japanese or the Americans had to produce 10,000 rubber sheets for such a purpose and the electronic equipment to go with it, they would get on with the job. Unfortunately, we do not handle things in that way and, because they are relatively expensive, we have few of them. That factor often inhibits an authority from agreeing to provide a pelican crossing.
§ Mr. Berry
My hon. Friend is right. Similar arguments are used in my constituency because the surface of the road must be adapted and all the rest of it. The Minister is present and he will have noted my hon. Friend's comments.
There has been a change in the wording from that which appeared in the 159 original on the question of advice to young children. Originally the wording saidDo not allow very young children out alone on the road.Now the wording has been modified to include childrenup to age five at least".Personally, I would raise that age, but if the Department has had advice on the matter and can impart it to the House, perhaps we may be told.
I wish to refer to the subject of bus lanes. I feel that in that regard the comments in the code could be extended a little. I have some doubts about the anti-flow bus lanes because I feel that there is a danger in that respect. The fact that headlights must be turned on even in the brightest days might be regarded by some people as a warning. Again, perhaps we may be given further information on that score.
I wish to deal with a few smaller points. On page 13 we see the phrase "then signal as necessary". That phrase can be interpreted in any way one likes. Perhaps that is too vague an expression to use in such a document.
There is a reference to mobile shops, and to the fact that care must be taken when one is near them. I thought that that provision could also include reference to milk floats and similar types of vehicles.
A further point can be made about hazard warning lights. If a lorry or van pulls into a side road in which several cars are parked and hazard lights are lit, anybody who drives along that road from behind may only see showing from behind the offside hazard light. The driver may well stop, thinking that the lorry or van is about to pull out because he may not see the other hazard light also flashing. I do not know the answer to that problem, but I put it forward for the Minister's consideration. That situation could sometimes be dangerous.
Mini-roundabouts have been a tremendous success. Such roundabouts have been extremely successful and in many cases bring about a reduction in vehicle speeds on many roads—roads on which, in other circumstances, cars may travel at too great a speed.
160 A roundabout can be a valuable safety factor, but, in the context of mini-roundabouts, I ask the Minister to look again at the instructions about going round and signalling one's intention to leave the roundabout. One is supposed to signal having passed the exit which one is not using and then signal to turn left just before coming to the exit at which one will leave the roundabout. Mini-roundabouts, however, are so small that it is not possible to do that because, by the time one has signalled, one is virtually on the way out of it, whereas if one starts signalling too soon the indication is that one is pulling out at an earlier exit. I ask the Minister to think about that.
Box junctions are very useful, but, like so many safety and traffic devices, they are useful only in so far as they are observed. We all know that at major junctions in London, for example—no doubt, it happens elsewhere, too—the box junction restriction is not observed, with the result that traffic blocks another main road. However, if the box junction rules can be observed, I believe that they can improve the traffic flow at many of our main road junctions, especially at peak hours.
Those are just a few general thoughts which I put to the Minister. I realise that he could not possibly answer them all, or all the other points which have been raised in the debate, but if he will write to us, having noted them, we shall be grateful. It is vital to keep the Highway Code up to date, and I trust that it will not be too long—certainly, nothing like as long as the period since our last debate—before we have another.
I hope that the Minister will tell us when the new code will appear. I think that the previous debate took place in November and the code came out the following February. There were printing troubles at that time, I believe, and the Minister did not have all the comments to hand. Now, however, he has all the final round of comments, and, after all the delay, it is essential that the new code should be brought out as soon as possible. I give it a warm welcome in advance.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)
On the last occasion when I had the responsibility of winding up a debate, I was left 161 with about two minutes. Tonight, however, I could take considerably longer, though I hasten to assure the House that I shall not take all the time available to me.
First, may I say what a pleasure it is to have the Under-Secretary of State with us on the Front Bench. He is a constituent of mine, and I see it as an honour to speak opposite him. Although I have some doubt about his allegiance at the next General Election, I welcome him none the less and am very pleased at his appointment.
