§ 2.47 p.m.
§ LORD ELTON rose to draw attention to the number of killed and injured on British roads last year, and to the urgent necessity of taking further measures to reduce the number of casualties; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am asking your Lordships once again to consider the gravest, the most intractable and, on the whole, the most neglected social evil of our day. I have been taking part in debates on road accidents in your Lordships' House for about 26 years, and I am bound to say that, on the whole, at any rate until recently, that was apt to be a pretty disheartening experience for one who was eager to see effective measures taken to reduce the annual slaughter and mutilation on our roads. For as long as 26 years ago some of us had come to the conclusion that, if action was to be effective, it could not be confined to measures which would in no way inconvenience ourselves, such as moral exhortations, propaganda campaigns, posters, or even the improvement of parking facilities and of high roads; whereas the view of successive Governments and, until comparatively recently, the preponderant sense of your Lordships' debates was that such measures were all that could be reasonably expected, or, at any rate, all that were practicable; and that if, despite such measures, the casualties continued to climb, then that must be regretfully accepted as the tragic but apparently inevitable price of progress.
§ During the whole of this period, in my view, only one measure has clearly, so to say, crossed the Rubicon into the otherwise unexplored territory of measures which promised good hope of reducing the casualties yet, because they seemed likely to impair our convenience or restrict our liberties, were pretty certain to arouse resentment and opposition. That was the Act of 1934, which set up the speed limit in built-up areas, a step which was hotly resisted by the two great motoring organisations but was followed 299 within a year by a reduction of nearly 1,000 in road deaths. And why, my Lords? Because the limit was at first strictly enforced and, what is more, as a formidable novelty was pretty generally voluntarily observed. Since then, as we all know, it has been allowed to fall virtually into abeyance and to-day can be ignored with something like impunity; and the casualties have continued to climb.
§ The debate last June in your Lordships' House struck an altogether novel and more hopeful note. A large majority of speakers sounded a real note of urgency: they demanded much more effective measures for road safety and, in particular, the adequate enforcement of the penalties in the existing laws. And, what is more, since then the Press—and in particular, I would say, the popular Press—have commented on, and featured, road accidents as never before, and have even begun to demand Government action. So that nowadays it occasions one no surprise to find on the front page of a popular newspaper a banner headline reading "End the road massacre!", which is precisely what same of us were saying 25 years ago. In fact, in the Press, at least, opposition to effective action has been melting away very fast indeed within the last twelve months.
§ Yet, what has been done by the Government? Nothing that is likely to decrease, or even arrest, the steadily mounting casualties. A Bill is going through another place which is virtually a disentanglement of traffic Bill rather than a road safety Bill. There is another propaganda campaign, possibly more lurid than its predecessors; but there have been dozens of propaganda campaigns in the past, and they have not had the slightest effect on the number of accidents. After all, my Lords, the man who is prone to take out his car when fuddled by drink, or to cut in at 80 miles an hour with a narrow margin, is not going to be deterred at the crucial moment of decision by some vague memory of some poster or radio talk which impinged momentarily or peripherally on his consciousness some six months ago. Then we are told that a Working Party is going to study the drink problem, and the way it is dealt with in Scandinavia. As to that, all I 300 need say is that I hope that when they say Scandinavia they mean Norway; and that they ought to have been studying it at least five years ago. Then, of course, millions more will be spent on our roads—very necessary for transport, but by no means necessarily a reliable contribution to road safety: because there is evidence from all over the world that unless and until there is a speed limit on the main roads, as often as not there are more accidents on the good roads than on the bad.
My Lords, I want, if I may, to quote a sentence or two from a leading article in a popular newspaper, the Daily Mail, whose record on road accidents recently has, I think, been admirable. It was published last Easter and is a good illustration of the changed temper of the public as to this problem. That article reads:
Look at the ideas and suggestions chewed over and over again, and then look at the results. The drunken driver. Nothing done. The weekend speed limit. Nothing done. The 'tidal' system on highways. Experiments only. The compulsory testing of old cars. Nothing done.
The article goes on:
That last is typical. The old-car test has been discussed for three years and its introduction postponed time after time. In March Mr. Marples was 'proceeding urgently' and in April 'forging ahead'. Now it is 'hoped' to start the scheme in the autumn.
My Lords, some of you may feel that that is a bit unfair, because it is impatient. It may be impatient, but I have reached a stage when in this context where I regard impatience as a virtue. And I am sure that nobody will quarrel with the sentence with which the article concludes. It says that what the people want
is a Minister who will with urgency do his utmost to erase what has become a terrible blot on a Christian country.
I still have hopes that Mr. Marples is going to prove to be that Minister, but the issue still hangs tremendously in the balance. While we have been waiting for all these long-overdue measures, what has been happening on British roads? Last year, 333,453 were killed or injured—an increase of 33,686 on the previous year. That figure includes 6,520 killed which is an increase of 550. and 80,677 seriously injured, an increase of 11,506.
§ None of us likes to dwell on the thought of human suffering, and it is all too easy to allow statistics such as 301 these, if we do not forget them speedily altogether, to remain in our minds as mere statistics: so many casualties per mile, so many casualties per vehicle, so many casualties per day—though, goodness knows! if you state these casualties per day, you do get something which burns itself into the imagination. More than 900 were killed or injured—including 18 killed and 220 gravely injured—every day of last year.
But, my Lords, it is the surgeons and the doctors who know best the terrible realities behind the cold façade of figures; and, if I may, I want to read to your Lordships a sentence or two from a communication lately drawn up by a surgeon. He says:
Do you know what this"—
and by "this" he means grave injury—
means? Of course, it means broken legs and things like that, bad enough but recoverable, but it also means the men and women who lie in wards like mine unconscious for weeks, with tubes in their throats to let them breath at all, wasted to skin and bone, fed by tubes down their noses, incapable of giving themselves the slightest personal attention, lying curled up and still, neither talking nor even looking at their agonised wives and children, and condemned to a sort of permanent animal existence, with incurable mental crippling however good their recovery.
I repeat, there were 333,453 casualties last year, including more than 6,500 dead and more than 80,600 gravely injured. And, however the statistics are glossed over or explained away, there remain tens of thousands of human tragedies such as those of which I have just read a description.
§ Against this sombre background I submit to your Lordships that what is needed is a profound reappraisal of the values by which we live. What we have to decide is nothing less than the value to society of to-day of the sacredness of human life and limb, on the one hand, and the convenience and economics of motor transport, on the other. Somewhere we have to strike a new balance between the two. If we were prepared to make a slight further sacrifice of convenience it would be possible to introduce measures which I am convinced would speedily reduce casualties by onethird—and I say that because there are countries which have done precisely that. New Zealand, my Lords, after the United States, is probably the most highly mechanised country in the world. Taking 302 the test which is accepted by the Ministry of Transport—none of these statistical tests, I admit, is wholly satisfactory, but taking the Ministry of Transport's test, which is deaths per 10,000 vehicles—the ratio in New Zealand is 5.2, whereas in Great Britain it is 7.5, or somewhere about 44 per cent. worse. In the last four years our road deaths have been steadily rising, while in New Zealand, despite a large influx of new cars on to the roads, they have markedly decreased.
§ In the first place, New Zealand has a Commissioner of Transport, whose primary function, if not his sole function, is to promote road safety. He has under him a large corps of traffic enforcement officers equipped with radar and all modern methods, for the Minister of Transport in New Zealand (like, I admit, and I am very glad to admit, our own Minister) has said on more than one public occasion that it is pace that kills. The first difference, of course, between New Zealand and England is that here our Minister of Transport is responsible not only for road safety but also for the tremendous problems of land, sea and air transport, for rail, roads and canals as well. And in respect of the convenience and economics of transport he is subject to the enormous pressure of the powerful lobbies of road building, motor manufacturing and operating, and of the oil interests, whereas the cause of human safety, the other horn of the Minister's perpetual dilemma, is advocated by no powerful organisations and is the concern of several other Ministers as well as the Minister of Transport.
§ I think that it would probably be a mistake to set up a completely separate Ministry of Road Safety, for I believe that, in the last resort, it should be the Minister of Transport who takes the vital and testing decision of where to strike a balance between safety and convenience. But surely there should be associated with the Minister of Transport at least a Minister of State solely responsible for promoting road safety. Who can suppose that if we had been suffering more than 300,000 civilian casualties a year in war time we should not have long since seen some one Minister set to concentrate all his energies upon seeing that the casualties were reduced.
§ I pass over the extensive use of radar in New Zealand. I pass over even the 303 most striking fact that in New Zealand there is compulsory inspection of all motor vehicles twice a year. These facts are important; but more important, I believe, is that in New Zealand they have a speed limit of 50 m.p.h. on the open road, as well as a limit of 30 m.p.h. in built-up areas. And, most important of all, in New Zealand they have severe penalties for anti-social conduct on the road and courts which are not afraid to enforce those penalties. The Act of 1958 in New Zealand rendered the already severe penalties still more severe, whereas, as we all know, our own halfhearted Act of 1956 has been almost wholly ignored by the courts.
§ In England, a man who fails to stop and report an accident can be fined at the most £20, and the average fine imposed in 1958 was £2 16s. In New Zealand, a driver who fails to stop and report an accident involving injury is liable to imprisonment of up to five years, or a fine up to £500. No wonder there are comparatively few "hit and run" drivers in New Zealand! Whereas in England, in the last year for which we have figures, there were 8,708 convictions for this kind of offence. And, as I have said, the average fine was £2 16s. How can we claim that we are seriously trying to deter the anti-social driver? But more important than fines, of course, is disqualification. In New Zealand, a driver convicted of reckless or negligent driving—and wisely, I think, they do not distinguish between these two offences in New Zealand—besides being liable to a fine of up to £500 or imprisonment of up to five years, is also automatically disqualified for a year at least. In England, as your Lordships probably know, a first conviction for dangerous driving carries with it only optional disqualification, and a second conviction involves disqualification for at least nine months. In 1958, out of 6,000 convictions, a number of which must surely have been second convictions therefore involving automatic disqualification, there were only 2,187 disqualifications, or 36 per cent.
§ That disqualification is a deterrent and a life-saver has been proved once more, if it still needed proving, by the experience of the State of Connecticut, in the 304 United States of America. In Connecticut, they have a speed limit of 60 m.p.h. on the turnpike roads and up to 55 m.p.h. on parkways. A year or two back it was enacted that anyone exceeding these limits would be liable on a first conviction to automatic disqualification for 30 days; on a second to automatic disqualification for 60 days, and on a third conviction to automatic disqualification for an indefinite perod. Since then, road deaths have decreased by 30 per cent.; and public opinion in Connecticut, which was at first somewhat restive at this apparent infringement of the traditional free-for-all on the roads, now endorses the legislation. It is being increasingly copied in other States in America, with the result that the death rate per 10,000 vehicles in the United States is now virtually identical with that in New Zealand—in other words, somewhere about 44 per cent. less lethal than our own. Lest it be said that the improvement in the United States is due to good roads, I would point out that, on the contrary, it is much more likely to be due to law enforcement, since some of the States in the West which have the best roads and no law enforcement have the worst accident records. Evidence from all over the world is most persuasive that reasonably severe penalties, with the certainty that they will be enforced, are a deterrent, while disqualification has the added advantage that it keeps the antisocial driver off the roads.
Therefore, I would ask Her Majesty's Government in the first place: are they prepared to make the inadequate penalties of the Act of 1956 more severe? More particularly, are they prepared to make disqualification automatic on a first conviction for dangerous driving? This leads at once to a second and more serious question. We all know that in the Act of 1956 there are penalties which in fact are not being enforced. The most potent of our weapons as a deterrent is not being used. In the debate in your Lordships' House last June, speaker after speaker stressed the need for a more adequate enforcement of existing penalties. Since then, the demand has been echoed by no less a body than the Council of the Magistrates' Association, which resolved on November 20 last that:
The time has now come for the courts to consider further the necessity for heavier
deterrent penalties, including particularly disqualification in suitable cases, for serious road traffic offences.
The Police Review and the Police Chronicle have called for heavier penalties and so has the Chairman of the British Insurance Association.
§ The latest figures which we have are still those for 1958: I believe that we shall not get the 1959 figures until next month. All one can say, therefore, is that the figures for 1958 are virtually stationary when compared with those for 1957, which were so severely censured by so many speakers in your Lordships' House last June. To take only one example, the maximum fine for dangerous driving is £100. The average fine imposed in 1957 was £14 3s. 10d., and, by my arithmetic, the average fine in 1958 was just under £14—a slight recession. But, of course, fines are largely irrelevant to the problem—certainly fines of these dimensions. What mattets much more is that the really significant penalty of disqualification is not being imposed. In 1957, out of 4,889 convictions for dangerous driving, a number of which must have been second convictions and therefore carried automatic disqualification, there were disqualifications in 35 per cent. of the cases. In 1958, the percentage rose to 36. So that really, on the figures I have given the penalties are stationary. It is perfectly possible that when the new figures come in June they will show a miraculously sudden and miraculously extensive improvement. But I am afraid I am a pessimist in this context, and, anyway, it would have to be a most miraculous improvement to leave us with any grounds for satisfaction.
Therefore I think it is proper to recall that during the debates on the Act of 1956 the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack said that if the Act did not achieve its object further steps might have to be taken.
If this effort fails".
not only the magistrates, but we ourselves will have to think again.
That was nearly four years ago, and I submit, my Lords, that the Act has manifestly failed to achieve its object. The accidents have increased, are increasing and show every likelihood of continuing to increase.
§ Responsible voices on many sides are demanding a more effective use of the existing penalties. In the debate last year in your Lordships' House my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth and I both asked the noble and learned Viscount whether, in view of what he had said in 1956, he would now tell us if he had thought again, or whether he was prepared to think again, and, if so, to what purpose. With the utmost respect to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, for whom, if I may say so, I have had a great and growing respect ever since I first encountered him as a freshman at Oxford, I would ask whether he is now prepared to tell us if he has thought again, and, if so, to what purpose. Particularly, I ask the Government whether they are prepared to impose a speed limit on the open road. I know perfectly well that that would be a mockery if it was not enforced, and that it must take some time to provide means for enforcing it. Nevertheless, there is very persuasive evidence all over the world that a speed limit can save life. And if we are not talking about saving life, I do not really know what we are talking about.
