HC Deb 12 January 1987 vol 108 cc6-7
4. Mr. Nicholas Baker

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he has received representations about the speed of traffic upon motorways.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Peter Bottomley)

The Department receives representations on a wide range of road safety issues, including speeds on motorways. Ninety eight per cent. of accidents are on other roads.

Mr. Baker

Is my hon. Friend aware that the 70 mph speed limit on motorways is not being enforced? Will he have a word with the Home Secretary, if there are substantial safety or oil conservation grounds, and ask him to enforce the present speed limit? If, as I believe is the case, there are no such grounds, will my hon. Friend bear in mind that we have the lowest motorway speed limit of any major country in western Europe? Will he seek to raise the limit to a realistic level?

Mr. Bottomley

My hon. Friend will be interested to know that there are over 30,000 prosecutions a year for motorway offences. I shall do as he suggests and have a word with colleagues in the Home Office. I am sure that the suggestion that the motorway speed limit should be raised will not find favour.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Will the Under-Secretary of State take a representation from me about the lack of regard for the 50 mph speed limit at contraflows? That is where accidents take place. It is my view that the indicators for a 50 mph speed limit are not clear enough, given the situation at contraflows, and that is dangerous.

Mr. Bottomley

I shall review the signs. It is important that, unless advised otherwise, people stick to motorways, even where there are contraflows. Even with contraflows, with their increased dangers, motorways are still safer than other roads. It might be a seasonal time to remind everyone that the speed limit is the limit. It is not supposed to be an average. In bad weather conditions—whether fog or ice—people should reduce their speeds.

Mr. Higgins

My hon. Friend does not intend to raise the 70 mph limit on motorways. This will encourage even more the maniacs who occupy outside lanes. Will he please erect 70 mph signs on motorways? At the moment there is no indication or reminder of what the limit is, in contrast, for example, with France, where the limit is constantly repeated.

Mr. Bottomley

I am considering the suggestion of erecting 70 mph signs. Everyone who has passed the driving test at any stage since the war should know that the old unrestricted speed limit went a long time ago. I shall do what I can to remind people of the need to keep to the speed limit. Raising the speed limit from 70 mph would not be applauded universally. I do not propose such action.

Mr. Haynes

When will the Minister wake up to the fact that his Government have introduced more transport legislation than any other Government? The result is that the motorway system is cluttered with all sorts of vehicles, including buses. The important point is that there is far too much traffic bunching. Why does the Minister not seriously consider raising the motorway speed limit so that we avoid some of the accidents?

Mr. Bottomley

I suggest to hon. Members that the way to deal with accidents is to slow down rather than to speed up. Bunching can take place at any speed, and the slower the speed of the bunch, the better.

Mr. Adley

Will my hon. Friend contemplate the simple proposition that, with more than 5,000 people killed and 250,000 people maimed on the roads every year, safety standards on our motorways and other roads are virtually non-existent when compared with the stringent safety requirements laid down for British Rail? When will the Government make road transport subject to the same safety rules and requirements as are laid down for rail transport?

Mr. Bottomley

My hon. Friend will know, or will be interested to hear if he does not know, that motorways carry 13 per cent. of national vehicle mileage but have only 2 per cent of accidents. Although motorway safety is an important subject, it is even more important in urban areas—built-up areas—where there is over 40 per cent. of the traffic and 80 per cent. of the accidents. A real reduction in the number of people who die on our roads—5,000—will be achieved by attention to built-up area traffic and other matters such as drink driving.