HL Deb 24 November 1954 vol 189 cc1933-55

5 p.m.

LORD CARRINGTON rose to move, That this House takes note of the Paper entitled The Highway Code, a copy of which was laid before the House on October 26 last, and approves the revised Highway Code contained in pages 4 to 26 thereof. The noble Lord said: I must ask your Lordships to turn from matters of the greatest international importance to something much more domestic, though not, I think, entirely unimportant. I ask your Lordships to take note of the Paper entitled the Highway Code and to approve of the revised Code contained in pages 4 to 26. Section 45 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, provides that the Minister of Transport shall issue a code of directions for the guidance of persons using the roads and also enables him to amend, revoke and alter such codes. As your Lordships will remember, the first Highway Code was published in 1931. Since then there have been two other versions, one in 1935, which was the concern of my noble friend Lord HoreBelisha, who was then Minister of Transport and who still takes a great interest in these matters, and one in 1946 In 1951, it was suggested that the Code should be once again examined and the then Minister gave this job of examination to the Departmental Committee on Road Safety. The Committee's Report was published in 1952 and most of the recommendations have been adopted.

The status of the Highway Code in law was carefully studied by this Committee. As your Lordships will know, failure to observe the provisions of the Highway Code is not of itself an offence, but it can be regarded in civil and criminal proceeding as tending to establish or negative any liability which is in question. Although the Committee recommended by a majority that its legal position ought to be strengthened, the Minister, after the most careful consideration, decided that it would not be desirable to do this. There was a difficulty in devising a halfway house between the existing status of the Code and giving it the force of law. A minority of the Committee, a minority which consisted of motoring organisations, the National Road Transport Federation and some representatives of the Trades Union Congress, thought that the Highway Code failed not so much because of its legal status or lack of it but because it was not written in such a form as would command the respect of road users and the courts. Therefore, it has been the object of my right honourable friend to ensure that the new Code consists of a series of clear rules. Great care was taken in its drafting and a great many suggestions, not least from a number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Howe, were considered, and in a great many cases adopted. I think the House will agree that this Code is an improvement upon its predecessor.

The previous editions have been inclined to consist of advice, and the Code came to be classed as something which it was necessary to know in order to pass one's driving test. In fact, of course, it is more than that. It should be regarded as a manual of good conduct for all road users, and it applies equally to pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as to motorists. I do not propose to draw any distinction between the form or the content of the new Code as against the old one. Your Lordships will probably have copies before you and you will see what has been done, but I would draw attention to a few of what I think are improvements. First of all, as I have already said, mere advice has been removed from the Code and replaced by forceful directions. The typography and presentation are greatly improved. Diagrams have been added to the important braking table. The laws and "The Law's Demands" have been brought up to date and set out better than they were before, and notes have been added on first aid.

As regards the distribution of the Code, my right honourable friend proposes to print 10 million copies as the first issue. Of these, about 6 million will be used to issue one each to drivers who apply for the renewal of their driving licences, and about half a million will be needed in the first year for applicants for provisional driving licences. In addition, 2 million will be put on sale to the general public at a price of one penny each, and one million will be distributed to the older children in the schools. The balance will go to the Armed Forces, the police, the courts, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the Road Safety Committee and other official and semi-official bodies. I hope that your Lordships will agree that this is a good document, an improvement on its predecessor, and will now give it your blessing. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Paper entitled The Highway Code, a copy of which was laid before the House on the 26th of October last, and approves the revised Highway Code contained in pages 4 to 26 thereof.—(Lord Carrington.)

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, may I preface any observations which I intend to address to your Lordships on the Highway Code, by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on his elevation to dealing with matters of transport? I am sure he must feel he has now reached a really responsible position in having to speak for Her Majesty's Government on matters of this nature. Indeed, may I congratulate your Lordships in having the benefit of that clear and careful exposition with which he has always delighted your Lordships and which has, in the past, always received the approbation of your Lordships' House?

I think I have some responsibility for this Highway Code, as it was while I was at the Ministry of Transport and Chairman of the National Safety First Committee that we first started a review of the then Code, with a view to its revision. As your Lordships will remember, it was at that time that controversy raged as to whether or not the Highway Code should be given the status of law. I must confess that I was open-minded at first, but I came to the conclusion quite definitely that it would be disadvantageous to give it the force of law, because, first of all, it could not be, in its major aspect, enforced; and that would only bring into disrepute, or greater disrepute, if that were possible, the existing legislation as regards road traffic. Unfortunately, or fortunately, as the ease may be, in the middle of the Committee's deliberations there was a change of Government. I understand that the Committee eventually recommended that the Code should be given the force of law, but the noble Lord's right honourable friend did not see his way clear to accept the recommendation; and in that I think he was wise.