I congratulate all those of my hon. Friends who have spoken, because there has been a series of valuable contributions from our side. In fact, with one notable exception all the comments, save from the Minister himself, have come from the Opposition, and I think that we should be commended for our interest in road safety.
There have been many and various suggestions, some of them, perhaps, a little outside the scope of the Highway Code. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths)—he is not here at the moment—will not mind if I pick on one phrase which he used which, I feel, he would not wish to be taken unfairly. My hon. Friend referred to the motor car which kills, maims and pollutes. In fact, it is not the motor car itself which does those things. It is the driver who kills and maims and who usually has a lot to do with the amount of pollution. That is why we need a Highway Code, since it is far more important to try to advise and control the motorist than to consider only the motor vehicle.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Sir J. Langford-Holt) made some pointed comments about the size and cost of the new code. With respect, I remind him that the suggestion regarding L-plates are already contained in the draft document, Rule 26.
My hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn) and for Southgate (Mr. Berry) spoke of the vagueness of the draft code regarding bus lanes. I am sure that if he looks again at the new Rule 75 the Minister will agree that there is a certain element of confusion. In one place we are told 162 that no other vehicles must use the bus lanes and in another we are told that pedal cycles and taxis can use them if the signs so allow. Perhaps some rewording could remove certain confusion there.
We give these proposals a general welcome and we appreciate the Government's desire to have the fullest consultation. Yet the procedure that has been adopted has been rather prolonged. This has meant considerable delay between publication of the original proposals and the amended proposals, and we still have to wait for the final draft to be laid before Parliament. That is why some of the outside organisations, such as the Association of County Councils, which place great importance on early publication want the new edition to be published at the earliest possible date. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) said, we could speed up the process by having an annual debate on the whole question of road safety, which would mean that any necessary amendments could be made much more rapidly than hitherto.
It is worth underlining that the whole framework of road safety changes constantly. For example, there are the varying speed limits, wished upon us by the energy crisis and by considerations of road safety. But the code as drafted takes no account of the various speed limits, which are highly confusing to the average motorist. There are experiments with "sleeping policemen", which many people believe to be a useful road safety device, particularly in highly residential areas, to prevent fast through traffic. There is need for constant amendment of the code, and it would be a pity to wait another eight years before some of the good ideas which are being suggested at the moment can be put into the code.
Therefore, we believe that there should be a very close look at the question of how the present procedure works, although, of course, without at any time removing the right of interested bodies to be consulted or taking away the Parliamentary control that exists over the publication of this document.
What is clear is that new drivers are. expected to be conversant with the code, but it is a code which is now very much out of date. When someone is taking a 163 driving test, he is fully aware—particularly if he has an excellent instructor who is a member of the organisation of which my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) is president—of the latest developments, but he still has to go back to a document which he knows is faulty in some respects. Therefore, there is strong need for a slightly different method of attending to this matter.
Various organisations have put up proposals on the details in the code. The RAC put up many not all of which have been incorporated. The Association of County Councils also put up ideas. Like the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) it raised the question of disabled people, particularly the deaf. It is perhaps assumed that everyone driving a car can hear, but unfortunately increasing numbers of our fellow citizens cannot hear too well, and the ACC believes that advice should be given about looking out for people who might be deaf.
The association feels rather strongly that the advice given in paragraph 129 on the overtaking of cyclists needs greater emphasis. At a time when the popularity of cycling probably will increase again because of the soaring costs of motoring and other forms of transport, it is important to stress that, although a cyclist apparently occupies only a small part of the road, he or she needs considerable clearance to avoid the danger of accidents. The wording in paragraph 129 should be tightened up. I would prefer the wording "ride in a single file on all main roads and busy narrow roads" and "never ride more than two abreast at any one time". There is a tendency at present for cyclists to take up almost the whole carriageway. Perhaps they do not realise the danger to themselves.
A useful amendment could be made to Rule 29 which deals with driving and taking drugs. It says that if drugs are taken in the course of medical treatment the motorist should consult a doctor. I think that we should insert "or chemist" here. Our GPs are very hard pressed at the moment, and if a chemist is not sure of the effect of any drug he would naturally refer it to a GP.
