§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Mather.]9.35 am
§ The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)
I am certain that the whole House welcomes the opportunity for the debate. May I give the House the apologies for absence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who is in Brussels. It was important that he should remain there to the end of the meeting because, among other issues, there is a discussion on European Road Safety Year.
I am glad to note that in the last few seconds the Chamber has filled up a little, and that those who are concerned with and are knowledgeable about the awful problems of road safety are now here. But it is sad that, whereas disasters capture the big headlines in the newspapers, as do statements and private notice questions on such matters, the fact that on average 15 people are killed on the roads every day of the year goes without mention. I know that it is Friday and I understand hon. Members' problems. When we are dealing with matters of disaster and blood and thunder they are in all the newspapers, but the daily tragedies, each affecting a single family, get only a small reference in the local newspaper.
The most avoidable way of dying is in a road accident, if only people can be persuaded to take greater care on the roads, whether they be on their feet or on wheels. I have spent considerable periods of my adult life in seeking to help disabled people. It is still a major part of my job at the Department of Transport, as well as one of my major personal interests. We are seeking to prevent disability and I shall go on seeking to do that in the Department, as well as helping those who have been affected by it.
Throughout Parliament there is much interest in the problem. There is rather less interest in the press, judging by the Press Gallery this morning. Nevertheless, I hope that the press will do the subject proud today, because we need to get through to those millions of people who let their minds wander when they are at the wheel of a lethal vehicle exactly how dangerous they may be.
There is much knowledge and expertise gathered here today, and I should like to pay credit to all the committees concerned with road safety. There is the all-party transport safety group, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), who is in his place today; the parliamentary advisory committee for transport safety, PACTS, with its joint chairmen, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox); and, above all, the Select Committee on Transport. I should like to pay a tribute to the late Harry Cowans, who led that 788 Committee so well. We miss him greatly, but we know that the new Chairman, the hon. Member for Sunderland. South (Mr. Bagier), who I hope will join us today in our deliberations, will carry on the first-class work that is reflected in the report.
It would do every one good to read the Select Committee's report. It provides detailed analysis of virtually every aspect of road safety problems and contains over 40 recommendations. I have already made clear in our formal response how much the Government welcome the report. We wholeheartedly accept much of the analysis and the majority of the conclusions. The reaction to the report shows how deeply the House is committed to dealing with the problems. But do people outside the House realise that every week sees the equivalent of five jumbo jet loads of people killed and seriously injured on this country's roads? Such a toll demands urgent action, not just by the Government but by all of us.
Let us consider the size of the problem that we are facing. In 1984 the cost of road traffic accidents was 2,650 million wasted pounds. I say "cost" with due care because the cost of people being killed or injured is far greater than any monetary amount could ever mean. Yet casualties that year were at the second lowest figures, after 1983, since 1958, although traffic has increased by 158 per cent. since then. In 1984 there was a 4 per cent. increase in traffic and a 1 per cent. increase in the casualty rate per mile travelled compared with the previous year. We have got the number of deaths down from almost 8,000 in 1965 to 5,600 in 1984. We have got the pedestrian deaths down from 3,100 to 1,850. Casualties overall are down as well. However, we still have a major problem.
For every death on our motorways there are 29 on our other roads. Those are the ones that are so often forgotten, except by the family who are bereaved and the company that loses its key worker. We have problems with pedestrian fatalities. I am worried about the way in which child pedestrian and elderly pedestrian figures have risen, but since 1974 pedestrian casualties have fallen by 15 per cent.
Pedal cyclists also give rise to problems and concern. We must focus on the increase of 56 per cent. in pedal cycle traffic and 63 per cent. in casualties over the 10-uear period up to last year. We have got motor cycle casualties down, but that does not alter the fact that too many young men and women are still avoidably injured or killed.
I should like to refer to our general approach to road safety. In its report, the Select Committee rightly noted that, despite a large increase in the volume of traffic over the past decade or so, we have seen a substantial reduction in the number and severity of road casualties. There is no single reason for that, but a whole range of factors at work. We have much improved road systems, including our motorways. We have an increasingly stringent vehicle standards. We have legislation on drinking and driving. We have helmets for motor cyclists. We have increasing amount of local authority accident investigation and precention schemes. We have the green cross code for children and much input in the schools to help them.
In a few weeks the House will have a full opportunity to assess the contribution to safety made by car seat belts. We shall discuss whether compulsory wearing should be made permanent. That is a vital and separate issue, and deserves a debate of its own.
We can be encouraged by the progress that we have achieved so far and by the fact that the United Kingdom 789 shows up well in most international comparisons. However, I am not content to let things rest as they are, with the number of casualties and deaths on our roads, because I am convinced that we can do better.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)
The House will know that nobody more than my hon. Friend deserves credit from both sides of the House for the interest that she is taking in the problem. A few months ago she gave me an affirmative answer to the following proposition: will she ensure that road safety and the rules for those who carry passengers on our roads are regulated by Parliament with exactly the same safety standards in mind as we have applied for well over 150 years to other forms of transport carrying fare-paying passengers? Does my hon. Friend accept that until we do that we shall not solve the problem?
§ Mrs. Chalker
I know my hon. Friend's concern about the matter. Where investigations are necessary, they are always carried out, but formalised systems are not always the quickest way of doing what my hon. Friend is asking for.
The Select Committee report has performed an important service. It presents four main worrying problems—the appalling rate at which young motor cyclists are still being killed or maimed; the intractable problem of drinking and driving; the rising trend in bicycle casualties; and the vulnerability of pedestrians, which is the only area in which the United Kingdom shows up badly in comparison with other countries. That is why the concern of millions of people throughout the country has increased. I know that from my postbag.
Concern has grown, yet the personal responsibility to correct the situation does not seem to have grown in tandem with it. The Department can deliver endless technical improvements, be it to the road or the vehicle, but only the will of people to change their behaviour will make a significant further difference in the reduction of casualties.
How will we best tackle those problems? The Government are already carrying out an internal review of road safety policy, which is a major undertaking involving all the relevant Government Departments. It is aimed at formulating a continuing programme of action to reduce road casualties now and over the next 10 years. We have not yet completed the review, but certain fundamental considerations are already clear.
Two matters are of crucial significance when it comes to selecting proposals for action. First, the proposals must, as far as possible, be based on thorough research and hard evidence, not supposition, not intuition and not anecdote. The research must not be used as an excuse for delay. However, I am in no doubt that the chances of making a real impact on road accident problems will increase in direct proportion to our detailed understanding of the problem and the likely effect of particular countermeasures. That is why the Transport and Road Research Laboratory is bringing together leading experts to take forward the long-term programme on behavioural research. We need to do much greater analysis of the factors at work in individual accidents. Without the hard facts and their analysis, we should simply go round in circles and not saving lives.
The second and even more important fact is working out measures to improve road safety. We must be in 790 constant touch with the way in which ordinary people see the problems and how much support they will give to particular solutions. People want safer roads, but they also want personal mobility, and a great deal more of it. They want a choice of transport to meet their personal needs. They want to travel quickly and conveniently. They expect their goods and services to be delivered promptly. The question is how far those same people are willing to have those benefits curbed in the interests of greater road safety. That is the nub of the problem. We cannot assume that the answer they give will coincide with the views of the road safety professional or the road safety expert in the House of Commons—we have many of them.
It is clearer now than ever before that many, perhaps most, of the potential solutions to the problems of road casualties have a cost—much more than the purely financial cost. That cost involves some restriction on individual freedom. Some people will argue that the only way to reduce motor cycle casualties is to ban motor cycles, or at least to impose some draconian measures. Try telling that to the thousands of young people who value their bikes as an inexpensive passport to mobility and one that often allows them to take a job further from home than would otherwise be possible. We cannot hope to resolve these problems by imposing draconian measures. There is no simple answer. I firmly believe that we shall go much further if we take people along with us. If this involves regulation and restriction, we must clearly show people why it is in their interest to go along with that regulation and restriction.
The immediate priorities for action come from the road safety review, which is looking with a fairly long-term perspective at a wide area. A number of important developments are taking place in key areas. The first is in the law. As the first motor vehicle users had great faith in the law as an aid to road safety, it is not surprising that we look to the law again now. In practice, our present road traffic law has many critics. The courts regard it as overcomplicated and badly structured; the police find it difficult to enforce; ordinary people feel that it is unfair and apparently capricious in its effects; and many wonder whether it is serving the cause of road safety in the best and most effective way. That is why the review by Dr. North and his colleagues is so important. It was established this year to examine the road traffic law to ascertain how far it can be improved in terms of simplicity, acceptability and effectiveness. That is a formidable task, not least because those criteria may not always be readily compatible with each other. I am sure that it is worth attempting. There has been unanimous approval from outside for the establishment of the review. I commend the comprehensive consultation document which was published at the end of July. It will be extremely important for all of those concerned with road safety to study that document and to offer their views.
The second area of immediate action is the publicity programme. The £3 million budget for road safety publicity is not as large as many would like, but it is a substantial outlay and, as with any marketing effort, it is what is done with it that is important. We want to ensure that we get the best possible return. This year we have introduced important changes. There is a new style of campaign. Instead of separate bursts of publicity scattered throughout the year, there is a rolling programme with changing themes designed to keep road safety continuously in the public eye. Hon. Members will have seen 791 the results of programme in posters on the streets and on the backs of buses with a coherent message at the bottom of the posters. "Be safe, be seen." is one example.
We are planning the publicity campaign in much closer partnership with local authorities, where appropriate, especially with police forces. They have a vital role to play in getting the message across at the local level. Police involvement is especially important in the forthcoming drink-driving publicity which will emphasise the firm police commitment to enforce the law against drunken drivers. That campaign will not be announced until December, but I assure the House that a great deal of hard work has gone into making that campaign hard hitting.
§ Mr. Conal Gregory (York)
Will the programme be based on my hon. Friend's immediate past campaign or on the campaigns in previous years stressing that drink should have no bearing on driving and driving no bearing on drink rather than on the razzmatazz marketing of "Stay low" which had a singular lack of success?
§ Mrs. Chalker
If my hon. Friend reads what I said a few moments ago, he will see that we have totally changed the basis of the publicity to a rolling programme with a different impact. I do not want to announce the campaign this morning, so I shall decline to take up my hon. Friend's provocative points. I assure him that it will be a hard-hitting campaign. The police have told me that they will be happy to co-operate in it to the utmost—[Interruption.] I shall not get involved in the private debate that is going on.
§ Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)
Would bumper stickers on cars provided on a give-away basis by my hon. Friend's Department be effective pubicity, not least to deter motor cyclists from weaving inbetween moving vehicles?
§ Mrs. Chalker
I hope that in our desire to get the message across we shall not have too many messages in too many places. I am concerned that already many cars have far too much of their rear screens obliterated by stickers. If the notice was sufficiently large—for example, "Keep your distance", which is one of the campaign messages—and was given out to everyone, we might exacerbate the problem. We are working on the problem of motor cyclists who weave in and out of the traffic. If I can give my right hon. Friend more information soon, I shall do so.
§ Mr. Ted Garrett (Wallsend)
Does the hon. Lady agree that the suggestion by the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) was rather fatuous because it would create a hazard? Any sticker limits the motorist's vision. If it is not big enough, it encourages the motorist behind to get closer, thereby creating further risks.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I am obviously reluctant to encourage the use of stickers on the backs of cars, because they distract people's concentration. It can also be counterproductive. My right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, who has a fine record in these matters, commented on the way in which some motor cyclists weave in and out of traffic because he is as worried as I am. We are taking up that matter with the quick delivery firms to improve the situation.
This debate is important also with respect to vehicle standards. One of the main factors underlying improvements in road safety in recent years has been the process 792 of making motor vehicles safer. That is going on all the time. The work is technical, it is relatively unspectacular and depends heavily on negotiation and agreement with international partners, but it is no less important for all that. The process covers virtually all vehicle types, from the smallest motor vehicles to the heaviest lorries. It ranges from immediate questions such as the fitting of rear seat belts in cars—we issued proposals for consultation on this matter and are now considering the responses—through to longer-term research on how vehicles can be designed to minimise pedestrian injuries if a pedestrian comes in contact with a vehicle.
Of topical interest is the package of coach safety measures, including the internationally agreed standards on roof strength, the proposals for seat belt on certain vulnerable seats, more emergency exits on double-deck coaches and specified standards of fire-retardant materials.
Local initiatives are another important aspect. I am afraid that, in discussions on the scope for further progress on road safety, attention always tends to focus on the role of central Government—on the need for further legislation and action directed from the centre and the need for national publicity. Of course those are all important issues which we must examine thoroughly. However, there is another approach to road safety, one which research by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory suggests may well assume increasing importance in our fight against death and maiming. This approach regards road safety not as a single national problem but as a series of local ones with micro rather than macro solutions. Indeed, the solutions are sometimes so micro that they involve no more than a change of road junction layout or the resiting of a pedestrian crossing.
For more than 10 years, local authorities have had a statutory duty to promote road safety. They are therefore involved in many activities. But none is more important than engineering for road safety. Local authorities' main tool is the accident investigation and prevention technique developed by my Department. It provides a rational framework for identifying hazards and removing them by small engineering works. AIP has already made an impact, but it still has a long way to go. I hope that more local authorities will be ready to take up that approach. There are worthwhile benefits to be had. Although the savings are still spread widely, they add up to a sizeable reduction in road accidents. Right hon. and hon. Members can help greatly in that process.
We all know of the problems associated with motorways as we all use them, but, in purely statistical terms, they are seven times safer then other roads. Moreover, for every motorway death, there are 29 on other roads. Hon. Members and the public are still worried about the recent serious motorway accidents. I have not yet received the final report on the terrible M6 crash, so we are not yet able to draw firm conclusions from it. We are all worried about the hazards that excessive speeds can cause in poor conditions. We know that only a minority of drivers exceed the speed limit, but they imperil the majority. There are perfectly safe stretches of motorway on which it is impossible to envisage an accident except for a momentary loss of concentration and speeding.
My Department's speed surveys have produced some hard facts to confirm our impressions. The last two show that a quarter of the coaches on motorways exceed 70 mph. When, two years ago, I challenged the Bus and Coach Council on the subject, it agreed to institute a code of 793 conduct which we all hoped would improve matters. It would have been better from every point of view if the industry had put its own house in order. I can give credit to the many responsible companies that have made strenuous efforts to introduce strict management controls necessary to conform with the code of conduct, and I should like to praise the great majority of responsible coach drivers who do not flout speed limits and give a first-class service to the travelling public, but they have been let down by an irresponsible minority.
It is simply no practical to police the motorways completely to deter that minority. To do that we should have to have a policeman every mile, which would take them away from other work. We have therefore been forced to consider general regulatory measures. The Liberal party has made it clear that it would impose a 60 mph limit on coaches and deny them the use of the outside lane on dual and three-lane motorways. The Government believe—my consultations with the Association of Chief Police Officers show it—that such restrictions could be counter-productive. By contrast with heavy goods vehicles, coaches are extremely manoeuvrable. They can move quickly—often too quickly—and safely from one lane to another if properly driven. We want to get at those who do not drive properly. If we confine coaches to the near-side or centre lane, we might add to the hazards caused by bunching and tail-gating, and anything that increases the likelihood of convoys is undesirable. We have all been in the centre lane overtaking a slow vehicle when a large vehicle comes up behind—
§ Mrs. Chalker
The same would happen if we restricted coaches to the centre and inside lanes. Private motorists would be pushed into the offside lane even if they did not want to be there, and they would be forced to exceed the speed limit. We must not create new problems for private motorists or adversely affect coach services. The solution must affect all coach operators, not just the responsible majority.
The right way to proceed is to enforce a 70 mph limit on coaches by requiring them to be fitted with speed governors that are sealed and made as tamper-proof as possible. Speed-limiting devices are already available and being tried by several coach operators. They can be set to regulate the flow of fuel so that engine assistance is cut out at a pre-set speed. My Department will start discussions with vehicle and equipment manufacturers and coach operators to develop this proposal and to work out at quickly as possible a timetable and a suitable technical specification the discussions will cover all relevant aspects of the devices, including their effectiveness at controlling maximum speeds accurately, their fail-safe characteristics and arrangements or making them completely tamperproof. Such equipment would have later to be fitted to all public service vehicles that use motorways and are capable of more than 70 mph. We estimate that there are about 30,000 such vehicles. A programme will have to be 794 worked out carefully in discussion with the industry. It will take some time, but my Department will make every effort to ensure that the discussions are sucessful. Such equipment will represent a considerable investment, but it is the only certain way to deal with the problem of speeding by a minority of coach drivers. If the matter is not put in order, we shall have to consider other measures.
§ Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)
I congraulate my hon. Friend on this splendid proposal. It is not a new idea but something that she has worked on for the past three years. Three years ago we talked to her about the matter, since when she has had studies made. I am sure that her proposal will help greatly.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
Speed regulators are being used on coaches between London and Oxford, which is a frequent service. It is a proven technique. I also congratulate the Minister.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) and to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross). This is the best way to proceed. It is important to make the governors tamperproof. We now have far better governors, so it is right to consult on the matter.
§ Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)
I have doubts about the efficacy of such a measure, for while it may control coach drivers who are tempted to do more than 70 mph, it will do nothing to solve the problem of coaches and other vehicles speeding in reduced speed limit conditions on motorways, such as in fog or contraflow situations. How does the hon. Lady intend to tackle that problem?
I was pleased that the hon. Lady said that only a minority of drivers were guilty of careless or reckless driving on motorways. She will agree that the vast majority of coach drivers do a good job, often in difficult conditions. Will she consider, as one other method of tackling the problem, taking action against firms whose drivers are repeatedly found speeding? Taking action against their employers would be one way to stop drivers speeding.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I am informed that speed governors are more effective than they were even a couple of years ago. They have improved greatly. The hon. Gentleman is right to say, as I said, that only a minority exceed the speed limit. However, they give everybody else a bad name and cause problems for all. I also have under consideration the question of operators, but I wish today to announce the first move, one which I hope will encourage coach operators, as it were, to put their own speeds in order.
Bad road conditions present us with a different situation. We must motivate not just coach drivers but all drivers to slow down, keep their distance and not tail-gate. One of the most dangerous actions in fog is for drivers to sit on the tail of the vehicle in front.
We have received the results of the fog study and are considering warning devices and other ways of supplying information about fog. The study carried out by the Meteorological Office to identify the more fog-prone lengths of the M25 is being discussed with the AA, RAC, road haulage organisations and others, and we shall make it generally available. We are determined to deal with the technical problem of getting the information across. However, we cannot, as the Government or as individual 795 hon. Members, deal with the need for drivers to take in that information and make the necessary changes in driving behaviour in bad conditions.
