HL Deb 26 July 1944 vol 132 cc1131-67

LORD BRABAZON OF TARA rose to call attention to road accidents; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am rather loth ever to put my head in a noose, and I feel that I am in a rather delicate situation here, having been at one time responsible for the policy of the Ministry of Transport. The other day, when I was speaking about the film industry, my noble friend Lord Selborne replied to me and chid me because I was not familiar with a regulation that the Board of Trade had issued while I was at the Ministry of Transport. In these days, when papers and orders fall from every Minister like a cascade, and when even the Home Secretary forgets to lay them on the Table, I do not think I can take that pre-war criticism very seriously.

Relative to the position that I occupied as Minister of Transport, I must say frankly to your Lordships that I had very great hopes that one day I might occupy that great position, and I had hopes and dreams of trying to deal with some of these important matters—because they are indeed important. When I arrived at that Ministry, it was in the days of the first great "Blitz," and I was doing nothing but moving transport about, dealing with Tubes, getting buses into London, trying to repair the Southern Railway, fighting, indeed, the great second battle of Waterloo! Then I was involved in all the congestion at the Port of London, and I had no time at all to deal with this important matter. I want to make it quite clear that I know perfectly well that my great successor, Lord Leathers, has had his plate full right up to to-day, and has not had the opportunity or time to deal with this matter. I hope he will not think that I am censuring him or his Department in any way. It is not often that one has an immense admiration for somebody who succeeds you in any office, but I have for the present occupier of that position. I do not believe there is anybody in this Kingdom who could have done what he has done, on the difficult shipping and transport side, which has meant so much to us in this campaign. As your Lordships will see, therefore, I subscribe to the old adage, "There is nothing like Leathers!"

My purpose to-day is to draw attention to the magnitude of the question and to make some suggestions of a remedial kind. I am indeed happy to be able to debate this matter in your Lordships' House. When your Lordships are not making bombs to the orders of the Moscow Jews for blue-blooded swine to throw at Hitler (according to Dr. Ley, the German Labour Minister)—when you are not doing that, I find there is in this House an atmosphere of calmness and detachment which is what one wants in dealing with this question. In the other House, I regret to say, the matter has sometimes been wrapped up with vote-catching. We shall not, anyhow, have any of that here to-day. This problem is a big one. We never get sufficiently shocked at it for the reason that each accident is isolated. It is a curious thing that, when you are dealing with tragedies, geography always comes in. If somebody in the house next door falls down the stairs and kills himself, that is a very poignant tragedy which affects you very much. On the other hand, if you read at the same time that 50,000 Chinese have been drowned by the flooding of a river, you turn over the pages of your newspaper in no way interested. That is because it does not concern you immediately. And that is what happens in regard to these accidents. If there is a railway accident, if you get a hundred people killed, what excitement, what inquiries, what debates, what recommendations occur! Yet here we are being told that 6,000 people are killed year by year and we do nothing about it.

We are getting completely callous to it, and it is because we are getting callous to it that I take the opportunity of bringing the question again to the notice of your Lordships. I hope to do so even once more later on so that we shall be aware of it and not get so callous to this particular matter. I do not want to dwell on the human side, on the tragedy of the killed child or the bereaved mother. I do not think that is quite the way to attack the problem. I want to put it on an economic basis. In ten years up to 1940, 69,000 people had lost their lives and 2,250,000 were injured. On a conservative estimate, that shows that the average cost of these accidents to the country NI as £50,000,000 a year. I want to stress that point because I wish to make it plain that if the accident rate can be decreased by money spent on physical alterations to the roads it is well worth while. There is a definite economic advantage.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport has given us figures in very difficult times to which I think I ought to draw attention. First of all, one curious thing is that the rate of accidents is proportional almost to the increase in the number of vehicles on the roads both in England and America. That is, of course, what you would almost expect. The deaths before the war were in the region of about 6,000 a year. In 1939–40 this went up to 8,000. In 1940– 41 they reached the astonishing total of 10,000, when the number of vehicles on the road had obviously gone down, especially those of a private character. In 1941–42 the number was 7,600 and in 1943 it went down again to about the normal figure. Considering the very few private cars on the road the figures, I think, are odd, but they do of course show one thing—namely, that when you get some new danger like the black-out to which people are not accustomed there are more risks and the casualties go up until people get used to those conditions, when the casualties go down again. From that I think we may deduce that if new difficult circumstances arise the casualty rate goes up and if you make the whole situation easier they will go down.

Your Lordships set up in 1938 a Select Committee to consider what steps should be taken to reduce the number of casualties on the road. The Chairman was Lord Alness and on that Committee were Lord Reading, Lord Iddesleigh, Lord Birkenhead, Lord Brocket, Lord Rushcliffe and Lord Addison. That Committee took over a year and after hard work they had investigated every point of view. The Committee were completely dispassionate. They made a good many recommendations and very sound and valuable were those recommendations. I myself feel that there is no student of this subject who is not deeply grateful to the members of the Committee for what they did. It was a remarkable Committee. They did that job in a most magnificent way. Frankly, I look upon their Report as a sort of Bible on road accidents. That famous Report ended up with these particular words: Finally the Committee venture to express the hope that this Report will not share the fate of the Reports of several Departmental Committees of which they heard in evidence, and merely find a resting-place in the pigeonholes of Whitehall. So far as I can gather not one single recommendation has ever been put into effect.

Now there are two schools of thought and they are contending schools of thought. One is that all accidents are due to human error; the other is that they can be avoided by physical changes in conditions, such as the elimination of blind corners, the provision of two-track roads and non-slipping roads, and that sort of thing. Here we come up against a very curious situation. In 1939, the Ministry of Transport issued a famous memorandum called Memorandum 483 in which they gave it as their opinion that roads should have a new type of lay-out and construction and made suggestions as to what should be done so as to introduce better safety. Then there came along a Mr. Bennett, a county surveyor of Oxford-shire. He was alarmed at the number of accidents occurring in his county and he made one of the few scientific objective investigations that have been made into every one of these accidents to ascertain what would have been the difference in the number of accidents if the roads had been changed according to Memorandum 483. He came to the conclusion that 76 per cent. of these accidents were due to road defects and 24 per cent. were not due to road defects. Well, when the Ministry of Transport was being examined by the august Committee to which I have referred, the Ministry of Transport advanced the view that go per cent. of the accidents were due to human error and only 1 per cent. were due to road defects. There is thus an enormous difference of opinion between those two expert views.

The Committee I think quite rightly said in their Report that there was doubt in their minds whether the Ministry believed in the theory it advocates as to road improvement. On that point we have got to ask ourselves, Are we content to put new wine into old bottles? Are we going to try and impose modern traffic on a road and street plan designed years ago for horse traffic? If anybody thinks that can be done and can be continued, then I am afraid they must take the responsibility for the future. There are some rather interesting recommendations in the Alness Report, one on a subject which probably I think those of us who are not lawyers know little of, and that is that about misfeasance and nonfeasance. Apparently in England you can only bring an action for repairs badly done and you cannot bring an action for repairs that have not been done at all. In Scotland it is different. There the authorities can be proceeded against for accidents. If an action could be brought when the accident arose from road conditions, I think that would bring the authorities sharply up against their responsibilities.

