HC Deb 10 June 1985 vol 80 cc629-31
10. Mr. Knowles

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement about his Department's programme of research to improve road safety.

Mrs. Chalker

We have an active programme of research into a variety of road safety issues, including vehicle and highway design, as well as road user behaviour. I am currently reviewing our priorities for the next few years.

Mr. Knowles

Will my hon. Friend confirm that pai of the plan covers highway engineering, which is o importance to all constituencies and to all hon. Member who represent constituencies close to the Ml?

Mrs. Chalker

This is a matter of concern to everybody, wherever they live or do their constituent work. In addition to the £1-6 million out of the total of general highway engineering research, other research i going on in the Transport and Road Research Laboratory We are carrying out extramural research with various universities and others because we want to keep the position that we have achieved of having some of the best highway engineering in the world.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Is the Minister examining the safety of public service vehicles in the light of recent coach accidents? For instance, is it possible to consider whether anti-roll bars should be insisted on? If so, what possibility is there of legislation that might bring them into effect as soon as possible?

Mrs. Chalker

I understand the hon. Gentleman'; concern, because I share it. He will know that we have been discussing coach safety with the working group i: Europe, because not just British coaches but coaches from all over Europe and beyond are involved. We an progressing on two fronts: first, the provision of anti..roll bar equipment; and, secondly, seats against which any passenger might be thrown and the provision of belts in the front. There is also the provision for drivers. So far we have not reached agreement, but we are pressing on as fas as we can.

Mr. Churchill

In view of the success of the introduction of compulsory seat belts in private motor vehicles, how long will it be before there will be at least the provision of seat belts in public transport vehicles?

Mrs. Chalker

There is nothing to stop an operator putting at least a lap belt in a public service vehicle, However, the problem is that there is no central gangway support to which one could attach a shoulder belt, which is the safest belt of all. That is why we have been actively pursuing rsearch on the seat strengths to hold passengers in. I cannot give my hon. Friend an exact time, but we are discussing this in the high-level working group.

Mr. Leadbitter

Has the Minister considered the considerable contribution to road safety that can come from the construction of concrete barriers? Has her Department examined that possibility; and, if so, have any recommendations been made to the local authorities which may be concerned with the problem?

Mrs. Chalker

I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to central reservation barriers. The laboratory at Crowthorne has looked at these, but they have not been found to be as safe as we believed. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about the latest position on road safety barriers.

Mr. Ward

Is my hon. Friend aware that road safety between London and east Dorset has been considerably improved by the opening of the extension of the M3? Is she further aware that those who use that road regularly congratulate both her and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on their persistence in getting this important section of road opened at last?

Mrs. Chalker

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks, but I can only repeat that any road can only be as safe as the drivers upon it. They have to drive within the limitation of their vehicles and the road and weather conditions of the day.

Mr. Stott

What steps is the Minister prepared to take to enforce the reduction of spray from heavy lorries? She will be aware of products on the market that are specifically designed as spray suppressant units. A number of them are very good. They substantially reduce the levels of spray generated by lorries on the motorway. Is it not time that she brought forward construction and use regulations to compel manufacturers and owners of lorries to fix spray suppressant units to their tractors and trailers to cut down the amount of spray that is generated on our motorways?

Mrs. Chalker

In the past 12 months I have brought in construction and use regulations to require the need to fit spray suppression equipment. As time passes and greater experience of such equipment is gained, I am sure that there will be a case for tightening up those regulations and possibly for extending the fitting of this equipment to other types of vehicles, which is not required at present.