While recognising the anxiety that is felt about motorway accidents, I urge hon. Members to deal with the reality of the situation to which I referred at the outset. For every motorway death, there are 29 deaths on other roads. The challenge is to reduce that figure, too. However much attention the media may give to one horrific acccident, the fact remains that most casualties arise in circumstances that are not the stuff of big headlines in the national dailies—the pedestrian in a suburban street, the child knocked off his bike on the way to school, or the motor cycle and car in collision at an awkward junction. That type of everyday accident lies behind most of the casualty figures. We must deal with those matters also if we are to reduce the accident figures.
The solution may in many cases turn out to be just as unspectacular as the circumstances of accidents. At the local end, it may need nothing more than a new road alignment to give drivers better sight lines, the provision of a zebra crossing or traffic island or a modest scheme to reduce vehicle speeds in a residential area. At the other end of the scale, we may be referring to steady progress, for example, on better braking standards for motor cycles or the development of a pedestrian-friendly vehicle bumper or front.
All the evidence suggests that greater safety on roads will depend as much on that sort of activity, however humdrum and well outside the attention of the media, as on the headline-catching initiatives of central Government. I hope that the Transport Select Committee, which recognised that in its report, will be able to help us to do what every hon. Member wants to do, and that is to reduce the number of road accidents and the avoidable loss of life and maiming.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
I join the Minister in paying tribute to the former Chairman of the Transport Select Committee, Mr. Harry Cowans, who was not only a political colleague but a personal friend. Like me, and, coincidentally, the present Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier), Harry Cowans was a railwayman until his election to this House, which made him one of a dwindling band. I know that I speak for hon. Members on both sides when I say that he will be sorely and sadly missed and that his tragic and early death has robbed the House of a fine friend and colleague and a great parliamentarian.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South for his able chairmanship of the Select Committee and, indeed, for initiating this debate, for I understand that his letter was responsible for the debate being staged. Many of the Committee's recommendations are, and will prove to be, valuable in the framing of future legislation.
Road safety is an issue that we debate infrequently—I cannot recall when we last had a debate on the subject—yet the appalling tragedy of the 5,500 road deaths anually has been brought home to me in a personal way on two occasions this year. First, I attended a meeting at a school in my constituency two weeks ago in connection with a road on which there had been two tragic accidents in recent months. Secondly, in the terrible accident on the 796 M6, to which the Minister referred, a political colleague and former agent of mine in a local government election and his wife were killed. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have a duty—because this is not a party political subject—to do all they can to tackle the appalling problem of road deaths.
I will pick out a few of the Select Committee's recommendations and examine the Government's response to them to see, first, whether the recommendations are correct in the view of most hon. Members and, secondly, whether the response of the Government is adequate. Recommendation (iii) states:
The Department should give further consideration to the suggestion of the Association of Chief Police Officers for a somewhat longer test which includes a section of dual carriageway driving.It is clear that, whatever the response of the Department, it must be concerned about cost. It would be hypocritical of us not to bear that aspect in mind, because inevitably a longer driving test which met the requirements of the Select Committee would lead to the recruitment of more driving instructors and, therefore, place an additional financial burden on the Department. Nevertheless—I express a personal view—I hope that hon. Members will agree that the present driving test is not adequate.
The driving test was devised about 50 years ago. It has changed little over the years, although road conditions have drastically altered. Perhaps it is simply that I am getting older, but driving seems to become more of a strain as the years go by. The fact that the driving test has remained largely unchanged probably lies behind the Committee's recommendation. I agree that a driving test around the back streets of an urban area which qualifies people to drive on dual carriageways and motorways is, in this day and age, undesirable and inadequate.
The Minister mentioned tail-gating on motorways. Like her, I use the motorways frequently. I think that some of the greatest menaces on Britain's motorways do not speed but meander at 50 mph in the middle lane. Although we must all be worried about the speed of heavy goods vehicles and coaches, I cannot but sympathise with professional drivers, particularly of heavy goods vehicles which are confined to the two left-hand lanes, who are frustrated by the meanderers.
Perhaps the Department will consider launching a campaign to convince people who hog the centre lane that the left-hand lane not the slow lane but the lane on which we should all drive when it is clear. Unless a publicity campaign is launched, the drivers of heavy goods vehicles will continue to be frustrated and this will continue to be reflected in their driving habits. A change in the driving test would be valuable, although I appreciate that it would cost money.
The Select Committee's recommendation (v) states:The Department of Transport, in association with RoSPA and the Institute of Advanced Motorists, should give serious thought to methods of increasing the popularity of advanced driving tests.The Department could play a part by urging motorists to test their own driving standards. That could help to eradicate the bad habits that we are all inclined to acquire over the years.
Recommendation (vi) concerns the standard of motor cycle instruction. More research is needed. For many young people the first opportunity for personal mobility is the acquisition of a motor cycle. In my day it was possible 797 to ride a motor cycle at the age of 16, but the experience of hitting the ground on a couple of occasions soon cured me of that enthusiasm. Of course, we deplore bad riding, particularly in our cities by those who work for delivery companies. Many such motor cyclists appear to care little for their own lives and limbs. More research is needed into whether it would be useful for more continuous training to be given to young motor cyclists when they first acquire their machines.
Recommendation (xi) states:The minimum legal standards of lighting for bicycles should be strictly enforced by the police.The police appear to regard stopping people riding bicycles without lights as being beneath them. The police often take no action against people riding without lights. We have debated cyclists' problems in the House and in the Select Committee. A small minority of cyclists appear to believe that none of the rules of the road applies to them. They rarely stop at traffic lights, they never stop at pedestrian crossings, and sometimes they knock down hon. Members. The Select Committee is right to highlight the problem.
I wish that Select Committees would drop the habit of using roman numerals for their recommendations. I find the instant translations extremely difficult. However, recommendation (xv) states:The threshold blood alcohol level for identifying drivers who are potentially suffering from a drinking problem should be re-examined at an early stage.The Department should re-examine the recommendations of the Blennerhasset committee. Public opinion generally is not in favour of random breath tests, but the present law needs to be re-examined if we are to tackle that severe problem.
Recommendation (xix) states:For a trial period the motorway speed limit should be raised to 80 mph.I am sure that the majority of hon. Members will agree with the Department and resist that proposal. Some motoring fanatics appear to believe that, because motor cars are designed to travel much faster than the present legal speed limit, the limit should be raised. There is a problem of enforcement. I should be less than honest—and nobody would believe me anyway—if I said that I never break the speed limit. However, the best deterrent is a visible police presence. I accept that it is impossible for policemen to be posted at one mile intervals, yet it appears to be impossible to have a police presence for every 50 miles of motorway.
With the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) I appeared on a Thames Television programme a couple of weeks ago when a senior police officer warned that, because of financial restrictions, he was unable properly to police sections of the M25, which is likely to be one of the busiest motorways in Europe. Although it is obviously desirable to have a properly paid police force, that is not much use if financial restrictions prevent the police from doing their job properly. The sight of a police Land-rover on a hump at the side of a motorway brings about a remarkable improvement in driving standards, which falls away over the next two or three miles once it is apparent that the vehicle is remaining stationary rather than chasing speeding motorists.
§ Mr. Parris
The point of a police Land-rover in iridescent dayglow orange is that it slows everyone down 798 until it is out of sight again. I have never understood why a police presence is best made visible. Why are there no invisible speed traps on motorways? Surely it is better for people to know that at any point there might be a police speed trap.
§ Mr. Snape
The best deterrent to bad and illegal driving is a visible police presence. The humps at the side of the motorways are a good idea. A police vehicle, even when stationary, has a salutary effect on speeding drivers and those who weave from lane to lane. I am glad that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) approves of iridescent dayglow red or orange. Perhaps his Labour opponent will take the tip and print his posters for the next general election in iridescent dayglow red. It is not necessarily unmarked police cars that are needed on motorways, but more a marked and obvious police presence. The purpose is deterrence rather than convictions. I think that I take both sides of the House with me when I say that a police presence is what is required.
The Select Committee makes the fairly controversial recommendation to raise the speed limit to 80 mph. I think that most people know that it is unlikely that the police will proceed against motorists who exceed the speed limit by up to 10 mph. Therefore, 80 mph will soon become 90. There is a speedometer calibration problem—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) seems to take these matters as fit subjects for some levity. He knows very well that 80 mph would be semi-automatically exceeded by a large proportion of motorists because of the problems of speedometer calibration. Motorists know that they are unlikely to be prosecuted for speeds of up to 10 mph over the legal limit. For that reason, the recommendation of the Select Committee ought to be resisted.
There might also be a case for reconsidering speed limits in urban areas. I do not think that a blanket 30 mph in this day and age is necessarily correct. There might be cases, particularly on housing estates, where a speed of 20 mph might be more appropriate. In various countries, 30 mph is seen as being too fast for housing areas. I agree that there would be a problem of enforcement, and for that reason alone I should have thought that the police would resist such a measure.
§ Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a multiplicity of speed limits would be even more confusing for the motorist? What we need to do—and I am delighted to hear him say it—is to deter, rather than punish, the motorist who breaks the law. If the law is too complicated, the tendency is for more motorists to break it.
§ Mr. Snape
I concede that that is a relevant point, but we already have a multiplicity of speed limits. We have 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70 mph, so I do not necessarily agree with the hon. Gentleman that a lower speed limit would be more confusing. I am not suggesting that we apply such a limit overnight, but I am asking the Department to look into these matters, because I am not sure—I am speaking personally—that a blanket 30 mph is the right limit for all our urban areas.
I think that both sides of the House will welcome the Minister's announcement about the fitting of speed limiters to public service vehicles. I do not know why we stop there. There is a good case for fitting speed limiters to heavy goods vehicles, because a minority—I stress a 799 minority—of heavy goods vehicle drivers move from lane to lane either without signalling or after signalling at the last moment, and harass motorists in front of them by the practice of tail-gating. Some HGV drivers have a habit of accelerating to close the gap between themselves and the vehicle in front if they see a private car approaching on the outside. Many of them drive in convoys. I can understand that drivers who work for the same company like to meet arid chat and stay close to one another, but I do not see that it is necessary for them to do so when they are driving, particularly when being close to one another means, in some cases, leaving only six or eight feet between the rear of one lorry and the bonnet of another.
I am familiar with the argument of the road haulage industry about the fitting of speed limiters to heavy goods vehicles. It would say that more research is needed. The road lobby generally is extremely effective in its propaganda. It was Max Hastings in The London Standard—he is no Left-winger—who referred to the "detestable road lobby". I would not go that far, because I do not want to disturb the comparative tranquillity of our debate, but that lobby has been effective in resisting most measures over the years. It has resisted principally on the ground of cost, but quite often on the ground that more research is needed.
It is more than 20 years since I drove a 10-ton AEC lorry during my Army days. It was fitted with a speed limiter which limited the speed to 28 mph. That was frustrating for a youthful tearaway, as I was in those days.
§ Mr. Snape
I am flattered that the hon. Lady still thinks that I am. I fear that that is the least accurate remark that she has made today.
The speed limiter worked well in the 1960s, and I cannot understand the view of the road lobby that more research is needed before the device can be fitted. While welcoming what the hon. Lady has said, I do not believe that she has gone far enough. There is a good argument for the use of such limiters in heavy goods vehicles.
In 1983, the last full year for which figures are available, heavy goods vehicles were involved in 13,504 accidents involving personal injury. We all know that for a car driver an impact with a heavy goods vehicle is likely to be serious, if not fatal. For that reason alone, we should do more about such vehicles.
It has been a deliberate act of policy by the Government to bring about the proliferation of heavy lorries. They have twice increased the weight limits, and I confidently predict that there will be another attempt to increase lorry weight from the present 38-tonne limit in the near future. They have once increased lorry speeds, because the then Secretary of State said that the speed limits were unenforceable. Again, we are back to deterrence and enforcement. I believe that both for lorries and for public service vehicles, Britain is less stringent in the application of the laws than most other countries in the world.
With or without the speed limiter, the scheduled timetable for a National Bus rapide coach from Manchester to London is three hours 45 minutes. Such a timetable is unrealistic. I used to live in the Manchester area. It is almost 200 miles from London to Manchester via the motorway. A time of three hours 45 minutes for a public service vehicle over 200 miles is not just an ecouragement to exceed the present 70 mph speed limit, 800 but I cannot see any other way that such a schedule could be met, especially when one considers the heavy traffic before joining the motorway and after leaving the M1. The Department should look at coach timetables, particularly since the spread of rapide services which are deliberately designed to compete with their main long-distance competitors, British Rail's inter-city services. I make no complaint about that, but I also stress, and I think that the House will agree, that that competition must not be at the expense of law-breaking or the endangerment to life caused by such timetabling.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I shall be taking up that matter in my discussions with the coach operators. Over-tight timetabling produces pressures on drivers and obviously the operators must consider that problem.
§ Mr. Snape
I am grateful for that assurance.
Recommendation (xxiv) says:A national campaign should be undertaken to encourage respect for highway law and order.We are back to the problem of enforcement. The Department artfully concentrated on paragraph 118 of the Select Committee report and referred to an nationwide publicity campaign. The Department said:The Committee's suggestion of a campaign on the general subject of respect for road traffic law is one that will be carefully examined in the context of this strategy.That was a reference to the new strategy for road safety publicity being developed by the Department.
Paragraph 119 of the Committee's report spoke about the need to devote more police resources to the enforcement of road traffic law. I hope that the Minister of State will consider that aspect.
Recommendation (xxxi) said:In view of the large number of accidents involving pedestrians, the highest priority should be given to research into ways of modifying the front of vehicles in order to mitigate the severity of injuries to pedestrians.I know that the Department is concerned about that matter. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what stage the Department and the Transport and Road Research Laboratory have reached in their work on the redesigning of the front of vehicles to mitigate injuries to pedestrians.
While talking about the TRRL, I ought to point out that we are in danger of treating that body, which was always regarded as an independent research organisation, as another arm of the Department. Over the past decade, the number of staff at the TRRL has been reduced by about 50 per cent. If we are serious about tackling the problems of road deaths and injuries, that is not the way to proceed.
Recommendation (xxxiii) says:
The Department of Transport should introduce legislation requiring motor cyclists to use their headlights or running lights during the hours of daylight.The Opposition have fully supported Government action on motor cycle safety in recent years. There are legitimate worries about personal freedom, as there were when, fo example, motor cyclists were compelled to wear crash helmets. The late Fred Hill thought that that was a matter worth going to prison for. I disagreed with him and told him so frequently in an acrimonious exchange of correspondence, but I admired his spirit and the principle behind his view, though it was misguided, to say the least.
The Department replied to the Select Committee:the Government recognises the wrong feelings of many riders that the use of such aids should be left to the decision of the individual.None of us believes in the infallibility of opinion polls—particularly recent polls—but I understand that, in an 801 admittedly small sample, 75 per cent. of motor cyclists said that they used headlights. The fact that they recognise that the use of headlights contributes to safety is a legitimate argument for compulsion. As a car driver, I find it much easier to see motor cyclists during the day when their headlights are on than I do when they ride without lights on adark and drizzly day. Pedestrians also find it easier to see motor cyclists when their headlights are on.
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the growing trend for motor cycles to have two headlights is dangerous? Motor cycles are often deceptive at night; car drivers see two headlights approaching and do not know what sort of vehicle is coming towards them.
§ Mr. Snape
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he agrees with me that the use of undipped headlights, particularly at dusk, is almost as dangerous as a motor cyclist having no light. I should be grateful if motor cyclists would remember to dip their headlights.
Recommendation (xxxv) says:
The Department of Transport should, within the existing grant mechanisms provide additional financial support to local authorities which wish to develop and expand their programmes of Accident Investigation and Prevention schemes.The Minister of State referred to the value of local initiatives. Perhaps a certain proportion of transport supplementary grants and transport policies and plans grants should be used for local initiatives. There are many comparatively cheap and cost-effective local schemes which could be implemented if money were available and which would help to prevent accidents and save lives.
I do not wish to inject a note of political controversy into the debate, but we ought to have an assurance that the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils will not break up the countywide expertise that has been acquired over many years. It would be sad if individual local authorities changed their policies or acted differently from neighbouring authorities.
Recommendation (xxxviii) says:All new motorways should be fitted with overhead lighting as a matter of routine.There was an exchange during Department of Transport Quesion Time on Monday about the desirability of lighting the M25. I am sure that all hon. Members agree that driving at night is much easier when motorways are lit. I know that lighting costs money, but, certainly during the initial building, it is a marginal cost in the £2 million per mile cost of motorway.
We were not given much encouragement by the Secretary of State on Monday about lighting all the M25, but it would be useful to know whether lighting ducts have been provided on that motorway. That would at least enable lighting to be installed comparatively cheaply in the future. I hope that lighting ducts will be provided on all new motorways, even if it is not thought necessary to install lighting from the start.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South and his Committee for their invaluable report, which I am sure will enable us to have a valuable debate.
§ Mr. Conal Gregory (York)
I welcome the warm introduction that my hon. Friend the Minister of State gave to the debate, her dedication to the pursuit of road safety 802 and the spirit on both sides of the House, which is reflected in the way in which the debate has been conducted so far. I hope that we can continue with the same degree of friendship.
I welcome the more stringent requirements for professional driving instructors which came into force on 20 May. It is vital that learner drivers should be taught correctly and given a firm foundation for a lifetime of safe driving. However, the recent legislation is inadequate. The only noteworthy difference is the introduction of 40 hours of compulsory training for new instructors. The power to introduce that was provided in the Road Traffic (Driving Instruction) Act 1967. Our requirements must be compared with 770 hours of compulsory training for instructors and a further 370 hours for a driving school principal in Europe Initiative for Road Safety. Britain has pitifully low standards. The basic error may well have been to register instructors rather than driving schools. Multi-car units would be much easier to supervise.
I agree that the Department works hard to discourage test-route coaching and expects the teaching of driving subjects that are not in the present test. To my knowledge, it has been doing so since the April 1968 issue of the ADI news bulletin, so that is not exactly news. Is not the Department yet ready to concede that that approach has not worked? The reason is simple. Most pupils go to a driving school to obtain a driving licence and not to learn to drive. The majority of instructors take the view that it is their duty to their pupils to obtain a licence for them at the lowest possible cost; hence they teach the minimum that is needed to pass the test under favourable conditions. The conscientious instructor suffers the commercial disadvantage that his pupils need more lessons and consequently his reputation suffers. Where is the reward for being diligent and conscientious?
I agree with my hon. Friend the Minister of State that standards in the test will be a major determinant in the content and quality of instruction. Would not a better approach to night driving, for example, be the one that has been operating so successfully in Norway, as reported in the OECD guidelines for driving instruction? The Japanese achieved a 50 per cent. improvement in the level of road casualties by changing the system of driver training and testing and not, as the Department suggested, by changing the way in which they collected statistics.