Now I come to that bone of contention, speed, and the moment I mention it I know my noble friend Lord Cecil of Chelwood is pricking up his ears. No one can pretend that you can have accidents without speed. You cannot have accidents unless something is moving, and if something is moving you must have speed. Consequently in a sense it is true to say that accidents are, in fact, due to speed. The question, of course, is whether the speed is overdone. I want your Lordships to remember that when you are dealing with moving things you are dealing with danger, and I would like to remind you of something which I think few people realize, that the total number killed per year per locomotive is nine times more than the number killed per motor vehicle. I am not going to deduce anything particular from that, because when you try to make deductions you generally get the wrong answer. I only want to say that when you are dealing with moving things you are dealing with danger.

The motor car is one of those moving things. Mr. Noel Baker, speaking on accidents the other day, said some people tried to throw the blame on drivers of motor vehicles, which he considered unjust. The motor driver, he said, was to blame in only a tiny proportion of accidents; moreover, speed was not responsible for the vast majority occurred at very low speed. That seems to answer some of those people who think the whole of this problem can be solved by the introduction of speed limits. It is not so easy as that. A right reverend Prelate, in a speech in a former debate, said that the accident rate in London was very small because the speed was low. As your Lordships know, the speed of traffic in London is just below eight miles per hour, but in spite of that low speed it has for its square mile the highest rate of fatalities in the world. That is a curious thing. It is due to the congestion which is a factor in the accident rate.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, who have done noble work under Colonel Pickard in trying to correlate statistics, give some curious figures which I should like to bring to the notice of your Lordships. I suppose that nothing is more pathetic than the slaughter of children. The society have made a special study of accidents to children and do very good work in trying to educate children in schools. In 1942, in May, June and July, 291 children were killed. Of these 235 were killed by lorries, vans, trams and omnibuses, and 34 by cars. I have heard it said too often that children are killed by mad road hogs rushing about the country, but here we find that of those 291 children 235 were killed by lorry and omnibus drivers. Would anybody go to the Transport Union and tell them that their drivers are all road hogs, who speed about the country irrespective of children or any other obstacle? It is not true. They are perfectly decent, hard-working citizens who do their job as best they can. It is not their fault that these accidents occur. Remember that they are subject to a speed limit. Omnibuses killed seventy children in these three months. I do not believe anybody can say there is a better set of drivers in the world than the London omnibus drivers. They are most considerate and the way in which they carry on during an air attack is something for which we should pay them the highest tribute.

This particular society brings to our notice another thing—the danger we are in during our life as pedestrians. You are in most danger when you are five years old. The curve of danger goes down when you are ten, and when you are between fifteen and forty-three you are very safe. The curve then rises and you get more prone to accidents from the ages of sixty-five to seventy-five. That is in fact what you would expect. A child of five is irresponsible. It rushes out at the wrong moment. When you get used to the situation, and when your reactions are normal and fixed, the risk is very small until you start getting old and your reactions go.

Then the society consider the cyclists. In their case accidents mostly occur between the ages of fourteen and fifteen, when they are experimenting and not sure of themselves. In the case of motor cyclists the dangerous age is twenty. These figures, I think, do a good deal to dispose of the theory that accidents occur by people "blinding" about the country as road hogs. In fact it is very interesting to see that investigations into road accidents in London show that 98 per cent. of fatal accidents were caused by drivers who had never before had any previous conviction for even a technical offence. I think, therefore, this road-hog bogy has been exposed. Mr. Mabane, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, said to me one day, "I consider you not only a dangerous driver but a dangerous walker." That was because in the morning I nearly ran over him and in the afternoon he nearly ran over me. That shows how liable you are to become an extremist if you only look at the thing from one point of view.

One of the most important recommendations of the Alness Report was the setting up of a Road Safety Research Board—an organization so much advocated by that great student of all road matters, Colonel O'Gorman. Curiously enough there is a Road Research Board to-day. That is organized in exactly the way I would like to see this new Road Safety Research Board organized. It has nothing to do with the Ministry of Transport and nothing to do with the police. It comes under the Department of Industrial and Scientific Research and consequently is able to look at the thing objectively and is not concerned to get convictions for offences. It is the ideal set-up. What I am pleading for, and the whole thing I want the Minister to promise to-day, is that this Road Research Board should be enlarged and should become the Road Safety Research Board as advocated in the Airless Report. I know perfectly well that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport is going into these problems as well as he can with great expert advice, but Mr. Noel Baker may one day look after foreign policy as is his ambition and leave the Ministry of Transport. Then we may have somebody not so enlightened. This is a matter for scientific investigation, and it should be done by people detached from politics and especially detached from the Ministry of Transport and the police. I would like this body to be independent because this is clearly a scientific matter, and if you organize this Board in the way I suggest it would have allied research organizations helping it.

Let us see what might be done. The Board should study first of all road congestion in its relation to accidents. We know nothing about that. It would be interesting to know to what extent congestion, when you do get it, is the cause of accidents. A man is not a homicidal maniac while driving down the Cromwell Road, but it seems that he becomes one when he gets into Hammersmith Broadway. That, apparently, is what is accepted to-day. It cannot be true. We want to investigate that particular matter. Then there are road surfaces. We do not know how non-slippery a road surface ought to be. I do not know if any of your Lordships read a well-known national scientific weekly, Nature, but there was a most interesting article in it by Mr. W. W. Davies, of the Road Research Board, dealing with this topic. He stated that non-slipping surface had been put down on a particular area of highway in London and it was found that the accident rate afterwards had diminished from sixty-three to four. We want to know what is the amount of slipperiness that is allowable before it becomes culpable from the point of view of the local authority. That is the sort of thing that can be, and will be, investigated by such a body as I am advocating.

And there are hundreds of other problems which we know nothing about. Take for example refuges for crossings. Mr. Davies has investigated this and he finds that when refuges were put down the accidents over a period of three months rose from 20 to 42. I call that a most extraordinary result. I should most certainly have imagined that accidents to pedestrians would have gone down as the result of the installation of these refuges. We are only guessing at the solutions to these problems; nobody really knows. Mr. Lyddon has gone into the question of roundabouts. He finds that the putting down of roundabouts has decreased the accidents by 78 per cent. in some cases and increased them in others. How did that occur? What were the reasons? Then there are light signals at crossings. They have diminished the accident rate by 53 per cent. in a number of cases, and increased it in others. Why was that? We do not know. It may be that it was because of the conditions relating to congestion. A cyclist gets in front at a crossing just when everyone wants to start and that causes trouble. What lies behind things of this sort is not known. It ought to be investigated. Halt signals in 76 per cent. of cases have caused a decrease in accidents, whereas in 11 per cent. an increase is shown. That is very curious. Again, I suggest, investigation is called for.

There is the accident rate on arterial roads. We want to know what is the change when an arterial road is built up, what is the advantage of the side roads and so on. These are all things that nobody knows anything about at present. Then there is the matter of the breadth of roads. I am perfectly certain that for the last ten years we have been putting down roads which are ideally wrong. We have in fact been asking for accidents when we make what I call three-track roads. In roads of that type the centre track becomes a battleground between people travelling in opposite directions. I think it is far and away the most dangerous type of road in the world. May it not be better to have two-track roads? Three tracks must be wrong. We want to know what is the ideal breadth. One thing is certain: improvements in these matters would pay for themselves in a reduction of accidents.