I think this is a very good document, and that those who are responsible for its production are to be congratulated. It is by far the best presentation of the Highway Code there has been, and if I have any criticism to make, which I have, it must not be in any way thought that I do not pay the highest possible compliment to those hard-working people who I know have laboured so long behind the scenes to make this a really efficient document. The first general criticism I have is this. I think your Lordships are placed this afternoon in, if I may say so, a most ridiculous position. You can either accept this Code or reject it, but any constructive criticism which your Lordships make cannot have any possible effect for about five years, because that will be the time when we shall have the next Highway Code. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was perfectly correct in saying that the first copies of this edition were widely circulated to interested bodies, and to all who the Minister thought could give constructive advice. But that is no substitute for Parliamentary debate. I am going to suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that he should convey to his right honourable friend the Minister of Transport that in future, on this Highway Code, we adopt the sensible procedure which we adopted with what will be the next business before your Lordships to-day—namely, the Railways Reorganisation Scheme. That Scheme was first produced as a White Paper. If a similar step were taken with the Highway Code, we could debate the White Paper; the Minister could take note of the suggestions made by your Lordships and those made in another place, and then we could have an agreed document. I am sure that that would be much better than this procedure.

It is a tragic thing that we are considering this Highway Code, which has as its main objective the reduction of road accidents, when only to-day the Department on whose behalf the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is speaking this afternoon has had to publish the fact that road accidents increased in October this year by 20 per cent. over October last year. It is not my purpose this afternoon to raise a debate on the road accident problem; that will have to be debated in your Lordships' House at some other date; but I frankly think that Nemesis is tapping the Ministry of Transport upon the shoulder. We have got to do something to eliminate this appalling toll on the roads, and if this Highway Code makes the smallest contribution, then it is well worth while.

The first criticism I have to make of the Code is that it is too long. I feel that brevity in it would be a great asset. I am not at all certain—I am open to persuasion, and it may come with expenence—that the last section, "The Law's Demands," is necessary. It is interesting to those of us who take an interest in these things, but the real object with this Highway Code, in all its pictorial aspect, is to get it read, and to get it read by people who do not want to read it. I may be wrong, but I suggest to the noble Lord that in future it might be abbreviated. The first serious criticism that I have concerns Part I. On page 4, what I will call "Exhortation 3" offers the sensible advice to the road user on foot: Where there is no footpath, walk on the right of the road to face oncoming traffic. That is elementary common sense. But the next one, No. 4, says: A marching body which cannot use a footpath should keep on the left-hand side of the road. The first question I want to ask is somewhat rhetorical: What is "a marching body?" Is it one, two, ten or twenty? And why give a marching body different advice from that given to those who do not constitute a marching body? Surely, it is common sense that everybody who walks along a road should walk facing oncoming traffic.

I would recall to your Lordships that tragic accident at Chatham. If that party of cadets had been marching along that road on the right-band side, facing the oncoming traffic, that accident might never have happened; and in any case, it might have been greatly reduced, because they might have had the opportunity of seeing the vehicle that ran them down, and jumped to safety. But owing to the fact that it came up behind them they could not see it at all. In my view, that is a serious blemish on this Highway Code—in fact, it is my major criticism. I do not know whether that advice could be altered; I do not know whether the document could be inter leaved, or an amended Rule put over the top of the Rule as printed; but I think it is suicide to put in, as advice to a body of marching men, women or children, that they should walk on the left-hand side of the road and thereby have the traffic coming up behind them, instead of in front of them. The rest of my criticism is a matter of detail, but I think noble Lords will agree with me that that is serious.

On page 6, Recommendation 17 says: Keep well to the left. … What does that mean? I believe that the Hendon Police College recommend that a vehicle should, in normal circumstances, be driven two feet from the nearside kerb. Great danger can ensue by vehicles being driven into the kerb, which may be interpreted as "well to the left." If you are two feet from the kerb, you do, at least, stand the chance of missing the thoughtless pedestrian who steps off the kerb into the gutter without looking behind. I come next to the matter of overtaking. No. 31 says: Never pull out sharply. … No. 32 says: Never cross a continuous white line. … And No. 30, says: Overtake on the right except when the driver in front has signalled that he intends to turn right. I should have thought it would be better to say, "Never overtake on the left," which is far more positive. Overtaking on the left is a great source of danger. In the present congested state of our roads a bicycle is often a quicker means of transport than a motor car, and we have all had the experience of dawdling along a highly-trafficked street at something in the region of five miles an hour and being continuously overtaken by cyclists on our left, who are a positive danger. They should have a clear instruction always to overtake on the right.