I do not think that anyone is saying that the present driving test is too easy. We should be concerned to ensure, however, that the right 48 per cent. pass the test. There are differing opinions on this issue, but there is no hard evidence that the test is being passed by the right 48 per cent. The only scientific evidence on the subject is contained in document LR869 of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, which suggests otherwise.
I suggest that the task of driving four components: information-gathering and processing skills, manipulative skills, knowledge and attitude. Each component is equally important in the make-up of a safe and considerate driver. The second component—manipulative skills—can be tested only as it is at present. However, a practical on-the-road test has glaringly obvious limitations in assessing the other components, as shown in the OECD Guidelines for driver instruction.
Knowledge and attitude and, to a large extent, information-gathering and processing skills could be tested on a consistent degree by a preliminary off-the-road test. The fact that some people drive differently after 803 passing the test is an attitudinal problem which can and must be overcome by effective psychology. Implementation of the guidelines for driving instruction and Europe Initiative for Road Safety could have a greater impact in reducing road casualties than all the legislation which has been introduced over the past decade.
In the key time after passing the test the motorist still lacks experience. Other road users are not aware of how recently he has passed his test. It is helpful to display an approprate sign. I suggest that the L plate with a diagonal line across it should be displayed for the 12 months following the passing of the test. Northern Ireland has a probationary plate and other countries have plates that similarly help both the new driver and other motorists. I commend that scheme to my hon. Friend.
A further aid to road safety is the Royal Automobile Club's call that motorists should fit fire extinguishers and first-aid kits as standard equipment. If we are to give that legislative teeth, I suggest that my hon. Friend makes their provision a condition in the production and retailing of new cars and that they should be two items to be checked at the time of the MOT examination. Too few motorists are adequately equipped if they come across an emergency on the road. Time is critical in such conditions if lives are to be saved. Is the cost of a fire extinguisher and a first-aid kit too high a price to pay for equipment that may save a life?
Government statistics showed that tyres had a major causal effect in 60 per cent. of 3,857 accidents over a 12-month period. It is worrying that thousands of used car tyres are being imported from other EEC states, especially West Germany, where the law on tyre tread depth is much more stringent than in Britain.
The Yorkshire Post has taken the initiative to undertake some research and has purchased second-hand tyres and arranged for them to be tested by an independent expert. It was found that 30 per cent. of the tyres were illegal and that a further 30 per cent. were in such a poor condition that they should have been scrapped. Motorists should beware of bargain-basement offers. However, we must not leave the matter solely to the consumer.
Why have double standards for road safety in Europe? There is a mushrooming trade in the import of tyre casings. Last year 440,649 came into the United Kingdom at an average cost of only £1.73 a time. A major importer has said that the trade will continue and will endanger life on the road until the law is made more stringent. A licensing system may be appropriate, and I ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State to discuss the matter at the European Council of Ministers with a view to introducing tough and effective regulations to cover substandard tyres.
There is an urgent need for the netting of moveable loads. In my constituency there is the most northerly sugarbeet processing factory in Britain, and I am delighted at the employment that it creates in the industry in the north of England, but children, pedestrians generally, cyclists and all road users come into danger from moveable loads. If the lorry has to brake or turn abruptly, the beet falls off. There are many examples in the streets of York, Bury St. Edmunds and other areas where there are sugarbeet factories that show clearly that the present legislation is inadequate. It would be a simple piece of legislation that required the netting of moveable loads, and I ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State to enact it rather than obtaining further statistics.
804 There is a need for legislation on our motorways. Britain must be one of the few countries that sets such great store by advisory elements rather than legislation. The real madness on our motorways is that we have a 1,000, mile system of roads for high-speed traffic without mandatory signalling. The costly electronic matrix gantries and the antique yellow flashing lights simply advise drivers to reduce their speed; they are not enforceable in law. As a result, few motorists pay any attention to them.
Our advisory system is practically unique. In Germany, drivers obey immediately the speed limit that is posted. West German police are tough on drivers who flout a posted limit. In the United States, the freeways and turnpikes have signal boxes at frequent intervals. Even the absurdly low 55 mph limit can be changed instantly and enforced.
The Department says that the advisory speed limits on our motorways could not be made mandatory becausethe police simply could not enforce them.That is ridiculous. By and large, the British are law-abiding people—and that has been proved by the widespread wearing of seat belts. They will obey if they must. Equally, they are notoriously bad at taking advice. leave my hon. Friend the Minister of State to pick up the cue that I have given her.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory) on putting forward such sensible suggestions. I recall my early days—long before those mentioned by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape)—when I went to work on a BSA Bantam. I passed a sugar-beet factory at Kidderminster. I had a great many pigs at that time, so I would stop and pick up the sugar-beet to feed to the pigs. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are far too many sugar-beet lying around on our roads at this time of year. They are dangerous. When one is riding a motor cycle in fog, they can cause accidents.
I feel slightly embarrassed by being called to speak before the Chairman of the Select Committee is given the floor, because, although I am a member of the Select Committee on Transport, was not a member when these investigations into road safety started. I joined the Committee approxiamtely half way through its proceedings and I have not heard all the evidence that was given to my colleagues. I therefore wish to limit my remarks to six of the recommendations.
I pay tribute, as has rightly already been done, to our former Chairman, Mr. Harry Cowans, who unfortunately passed away during the recess. I had enormous respect for him. He was a good friend to all of us. I should like also to pay tribute to the Minister, because I know that she cares deeply about road safety and is doing everything that she can to improve matters.
The Select Committee's recommendation to raise the motorway speed limit to 80 mph was probably wrong. I checked that I did not vote for the measure, and found that I was not present at the time. The Department was probably right to turn down that recommendation. It was put forward because of the inability of the police to enforce the current 70 mph limit. The good briefing material that has been sent to us, for which I am grateful, tells us that at any one time no less than 40 per cent. of cars exceed 805 the speed limit and about 15 per cent. travel at speeds of 80 mph or above. That was given in evidence to the Committee.
Statistics undoubtedly show that higher speeds lead to more serious accidents. That is the crucial statistic of which the House should take notice and to which it should give priority. It is, however, important that existing limits should be more strictly enforced. That point has already been brought out. I can only repeat that I agree that more patrolmen are needed on our motorways if we are serious about implementing the 70 mph limit. I also agree with the introduction of some type of speed limiting device, as mentioned in recommendation (xxi).
I congratulate the Minister—she shot my fox on this one, because I was going to have a real go about it—on announcing that she intends to introduce some form of speed limiting device on coaches. I have had some correspondence, which has probably been mentioned in the other place, from Mr. Lucas of Merton college, Oxford. The hon. Lady has plainly had the letter. He feels strongly that we should do the same with lorries. He suggests that we could modify the tachographs so that a vehicle could not exceed a predetermined speed limit, which could vary between 30 and 50 mph. Some lights would flash and the horn sound intermittently if the limit were exceeded. I believe that that proposal could be made to work. It would be a simple device attached to the bumper. I recognise the point made by the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins). A light would go on showing the speed limit. Mr. Lucas sets out four offences in some detail.
I am aware that the hon. Lady must be getting scared. She has already heard a speech from the hon. Member for York who suggested a load of new legislation. I do not want to add to her burden by suggesting four more offences, but I draw her attention to the letter. The suggestion should be considered when she is discussing the fixing of a gadget to coaches and, I hope, to lorries to stop them exceeding speed limits.
Recommendations (xvii) and (xxiii) relate to dangerous parking. They call for an increase in the number of traffic wardens. I am a little nervous about that proposal, but it is probably true that we should have more traffic wardens and that more off-street parking should be provided. More positive action should be taken to enable motorists to park legally. I have been trying to persuade my county council, which has a car park almost opposite my house in the Isle of Wight, not to have notices up all the time saying that people cannot park without a permit. Their employees are working only five days a week, so why cannot the county council say that the parking is free at weekends and allow everyone to park there? We put unnecessarily forbidding notices on parking places. Local authorities are especially guilty of that. They put visitors off, and they therefore park where we would rather they did not and block the roads. Local authorities could do a great deal more to provide extra parking facilities.
Too many cars are being parked on pavements. They not only block the pavements and cause problems for the elderly and the disabled; they damage the paving stones and cost the ratepayers money. I have had representations made to me by the Cowes Retired Pensioners Association on the Isle of Wight. It says that blind people, or people with poor sight, are often inconvenienced. Cars parked on 806 pavements restrict the visibility of people trying to cross the road. Pedestrians should receive rather more consideration.
I must remind the House of the statistics that the Committee was given about pedestrian casualties. They are worrying. There were 1,783 pedestrians killed or seriously injured in 1957. By 1981 that figure had increased to 4,733. That is an increase of 2,950, or 165 per cent. We must look after pedestrians' interest rather more than we have done in the past.
Before the war, when we were building roads in Worcestershire we put cycle tracks down the sides. Unfortunately, many of them have fallen into disuse. The call is now for more cycle tracks. Forward-looking authorities were providing them in the 1930s when the land was available. Unfortunately, they did not maintain them in the 1950s and 1960s when cycling was not as popular as it now is.
We must try to give cyclists more room. They should be able to use cycle tracks. When I walk to work I watch some of my colleagues from the House riding their bicycles. I have a great admiration for them. They are extremely brave. It frightens me to death to see them weaving in and out of coaches and lorries along the Embankment.
Recommendations (xxxviii) and (xxxix) relate to better lighting on our motorways. The statistics that we have all been given show that lighting reduces casualties substantially. I therefore echo the words expressed by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East. We should do our best to complete the lighting of our motorways. It is sensible to install lighting ducts when new motorways are being built.
I am in favour of motor cyclists using their headlights during daylight. That is referred to in recommendation (xxxiii). It would make them more clearly visible to other road users. I regret the fact that the Government have rejected that recommendation on the ground that such a matter should be left to the decision of the individual. I believe that it should be made compulsory. I have received letters from motor cyclists pressing me to keep raising the matter in the House.
The logic of the Government's position is faulty. Some people may argue that the use of an aid to save one's own life should be left to one's own judgment, but the object of having a light on a motor cycle is to enable other road users, including pedestrians, to avoid accidents. It should not be left to the motor cyclist's judgment as to whether he gives warning of his approach.
§ Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)
Has the hon. Gentleman read the work of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory on this subject and noted that the benefits do not apply to all motor cyclists? They do not apply necessarily to all low-powered motor cycles and all circumstances.
§ Mr. Ross
I have read some of the work. I understand that there are problems with some of the lower powered bikes, especially with batteries, but I gather that that can be overcome. If more research is needed, let us, for heaven's sake, get on with it. About 70 per cent. of motor cyclists already ride with lights one.
There should be more road safety sub-committees to monitor the work of road safety officers, which most authorities have. They should include members of the 807 general public who have a particular interest in the subject. To complement that, far too many small details of road safety continue to be left to central diktat—I welcome the Minister's remark that local authorities should use their initiative more—but she must make the necessary changes herself. We should consider present legislation, for example, on pelican crossings. We require local councils to put all sorts of statistics to the Department if they seek variations in such matters. Surely it is sensible to allow local variations so that, in areas where many elderly people cross a road, time limits on pelican crossings can be increased. Other issues could also be decided at local level to a greater degree than at present.
When accidents occur in rail, sea or air transport there are thorough formal inquiries, and recommendations are published which aim at preventing a recurrence. No one would countenance operators failing to correct dangers that have been revealed. That is in stark contrast to the somewhat apathetic approach to road safety. Recently we have been concerned about lapses in air safety. In 1984, 224 people were killed in air accidents worldwide, whereas more than 40,000 people lost their lives in road accidents in Europe alone. That excites too little interest, and I reccognise that the Minister mentioned that in her speech. We must, therefore, change attitudes, and I have two suggestions to make.
First, the investigation of road accidents concentrates too much on the legalistic approach of securing prosecution and compensation. Will the Minister consider establishing an independent inspectorate charged with accident prevention, with powers of investigation similar to those of other transport inspectorates and without their somewhat laborious procedures? Independent examination of even a sample of accidents would certainly reduce their incidence. We have moved a small way towards that when we speak of a standing Royal Commission, but it is not the same.
Secondly, it is a matter of grave concern that low-cost remedial civil engineering measures require to pass the test of satisfying a 50 per cent. first-year rate of return and, even worse, that those that pass do not receive prompt attention. How many such schemes are in this year's programme? How long, on average, does a scheme which passes the 50 per cent. test wait to be executed? What is the average rate of return of these schemes in the current programme?
I am sure that in any other transport mode deferment of obvious accident measures would not be countenanced. The sheer work load and complication of using cost-benefit methods to rank schemes may be replaced by the practical common sense of county council surveyors. The money saved on the mental gymnastics of cost-benefit specialists might be better devoted to the accident inspectorate which I have suggested.
Nevertheless, it is remarkable that accident statistics are not a great deal worse. When one stands on a street corner one is staggered at how many near accidents occur. Even one accident is too many, but most of our continental neighbours, particularly France, have a much worse record than we have. For that we owe a great deal to our police, voluntary advisory bodies, county and borough surveyors, councillors and, not least, successive Ministers, including the present one, who I put top of the tree.
§ Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)
I join those who have complimented my hon. Friend the Minister on her enthusiasm in seeking to improve standards of road safety. However, I wish to draw attention to two omissions from her speech.
First, she paid compliments to various committees, but not to any of the party committees. No doubt she did not wish to introduce a partisan element into the debate. Nevertheless, those committees play a useful role, and all the officers of the Conservative party committee were present for her opening speech.
Secondly, the Select Committee is right to draw attention in its report to the important work carried out by the Institute of Advanced Motorists and RoSPA. As a member of the national council of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, I know that it plays an important role in raising standards of awareness. My hon. Friend has not only taken, but passed, the advanced motorist's test, and we should congratulate her on that.
In many ways the Select Committee's report is a catalogue of possible improvements. I shall touch on some of them, and add others of my own. First, few bicycles are lit at night. Some time ago I tabled a question to the Home Office about that. The number of prosecutions relating to unlit bicycles in the metropolitan area each year has been roughly the same as the number that I pass every night on my three or four-mile journey home. That is appalling.
I agree that the police may somehow think that such offences are below their dignity, but that is not so. I understand that the police feel that a warning is more appropriate, but I disagree. I can fully understand that the police do not want to take up time on such matters when they could be doing better things, such as appearing in court. However, we should seriously consider introducing an offence of the parking ticket variety, where a police officer simply stops the pedal cyclist who is travelling without proper lights, gives him a ticket, and allows the normal procedures to do the rest. A mere warning will not bring about the necessary improvement. Drivers of other vehicles are placed in severe jeopardy of killing someone who is determined to get killed by not taking sensible precautions.
The accident statistics for motor cyclists, particularly in urban areas and more particularly in London, are appalling. I do not know how many motor cyclists have been prosecuted for speeding offences in central London, for which the Home Secretary has responsibility, but I suspect it is small. The problem is one of weaving, which is why I raised that matter when I intervened in my hon. Friend's speech. I take her point about the proliferation of notices. I do not suggest that they should be stuck on rear windscreens. However, bumper stickers immediately in front of motor cyclists who are weaving between cars, whether moving or stationary at traffic lights and about to move, would provide an immediate reminder of the risks they are running. Moreover, it should be a serious offence for motor cyclists to weave between moving vehicles. That can be enforced, and it is enforced in the United States.
I understand that motor cyclists are not supposed to travel in bus lanes, but they are much the safest places for them to travel. It is absurd to exclude them and I hope that a change can be made in that respect.
Finally, we have seen an enormous proliferation of motor cycle couriers. The hours, distances travelled, and 809 so on, of many other forms of commercial driving are severely regulated. I understand that many motor cycle couriers are employed on piece-work, and that the faster they drive, the more money they make. There should be regulations in that area. That is a recent development. The House has not considered the matter before. We can take action to prevent people driving badly, not only as regards weaving, but frequently deliberately—even outside the House of Commons—going on the wrong side of traffic signals and islands. Something must be done about that.
I now turn to motor vehicles and cars and the standards of testing. When one applies for a driving licence, for example in New York, one must take a written test, which is checked in a matter of seconds by a mechanical check to see whether one has assimilated the provisions of the American equivalent of the Highway Code. We do nothing like that. I am not suggesting that that should replace the questions asked by the driving tester, but there is a case for having such a written test in advance of the application for a licence.
In the United States, all the bumpers of vehicles must be approximately the same height. We have never introduced such legislation. Especially with bumpers that can absorb shocks at low speeds, such a provision would have considerable advantages over the present position with bumpers at different heights.
Motorway driving is becoming a terrifying experience for many motorists. I refer especially to the M25. My hon. Friend the Minister said that those who exceed the speed limits on motorways are only a small minority. However, had she been driving along the M25 one and a half hours ago, she would have seen that the majority of motorists were exceeding the speed limit. If one drives at 70 mph during the rush hour, one is almost the only person doing so. Many cars in the outside lane are doing well in excess of 100 mph, which is completely unacceptable. The law is not being enforced.
The problem is caused partly because we cannot decide whether the motorway should be regarded as an urban road. That determines the number of policemen allocated to it, especially in Kent. None the less. There are other ways of enforcing the law. We should consider the international experience. German and some American motorways have mechanical devices that photograph a vehicle and gauge its speed, and any offending motorist is prosecuted on the clear evidence that the had exceeded the speed limit.
We do not have enough signs in Britain. I understand the need to reduce the amount of information that the driver must assimilate, although I do not understand why almost every mile along the M25—that may be an exaggeration—one sees notices saying that there are no services on the motorway. In any case, they are too late. Those notices should appear before one reaches the motorway, not while one is travelling along it. The unlimited sign—the white ring with a black bar across it—is not a satisfactory reminder. If the limit is 70 mph, it is better that motorists travelling at 100 mph should see a sign saying 70 mph so that they have an idea of by how much they are speeding. In reality, they know, but that small step would be more appropriate than the present arrangement.
We must consider carefully crashes that occur when the lanes on a motorway are reduced from three to two. We 810 all know that, on approaching the sign saying that the lanes will be reduced, motorists on the outside belt past as fast as possible in the hope of cutting in at the front of the queue. When they do that, the middle and inner lanes stop dead and cars bump into each other. We should seriously consider whether, in advance of the sign saying that the number of lanes will be reduced, there should be a clear sign saying "No Overtaking", which is then enforced. We should also adopt the system used in some parts of America where, when there is an areas of congestion, cars are instructed to enter lanes alternatively. Obviously, that system could be abused, but it seems to work in America and I believe that it is worth consideration.