Nobody knows what is the extra danger caused by one-way streets. The ordinary Londoner when he crosses the road looks to the right. That is instinctive, because normally the traffic is coming from that direction. But when you have a one-way street it may be coming from the other direction, and, if that is so, no doubt this is a factor which produces accidents. We do not know whether the one-way streets are so numerous as to be the cause of substantial danger or not. Take the case of railings at very congested spots. We do not know whether putting impassable railings at a particular spot really saves accidents or just transfers them from one place to another. It may do so. We want research to give us accurate information on that matter.

Now let us look for a moment at things from the driver's point of view. There has been no real investigation as to what degree of danger arises from the obstruction of a driver's vision by the pillar in front of him which supports the roof of his vehicle. Some of these pillars are very big, but some makers try to make them as narrow as possible. Here is another matter for investigation. With regard to the rules of the road, we have not even got legislation to make people keep to the left. That is a most extraordinary thing. We do know that we ought to keep to the left but it is not so laid down in the Statute Book. On the economic side we should know what the cost of remedies is likely to be in relation to the cost of accidents. That is a very important matter which requires a good deal of study.

Then we come to the question of London traffic in general. We do not at present know whether, if accidents are the outcome of congestion, it would be better to speed traffic up. Mr. Shave, who was manager at one time of London Transport, as it was, said that if you could speed the traffic of London up from eight to ten miles an hour he could take 100 omnibuses off the road and earn £100,000 more per annum, while at the same time giving better service. If accidents are related to congestion it might be that speeding up would save accidents. But we do not know. This really wants to be dealt with by a body such as that of which I have been speaking. About kerbs we know practically nothing. What is the best height for kerbs, to what extent are they responsible for accidents?—those are two questions which come to one's mind. The banking of roads, the camber of roads and the orderliness of roads are further matters requiring close study. I do not suppose that in any other branch of our life in which moving bodies are concerned is it the case that only one of two sets of moving bodies is subject to any rules. If you had upon the seas one set of ships subject to rules and another which did not know where they were going to, and were quite incapable of giving any signal of their behaviour, you would have a lot of collisions, on the seas just as you have them on the road to-day.

The lighting of paths and the colours of roads are points I would next touch upon. There was a very interesting experiment in America recently in which the colours of roads were changed from light to dark, and it was found that the accident rate went up in consequence of the change of colour. We do not take any notice of such things here. We have no knowledge of these subjects. Is there an accident-prone class? By that I mean, are there some of us who never should drive because we are accident-prone? That is a psychological study which ought to be investigated. What is the actual effect of alcohol on driving? I personally would not say that you have got to be roaring drunk to be incapable of driving. But that awful "last one for the road" of which we hear so much: what effect does that have? Does it not give you just that over-confidence in driving which so often leads to taking a risk? I do not know. Road junctions now. There is the question whether a right angle is better than an easy flowing curve. The economics of the fly-over also come into question in this connexion. All these are topics about which we know nothing. Our signposts: are they the right height? Street names: are they printed too high up so that sometimes we find ourselves looking up into the air while we are running into somebody who is in front of us? About all these things we know almost nothing. There is also the question of the efficiency of the police car. I could go on for a long time, but one of the most important points is that we should really know and be conscious of our own ignorance. We are not conscious of it at present.

Everyone has his private suggestions and his pet theories, his belief that the problem can be solved in this way or in that, but they are all guessing. There is no proper investigation going on into this this matter. We talk glibly to-day of what science can do. Are we making use of science in regard to road accidents? Not at all. This question has to be investigated objectively by an organization which is detached—detached from politics and detached from the police. It is only by adopting the Alness Report—the Report of the Road Accidents Committee—that we shall find a solution. It is a sorry story, the story of the penalties which we have paid for the invention of the internal combustion engine, in the toll of the road and the toll of the air. It goes to prove how mechanical science rushes ahead of human wisdom. I have a great respect for people who, like my friend Professor Joad, advocate as a solution of this problem the total abolition of all motor cars. That is at any rate logical. I cannot accept, however, the attitude of those who think that all the blame lies on one class. The motorist has to obey five thousand regulations; the pedestrian can only do one thing which is wrong, and that is dawdle on a crossing; otherwise he is never to blame. It would be amusing if it was not so tragic.

Do not think that we are alone in this matter. We are not a race of homicidal maniacs. We are not the exception. In the United States of America, in 1941, 40,000 people were killed on the roads. We have been pioneers; we have led the world in many walks of life. I ask that, in the right way, we should get down to this problem, study it objectively and see what we can do, because it is a task well worthy of our united efforts. I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, there is one point on which I am sure that the whole House will be unanimous, and that is in our gratitude to Lord Brabazon for bringing this matter before us. This is not, as he knows, by any means the first time that the House of Lords has discussed this matter. We have discussed it frequently, and under the very eloquent leadership of the late Lord Buckmaster we arrived at very strong Resolutions that something should be done. The subject is, as Lord Brabazon has truly said, one of the very greatest importance. He gave us some figures—such figures have often been given to your Lordships—to show the frightful slaughter and destruction now going on. He rightly said that, putting it merely on economic grounds, it is a most reckless waste of material that we should be killing these people, and still more that we should be maiming them for life, which is in some ways the worst thing that can happen.

I am not going to attempt to add anything to what the noble Lord said on that point. I agree most heartily with him that the matter is of the first possible importance. This is not something new; the trouble has been going on for many years, and on the whole has been increasing. I hope that we are going to take some active steps to improve the existing state of affairs. It is a real scandal that at this stage of our civilization we should have to admit that the roads, which are the principal instruments of transportation, are no longer safe in the proper sense of the word. Compared with the old danger from highwaymen, the danger from road accidents is extravagantly greater. From every point of view, therefore, it is a matter of the greatest possible importance, and should be one of the first interests of any Government which comes into power in this country after the war is over.

I was very glad to hear from Lord Brabazon—I think that we have heard it before from other sources—that the present Minister of Transport has set up a Departmental Committee which is investigating the whole subject. I like that idea very much. I am not a great believer in Royal Commissions as instruments of reform. Like the Alness Committee, which was substantially of the nature of a Royal Commission, they conduct immense investigations and generally present very elaborate recommendations as to what should be done, but they have no means of enforcing their views, and, having made their Report, they disappear altogether. It is left entirely to the executive Government to decide what steps shall be taken in consequence of their Report. On the other hand, if you have a really efficient and vigorous Departmental Committee, which might well be made a permanent body, you have an instrument perpetually at work to try to solve the difficulties which exist and to produce reforms which will be effective. I desire, therefore, for what it is worth to express my personal gratification that that step has been taken by the present Minister of Transport. I hope that his efforts in the matter will bear much more fruit than those of any of his predecessors.

My noble friend spent a little time in defending road-hogs, or rather in denying that they have any substantial existence. From another point of view, I come across people who say that pedestrians are totally free from blame, and that all the blame rests on the motorists. Each section puts forward not only the defence of its own conduct but the grievances under which it says that it lives. I hope that your Lordships will not pay too much attention to that very arid controversy. It seem to me quite immaterial whether this or that section is most to blame. That there are people who are very much to blame belonging both to the pedestrians and to the motorists I do not think anyone will deny; but, after all, the fundamental fact of the situation is that this is a danger which has arisen since motors came upon the road, and whether they are to blame or not there can be no reasonable doubt that it is the advent of the motor on the roads which has caused the great destruction which has taken place.