I have already quoted the example of two countries, New Zealand and the State of Connecticut. The Working Party on the Prevention of Traffic Accidents, set up by the Economic Commission of the United Nations, reported in April of last year that the experience of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands indicated that a speed limit had a marked effect in reducing the number and the seriousness of accidents. Switzerland, last June, imposed a speed limit of 50 m.p.h. on the open road. The United States Universal Vehicle Code, which is, I understand, a kind of standard to which State codes are encouraged to approximate, imposed a speed limit of 60 m.p.h. on the open turnpike road by daylight and a lower limit by night. And what is mare surprising is that the American servicemen in this country are actually setting us an example in our own country. I wonder how many of your Lordships are aware that no American serviceman is permitted to drive either a private car or a service vehicle in this country at more than 50 m.p.h. in daylight or 40 m.p.h. at night. In its latest campaign the Ministry has rightly repeated what is a
truism, but an important and significant truism:
Remember, it is pace that kills.
If it is pace that kills, and we want less killing, let us have less pace. In the last resort it really is as simple as that.
All sorts of special pleading is possible. One noble Lord who replied to the debate last year said:
That is true. But what matters is not speed, but speed at the wrong moment.
But the point is that if you have a free-for-all on the roads, with everybody able to drive at whatever pace he or she thinks proper, however tired or careless or incompetent or drunk he or she may be, then sooner or later you are bound to get a great deal of the wrong pace at the wrong time, and you get the casualties which we are now all united in deploring. Here, I suggest, is an acid test of whether we are prepared to make some sacrifice of our personal convenience, and some sacrifice maybe of the economics of road transport, in order to reduce this annual holocaust.
§ I have tried to deal with three reforms which I believe would be effective and which I recognise would probably in many quarters be unpopular. There are, of course, all sorts of other suggestions which one could make, but I pass them over. I pass over even the question of the drunken driver, whom the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, so aptly described in the debate last year as "a mad dog on the roads". I know that the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Leicester, will be concentrating on that question, and so, I have no doubt, will other noble Lords. I will only say, in passing, that I know Norway very well and have long envied the law there where, as your Lordships may know, the police are authorised to stop and test the alcohol content of the bloodstream of any driver, whether he has had an accident or not, and if they find it exceeds the proper minimum he is "in jug" for a fortnight without question and at once. And so quite often you ring up a prominent citizen in Oslo and are told that he has gone on a holiday at unexpectedly short notice.
I read the other day that the Minister of Transport, Mr. Marples, is to lead the prayers at the Special Day of Prayer for Road Safety which is apparently to
be held in Coventry Cathedral next Sunday. If that is true, it is a timely and admirable gesture. I have tried to show that what we need is a profound reappraisal of the values by which we live. And that is a moral and, therefore, in the last resort, a religious issue; and that, indeed, is the precise theme of the British Council of Churches admirable pamphlet, Priority for Road Safety, the terms of reference for which were:
To consider what guidance can be given by Christian judgment on the relative importance in the sphere of road usage to safety and other factors such as convenience, social necessity, economic conditions and so forth".
I want to conclude by reading a few sentences from the British Council of Churches pamphlet. The authors say:
The interests of road safety are often sacrificed to self-interest, sometimes unconsciously. There are, for example, enormous vested interests, such as the motor, oil and transport industries. In many ways they support efforts to increase road safety. In others the vast stake which they have in road policy may make an enlightened policy difficult to achieve. … Certainly their financial resources are big enough to ensure that propaganda for increased expenditure on the roads for their convenience … overwhelms the voice of those who advocate some greater consideration for human safety.… They could not be expected to favour road safety measures which militated against their industrial interests. … The Christian will remember that they stand under judgment just as much as reckless drivers for the consequences of their policy.
That is very true, my Lords. Nevertheless, responsibility for this universal tragedy cannot be pinned on any one class of culprit: not on industrial interests, nor on the dangerous driver, nor on the careless pedestrian, nor on the courts, nor, even, on Her Majesty's Government. We all stand under judgment. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for having put down this Motion to-day, and for the speech he has delivered. There are some points upon which I am afraid I do not agree with him, and I think that will be the case with many other noble Lords. In fact, on this subject, it is inevitable that almost everybody is an expert and almost nobody agrees with anybody else: that is a characteristic of discussions about road safety.
309 The noble Lord, Lord Elton, has set out the facts, which are alarming, about deaths, serious injuries and lesser injuries. Deaths and injuries among children have grown, and there seems to be some sort of relationship between the growth of these figures and the growth of the numbers of motor vehicles on the roads. I quite agree that the figures are alarming, exceedingly serious, and warrant the attention of everybody. I do not think that the remedy is a single or a simple one; nor will the remedies necessarily be rapid in their beneficial effects. Therefore, this is a matter of great complexity and great difficulty and it must be confessed, I think, that almost everybody who studies the problem impartially and with a sense of responsibility is bound in part to conclude that the finding of effective remedies for this horrible business is not particularly easy. I do not say it is impossible, because at any rate something can, and ought to be, done—in fact, a number of things.
Normally, in these circumstances, I should be sympathetic with the Minister of Transport, particularly as I have myself held that office—indeed, it was the first ministerial post I ever held. I would instinctively feel sympathetic with the Minister in relation to the gravity and complexity of these problems which rest largely upon his shoulders. But I must confess that I find it difficult to feel sympathetic to the present Minister. He does not appear to me to be taking the job seriously. Like fire, publicity is a good servant: it can do much good. But it can also be a bad master. At the Ministry of Transport nothing is easier than to get publicity. In fact, the nature of the Ministry attracts publicity. Therefore, it is tempting for our publicity-hunting Minister to get all the publicity he wants: indeed, he can get it without hunting for it. But it seems to me that the motive of personal publicity is master of the present Minister of Transport. He was at the General Post Office, and somewhat similar things happened then. Again I would say that some of the publicity was good and useful. Then he suddenly thought of making a statement in another place, and getting publicity, for urging the telephone operators to be polite to people who call them, and so on. There I thought he went too far, for in my experience telephone operators are usually quite polite, which is more 310 than can be said for all the subscribers. It was unnecessary and, indeed, by inference, although he said he did not mean it, his words cast a reflection on a worthy body of public servants.
The Minister has not used publicity as much as he might for the purpose of achieving results, but rather for the purpose of advertising and making known, and if possible popular, Mr. Marples, the Minister of Transport. I thought he overdid it the other night on B.B.C. Television, when he was interviewed. He would have done better not to take on that particular piece of publicity at all, because he did not get the best of it, even though on two points Mr. Robin Day, who conducted the interview very well, did not know the facts. But that interview on television did not indicate that the Minister was "upsides" with his job, and I think it was a wasted opportunity.
For example, his attention was called to the fact that one Middlesex town has a by-law making it illegal to take a dog, at any rate upon a main road, unless the dog is on a lead. Apparently it has been proved that this has had a beneficial effect upon road accidents. The Minister said, "That is all very well, but I cannot do it. It is purely a matter for the local authorities; it is up to them to do it or not, according to their own wishes." But surely, if he thinks it is right, he could give advice to the local authorities—a fact which does not appear to have occurred to him—and could give them leadership, friendly guidance, and enter into friendly consultation with them. It was an illustration of the fact that he was not thinking of what he could do by way of persuasion of the local authorities.
It was said that the Pink Zone was a great success, and, "You wait until next Christmas, when it will be a bigger Pink Zone and a bigger success." Why has the Pink Zone been abandoned in the meantime, if it was proved to be a success? Certainly it improved Regent Street for a few days, if not a week, and I am not sure that it should have been so quickly abandoned. As for the dogs, there is much to be said for this Slough by-law. I do not want to be dogmatic about it, but there may be a danger, not merely to the motorist himself, but to pedestrians, trying to get out of the dog's way. 311 On the other hand, I must confess that the dogs have improved in their road conduct over the years. In earlier years they were a trouble, and the poor little things got into trouble. But they are much more intelligent now—sometimes more intelligent than the human race in taking care of themselves on the roads. I believe that some of them know the zebra crossings and the rules about them. At any rate, they have greatly improved. Therefore, a study of dogs and why they have improved might, for all we know, be useful.
It is true that the Minister has brought in a Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned. It is the Road Traffic Bill. It has little to do with safety and little to do with accidents. Instead of leading, counselling, conferring with and advising the local authorities, who, in my experience as a Minister, are ready to be responsive to good friendly advice between colleagues and equals in public administration, this Bill is on the basis of giving the Minister powers to compel or to usurp the functions of the local authorities. Particularly is that true in London.
It is always tempting to some Ministers to take away the powers of the local authorities and to override them. In fact, this Bill treats the local authorities in some respects as if they were an old-fashioned type of Crown Colony. As a Londoner, I resent it. I think it is not right that the Minister should take away their powers or take too many powers to himself in order to override them. The evidence of the Ministry of Transport before the Royal Commission was in this connection reactionary and undesirable, and would have greatly prejudiced the proper functioning of local government in Greater London. Therefore I would advise that publicity should be used for purposes of leadership, guidance and good counsel to the public at large, including all classes of road user; and that in this publicity on the part of a Minister the use of the first person singular is less important than the merits of what he is trying to get done.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, was perhaps inclined to assume that speed was almost the only factor in road accidents. That may be an exaggeration on my part—I gather it is.
§ LORD ELTON
I certainly did not wish to convey that. It is a major factor, but not the only factor.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
I felt that perhaps the noble Lord exaggerated the relative importance of this factor in his mention of it. I do not disagree with him in paying importance to the element of speed. I believe that there is something to be said nowadays for the imposition of a 50 m.p.h. speed limit on the roads where at present there is no restriction on speed at all, and possibly for a lower limit at night when driving is liable to be more dangerous. I think there is a great deal to be said for that. Speed is one of the factors. I would not be sure that it is a major factor; but it is a factor. But the important point is speed in the circumstances of the case. A man may be a dangerous and careless driver even though he is driving at only 30 miles an hour. It may be that a man driving at 50 miles an hour on the open road is conceivably a better driver.
I, of course, have a record in this matter. In the Road Traffic Act, 1930, for which the Government of which I was a member was responsible, we provided that the speed limit should be abolished altogether, which was a very revolutionary proposition. But we left it to a free vote in the House of Commons; and the same thing happened, if I remember rightly, in your Lordships' House. And Parliament, with freedom to reject or modify it, did carry it. Having taken that line we did something else. The Minister of Transport, in conjunction with the then Home Secretary, Mr. Clynes, instituted the mobile police. The motorists were told that this abolition of the speed limit was a very great concession to them, but that one of the reasons was that speed mattered in the circumstances of the case, and they must not assume that speed would be eliminated as a factor in prosecutions. Moreover, we were going to attach special consideration to dangerous and careless driving, and it was for that reason that we instituted the mobile police, with instructions to correct people, to reform them and pull them up, rather than go to prosecution for the sake of prosecution. And we warned motorists that they would be "gone for" if they went in for excessive speed in the circumstances of 313 the case, or for dangerous or careless driving.
Whether it is practicable is for the authorities to say, but I still say that in the policing and survey of the roads we are neglecting dealing with the dangerous and careless driver. He is the man we have to be after; but he is very rarely prosecuted—or, at any rate, not very often. I admit the police have their difficulties with all the other claims upon them. Moreover, I expect they have had some difficulty in getting convictions in the courts in disputed and contested cases as to whether the driving was actually dangerous or careless. But anybody who observes conditions on the roads cannot but be aware that there is a lot of dangerous and careless driving on the roads; and if there could be half a dozen or a dozen prosecutions in a given town, and plenty of publicity for them, it would probably have a good effect upon drivers of motor vehicles. The mobile police are a good institution. I think they have done their job very well. The trouble probably is that there may not be enough of them. The courts must, of course, take seriously evidence which is before them in this connection. This will affect the functioning of the traffic wardens that are to be instituted.
Then there is the Highway Code which was authorised by the Road Traffic Act, 1930, and the first edition of which I had the privilege of issuing as Minister of Transport. It is a very valuable, useful document, with the ingenious British provision that one cannot be punished for breach of it; and that may be right, because a lot of it would be very difficult to prove or disprove. But it is also provided that, in a case of collision, breaches of the Highway Code can be pleaded in a civil action by any party to the legal dispute as to damages; and that, of course, is a grave warning to the drivers of motor traffic. Nevertheless, breaches of the Highway Code are prima facie an offence against good road conduct and good road courtesy, and I think that the authorities are entitled to take any such breach into account in deciding whether to prosecute for dangerous and careless driving. Take the case of the habit, far too extensive among motorists, of switching from one road traffic lane to the other without proper notice, sometimes squeezing in when they know that they ought not to, so that it is up to the 314 other fellow to stop his car when he ought not to be forced to do so, because otherwise he risks an accident. This is un-neighbourly conduct; it is unfriendly conduct and it is a breach of road courtesy; and I think that road courtesy is one of the most desirable factors in the driving of motor vehicles on the roads.
The pedestrians themselves can make a contribution. Their rights should be protected, but they also have obligations. Most pedestrians are sensible and behave well. But sometimes you do find the pedestrian flying across the road although the lights are set at red. I should have thought that ought to be a punishable offence; that the lights ought to be green to enable the pedestrian to cross the road at that particular traffic junction. Certain obligations must be imposed upon pedestrians, because if they do not behave reasonably and observe what one would call road courtesy in their case they are liable to cause injury not only to themselves but to other people using the roads by the fact that motor vehicles have to switch. Motor-cyclists (bless their hearts!) are laws unto themselves. Their numbers are growing very rapidly, and they do switch about and in and out. It is a wonder that more trouble does not come to them—it does fairly often. But they do need to take life seriously, if they are not to get themselves and other people into trouble. It is the case, of course, that in all collisions between motor vehicles every driver involved thinks that it was the other man's fault. That is understandable and very human, and no doubt the same is true as between the various classes of users of the roads.