As to mandatory and non-mandatory speed limits, I do not understand my hon. Friend's suggestion that there is no case for making temporary speed limits mandatory. She says that it cannot be enforced and that people do not obey the limits anyway, unless a police car is present. All those arguments apply to existing mandatory speed limits. There is no argument for not making the temporary speed limits mandatory. I see no reason why temporary speed limits, whether imposed because of weather conditions or accidents, should not be made mandatory and, if necessary, enforced.
§ Mr. Snape
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, on the M5, at least in my experience, when temporary speed restrictions were made mandatory, many more motorists travelled at 50 mph than at 70 mph? The right hon. Gentleman's point is relevant. If the limits are made mandatory, the vast majority of people will obey them.
Certainly publicity to that effect would be helpful. I was puzzled by my hon. Friend the Minister's logic. There is no case for not making the limits mandatory, even though not everyone may abide by them.
On a more controversial note, I believe that people would not exceed the speed limit on motorways if many motorists travelled at the speed limit in the second and third lanes. In the United States, on freeways and motorways, it is almost impossible to exceed the speed limit, at any rate by more than about 5 mph, because motorists are not expected to move into the inside lanes if they are travelling at the speed limit. I realise that that is foreign to our approach to motorways, but it is worth serious consideration. Of course, in the United States it is backed up with much more severe enforcement and far heavier penalties. Their penalties are graded much more than ours, with the result that those travelling at more than 10 mph over the speed limit are fined heavily. The overall effect of motorists' not moving to inside lanes when they are travelling at the speed limit is that all vehicles travel at approximately the speed limit. The Transport and Road Research Laboratory should consider whether we can change to that system. If we do not, it is most unlikely that we shall deal with the severe problems that are bound to arise. Although, as my hon. Friend the Minister rightly stressed, there are far fewer accidens on motorways than on other roads, the number of accidents on motorways is increasing because the law is not being enforced and the Government are not taking the steps that should be taken.
In the light of recent debates on coaches, I was persuaded that there was a case for excluding coaches from the outer lane of motorways, but, having considered the matter more deeply, I am persuaded, with my hon. Friend the Minister, that that is not the solution, because 811 bunching on inner lanes would also reduce road safety. However, I welcome the specific proposal that was made today. We should bear carefully in mind the case for speed regulators, which I hope will be a practical and sensible solution to the problem.
I have produced a catalogue of ideas, as has the Select Committee report. There are many ways, some of which require legislation and others do not, in which we can contribute to road safety. I hope that, in the ligh of this debate, my hon. Friend the Minister can make some progress.
§ Mr. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland, South)
May I thank the Minister, her Department and the Leader of the House for reacting so swiftly to the Select Committee's request for a debate on road safety. The letter was sent only on 28 October, and here we are on 15 November having what I consider to be an extremely important nonpartisan debate. The opening speeches, and the presence of so many hon. Members on a Friday, show the importance that we attach to the subject.
I also wish to pay tribute to my good friend and colleague, Harry Cowans, who was the Chairman of the Select Committee when the report was produced. As a member of the Committee, I believe that he did a first-class job. The House will miss him tremendously. Had Harry been sitting here today, he would have said to the Minister, "Well done, bonny lass. You have made a good speech today." He would have been pleased with some of her reactions to the report.
The background to the debate is the official road accident statistics, which represent people. In 1983, the last year for which figures are available, 5,445 people were killed on our roads and, almost as importantly, 300,000 people were injured. Many of them still suffer from their injuries and are unable to work properly or to continue their family lives.
Even Select Committees or individual Members do not have all the answers. We cannot put ourselves into the mind of the guy who, when he gets into a motor vehicle, immediately becomes almost a raving lunatic, or of the pedestrian who, when he is outside his motor car, wonders what the heck motor cyclists or motorists are doing tearing up when he is trying to cross the road. For some reason, when people get behind the wheel they become very macho. We must try to apply our minds to this problem.
Like the Minister, the Committee suggested consultation about governors. I am glad that the hon. Lady is looking into the basics of this, about which there was a long discussion in Committee. The governors limit the speed, but we all realise that occasionally one needs a little more oomph on the accelerator to get out of trouble. That anxiety should be looked at, and I am sure that the hon. Lady will do so when she deals with the question of governors.
I have no doubt that the seat belt legislation has had a beneficial effect on accidents. I confess that I had grave doubts about the legislation because I believed that the decision whether to use the seat belts should be left to the individual and dealt with under the rules applying to compensation for accident victims. I now believe that the legislation enforcing the use of seat belts is correct, and that it should be made permanent. Our report goes on to talk about seat belts for the back seats. I doubt whether I 812 would go so far as to say that they should be made legislatively compulsory because of such factors as small children.
The hon. Lady and her Department should be worried about certain categories—the drinking drivers, motor cyclists, cyclists and pedestrians. I shall be as quick as I can in what I say because the report is there for everybody to read and know what the Select Committee feels. The debate is a useful opportunity for those hon. Members who are not members of the Select Committee to make known their views.
I have had much correspondence from motor cyclists, who have become excited because they believe that we are fuddy-duddies and anti-motor cyclists. I have a couple of sons who are motor cyclists and I know that when they start with a motor cycle they are getting not a vehicle to help them to get to and from work but their first piece of machinery that can travel on the roads. They are young, fit, active kids who get on their machines and think that there is no such thing as danger. They rev up their cycles when somebody who has just come off night shift is trying to sleep. The kids, often still with L plates on their machines, tear off down the streets, and weave in and out of the traffic.
As I have said, they are young, fit kids and we want them to stay that way. It is that in which we are interested and that is why we are trying to find solutions. The kids should not be killed or maimed by unnecessary tearing about on the highways and motorways. That is why there was the "Be seen" campaign to ensure that motor cyclists are seen not only by motorists but by pedestrians. Motor cyclists tend to get into the side and are a different factor in driving. If we show some interest in them, it is not because we are attacking them but because we want them to be with us and safe.
The hon. Lady rightly said that occasionally we have to react to public opinion. However, often public opinion and even polls on issues such as speed limits have answers based on emotion and not on fact. That is why our report has some depth inasmuch as those who read it in some detail will have useful information. If there is anything for which Select Committees are useful, it is for getting information collated by experts that can be examined by other people who can draw from it sensible conclusions that are not based on emotion.
I point out to the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) that I cannot think of a more dangerous way of applying speed limits on motorways than by suggesting that motorists should drive in what we call the fast lane, stick at the 70 mph limit and defy anybody to pass them. I have seen many instances when that would have been dangerous. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) said, the driver who doddles along in the middle lane of a triple-lane motorway, enjoying his Sunday outing, never dreaming that the heavy lorry driver behind him, who is earning his living, cannot get past him because he is not allowed to go into the fast lane is causing danger. The public should understand that a motorway system is based on the inside lane. The second, third or even the fourth lanes are for overtaking. They should not be used for doddling along when the inside lane is empty, because that is where such drivers should be.
§ Mr. Higgins
The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what I said. I was not suggesting that people doddle along 813 in the outside lane at 50 mph. However, if they are doing the speed limit there, then, as happens in America, the only people who will be frustrated are those trying to beat the speed limit.
§ Mr. Bagier
I have not driven on the American roads, but a few weeks ago I was driving on the Canadian roads, and I was horrified by what I saw on the triple-lane motorways. Motorists were going on the inside lane or the outside lane, weaving in and out of the traffic. They do not seem to have the lane discipline that we have. I hope that our lane discipline will continue and will be enforced.
One of the members of my Committee has to explain why we recommended a speed limit of 80 mph, a suggestion that was not plucked out of the sky. Speed limits on motorways tend to be an emotive issue. I can think of times when 20 mph is far too fast on a motorway. On the way to the House this morning, I heard a report on the radio to the effect that unfortunately there had been another major crash on the M6. I hope that it is not too serious, but apparently there will be several hours of delay. I have no doubt, without knowing any of the details, that the crash had something to do with the weather conditions and that drivers involved in the crash were probably driving outside the speed limits and certainly unsafely. The drivers themselves should realise that different speed limits apply at different times and conditions. Anybody who drives faster than the speed at which he can pull up before he hits the vehicle in front is being suicidal and should not behave like that.
The Committee feels that under the normal conditions of driving on triple-lane motorways and dual carriageways 80 mph is safe. Any suggestions to the contrary is not borne out by the facts. I shall not make the argument about people going over the limit and breaking the law because the other part of our recommendation is tighter enforcement of the speed limit. The case made for that speed limit in normal conditions has been strengthened by the recent decision of the Department to allow an increase in the speed limit for heavy lorries. The increase in the speed limit of heavy lorries to 60 mph has made it more difficult to overtake them at 70 mph. In adverse weather conditions, it is extremely difficult to get past a long lorry because of spray: therefore, one tries to do it rather quickly. Therefore, 80 mph is not a dangerous speed in the context of road safety, and I not think that an increase in the speed limit would lead to a major increase in accidents. I fully understand that any Secretary of State or Minister of State who took that major step forward would be subject to a good deal of criticism if in the ensuing six months or so there were to be an increase in road accidents.
The suggestion of an increase to 80 mph was, incidentally, in line with a proposal made by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which monitors such matters and felt that it was a safe proposal to make. Indeed, the Select Committee was largely swayed by the opinion of the association.
I am glad that the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East had a good deal to say about lighting. There is a slogan, "Be safe, be seen". There is no better way of being seen than having adequate lighting, not only on motorways but wherever there is heavy traffic. I hope that the necessary resources will be provided to ensure that there is adequate lighting.
814 It is not often fully understood that indiscriminate parking is a road safety hazard. In most cases parking is prohibited because the roads are busy and are used by considerable numbers of pedestrians. I hope that indiscriminate parking will be curtailed. As the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) said, none of us particularly likes traffic wardens. Nevertheless, they make a contribution to road safety.
Indiscriminate parking is a particular problem in London, and two or three years ago my Committee produced a report on the matter. It suggested the introduction of wheel clamps, which are now in use in London. We did not think that there should be any exceptions. The fact that cars which are parked indiscriminately belong to the Corps Diplomatique should make no difference. I hope that the Government will think again and have a word with the various emirates and high commissions. Every Tom, Dick and Harry working in such places seems to be entitled to use CD plates. Between this House and Charing Cross station there is a certain high commission and every morning some poor traffic warden spends hours writing out parking tickets, after which nothing more is heard. Those wardens probably have the best productivity rate in the business.
I am glad that the Minister has not rejected outright the suggestion concerning a standing royal commission on road safety. In their response, the Government have said that the suggestion is still being considered. As I said at the beginning of my speech, every year, about 5,500 people are killed and 300,000 people maimed. Therefore, we need something more than an occasional Select Committee report and an even less frequent debate. We need a body of experts such as a standing royal commission.
§ Mr. David Marshall
My hon. Friend referred to drinking and driving but did not elaborate on the problem. Will he agree that the higher the blood-alcohol level, the greater the risk of an accident? There is an excellent RAC recommendation that a two-tier penalty system should be introduced, with a far heavier statutory disqualification period for people with a high blood-alcohol level. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be desirable and beneficial and could be introduced speedily?
§ Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) that in Britain we have a good record of lane discipline. When in the United States—and, indeed, even in some countries on the continent of Europe—I am impressed by the much better discipline of drivers in keeping to the correct lanes. In Britain people are grossly irresponsible, in my experience, in regard to lane discipline. I do not agree with the Select Committee's proposal to increase the speed limit on motorways, and I am glad that the Government have rejected it. However, with those caveats I warmly welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman has succeeded in getting a debate on road safety and congratulate him on his part in producing the select Committee's admirable report. Indeed, I agree with almost all the rest of his speech.
One reason why so many members of the public and hon. Members are rather apathetic about road safety is that 815 they have the fatalistic feeling that not very much can be done about the awful toll of road accidents, and that it will always be with us. One of the many merits of the Select Committee's report is that it underlines how much the situation has improved because of legislative action taken by this House.
The report underlines the fact that between 1972 and 1982 the death toll fell by almost a quarter. That was undoubtedly due to the enforcement of the drinking and driving legislation, which was strongly supported by this House. There was a further decline of about 10 per cent. as a direct result of the legislation on the compulsory wearing of seat belts. I have no doubt that, if many of the recommendations of the Select Committee were to be implemented vigorously, the toll could be reduced still further.
Exactly 12 months ago I was in the Australian state of Victoria with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall), who knows so much about this subject. We talked to road safety experts. In that state the toll has been reduced by 50 per cent. in a matter of years. That was done by a vigorous campaign involving local Members of Parliament, the police, the press and the medical profession. I have no doubt that if we gave the subject equally high priority in this country, we could get similar beneficial results. I also have no doubt that many of our constituents would support giving much higher priority to road safety.
There are many valuable points in the report, but I shall refer to just three. The first relates to motor cycles. The report draws attention to the dreadful death rate among young motor cyclists. In 1982 some 12,000 motor cyclists under the age of 20 were killed or suffered serious injury. The Committee rightly said thatthe number of deaths and serious injuries suffered by young people on our roads today can only be regarded as one of epidemic proportions.In its evidence to the Committee, the parliamentary advisory committee for transport safety referred to the overseas experience, which suggests that the use of headlights by motor cyclists during the day is a simple and effective means of significantly reducing motor cycle casualties. The committee was kind enough to refer to my support for that proposal.
In its response, the Department of Transport does not deny that "conspicuity"—to use that awful word—is an important factor in motor cycle accidents. It recommends the use of headlamps during daylight. The hon. Members for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) and for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) picked up this point. The Department in its response, states:
At the same time the Government recognises the strong feelings of many riders that the use of such aids should be left to the decision of the individual. It does not at present consider the evidence to be so conclusive as to justify overriding these feelings by requiring that conspicuity aids be used as a matter of law.I regret the negative attitude of the Department on that point. Some motor cyclists are scornful of all measures that have to be taken to reduce the dreadful rate of death and injury, but, as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight mentioned, it is not a matter for motor cyclists alone. Apart from the cost of hospital treatment, there is the fact that motor cyclists are four times as likely as car drivers to run into pedestrians. If pedestrians have a better chance of seeing the motor cyclist, that toll might be reduced. In this comment and others on the motor cycle problem, alas, 816 the Department seems to be saying, "We recognise that a dreadful number of people are being killed and injured, but we cannot really be bothered to try to do anything very dramatic about it until we have thought about the problem for a few more years."
The parliamentary advisory committee for transport safety and the British Medical Association are among several organisations that have criticised the accuracy of accident statistics. The BMA has commented that the existing definitions are misleading, and says:
Only one in four of the casualties classified as seriously injured are, in fact, seriously injured, and many of those classified as slightly injured are, in fact, seriously injured.Meanwhile, the preparation and presentation of traffic accident statistics are so slow that the ability to shock or even interest the general public has long passed by the time they are issued. Again, the experience of states in Australia shows that the proper use of statistics can be an important adjunct in reminding all road users of the severity of the problem.
The Department of Transport points out that it shares the responsibility for road accident statistics with local authorities and police authorities. The Department holds out some hope that more information will be given on accidents involving battery-assisted tricycles—hardly one of the main problems that we face—but it does not seem to be contemplating any serious move, and certainly not one before 1987. Perhaps that is not entirely surprising in view of the extraordinary statistical error that the Department has perpetrated. Paragraph 17 of the Select Committee's report refers to the estimate by the Department of Transport of the total cost of road accidents in 1982. The Department arrived at a figure of £2.37 billion, which includes a notional sum of £560 million for "pain, grief and suffering". It is incredible that the total medical and ambulance service cost of road accidents is put at a minute £70 million. At first I thought that that must be a misprint, but it was plain on adding the figures that the Department really believed that the figure was £70 million.
Unfortunately, earlier this year, I broke a leg badly in a ski-ing accident. Because I received the insurance figures, I have some idea of the medical cost of treating a badly broken leg. It can approach £7,000. It is incredible that the medical cost of road casualties should be put in the official statistics at a mere £70 million. I suspect that the estimate is 1,000 per cent. too low and that the true cost is closer to £1 billion.
I note the Select Committee's welcome support for the recommendation "that the Government should give serious consideration to the appointment of a standing Royal Commission on Road Safety which would have the role of providing advice on matters referred to it by Ministers, and of initiating studies into particular aspects of road safety which, in its opinion, merited detailed examination.The Select Committee went on to say:
there is a need for a more continuous review of policies and achievements within the field of road safety.I admire the qualities of the Ministers who run the Department of Transport. I particularly support the enthusiasm that my hon. Friend the Minister of State brings to the subject of road safety. The somewhat negative and bureaucratic response of the Department to many of the Select Committee's suggestions shows that my hon. Friend still has some way to go in infecting her departmental officers with her enthusiasm. The Select 817 Committee's report has given the House and the Government a great opportunity. I hope that the Department does not miss its opportunity.
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
I also congratulate the Select Committee on producing the first report on road safety for a long time and on enabling us to have this debate.
I worked closely with the Committee's former Chairman, Harry Cowans, in the Select Committee and in those long days when friendships are often made in transport Standing Committees. His sense of humour kept us alive and feeling that there was a ray of hope in those long, dark night. He was a wonderful personality and spoke brilliantly, especially in Committee. Like, I am sure, the rest of the House, I miss him greatly. I am sure that the Select Committee misses him. We heard the new Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) speak this morning. I am sure that he is up to the challenge.
Road safety is not a party political matter, although the environment in which the debate takes place is often political. The Minister of State has always been helpful to the road safety lobby and those of us who are campaigning on the subject. I compliment her on much of what she said today.
Anybody interested in road safety—I have been since I was elected to the House—is regarded as a slight odd ball. It is considered a strange interest for an hon. Member, partly because we tend to underrate anything that is not intensely party political. Moreover, there is something of a media conspiracy to ensure that people are not made aware of the importance of road and transportation safety to them and their families.
Looking around the Press Gallery this morning, it is clear that we have censorship in a free press. This debate will not be reported tomorrow. There will be no headlines. Once again, the press has put down the shutters when road safety is mentioned. This is the mark of tremendous and inexcusable irresponsibility. Road accidents cause more deaths than heart disease and cancer but, unlike them, accidents are preventable. People are needlessly killed and maimed.
Everybody, especially people in public life and those influential in the media, must raise the level of consciousness about this epidemic. Although we have reduced the number of accidents and deaths, we cannot be complacent about the 5,500 deaths that occur every year and the tens of thousands of serious injuries that leave people barely able to walk or with brain damage, for example. We must take account of the dreadful damage being done day after day and ensure that we spare no effort to put the matter right.
In the next few months, there will be heightened public consciousness of what is going on and the demand that we give higher priority to measures to prevent road deaths will filter back to the House. That process has begun, and I believe that it will accelerate in the next few months.
As co-chairman of the parliamentary advisory committee for transport safety, I have worked to ascertain agreed priorities that can be delivered through legislation or other methods.