I think that is the central fact of the situation. The matter has been entirely misconceived. When motors began to circulate through the country they were treated as a kind of improved horse vehicle, as if all the conditions that applied to horse-vehicle traffic applied to motors, except that no doubt they were faster and therefore more dangerous. And so they said that the roads could remain just as they were, that everybody could have access to them in exactly the same way as before, and that they should be used for the necessities of traffic, whether the traffic was a moving mass of several tons at a speed up to fifty or sixty miles an hour, or whether it was a child going at two or three miles an hour. I think that was a fatal error. Motors ought never to have been regarded from that point of view.

If an analogy were wanted you should have taken the railways, where you have exactly that condition of affairs, only it was very much exaggerated in the case of motors—vast weights of material moving at very great speed, up to about the same speed, now even higher than that, sixty, seventy or eighty miles an hour. I think we ought to have arrived very rapidly at the conclusion that it was quite impossible to devise any system under which roads would be reasonably safe as long as they were open to unrestricted traffic, or very little restricted traffic, of such a totally different character and quality as I have indicated. I believe that really to solve this problem we should go back upon that early decision and we should ask ourselves, "Now what ought to be done with this new kind of traffic on the road, which really is much more analogous to railway traffic, that is to say, mechanically driven traffic at considerable speeds and of considerable weight? How are we to make that safe and at the same time preserve the roads as the necessary means of communication for the population?" My noble friend stressed the necessity for scientific examination of a great number of different problems, some of which are peculiar no doubt to motor traffic, but some of which apply equally to arty form of traffic, including the railways; and he urged in effect that we should do nothing at all until we had the conclusions of that inquiry before us. I hope your Lordships will not agree with any such doctrine. That would mean that we should have to give up any serious attempt to get rid of this terrific evil until we have had a most elaborate scientific investigation.


If I may interrupt the noble Viscount, I certainly did not mean to convey that. I am all for anything being done at the present moment, but that was a long-range plan for the future.


I am much obliged to my noble friend. If he merely asks for a scientific investigation I am entirely with him. But we must not stop. There are certain facts which are pretty plain. We should proceed on those facts, and we can do a very great deal, I believe, without any very elaborate scientific inquiry. I am glad my noble friend has corrected me in that respect. I return to what I was saying before that digression took place, and I would ask the House to consider what in fact was done about railway trains. The fundamental difference between railway trains and motor traffic has been that the railway trains are confined to their own roads. It is true the railways were built by private enterprise, but that does not affect this particular question. Railway trains are confined to their own roads. Very elaborate provision was made to prevent any traffic going on to those roads except the railway trains or officials connected with them.

As your Lordships know, when the railways were first begun it was quite common to have level crossings by which you could even then, with certain restrictions, drive or walk across a railway on the level. Your Lordships are probably aware—I know I am—that it has been the settled practice of Parliament to get rid of these level crossings everywhere, and for many years now whenever a railway company came with a scheme to widen or enlarge its railways or anything of that kind, it has always been made a condition that all the level crossings on the railway affected should be abolished and replaced by bridges. That only shows the great care which Parliament has taken to keep the railways apart from the rest of the traffic. I believe that in the early days in America, when that was not done and there was no attempt to fence off the railways, very serious evils arose. I do not know to what extent, but to a very large extent, that evil has been excluded in modern American life.

That is the first thing that it seems to me you have to do. Where you wish to go at anything like these great speeds you must do it on roads set apart for that purpose. There is something to be said for some of my pedestrian friends who say, "Well, these roads belong to us; we pay for them, we ought to be allowed to use them as we like, and other people who use them must take care not to interfere with our use of them." That is the kind of theoretic consideration with which I have sympathy, but which I do not think is a good guide to practical administration. You have to recognize that motors have become a very important part of the transport of the country, and that speed in itself is an advantageous thing. It means obviously better transport, and to say merely that you are going to exclude motors from doing anything more than 25 miles an hour on the roads is an impracticable policy, and I do not think it is desirable. But I think it is desirable that you should say that there should be roads on which you may proceed at more than 20 miles an hour, and that nobody should be allowed to go on those roads without full warning of the danger. I believe that conception of two classes of roads is the most fundamental of all that could be carried out. But that is a long-term policy. It cannot be done in a moment, and I most heartily agree with my noble friend that what we have got to do is to find palliatives until a final policy is adopted for the country, as I hope ultimately it will be.

There are a great many things that ought to be done. My noble friend attaches great importance to research. I attach great importance to research too, but I do not think you can put the responsibility for active measures on to any body of experts however able they may be. You have got to do something more practical than merely setting up a research board, though I agree that that should be done as a foundation for ultimate further action. There are a number of things that might be done immediately. I believe that the institution of police patrols, as tried in the County of Lancashire, has produced very encouraging results. I do not pretend to have examined the details, but there is no doubt that these results have been most encouraging. Of course, while the war lasts, it is impossible to have this patrol system extended throughout the country, but as soon as the war is over I hope that the Ministry of Transport will induce the Home Office or the other proper authorities greatly to increase the system of road patrols. I am sure that that would help a great deal.

A great many of my friends are anxious to see the law enforced with greater rigour and decision. I was amused in reading a pamphlet on the other side at the suggestion that motorists are always very much ill-treated by the courts and are always found guilty whether they have done anything wrong or not. I do not believe that either allegation can be completely established, but we all notice from time to time reports of accidents in which a motor vehicle has been engaged, the victim has been left dying on the side of the road, the motor driver has gone on either because he was ignorant of what had happened or because he was callous about it; and you have every week, perhaps more often than once a week, wireless appeals on behalf of the police to try and find out what motor it was that did these things and the man responsible for doing them. That kind of indifference to the law is a very shocking thing. It is a great evil in itself and is productive of part of the destruction on the roads.

I want to say this, because I feel it is essential that it should be said. Among younger motorists it is extremely common to find a kind of sporting antipathy to all regulations designed to increase the safety of motor driving. That really is a very bad thing. I remember very well, when motors were in their infancy, being in the company of a very distinguished Peer of very progressive opinions who explained that in order to prevent his car being recognized by the police he was in the habit of putting grease all over the number plates so that dust would stick to them and make the number quite illegible in a very short time. Of course that is all past now. In any case the increased number of tarred roads makes it less practicable than it was in those days; but that is the kind of spirit which everybody who is honest will admit does exist to a very large extent amongst the younger people who drive motors, whether they are driving them for pleasure or because of business. That is a shocking thing, and the only remedy I can see for it is a very rigid enforcement of whatever law is necessary.

Then there is, of course, a lot to be done in improving the roads. I shall not attempt to develop that—my noble friend has said a good deal about it—but I observe with satisfaction the growing number of white lines down the middle of the road. That is an excellent thing, and it has produced excellent results. In spite of my noble friend we have got to have more efficient machinery with regard to speed. It is quite true that speed is not the only danger on the roads, but it is an element in almost all the accidents that occur. I know that you will quote against that the evidence of the police who say, in answer to the question "At what speed was the motor travelling when the accident occurred?" that it was going at some quite small speed, ten or fifteen miles an hour. No doubt—at the moment the accident occurred; but at what speed was the motor going when the accident first became possible or probable? That is the time when a child is seen about to cross the road. What speed was the motor going at then?