There is a case for improvements in highways, but upon this matter I would put one or two points. Mere wholesale widening of highways in order to accommodate the maximum number of motor vehicles going at the maximum speed is, I think, a questionable policy. I must say that I have not been on the M.1 highway. From what I have heard about it I am almost frightened to go on it, certainly as a driver; but I may be wrong on that point. No doubt we shall hear from the noble Lord, who is very proud of his M.1, which undoubtedly is pretty great publicity for the Ministry of Transport. But I am not sure about it. It is a tremendous, wide thing that permits 315 of great speeds. I am doubtful. I confess that I have not seen it myself, but have only heard reports about it. But I do not accept the doctrine that we must go for wholesale widening all over the place, including in the towns and cities, merely for the purpose of catering for more speed and for more cars.
I wish there were some way of diminishing the rapid growth in the number of cars and motor cycles, but I do not know what can be done about that in a free country. If we get too much road widening, including road widening in towns, we could, as a local authority officer once said to me, have the situation that we should be a country of roads and there would be no rateable value left. That was an exaggeration, but it is a point which is worth keeping in mind. More important, perhaps, are improved highways in places where there are physical situations which affect safety upon the roads. When the highways are reformed or widened, within reasonable limits in the laying out of the road there should be a layout of such a character that the probability of road accidents resulting would be diminished. As I say, we are in danger of having too many cars and too many motor cycles.
It seems to me that the Government are deliberately encouraging commercial, if not other motor traffic on the roads to expand and expand. As soon as they had the M.1 motorway I think they passed a regulation whereby the width of lorries using it could be of a greater dimension. That is according to my memory, but the Parliamentary—Secretary—will—later correct me if I am wrong. It seems to me that the Government are deliberately trying to divert railway traffic on to the roads and then complaining because this publicly owned industry does not pay. It is a silly thing from two points of view: first, it is desirable that the railways should pay; and secondly, the railways have to carry a lot of fixed minimum costs both of capital and maintenance, and if their load factor is poor they are going to suffer very much indeed, because they cannot easily contract their costs. From that point of view it is idiotic deliberately to pursue policies calculated to divert traffic from the railways to the roads.
My other point is that the more of these enormous motor lorries there are 316 on the roads—they are really enormous, in some cases, and are difficult to navigate alongside—the more likelihood there is that road safety will be endangered. We hope that the new traffic wardens will be useful and will be able to do a good job; but, in the end, as the noble Lord opposite implied, certain things have to happen. The Minister must control where control is necessary, and legislate where legislation is necessary. Perhaps of even greater importance is leadership, counsel, and guidance to all the users of the highway. But in the end the biggest contribution can come from all those who use the public highways, whether motorists, motor cyclists, lorry men, pedestrians or others. If those folk were to act with courtesy and consideration to each other on the roads, and as good citizens, that would perhaps be the biggest single contribution that could be made to road safety.
§ 4.5 p.m.
My Lords, there is a long list in front of your Lordships this afternoon and I shall not keep your Lordships very long, but I should like to support the noble Lord who initiated this debate in his prolonged drive to attempt to reduce the appalling accidents and casualties occurring on the roads to-day, and, if possible, to instil in Her Majesty's Government some sense of the extreme urgency of the position. I, too, was deeply shocked at the ten minutes on Panorama last Monday, when there was such a chance to tell us what urgent measures were going to be taken by the Government and some way of instilling in us the importance of trying to reduce accidents. The only attempt at urgency was to suggest that certain important issues were going to be put on the agenda. It did not say what that agenda was or when it was coming up, if ever; and I was left, as many other people were, feeling that there just was no sense of urgency in the Government at all.
We shall not get an answer to this problem at all while, on the one hand, we are encouraging people to buy cars and motor cycles mainly through, even now, reasonable hire purchase terms, and, on the other hand, not producing the roads on which this increased 317 amount of traffic can run easily. Moreover we have now seen, I think without doubt, that the standard of the driving test has not produced an efficient driver. We shall not get an answer while we allow people to drive vehicles while under the influence of alcohol, while we allow teenagers to drive machines capable of anything over 100 m.p.h., while we permit pedestrians to wander at random over the roads, and while we allow unfit cars to take their place with others, particularly at week-ends, on the roads of this country.
But the answer is not just to demand new regulations which, in some cases anyhow, will unnecessarily restrict our freedom. Nor must we add to present rules, some of which are difficult, if not impossible, to carry out. Whatever is done, or whatever new regulations are introduced, much must still be left to the good sense of the driver. We must realise that the average drivers, the greater percentage of drivers in this country, are fairly good drivers; it is only a small percentage who are thoroughly bad drivers and who should not be on the roads at all. I have driven in several countries, and I am thoroughly proud of the standard of driving in this country as a whole—I would say that we are one of the safest countries there is.
I cannot agree with those people, some of whom have recently written to The Times, saying that we should not worry about the position because the percentage of accidents against traffic on the roads is very small. We were all horrified about two weeks ago at the riots and their result at Sharpeville, but we do not seem really to worry unduly that seventeen or more of our own neighbours kill each other every day on the roads of this country. If it were not for modern surgery that number would be greatly increased. I am glad the noble Lord mentioned those seriously injured. I think he quoted from the April issue of the Pedestrian, which is a paper that has done a great deal to attempt to solve this problem. We cannot possibly be complacent simply because the percentage of accidents is statistically small.
I am one who believes that good roads will save lives. I think that the M.1., after the first crazy rush, particularly of people who had not been abroad and had never seen a good road, has settled 318 down to being a very good and safe road, despite its faster average speed. More roads of that kind should be constructed as quickly as possible. We should deal with the road problem exactly in the way that we did in wartime, and make it a priority effort.
The position with regard to driving tests is a difficult one. The standards of motoring schools differ considerably, but it is still much too easy to get a driving licence. If we cannot alter that position, then I suggest that where someone is involved in an accident for which he is proved by a court to be, at any rate, partly to blame, he should not be allowed to continue to drive unless he passes another test, preferably a police test.
So far as drink is concerned, I believe that here there are two main problems. Of course, persons who have taken so much drink that they are really incapable of driving have to be dealt with, and dealt with very forcibly, whether they are involved in an accident or seen by the police while driving. It would appear that the percentage of people of that kind is not very great, but suspension of the licence, which is the only real deterrent, must come to them, and with full force.
The trouble with the other type of driver is that even after just one or two drinks—with an even smaller percentage of alcohol than is taken as the minimum in other countries—he is stimulated into believing that he is a much better driver than he really is. Only common sense is going to answer that problem, and if such drivers are involved in an accident then a suspended licence, if only for one month, must be the answer. We have killed any other deterrent. The deterrent of money has not been used, for there is always the rich man who does not worry whether a fine is £50 or £500. Nowadays endorsement of the licence is almost a commonplace matter, whereas a few years ago one was greatly worried if one had one's licence endorsed. I am not, however, one of those who want to go to the extremities found in some countries, particularly in Scandinavia, of having police tests almost at will.
The motor cyclist is still the greatest danger. I have had various figures got out from one of the hospitals with which I am associated, and they are quite interesting. From the figures which are 319 published your Lordships will have seen that it is always the motor cyclists who come out worst. They are the drivers who seem to think that it is only they themselves who have to be worried about. They forget a point which has applied in all the cases I have seen: that they are not lone riders. They have a duty, as responsible people, to see that pedestrians and other drivers are not hurt. A great number of these motor cyclists are teenagers, and they seem to break the rules of the road almost at will, particularly with regard to speed limits and cutting in.
It might interest your Lordships to hear one or two figures. Although these are not for the position throughout the country, I believe it will be found that they are pretty well the same wherever one goes. In the first four months of the year, out of 82 road traffic accidents, 27 (or 32.9 per cent.) involved motor cyclists. The next highest class of traffic involved was cars, with 17—or 20.7 per cent. This figure of 82, which means an annual total of traffic accidents of 246, compares with 192 last year and 163 in the year before. One case involving a motor cyclist in the last few weeks was that of a boy of 16 driving a motor cycle with a pillion rider. He had an accident. The only good thing about it was that the motor cycle was completely destroyed. The boy broke his leg and the pillion rider was killed. The boy smelled of drink and it was afterwards found that he had no licence to drive. Nothing can stop that kind of thing from happening in the future except people's fear of the punishment that is to come, and in such cases we must see that these boys do not drive again for a very long time, if ever. This is one of the matters where, I believe, legislation is extremely important and urgently required.
Pedestrians can contribute to accident prevention by behaving themselves, taking note of zebra crossings and lights and not wandering about in the road, and particularly by not jumping off pavements behind stationary cars when oncoming drivers cannot see them. The problem of old cars has been going on for a long time now. Although we were promised some action this summer it still seems that we are not going to get rid of them as easily as we thought; and most old cars are taken out by people 320 who drive only for the week-end, because many such cars would not last any time if they were used constantly. Again, the week-end driver has much less experience than those who drive every day. The old car driven by the week-end driver is probably more dangerous than any other type of vehicle on the road.
I should like to make one point about speed limits. I agree that speed kills and that in built-up areas the 30 miles an hour limit is good; but by "built-up areas" I personally mean areas where there are houses, shops or buildings with population, with the possibility of the population coming on to the road. I do not consider an area to be built-up just because there are lamp-posts at specified distances. Perhaps that is the reason why nowadays people will not accept the 30 m.p.h. speed limit. The 40 m.p.h. limit is much more sensible and I believe is a great success. I would reduce the areas of the 30 m.p.h. limit and increase areas with the 40 m.p.h. limit, and, as in other countries like America and South Africa, go on increasing the speed limit, probably up to 60 miles an hour, though not more. I am sure that the real cause of the disregard of the speed limit is that it is applied in places where it is not really necessary.
To sum up very briefly. New regulations, on their own, will not answer this problem. Some of the problems, and particularly the urgent question of motor cyclists, should be dealt with now. Because of inadequate driving tests, bad drivers and bad cars still remain the worst offenders. I hope that much more will be done by way of advertising. I agree that the Press have certainly done their part. The only criticism I have is that they tackle this problem seriously only at holiday periods, and then they are astonished at the appalling figures quoted, although in fact the figures are practically the same then as at any other time of the year. There should be a continuous campaign on road safety.
Much more should be done on television. For example, I should like to see on television the scene in a hospital ward where some of these seriously injured people are taken. I believe that that would bring home to the public much more realistically what is happening. We have horror films on television, 321 apparently for the amusement of child-rent, and if we can have those, then surely we can show something that is actually happening especially when that might well save lives in the future. Finally, let us have new roads; not necessarily wider roads but better roads, with corners cut away, roads on which we can all feel it is much safer to drive.
§ 3.59 p.m.
My Lords, the seriousness with which your Lordships have accepted the Motion that my noble friend Lord Elton has put on the Order Paper is indicated by the number of your Lordships who are speaking on this vital subject to-day. It might be convenient for your Lordships if I intervened at this early stage in the debate in order to explain the framework that exists to deal with all aspects of road safety, traffic problems and road accidents, which my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, have indicated with such graphic realism.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, described the different parties and the different interests—as indeed did the noble Lord opposite, Lord Morrison of Lambeth—who are concerned in all aspects of road-using, road accidents and road dangers; and it is for the very reason that there are many aspects involved that all these parties and interests cannot be under one particular Department at the present time. First, there is my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and his main agent, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. I am surprised that that Society has not already been mentioned by your Lordships; and in future I will call them "Ro.S.P.A." as they are commonly called. They are really acting as my right honourable friend's agent with regard to road safety matters. Secondly, there is the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, under whose auspices all the local authorities, which Lord Morrison of Lambeth has described, operate. Somewhat in conjunction with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government there is also the Ministry of Education, and wheresoever the functions of the schools are concerned in education, in particular with regard to road safety, that Department has its part to play.
Thirdly, comes the Home Office with regard to enforcement and fines, about 322 which my noble friend Lord Elton spoke a great deal; and in describing the Home Office responsibility I will answer the noble Lord with regard to the particular point about heavier fines and disqualification. Yet again, there is the Department of the Judiciary, presided over by the noble and learned Viscount who sits upon the Woolsack, and I am certain that it would be the last thing your Lordships would wish that the Judiciary should in any way come under one of the Departments which I have already mentioned. We have here many points of view and many new ideas; we have also heard of many, as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said, and even so far most of those ideas are conflicting. I will ask noble Lords to bear in mind in the course of the debate which Departments or parties are in fact responsible for those relevant points that may be raised.
As we have heard already, the Minister of Transport has to initiate legislation on many subjects. He makes regulations prescribing requirements to be complied with in the construction, equipment and use of vehicles. He prescribes regulations for traffic signs and traffic signals and the use of pedestrian crossings. He prescribes requirements to be complied with in the licensing of drivers of motor vehicles, of which we have also heard from the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. He makes orders and regulations governing the movement of traffic as necessary on the trunk roads and in the London Traffic Area, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth. For instance, he decides on the application of the speed limits, one-way traffic systems and the restrictions on waiting in these areas. He tests drivers of motor vehicles and is responsible for carrying out the highway authority functions with regard to trunk roads. He provides guidance to road users—and this is particularly in the propaganda field which Lord Moynihan mentioned. This is done through the Highway Code and similar literature, and, in collaboration with the Central Office of Information, films which are exhibited by arrangement with the B.B.C. and the Independent Television interests, among many other publicity fields.
Finally, he makes grants; and, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, 323 said in the course of his speech, I think that this is probably the most dramatic and the most expensive form of aid that he gives towards road safety. He makes grants towards approved expenditure of the local highway authorities; also towards certain expenditure which local authorities incur on traffic control measures; finally, towards the costs incurred by local lighting authorities in providing, operating and maintaining new or improved lighting systems on trunk roads and in the London area. These grants, paid for by the taxpayer, which result in road improvement, must, I feel certain, have a direct result upon road safety. He has at his disposal help from the road research laboratory, which is operated under the auspices of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and this deals with all aspects of the problem from the design of signs to roundabouts and from vehicle safety to analysis of accident statistics.