818 As part of the Common Market, we must not lose sight of the fact that last year, throughout the EEC countries, there were 55,000 deaths resulting from road accidents. In an increasingly mobile age, with more people travelling throughout Europe, we must give priority to avoiding accidents on an EEC-wide scale.
Next year will be European Road Safety Year. I hope that it will receive a good deal of publicity. I was sad to learn—I know that the Minister was equally sad about it—that the GPO would not even go as far as issuing a stamp to signify that occasion. I am a film buff and have no objection to the issue, for example, of stamps depicting Peter Sellers and other British film stars. I should have thought, however, that our priorities could stretch to a special stamp to signify that important year for European road safety. I hope that in 1986 we shall raise the consciousness of people to the need for greater road safety.
I shall speak today under the headings of research, education, deterrence and enforcement and legislation. Most of the remarks today have shown that we are talking, first, about priorities in terms of the money we should spend and, secondly, on where we should spend it. It must be spent not only on solutions that appear immediately to be attractive but on what is scientifically evaluated to be the best way to reduce accidents.
I deplore the way in which some newspapers—say, The Sun and the Daily Mail, whose representatives do not appear to be present today in the Press Gallery—when there is an M25 pile-up, an M6 coach crash or something akin to the Manchester air disaster splash the news in large headlines. An emotional spasm seems to run through Fleet street. At that time people appear before the cameras and are heard on the radio giving instant solutions. Such solutions may be good common sense, but taking precipitate action is not the way to reduce road casualties. We are in the realms of science, for methods of reducing and preventing accidents must be assessed on a scientific basis and not on the basis of an emotional spasm following a motorway pile-up in fog.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
I share the hon. Gentleman's views about the need for research and education. Has he, like me, been astonished at the way in which this debate, in the Select Committee's reports and in the Government's responses there is hardly any mention, apart from a few references to the highway code, of the vital importance of signalling clearly when changing lanes, particularly on motorways?
We do not pay sufficient attention to such matters, unlike some states in the United States. More emphasis should be placed on educating the public in the importance of clear, measured signalling, with adequate warning time being given. Indeed, the Highway Code could be rewritten in the two sections in which signalling is referred to only briefly. Such a step would make an important contribution to educating people into being more courteous to other road users, inculcating a willingness to wait to make a manoeuvre, rather than competing with the other motorist.
§ Mr. Sheerman
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point which hinges on the application of science to which I am referring. I hope that he will feed that concern into the research hopper, so to speak, so that it may have its due priority. The United States, which I visited recently, has introduced a new specification for high visibility brake lights, which have proved to be quite successful in helping 819 to reduce accidents. That will have to be assessed according to the scientific evidence before we introduce similar legislation. The status of the Highway Code needs to be scrutinised.
The Minister is right to pick out pedestrians, pedal and motor cyclists and drinking and driving as priorities. I add to that list children in cars. When I first came to the House I was drawn No. 7 in the private Members' ballot and I introduced a children in cars Bill which failed, but its proposals were taken up by the Government in the Transport Bill of 1981.
Rear seat belts in cars are not compulsory until next year. Children cannot make a decision about how safe they are in a car. We have already made illegal having an unrestrained child in the front seat of a car but we cannot yet prevent a child from being seriously injured in the back seat of a car. In a sensible, step-by-step procedure, we shall be able to make children and adults more safe when the compulsory fitting of rear seat belts comes into effect in 1986.
A distinguished colleague, Dr. Murray-McKay from the Birmingham accident research centre, says that he wants less apple pie and more science. We know what he means. He is talking about the need for research.
The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and others have made sensible suggestions about priorities. Underlying everything is the need to ascertain scientifically cost-effective priorities. No Government—this Government above all—can ignore value for money. The parliamentary advisory committee for transport safety put low-cost engineering schemes at the top of its list of priorities in its evidence to the Select Committee because in the real world low-cost scientific ways of reducing accidents in a climate of expenditure cutting will appeal to the Government.
We must ensure that research into transport safety continues apace. I am sorry that I have to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), who described himself as a young raver, that over the last 11 years that 50 per cent. of the personnel has disappeared from the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. I do not wish to make a strong political point, but good quality research has to he paid for. I do not argue that all research should be done by the TRL. Enormous amounts of good research are done at universities and research institutes throughout the country. All research institutions are desperately short of cash and good minds. We must increase quickly the amount of money spent on research if we are to achieve a reduction in accidents over the next few years.
Let us remember two things. The first is a cynical point. Research money put into road accident prevention makes a pioneering effort in the introduction of new technology that can be built on by British firms. All over the world people are eager to reduce the number of accidents. If we lead the technology in road accident reduction, we will become a market leader in selling that technology, and that is not unimportant. Secondly, knowledge and technology are an international currency and, if we make an advance, we shall be making an advance for the French, Germans, Japanese and Americans because we all share in the technology for the reduction of pain, death and suffering.
We must talk about new ways of raising research money. Recently I came across the idea of putting more money into independent research. The TRRL is part of the Department of Transport and that puts something of a dead 820 hand on its activity. I should like to see a much more quasi-independent role for the TRRL and I should also like to see the establishment of an independent research-granting institution that could put money where it would be best used.
People may ask where the money will come from. There are two ways by which such a research institute could receive money. One would be for the Government to provide funds. But why not move into a different area of raising money for transport safety research? We should ask the insurance companies to put £1 per annum on every car insurance policy. That would raise over £20 million for research into transport safety. That would be good value for money and it would show the insurance companies in a progressive and enlightened way. We must look in that direction if we are to make the necessary strides in research.
I have spoken about small engineering schemes for accident reduction. I believe that they are vital, and I hope that the Minister will make the wherewithal available to push ahead with them. I think that small engineering schemes are seen as a priority by all hon. Members. They are good value for money and they must be implemented throughout the country so that we can get reductions as fast as possible.
Drunken driving is a most serious matter, but, strangely, it has been least dwelt upon by hon. Members. Many of us tend to shy away from that subject because it is slightly embarrassing. Most of us enjoy a drink or two and when members of a jury are asked to make a decision, they often think, "There but for the grace of God go I." We must grasp that nettle.
Publicity campaigns about drunken driving, however worthy or expensive, are relatively ineffective. Stiff penalties are also ineffective because they do not deter the drunken driver. All the scientific evidence that I have seen suggests that the only thing that will deter a drunken driver is the risk of detection.
Two thirds of those questioned in a recent survey thought that the risk of detection for drunk drivers was very small indeed. Something must be done. The number of accidents caused by drunk driving is horrendous. About 10 per cent. of injury accidents and 33 per cent. of fatal injuries to drivers and motor cycle riders involve someone who has drunk an excess of alcohol. That is unacceptable and we must reduce that toll.
As I argued in Committee on the Transport Bill in 1982, I believe that we must introduce discretionary breath tests. No Government have acted on that recommendation in the Blennerhassett report, but the police and most hon. Members know that we must have discretionary testing. Drunk driving does not kill only the drunk driver; young children, old people and many others are also killed.
We also need to take action about high-risk offenders. The present legislation is nonsense, because a drunk driver does not lose his licence immediately. He is free to drink, drive and kill again. That cannot be acceptable. The Minister and I do not believe in draconian measures, which merely lose the good will of the public, but a high percentage of drunk drivers are persistent offender. We must take strong measures against them. Detection levels must rise. I understand that action on that front is in the Government's mind, but quick action is necessary.
We could all have mentioned many other desirable measures. The Select Committee has proposed a range of important measures and we must get them implemented. 821 Next year is European Road Safety Year and, although I am not sure that I agree with the Select Committee's recommendation for the establishment of a permanent royal commission, I believe that we ought to set up a Select Committee on transport safety. Outside Parliament, we need another new body, perhaps along the lines of the National Transportation Safety Board in the United States, though without the same powers. The establishment of such a board would keep priorities, research and action in the public eye and could do something about the lack of interest in the media and some sections of the public about what is still the greatest epidemic of our time.
§ Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)
The debate shows the House at its best. The speech of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, was the best that I have heard him make. He managed to make some good suggestions without raising any political hackles on my part. I congratulate him and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Transport, who opened the debate and who, unfortunately is no longer in her place.
As a Conservative member of the Select Committee on Transport, I can say that the Committee has tried to consider the issues that have come before it in as nonpartisan a way as possible. I am the longest-serving member and the only one who served with Harry Cowans from the moment that it came into being. I am sure that I speak for all my Conservative colleagues when I say how much the members of the Committee appreciated Harry's Chairmanship. As a Conservative Member, I did not always agree with him, but we were always friends. I shall always treasure that friendship.
Basically, there are three areas of concern to which the report refers. First, there is concern over the driver or rider. Secondly, there is concern over the provision that we make within our society for the motor vehicle. Thirdly, there is concern about the way in which we control the motor vehicle. I am sure that we all agree that the most important area of concern is that of the driver and the rider.
About three or four weeks ago, on the morning of one of those terrible fog pile-ups on the M1, I had a longstanding engagement to go on to the motorway with the Northamptonshire police to witness the policing on our main arterial road. It was fascinating to talk to the policemen whose responsibility it is to look after the Northamptonshire section of the M1. There is no doubt that the pile-up on that morning, as with the one this morning probably, was due primarily to drivers driving far too close to the vehicle in front. Many of them were probably driving at an excessive speed, but speed is not a problem provided that the driver leaves adequate room in which to come to a halt. Every policeman to whom I spoke wanted to make the point that motorists, on the whole, had no idea of the distance in which they could pull up safely in an emergency.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) mentioned a photographic device that is available. The policemen to whom I spoke suggested one way in which we could shock some of the motorists who happily proceed over the speed limit while driving far too close to the vehicle in front of them. It is possible now to photograph a car, identify it, record its 822 speed and show its nearness to the vehicle in front of it. Although such a method of checking on the motorist is not a legal basis for prosecution at present, we should experiment with it. If a motorist received through the post a photograph of him driving his car in excess of the speed limit and driving in a dangerous manner, that might have a salutary effect. If that operation were pursued over a period, the results could be extremely helpful.
Many policemen told me while I was with them on the M1—it was ironic that they should do so before the recent calamitious crash on the M6—that many accidents occurred along their section of the M1 where there were considerable lane closures. Invariably, the accident did not happen at the point at which the road narrowed. They told me that the accident could take place 100 cars down the queue. They spoke of motorists ignoring the narrowing of the road and cutting in at the last moment. The motorists near to them and keeping in the proper lane can see them and slow down, but the driver 100 cars back is not in that position. As a result of the delay that usually takes place before reacting and braking, he often piles into the car in front of him.
Driver fault is common to both instances that I have outlined. Let anyone who doubts that walk around London. Over the past 25 years there has been a lack of the road courtesy that we used often to expect. If anyone questions that, let him stand by a traffic junction and see how many people deliberately drive across against a red light. They do so without any intention of stopping. Secondly, it is revealing to walk in London and to see how motorists park their cars. Yellow lines, double yellow lines and loading and unloading areas make not a scrap of difference to thousands of motorists who are clogging up the capital.
The time has come to make the motorist realise that he has a responsibility.
I am a great supporter of the police, but I believe that the Metropolitan police have virtually thrown in their hand with regard to parking, and that must be deplored. I wish to see the law administered far more strictly. That is why I believe it is necessary to accept recommendation (xxiv):
A national campaign … to encourage respect for highway law and order.Far too many road users show a lack of respect.
If we have legislation that merely prosecutes and penalises, we shall completely fail to deal with the problems that I am outlining. We must take into account which laws the motorist is likely to accept and abide by. Therefore, I believe that the recommendation for an experimental—I stress the word "experimental"—80 mph speed limit on our motorways is worth considering. It is dangerous, as has been said this morning, for coaches to be driven at about the same speed as heavy lorries—coaches are driven at 70 mph and lorries at 60 mph—and for motor cars to be driven at similar speeds, because bunching occurs and serious accidents will be inevitable.
It is worth contemplating whether, by allowing private cars to move a little quicker we might improve the accident statistics. As has been said, the vast majority of motorists probably exceed the 70 mph limit. If we rigidly enforce an 80 mph limit and see an improvement in motorway behaviour, the experiment will have been well worth while. I strongly support the recommendation.
§ Mr. Fry
It must be enforced by the traditional methods and by some of the new methods that I have mentioned. If it were made legal to photograph moving vehicles, we should merely require to have a camera at the side of the road to photograph passing vehicles. It would no longer be necessary to chase a motorist down the motorway and stop him while 150 other motorists went past at speeds well over 70 mph. We must consider new devices to deal with such a serious problem.
I wish to deal with the enforceability and acceptability of the law. We must consider with grave anxiety some of the things that are happening in our major cities. It is no good saying that motorists should not come into central London. The overwhelming majority of people who come into London on business use public transport. Unless we ban motor vehicles from the centre of London, as some Opposition Members might like, many motorists will always drive in. It it therefore pointless to pursue policies which make it more difficult for people to find off-street parking, or to have a system whereby the parking law can be so easily ignored.
There should be a system to enable the motorist to come into the city and park his vehicle legally. He should not have to say, "I shall leave it in a place where I am not supposed to park. The chances of getting caught are not great and it is cheaper in the long run than finding a car park for which I must pay." That is what is happening in London.
One of these days we shall probably have a royal visit. It will be raining, a heavy lorry will break down in Park lane and the whole of the centre of London will come to a horrible grinding halt. That has nearly happened on several occasions. We must see that more off-street parking is available. We must increase the number of traffic wardens and enforce the law more strictly.
A great deal has been said about the Committee's recommendations on motor cyclists. All of us are frightened about the implications of the trend in the statistics. There is already a great deal of good training for them, but motor cycle groups in my constituency and county are worried about youngsters riding motor cycles because it is not the youngsters who would benefit most from the advice of the groups who attend. One of the great difficulties of training is that the keen motor cyclists are invariably the safest, and those who merely want to use a motor cycle to get about and who are not interested in joining groups with others are much more likely to have an accident. That is why we need to accept the report's recommendations on the subject.
Similarly, there is no merit in the idea of approaching the problem by considering whether one should be allowed to ride a large machine at an early age. If it is proved that training alone is insufficient—there are some disturbing statistics about the number of trained youngsters who have accidents—we must consider deterring extremely young riders from using large machines. To graduate through a series of machines as one becomes more experienced may be one way of avoiding some of the horrifying accidents.
I was interested to hear my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory) follow that idea through in relation to those who pass the driving test. It is absurd that a 17-year-old who has probably learnt to drive in a school of motoring car, has never driven at 70 mph on a motorway and has never driven a powerful car, should be entitled to get into a Jaguar and drive at 70 mph or more down the M1 on the day after he passes his test. Perhaps we should 824 consider having a probationary period after passing the driving test, which need apply not only to 17-year-olds. Perhaps the car should be marked, and, as with motor cycles, it should be agreed that one does not drive a car with an engine above a certain cubic capacity. There should be some limitation, not because it is easy to enforce, but to impress upon the young driver that he is not experienced merely because he has passed a somewhat inadequate driving test.
Thirdly, we must consider how to control the use of the motor car. We have already discussed seat belts. I was one of the leading opponents to the compulsory wearing of seat belts, yet I dutifully obey the law. During the past three weeks, I have been disturbed to find that the number of lives saved does not relate to the optimistic statistics given when the debate was initiated some years ago, and I hope that the Minister will comment on that. Other factors appear to come into play. Therefore, while I do not suggest that we return to the days when wearing front seat belts was not compulsory, we should approach carefully the question of the compulsory wearing of rear seat belts.
If any colleagues have a family of six, they will discover that there is no family car that will take six people comfortably. Normally, they have two seats in the front, and if one has four children they must all go in the back. For that reason problems will arise in enforcing the wearing of rear seat belts. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will take note of that, and also the fact that the Committee considered in detail the wearing of rear seat belts, but came out firmly against any decision on compulsion.
§ Mr. Waller
My hon. Friend said that the statistics on the compulsory wearing of front seat belts do not suggest the great improvement that was predicted three years ago. Since it has been suggested that driver behaviour may have been altered by the wearing of seat belts, would there not be a case, as we are to consider the renewal of the legislation during the next few weeks, at least for agreeing that we do not have all the evidence on which to base a permanent decision and that there may be a case for a continued experiment? Might we not proceed on the basis that compulsion should continue for another three years?
§ Mr. Fry
I have considerable sympathy with my hon. Friend's view.
As joint chairman of the parliamentary road safety group, as well as being a member of the Select Committee on Transport, I congratulate the. Government—my hon. Friend the Minister has not heard me say that in recent months—on their policy for building roads, especially bypasses, which make a major contribution to road safety. I shall be extremely happy when the two bypasses that are planned in my constituency are built, because we shall probably have done as much as we can in that respect.
However, a danger seems to be emerging. I know that it is not due to the Department's planning; it is due more to the attitude of the Department which controls all Government expenditure. In recent years, there has been a downgrading of some proposed roads, which often leads to dual carriageways being reduced to single carriageways. We all know about the terrible accident in Norfolk which resulted from such planning. Planned motorways have been downgraded to all-purpose roads. This is causing great anxiety.
In my constituency, the A45 leading off the M1 is a county road, not a trunk road, but motorists coming off the 825 M1 still think that they are on the M1. It is not built exactly to motorway standards, but it is an extremely fast road, and the police admit that the overwhelming majority of motorists drive along it at high speeds. They treat the road as though it were still the M1, but on that road one can meet cyclists, learner drivers and agricultural machinery. Is it any wonder that, during the two to three years since it has been opened, the accident statistics for that stretch of road are horrifying? Only this week, the inquest on two cyclists killed on that road expressed grave concern about the way in which it was built and those who are allowed to use it.
If there is deliberate downgrading of roads that will be heavily used, the Department must reconsider the regulations governing the use of those roads. The A45 certainly should not carry cyclists or farm vehicles, because it is far too dangerous. If we continue the policy of downgrading roads that should be of a higher standard, we shall not reduce road accidents. We might save a little money in the interim, but in the long run we will endanger lives and cause considerably greater public expenditure.
I am pleased that the Select Committee chose the subject of road safety for this report. I accept what the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said about the need for continual appraisal of the problem. It is something to which nearly every hon. Member can make a contribution.
I should like us to have an annual debate and review to consider new ideas, to check statements by the Government and to bring in what other countries are doing. When all is said and done, we are dealing with an avoidable loss of life and damage to the human body. Anything that the House or one of its Committees can do to reduce that is to be commended.
§ Mr. Ted Garrett (Wallsend)
I agree with what has been said about the high quality of the debate and that it has been constructive, with hardly any negative factors. I am pleasantly surprised at the high commitment that various hon. Members have brought to the principles of road safety. Regrettably, I cannot reach their level, but I still retain interest in this important matter.