It is difficult to recognize the very short time that will elapse, even with a careful driver, between the moment when he sees the possibility of an accident and the moment the accident takes place, supposing there is no diminution of speed. A motor, going at fifty miles an hour, if my arithmetic is right, takes two seconds in going twenty-five yards. Two seconds—that is the whole margin between the time when the accident becomes imminent and its taking place. No doubt the motorist will diminish his speed to the utmost extent, but I imagine it would be quite impossible for him, going at fifty miles an hour, to bring his car absolutely to a standstill before he gets to the child; and a motor two or three tons in weight striking a child, even if it is only going at ten or fifteen miles an hour, is bound to cause fearful injuries. Therefore speed is a very important element.

I should not have troubled your Lordships with these few observations were it not for the fact that it is still denied by enthusiastic advocates of the motorists and the motor trade that speed has anything to do with these accidents. That is really a very dangerous fallacy. I have advocated before in this House and I advocate again, though I am not going to argue it now, that rather than have a mechanical alteration to preclude speed, it is better to have some method by which the speed will be easily known to all who are present—to have such a device as a speed indicator of largish size fixed at the back of the car so that everyone knows, as the car passes, at what speed it is moving. That would be a very important advantage. That we must have speed regulation is now common ground. We have abolished, rightly or wrongly, the twenty mile an hours speed limit, but we enforce thirty miles an hour in certain districts, and enforce on certain classes of traffic a variety of different rates from thirty miles an hour downwards. Therefore we must have regard to speed, and I suggest that something in the nature of speed indicators would be well worth investigation and application.

I do not want to be accused of partiality. I quite admit that pedestrians and other people who use the roads must recognize the existence of this motor traffic, and must be reasonable and take all the precautions they can. I am all for every possible assistance being given to them in taking precautions, whether it be by fences or whatever other device is likely to be useful, and in particular, at any rate in the country districts, of making it an obligation on the authority for all main roads between considerable centres of population to provide as a matter of right footpaths on one side or both sides of the road. It is a scandal that constantly happens, particularly in wet weather, that you have to choose between marching through muddy grass or running the risk of being run over. That ought to be altered. The last Traffic Act gave power to the road authorities to establish these footpaths but put no obligation upon them to do so. I venture to say that that ought to be changed. But I do not want to go further into the detail of all the possible things that might be done. I have no doubt at all that you ought to have a segregation of traffic, a classification of road traffic, sending the really fast traffic on to roads specially prepared for the purpose and specially protected, and leaving the other roads for the general traffic with a very strict speed limit, a very low speed limit, so that a car—and this should be the real test—can always be brought to a standstill within whatever distance you might fix, but some relatively small distance, so that as long as the driver kept a reasonable view of the road he would always be able to bring his car to a standstill before any accident had taken place.

I want to say this one thing in conclusion. Nothing can be done for the roads except by the Government. That is quite plain, because in the first place they will have to administer whatever system is established; and in the second place there is not the slightest chance of getting any measures through Parliament without Government support. I have made efforts myself to get measures passed that were designed to improve the safety of the roads and I found that unless one could get Government support one could not get those measures through Parliament. Therefore it is the responsibility of the Government. I want to say this as strongly and as definitely as I can, that if nothing practical is done to improve the safety of the roads it is the responsibility of the Government. I must very respectfully say that. I think previous Governments have been very much to blame in this matter. I have known many Ministers of Transport who have been anxious to do what they could. My noble friend Lord Brabazon has explained his own efforts. The point is that under our existing system unless the Government are prepared to back the Minister of Transport in any really effective measures, and to set aside an adequate part of Parliamentary time in order to pass them, nothing will be done. This horrible slaughter will go on, vast expense will continue and we shall see perpetuated, as my noble friend justly said, this curse, this horrible condition of affairs, which never ought to have been allowed to come into existence at all. So far as your Lordships are concerned I trust this will not be by any means the last occasion on which you will return to this subject. I trust you will watch very carefully what the Government are doing. They have done an excellent thing in appointing a Departmental Committee. We now want to see what that Committee will recommend and what the Ministry of Transport will do to see that what they recommend is made effective.


My Lords, this is a matter which your Lordships' House has debated on several occasions. I have not myself ventured to intervene in any of those previous debates for I cannot lay claim to any specialized knowledge such as that possessed by the two noble Lords who have addressed you this afternoon. If I speak to-day—and I shall detain your Lordships for a very short time only—it is because I have come to feel very strongly that this is a matter which has attained to the dimensions of a national scandal, and that this House as a whole should no longer leave it to the specialist, but that from all quarters of the House strong representations should be made to the Government that adequate measures should be effectively taken. In that I must say that this House of Parliament will be doing no more than representing a very strong body of opinion which permeates the whole nation. I endeavoured to ascertain how many deaths had occurred on the roads since motoring first became a general practice in the first years of this century, but I was told that no statistics of that kind exist earlier than the year 1909. But from 1909 to 1943, both years inclusive, a period of thirty-five years, the number of people in this country who have been killed upon the roads has amounted to 161,000. That number, people of all ages, have been killed upon the roads of Great Britain in a single generation. The Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Transport, Mr. Noel Baker, said a few days ago in the House of Commons that during the present war the number of men of all Services killed and wounded was no fewer than 370,000. On the roads in the same period during this war the number of people killed and injured was 588,000–50 per cent. more than all those who have been killed and wounded in those terrible campaigns on land, on sea and in the air.

It is not too much to say that this state of things, if it continues unchecked, and the statistics in spite of the much smaller number of cars upon the road show no considerable improvement, is a discredit to the nation. I feel bound to say that although one has to make allowance for the present period of the war and the great difficulties that attend the Ministry of Transport, taking it as a whole and looking back on the whole period during which the Ministry of Transport has been in existence, the present complete failure to cope with the situation is a discredit to that Ministry for which, of course, successive Governments must take responsibility. The root cause, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, has said, is obviously the speed of motor traffic. I cannot agree there with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon. It is a question of fast-moving traffic. If traffic is moving at thirty, forty and fifty miles an hour you have a different state of things from that which obtainer when there was only horse-drawn traffic moving at six or eight miles an hour or, in the case of coaches, ten or eleven miles an hour. That is the root cause, and I suggest to your Lordships this simple proposition: either the roads must now be adapted to the traffic or else the traffic must be adapted to the roads. There must be one or the other. We cannot go on indefinitely as we are.

For my own part I suggest that the roads should be adapted to meet the traffic. Roads exist to provide communications, and communications of the kind which the state of knowledge permits and which the people as a whole desire; and if the roads are not able to carry the traffic that belongs to the present age and which the people desire, then the roads must be altered to make them fit to do so. When the traffic consisted of foot traffic or pack animals you could pill up with one class of road, but when civilization progressed and those forms of traffic were replaced by horse-drawn vehicles, carts and carriages, then you required another kind of road. The speed of the horse determined the speed of the traffic and determined the character of the roads for centuries, and they remain substantially unchanged. I remember reading once an interesting comparison. One of the Roman Emperors, if my recollection is right, Septimius Severus, was in England at the time when the Emperor died in Rome and he was called to ascend the throne. He travelled from London to Rome with the utmost speed, with the best horses, as fast as the conditions of that age permitted. Seventeen centuries later Sir Robert Peel was in Rome when he was summoned to come to London with all possible speed to assume the Premiership and the time that Sir Robert Peel took lo travel from Rome to London was precisely the same as that taken by Septimius Severus to travel from London to Rome. That was because the speed of the traffic was determined by the speed of the horse.

