HC Deb 09 November 1987 vol 122 cc7-9
7. Mr. Hayes

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what further efforts are being made by the Government to reduce road casualties.

Mr. Channon

A major review of road safety has been completed. This makes it clear that we must give priority to those measures which will do most to reduce casualties. That means concentration on urban roads, vehicle design and research into driver behaviour. My target is to reduce annual casualties by one third by the year 2,000—a reduction of 100,000.

Mr. Hayes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that some of the appalling carnage that occurs on our roads every week could be greatly reduced, especially on motorways, if advisory speed limit signs were mandatory?

Mr. Channon

That is something that we are discussing with the police. The important point is that whether speed limits are mandatory or advisory people must obey them. They are there for a purpose and those who disobey them are behaving dangerously. Mandatory limits involve police enforcement. Some signs are mandatory, but others are not. The police must decide on the level of enforcement and the priorities that they give to that as opposed to other aspects of motorway enforcement. However, if they decided that that was the priority, I would not stand in the way.

Mr. Cryer

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a major way to improve road safety would be to attract more passengers and freight to the railways? Therefore, will he assure British Rail that he will give it the fullest support and, in particular, agree to preserve the Settle-Carlisle railway, so that that important and beautiful railway retains full passenger——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question is ingenious, but a little wide of the main question.

Mr. William Powell

Does my right hon. Friend accept that drink is a major factor in many accidents on our roads? Will he confirm that, under the existing law, a constable may require a specimen of breath for analysis if there has been an accident, or a moving traffic offence, or if he has reasonable cause to believe that somebody has been drinking? Does he also agree that the courts have held that such reasonable cause need not arise until after a person has finished driving? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the widest possible publicity is given to that provision in our law so that, if random breath tests as such are not acceptable, at least that step, which is little short of it, is well known to the public?

Mr. Channon

My hon. Friend has done a useful service in pointing out that fact. He was right on all the points that he raised. In fact, there is considerable misunderstanding about random testing. Police already have wide powers under the legislation. They can stop people at random. They can then test if there is reasonable cause to suspect alcohol in a driver's body, if a moving traffic offence has been committed or if someone is involved in an accident. Two recent cases in Sussex have shown how wide police powers are.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Has the Minister seen the report that Mr. Bill Gillan, the co-ordinator of the Prometheus project into road safety, has told university researchers that there is no point in proceeding with work which does not in some way follow vehicle companies' aims? Is that not crass and insensitive in view of the fact that 2,000 pedestrians were killed last year, that 35 per cent. of deaths on roads involve pedestrians, and that the number is rising? Will he give an assurance that no inhibitions will be placed on any research into road safety under the Prometheus project?

Mr. Channon

I am not in favour of any inhibitions on research into road safety. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about accidents involving pedestrians. In fact, he will be pleased to see that recent figures show that there has been some improvement. There is no need for complacency in the House, but it is extremely important that hon. Members should understand that the 1987 casualty trends are encouraging and that child casualties and motor cyclist casualties are down substantially. In fact, our road safety record is perhaps the least bad in the whole of Europe. I am determined to build on that record, and the House should be aware of it.

Sir Anthony Grant

Although I welcome the fact that our record is not as bad as that in Europe, will my right hon. Friend agree that we cannot afford to be smug when the number of deaths is equivalent to those in a jumbo jet crash every month of every year? Is he aware that a substantial cause of accidents is vehicles, particularly heavy goods vehicles, driving too fast too close behind each other? Is he further aware that there are well known technical means of preventing that? Will he bring in regulations to achieve it as soon as possible?

Mr. Channon

My hon. Friend has raised an important point. We have had special publicity about keeping one's distance. I am experimenting with special signs on motorways about keeping one's distance and keeping left except when overtaking. Insufficient attention is paid to that matter on motorways. I shall look into the point that my hon. Friend raised.