Rule 54 is concerned with the approach to zebra crossings. The RAC claimed 164 that when this paragraph was read in conjunction with page 41, particularly with the illustration on page 41, there appeared to be a new obligation imposed on drivers to use an arm signal when approaching a zebra crossing. I am not sure whether this was the intention of the Department, but reading paragraph 54 and looking at page 41 could cause confusion among motorists. However desirable it may be for a motorist to give an arm signal, the fact is that if he is driving in wet or cold weather, he has to go through the process of winding down the window and putting his arm out, and it would surely be better for him to keep both hands on the wheel. I hope that the Minister will look at this again.
In Rule 73 we have advice which is fairly restrictive about driving on three-lane dual carriageways. The advice ignores the fact, largely due to current restrictive speed limits, that there is a very real danger of vehicles driving in two or all three lanes at roughly the same speed. This is highly dangerous and could lead to a multiple pile-up right across the road. If, as is generally indicated, the driver in the middle lane drives at the speed limit, this excludes anyone from using the outside lane unless he exceeds the speed limit. This point is worth looking into again.
Paragraph 122 contains advice about the placing of warning triangles. It would be worth while pointing out that on motorways this kind of triangle should be placed not on the carriageway itself but on the hard shoulder, so that it does not form an obstruction on the motorway. That is not made clear in the code as proposed.
The Minister should be aware of the growing practice of many heavy goods vehicle drivers to overtake on two-lane roads, even though their speed is very little in excess of that of the vehicle which they are overtaking. This point was made graphically by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds. It should be looked into and advice should be given to lorry drivers about this.
A considerable number of detailed points require consideration, but I do not want the Minister to get the impression that we are merely carping and criticising. We give a very general welcome to the new code, and we hope that it will be put into force as soon as possible.
165 One feature which has emerged from the debate and which needs underlining in the general point that the code is not obligatory. It is, after all, only a code giving advice. It sets out what a sensible man should do. This is where the difficulties start to arise. Various suggestions have been made as to certain instructions that ought to be made obligatory. One of the problems in producing the code and in giving advice to the motorist is the very real one that, whereas we are telling the motorist what he ought to do, we must at the same time be clear that he is not legally required to do a great many of the things suggested.
For example, although—as my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield has said—it is highly desirable to wear a seat belt, at the moment there is no legal obligation to do so. The Highway Code says that one should never drink and drive. Although one would hope that most people would not do so, at present quite clearly people can do so, because there is a statutory limit to the amount of alcohol in the blood which is permitted before prosecution arises.
I believe that the Government have a difficult task in putting forward a set of sensible proposals and in deciding which parts of those proposals should become obligatory and part of the law of the land. I am sure that the Minister will appreciate that aspect. At the same time, I hope he will appreciate the tremendous fund of goodwill shown on this side of the House. He will receive many suggestions and much co-operation over future legislation, even if we do not necessarily agree on everything.
All in all, therefore, we welcome the opportunity to debate the code. We hope that the Government will not take too long in considering the points that have been made tonight and in publishing the Highway Code in its final form. After all, road safety is the main pre-occupation of us all, and the longer we delay the implementation of the new code the more lives are put at risk.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Horam
I first thank the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) for his kind remarks about me. It is, indeed, a pleasant coincidence that I happen to live in his constituency, and that we are both very interested in trans- 166 port. I know of his genuine and longstanding interest in this subject, which I willingly acknowledge. Despite these rather flowery comments, I point out that I am registered to vote in another constituency, so that mine is not a vote against the hon. Gentleman in Welling-borough.
The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that, by virtue of the fact that I live in a small village in the northern part of the constituency, I have a particular interest in rural transport, which is also one of my responsibilities. This gives me some experience of the sort of problem with which he will be familiar from his constituency experience, and to which I attach a great deal of importance. I hope that we shall see real progress made in this respect.