Now we have mechanical transport with entirely different conditions and we need entirely different roads. This was foreseen in the year 1910 when the Road Board was established and the Road Fund was provided under a measure introduced by Mr. Lloyd George, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer. The intention was that a large annual revenue, derived to a very great extent from motor traffic, should be spent on a rapid remodelling of the road system. That Fund, however, was continually raided by Chancellors of the Exchequer in need of money to meet deficits in their Budgets. The money provided has been obviously totally inadequate for the purpose in view. It has been proved to be inadequate by the state of things to-day. During that period of some third of a century we have made great progress undoubtedly, but it has been wholly inadequate. We are very slow in this country to adapt ourselves to new circumstances. When the railways came in the first railway carriages were made to look exactly like coaches and the way of carrying luggage and everything else was precisely the same as if a coach had been put upon a railway bogie travelling upon rails. Only after a generation or two did we get proper corridor trains, and still our railway transport vehicles will probably be regarded by the next generations as extremely primitive. Now, after forty years of motoring, we still have for 'the most part only the road system that was created for horse traffic.

Let us have minor remedies undoubtedly, let us have what the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, calls palliatives; let us have anything that can be done immediately as fast as possible. Let us have research, by all means—the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, with his great wealth of knowledge has given a remarkable series of examples of how many points there are still to be investigated—but the fundamental point is that the road system must be adapted to the motor age. When the war is over we have a flood of cars coming on the road, and in another ten years, possibly, the number of cars will be many times greater than before the war began. The holocaust, so far from diminishing, is likely greatly to increase. It is quite possible that the terrible statistics we have to-day will be greatly worsened in the next three or four or five years. The conclusion I would press on your Lordships is that the aim to be achieved is not to compress the traffic to fit the roads, but that the roads must be adapted to fit the traffic, and that the care and construction of our roads must be one of the prime factors in the future planning of Great Britain.


My Lords, I should like to say how much I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, in his remarks, particularly with reference to the Road Safety Research Board advocated in the Alness Report. I hope that His Majesty's Government will as soon as possible bring such a Board into existence to study the vital question of road accidents. I do not want to dwell on the figures of accidents—they are, as the noble Viscount has just said, appalling and likely to get worse—nor do I want to dwell on the war situation, because there are obviously extraneous circumstances causing a great increase in accidents to-day, circumstances such as the black-out, war strain and the number of young drivers now on the roads in charge of lorries and machines of war. That is a problem which we hope will eventually, and probably soon, be ended. It seems to me that if we are going to cope with this matter we must have a long-term solution. No palliative will really effectually reduce this terrible death-rate and this terrible accident rate. I think the best thing that could be done would be to bring the Alness Report out of its pigeon-hole and study and discuss the measures so ably advocated in the Report in order to discover how they can be put into practice.

One point I would like to bring out is the lack of co-operation on the road. In spite of what the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, said, it seems to me that there is distinct antagonism between different users of the road, between pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. Intead of all cooperating to try to make the roads safe they each try to insist on what they look upon as their particular rights on the road. If there was more co-operation I think there would be undoubtedly fewer accidents. Not only is there that lack of co-operation but there is still, I think, a great prejudice against the motorist. There is a feeling that the motorist is usually to blame. Recently, I saw a case reported in the Press in which a pedestrian, without taking any care, had stepped into the road from the front of a parked vehicle and was knocked down by a motorist. No evidence was produced that the motorist was going fast or driving dangerously, but the motorist and not the pedestrian was convicted. I maintain that however carefully and however slowly a motorist may be driving he cannot see a pedestrian stepping into the road in such circumstances in time to avoid him. In a case like that inevitably it is the pedestrian who is to blame. It is he who should look and take care and not the unfortunate motorist.

I know of nothing of that case except what I read in the Press, but there is another case of which I have first-hand knowledge. A young man driving before the war unfortunately ran into a child. He was proceeded against in the courts, convicted of dangerous driving, and his licence was endorsed—all on the evidence of one woman who said she had never seen a car being driven so dangerously. After the trial was over the motorist, knowing he had only been proceeding at about 15 miles an hour, went to the scene of the accident and discovered that at the spot from which this woman who had given evidence said she had seen the accident, the place of the accident was completely invisible. He reported the matter to the police who then proceeded against the woman for perjury and the charge succeeded. The woman was convicted and his fine was remitted. But so great was the prejudice and the feeling against the motorist that he had to have police protection when going to and from the trial. I mention this matter only to show that there is still a great feeling in the country that the motorist is always wrong.

I am not saying that there are not motorists who drive very dangerously, but the average case does not, I think, bear out the general charge. I submit that that is important, because we have got our laws, rules and regulations, as has been pointed out by Lord Brabazon, framed almost entirely to control one party and not the other. I think you will find that out of the terribly large number of accidents which do occur an enormous proportion are actually caused by the heedlessness of pedestrians—pedestrians for example who step off the pavement without taking any care or trouble for their own safety, and women who push perambulators out from their doorways on to the road without looking either to right or to left. Actions of this sort cause accidents when there is no fault whatsoever on the part of the motorists. This was borne out in the Alness Report. In the year 1936–37 the Ministry of Transport, as quoted in the Report, said that out of 71,622 accidents in which cyclists were concerned, 43,944 were cases in which the cyclist was obviously to blame. The Assistant Chief Constable of Leeds, giving evidence before a committee inquiring into accidents, said that out of 18 fatal accidents in the first quarter of this year, 16, in his opinion, were due to the failure of pedestrians to take any reasonable care. I could quote one or two other illustrations, but I think that no one with experience of driving a car will be surprised to hear how often it is that the pedestrian will take no care. There are no ruler or laws which can make him take the care necessary to prevent an accident.

Now we come to another point which, I think, is a much more difficult one than the point relating to pedestrians—and, in passing, I should say that I sincerely advocate that some law should be brought in to control the pedestrian. I wish now to deal with the case of young children. That is a different and more difficult problem No one can expect young children to have the same sense of responsibility which adult pedestrians should possess and exercise. I would like to suggest that there are two ways of dealing with this problem. One way is through education. The other way is by the provision of more playgrounds. I think that in all towns and villages the schools should have more adequate facilities for play provided for the young children. It is a scandal that there should be places where there is nowhere for young children to play except in the streets. The provision of the second remedy I am sure is a task for the Board of Education. The children must be taught how to use their common sense on the roads, and how to get out of the way of traffic.

I was informed that there was a very useful experiment carried out by the Russian authorities in Moscow in their park of rest and culture. They have a big cement road made out with side roads leading into it, and this area is devoted entirely to children, to provide a place where they can hire and ride little pedal-propelled cars, bicycles, tricycles and so on. They ride up and down the main road and out of the side roads while other children act as policemen. These police officers have to direct the traffic and there are all sorts of signs upon the roads—"No parking here," "One-way street" and so on. If any child does not do the right thing he is turned out of his car and if the "policeman" makes a mistake he loses his job. The result is that the children, whilst enjoying themselves enormously, instinctively develop that road sense which is so important in the prevention of accidents. I should like to see some sort of education of that kind introduced in some of our schools in this country to-day.

