HC Deb 23 June 1986 vol 100 cc1-4
1. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what further proposals he has for increasing road safety; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John Moore)

The Government's road safety review is almost concluded. It aims to identify the scope for new policy initiatives. Meanwhile the vigorous application of well-established measures can achieve significant casualty reductions, particularly through safety engineering measures.

Mr. Dormand

Does not today's tragic accident on the M4 underline the continuing need for close examination of road safety? I join in the welcome which has been given to the substantial reduction in the number of road deaths over the past two years or so, but does the Secretary of State agree that one of the worst features is drunken driving, and will he take the initiative in introducing legislation so that someone who is convicted of drunken driving automatically receives a gaol sentence?

Mr. Moore

I welcome the recognition that the hon. Gentleman gives to the reduction in deaths, but, as he rightly says, we must not be complacent. I recognise, as he does, that half of all deaths relate to drink-driving offences, so it is clearly a significant and difficult issue.

May I press on for a moment, Mr. Speaker? The hon. Gentleman mentioned the tragic events of the early hours of today, and it has not yet been possible to inform the relatives of all those involved. As the precise circumstances of the accident are not yet known, I think that both sides of the House will agree that it would be premature to comment on possible causes. The accident is being investigated by the police, and staff in my Department are helping them. I know that the House will join me in expessing condolences to those so tragically bereaved by the accident. My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), who is responsible for roads, visited the scene in the early hours of this morning and has told me how promptly and efficiently, as we would expect, the police, ambulance, fire and motorway maintenance services acted. I know that all would wish to join me in paying a warm tribute to those services.

Mr. Adley

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments, and I know that the House will want to pay tribute to him for recognising the need to make that statement in answer to the first question, which I think we would all have expected from him. Is it not extraordinary that 12 people can be killed in an accident and yet the event really passes by, almost without a mention, and tomorrow will be forgotten by all except the poor bereaved people who are left behind? Will my right hon. Friend explain to the House, or, if he cannot, will he consider why railway vehicles have to keep a safe distance between each other and must behave in accordance with signals, and passenger-carrying vehicles have to be built to a certain strength, but none of those requirements are laid upon road transport?

Mr. Moore

At this stage the House would want me to concern myself with road safety, which is the subject of the question. I recognise the fine record of our railways, but we must keep in proportion the awful tragedy which occurred in the early hours of this morning. For example, the accident rate on motorways is a third of that on all-purpose trunk routes and an eighth of that on all roads. We must leave no stone unturned to try to sort out the problems that we face, but we must try to keep them in proportion.

Mr. Haynes

What further proposals does the Secretary of State have for cyclists, bearing in mind that a number of people, particularly those from the House, such as myself, for example, cycle back and forth and in doing so they are really taking their lives in their hands simply because the motorist could not care less about them? What provision will the Secretary of State make for cyclists, not only on the present roads, but on new roads, to give them facilities so that they can ride safely?

Mr. Moore

I welcome that question from the hon. Gentleman, who is an estimable hon. Friend in every sense of the word. He may be aware that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State opened a cycle route on Friday. For the first time there is a specific reference in the Highway Code — the details of which have been laid before the House—to the role of cyclists. I am aware of the problem, because although there have been improvements in some of the statistics for road safety, pedestrians and cyclists still suffer. The hon. Gentleman may like to be reminded of the happy fact that preliminary indications suggest that in 1985 about 50 fewer cyclists died compared with 1984. However, there is still a long way to go.

Mr. McCrindle

Bearing in mind the recent departmental circular urging parents to fit child safety belts in the rear of vehicles, has my right hon. Friend noticed the article in the British Medical Journal which points out that many of those seat belts appear to be ineffectively or wrongly fitted? Does the Department have any plans to contact manufacturers and others so that what is clearly intended as a safety device turns out to be so?

Mr. Moore

I have not seen that article, but if it is serious—and it must be in that journal—I shall ask my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for roads to look at the issue immediately.

Mr. Frank Field

May I invite the Secretary of State to return to the substance of the initial question, which concerned the action that he intended to take over drunken driving?

Mr. Moore

That was the substance, not of the initial question, but of the supplementary question. However, I said that I accepted the point made by the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand), which was that in the case of half of all of those deaths there was a causal relationship with drink. I understand that about two-thirds of those tragic accidents happen between 10 pm and 4 am. Clearly the issue is of concern. I should like to look at it carefully, as it obviously involves the attitudes of those who drive, as well as statistics. I do not want to say more now, but I recognise the seriousness of the issue.

Sir Dudley Smith

I wish to raise an ancillary but important point. Will my right hon. Friend investigate current signposting? Is he aware that, away from motorways, signposts are often inadequate and confusing, and are a contributory cause of driving accidents?

Mr. Moore

I accept my hon. Friend's long-held interest in the subject. I shall consider that point. I was not aware that signposting was regarded as a contributory factor to accidents, but I shall certainly look into the matter.

Mr. Robert Hughes

On behalf of the Opposition, may I express our condolences to the relatives of those killed in the early hours of this morning? The Secretary of State said that the police are holding an inquiry. Will he ensure that it is as wide ranging as possible. The only thing that we seem to know about the accident is that a mini-van ended up on the opposite carriageway. Will the right hon. Gentleman pay particular regard to the adequacy of central reservation guards, in order to prevent the possibility of such an accident in future?

Mr. Moore

I am delighted at the hon. Gentleman's initial remarks, and I shall ensure that his points are pursued effectively.