I now come to railway level crossings. What an anachronism that in the Highway Code of 1954 we should have to tell people what to do when they come to a level crossing! I hope that in the next Session we may hear something about a new road programme and a new conception on road construction, and that level crossings will become things of the past. Now a word on No. 44, "Turning Corners." I believe that filtering should always be allowed. The great object of traffic control is to keep the traffic moving. Here it says: When held up at a road junction by police or light signals do not 'filter' left unless you receive a definite signal to do so. I would reverse that advice. I think one should always filter to the left unless there is a definite signal not to do so, because I think that in 99 cases out of 100 filtering to the left is an aid to keeping traffic moving. There is another item called, "Extra rules for pedal cyclists." Not only would I have that rule about "Do not overtake on the left" reiterated, but I should like some exhortation to pedal cyclists not to weave, if I may coin that expression. What is the common experience? Vehicles are held up at traffic lights, and there is a constant stream of pedal cyclists and motor-cyclists weaving in and out, right up to the traffic lights. By the time the lights turn to amber there is a solid mass of cyclists and motorcyclists, all wobbling, trying to get off and holding up the traffic. If only they would keep their place in the queue and not take advantage of the fact that they are so narrow that they can weave to the front, the cause of many accidents would be removed.

Now I come to No. 59: After dark, do not rely on sidelights in built-up areas unless the street lighting is good. This advice really accentuates the dazzle problem. If we are to have (and I agree that it is sometimes necessary) headlights on in built-up areas, the dazzle problem as we know it to-day is going to be accentuated. This pinpoints the lack of good street lighting. The ideal is for the street lighting in a built-up area to be so good that a vehicle does not require any lights at all. We have, thank goodness! some sensible local authorities who have achieved that ideal. I will not give them a free advertisement by mentioning them. But there are also some local authorities, and in London, too, who should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for their street lighting. Take the Great West Road. The best lighting on the Great West Road is provided by the floodlighting of industrial buildings, and once you get past those buildings you come into a black patch that is positively dangerous. It is the same with Western Avenue. The dazzle problem can be solved without any of these so-called scientific experiments. It would take time to have all the cars adapted to it—we should have to wait for some of the old ones to go off the road—but the solution to the dazzle problem is that both headlights should not only be dimmed but dipped. It is no good dimming one and dipping one. Both of them should dip and swivel to the left. The same thing should be done with motor-cycle headlights, which are in many cases a bigger menace than car headlights.

In Part 3, No. 67 says: Keep your dog under control when you take it for a walk. … What does this mean? What is, "Keeping a dog under control"? There is only one way to keep a dog under control, and that is to have it on a lead. There should have been a clear exhortation here, "Never take a dog out unless it is on a lead." The number of accidents that are caused through stray dogs is a disgrace, and no true dog lover would ever take a dog out for a walk in a crowded built-up area except on a lead. I suggest that we should have had that definite exhortation here.

There are only about two more observations that I have to make. Now we come to the last Part of the Code. I am not very keen on these traffic light signal illustrations. Cannot we do something better than this pasty yellow on page 26? It is not amber; one can hardly see it. It would make for improvement if we could have that printed a little deeper in colour. I want the noble Lord's advice on this next point, because very likely he knows more about this particular thing than I do. On page 29, under the heading, "To drivers of motor vehicles," the Code says: Before driving make sure that … you are not under the influence of drink or a drug. How does one do that? It is a long time since I had any experience of this kind of thing, but I have always been told that the greater the influence of drink upon a person, the louder are his protestations that he is completley sober. In other words, to use modern parlance, the "tighter" you are, the more you declare your sobriety. How do you make certain that you are not under the influence of drink? Would it not be better either to leave out that part of the advice or, alternatively, make some positive statement such as, "Do not drink and drive a car," because nobody is going to admit that he us under the influence of drink. I think that is rather a useless exhortation.

I have tried to be constructive in the criticisms I have made. Although probably it is too late to include any of these suggestions in this Code, I would press the noble Lord to discuss with his right honourable friend the possibility of doing something about my first criticism, the instruction—because that is what it amounts to—to people, if they are in a body, to walk on the left hand side of the road, thus laying themselves open (because they are not going to carry lamps unless they are military troops) to being run down from behind. I would ask the noble Lord to discuss that point with his right honourable friend. I conclude by congratulating the noble Lord on the fact that we are making some progress with this problem. I can only express the hope that I expressed at first, that this Highway Code will make some contribution to solving this appalling social problem of accidents on the road

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, I am deeply interested in the Highway Code, because during the time the noble Lord, Lord Hore-Belisha was in office I had the honour of serving on the Public Safety Committee of the Ministry of Transport which first considered the original Highway Code. Ever since then I have naturally taken a great interest in it. I should at once like to pay a tribute, and to echo the tribute paid by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, to the Minister of Transport and the officials of his Department for the document which they have now produced. It is by no means perfect, but it is a distinct advance on its predecessors. There are a number of suggestions which I have submitted from time to time to the Minister—not the present Minister of Transport but his predecessor—with regard to the document as a whole. One was that the document should be illustrated so that a foreigner coming over here could understand it, even if he could not understand English. Noble Lords will notice that to a certain extent that has been done, but I submit that it has not been done nearly so well as it could have been.