Lastly, I come to the question of the dangerous driver. I would not like my noble friend Viscount Cecil of Chelwood to think that I ignore the fact that there are dangerous and bad drivers. I would like to suggest that, with a view to bringing about a reduction in the number of dangerous drivers there should be more adequate instruction than is given here at present, and, if possible, a more rigorous driving test. It has been my fate to endeavour to drive motor cars in many different countries—not in many on the Continent of Europe, but in the Americas and the Antipodes. I must say that the most rigorous driving test I have ever had to undergo was in Mexico. When you apply for a licence there you have first to establish your identity with a passport. You then have a short examination in the course of which you answer various questions to show that you know the rules of the road and how to conduct yourself. You next proceed to undergo an examination by a doctor who tests your sight and your heart and generally examines you to see if you have any disease that might render you a dangerous or incompetent driver. When you have passed the doctor's examination you go out with a police officer, who takes you round Mexico City and gives you an exceedingly rigorous driving test, making you back and park and go round corners and generally putting you through every test of driving skill that he can think of. And he does not forget to take you through the most unpleasant kinds of traffic.

In the last stage you go through you have to provide a photograph, and they take your finger prints. Both the photograph and the finger prints are then attached to the licence. I was informed that as my photograph was taken when I had on spectacles, which I always use for driving, if I was found driving without them at any time that would be an offence for which I should be sent to prison. I may add that I was always very careful to wear spectacles when driving in Mexico. The result of these very careful tests is, I believe, a standard of driving in that country which is extremely efficient. I think that if a more rigorous test, and a more careful check up of people were imposed in this country it might eliminate some of the very bad drivers whom one occasionally does see.

But the final solution—and here I would very much like to support the noble Viscount who spoke immediately before me—is that of roads. I do not want to go into the matter of which we have heard such a full and lucid exposition by the noble Lord who opened this debate, but obviously the real crux of the whole matter must be to suit the roads to the traffic—overhead, on the ground, under-around and roundabouts and so on. Everything must be done that will make fast traffic safe for the public. A matter in this connexion interested me very much in Germany. I learn that when they introduced the Autobahnen there, although traffic increased by 31 per cent. accidents decreased by 32 per cent. Those are quite considerable figures when you consider them. I do hope that the Government will now undertake a policy of planning roads that will be adequate all over the country even if all the plans cannot be carried out now. If research is started by this Road Safety Research Board, and if at least some start with the plans can be made immediately and carried out after the war, that will go a great way towards dealing with this most dreadful question.


My Lords, I wish to say that like everybody else who has spoken I heartily support this Motion. I confess, though, that that does not mean that I agree with everything that Lord Brabazon said in support of it. I do not think that this is an occasion on which to draw comparisons between guilt and innocence, drivers of private cars and of lorries and omnibuses. By whomsoever this terrible slaughter is caused, we are all very desirous that an expert scientific view should be taken of the causes of accidents, and that something should be done to remove what has been justly called the scandal which exists at present. For my part, I share the opinion expressed by my noble friends Lord Cecil and Lord Samuel that excessive speed is very largely the cause of a great many accidents. I noted that my noble friend Lord Brabazon in a way avoided a contest on that point by admitting that speed was the cause of accidents, because he said that speed meant motion, and that the motion of heavy bodies caused accidents; but "speed" in the sense in which we all use the term means excessive speed. It is excessive in the City of London to drive at 20 miles an hour. The driving in the City of London, owing to the narrow streets and the low speed thereby occasioned, is such that there are hardly any accidents there. There could be no stronger proof that high speed is one of the causes of a number of accidents.

They have the same experience in America. Not long ago a law was introduced imposing a speed limit on automobiles of 35 miles an hour. It came into operation on September 10, 1942, its main purpose being the conservation of rubber. With that my noble friend the Minister is well acquainted. It is very difficult to form an exact view of the effect of that law, because contemporaneously, or very nearly so, the number of cars on the road driven by private persons considerably decreased; but I have a comment here which is worth quoting. There is in Chicago a Safety Court, and Judge J. Schiller, sitting in the Safety Court of the Chicago Municipal Courts, said recently: The present enforcement of the 35-mile speed limit has shown clearly that tens of thousands of lives throughout the nation might be saved by making the 35 limit permanent. It is more important to save lives than to save rubber. This war restrictive measure should be made permanent. That is only an item in the matter of evidence, and I can quite believe that there are people who will think that the learned judge was mistaken; but it is a view which is very largely held, and for my part I very largely hold with him.

Some speakers have suggested that the speed with which we have to deal goes up only to 50 or 60 miles an hour. The problem is much more serious than that. After this war, unless a speed limit is enforce I throughout the country, many motor car manufacturers will provide cars which can be driven with ease at 120 miles an hour, and, if those cars are put on the road, there are many young men who will be perfectly willing to drive at such a speed. I say with some shame (though it was not my fault) that I have been driven at over 100 miles an hour on several occasions on the public roads of England. I think that that is absolutely wrong and should be stopped. It is true that there were no accidents in my case, or probably I should not be here; but young men will drive at these speeds if they are allowed to do so.

That brings me to the view, which I share with my noble friend Lord Samuel, that roads ought to be adapted to the traffic, by which I mean that there should be road; available for speeds of a considerable magnitude, such as 50 or 60 miles an hour—I doubt whether any road is suitable for higher speeds than those—and that a number of roads should have a very strict speed limit. That leads me to say a word about the children, to whom the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, referred. Until there are playgrounds available in very village in the country, we have to understand and to accept the fact that the roads of the villages are the playgrounds of the poor children of the country. When playgrounds are provided in all these villages, we may say that the children ought not to be on the road, but it is preposterous to say that the children of poor people in the villages in this country are not to be allowed on the road. That is the place where they play. That argument alone shows that the public roads, as at present existing, are not fitting places for motorists to pass along, whether driving a car or a lorry, at anything but a very moderate speed. I have known people who always drive through villages at a pace not exceeding ten miles an hour. It makes very little difference in driving from London to Brighton or from London to Birmingham if you follow that principle throughout, and slow down as soon as you reach a village street. The motorists of whom I am speaking have never had an accident in a village, but it is in the villages that accidents constantly occur.

Speaking as a lawyer, I admit that the law with regard to cars and lorries and all other motor-driven vehicles is defective and should be amended. I have some experience of the matter, because when I was in the Court of Appeal I helped to decide a large number of motoring cases. What I think has not been sufficiently realized is that the offence of dangerous driving is an offence of a very special kind. There is no malice, no mens rea or intention to commit a crime on the part of the motorist who drives a car in such a way that an accident may and does occur. He does not mean any harm; he is simply driving in that way from high spirits or because he does not realize that there is the possibility of an accident at that place. Accordingly, he is a person who is guilty of a crime which is exceedingly difficult to define, the crime of dangerous driving. He kills or injures a human being, whether man, woman or child. With regard to such a person there should, I think, be an amendment of the law. I am not going into it in detail, but it seems to me that we ought to alter the law with regard to the killing of an unfortunate pedestrian if it should turn out that the only possible person who can give evidence as to the cause of the accident is the motorist, because the person killed is dead. Such a person goes off scot-free, and of course it is not sufficient to say that a mile or two away he was seen driving at 60 or 100 miles an hour. That will not be proof of the speed at which he was driving at the time of the accident. I think the law might be amended so as to make it more difficult for people of that kind to go away leaving a person dead or dying on the road—a thing that occurs all too often in this country. We have to realize—and I am not sure that all of your Lordships have quite realized—that it is all very well to say that the pedestrians are negligent, but we must remember that, in addition to children, old people have a right to cross a road, and I am not aware that it is an illegal act for a deaf person to be walking along a road where there is not a pathway of any kind. He has a right to be there, and a motorist—I am one of them—has to realize possibilities of that kind and to take precautions accordingly.