I now come to what I described as the agency of my right honourable friend—namely, Ro.S.P.A. Ro.S.P.A. deals with safety in all sorts of fields, but its main activity is in road safety, for which work it is heavily subsidised by the Ministry of Transport and by local authorities. The Minister does not directly control Ro.S.P.A., the road safety organisation, but he consults it; and Ro.S.P.A., in turn, advises my right honourable friend. The cost of designing and producing propaganda material is borne by the Society, which recoups itself by inducing local authorities to subscribe to its work and by selling the propaganda material to them. About £80,000 of Ro.S.P.A.'s income is received in this way. The Ministry pay the whole of the cost of operating two area organisations concerned with propaganda and cycle training, which my right honourable friend regards as of the highest importance and which my noble friend Lord Chesham will be referring to at the end of the debate. Its responsibility also includes providing the salaries of headquarters supervisors of those services and a further 22 per cent. to cover the general overhead expenses. In addition, the Ministry make an annual contribution of £10,000 towards generalities. I think this is a fair measure of public support and assistance to help in the aims of road safety.
324 In propaganda, the service of Ro.S.P.A., the agency, is made up of divisional accident prevention organisers and their assistants, who serve as a link between the Ministry and local road safety committees. In addition, its function is to assist and encourage local committees in their work on road safety propaganda generally, including special road safety precautions and quizes in association with the road safety campaigns. Quarterly road safety campaigns are organised by Ro.S.P.A. on themes decided on by them in consultation with the Ministry. Each year the campaign is given a special emphasis and the Society works very closely with the Ministry on the design of posters and on the planning of that campaign. The Ministry arrange special national publicity for the main campaign, with the help of the B.B.C. and the Independent Television Authority, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, especially mentioned, the Press, the motoring associations and other organisations or industries who are willing to assist.
Ro.S.P.A. maintains Ro.S.P.A. House, a training centre which consists largely of demonstration models and materials. It is supported almost entirely by the contributions from local authorities in the London area who send parties of children, especially in these periods, for instruction. Secondly, the agency services, for which the Ministry bear full cost, are concerned with covering the work of the chief cycle training organiser and the divisional cycle training organisations. Their duties are to help and encourage local authorities to establish and extend arrangements for training child cyclists under the National Cycling Proficiency Scheme, and to help enlist and train suitable volunteers to carry out this training. It would be right here to add that already 100,000 children have qualified under this scheme. Again, the Ministry of Education have a considerable part to play in so far as it affects schools. Ro.S.P.A. also operate a scheme for making awards to commercial drivers for safe driving, based on the number of years for which they have driven without an accident or without any form of traffic offence. Ro.S.P.A. policy is determined to some extent by a complex system of committees, on which are represented the Ministry, most road users and other interests, local authorities, education authorities 325 and the police. By reason of its large financial interest—some £110,000—the Ministry is able to exert an appreciable influence on the road safety activities of its agent, Ro.S.P.A.
There are other important, private associations, which carry on work parallel with Ro.S.P.A. The Royal Automobile Club and the Automobile Association co-operate with the Ministry and Ro.S.P.A. in major campaigns, and disseminate material through their organisations and through their individual members. The Royal Automobile Club and the Auto Cycle Union jointly operate a scheme for the training of motor cyclists, and my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport would very much like to see this training extended. He considers it of very great importance indeed. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, especially mentioned motor cyclists. In fact, the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said, "God bless them!". I should like to say that it must be a very gratifying trend that so many motor cyclists are now taking to wearing crash helmets, or crash hats of one sort or another. Finally, there is the B.B.C., the television authorities and the Press. The help and propaganda which these bodies give is of the greatest importance to my right honourable friend; and he, as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, I think, mentioned, does everything possible to further interest through publicity.
Now I come to the position of the local authorities within the framework that I have described. Local authorities are responsible for the establishment of pedestrian crossings, subject to the approval of the Minister, and for making local orders relating to the control of dogs on the highway. This is among many other functions that they have to perform. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, mentioned dogs and local authorities in particular, but in his next breath he went on to say (and I will try to use his actual words) that my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport must be careful not to usurp the power of local authorities—and, of course, in that very sentence the noble Lord mentioned many of the problems which confront my right honourable friend the Minister. Local 326 authorities are also responsible for making arrangements for school crossing patrols, except in the Metropolitan Police District, where the Commissioner of Police is responsible.
Then, local authorities are usually responsible for initiating speed limits, traffic signals and signs. Most traffic signs may be put up by the highway authorities at their own discretion, but for some signs—for instance, "Halt" signs and speed limit signs—the Minister's approval is required. Certain measures, including the provision of pedestrian subways, footbridges and guard rails on any road, as well as works on a bigger scale, are the responsibility of the highway authority concerned. My right honourable friend can exhort local authorities, but he has no power to require the application of most of the measures which I have been mentioning, except on trunk roads and on roads in the London Traffic Area. Local authorities, as a condition of receiving a grant from the Ministry a Transport for major road improvements to classified roads, are required to give an undertaking that the local planning authority concerned is prepared to restrict access to the road and to the extent necessary in the interests of road traffic and road safety.
As to street lighting, this is a local authority function, although, as regards trunk roads, the Ministry of Transport may contribute towards the cost of new or improved lighting systems. In practice, the contributions are at a rate now of 50 per cent., and these are made towards the cost of installing, operating and maintaining new or improved systems of the approved standard for traffic routes. The local education authorities are from time to time given guidance on the general subject of road safety instruction to children by the Minister of Education, who, however, has no specific road safety responsibilities. It is not possible to require any school to give instruction in road safety: religious instruction is the only item which schools are obliged to include in their syllabus. An inquiry which we made with the help of selected education authorities showed that road safety instruction was in fact given frequently and widely to infant and junior schools, but, unfortunately, less widely 327 and only infrequently to older children. The police play an important part in road safety education in the schools. Education authorities may have guard rails provided outside maintained schools.
Then, local authorities make arrangements for training road users. Expenditure incurred counts as relevant expenditure for the purposes of the general grant, and provision is made for it therein. Many local authorities carry out training of child cyclists under the National Proficiency Scheme, which I have already mentioned. Only counties and county boroughs receive a direct payment of general grant, and the benefits which other local authorities may receive from the general grant are not directly related in any way to their expenditure on road safety. The training which boroughs and urban districts carry out for child cyclists, and to a lesser extent for motor cyclists, is, in effect, paid for out of the rates, and the Ministry have little power to influence these activities. Before the general grant was introduced, the Ministry made effective use of their ability to influence local authorities by refusing to increase the amount of the road safety grant except to meet development in training. The progress achieved then still stands us in good stead, but we cannot rely upon the ready embarkation by the authorities on more training schemes, or on their modifying existing schemes in any way that would be an additional burden upon their rates.
Counties, boroughs and urban districts may set up local road safety committees, and most of them do. Some rural districts, however, often in association with others, also have road safety committees under powers delegated by the county. The main function of these road safety committees is to organise local propaganda for road safety in support of the campaigns promoted by Ro.S.P.A. and using material which is supplied by Ro.S.P.A. The local authorities subscribe to Ro.S.P.A., and purchase posters from this Society. In addition to this publicity, they also organise various events. Where a local council employs a road safety officer, he organises and carries out the training, and helps with road safety education in the schools. Local road safety committees are repre- 328 sented at federations, which meet quarterly. The federations are autonomous bodies with a secretariat provided by Ro.S.P.A. The divisional road engineer attends federation meetings, as do senior representatives of the police. Federation meetings serve as a means of co-ordinating the views of local road safety committees. Resolutions passed by federations are considered by Ro.S.P.A. committees, and, where appropriate, are referred to the responsible body, such as the Ministry, or the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, for consideration.
I now come to the part played by the Home Office and, in particular, to the point put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. My noble friend has suggested that penalties for traffic offences should be increased, and that there should be automatic disqualification for a first offence of dangerous driving. The penalties for traffic offences were considered, and carefully so, as recently as 1956, when a number of them were raised, as my noble friend mentioned. He went on to say that the penalty for dangerous driving itself was increased to £100 and/or four months' imprisonment on summary conviction; and, for a second offence, £100 and/or six months' imprisonment. The penalty on indictment was already two years' imprisonment, and that remains. We also provided in the Road Traffic Act, 1956, for a minimum period of nine months' disqualification on a second conviction for dangerous driving (and again this was referred to by my noble friend) unless the court, for special reasons, ordered otherwise. These penalties seemed to Parliament at that time to be adequate, and we believe that they are adequate now. The powers are there for the magistrates to use.
It is sometimes suggested that the discretion of magistrates to choose the appropriate penalty for the particular offender, and for the particular offence, which they have before them should be limited. The noble Lord proposed a kind of limitation when he suggested compulsory disqualification, in the absence of special reasons, on a first conviction for dangerous driving. The view has hitherto been taken that it is better to leave the magistrates' discretion unfettered. To do otherwise runs contrary to one of the principles upon which our 329 courts operate, and we ought not to circumscribe the courts' discretion unless there is a very strong case for doing so.
It is particularly desirable to be cautious about automatic disqualification because, although we recognise the great effectiveness and deterrent power of this penalty, we also recognise that the seriousness of motoring offences, even of those which are sufficiently serious to be found to be dangerous driving, varies considerably; and so does the degree of wickedness to be attributed to the offender. We also recognise that the weight of punishment flowing from disqualification varies greatly, according to whether the offender is a pleasure motorist or a man who depends on his car to pursue his vocation or actually makes his living by driving. Automatic disqualification, therefore, can work injustice even when the court has power not to disqualify for special reasons, because the reasons have to be special to the offence and may not take account of the effect of disqualification upon the offender and his livelihood.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, has referred to certain remarks made by my noble and learned friend who sits on the Woolsack and who is unable to be in his accustomed place at present. I think he had in mind what my noble and learned friend said in the debate on the Report stage of the Road Traffic Bill in 1956. In urging the House not to adopt certain proposals for a minimum sentence of imprisonment for a second offence of dangerous driving or driving under the influence, my noble and learned friend urged magistrates to consider the problem of penalties and said that, if the effort represented by the Bill and by the magistrates' consideration of their practice failed, "not only the magistrates, but we ourselves will have to think again." My noble and learned friend added [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 198, col. 1152].This is the last chance of voluntary serious consideration of one of the greatest evils of our time.In an earlier discussion, my noble and learned friend had said this:Magistrates' courts may be well advised to review the scale of penalties which they customarily impose in motoring cases, and decide in the light of the gravity of the problem of road safety, and of the fall in the value of money, whether these are adequate.330 In response to those remarks, magistrates, both on individual benches and through the Magistrates' Association have been giving thought to the penalties which they impose, and as recently as last December the Association urged benches who had not yet done so to review their practice. I understand that the Association itself is continuing to study this problem.
I believe that it is better that magistrates who are dealing daily with these cases, and know both the degree of gravity and the variety of circumstances exhibited, should themselves work out the appropriate penalties within the maxima laid down by Parliament. Only thus can a penalty take account of all the circumstances of a particular offence and an equitable result be produced. Magistrates are aware of the need for this re-thinking, and I do not think that we can say that the point has been reached at which voluntary consideration of their practice by the courts has failed and that therefore we must consider more drastic measures, such as compulsory minimum penalties, which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, suggested. There are indications that courts are now imposing higher penalties and, in particular, are making greater use of disqualification. Although the figures for 1959 are not yet available, there is already to be discerned a trend towards considerably higher penalties than in the previous year, although, of course, these figures cannot be given exactly to your Lordships yet. However, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that the Government are well aware of the importance of this problem, and of the desirability of ensuring that among the measures taken to deal with the problem of accidents there are both efficient enforcement of the law and suitable penalties for those who offend. I assure your Lordships that Her Majesty's Government, and especially my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, have this problem uppermost in their minds.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ LORD ALLERTON
My Lords, this is the first time that I have had the privilege of addressing your Lordships' House, and I crave the indulgence and consideration which your Lordships are always willing to concede on such an occasion. I trust that what I may say will be regarded as not in any way controversial. It was very welcome to hear 331 the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, say that this was a subject upon which we could not all be expected to agree. I speak only in the sincere hope that I may be able to make a few brief suggestions which may contribute, even a little, towards the solution of this terrible problem.
During the past 35 years, I have driven a motor car some 20,000 miles every year, and I feel that during that period I have had every opportunity of seeing what happens on our roads. It is my belief that the law of this country as it stands at the moment is adequate to deal with the situation, though I would qualify that by saying that that is in the event of the law being administered properly and uniformly. If any change in the law were to be made, I would suggest that a short suspension of licence—and by "short" I mean short, and not a penal length of suspension—should be imposed much more frequently than it is. That would have, I think, far-reaching results.
I believe that the enforcement of road discipline and a general proper observance of the Highway Code would do more than anything else to reduce the accident figures. I believe that this can be done most cheaply and effectively by the employment of more uniformed police patrols. This contention is borne out by the Report of the Committee on Road Safety, which was published in May, 1947. With your Lordships' permission, I should like to quote from that Report. Paragraph 249 of the Interim Report of the Committee on Road Safety, December, 1944, states:We consider that there should be maintained in every police force a special traffic department manned by specially trained officers. We are aware that such departments already exist …. but we hope that the arrangement becomes a feature of all police forces.This, I think, is now the case, but the number of cars at their disposal is, in my opinion, inadequate. In my own county I know that the cars are limited to a distance of 80 miles during one eight-hour shift. It must be remembered that during this period the cars are in constant touch with their headquarters and are frequently diverted to other duties; and even if they should not be diverted, the distance which they can patrol in one hour, with a limitation of 80 miles in eight hours, is, I submit, inadequate.