I submitted to the Minister of Transport a copy of the Swedish Highway Code which contains a number of extremely good little illustrations. I do not know one word of Swedish of any sort, and yet I could take the Swedish Highway Code, look at all the little pen and ink sketches inside, which are more apt than those in our own Highway Code, and understand it. It is easy to interpret the document. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has spoken about the question—it is a perennial question—whether this document should be given the force of law. When one gets into a motor car and drives it down the street there are already over 3,000 offences which one can commit. I do not want to see that 3,000 increased, even by one, if it can be avoided, because I am perfectly certain of this: that not one of your Lordships can get into a car to-day and guarantee not to break the existing law when he drives it, however careful he may be. Somehow, I feel that this document gains by not having the force of law but by being what, in fact, it is—a code of proper conduct on the road. One only wishes that it would be observed by everybody.

The next point that strikes one about this document is, probably, the colour scheme. I do not know what particular significance there may be in the colour scheme. Some of the pages are blue, some are green and there are various other colours. If they have a significance, I suppose it is a good thing to have them there, but I could not understand what they really meant. I entirely agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, about paragraphs 3 and 4. Paragraph 4 seems absolutely to stultify paragraph 3. I cannot think why it was put in. It is perfectly obvious that if a body of people, or even an individual, are walking along a road, the mere fact that they are walking towards you enables you to pick them up in your headlights; you see their white faces, I should have thought it would be much safer if, in paragraph 4, marching bodies had been directed to do the same as the single pedestrian is directed to do in paragraph 3.

Then we come to Part 2, "The Road User on Wheels." As a general criticism, I would submit that there is one fault of a great many drivers of cars on the road to-day. One can see it in nine cases out of ten—it is lack of concentration. How often, when one is going along, perhaps following another car, one sees the driver ahead take his eyes, and therefore necessarily his attention, off the road in order to speak to his passenger, who may be a very charming and beautiful woman. It is a very bad thing to do and it should be avoided. Yet I cannot find anything in this document which stresses the point and tells the driver not to take his attention off the road. Part 2, headed "The Road User on Wheels," opens with the words: To all drivers and riders and in general to those in charge of horses. It seems a little queer, when one has been told that this part addresses itself to people on wheels, to find a reference to horses. A little re-arrangement there would have been a good idea.

Another fault which is committed by many drivers of motor vehicles in this country, particularly private car owners, is to go along in echelon, overlapping the car ahead, in order, probably, to obtain a clear view of the road, perhaps to find out whether or not they can pass. That sort of formation, if persisted in and carried too far, produces situations of considerable danger. There is nothing that I can see in this booklet which applies to that fault, beyond a general exhortation to keep well to the left.

Paragraph No. 35 refers to the "Halt" sign. I think the "Halt" sign is one of the worst that was ever introduced. When it was brought in originally, the noble Lord, Lord Hore-Belisha, gave us an undertaking that it was a purely temporary measure and that if the Public Safety Committee would accept it the "Halt" sign would be put up only at those road intersections where it was necessary and until they could be improved; and that, when they were improved, the "Halt" sign would disappear. We all thought at the time that the "Halt" sign, once erected, would not disappear; it would always remain. I think the "Halt sign is one of the worst. Where do you halt? How long do you halt? All sorts of such silly questions and considerations are involved. On the other hand, the sign "Slow: Major Road Ahead," or something of that sort, tells you what it really means. It is a far more effective sign than the "Halt" sign. Of course, it is a matter of opinion but I think, from the point of view of the driver of a motor vehicle, that the "Slow: Major Road Ahead" sign is much more effective.