Obviously, I cannot deal with all the hon. Gentleman's points, nor shall I be able to deal with the many points raised by the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) in the course of his very interesting speech. Points of this sort, made at some length, need to be considered carefully after reading the Official Report.
I shall not be able to give more than a cursory reply this evening to many of the points made in the debate. It has been a very interesting one, ranging from jack-knifing goods vehicles to randy dogs, and in the course of it some very sensible things have been said.
The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) made one point with which I wholeheartedly agree, when he said that the procedure for making changes in the Highway Code should be streamlined. I hope that we can make progress in that direction, though obviously not in this code. We have gone through these procedures and it is necessary to seek parliamentary approval, but certainly we can consider that for the future.
I agree with the second general point made by the hon. Gentleman, which was his idea of having an annual debate. Unfortunately, however, I am not my own master in that respect, as recent events show all too clearly. But I shall be lobbying for more time for dealing with transport matters in general, and the hon. Gentleman may care to sign the motion on the Order Paper about the transport debate not taking place last Thursday.
167 I also agree with the hon. Gentleman's third general point that we should have a limit to the amount of legislation and regulations governing the life of the motorist. The hon. Gentleman made the point that it is difficult to enforce such legislation and regulation if it becomes excessive. I agree. Indeed, I take it further, because I feel that regulation should be limited for its own sake. It should not become too complex. It is right to keep matters as simple as possible. The life of the motorist is complicated enough as it is, and too much regulation simply overburdens him.
The Highway Code has been described as one of the great unread classics to be put alongside the Bible and Shakespeare. I read a remark recently about the National Theatre's production, which was described as "the justly neglected classic". I think that the Highway Code is an unjustly neglected one. We issue 1,250,000 of them each year to applicants for provisional licences. There is some hope that some of them read something about it. Certainly they have to answer questions about it during the driving test. We are also spending about £1 million a year on pedestrian publicity, which is the context in which the point was raised, mainly on the Green Cross Code. The hon. Gentleman made the point about the use of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre at Swansea to send out reminders. Certainly I undertake to consider that.
As for the hon. Gentleman's detailed points on the code, as opposed to those general issues, he raised the familiar topic about children on the back seats of cars and not the front seats. It is very difficult to legislate on this subject, but it is covered in Rule 27 of the proposed Highway Code. I hesitate to suggest that it is unread by the hon. Gentleman, but it is covered to some extent there. Seat belts are also referred to in Rule 27.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that motor cycle training should be made compulsory, Training of this kind is expensive to make compulsory, and we think that it would be of doubtful value. We prefer to think in terms of giving more information about voluntary training schemes such as those run by the RAC 168 and the schools traffic education programme. I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. However, making training of this kind compulsory on a wider scale runs up against public expenditure problems. I think that we must do all that we can to extend voluntary systems and give them greater emphasis.
As for the disabled, Rule 113 mentions orange badges. I take the point which the hon. Gentleman made generally about the problems of the disabled. I am well aware of them.
The speech of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) was extremely interesting and he made a number of useful suggestions. He asked a specific question about anti-jack-knifing devices for heavy goods vehicles. About 95 per cent. of all articulated vehicles sold in the country have load-sensing devices which reduce the likely chance of jackknifing. Anti-lock brake devices are being developed, and we look forward to their being in more widespread use. These devices are being considered in possible regulations internationally, and presumably they will eventually have some application in this country. They need a little more testing before we decide to go further.
The MOT test is to be extended from 1st January to cover seat belts, windscreen wipers and washers and indicators. There will be almost immediate progress in this area.
Crawler lanes on motorways are provided when the gradient makes them appropriate.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to horses. Although I live in a rural constituency, my lack of knowledge of these animals is considerable. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that there is a balance of opinion and I believe that the horse world is divided on the issue. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point. He obviously cares a great deal about this matter.
I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that I am not responsible for the printing of the London Gazette. However, I recognise the important point he was making and I shall refer it to one of my hon. Friends.