332 The importance of the police in relation to the prevention and examination of accidents must surely be equal to their importance in the detection and prevention of crime. Paragraph 163 of the Report states:The police enforce the traffic law, regulate the traffic and have a responsibility for the maintenance of public safety on the roads.This work cannot be done entirely by policemen. That can happen only in towns. Inevitably a great many accidents occur outside the towns, and it is there where the mobile patrols should operate. It is, in my opinion, the duty of the police to prevent rather than to persecute. The Committee state in paragraph 172 of their Report:Any system under which fear becomes the controlling factor in obtaining the required reactions among so large a section of the public who, as individuals, are generally law-abiding, is not, we think, likely to produce the most effective results. The British public co-operates with the police because the relationship between them is generally one of friendly understanding rather than of submission to obtrusive authority, and the more it is realised that the policeman is the friend of the motorist or motor-cyclist who wishes to be a thoroughly safe driver or rider, though the deadly enemy of the deliberate offender, the greater will be the co-operation between the police and road users and the sooner will the general standard of road behaviour be improved.It is some years since the findings of this Committee were made public, but I contend that their views still apply to-day. The number of police patrols that one now sees is so small as to be negligible. Every now and then one sees a notice saying that plain-clothes police patrols are in operation. I sometimes wonder whether they really are, or whether it is only a bluff on the part of the local chief constable. Quite frankly, I question whether the police have a sufficient number of cars at their disposal. No doubt the reason why they have not is the question of expense. But the expense of more cars, should they produce the result which this Report assumes they will produce, would be very small in comparison to the enormous cost of the accidents which take place every year. I went to the Daily Mirror exhibition, and I there saw the figure quoted of £100 million a year as the cost of accidents; and I have also see it estimated at £190 million a year. But whatever it is, the cost is clearly a very high figure.
333 I should like to say a word or two on the question of visibility from vehicles. I am informed that vehicles such as vans and Land Rovers, if they are fitted with windows in the side of the body, in the case of vans, or in the side of the canvas hood, in the case of Land Rovers, become subject to purchase tax. The result is that they are never so fitted, except in the case of vehicles destined for export to countries where these regulations do not apply. I am sure that many of your Lordships who own vehicles of this type have, like myself, suffered the hair-raising experience of coming from a side road on to a main road with the intention of turning to the right and, having no window on the near side other than the driving window, which is then at an angle to the road, of finding it virtually impossible to see traffic approaching from the left. This is highly dangerous. I should like to see the process reversed and have the fitting of these windows made compulsory. No doubt the regulations arose from a laudable desire on the part of the Treasury to obtain more purchase tax, but I cannot believe that very much would be lost were the fitting of windows made compulsory, and I believe that it would avoid many accidents. There are, after all, a great number of trade vans going round the country every day whose drivers suffer this experience.
I should like to extend my hearty congratulations to all those who were responsible for the design and construction of the motorway, M.1. In my view, this is the best and safest road in the world, and I have had considerable experience on it ever since it was first opened to the public. Even in conditions of fog it is a great deal better than other roads, because at least one can proceed down it with the virtual certainty that nothing will hit one head-on. On the whole, speeds on this road are not excessive, and the standard of driving is now very high. When the road was first opened it received tremendous publicity in the Press—and quite rightly—with the result that every incident, however small, received undue publicity. I think that had the effect of making many people think that this was a very dangerous road and one which should never have been built. I am sure that this is far from being the case, and that if we had 334 more roads of this sort the accident rate would be much lower than it is.
I should also like to say a word about the three-way road which, to my way of thinking, is the greatest death-trap of them all. What can be done about it it is difficult to know. I suppose we have merely to wait until the time when more time and money is available and the present three-way roads become what is known as dual-carriageways. As I say, what the answer is at the moment I do not know, but they are death-traps, and there are a great many of these roads, especially around London where the density of traffic is higher than anywhere else. I have seen in the Belgian Congo some curious attempts to create short lengths of dual-carriageway on the mountain roads. In order to prevent the native drivers from coming round the bends on the wrong side of the road, the simple expedient was used of placing tar barrels filled with stones in the middle of the road, which had the effect of creating what one might term an artificial dual-carriageway. It was rather a primitive method, but it worked very well and contributed to a reduction in the number of accidents. I know that that idea is not applicable in this country on the straight three-way road, but something of the sort might be considered on the corners.
I should also like to say a word about driving tests. Like many others of your Lordships, I have never passed a driving test, although I hope that I should be able to do so. Indeed, the only test that I have ever passed was when I obtained a private pilot's licence in 1933; and that was not very difficult either. I have frequently thought that it might be a good thing if tests were compulsory for drivers beyond a certain age. I feel that many people, like myself, find that their eyes are not quite what they used to be, and I have no doubt that by the age of 70 I shall probably need telescopes, not spectacles. Perhaps something on these lines should be considered, and I am not at all sure that it would not be wise to enforce a driving test whenever a driver has been involved in an accident. And I suggest that that test should be very severe indeed. So much of the trouble which comes on our roads comes from frustration and bad temper. To revert to my previous argument, I feel 335 that that would be seen much less frequently were it known that there was a large, shiny, black car in the immediate vicinity and that such behaviour would be treated very severely.
According to all the statistics I have seen, far and away the biggest number of accidents seem to happen to pedestrians. I suppose that this is natural, because there are more of them; but I think that something should be done, as they do in the United States of America, to prevent pedestrians from crossing the roads against the lights. It is proverbially difficult to try to protect people against themselves, but it should be very simple to bring in some regulation to the effect that pedestrians must walk in conformity to the lights. There is a very long list of speakers, so I will not weary your Lordships further. I thank you for your indulgence.
§ 4.48 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LEICESTER
My Lords, I hardly think the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will want to be told 21 times that we are grateful for his bringing forward this Motion, so I will proceed at once to say a word of welcome to the noble Lord who has just made his first contribution to our discussions, the noble Lord, Lord Allerton. I am happy to find that the first, and perhaps the only, occasion on which it will fall to me to welcome a maiden speaker, should be on an occasion when the speaker happens to come from my own county and diocese of Leicestershire. I want to assure him that we welcome his sincere thoughts and his practical experience. He must not be disturbed by the fact that, on this occasion, there are many others ready to offer their best thoughts to the House on this vexed subject. I can assure him that on other occasions wisdom and eloquence are in much shorter supply, and we shall always be most grateful to have him among us and to hear what he has to say to us.
It was natural, I suppose, that some from these Benches should wish to take part in this debate, partly because we are in some way, so to speak, professionally associated with benevolent and humanitarian causes, but also, I think I may say, because we, like many other Members of your Lordships' House, know something about this subject 336 from practical experience. I did a little mental arithmetic, and I worked it out that the diocesan Bishops of England motor nearly one million miles between them every year. So we have some knowledge of the risks and responsibilities of this matter. But also we, like doctors, are often brought into very close touch with the actual homes that have been struck by these tragedies, and I think it is right that we occasionally pause to remember that behind every one of these figures in these huge statistics there is a human tragedy of a very deep and lasting kind.
I think it would not be a waste of your Lordships' time if I mentioned one that happened to come within my own experience, because it was particularly vivid and one I cannot forget. I was called on Christmas Eve last to the home of one of my young clergy, a home where there were young children. They were awaiting the Christmas visit of the grandparents and an uncle and aunt, with all the excitement that goes with that on Christmas Eve in a family of children. Actually, when I got there three of this party who were on the way were lying dead in the mortuary at Northampton and the fourth was critically ill. I shall never forget the picture of the young mother trying, on the one hand to maintain something of the happiness of Christmas for her children, while secretly mourning the loss of almost everybody else in the world for whom she cared. It brings home what can come from one of these many accidents and helps us to keep a sense of proportion.
Having said that, I should be the first to say how extremely difficult it is to generalise about the causes of these accidents, how very careful we want to be about thinking that any one solution is likely to be the right one. In the City of Leicester in 1959 there were over 4,000 accidents of various kinds. These were divided up by the authorities into 21 different classes, all caused by particular circumstances. But in spite of these 21 classifications there still had to be 355 cases marked down as due to miscellaneous causes. That, I think, brings home in one particular example how difficult it is to generalise. The fact is that every accident comes about because of a concatenation of circumstances, perhaps one that will never be repeated again, and this is part of the difficulty 337 of dealing with the problem. The best generalisation that I have come across was one mentioned in the same pamphlet that was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, produced by the British Council of Churches. I am not quoting its exact words, but its general message was this: that the total population is expected to show an alertness of mind and hand which experience shows cannot at present be produced by all the people at all times. That is, of course, a very broad statement, but I believe it is only a statement as broad as that that will really set the problem in its right perspective and proportion.
It has been said that I proposed to deal more particularly with the question of drink and accidents. But I propose to dilute this mixture a little by speaking for a few moments about roads and about railings before coming to the subject of refreshment. The question of roads has already been ventilated considerably and I mention it now only because I am afraid I must, like every speaker, differ from my noble friend, Lord Elton, in rather playing down the importance of good roads. I feel that roads are of very great importance, and I join with all those who have testified to the usefulness and safety of the M.1 and roads built on that basis. As the noble Lord, Lord Allerton, said, so truly, it is at least something to know that you are in no great danger of a head-on collision, and when you also have removed from the sphere of likely possibilities—I am not forgetting there is always the outside chance of somebody bursting a tyre and coming across the middle strip; that has to be allowed for—right-angle collisions, by having traffic over the top or underneath, you obviously have cut out a very large number of chances of danger. The more we can provide routes of this kind I am sure the more quickly we shall reduce at any rate one class of accidents.
I want to say a word about railings along pavements, because as I sat and thought about this subject and wondered whether by any odd chance one might say anything that would be any good—and I am under no illusions about this; I know how difficult it is—it occurred to me that in the case of children we have done a great deal by putting up railings outside schools. When I think of the number of children's lives that 338 must have been saved by the mere fact that they could not physically rush out of their schools into danger, I cannot help thinking that we ought to take this seriously in our busy towns, because there is a sufficient number of pedestrians who show themselves almost like children in the ease with which they wander on to the thoroughfare. Therefore the community ought to consider seriously treating them like children and putting railings up for their safety. I know little of the practical implications of this suggestion, but it occurs to me that railings could be very simply constructed, and, judged by modern standards, the expense of putting them up virtually all the way along the busy pavements would not be out of the question. I believe that this is a subject for local authorities, but in a debate of this kind we can only throw our ideas into the pool and hope that if there is anything of any good in what we say the information will eventually filter through to the people who may make use of it.
I must devote the remaining few minutes of my speech to this subject of alcohol. Here I almost feel I ought to declare an interest, because I happen to have resident in my Diocese of Leicester and in the City of Leicester a very well known figure in this particular field, Dr. N. I. Spriggs, a former police surgeon of Leicester, who for many years has been a keen student of this matter and in his writings and his propaganda has anticipated many of the things that are now being said on all sides about the effect of even small quantities of alcohol upon driving. Although I owe a good deal to what he has said, in view of our discussions last week about our Rules of Procedure I must state that he has not engaged me professionally to voice his opinions. But he has drawn my attention to many of the relevant documents.
One of the most interesting was a letter on this subject which he and other police surgeons addressed to the then Minister of Transport in 1938, in which all these points were made: namely, that a very small amount of alcohol reduces the quality of driving; and many accidents in which alcohol is not thought to have played a part are, in fact, partly caused by an alcoholic condition on the part of one of the persons concerned. All those 339 things were listed in this letter, and he tells me that it has been sent with unfailing regularity to successive Ministers of Transport ever since. There must be many copies of this letter now in the files of the Ministry.
All that those police surgeons said has been supported by the Drew Commission and the Commission set up by the British Medical Association during the last two years, and both these Commissions give the same general summary of the position which, as I understand it, is this: that a level of intoxication, much less than anything that we should normally describe as "intoxication", or even "being under the influence", in fact produces a measurable decrease in skill, in judgment and in dexterity. Scientifically put, this means, I understand, that a proportion of alcohol in the blood of more than .05 per cent. or 50 milligrammes in 100 millilitres—I hope that is right—introduces an element of danger at least of decreased efficiency; that when that proportion has reached .1 per cent., it becomes the signal for a rapid deterioration in skill. When you reach 150 milligrammes, which is .15 per cent., you reach the level at which it could hardly ever be safe to drive.
This seemed to be the general conclusion of the scientific reports. I want to stress that we are now talking about levels of intoxication—I use that word in a technical sense—far below anything to which any moral slur would in any ordinary way be attached, unless one starts from a strictly teetotal point of view. Those are figures which would arise in anybody's physiology from a modest consumption of alcohol, and I think it is essential that we should remember that when we are discussing the matter.
The great claim that is being made to-day in many quarters is that we shall never improve this situation until we bring in these biochemical tests of blood and body fluids as an additional indication of the state of the driver, from the point of view of his competence to drive safely and well. Great play is made of the fact that in Glasgow, where voluntary tests of this kind have been used for many years, a much greater number of successful cases has been brought by the police, proportionately to the popu- 340 lation, than in any other part of the country. Of course, this might be something to do with the character and habits of the people of that great city, but I think it is a bigger question than that. I understand that during the recent year 605 cases were brought by the police, of which there were only 28 which were withdrawn or in which finally there were acquittals. The remaining number is the same as that in the City of London, which has eight times the population. It seems extremely difficult to believe that the population of London is eight times as sober as the population of Glasgow, and therefore one can only draw the conclusion that if the tests had been made here and in other cities the figures would be comparable.
But there is other evidence which seems to me much more important—namely, the number of serious accidents caused after ten o'clock at night. Again to illustrate this from the City of Leicester, I noticed that there were more people killed last year in Leicester between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. than during any other period of four hours during the 24 hours. When one remembers that a good many people are safe at home, if not in bed by that time, it really does produce evidence, I think, that there is something peculiarly dangerous about those hours; and when all allowance has been made for the fact that people may be tired and there are conditions of darkness and so on, I am afraid we have to draw the conclusion that, in a fair number of those accidents, there must be an element brought about by the presence of alcohol in the blood.
These new facts—and I think they are new facts so far as the general consciousness of the public is concerned—have produced a new situation to which the whole community has to make some kind of response. We must not get it out of proportion: we must not think that drink is the only thing that slightly reduces efficiency. It may be that having a conversation with one's wife, or thinking out a speech for the House of Lords, or many other things that we do in cars, might also have that degree of deleterious effect upon driving skill. But here is something that at any rate we do know of and can, to some extent, measure. The thing is, what is to be done about it?