In conclusion, I would only wish to say that my experience is not that there is a prejudice against motorists in the various Courts that have to deal with these matters. If it were not that the hour is rather late I could tell your Lordships of one or two events where motorists, obviously guilty of dangerous driving, have been let off with a perfectly trifling fine and have been excused payment of the fine because of poverty. That happened more than once in my knowledge, and I am not aware of any case where the prejudice is so greatly in favour of the pedestrian that the motorist is held guilty when he is innocent. I can only add my feeling as to what has been said by my noble friend Lord Brabazon about the present Minister of War Transport, who has, as I know, taken the greatest pains over this matter. He has met me, on the two occasions when I have tried to persuade him to do something in the direction of further diminishing the number of accidents, with the greatest kindness and consideration, and given every sort of assistance which I could fairly expect.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Brabazon for giving me an opportunity to-day to speak on this subject, and it is well that your Lordships should devote time to the consideration of this intractable problem. I was going to give a number of statistics, but I think they have been quoted adequately already, and I will not go over them again. It is agreed that all the figures support the view that there is a distressingly high number of casualties on the roads demanding the fullest inquiry and action. Your Lordships have, as I know, long been alive to this social evil and active in seeking every possible remedy and in combating it in every way. Some most valuable suggestions have been made in the course of the debate to-day. I want to assure your Lordships that not one of them will be lost sight of. We have already a large number of them under review. Any others that come forward and those that have been mentioned to-day which have not already been on our books for investigation, will be added. I can assure the House that my Ministry is very much alive to the seriousness of this problem and there will be no delay in handling the matter. We are indeed all at one in our anxiety to find practical and effective cures. If there are some differences of view as to the best treatment, there are none about the need for the closest diagnosis and the application of any promising remedy.

Although results have so far been disappointing, much thought, time and labour have been devoted to this subject and to the analysis of causes and the devising of remedies. Before the war the Ministry of Transport published in considerable detail analyses of the cause and nature of road accidents compiled from police reports. Chief Constables, highway engineers, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and many others studied the subject from their various angles. The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, with its special Road Research Laboratory, had also begun studies from the point of view of safety as well as of the durability of road surfaces. The Road Research Board, I would inform my noble friend Lord Brabazon, is in no way identified with the police, and I can assure him that there is no limit to the scope of their consideration and their work. A Committee has been established to coordinate the activities of scientists and highway engineers and has done, and is doing, admirable work. Shortly before the war the Committee over which Lord Alness presided made a most painstaking and exhaustive Report. I have no doubt that, had not the war intervened, many of the results of this work would have been translated into action by this time.

During the war conditions on the roads have vastly changed. Black-out, redistribution of the population, and the urgent nature of most of the traffic have offset the results which one might have expected from the largely reduced numbers of vehicles on the roads. At the same time, means available for dealing with the problem were severely restricted. Manpower had to be diverted to war activities; materials were in short supply. None the less, we have not been inactive within the limited means available to us. The Parliamentary Secretary to my Ministry presides over a representative committee which has worked with industry and enthusiasm which I gladly take the oppor- tunity to acknowledge, and they have undertaken at my request a systematic examination of the recommendations of the Alness Report so that we may be prepared against the return of vehicles and drivers to the roads after the war.

It is a mere truism to say that there is no single or sovereign remedy—the problem is indeed partly psychological, a human problem, and partly physical, a problem of machines and their roads; of segregation of different types of traffic; even of curves and frictions. On the psychological side it is fundamentally a question of training, the human mind to more acute traffic sense and to more considerate traffic behaviour. Conditions of the last few years have been all against this. Not only have we all been living dangerously, but our perceptions of danger on the ground are perhaps blunted by a new sense of danger from the air. On this side of our problem I hope to intensify the use of our two main weapons—education and propaganda. There are many ways in which these can be brought to bear, and while the schools, the B.B.C. and the Press must continue to be the principal media, I attach the greatest importance to the help which the women of this country can give whether as mothers or as teachers, towards the solution of a problem which so nearly concerns them.

I hope to revive, as soon as the manpower provision allows, the valuable work that was being done before the war by police patrols, and particularly in those areas where they were being used intensively. We shall have to overhaul our system of driving tests and to make it more searching, trough I do not think we can b expected to go the length which the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, mentioned he had experienced in Mexico. We have in the Highway Code an embodiment of those standards of behaviour by which the dangers inherent in fast-moving traffic may be minimized. The physical side includes a wide range of study to which I intend to call in scientists to aid the highway engineer and the designer of vehicles. This will not be a new thing, but it will be carried very much further. Traffic movement in relation to road design with all subsidiary aspects of road surface, traffic signs, lighting, vehicle designs, and control have to be studied more intensively and. if I may so express it, more imaginatively. In this I shall, I know, have the assistance of the Minister of Town and Country Planning as well as the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research who have already been giving some preliminary consideration to the matter. We shall have to deal, too, with the problem of standing vehicles, particularly in towns. Not only do they occupy road space, which is obstructive and uneconomical, but they are a danger to pedestrians and drivers alike by masking approaching traffic.

It will probably be necessary to revise our system of accident statistics in order to make them serve the needs of scientific and experimental investigation rather than the filling of columns of Blue Books. Mere numbers are often of less importance in the investigation of a problem of this nature than the collection of data on a scientifically selective basis and possibly over a narrower field. Nor should we necessarily confine the statistical study to the accidents which occur. In investigating causes and prescribing remedies, it is equally important to have a measure of the effectiveness of particular remedies already applied. I am fully conscious that the methods of approach which I have briefly indicated will make substantial demands upon trained man-power if they are to be used extensively, but your Lordships will feel that if we succeed in reducing this terrible problem to comparatively small proportions it will be labour well spent. I hope that what I have said will be sufficient to show with what concern the Government view the distressingly high accident figures. Death and injuries on the roads not only entail misery and hardship in the homes of the people concerned, but they clearly have a seriously adverse effect on the efficiency and well-being of the nation as a whole. What we must have is a comprehensive programme of measures of many different kinds which, as I have tried to indicate, my Department is working to produce. In the meantime, I appeal with the greatest force at my disposal to all road users to play their part in the reduction of accidents on the road.


My Lords, I am a little disappointed that, instead of having one of those acrimonious debates which we have had so often in another place, everybody to-day has been constructive, even my noble friend Lord Cecil and my noble friend Lord Maugham, neither of whose speeches could be described as Bourbon speeches. They were both helpful and suggestive of something they wanted done. I listened to the noble Lord, the Minister of War Transport, and no doubt we shall hear a great deal more soon about the activities of his Parliamentary Secretary. When he has something to disclose, I hope he will let us have it at the earliest possible moment.


May I say that I think it will be available in the matter of a couple of months?


Perhaps then we might have another exploratory debate on the subject. In these circumstances, I have pleasure in withdrawing my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.