On page 9, we get a section headed "Turning Corners." I think the first two paragraphs under that heading, Nos. 41 and 42, are very good. I was once concerned in a very serious crash involving an Army vehicle which wanted to turn to its left. It was coming towards me and it began a manœuvre by going straight over to my side of the road. To avoid a head-on crash, I had to go round it on the other side. It being an Army vehicle, I could get no redress. It was most awkward. However, I think the position is very well dealt with in paragraphs 41 and 42. With regard to paragraph 54, which reads: If a driver, look in your driving mirror before you signal or change course, or overtake, or turn, or stop", I should much have preferred, as I told the previous Minister of Transport, words to this effect: Before altering course, satisfy yourself that it is safe to do so, because, if carried out, that would force a driver to use his mirror. Many drivers simply ignore their mirrors altogether. That is a great pity and produces, on occasion, considerable danger. Next, we come to paragraph 60, dealing with headlights. There is no doubt that that paragraph indicates a continuance of bad street lighting. On the other hand, I do not see how it can be better because, quite obviously, we cannot, for a great many years to come, wave a wand and have all streets properly lit. Probably it will be many generations before our streets are properly lit. On the other hand, if it is not sufficient to use your sidelights and you have got to use headlights, would it not have been a good thing to include in paragraph 60, after the words, "when meeting other vehicles and cyclists" the words "and in a built-up area"? Then we go to paragraph 69, which says If you are riding a keep to the left. It is a great many years since I rode a horse—there are many noble Lords who can tell us more about riding. But I wonder whether it really is better for a person riding a horse to keep to the left, or whether it is better that the horse should meet the traffic. I should like to hear from one of your Lordships in that connection.

My Lords, I come now to page 22, where the various signs are indicated. How I wish that the Ministry of Transport could have chosen some other sign for the beginning of a speed limit! This sign happens to be of almost exactly tie same size and general design as the bus stop sign, and if while going along an unfamiliar road one comes to a bus stop sign, one is not quite sure whether it is a bus stop sign or a 30 m.p.h. limit sign. I feel that either the 30 m.p.h. limit sign should stay as it is and all bus stop signs should be changed, or vice versa. I do not know whether, in future, the Minister of Transport can do anything to bring that about. It would make things a little better if it were possible. With regard to the last Part of the Code, on page 28 there are some regulations referring to pedal cyclists. What is the good of having any regulations referring to pedal cyclists? As matters stand at the moment, the pedal cyclist can snap his fingers at the law. No police officer can stop him. He need not stop; he is not compelled by law to stop for a policeman; yet he is told to observe traffic signs and signals and the directions of a police officer concerning traffic. But if he were to pass through, the policeman could do nothing about it; he could not stop him.

Those are the main points that I desire to submit to your Lordships. I should like once again to say how very much the whole of the motor world, as I know it, must appreciate the efforts that have been made by the Ministry of Transport to produce this Code in a really readable form. I should like to ask the noble Lord who is going to reply, are we going to have a "super" copy of this Code issued at some later date? I understand from various announcements in the Press, and I think indeed from the Minister himself, that an improved edition of this Code, perhaps for home use, is contemplated. I cannot help feeling that, if that is so, the Code could he made a little less dry than it is. It might help the public to read it if it could include some moderately humorous cartoons. There is an individual called Brockbank, whose cartoons appear in many journals. Perhaps he could be persuaded to produce some moderately humorous cartoons that could be included in the book. In that way I think there would be much more chance of getting it read in various households. I do not know whether or not that is the intention, but I throw out that suggestion.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, I rise simply to congratulate the Ministry of Transport on producing at any rate a more picturesque Highway Code than we have had hitherto. Seeing the noble Lord, Lord Hore-Belisha, sitting opposite, I am reminded of the great efforts that he made in striking the imagination of the public in this regard, and I can assure him that his broadcast the other day was greatly appreciated. I am not going to attempt to go through the Code; we have already had two most capable speeches from experts in that connection. What I want to say is that it is a good Code, but we shall not make the roads safer with only a paper code. It is the code of conduct that matters if we are to make our roads safer for the pedestrian, and even for the motorist. I heard last night that in October there were 22,000 casualties on the roads, including nearly 500 dead. I could not help thinking that if that casualty list had come over the wireless as having happened in Kenya or in Malaya, we should have been terribly shocked. I can assure your Lordships that there are people who work, day in and day out, trying to open the minds of the public in regard to making the roads safer. This group of people, formed by the Ministry and now called the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, with very little advertisement, and with very little comment in the Press, carry on work which I thought was extremely good when I joined them eight years ago, but for which to-day I am filled with admiration.

My own Federation of Public Authorities will meet to-morrow. I am not going to trouble your Lordships with details, but representatives of seventy-three public authorities, great and small, will then present reports showing what they have been able to do during the last three months. These people—councillors, aldermen, teachers and police—carry on from day to day in order to make the roads safer for the public. First of all, we got at the schoolchildren. Now, because there are too many accidents involving children who are not yet going to school, we have tried to bring a greater sense of awareness even to the womenfolk. We have embarked upon a campaign, using paper bags. We have sold a million of these paper bags in Yorkshire alone during the last two or three months. When they go for their groceries, not only do the women get a paper bag but they get a slogan which reminds them of the dangers. If a child does the shopping, the child is similarly reminded. When they get home and sit down to tea we see to it that they have a table napkin to instruct them. Its printed message will bring home to them that when they go out they must be both good and careful on the roads. In the North, at least, many children have received this set of slogans in this form. I do not know what is being done in the South, but under the imaginative inspiration of the new Minister I hope that we shall make greater headway in bringing increasing safety to our roads. We have found greater difficulty in bringing home the message of road safety to womenfolk than to the children. We shall continue day by day, and month by month, our work of trying to educate the public to greater road safety.