The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) argued for an 80 mph speed limit, and I agree that enforcement would be difficult. One of the problems of enforcement by the traditional method of patrol cars is the fuel restrictions placed on police authorities because of budgetary policies. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) asked why there were humps by the side of the road and why patrol vehicles were placed there. The answer goes back to the time when we had a fuel shortage 11 or 12 years ago, and 55 mph was made the national speed limit. Vehicles were placed on the humps to save their fuel in addition to allowing their drivers to keep an eye on other vehicles.
I take note of the point made by the hon. Member for Wellingborough about bypasses of our towns with populations of 30,000 to 40,000, the old traditional towns that are all over the United Kingdom. Within their budgetary limits, the Government are pursuing the building of bypassed. In the north of England some of our most beautiful small towns have been bypasses by the A1, to good effect. I hope that this policy will continue.
826 I should like people to make less use of their cars. All Governments should deter motorists from driving. I know that we shall never reach the ultimate of no cars on the highways. We have heard a lot about London's parking and traffic problems today, but there are problems in all our major cities. I can only give the example of the Tyne and Wear project—I hope that I shall be forgiven for being parochial. One of the underrated successes of the Tyne and Wear metropolitan transport system, based on road-rail integration, is that within Tyneside itself the traffic volumes have decreased because it is an attractive proposition to travel on a public transport system that is modern, clean, efficient and operates well.
People from the outlying areas come to the metro system, park their cars and can travel in either by bus or metro. Fewer people are using their cars in the inner city, which in turn means fewer accidents involving pedestrians, less use of fuel and more space for the pedestrians.
Emphasis should be given to the development of similar systems in the major cities, or perhaps even better ones. Instead of discussing the possibility of crossing the straits of Dover by whatever method is chosen—by tunnel or whatever—our thoughts should be directed to finding the financial resources for the development in cities of transport systems in places such as Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Edinburgh. Bristol and Norwich. If some of the money that we waste on surplus agricultural production were to be applied to the roads, the financial problems could be overcome. Most of us as motorists pay an additional £500 a year in taxes to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, either through the road tax or the tax on petrol. Surely some of that money could be returned for use in the interests of road safety.
We should look again at the much-maligned British railway system. If some of the money that is wasted in contributing to EEC funds were to be given to British Rail to improve its efficiency, more people would be encouraged to leave their cars at home. Unfortunately, there is not much encouragement for them to do so, because most of our inter-city trains are overcrowded. Most of them have mechanical failures and do not arrive on time. I understand that the problem is to be rectified by the introduction of another type of engine on some of the inter-city trains.
I understand that from 1 January British Rail is to introduce a system under which cyclists will have to reserve a position before they can put their cycles on a train. That is ludicrous. A man and his children living in Newcastle may want to put their cycles on a train so that, when they arrive in York, they can use them to visit the minster. They may want to take them to Edinburgh, or even to Sheffield, but they will be unable to do so after 1 January unless they reserve a position for their cycles on the train. British Rail should be encouraging people to use their cycles so that they can leave their cars at home.
I am not an opponent of the National Bus Company or of any other forms of bus transport between our cities. Indeed, more should be done to encourage people to use bus transport so that the number of motor cars on the motorways can be reduced. As several hon. Members have said, and as the Minister emphasised, the safety factor of buses and other types of public transport has to be considered. The Minister has given the House the assurance that that will be done, and with that assurance I hope that more people will be encouraged to use buses.
827 Cars should be used mainly in the outer areas of our cities. Clearly they have to be used in urban and country areas because of the lack of public transport, but there is no reason why a campaign should not be introduced to educate people in the use of public transport. I use public transport as much as I can and I find it very relaxing. I know that the Minister uses it. One is able to meet people and to hear what they say about the Government or the Opposition.
Those hon. Members who belong to the RAC have probably read the annual report for 1984 which refers to the need to protect the interests of motorists. On reading the report, it is clear that it is seeking to protect the interests of pedestrians and is thus helping to save lives.
I have here a report from the British Road Federation. The federation, of course, lobbies for the road haulage industry, but from page 19 it is clear that, although the federation is concerned with profitability and the movement of goods on the road, it is also fully aware of the need to consider the safety factor.
I hope that my suggestions have added to the quality of the debate.
§ Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)
The report of the Select Committee on Transport makes fascinating reading. I congratulate all my colleagues who served on it.
I was interested in the recommendation in paragraph 47 about the Institute of Advanced Motorists. I was challenged by the IAM in my area to have an assessment. I have been driving safely for 15 years, and do nearly 20,000 miles a year. I was horrified to find that the institute did not think that I drove well enough. After several lessons I was still not up to its standards. I could not quite figure out what it wanted me to do with the gears. However, I say to any colleagues who think that their driving is very good that they should go to the IAM and ask for its assessment and find out just what mistakes they are making. I am grateful for the institute's care and efforts.
I was not in the House when the seat belt legislation was discussed. If I had been, I should have voted for it. When it comes back, I shall vote for it. I say to my colleagues who have doubts that those who do not believe in it will never have enough evidence to convince them that it is a satisfactory measure, and those who believe in it are overwhelmed by the evidence that many lives have been saved and a great deal of money has been saved to the public purse.
I should like to raise a question that resulted from an accident near my home during the summer. A constituent of mine, Mr. Andrew Bates, was involved. The accident took place on the A38 at Willington, about 1 mile from my home in Derbyshire. He was riding his motor cycle, going home with a friend on another bike from a meeting of the local Kawasaki club, of which he was a founder member. It was quite late, but he had not been drinking. His bike was in perfect order—in fact, it was his pride and joy. The weather was reasonable and the roads were clear. He turned off the road to go home, but he took the wrong turning, crashed into two cars and found himself in a garage slipway. He drove straight into the wall and was killed instantly. He was 23 years old, a bright and pleasant young man working in a local factory. The inquest on 3 September returned a verdict of accidental death.
828 Andrew's family believes that the accident happened because he was wearing a dark visor on his helmet. He simply could not see where he was going. His family came to see me to ask for my help in getting such things banned as soon as possible.
The Select Committee report shows that young people are more likely to be killed or seriously injured than any other road user. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) drew attention to paragraph 14, which calls it an epidemic. That is right. Young motor cyclists are the most vulnerable of all road users, and the rate of death and serious injury for motor cyclists is 30 times greater than for car drivers. Motor cycle accidents account for one quarter of all deaths on the road and a substantial proportion of young deaths from all causes. In fact, the rate among teenagers is about 16 per cent.
The numbers dying rose steadily during the 1970s even when deaths among other types of road user were falling. One thousand motor cyclists are killed every year and nearly 20,000 are seriously injured, over 70 per cent. being young people. The cost to the public purse is enormous and the cost in terms of anguish and suffering for those people and their families is incalculable. I do not pretend that banning dark visors will save 1,000 lives a year, but I am certain that it would have saved the life of my young constituent and that it would save the death and injury of other young people.
Andrew had bought a standard helmet with a visor, both according to the British Standards Institution and bearing the kite mark. He tried to persuade his local Kawasaki dealer, Mr. Jim Swift, to sell him a dark visor. Mr. Swift said in a letter to me:
I am endeavouring to arrange for a visor to be sent to you but in this respect I am relying upon others who might not be quite so willing to help you get them banned since they are very good sellers, providing as they do a very good anonymity.As you may have gathered I don't sell them for the personal reason that I believe them to dangerously restrict vision both during the day and night … Andy was a friend as well as a customer and I did my best to dissuade him from buying such a visor. In the end he bought it elsewhere.I have been told that there are visors on sale that allow only 4 per cent. of light through so that one cannot see a red light changing, even in daylight. These things are perfectly legal. Andrew Bates broke no law. Nor did the man who sold the visor to him. Nor did the manufacturer. Why does a perfectly sensible young man who has just spent thousands of pounds on his bike fit a £5 visor to his helmet and then drive straight into a wall?
Apparently dark visors are the fashion. Their use is encouraged by what young people see on television. I was told that Andrew was a fan, as are many young people, of a television programme called "Streethawk" which was shown in our area. I must confess that I had never seen it. I am grateful to the distributor who yesterday showed me samples of the programme. In it, a young policeman in black gear with a black helmet, a black visor and a black motor cycle goes out as a vigilante to cure crime in San Francisco, Los Angeles, or wherever it is. In a fantasy he has a special vision through the visor. Of course, the real visor is not like that. I have checked with Central Television and have been told that only 12 episodes were made. To its credit, Central Television has said that, having shown those programmes, it will never show them again, even though it receives a large number of requests.
The fashion is encouraged by those who should know better. The RoSPA leaflet on protective gear contains three 829 pictures of young cyclists in helmets, two of which make it look as though the visor is dark. I ask RoSPA to think hard about the literature it is putting out and to change it.
§ Mr. Sheerman
Knowing what I do about RoSPA, I should be surprised if it put out a leaflet showing dark visors. I do not think that the leaflet shows a photograph. It might give the impression that dark visors were used, but I am sure that RoSPA would not show with approval that type of equipment.
§ Mrs. Currie
I shall pass the leaflet over to the hon. Gentleman. The advice given is excellent. It contains three drawings, two of which look as though the helmet has a tinted visor, even though the advice on the leaflet is that such a visor should not be used. I am sure that RoSPA will pick up my points and change those drawings as quickly as possible.
Now to the state of the law. The current regulations—the Motor Cycles (Protective Helmets) Regulations, SI 1980/1279 and the Motor Cycles (Protective Helmets) (Amendment) Regulations, SI 1981/374—require any crash helmets worn by motor cyclists and passengers to conform with British Standard 2495 or 5361. Those standards lay down the specifications that manufacturers have to meet for new crash helmets. The British standards require visors fitted as original equipment for helmets to be of clear material which is resistant to abrasion. A new British standard—BS6658—has just been published and updates the earlier ones. But Andrew had a replacement visor. On 19 March 1985 my hon. Friend the Minister of State announced that draft regulations were being circulated which would require replacement visors to comply with the latest amendments to the relevant British Standard. The main requirements would be that no replacement visor should be so tinted as to reduce light transmission by more than 50 per cent. and that all visors should be made of material that was resistant to abrasion. These regulations have now been made—SI 1985/1593—but they do not come into effect until 1 July 1987.
The position is, therefore, that visors fitted as original equipment to new helmets must be of clear, abrasion-resistant material. However, visors sold as replacements or separately from helmets may be tinted, provided that they conform with the relevant British standard—but not for 19 months. Therefore, these lethal visors are still on sale, are still being produced and are still just as likely to kill our constituents. If we are serious about the fact that dark visors are dangerous, it is madness to allow their sale. I think that the Government believe that. Why wait until July 1987? There are acceptable alternatives on the market. We should ban these visors as soon as possible.
I suppose that there are a number of arguments against banning. The dear souls of the Motor Cycle Action Group, who seem to be against compulsion of any kind in any aspect of motor cycle legislation, will tell us about freedom. That is balderdash. Freedom has a price. If the cost is to be paid in lives, that price is too high. I served on the Select Committee on Social Services. We spent all our time looking at the way in which we spend money to alleviate pain and suffering. The longest waiting list in Britain is for orthopaedic surgery, and we have an obligation to take that into account. I am a lover of freedom, but not in this case. The better argument is that badly scratched visors are a more widespread problem than 830 dark ones and that there are technical problems with materials. I am told that suitable material has been available since 1979, so that is not a strong reason for leaving the law as it is.
A Department of Transport press release of 19 March 1985 said that we must wait until 1987 to give manufacturers and sales outlets a chance to clear old stock. My hon. Friend the Minister should consider closely how much stock these people carry. I do not believe that they carry more than a few weeks' stock—these are fast moving lines for retailers. Bob Heath Visors of Birmingham, a large manufacturer, produces about 350,000 visors a year—the total market is about 500,000. Bob Heath has been extremely helpful to me and tells me that it carries about £100,000 worth of stock. It does not take an arithmetical genius to work out that he carries only three to four months' stock. Bob Heath also tells me that it does not and will not make visors which admit less than 50 per cent. of light. It follows, therefore, that there are comparatively few of these things around, but they are around.
We have a precedent in the case of smelly rubbers. I voted for legislation on scented erasers when the Government moved to have them banned virtually overnight. They left manufacturers and wholesalers with £140,000 worth of stock. The Government did that because it was said that somebody had died from swallowing a scented eraser and that the cost to human life was not acceptable. We can do the same with tinted visors. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to think along those lines.
I wish to say a brief word about the night time use of tinted visors. When the new regulations come in, in July 1987, the visors will have to be labelled "Day Time Use Only". It is not proposed to ban their use. It will not be illegal to wear them at night. Even if they reduce the light admitted by only 50 per cent., they will still be very dangerous. Bob Heath has written to me and to the Department of Transport on the same lines saying:We would like to see a far stronger law, making the wearing of tinted visors illegal after lighting-up hours, and making the offence endorsable.It beats me why anyone thinks that such a label will achieve anything. Why not go the whole hog? Manufacturers will not be affected and a ban would be easily enforceable as it is difficult to hide what is on your head when riding around the streets of Derbyshire. The complacency of those concerned in this small though important matter is breathtaking.
RoSPA has called these dark visors suicidal. It has got it right. We have some obligation to protect our young people on the roads. We could respond more speedily and effectively.
§ 1.7 pm
§ Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)
I apologise to the Minister for not being present to hear her speech. I look forward to reading it.
I congratulate the Select Committee on its extremely thorough report. It is a subject on which one can consider so many issues that one has to exercise tight self-discipline. I propose to consider only five matters, and those briefly, but that does not mean that I do not think that other issues are unimportant.
I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said about the 831 Blennerhassett report. I have an interest in it because I appointed him and he reported to me. I endorsed his findings totally. Unfortunately, I was translated to another Department before I could do anything about the report.
I hope that the Government have enough courage to make further progress. Drunken driving is probably the greatest social evil in the country, bearing in mind the slaughter, pain and distress that it causes to many families. If the Minister can persuade her colleagues to join her in supporting further enhancement of police powers in that respect, she would have the support of many of my hon. Friends.
The law must be respected, or it is a silly law, and it is difficult to say that the law on speed limits in Britain is generally respected. That is clear from the evidence of our eyes, not only on motorways but in towns. I break the speed limit law from time to time. It would be a brave hon. Member who could say that he or she has never broken the speed limit. Indeed, in towns it is often difficult to obey the speed limit law when the rest of the traffic is exceeding 30 mph—often on roads where it is safe for the limit to be exceeded.
I appreciate that this is a matter of concern to chief constables in many areas. The speed limits in some areas are too low, with the consequence that the law is brought into disrespect. When the police crack down, they usually do on those stretches of road on which people more frequently break the speed limit, and they tend to be stretches of road where it is safe to exceed the limit. The result is that friction is introduced in relations between motorists and the police and that makes for an unhealthy state of affairs. For that reason, I endorse the Select Committee's suggestion for a temporary enhancement on motorways to 80 mph for a trial period.
I agree with the Select Committee's recommendations on lighting. However, I would go further. I urge the Minister to issue instructions for the maintenance of lights on motorway signs to receive a high priority. Indeed, the maintenance of lighting on other signposting throughout the country should receive a high priority, for few things are more dangerous than motorists approaching signs that are not lit. They slow down and disrupt the traffic flow, often with tragic results.
I think that it is still legal to drive on lit sections of motorways with nothing more than side lights switched on. If that is the case, it is a scandal. I recall discovering that fact many years ago, when I tried to introduce legislation to make the use of dipped headlights at night mandatory. A Conservative Member told me that he regularly drove along the M4 with only his sidelights on and that he was legally entitled to do so. I told him that I thought he was a raving maniac. Nevertheless, I learnt that he was within his legal rights, because it was a lit area and the lamp posts were sufficiently close together to make his action legal, given the state of the regulations at that time. I gather that those regulations still apply, although the sidelights on some cars are nothing more than vestigial.
I hope that the Minister will consider seriously the whole question of signposting. I have two recommendations for her, one of which would cost some money. I suggest that that before every motorway exit there should be at least one gantry sign across the whole motorway. Unlike motorways in other countries, we have along our 832 motorways narrow, median strips, so that the warning signs for exit are almost always on the left-hand side of the motorway; in other words, beyond the hard shoulder.
When one is driving along a motorway which is heavy with high-sided traffic, one can pass a sign without having the faintest idea of its existence. One might be taken by surprise then coming upon an exit or one might be alerted only by the final lines on the road. Pulling over at the last minute is dangerous. Sometimes drivers miss their exits. A convenient bridge makes it possible to warn motorists that the next exit is, for example, two miles away. We should not be so rigid in the spacing of signs. A major contribution to motorway safety would be made if all signposts were placed overhead.
Much more could be done to improve signs in our major cities. Many accidents in cities are caused by drivers changing lanes at the last minute to make a right or left turn. The Minister should send an official to America to examine methods in Los Angeles. English cities are not built on grid patterns like American cities, but the advice given to a motorist going through a major American city on when he must change lanes to arrive at his destination is far superior to anything here. In down-town Los Angeles one is fed information not only about the next turn off, but the turn off beyond.
When I was at the Department of Transport I had battles with officials who took an insular attitude to suggestions from outside. I hope that things have changed.
My last suggestion will cost the Government nothing. Cars driven at night with only one headlight are dangerous. A light can go in any car without the driver knowing it. One might be stopped and warned or be charged with dangerous driving, according to the mood of the officer on the spot or of the senior officer who decides whether a driver should be prosecuted. In many countries, a statutory requirement is that motorists carry with them at all times certain spare parts. That is not an onerous requirement, already in the United Kingdom, in line with European law, motorists have to carry a red warning triangle. It would be sensible to insist that motorists carry not only spare bulbs but spare fuses.
Recently, my windscreen wipers failed to work. I should have been in difficulty if I had not been carrying some spare fuses. I had them because I was travelling abroad and had taken an overseas repair kit with me. I do not always carry it when driving here in my mini. That suggestion would not involve cost to the Government or extra cost to the motorist because a motorist would have to replace the bulb eventually. I think that my suggestion would improve road safety.
Such debates are healthy. We do not discuss road safety often enough. The last time that I looked at the figures, which I admit was many years ago, the rate of deaths and injuries on the roads of this country was something like 14 times the rate at which the IRA was killing and maiming people. When we compare the publicity that the two forms of social disaster attract, I think that we have got our values seriously wrong.
In my last four visits to my constituency I have witnessed the aftermath of no fewer than seven road accidents between the centre of Birmingham and Dudley. I do not drive more than about 80 or 90 miles at the weekend. It is only impressionistic, but I have a nasty feeling that the statistics are beginning to creep up again at a rate that will be a shame for all of us.
833 When I left the Department of Transport, which was then part of the Department of the Environment, I had in mind a range of other suggestions for road safety. I know that there is a convention that Ministers do not see the papers of previous Ministers, but I should be delighted for the Govenment to look at any of my suggestions and treat them on their merits. I sometimes thought that my officials were rather horrified at the prospect. I wish the Minister well.
§ Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)
I congratulate the Select Committee on Transport on an excellent report and the Government on their response to it. My hon. Friend the Minister of State does superb work for the industry and road safety and she seems to have achieved a wangle in the autumn statement. I notice that there is to be an additional provision for capital spending on national roads amounting to £37 million for 1986–87 and £52 million in 1987–88. Many of my colleagues will immediately lobby my hon. Friend for new bypasses or dual carriageways, but I will be lobbying her for more motorways to be lit.
I am joint chairman, with the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), of the British parliamentary lighting group. We now have an all-party membership of just under 100. In 1984 we published a book, "Light up the Roads", in which we advocated lighting on all of Britain's motorways. Since being elected in June 1983, one of my main campaigns has been to make motorways safer. That has something to do with the fact that my constituency is in Leicester and that the M1 separates me from the House.
Motorways have the best safety record of any road, but it is serious that each year 200 people die on motorways. We can all recall the tragic crashes on the M25 last December, the recent crash on the M6 and the crash that occurred today. I am not saying that lighting those motorway stretches would have saved lives, but it is tragic that so many lives have been lost. Spending £90 million on illuminating all the existing stretches of our motorways would be money well spent. Only about 455 miles of motorway are lit and 1,300 miles are still unlit. Something has to be done.
I have discovered, in an answer to a recent question, that it would cost £9 million to light the remaining stretch of the principal and most serious motorway, the M1. Most hon. Members seem to use that road at some time, but only 68 miles of its 189 miles are lit.
Lighting maintenance for all the motorways would cost £9 million. That would be money well spent. As I said in a letter to The Times, the average cost of a night-time fatality is £205,460. Motorway lighting would reduce the night-time accident rate. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister has agreed on that point, and the report of the Select Committee on Transport said in paragraph 169:A significant contribution to improved road safety can be made by the installation of lighting at appropriate locations on the road network.The Department of Transport stated that the rate of accidents during the hours of darkness was nearly double that for the hours of daylight. Accidents at night are more likely to produce fatalities and severe injuries. That was stated in March 1983, in evidence to the Select Committee on Transport.
834 Not all accidents and fatalities occur on unlit stretches of motorways, but there is poor visibility at night—as well as fog during the day—and a higher incidence of drunk driving at night. The mental state of drivers is not right; they are not in control. Paragraph 170 of the Select Committee report stated:The results for motorways also show that the installation of lighting could be effective, with accident reductions of up to 60 per cent.That is an important statistic. Paragraph 172 said:the Association of Chief Police Officers felt that 'all new motorways should be fitted with overhead lighting as a matter of routine'.That view was endorsed by the Select Committee.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State had said that there was no intention of reversing the Department's policy not to light all motorways throughout their length. but I understand that views have changed and that recommendations (xxxviii) and (xxxix) may receive more favourable consideration. I know that my hon. Friend believes in more lighting and I appreciate the cost-difficulties. Recommendation (xxxix) says:
The Department should consider as policy the gradual installation of overhead lighting on existing motorways".We are talking about 1,300 miles of motorway. It is interesting to note that when the recommendation is reproduced in the Government observations it says:the installation of overhead lighting".The Select Committee refers tothe gradual installation of overhead lighting".I do not mind how long it takes, as long as it is done. The Government's observation states:
The Department is reviewing its policy on the provision of overhead lighting on motorways. A balance has to be struck between the advantages of motorway lighting, and the cost of it, which is high. The Department is currently working out the best arrangements for testing the cost benefit".My hon. Friend the Minister of State has been helpful in considering the request of the British parliamentary lighting group that all stretches of the M25 should be reconsidered for lighting, providing they are not subject to contrary undertakings given at public inquiries. The Government were allowed to proceed with some stretches of the motorway despite the fact that some people were worried about the effects of lighting on the environment. It was thought that lighting on some stretches of the M25 out in the wilds would not be environmentally acceptable. However, if the lighting had been there from the start—it would not be glaring orange and would not frighten residents as they look out of their kitchen windows—the safety record of the motorway would be better.
I have a well-known interest in connection with the M25. Only 40 miles of the 122 miles of that motorway are lit. Lighting the rest would cost £7 million and maintenance would cost £750,000 a year. I am convinced that all of the M25 will be lit eventually, but it would have been cheaper to install lighting during construction. Ducts are being installed in various new stretches of motorway, but lights were installed during construction on only 168.3 miles of motorway.
Lighting proposals are always assessed on a cost-benefit basis and we always look at the expected savings from the reduction of the number of accidents. It would be neither economical nor environmentally acceptable to light motorways throughout their length if the costs were too great, but I do not believe that it is. The lighting of unlit stretches of all motorways should be given even more favourable consideration.
835 There are many lane closures and contraflow systems on motorways—far too many on the M1—and motorists suffer from not being given enough notice, from driving too fast and from poor visibility because of fog, snow and rain. If lighting is provided, at least they will be able to see that something is amiss. I should like compliance with warning signs to be mandatory. It is important that motorists do not exceed the speed that is shown on a sign. If the sign tells them to drive at 50 mph, they should not drive any faster than that as they approach a lane closure or accident, for example.
It seems that motorists on motorways slow down only when police are around. That is depressing. I am delighted that the police patrol, but motorists should be thinking of others while driving on motorways.
As I have said, I am worried about the M25, which is becoming heavily used and congested. It will be necessary to provide lights quickly as well as extensive fog warning systems. Motorists must be made fully aware of all road conditions.
In answer to one of my questions, my hon. Friend the Minister of State said that motorway lighting between the Newport Pagnell service area and junction 16 was next in line. She said that that lighting would probably not be installed until the spring of 1987. I make a plea that it should be installed earlier than that. My hon. Friend encouraged me by saying that she waskeeping under review the need to provide additional lighting on the remaining unlit stretches of the M1."—[Official Report, 12 December 1984; Vol 69, c. 526.]That must be good news.
We must bear in mind that night time fatalities during 1984 cost £700 million. There could be a good return over five years if we went ahead with additional lighting. It is a tragedy that 5,000 people or more die in road accidents each year. The cost of accidents at a speed of 50 mph on dark, unlit roads in 1983 cost the taxpayer £3 million. At 60 mph, the cost was £200 million and at 70 mph it was £44 million. These figures tell us that something must be done urgently.
Last year we had the "Stay low" campaign, which was designed to reduce drinking and driving. Unfortunately, it suggested to some that they should not drink too much before driving. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State made it clear that she was against drinking and then driving. Unfortunately, the campaign message did not get through completely to some. I consider it wrong to have a campaign only at Christmas. I support the recommendations of the Select Committee on Transport. If we have a campaign only at Christmas, motorists will think that they can get away with drinking and driving during the rest of the year. It is only at Christmas that they hire coaches to go to parties at pubs or elsewhere.
Drinking and driving is the most serious road safety problem in Britain. RoSPA has reported that 1,200 deaths a year result because people have drunk too much. About one fifth of all deaths on our roads are caused through drink. It has been suggested that we should reduce the maximum blood-alcohol level from 80 mg per 100ml to 50 mg. I do not want to get drawn too far into that argument. However, people must be careful before they leave the pub and jump into their car if they feel that they are over the top. The police must be far more vigilant. It will surprise some hon. Members when I say that random breath tests should be the order of the day.
836 In reply to my question yesterday, when I asked my hon. Friend the Minister of State to consider introducing random breath tests, she said:I am satisfied that existing police powers to require a breath test are sufficient to enable the law on drinking and driving to be enforced effectively.I hope that that answer will he published widely. It means that the police have the powers that are necessary to stop anyone who is driving away from them or from the pub if they believe genuinely or reasonably, or suspect, that the driver has excess alcohol in his blood.
The public must be made aware throughout the year that they may be stopped and, in certain circumstances, will be stopped. With that awareness, they will exercise a greater care in not drinking to excess. They will adopt the same attitude to drinking and driving throughout the year as that which they adopt over Christmas.
I know that my hon. Friend will be introducing a new publicity campaign on drinking and driving, and I await it with great interest. I know that it will be promoted during December until the new year and that the police are co-operating with my hon. Friend. I hope that she will say that such campaigns will not be confined to Christmas. Drinking and driving is a problem throughout the year and, as I have said, publicity on the subject must not be confined to Christmas.
I am satisfied that the police have powers to stop drivers who appear to be over the top, and they must exercise them. I am not criticising landlords or licensees, who may not like the introduction of random breath tests. They may feel that the view is taken that they cannot judge when someone has had too much to drink. They are responsible people and I know that they do not serve drinks to those who are well over the top.
I am not happy about the Lion laboratory's pocket alcometer. It enables people in public houses to carry out a quick test to see whether they are over the top. If they are not, they have one more drink and then they are over the top. The alcometer gives them a false sense of security, and we must stop it. We all realise that drinking too much can kill.
We must consider carefully the way in which the drinking test is carried out. Too many people think that half an hour after passing a driving test they can drive down the motorway at 70 mph. They are not up to that. The test should be much longer. Night time driving should be included, as the Association of Chief Police Officers has said. There should be a test on dual carriageways. People do not have to take a car parking test, and that is nonsense.
Police are right to prosecute people for drunken driving, and it is correct to imprison people for being well over the top. The Leicester city bench has announced that it will imprison and disqualify for three years people who are four times over the legal limit. They will gaol reckless drivers who are chased while trying to evade arrest while over the top. They will fine people £300 and disqualify them for other offences. That is a step in the right direction. But we must go further.
I wish people to be banned for many years if they have killed someone while drunk. I wish people to be imprisoned for five, not three years. The Transport Act 1981 provides for six months' imprisonment plus a maximum fine of £2,000. They should both be far greater. I know that we shall do all that because we all care about motorists. The Government have made some excellent 837 proposals and responses to the Select Committee's recommendations. We shall make the roads safer. RoSPA has said that a great deal more must be done, and I agree. I know that the Government are firmly committed to making our roads safer.
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)
I seem to be becoming an addict of Friday debates. We must be dedicated enthusiasts for this calling because we frequently find ourselves sitting here for four hours before being called. We can be enthusiasts rather than tub-thumping ideologues, because we know that every speech will produce something new. Although there is a lamentable absence of the press on Friday mornings, the message will be read by those who care.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister, who does a difficult job within a difficult Department. People always say that their roads are too bad, too old, too late or too short. They forget that transport is about people rather than things. One of my hon. Friend's most telling comments was that the equivalent of five jumbo jet loads of people are killed or seriously injured on our roads each week, and yet our record is better than that of most other countries within the European Community.
After listening to the debate, one would think that road safety was confined to the problems of motorways and that all hon. Members were linked to one another by motorway. I am pleased to be able to say that I do not have one motorway in my constituency, but road safety is of great importance to me and my constituents.
The Select Committee's report and the Government's response to it have been referred to. I should like to emphasise one of the recommendations—that the Department of Transport should consider more advanced driving tests. I am aware that the Government are considering that. I am a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, like my hon. Friend the Minister of State and my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins). I am proud to be the president of the Salisbury Plain branch of the IAM. The reason that I became a member of that organisation may be an object lesson which others seek to follow. I did a deal with my mother. She said, "You can have the family car if you pass your advanced driving test." I did so, and I hope that I am a better driver for it.
I have one or two worries about road safety. The first relates to the problem of hand-held microphones on coaches. Our tourist guides—I declare an interest as vice-president of the association of Wessex tourist guides—are right to point out that one gets what one pays for with coach tours, and that drivers are good at driving, that tour guides are good at giving guided tours, and that the two should not mix. I know that that thought has occupied the minds of many people in previous years, but in a recent written answer my hon. Friend the Minister said:
The conduct of coach drivers, including talking by them, is governed by the Public Service Vehicles (Conduct of Drivers, Conductors and Passengers) Regulations which date from 1936 and are currently under review."—[Official Report, 9 April 1984; Vol. 58, c. 27.]Paragraphs 4 and 5 of those regulations state:
A driver or a conductor, when acting as such …(b) shall not smoke in or on a vehicle during a journey or when it has passengers on board;838(c) shall take all reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of passengers in or on or entering or alighting from the vehicle …A driver … shall not when the vehicle is in motion speak to the conductor or any other person unless it is necessary to do so on grounds of safety.If the law considers that it is unsafe to smoke while driving a coach, why in heaven's name does it not also consider it unsafe to hold a microphone and give a running commentary? There is nothing like personal experience to bring home a point. I was nearly smashed into by a coach in Salisbury earlier in the autumn while its driver was giving a running commentary. I feel strongly about the issue and beg the Minister to look into it again.
The burning question of in-car telephones follows from that. We see a great deal of advertising in the national press and on television about Cellnet and similar inovations which provide the facility to telephone when one is either moving or stationary. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he was satisfied with that. My hon. Friend the Minister replied:
Drivers with in-car telephones should never use them whilst on the move. My Department's manual 'driving' advises that drivers should stop before making or receiving a call … there is at present no evidence to suggest that they are giving rise to any road safety hazard, but I shall be keeping a close watch on the situation."—[Official Report, 26 March 1985; Vol. 76, c. 111.]It has been represented to me by my constituents and others that the present advertising of in-car telephones gives the impression that one can use them while driving. I do not have one. Indeed, the car is one of the few places where I can escape from the telephone, and one is better off weaving between the heavy lorries on the M3 on the way home without a telephone. That is another dangerous area of our life, and I beg the Minister to look into it.
Road safety, like transport, is about people, and people simply do not know the speed limits on derestricted roads. I sometimes wonder whether lorry drivers know them. Cars have a speed limit of 60 mph on single carriageways and 70 mph on other roads. Buses have a speed limit of 50 mph on single carriageways, 60 mph on dual carriageways, and 70 mph on motorways. But any lorry over 7.5 tonnes whether rigid or articulated, has a speed limit of 40 mph on single carriageways, 50 mph on dual carriageways and 60 mph on motorways. I cannot remember when I last saw a heavy lorry driving at less than 40 mph on our country roads in Wiltshire.
Our debate is not only about motorway driving. It should also be about education. I was advised by Wiltshire county constabulary, in response to my request to put advisory signs at the entrance to some of our more picturesque but hazardous villages on the A36, "But the county planning authority would never allow you to put up signs advising danger and a speed limit." The statutory 30 mph speed limit sign is woefully inadequate in the circumstances.
The British Road Federation document has been circulated to all Members of Parliament, no doubt at enormous cost. It is a beautiful, glossy document that must have cost about £5 per copy to produce. I have read it with great care, and I commend the British Road Federation for being an extremely effective lobbying organisation on behalf of the road transport industry. But from cover to cover of the document, one does not find a single mention of the driver and his responsibility for road safety and 839 everything else. I hear that the Department of Transport has distributed 23 million leaflets on lane-hogging in the past three years. That is just one aspect of the problem.
Although I have had a go at the British Road Federation and its document, I commend the high quality of most commercial drivers. However, I am reminded of the famous television series that featured the headgehog sandwich and the song, "Keep on trucking." That is too often the image of lorry drivers today. Recollecting the tenor of that programme, one might assume the creation of a new offence driving in an intimidating manner, because there is no doubt that people are frightened by heavy lorries. It is not only a matter of a driver being frightened and making bad judgments because a juggernaught is close behind him; the residents of villages through which those lorries thunder are frightened to walk along their streets. If they do, they will probably be showered by water as the lorries drive by. Heavy goods vehicles were responsible for 13,504 accidents involving personal injury last year.
Far be it for me to suggest that we should adopt the former Spanish system, with small coloured lights on the backs of heavy lorries so that the drivers can tell the following motorists when it is safe to overtake. That would be largely redundant in Britain, since it is usually a case of the lorry overtaking the car. We do not need that in Britain, but I must make the point that a car, a coach or a lorry is as safe as its driver. It comes back to personal responsibility. Villagers in my constituency are used to seeing lorries rumbling through their villages on a regular basis—as regular as the trains used to be on the Great Western railway. They can tell us that, at a certain moment, huge articulated lorries proudly bearing the names of well-known shops and chain stores will thunder through their villages.
Let me be specific. Rank Hovis's flour tankers go in convoy. Good food may cost less at Sainsbury's, but between Sainsbury's shops it costs a great deal in terms of human misery suffered by my constituents, who are shaken by those thundering juggernauts. Ski yoghourt is a lovely product, yet when the lorries carrying it thunder up and down the A303 and cause havoc in Winterbourne Stoke and other villages, I do not perceive the good image of Ski yoghourt. The lorries from Wincanton Transport carry small notices apologising for any delay and saying,By-passes will solve all this. Drive it home to your MP.The Amey Roadstone corporation is in a good business: breaking up the roads so that it can rebuild them later.
I drove down the A338 behind a coach that went at more than 70 mph on a dual carriageway, more than 60 mph on a single carriageway, and entered the village of Downton, on its way to Bournemouth, at more than 50 mph. Perhaps I should not mention the name of that company, but the coach came from Cheshire. I regret to say that I have taken to task our National Bus Company, the Wilts and Dorset company, more than once for speeding, faulty lights and filthy exhaust fumes coming from its older vehicles. That is unusual for the Wilts and Dorset company, which is normally scrupulous about such matters. It all comes down to personal responsibility.
Resources for policing are already fully stretched. The Wiltshire county constabulary has told me that on one of the most dangerous roads, the A36, which joins Bristol to Poole and Southampton in commercial terms, there is a 15-mile stretch where the road is so bad that the police cannot safely overtake and pass a vehicle if it is speeding. 840 That is not good enough. There is diversity of opinion among chief constables as to whether police cars should be marked. However, the commercial drivers know which counties have unmarked cars and which do not—they are the professionals.
Much of the solution is not up to the Minister, local action by the county surveyor or better engineering, all of which are contributing factors. It is up to management control and, inevitably, individual responsibility. I am proud of the Government's record on bypasses nationally. In the autumn statement, I was delighted to see in paragraph 2.19:Additional provision is made for capital spending on national and local roads, (£37 million in 1986–87 and £52 million in 1987–88 … and £20 million a year for local roads).That is good—we should encourage my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and ask hint to give us more.
We are grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Salisbury bypass, which will be built after the statutory inquiries have been made. I hope that as part of that, our county and district councils will be able to sort out their squabble over the building of the Churchfields bridge, which would take most of the heavy traffic out of the centre of Salisbury.
My hon. Friend the Minister knows of the problem in my constituency. It is symptomatic of many other problems with bypasses. The little village of Steeple Langford is in the Wylye valley, which is known to local residents as "death valley", because it carries the A36. The villagers of Wylye, Steeple Langford, Stapleford, Stoford, Great Wishford and right down to Wilton suffer because of the A36. My hon. Friend has done a great deal to alleviate the problems of this road. However, Steeple Langford has still not had its problems solved. Letters have been to-ing and fro-ing for 10 years. I visited my hon. Friend last December, and the villagers have sent a petition to Parliament.