341 I feel that our community would be at fault if it did nothing: if it just said "This is most unfortunate. We know it is true, but we cannot possibly consider modifying our habits in any way." That would be an abdication of responsibility. We can introduce compulsory tests in the case of any accident where there is a reasonable chance that drink has played some part in the whole situation. We can go as far as some of the Continental countries and introduce spot tests on any driver at any time, regardless of whether he has been involved in an accident. Of these three possible courses, I feel that the only sensible one to begin with is the second—namely, to introduce compulsory tests for those who have been involved in accidents where there is any chance that alcohol has played a part. Obviously, there are some cases where alcohol can hardly be imagined to have played any part at all. To take an example, there is the case of the little child killed in a busy street. There might possibly be something on one side but not on the other. Broadly speaking, we ought, I think, to have compulsory tests for the class I have mentioned. To introduce compulsory tests for all drivers, or for any driver at any time, is such a wide departure from our tradition of liberty, and would involve so revolutionary a change in social habits, that I do not feel able at this moment to recommend it.
I happened to travel up in the train with a businessman from Switzerland. I asked him about their customs, and how this rule, which they have in Switzerland, affected public dinners and occasions of that kind. He said, "Well, we have to have an understanding. When we go to a party I have an understanding with my wife that on one occasion I drink and on the other occasion she drinks." Perhaps that is worth thinking of. But it is a very big step, and one that I am not sure that the community is quite ready for. But I think the scientific examination of those who have been involved in accidents is something which the community ought to face, and ought to face now.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ LORD BOSSOM
My Lords, may I ask your Lordships' indulgence in this, my first speech in your presence, if I should 342 unconsciously fail to follow exactly your customary procedure; for after 28 years in another place I might quite unintentionally revert to the forms that are current in that House. It seems a long time since the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Transport and I were on the Back Benches of this Chamber together, after our House had been bombed on May 10, 1941, when your Lordships kindly loaned us your House as a home to come to while we could not go into our own. At that time, in 1945, Mr. Marples was concentrating his attacks on Mr. Aneurin Bevan's plan for housing; and as the years went by we saw that Mr. Marples' protest was absolutely right.
I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for initiating this debate. The subject is an extremely serious one, and time is not on our side. I am sure that many of your Lordships, like noble Lords who have already spoken, will want to make suggestions for consideration by the Minister. To get a fair view of the controlling conditions it may be useful to know that about 6,750,000 motor cars and motor-cycles are now licensed in Great Britain; and roughly 1,900 additional vehicles are registered every day. So that a fair estimate of the number of vehicles for which road space must be planned in 1975, just fifteen years ahead—the same distance as we are from the war—is in the neighbourhood of 16,000,000. Just imagine what that is going to mean to us! It is going to affect our situation very seriously.
The Minister has shown that he is alive to the seriousness of all this. He has teams of investigators studying causes of accidents and possible remedies, and I understand that it is his intention to introduce further legislation later this year if that is felt desirable. From these facts I feel it is important that in any action taken to ease the situation we must give consideration to the foreseeable future, as well as to the immediate years ahead. I believe that we owe a debt of considerable gratitude to the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, for giving us such a detailed account of all the responsibilities of various Government Departments in this connection. I have never heard any such details in relation to the activities of Government Departments.
I believe that most people will agree that there are four major causes of road 343 accidents: human failures, machine imperfections, unsatisfactory roads, and—last but by no means least—the intoxicated driver. Each of these causes is responsible for its full quota of the troubles. Obviously, there is no single or simple panacea to cure accidents, so may I attempt to submit for your Lordships' consideration a few practical and, I hope, helpful suggestions, all of which have been tried in other countries but have not yet been widely adopted in Great Britain? First, let us take human failures. To help avoid some of these, surely all drivers should be officially required to possess a more thorough knowledge of the Highway Code than is now demanded. Equally, instruction on the Code should be given in every school. Statistics of children's accidents more than justify this course. So, too, with the general public. A great many individuals suffer through not appreciating the risks to which they are being exposed. Surely an intensive, nation-wide campaign, by television, the Press, public statements by prominent speakers and striking posters, could be of some benefit.
There is also immense need for care, personal care, on the part of children, pedestrians and drivers. That is self-evident whenever we look around and see what is being done. All these essential, cautionary words about care should be rammed into all users of our highways, whether they like it or not. I believe that that would be a good thing. Let them all know how vital is the risk they are facing. So, too, complete proficiency in driving after, say, ten years, could advantageously be considered; for there is no doubt that familiarity with driving undoubtedly breeds a certain amount of contempt for the Highway Code. Should it not be the practice that after every conviction for bad or dangerous driving the guilty party, in addition to suffering the penalty, should be required to pass a further rigid driving test before having the freedom of the road again allowed him?
Then in all congested areas pedestrians should be required to cross thoroughfares only at zebra crossings, and to obey the "Stop" and "Cross now" traffic lights. This step would probably be resented by many, but results would justify this curbing of irresponsibility on the part of "jay-walkers." At excessively 344 bad crossings a constable or traffic warden should be stationed, and (as is done in several other countries) he should be given a whistle so that he can whistle when pedestrians can cross; and if someone attempts to cross when he has no right to do so the warden can blow his whistle and make the man come back until the time is right to cross. This idea has been carried out in Lisbon with great success. Making laws, however, does not correct troubles. It is only by respect for, and enforcement of, the law that cures can become effective. With no exceptions, road markings, signals and signs should be made uniform in character everywhere, and should not be a little different here and there. Equally, direction signs should be reconsidered to enable them to be made more uniform and more readily visible by day and by night. That is certainly not the case at the present time. Much could also be gained by further technical examination of car headlights, to avoid the dazzle which to-day causes many more accidents than it should.
Uncontrolled dogs are a menace and should be removed from the highways. This has been proved by the Slough local authority. Formerly, over a given period, they had 111 accidents in Slough. Since the Council there prohibited dogs on the highway, they have had only 26 accidents, under the same conditions, during a similar period in the same place. Another point is that drivers on main roads should be required to respect lane discipline. That is done with great success on the main traffic arteries in America. I have travelled thousands of miles there, and if anyone gets out of the proper lane he is in trouble. We do not observe that practice here. Motorists cross from one lane to another, all over the place; and motor-cyclists do the same. My noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth spoke of motor-cyclists. The way in which they weave in and out is a great danger to drivers, and must make them very nervous. That sort of driving ought to be prohibited. As to machine imperfections, thorough and more frequent inspection of machines should be officially required, as all cars increase their troubles with age. Worn tyres, defective brakes and rickety steering gear frequently cause avoidable accidents; and obviously if a car is ten years old it should be officially checked at regular 345 intervals, and not left unchecked until it causes the death of someone.
I believe that in this matter unsatisfactory roads are much more important than a good many people believe. Unsatisfactory roads, for a multitude of reasons, are legion. In congested places long traffic queues frequently occur, which slow up everything; but to widen these roads may be a slow and very costly business. In London, for example, it took us 25 years to widen the Strand—and only part of it at that. New methods of widening important streets are long overdue. The easy way to do it is just to go ahead; get a lot of money, pull down one side of the street and thereby widen the road. But that takes unlimited time, and costs an appalling amount of money.
There is, however, another equally effective, way of doing it—that is, to convert the pavements on either side of the street into road space, thus permitting traffic to have more room. To make up for the elimination of the pavement it would be necessary to take space behind the shopfronts for a new pedestrian pavement. This would take about 10 or 12 feet from the depth of the shops; it would require cutting through the party walls to allow the new sidewalk to be continuous. But it would permit at least two additional lines of traffic on the widened roads. Compulsory purchase procedure would obviously have to be adopted, and that would be costly. But, clearly, it is either this or, in a year or so's time, there will occur complete traffic stagnation at such points. My Lords, is it not worth going to this trouble now, before that very difficult situation arises? The Rue de Rivoli in Paris indicates the general appearance this new arrangement would have. The principle I have described is demonstrated at the Westbury Hotel, in Bond Street, and has also been voluntarily carried out by Kennard's, of Croydon, one of the Debenham Group of stores. These examples indicate that widening can be carried out in big cities without pulling down half a street to increase the width of the road, and could be completed infinitely more quickly and cheaply than by pulling down a long row of existing buildings and then rebuilding them all again.
For a thousand years men have been content to add an upper storey to their houses, but they have seldom "double- 346 decked" their roads. But as most congestion starts at the entries to our larger cities, each of which has two or three railway lines entering from the outer districts, why not construct over these rail tracks an upper level road for motors, and use this upper level as a main entry into the city? This principle was more or less adopted in New York—in fact, I had quite a little to do with it—to bring the trains along under Park Avenue and into the New York Central Station, and allow conveyances to come over it by the two levels. This works perfectly and could, if we desired, be copied in our congested cities. It would cost a fair amount, but it is fair to remember that our motorists are paying something in the neighbourhood of £400 million a year in petrol tax and car licences, while only about £60 million is being spent on road work. I think that we might all give that serious consideration. We all know what the Belgians did for Brussels, in the three or four years before the recent International Exhibition, with new tunnels, flyovers and widenings. That shows what could be done with a little more money.
The people of the United States have constructed many so-called turnpikes and parkways which cut miles off the motorist's journey to New York City from the South or West. In many instances, these roads did not cost the taxpayer one penny; they are paid for by tolls—which, incidentally, are repaying the cost incurred in a quarter of the time originally estimated. I know that we British do not like tolls; that is fundamental. But if their use means preventing traffic stagnation and innumerable accidents, should we not give them much further consideration? It really is worth while. I know that in England we dislike tolls, but if the Americans can build all these great parkways right through the outlying parts of New York without charging the people a penny—and I have gone into this matter in great detail—surely it would be worth our while to give the idea consideration, particularly when we find that in New York the tolls amount to approximately what the driver would have had to spend on extra petrol—and only that—if he had taken the old route into the city. So I suggest that this idea is well worth considering.
Another means of reducing accidents and easing motor travel would be for the 347 Government, the L.C.C. or any local authority to publish maps showing clearly the traffic-congested spots in each area, thus enabling drivers to avoid those areas where traffic is already congested. It would cost approximately nothing, as the information needed is already in the possession of each authority, and would only require to be added to the ordinary Ordnance maps. But it would make readily accessible to the motorist many such routes which he does not know to-day. Obviously, the correction of all bad corners should occupy an exceedingly high priority in all road-improvement programmes. Flyovers, double-decked roads and pedestrian bridges will all come to many of our cities sooner or later, and we should plan all present improvements to avoid making it more difficult or costly when these are installed in the years to come.
An unfortunate cause of accidents, delays and irritability could be largely removed if all repairs to roads and service mains and sewers, along with cables and that sort of thing in the roads, were worked upon for 24 hours a day, and not for 8 hours a day, as is so often the case at present. That is only in certain places, but if it were done it would be a great help and would obviate a lot of congestion; and traffic could move more easily, and it would stop a lot of accidents. Obviously, it has been decided that motorists using road space for car parking in the city must, in certain places, pay for that privilege. Hence the parking meter has come to stay.
I have intentionally left to the end the most difficult problem facing the Minister: the intoxicated driver. He is frequently, in normal circumstances, a perfectly cautious individual but occasionally succumbs to the insidious invitation just to "have one more for the road". That accounts for the trouble after 10 o'clock. Then when he takes his place in the driving seat, partially intoxicated, though he personally does not realise it, he becomes a menace and has "an appointment with Eternity"—and not necessarily for himself alone. The Minister has been given all the powers he has requested, and I am quite sure that Parliament, both this House and the other place, would willingly grant him any further authority he would need. But this problem of intoxi- 348 cation is an intangible problem, and one that is getting worse, particuarly among the over-30 group of drivers. Here, too, the problem has been with us for a considerable time, but drastic action must be taken, in face of the increasing risk due to the ever-growing number of cars on the roads.
In addition to the comments of the recent Drew Report, the Medical Research Council have expressed their views, and a detailed investigation of the proposals under consideration in other countries, such as the "Breathalyser", is being undertaken. Though no proven conclusions have yet been agreed, we can be certain that the Ministry of Transport are determined to put the brake on this most serious cause of deaths on the road, if that can possibly be done. Each of these suggestions I have referred to for removing causes of accidents has successfully been tried elsewhere; and with our present enthusiastic Minister of Transport I hope that we may see some of them adopted here.
I have intentionally not mentioned the invaluable qualities of the Monorail for quicker transport and the ending of accidents, for my son referred to it in his maiden speech in another place a few days ago. Its possibilities are certainly remarkable. This is not, of course, the place or time to go into it, but the Monorail is the solution to many of our problems, without being directly concerned with accidents; and it would make the accident almost non-existent. Nor have I enlarged upon the great advantages enjoyed in countries where traffic engineers are retained in the same way that we require every local authority to have a public health inspector. Many big cities in America—in fact nearly all of them—must have a traffic engineer. He is an expert, and he saves time, money and accidents, and no doubt we could do a lot by having such officers here. I have seen it quoted, I think (although I am not sure of this figure), that we have only 56 traffic engineers in Great Britain. Realise what we could do if we multiplied that figure four or five times, so that every big city had a traffic engineer! Where they are employed the results are most significant. With all the knowledge and information before us, surely the cause of each death should be analysed by technical experts and a report given to the public in as 349 forcible a manner as possible, so that there is no repetition of these accidents.
My speech, although quite long for a maiden effort, is too short to review fully this most complicated subject. May I close by thanking your Lordships for your patience in listening? I am sure that all will agree that road accidents are one of the most vital of all our internal problems and must be attacked with energy, vision and speed. The cost of the cure will be great, but if we wait the problems will be multiplied appallingly, and the price, in lives, in trouble and in treasure, will become quite unthinkable.
§ 5.30 p.m.
My Lords, I know your Lordships will want me to congratulate the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat on his most interesting, well-informed and well-delivered maiden speech. It was not my good fortune to serve in another place with the noble Lord, though my late father spent some years in the other place with him, and I know that he held the noble Lord in great regard and esteem. It therefore gives me very great pleasure to be the next to speak after him to-day, and to congratulate him on a speech which, though short, was comprehensive; and I have no doubt at all that the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, will have been drinking it in avidly—though, as the noble Lord himself said, a great deal of it has of course been said before, both in another place and here. It does not lose any of its force by repetition, however: very much the reverse.