As the Ministry of Transport and motorists generally have been mentioned, may I ask for more flexibility and sympathy from the Minister himself and from the members of his staff? In my district, in an attempt to please everybody, there is a stretch of road coming from the Pennines into Yorkshire which bears four different signs within a distance of one mile: controlled, decontrolled, controlled again, and, finally, de-controlled. There are possibilities there for a motorist, unless he has particularly good eyesight, to run into danger. In advising the Minister on road control, the public authorities should be treated more sympathetically. The Minister and those who serve him should accept that local people are likely to know a little more of local circumstances than the Minister in Whitehall. In the West Riding the local council passed a resolution requiring additional traffic lights at a point where two main roads converge at a junction. The Minister ruled that there was not sufficient traffic to justify this additional lighting. Traffic lights appear to be the best form of traffic control available to us. They give a sense of security not only to the motorist but also to the pedestrian, especially the pedestrian who is getting on in years and who is unable to run fast, or at least unable to cover fifty yards in under a minute.

I once brought to the attention of the late Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, now adorning the Front Opposition Bench, the number of black spots then existing in the West Riding. He may find poor satisfaction in learning that they totalled 116 when he was in office and that, under the new Minister, the number is still 116. We have also to remember that the greater number of accidents occur in built-up areas, and I hope the Minister will take steps to make such black spots safer. We have demontrated to our own satisfaction, and we hope to do it to the satisfaction of the Minister of Transport, that our main arterial roads, instead of being a dirty black in colour, should be lighter. More white cement should be used in making roads, so that when a motorist is driving he can more easily and more clearly see objects on the road. We have proved by experiment that a white road is safer than a dark coloured road.

We have also to convince the motorist that he can be a public danger—he already knows it in his heart. I hope the Minister will try to carry through a crusade by giving every garage in this country posters of the kind I have here. I will not display them, though I wish that some of them could be shown in the Library. If that were done with a great number of garages one could bring home to the motorist, and more particularly to the motor-cyclist, the fact that good conduct and courtesy are the best way of reducing accidents on the roads. I am glad the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and also my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth felt that it should be stressed in frank, rude, bold language, "Do not drink alcoholic liquors if you are driving a motor vehicle." I believe that a poster condemning the practice of "one for the road" was brought out, but that the late Minister of Transport banned it, so that it has not been shown to the public. We all know that the average motorist, even if he does enjoy a glass of decent sherry, would not dream of taking too much if he is going to drive a lethal weapon like a motor car.

I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has brought this Highway Code before the House. I believe that the noble Lord is now a sort of "Pooh-Bah" who, in addition to looking after the defences of this great Empire and other matters, has taken on roads as well. I wish him luck in his task. I hope that he will bring these matters to the notice of that new broom, the very alive Minister, in the hope that some of the excellent suggestions from previous speakers may be adopted, so that we may make the Highway Code a living code of conduct and courtesy.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has said that a paper document will not, by itself, reduce the number of accidents, but I am sure he will agree with me that this document should go a long way in helping in that direction. I should like to add my compliments to those which have already been tendered to the Ministry of Transport for the production of this excellent Highway Code. I am inclined to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that it would have been far better if the document had been drafted in the form of a White Paper which we could have debated, as was done in the case of the Railway Reorganisation Scheme. Lord Lucas of Chilworth also said that it was too long. I suggest that if the document had no "guts" at all, then no one would bother to read it. On the whole, I think the Code is very good. As regards railway crossings, the more and more we can get rid of them the better. If one looks up the figures, one finds that they run into many thousands in this country, so it will take a very long time, and cost a great deal of money, to get rid of them.

I should just like to touch briefly on one or two points in the Code. There seems to be no mention in it of blowing one's horn when passing another car. I feel that that does produce a certain degree of safety. I always like anyone who is about to pass me to let me know that he is going to do so. With regard to the question of the force of law being given to this document, of course if it had been given the force of law, the Code would have been very much longer—and, I suspect, would also have been unintelligible to the average individual One of the points mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, was about riding horses. I always prefer riding on the right hand side of the road—that is to say, facing the oncoming traffic. I suspect that the original idea of riding on the left-hand side of the road arose because in the old days horses used to shy at oncoming traffic. Now they are much more used to it. Those are the only points that I wish to make. I close by saying again how much I appreciate this excellent document.