The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) made useful points about parking on hard shoulders and giving way at 169 roundabouts. I cannot give him a clear answer now, but I have noted what he said.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
A number of people seem to be too idle to take their cars off the streets. They seem to believe that the streets were made for them alone. Will my hon. Friend consider legislation to prohibit people from using the street as a park for private cars or lorries, particularly when there are drives alongside houses and the people concerned are simply too idle to take their vehicles off the road? May we have something done to stop these people from hogging the roads?
§ Mr. Horam
It is the general impression that everyone may park outside his own house and has a perfect right to do so. That is not the case. There is some very bad behaviour and I shall look into my hon. Friend's suggestion. We do not want to go too far because of the massive number of regulations which would be needed to follow through his comments, and I do not want to make too many regulations. We already have a considerable number in relation to parking.
My hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) made a number of points, with which we were all sympathetic, about disabled pedestrians, particularly at crossings. I take his point and remind him that we now have bleepers to help blind people on some pelican crossings. We are making some progress in that direction at least. I note my hon. Friend's suggestion that it would help disabled people if there were no kerbs at crossings.
The hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Sir J. Langford-Holt) apologised to me for having to leave the debate. He made a valuable point about the length of the Highway Code, but the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn) suggested various additional matters which it could include—and which would have lengthened it. This is the eternal dilemma with the Highway Code.
The hon. Member for Hallam suggested as a way out of this problem that some of the information about which he was understandably concerned should be made available to the public in another form. I draw his attention to the "Driving" 170 manual, a thicker document which includes some of the information to which he referred. There is a continual problem in trying to make the code short and simple while including all those items which we think appropriate.
§ Mr. John H. Osborn
I was referred to the manual when I first raised this matter 10 years ago, but I wonder how many drivers even know of its existence. I have an old copy in my library. I must now bring it up to date.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I think that the point made by my hon. Friend about bus lanes is valid. This is a new important matter which should be explained. I never understood why a couple of inches of type and a picture needed to be given to parked ice cream vans. I should have thought the bus lanes were far more important.
§ Mr. Horam
I am not sure whether the amount of space we could save by missing out the item on parked ice cream vans would enable us to get in all that the hon. Gentleman wants about bus lanes, roundabouts, and so on. Nevertheless, I take the point.
The hon. Member for Hallam referred to international comparisons and asked what amount of consultation went on and whether international standards were broadly in line. There is considerable international consultation on road safety matters and the specific contents of highway codes. We are now broadly in line with other countries in this respect. Indeed, the tendency is for highway codes to become more similar as general knowledge increases, although there are idiosyncrasies from country to country.
§ Mr. John H. Osborn
I referred to the use of headlights. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman would prefer to answer that question on another occasion. Does he think that that matter should be dealt with in the code? It may be that he would prefer to answer that question later.
§ Mr. Horam
I should prefer to write to the hon. Gentleman about that. It raises a number of complex issues which I should not like to attempt to encapsulate in my remarks now. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall write to him.
The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) made an interesting speech in which he indicated his special knowledge of driving instructors and made a number of useful suggestions, most of which I take on board. The legal position of and the demands made on the motorist which are now in the Highway Code will be continued. A section at the back will explain, in as simple terms as possible, the general legal position facing the motorist.
The hon. Member for Southgate made an extremely well-informed speech, taking in matters going back a number of years. I felt a positive tiro compared with the depth of knowledge he revealed and the number of points that he made. I counted no fewer than 25. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman counted them. They were extremely numerous. I know that, as he said, he will not expect me to speak to them all this evening. I shall write to him and cover as many as I can. It will be a long letter and it may be some time before it comes, but I shall endeavour to meet his points. I appreciate the serious interest shown by the hon. Gentleman.
The timing of the publication of the new code depends on it receiving approval in both Houses. We have to go to another place for consideration of these revised proposals. We shall then need approval of the ultimately revised text by both Houses. All I can say is that it will be at some stage in 1977. I cannot say more than that now.
Finally, I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their comments on the document. We have had a good example of the House of Commons, in a remarkably sane way after the earlier debates in this Chamber today, exercising its collective wisdom.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Paper on A Proposed New Highway Code.