I should also like to take the opportunity of congratulating the other maiden speaker this afternoon, the noble Lord, Lord Allerton. He is a very old friend of mine; and, although the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Leicester claimed him as a Leicestershireman, he is in fact a Yorkshireman by descent. It is probably for that reason that we have heard so much hard common sense from him this afternoon. His late uncle, the late F. S. Jackson, was probably the greatest cricketer who ever captained England; and the noble Lord himself is an accomplished steeplechase rider and no mean golf opponent, as I have found to my cost on more than one occasion. I know your Lordships will want me to express the 350 hope that we shall hear from both these noble Lords on this and on other subjects in the near future.
May I now move on to the few brief remarks that I have to make? They are briefer than they would have been otherwise, since the noble Lord, Lord Allerton, with whom I had not conferred before, nearly made my speech for me, or quite a lot of it. First, I must strike a discordant note—though this is not the first time I have done this in your Lordships' House. For once, I am here to support the Government in the efforts they are making in this business of accidents on the road, because I believe that the Minister and the noble Lord opposite have this matter very much at heart, and are doing all they can, within reason, to improve the situation.
I have here a cutting from the Daily Telegraph of a few days ago, and I personally deplore what is described there as, "'Hysteria' on road toll. Panic laws feared". I do not for one moment accuse the noble Lord, Lord Elton, of being hysterical in any shape or manner. He made an excellent speech, well thought-out and reasonable; but, in my view, he perhaps exaggerated the situation. He quoted most especially from among the newspapers who have been running campaigns. There is the Daily Mail, which has been extremely outspoken, and which, in my view, has written in a rather excitable way about this matter. Panic measures serve no useful purpose whatever. They are usually redundant, and make this thing worse than ever.
Expressions such as "blood bath" have been used. My Lords, "blood bath" is a "little bit much" when one looks at the actual figures. Out of a population of well over 50 million, it cannot really be described as a "blood bath". We all naturally deplore accidents, and there is nobody who would not; but it is a question of keeping the thing in proportion, and of trying to proceed at the right speed and in the right way. Then there is the expression "The end of the road massacre", and so on. These are all expressions one hears in this connection. If they are overdone, they tend to defeat themselves. For instance, when, from time to time, the country is struck unexpectedly by an epidemic of such a simple disease as 351 influenza, and thousands of people die, certainly we read about it in the Press, but it is not suggested that the entire medical profession should be done away with and reorganised merely because of a 'flu epidemic. Some winters ago there was a very bad train accident, when many people were killed. There was a lot of publicity at the time, but it was a three-day wonder. It was soon forgotten, although a great number of lives were lost. However, this road business is different. It affects so many of us; and it is for that reason, I think, that the Press have picked on it as a "best seller".
Of course, figures can be quoted whichever way one wants. I know that the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, are correct, and were given in all good faith, but they can always be quoted this way and that. Mr. Ted Lambert was speaking at Merseyside a few days ago. He quoted Ministry of Transport figures showing that 7,300 people were killed in 1934 when the population of the country was 45 million, and when there were 2½ million vehicles on the road. That compares with the figure for 1958 of 5,970 killed, with an increased population, and when there were 7½ million vehicles on the road This was a 20 per cent. reduction in fatalities, although there were treble the number of vehicles on the road. My Lords, if Mr. Lambert, whoever he is, was able to get these figures from the Ministry of Transport, I cannot think they were misleading him; and therefore we have a rather different picture straight away.
Again, the noble Lord, Lord Elton—and I am sure he will forgive my speaking in this way, because I am trying to put this matter from every side; although, fundamentally, I agree that anything that can be done to reduce fatalities should be done, and I am sure will be done—said, "It is pace that kills". There again is an expression which is used, which is of course true, and which is often quoted. Mention was made of New Zealand, where there is now a speed limit of 50 miles an hour. Of course, there is a great deal more room in New Zealand, with their population, than there is here. In the United States, out of the 50 States there he picked specifically on the State of Connecticut, which has recently 352 lowered its speed limit. On the other hand, if he were to go on the turnpike road from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, he would find that there is a 50-mile-an-hour lane and a 70-mile-an-hour lane; and if you go at less than 70 miles an hour in that particular lane you will be in trouble, because that is the speed at which you are required to go. Again, he told us that the United States Forces in this country were setting us an admirable example by the fact that they are not allowed to exceed 50 miles an hour in Army vehicles. So far as I know, that has always applied to British Service vehicles, too: at least, it did in my day. Perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, will put me right on that point.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, may I interrupt? Perhaps the noble Lord should understand that I said that that regulation applied not only to Service vehicles but to their private cars as well.
I accept that from the noble Lord, and I quite see that he has a point there; although, if they were in plain clothes and were using a civilian car, I should have thought that it was a little difficult to enforce that regulation. However, I know that what he says is, generally speaking, desirable. But does that not lead us into the next point, Which is traffic blocks—the congestion of traffic all over the country? We have debate after debate on this subject, in which people put forward every conceivable kind of solution. Generally speaking, the slower the traffic goes, the greater the congestion. That is a mathematical fact. In other countries, as your Lordships know—in France, for instance—it is the object of the police, particularly in the cities, to get the traffic to move on, and not to slow it down all the time. Driving in Paris—it is a little difficult to get used to it at first, but when you are used to it it is quite easy—one finds there is a set rule as to lane discipline with which everybody complies, and everybody knows where he is. We have no similar rule in this country, which leads to accidents at crossroads where nobody has the right of way. In France, that is not the case. I have never understood why their rule is not put in force here. Perhaps one day it will be.
On the subject of fast and slow lanes, I think it is taking too much out of the hands of a driver to tell him how fast he 353 must go. Although there may well be a maximum speed, any driver who sees fit to go under the maximum feels that he is not breaking the law. Yesterday morning I was driving through the Mersey Tunnel, from Liverpool to Birkenhead, in the 30 m.p.h., or "fast", lane. About ten cars ahead of me there was a little family outfit, going along very slowly, with the vehicles piled up behind it, while the traffic on the "slow" lane was passing on the left side, which seemed to me rather to defeat the object of the exercise. That is just an indication of the uselessness of trying to tell drivers exactly what they should do. It is better to leave it to the good sense of the driver, and allow him to decide whether he and his vehicle are safe at 40, 50, 60 or 70 m.p.h.—because it depends on the man and on the vehicle.
The noble Lord, Lord Allerton, has said that he would like to see a road test imposed on drivers over a certain age. I definitely agree with him. He said that his eyesight was not so good as it was, and after driving this morning along A.51 and A.41 my eyesight is almost non-existent—and I am not 70 yet. A great deal has been said about teenagers driving dangerously, but I would say that a driver of 19 is a great deal safer on the road than an old gentleman of 80. If that is not so, then these young men should not be allowed to fly aircraft, navigate submarines and do other dangerous things which cost money.
The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Leicester spoke of the influence of alcohol on drivers. This is a matter which could be argued for ever. The medical profession would certainly produce statistics for us; and it is quite right that they should. But who can say that the alcoholic content of A's blood will have the same effect on A as the alcoholic content in B's blood will have on B? We all know that it is not possible to say that. We have friends to whom whisky is nothing, who can drink four or five glasses, while others become positively savage on two. We cannot legislate on this sort of thing. But in this country we seem to suffer from a complex about anything that happens in the Scandinavian countries. Anything done by Norway or Sweden is right. I have never shared this wild admiration for Scandinavia. Any legislation of this kind would be difficult to 354 enforce, and probably inconclusive. Moreover, where is it (to be done? Will people be taken off the road to the police station? Will they have to remain there for a time and then find that, having wasted an hour, they are turned loose again? Or will inspections be set up outside public-houses at five past ten to see whether customers are in a fit state to walk and will not walk straight into the street in front of a car? When we look into the full implications of this proposal, I think that it will be found to be totally impracticable.
The right reverend Prelate also mentioned that after 10 p.m. the accident rate tended to go up, and he ascribed that to the consumption of alcoholic refreshment in public-houses. I believe that darkness has something to do with it, too. Many people who can drive reasonably well in daytime are very poor drivers at night—people with indifferent eyesight or nervous, or who have windscreen wipers not working very well on wet nights. There are hundreds of reasons why night driving is much more difficult, as a rule, than day driving. I should like to make a suggestion which has not been mentioned in this debate so far; that is, that the driving test should be held in two parts. Part A should take place in daytime, and those who pass should then be tested again under night conditions. There are many people who are safe in daytime but quite incompetent drivers at night. I should like to put that suggestion forward for the consideration of the noble Lord who is going to reply.
Then there is the question of police patrols, which the noble Lord, Lord Allerton, mentioned at some length and which the noble Earl, Lord Howe (who I am sorry not to see in his place to-day, because he is a great expert in these matters), has mentioned on more than one occasion. I would disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Allerton, on one point. I think that to have motor cars, which cost money and which mean more vehicles on the roads, would be less effective than using motor-cycles. In the United States they are known as "speed cops", but I am not sure that that is quite the word for them here. The idea is that they should not only correct speeds but keep motorists to their own side of the road and help them to show some sense in driving.
355 A motorist going along at 25 miles an hour in a small car, not very new, with the windows shut, five or six people inside, all talking at the same time, and with the wireless going, and five feet out from the side of the road, is as big a menace as any racing driver ever was—even more so. Yet he is within the law, and no one can catch him. I should like to see a patrol man going up to such a motorist and saying, "If you wish to drive at that speed I cannot prevent you, but keep into the side of the road. I suggest that if you are merely looking at the view you should go off the arterial road and into one of the side roads where you can see just as well". I am not suggesting that they should be given any kind of summons. In other countries I have been at the receiving end once or twice. They should be given polite advice and help. I think that would mean that the patrol men should be not too young, because the average driver takes advice more kindly from a man in his thirties than from one in his twenties. I think there is a psychological point there. I hope to see more of these police patrols. I know that they would be an added expense, but they could do a lot of good. Recently I have seen young policemen on traffic patrol about the roads, and I only hope that they are the advance guard of a greater number of police patrol men.
I should like to mention the point of shifting loads on lorries. This is a dangerous matter. Loads of a certain type cannot help shifting if a lorry is driven persistently on the camber of the road. That is why a certain number of lorry drivers stay out from the side of the road, because they know that if they do not the load will shift in time. I am in business in a small way, and my lorry drivers tell me that the real point is one of road drainage. The old-fashioned type of road is cambered for road drainage. I hope that all the roads being built now will be drained in a different way, so that surface water can be taken away by drains on the surface of the road itself, instead of having the roads cambered, because this is a potential cause of accidents.
Finally, I have never understood why the introduction of radios into cars never caused any stir. I should have thought that, of all the distracting things when 356 driving a car, one of the worst is to have the radio right in front of you; or, worse still, your passenger fiddling with the knobs and giving you something you do not want. I cannot imagine anything more calculated to irritate you. I cannot remember that at the time radios were first fixed into cars anything much was said about it. Smoking is also a danger. If passenger or driver is smoking, the danger of fire is much higher, particularly in small cars with the engine at the back and the petrol tank at the front. If there is an accident the first thing that gets hit is the petrol tank, which explodes. If anyone is smoking, his chances of survival are slight. For that reason, nobody is allowed to smoke on public transport in the United States; they are not allowed to smoke on the buses, or even on the trains, because of the danger of fire. But here it appears that smokers have "never had it so good"; they can smoke when and where they like. I suppose it would be such an unpopular regulation that it is barely worth mentioning it. I apologise for keeping your Lordships on points some of which I have discussed before with the noble Lord who is to reply, who is invariably helpful and invariably co-operative.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ LORD SALTER
My Lords, in spite of the opening words of the last speaker, I think your Lordships will generally be as grateful to the noble Lord who introduced this Motion for his commendable restraint as for the appropriate gravity of his exposition. At this stage of the debate it is obvious that no speaker should try to cover the whole ground or do more than mention one or two points, without in any way implying that he either ignores or underestimates the importance of many other factors.
I was glad that both the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Leicester and my noble friend, Lord Bossom, in his interesting maiden speech, referred to the Report recently issued by the very impressive and authoritative Committee appointed by the British Medical Association as to the relation of alcohol to road accidents. The main conclusions in that Report, which are much too long to quote in full, are, roughly, these. First of all, what really accounts for most of the accidents in any 357 way associated with drink is not intoxication or drunkenness, or any state which in any other context would be blameable; it is having taken just enough alcohol to do two things: somewhat to slow the reaction of the driver and somewhat to increase the optimism with which he looks at any particular situation that confronts him. This Report, I think, demonstrates that conclusively. It also adds what is a relatively new and, I think, an important finding which I commend to your Lordships and to the Government—namely, thatin addition to the conventional methods, apparatus is now available for taking samples of breath from which the concentration of alcohol in the tissues can be rapidly and accurately estimated.I think that no one who has listened to the noble Lord who opened this debate or has studied the subject beforehand, as most of us have, will doubt either that the present rate of casualties and the pace at which they have of recent years been increasing is intolerable, or that there are grave defects in the present apparatus of prevention and protection. There is one other rather more general point I should like to put before your Lordships. It is regrettable that the whole machinery of prevention and protection has grown up, to the extent to which it has, as an adjunct to the criminal law. In the criminal law the court has only three methods and purposes open: one is to reform, another to punish and the third to deter. In each case the implication is that the punishment should fit the crime, in the sense of being in some way proportionate to the guilt of the individual.
In the case of motor offences and motor accidents there are two great differences. In the first place, however serious the consequence, the person at fault did not really mean that consequence. If I stab a man, I mean to kill him; but if I drive incompetently, though I may be culpable, I certainly do not mean to kill. In the second place, there is open to those dealing with this particular problem a method which is not open in the case of ordinary crimes. You cannot segregate and debar the criminal from the areas in which he may commit his crime except by imprisonment. But in the case of this particular problem, that is just what 358 you can do. The trouble arises in relation to a man in a motor car on a road, and while we should all be very much against restricting the liberty of the subject in his ordinary intercourse, it is not really a natural right in the same way to be entitled to drive a dangerous instrument upon the Queen's Highway.