6.3 p.m.


I should like to say one or two words also in support of this excellent Code which has been published. With regard to paragraph 44, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, I should like to put this point to him. Paragraph 44 says: When held up at a road junction by police or light signal do not 'filter' left unless you receive a definite signal to do so. At many of these junctions there is an arrow pointing to the left that does not light up for a few seconds in order to give the public a chance to get across. Also, there is usually a policeman who holds up the traffic while people are crossing the road. Personally, I think that that paragraph is correctly worded. We must allow pedestrians to go through. I do not know whether Lord Lucas of Chilworth thought of that. On the whole, I think it is correct, and that is one reason why I think this is a much better document than the one which it supersedes. I hope that it will prove successful. On the question of lighting, I think it is very important to get on with that matter. A great deal has been done in the last five years, but the question of dazzle has become of greater moment, and this particular nuisance is now very bad indeed. On many main roads the lighting is so inadequate that when you come to a bad patch, a dark patch, you have to use the headlights on your car. On many cars there is only a switch to turn these off and on—they do not have a dimmer. I think that this is a problem which we have to face. As I say. I give my support to this new Code.

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, if I make one or two criticisms, very briefly, I hope that your Lordships, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will not think that I am disapproving of this document, of which I have formed the same favourable impression as other speakers. There are, however, one or two points which I should like to raise on the details of the scheme. The English driver, I think, has one besetting sin: he is prone to cling—indeed, I think I can say he is persistent in clinging—to the crown of the road. I suggest that, wherever possible, where the roads are of a triple width, those widths should be marked out, because I have repeatedly noticed that, where this is done, traffic will keep to its main lines. The Code, in paragraph 33, refers to the keeping of traffic in its own lanes, and in this connection may I say that I disagree with Lord Lucas of Chilworth on the question of the propriety of passing on the left a car which is drawing into the middle of the road in order to turn right. Frankly, I did not follow that point as the noble Lord made it. I am satisfied, in fact, that one must do that, otherwise there is no point in keeping in the correct line of traffic, when one is going to the right.


If the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting him, that is precisely what I said. What I said was: "Never pass on the left unless the driver ahead is turning to the right."


I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and I were together in our misunderstanding of what the noble Lord said. I am glad now to find myself in agreement with him.

May I suggest to Lord Carrington, that the police in London might have it suggested to them that they should follow a practice which is common in Paris. If a motorist happens to drive his car into the wrong lane of traffic in Paris, the police officer on point duty will firmly make him carry on down the street or the direction in which his lane is bound to go. And in a town where—as is the case with all modern towns—there are large numbers of one-way streets, this causes considerable inconvenience to the motorist. I believe that our traffic would become a great deal more orderly if this practice were extended to London. In paragraph 62 of the Code there is a reference to direction indicators. That is a reference with which I would quarrel in no way, but what I regret is that indicators have not been made compulsory, not necessarily on all cars but certainly on motor vehicles having a left-hand drive. I am always shocked to see, as one so often sees, a notice on the back of a car which reads: Left-hand drive. No signals. In other words, the driver is firmly announcing that he is going to disobey the provisions of the Code; he is not going quite to break the law, but very nearly. I think that in other directions such declarations of non-compliance would be strongly disapproved of. I suggest that cars and other motor vehicles which have left-hand drives should be compelled to carry traffic indicators.

In paragraph 66, one is warned against getting out of the off-side door of a motor car. I am sure it will be the experience of all of your Lordships that 99 per cent of motor cars have a lock on the off-side front door. Inevitably, therefore, if you are going to lock up your car—as you are advised to do—you lock the inside doors; and you then have to get out of the off-side door which you then lock from the outside. Perhaps it would be better to get out of the near-side door and walk round, and lock the offside door, but I think that that would be asking too much. I suggest that the Ministry should bring to the attention of motor car manufacturers the desirability of making it the near-side front door which locks on the outside. I think that would tend to prevent people from getting out on the wrong side. Under the legal section there is reference to dirt on windscreens. I believe that considerable experiments have been carried out with an invention in the form of a mudguard which prevents the throwing up of dirt. I am sure that all your Lordships who drive must constantly have found what a nuisance and inconvenience it is to have your windscreen "muddied" by a car in front of you. I am told that a mudguard has now been evolved which is simple and which prevents most of this throwing up of mud. I would suggest that the compulsory fitting of such mudguards would be a considerably greater security measure than, for example, the recent fitting of reflector lights on the backs of cars—not that I am criticising that idea; I am not; on the contrary, I approve it.