I must disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), who said that the Department of Transport was negative and bureaucratic. I have not thought that, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) that one of the problems is that squabbles sometimes occur between Government Departments, notably the Treasury and the Department of Transport. The fault lies not with the Department of Transport, which wishes to get the best possible option for Steeple Langford, but with the Treasury. In its wisdom and with its economists and cost benefit analyses, it finds it hard to make up its mind whether it should agree to the best road for the community or the best road for the Treasury—the cheapest.
I beg my hon. Friend the Minister to look carefully at the length of time that the decision on one village road has taken. I cannot go on much longer saying that I am proud of my Government's record on bypass schemes when a community in my constituency has been waiting for 10 years for a solution.
Transport is about people—we all depend on road, rail and air transport. Village life depends on roads, but can also be killed by roads if they are not appropriate. My hon. Friend the Minister has a thankless task. I congratulate her on today's debate and on the wide range of issues that have been raised and on which I know that she will be commenting. I hope that hon. Members will agree that transport is about people.
§ Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the performance she has achieved of her role at the Department of Transport. She has always impressed me and other members of the Select Committee on Transport by her mastery of the subject of road safety and road transport generally.
I pay atribute—as many of my Select Committee colleagues have done—to the previous Chairman, Harry Cowans, who, as we know, passed away recently. He was an outstanding and great personality who did more than anyone else to teach me to respect my political opponents, and, indeed, even to like them. He enabled me to obtain winnings to the tune of £25. I got to know him so well, and the length of time for which he spoke, that when we had a sweepstake in the Standing Committee on the Local Government Bill, I won. I shall always have fond memories of him.
During the Select Committee's investigation into road safety, I had the pleasure of questioning my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I asked him what view he had as to the use of the road by the road user—whether it was a right or a privilege. He did not give a concise reply—I am not sure whether a reply to such a question could be made—but I believe that we all have a right to the privilege of using the roads. If we adopt that approach, surely it is true to say that, as with all privileges, if they are abused the right can be withdrawn. If motorists and road users generally understood that the use of the road system was a privilege, they would also understand that if they committed misdemeanours or bad conduct in the form of bad driving, they would be likely to lose the privilege of using the roads.
One way of tackling the problem of road safety is to make the punishment fit the crime. We should emphasise to the driver that, if he crosses the line between what we think is reasonable and unreasonable, he stands the chance of suffering a severe penalty—much more severe than he faces at the moment. Perhaps we can thereby establish the right framework within which to improve road safety still further.
I went to France with the Select Committee to see some representatives of the French transport ministry in Paris. I believe that we play the leading role in Europe and in the world in the promotion of road safety. One cannot really tell Frenchmen anything, but in our exchange of views with our French counterparts we were able to enlighten them as to the ways in which we tackle road safety. We were appalled at the way in which they have tackled the problem. They appear to be a decade or so behind us.
§ Mr. King
Yes; they also drive on the wrong side of the road.
With regard to coach travel, I was happy to hear that some restrictions are to be introduced shortly. I also look forward to steps being taken to improve coach construction. There is not only the initial impact on the vehicle in the event of an accident, but the secondary damage that is caused to the occupants as they are flung about the vehicle, as the roof collapses and seats come adrift. We considered the problem at some length in the Select Committee and considered several possibilities, such as the wearing of belts in the first six rows of seats, and stronger standards of coach construction.
842 During the debate I have had the opportunity to absorb the implications behind the fitting of speed limiters to coaches. My initial enthusiasm for the proposal has been somewhat mellowed as I have come to understand what it would mean on the M1, the M6, or any other motorway. It would mean the introduction of one class of vehicle with a controlled speed, which no other vehicle would have. Driving in a traffic flow of heavy goods vehicles on a motorway one might find that, because they were limited to 60 mph, they would be travelling at 70 mph and even higher on the down grades. From personal experience we all know that that would be likely. Because of the 10 per cent. error margin in speedometer readings, as we have already heard, they would be entitled to drive at perhaps 65 or 66 mph.
Therefore, coaches full of people would have a maximum speed of only 70 mph, and would be struggling to get past commercial vehicles which, on down grades, would be catching them up again. Meanwhile, ordinary car traffic would come up behind at up to 80 mph—illegally or legally. We have not yet had a clear answer on whether people are prosecuted for driving at up to 80 mph. Such people, driving at 78 or 79 mph, might come up behind a coach in the third lane duelling with and struggling to pass not just one but perhaps a whole column of commercial vehicles, all driving at around 60 to 65 mph. I said that I welcomed the restriction on coach speed, but I am certain that it would be truly worth while and safe only if there were mandatory governors on heavy goods vehicles as well. Otherwise, there would be the ludicrous situation that I have described. I urge caution before such a programme is implemented.
I have to defend the Select Committee's suggestion of an 80 mph trial speed limit for cars. As hon. Members will have read in the document, it was my suggestion. I fought long and hard for it, and in the end conceded the trial aspect of it. I do not go back on that suggestion, because, to have laws that will be obeyed by the motorist, one must have realistic laws.
Do we prosecute people who travel at 71 mph or do we allow them a 10 per cent. latitude? Do we say, "It is 80 mph really. We shall not bother with anyone who is travelling under that speed."? If that is so, the message that is going from the House to the motorist is that he is all right to travel at 80 mph. But if we impose a speed limit of 70 mph, it is wrong to allow people to travel at 80 mph. That is no formula for creating awareness and responsibility in obeying road safety laws.
If we have an 80 mph trial limit, car speedometers must be satisfactorily regulated. I do not know why they should not be part of the MOT test. I do not know why we should blithely accept errors of speed because of mechanical maladjustment. During our debate in Committee we said that an 80 mph limit would be a sensible increase, bearing in mind the fact that those travelling in the third lane are almost all travelling at that speed. Speed tests show that about 40 per cent. of motorists exceed the speed limit on motorways. However, they do not go as far as to state the percentage of motorists exceeding the speed limit in the third lane. From my experience, the answer must be about 75 to 80 per cent. I think that we have all experienced that on motorways. Therefore, an 80 mph limit is sensible. However, it has to be enforced. We must ensure that we mean 80 mph, and that, if motorists drive at 81 or 82 mph, they are severely punished. We should not mean 90 mph because we have allowed 80 mph.
843 Barely a day goes by without ever opening a newspaper or magazine and having it rammed down our throats how masculine and adrenalin-raising are the turbo-charged cars that are available today. Their performance is well advertised. I make no case for abolishing performance cars. Indeed, I am privileged to be sampling the delights of the Austin Rover Montego turbo, with a maximum speed of 127 mph and acceleration of 0 to 60 in about seven seconds. I have not experienced the 127 mph, but I have sampled the acceleration. The car is a delight to drive, but I am not here to advertise the fact. I am here to say that a car with such a performance, which is available to anyone who has passed his driving test, warrants some caution.
It has been said that if a person passes his driving test in a mini, he can drive a high performance car and be within the legal requirements. There is a danger in that. In hot-rod racing, a rookie or inexperienced driver has a white roof and an expert has a red roof. I am not suggesting that cars should have white roofs or red roofs, but we could have a two-tier driving test. A person could take the advanced test at his own cost—not with a subsidy—and be eligible to drive cars in certain insurance categories. He would have to submit to the insurance company the endorsement of his main driving licence showing that he was equipped to drive a certain car.
The Select Committee was concerned about drinking and driving. We were not satisfied with the minimum limit. We were especially concerned that drunken driving comes to the attention of the public to a great extent every year only at Christmas. However, the problem confronts us throughout the year. It is wrong that people can take a drug, such as alcohol, to excess and then get into a car, which is the most difficult contrivance for a human being to operate correctly. We are all entitled to drive this complicated machine with the minimum of training. We do not allow a drunk to drive a train or fly an aeroplane, but driving a car is left entirely to the voluntary responsibility of the driver. Woe betide him if he is involved in an accident and gets caught!
We must ensure that posters are displayed at all points of sale of alcohol advising motorists of the risks—a sort of alcoholic Factories Act. In every bar and club a notice could be displayed stating that, if, within a certain time, one consumes two pints of beer or a gin and tonic and half a lager, one should not drive a car in the next half hour or so. Admittedly, that is just a rule of thumb, but there is much criticsm because the average person can say, "It is all right. I drink a lot because I am used to it and because I am much bigger than certain other people"—for example, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels). My hon. Friend might react differently if he was offered the same amount of alcohol as a 6ft 6in tall person. We should look closely at re-educating the drinker about the amount he may drink and his responsibilities.
I hope that greater emphasis will be placed on the cycling proficiency of school children. They cannot start to learn soon enough. It is too late at 10 to go on a cycling proficiency course. From five onwards children can ride a bicycle, as often as not on the pavement, but also on the road. We need to get youngsters involved in road safety from practically the moment they can walk. I look forward to that becoming a prominent part of road safety policy.
§ 2.8 pm
§ Mrs. Chalker
By leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Many varied and useful suggestions have been made, and it is inevitable that at 2.8 pm I cannot reply to every hon. Member. I shall write to all those who have raised points to which I do not have time to respond.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) was right when talking about the use of the road system. I would, however, phrase it rather differently. Using our road system places an enormous responsibility on every driver. The word "privilege" is misunderstood, which is why I put it in those terms. In many cases, it is up to the driver whether an accident is avoided.
Let me put my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) out of his misery. I am sure that within a short time the A36 will be a safer road. I hope to make an announcement in a few weeks.
I do not expect the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) to know it, but we have undertaken a wholescale review of signing. It is not limited to tourist signing but encompasses the problem encountered by drivers in the centre or offside lane of a motorway being unable to see the first sign because of heavy goods vehicles in the inside lane.
Too many drivers start their journeys without having worked out where they will get on or get off a motorway or where they will change roads and with insufficient time to complete their journeys. Several hon. Members have mentioned that problem. My Department must also do those things which prevent accidents from being worse than they might have been. That is why I have undertaken a review of safety fencing. Hon. Members from Devon and some other counties might be aware of it. We are examining barriers and the conditions in which we use them to establish the best way in which to avoid crossover accidents.
I have also been worried by unnecessary coning. The matter is sometimes treated as a joke, but to me it is serious. We have not always had the right coning in the right places, so we have issued new guidance to the agent authorities, especially in respect of small road works. These are not the big road works about which newcasters sometimes make bad jokes. It is these smaller road works that often catch drivers unaware, so we have asked the agent authorities to avoid the unnecessary coning off of lanes and to make coning much clearer.
Few things are more aggravating than being caught in a traffic jam caused by a lane closure for which there is no apparent reason. I am considering the provision of information about lane closures. We do not want too much on roads, but people appreciate knowing why they have been slowed down. We have made major improvements in the signing of major road works and contraflow arrangements are much better, but small road works signing has not been so good. We are trying to provide more information if road works are to go on for some time.
I have also considered road lighting, which the right hon. Member for Dudley, East and my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) mentioned. I announced yesterday that, following the Select Committee on Transport's recommendations on motorway lighting, the review had been completed. I shall start consultation 845 next week on the revised policy for lighting on motorways and trunk roads. I am pleased that those who have heard about that policy have welcomed it warmly.
Perhaps I should say something about the lighting of the M25 and related costs. When completed, the M25 will be 117 miles long, 40 miles of which will definitely be lit. That is a higher percentage than the average—34 per cent. I am aware of the concerns of hon. Members about that. The ducting is in place for additional lighting to be installed. That is being considered as part of the further review that I have been undertaking, and to which I referred in my opening remarks, as a result of our study into the most fog-prone areas.
In considering matters about which drivers should be warned, we all have a part to play, particularly in relation to the "keep your distance" technique. Much has been said in the debate about speed and the best action that we can take. The police confirm that one of the most common faults among drivers is the failure to stay sufficiently behind the vehicles in front of them.
There is the two-second rule—it is a simple aid to judging the eparation distance—of one yard for each mile per hour. It can be practised by a driver or passenger. One selects an easily identifiable mark on the road ahead and, as the vehicle in front passes, it, one says at a slow speaking rate, "One and two and" and so on, or "One second, two seconds" and so on. If one passes the mark before finishing saying that, one is too close.
That is a simple rule of thumb, and I appreciate that keeping the correct distance away may be annoying if another driver cuts in front of one. Nevertheless, if we follow the "keep your distance" rule, more will be done to save lives and prevent accidents than any other action of which I can think.
Much has been said in the debate about the 80 mph limit recommended by the Select Committee. We reviewed carefully the limit last year, and I have reviewed it again. I am also aware that many people would be extremely worried if we made that change. I believe that cars and other vehicles already go fast enough at 70 mph, and neither my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State nor I feel that it would be right to alter it. While that decision may sadden some hon. Members, that puts the issue at rest for at least another year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Northfield and others referred to safety standards for coaches. We have a good safety record, but we shall do all we can further to improve it, and the international standard that we are developing for the coach roof strength will be the protection that is needed for passengers in roll-over accidents. We are also examining fire retardant materials and a requirement for seat belts for some of the most vulnerable seat positions.
I was careful earlier, when saying that we were to consult about the fitting of speed governors to coaches, to say that we know that there had been technical problems. We appreciate that unless governors can be made tamper-proof, there could be further problems. However, in my view we are proceeding along the right lines, and only one hon. Member, having considered the issue, voiced doubts about the wisdom of what we propose.
Heavy goods vehicles do less of their mileage on motorways than do high-speed coaches. By and large, they are not as prevalent breakers of their limit as coaches seem to have been. I hope that those in the road haulage lobby 846 will take away from this debate the knowledge that, if they do not put their house in order, they may receive similar treatment in the future.
I hope it will not be necessary to take a similar step because road haulage drivers are, generally, very safe. If they would only signal rather earlier, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) pointed out, those who sometimes have unpleasant words to say about lorries would cease to say them.
My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory), who has had to leave to attend another engagement, spoke about the quality of tyres. It would not be practical for customs officers to inspect tyres as they came into the country, but under the construction and use regulations attached to the Consumer Safety Act it is an offence to sell or use substandard tyres. We are monitoring the regulations carefully.
I was asked about bumper heights by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing. We have checked again today with the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. A set of guidelines for vehicle designers, including recommendations about bumper heights, has been drawn up and a demonstration car has been produced. The United Kingdom is seeking international agreement, and discussions are due to take place early in the new year.
I was asked about the netting of loads, particularly sugar-beet. We have recently issued a revised code of practice on the safety of loads. It is already an offence to use a vehicle with a load which might cause damage to other road users.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) was unhappy about the division between serious and slight accidents. I agree that there is a problem, but we are dependent upon the assessment of the policeman at the scene. The Transport and Road Research Laboratory has made great efforts to link accident data with hospital data, but there are ethical considerations. Trying to match data without identifying individuals is difficult. We have done that with some Scottish hospital data, and the research laboratory is seeking to extend that to areas in England and Wales. Medical confidentiality is the problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham also made some comments about statistics and the cost of hospital services. I am a statistician by training so I should like to give the figures, but it is difficult to get at the real facts. We gave the facts as we had them to the Select Committee. If we get more accurate figures, we shall publish them.
Many hon. Members have referred to the so-called people issues. My hon. Friend the member for Northfield talked about driver concentration and my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury about coaches and their guides. In trying to improve our road safety record we are trying to persuade drivers to concentrate better. They must drive with undivided attention if they are to remain safe.
The use of microphones and radio telephones cause concern. Problems are caused when drivers use two-way radio systems or provide a commentary. We have considered this matter carefully and have concluded that, in view of the evident risk that distraction may lead to danger, stronger action is needed.
I shall be holding consultations as soon as possible on amendments to the Highway Code which in particular will state that drivers should not use hand-held microphones or telephone sets while their vehicles are moving and that 847 they should speak into other kinds of microphone only when road conditions are such that their attention will not be distracted.
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has already told the Bus and Coach Council that the Department will be enforcing the existing PSV conduct regulations to prevent coach drivers from giving sustained sightseeing commentaries. He proposes to amend the regulations to permit brief announcements to passengers, which are often helpful, as well as operational emergency communications. However, there will be a specific ban on sustained and regular sightseeing commentaries. Those measures will improve driver concentration and be widely welcomed. I can only repeat what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Northfield earlier in the year about car telephones. People should not use them when they are driving. The car should be stationary and in a safe place.
§ Mrs. Chalker
He will have to leave the motorway by the next available exit, if the phone is still ringing when he gets there. That is the only safe way.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I do not think that I shall be using telephones in that way very often, and certainly not to ring others. Even my right hon. Friend deserves some peace occasionally.
Also on the people issue, I want to deal with a point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing and by other hon. Members concerning motor cycle couriers. Although I did not feel able to respond positively to the bumper sticker idea when he raised it, I am extremely concerned about motor cycle couriers. That is why I am referring to Dr. North, who has undertaken the road traffic law review, the question whether we should have an offence for employers when an employee is convicted of a road traffic offence. We want to get the reputable firms joined by the disreputable ones who must make sure that they set their own house in order. We will be having a conference to identify what can best be done and I am grateful to Dave Taylor for agreeing to organise it.
848 My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham asked a number of questions about statistics. I will let him have the figures in writing; it would be slightly complicated to go into the matter in the debate.
I genuinely feel that at present it would not be practicable to carry out part of the driving test on dual carriageways. That may be convenient for those of us in the south or near conurbations with dual carriageways that we use regularly, but one does not have to go far to find areas where the driving test centre is a long way from a dual carriageway.
Although the driving test has not changed the techniques that a learner should have to pass the test, it has certainly become much more complex on today's roads. That is why I am not surprised that fewer than 50 per cent. of people pass the test. We are looking at that issue and in time I shall give the House more information about driver testing and improvements to it.
One recommendation that I give without hesitation is that, however good a driver one thinks one is, preparation for an advanced driving test will teach something and it can be learnt again if one returns for a retest. That would produce a better driver and probably a lower fuel consumption for his or her car. Everybody should be encouraged to take the advanced driving test.
Hon. Members have raised the subject of the drink driving campaign but I shall not go into that in detail. I listened with great care to what they said and we shall be looking not only at the experiences of last year but at the new campaign, which will not cease after Christmas, because drunken drivers take to the road all the time and must be stopped.
I understand the desire for better enforcement. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has set in hand work to assess whether there are specific needs for further increases in police resources. He is also ready to consider applications from the provincial police authorities for increases in police establishment on the basis of demonstrated need. I shall continue to discuss the matter with the Home Office because it is important that our laws are enforced.
There can be no let-up in the fight. It is not a fight only for the Government, local government and RoSPA. Every one of us who goes on the road, whether on foot or wheels, can prevent one person from being killed or maimed each day. It is up to every driver to slow down and to keep his distance—
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.