I would just say one word to ask the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, what he has to say about the question of marching bodies. I have a fairly open mind upon the matter. I am rather inclined to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and even with the noble Earl, Lord Howe, with neither of whom would I wish to disagree on a matter of this sort. It seems to me, however, that a marching body must necessarily be treated as a form of vehicle, and I should have thought that the correct way of dealing with it would be to insist on the carrying of a light, rather than to have it marching on the wrong side of the road. I would ask my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth to consider the position when a marching body reaches a corner. When it sees the lights of an approaching vehicle, does it immediately take to the hedgerow or does it continue to march? Is there not the risk in that case that it would be run into by the approaching vehicle? I think this is not quite such a clear point as the noble Lord seemed to think.

6.11 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful for the way in which you have received this Highway Code, and particularly grateful because so many noble Lords who have spoken are experts on the subject. Even those of us who do not study these matters as carefully as they do, consider ourselves to be experts, because we are either motorists or pedestrians. Therefore, I am grateful for the way your Lordships have received this Code and I will convey your suggestions to my right honourable friend the Minister. I will not answer them all in detail, because a great many were made, but I will pick out those which I thought were of importance.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, criticised the procedure under which we have to approve this Code. I should have thought there was a good deal of substance in what he says, but he knows as well as I do that this Code is produced under the Affirmative Resolution procedure and therefore we cannot amend it. I agree with him that in a way that cuts out most of the usefulness of this debate, as we can talk about what is in the Code and criticise it but in the end we can do nothing about it. I shall certainly draw his suggestion to the attention of my right honourable friend and we will see in future whether anything can be done on those lines, although, of course, I do not make any promise about it.

The most serious criticism that was made by noble Lords on all sides of the House was on Rules 3 and 4 on page 4, dealing with marching bodies and single pedestrians. If your Lordships will look at the Code, you will see that Rule 3 says: Where there is no footpath, walk on the right of the road to face oncoming traffic. I think the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, has the right explanation. One or two people straggling along the road can see traffic coming towards them and, if it looks dangerous, can take cover or leap for their lives into the hedge; but if it is a marching body of men—this is undefined, but it is probably six or more men under the control of somebody—they are moving along the road in a block and there the rule is that such traffic should move on the left. If they move on the right against the traffic, they would hold up traffic and that would be more dangerous to them than if they marched on the left. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, that the safeguard here is lights at night, back and forward, and in the day there could be lookouts. I think that if the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, will reflect, he will agree that that is quite consistent and quite safe. Indeed, it was the suggestion of the Departmental Committee on Road Safety.

The noble Lord made one or two other more minor criticisms. For instance, he criticised the paragraph about dogs being kept under control. Well, perhaps he has dogs like mine, which are rather out of control; but I hope that, unlike myself, most people have their dogs under control. It is perfectly possible, if you have the time and patience, to train a dog to keep by you without having it on a lead. If I took a dog out shooting and it did not behave itself without being on a lead, I should be in a very had way. I think it is unnecessary to stipulate that all dogs should be on a lead when there are a great many which behave perfectly well without being put on a lead. The noble Lord also criticised the colour of the amber traffic lights. We are trying to do something about that but I am told there are technical difficulties. However, we are trying something on those lines.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, also drew attention to the rule in the section "The Law's Demands": Before driving, make sure that you are not under the influence of drink. The noble Lord will appreciate that that is not part of the Highway Code: that is the law. There is on the cover of the Highway Code another reference to drink which says: Remember, alcohol, even in quite small amounts, makes you less safe on the roads. Be sure you are fit to use them. I think my right honourable friend is not quite sure whether or not that is strong enough; at any rate he is looking into it to see whether the words should be altered. May I give some advice to the noble Lord, who seemed to be a little worried at the suggestion that when some people have had a few drinks they think they are more fit to drive a car than they were before they started drinking? If he ever finds that he does not know whether he is drunk or sober, then he is drunk, and I advise him not to drive a car.

My noble friends Lord Howe and Lord Teynham asked a question about whether horses should be ridden on the right or on the left of the road, and my noble friend behind me said he always rode on the right. I would break the news to him that if he has been doing that he has probably been breaking the law for a great many years, because I understand that under the Highways Act, 1835, a horseman has to ride on the left side of the road. I suggest that perhaps he ought to mend his ways from now on. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Calverley, intervened in the debate. He has worked for road safety in the West Riding for a good many years and anything he says will be listened to with interest by your Lordships. I think I have covered most of the important points which have been raised in this short debate. If there are any others which I have left out, I will look at them and I certainly will draw the attention of my right honourable friend the Minister to them at a later date.

On Question, Motion agreed to.