I think that we ought to devise, as a supplement to the criminal law which now exists, a method of securing in some cases disqualification from driving that does not necessarily involve moral disgrace. Quite apart from the people who drive when they are drunk or with gross recklessness, a considerable number of accidents are due to what I might call accident-prone drivers; that is to say, people who, by original constitution and temperament, or possibly to some extent by later disability and age, are much more likely to be unable to deal with the emergency situations with which they are confronted as drivers. I should like to see a machinery by which, without moral disgrace, such people could be refused a renewal of licence when an accident occurs or at a certain stage in life, except after a new test of ability to drive and also perhaps a medical certificate as to fitness.
Ro.S.P.A., which was recommended to your Lordships by the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, advises:If you drink do not drive, and if you drive do not drink.If we could secure that that advice is taken; and if, in the second place, by further tests of ability to drive and medical certificates of fitness at certain ages or on the occurrence of accidents, we could remove from the roads those who cannot drive with ordinary competence, we should at last make a substantial impact on the really terrible casualty figures that now confront us.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ LORD REID
My Lords, some of the things which I should like to say have a legal background and legal implications, but I would rather speak primarily as a very ordinary motorist who has tried to keep his eyes and ears open during the last forty years, when I have been driving on the roads. I will try to make one or two practical suggestions. I claim no novelty in what I say, although I may perhaps have slightly different ideas from others. But I think that we are terribly 359 apt, on this topic, to get into generalities I and not to keep our eyes on the precise practical point which is in front of us.
I fully agree that the situation is serious and is getting more serious, and that something will have to be done about it and that very soon. I think that a large proportion of the accidents is caused by rank bad driving on the part of some motorist involved. I know there are a great many other accidents which are not caused by that, but I will not say anything about them, because I think they are a minor problem. The real, practical problem is this: how are we to instil better driving habits into those people who are at present a menace? That is the problem. It is a psychological problem and we must approach it as a human problem. It can be done, as I see it, only by a combination of persuasion and penalties, and before we try to make up our minds what kind of persuasion and what kind of penalties, I think we ought to have in front of our eyes the kind of people who at present offend and what is wrong with their driving habits.
I would myself class bad drivers, roughly speaking, in five classes. There are first of all the road hogs—not very many in number, but very conspicuous—and they are, broadly speaking, either natural cads or people who are showing off. I should not be in the least hesitant in being as tough as you like with them. But then, more dangerous than those, are the people with no road sense. I remember some years ago being driven occasionally by a professional man who was staid and sedate, and who was absolutely impeccable in his respectability and respect for the law and conventions, and everything else. But I never was more frightened than when I was in the car with him. He never drove fast—I do not suppose he ever drove as much as 45 miles per hour—but he had no road sense whatever. He would go along at a chosen pace, having no idea that what he was doing was dangerous in the sense that it might cause an accident. Just how you are going to deal with that kind of man I do not know, because it so happens that as far as I know this particular man never had an accident.
Then there is a third class, those who let their attention wander. They either 360 turn round and talk to the passengers in the back seat, or they think about what they were doing yesterday or what they are going to do to-morrow, but they do not think about what they are doing at the moment. I think that that driver is capable of reform, but it is not an easy job. Then there is the good driver who is guilty of an occasional lapse. I wonder how many of us could put our hands on our hearts and say that over the years we have never once done anything that might conceivably have caused an accident. I am afraid that I should hesitate to claim that for myself. I should, I hope, be able to claim that my lapses have been few and perhaps even venial; but that I have never had a lapse I do not believe, and I do not believe it of many other motorists either. You cannot do anything about that. I am afraid that in that case the human factor is there and always will be.
Finally, there is the drink question. I will say a little about that later on, although not a great deal, because I am in general agreement with what has been said on that matter by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Leicester. This I would say with all the emphasis that I can command: the answer is not increased penalties. All history shows that once you increase penalties beyond what public opinion will support, you do more harm than good. And the frequency with which juries acquit in cases where the evidence seems almost overwhelming shows that already public opinion is strained to the limit on that matter. After all, when you have such a small proportion of people caught and such very serious penalties, the ordinary man hesitates, and hesitates long, before he will find a person guilty. It is no good saying that people who speak in public or write for publication are stronger on the one side. Public opinion is like an iceberg, nine-tenths of it is below the surface; and if you find that an ordinary jury is jibbing, that is much more important than that a great number of public-spirited people are writing to the Press or making speeches. It is not so bad if your crime can be shown to have been proved by an objective test, but so many of these motoring offences depend on opinion, and that makes it doubly difficult to obtain convictions.
361 I believe that the real and, indeed, the only solution is to catch more offenders. After all, catching more offenders with moderate penalties is undoubtedly more effective than catching the few offenders and imposing severe penalties. I do not think it is generally realised what a minute proportion of offenders are prosecuted at present. We all argue from our own personal experience. Let me suggest this to noble Lords. I do not claim to be anything special in the way of a driver, but I suppose f must have driven somewhere near 200,000 miles, and I suppose I seldom drive a hundred miles without seeing a piece of rank bad driving which could have caused an accident. It so happens that most of my driving is on roads which are generally not straight for a quarter of a mile, and, therefore, the bad driving that I see is generally of a driver overtaking too near a corner. I would call it dangerous driving when, if you visualise a car coming round the corner just at a critical moment, at a speed not excessive—modern speeds are high—there would be a crash. I am sure that the times I have seen that—I do not want to exaggerate—must be into three figures. But I have never seen an accident. I have seen a few occasional things not caused by that, and I am quite certain that other people's experiences cannot be very different. There must be hundreds of cases of dangerous driving for every one that is caught. If we could catch even 1 per cent. or 2 per cent, of the offenders, then I believe quite moderate penalties would have a great effect. If a man knows that the odds, in the case of some of the classes of people I have talked about, against being caught are almost astronomical, being a bit of an optimist anyway he does not pay much attention.
Therefore, it seems to me the problem is how we are going to catch a bigger proportion of dangerous drivers. I think that we have to do it by having more patrols. It seems to me that if we could have a large number of people recruited into the police force who are primarily motorists and policemen second, who are experienced, who are, if you like, even men who have retired from other jobs, who can be trusted—they must be experienced motorists—and who can 362 go about in plain clothes in cars that are not obviously police cars, a great deal could be done.
But they must be well led. It would be vital that a police patrol—there must be two men together, and that rather rules out the motor cycle—must not get kudos for bringing in a big bag of reports. That is more suspicious than to be commended. And they must not get a bad mark for coming in with a blank day. There must not be prosecution unless both are convinced that there was dangerous driving; then there should be. I believe that would not only catch a lot of people but would deter an immense number of people from doing the kind of thing they do at present, and equally the decent drivers on the roads would see that these patrols were for them and not against them. That would be the suggestion I would put first for consideration. I do not see any objection to these men being in plain clothes. Detectives operate in all other spheres of enforcement of the law and they operate in plain clothes, and I see no reason why we should not have detectives on the road.
There are two other points I would mention as possibilities. One I would mention to discard. The first is of having new tests for drivers who get into difficulties of some kind. If my analysis of the kind of driver who drives dangerously is right, it is obvious that the great majority of those tested would pass the test with flying colours. The cad could easily pass the test; the inattentive man could pass the test; the drunkard would not be drunk and he would pass. You might catch a few people with no road sense—not many—and that is about all. It would certainly turn off the road a number of perfectly good drivers who fail from nervousness. I believe you would have public opinion against you if you tried this system of tests, either routine or whenever anybody has got into trouble.
What I should like to do is to have another look taken by the Ministry at this problem of the accident-prone person. I have seen little about it in public lately and I do not profess to be knowledgeable about it. I am not sure that even the Ministry can accumulate completely satisfactory information, because there must be a lot of people who have 363 accidents but do not report them; they do not want to make a claim on the insurance company. It is a very difficult problem, because a man may have three accidents in a row and may be completely blameless. If he has six in a row it is a little difficult to believe he is blameless. You might turn somebody off the road who is being rather ill used. But I think we might have to take the risk of that at the end of the day.
The problem, to my mind, is to see first of all what the facts are (I do not think one can get them very easily); have a good deal more discussion on the problem than has occurred up to date; and then see whether we cannot devise some fair system of dealing with the matter. I would say—perhaps I have covered the point already—with regard to the point of my noble friend Lord Salter, that I do not think that the accident-prone would fail to pass the test. I think that very often those people are perfectly good drivers, but it is either inattention or something like that which causes them to lapse too often, and I think that if they were made to take the driving test you would catch very few. That is another reason why I do not think the test of driving would really do much good.
I have no other suggestions to make on that matter, but I would, in conclusion, say a few words on the subject of drink, as to which I speak with some trepidation. I do not believe that there is any real solution until you get an objective test of some kind, because so much depends on opinion. Everybody knows that so many people get home without being caught that public opinion will not punish severely the one man in a hundred or a thousand who is caught, particularly when it depends so much upon opinion. Therefore I say this: if the scientists—and it is a big "if"can produce the right test of an objective character, I would give it a try. The test would not be a test for drunkenness but a test for how much alcohol you had in your system, and the offence would be having that amount of alcohol in your system.
If you were a hard-headed person who could carry that amount of alcohol you would have to restrain your drinking propensities in the public interest. It might be some hardship, but if a man who can 364 take four drinks quite easily is allowed to take only two I do not think it is too severe a sacrifice, and he will not be able to excuse himself because he was perfectly fit at the time. But you must have this: that the public know just how much they can drink before exceeding the limit under the system, and the test must be such that nobody is going to be convicted who has drunk only the amount which is publicly stated as being permissible. Unless you can get it as cut and dried as that, you dare not introduce the test. But if the scientists can prove that they can make it as cut and dried as that, I would introduce the test.
I do not believe that drink is by any means the most common cause of accidents. Accidents occur at times of day when few people are under the influence of drink. It is a common cause, but rank bad driving when sober is much worse, and I would try to concentrate on that. If my suggestions or anybody else's suggestions are revolutionary, that does not shock me a bit, because I feel that, whether we like it or not, the time is not far distant when something revolutionary will be forced on the Government. What I am really concerned about is that the remedies which we try out first should not be revolutionary in the wrong way. They should not lose public support, and they will lose public support if they are unfair or unjust to the individual. It is all very well asking the individual to restrict his drinking, although in this case it might not do him much harm; but if you are going to bring in some remedy which is going to penalise people very severely, take away their licence and livelihood for two or three years, without its being proved up to the hilt that they deserve it, then I think you will fail; you will do more harm than good.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Salter that with, say, an accident-prone man you can take away his licence although he is not morally guilty, because he can be shown to be an unusual danger on the roads. But you cannot take away people's licences for individual things unless the offence is of such a gravity that public opinion will support you. Therefore I hope that, rather than stiffen up the penalties and take licences away, and all that kind of thing, a really energetic attempt will be made to catch more offenders. It could be done, and it 365 would not cost a great deal. There are people about who could be recruited into a corps for the purpose. I do not see how any motorist could object if he were convicted on the evidence of two men who had been driving for years and years in a civilian capacity.
§ LORD SALTER
My Lords, might I interrupt my noble friend to ask one question? The only case of which I personally know where there are police patrols in private clothes is that in which the authority concerned has thought it necessary to put up big notices telling the motorist that the police are in private clothes. That must obviously greatly reduce their chance of success. I wonder whether he would think that that was really legally necessary or desirable.
§ LORD REID
We in Parliament can make anything legally unnecessary if we choose. I should think it highly undesirable. I know the county council concerned. The only excuse I can see is that the notice is there and perhaps frightens the people when the patrol is not there. It may be that there is some justification for that. But people will soon get to know that the notices are—
§ LORD REID
I do not think so. I think it is blunting the edge of their weapon. I do not say it is intolerable at all. I do not believe that public opinion would have the slightest hesitation in approving "Q" cars provided it is known that the people who are operating them are doing it reasonably and sensibly and will prosecute only if, in the opinion of two seasoned motorists, there is a cast-iron case.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ LORD UVEDALE OF NORTH END
My Lords, in the first place I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on again bringing forward this subject. We had a full debate on June 10 of last year. I regret to say that during the last twelve months the casualties have shown an increase and not a decrease, and one is tempted to conclude from that that no effective ways of reducing these casualties have been applied up to now. When we glance at these figures and find that the number of injured in 1958 was 299,767, 366 and that the number injured in 1959 was 333,453—an advance of 33,686—it seems as though we need not wait, as a previous speaker has suggested, for these figures to mount further before we are compelled to drastic action. There would seem to be plenty of reason—I will not say excuse—for taking drastic action at the present time.
In the last debate it was clearly stated by a number of noble Lords that these accidents are due almost entirely to the human factor. No doubt a few are due to the roads and a few are due to mechanical defects in cars. With regard to roads, millions of pounds are now being spent in improving roads; and with regard to cars, we hope that shortly there will be an official inspection of them. But when the road question has been dealt with, and when the mechanical defects of the cars have been dealt with, it seems as though far and away the greater number of accidents will continue to depend on the human factor. Roads and vehicles may be regarded as predisposing factors introducing these accidents, rather than the deciding factor.
In the last debate we were given some information, taken from the Ministry of Transport records, as to how these accidents occurred. There were 19,000 by motorists turning to the right; 19,000 that involved pedestrians; 17,000 that occurred at cross-roads; 13,000 were put down to errors of judgment as to distance and speed, and 11,000 were put down to just plain inattention. In what way do the drivers fail and so bring about these almost innumerable accidents? It is a question either of some faulty action or failure to act—one or the other—that results in the disaster. There are careless drivers; there are drivers who believe in speed for speed's sake; there are dangerous drivers; there are drivers who drive under the influence of drink or drugs; and there are drivers who, by reason of mental or physical infirmity, are quite unfit to drive at all.
On our last discussion of this matter on June 10, 1959, many noble Lords thought that a more rigorous application of the law as it now stands was called for, and I must say that I am in agreement with that opinion. It is notorious that in some ways the law is not being 367 carried out at the present time. There is a school opposite the house where I live and in the road there is a large "Slow" sign; but no motorist ever slows down there, and two-thirds of the motorists who pass my house exceed the speed limit. That is known to the local magistrates and the police, but the answer—and I think it is quite a genuine and reasonable one—is that the police are doing all they can but they cannot be constantly checking traffic on that particular road.
In the last discussion in your Lordships' House many noble Lords felt that the punishments applied to those convicted were applied too mildly. I remember my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth pointing out that of those reported for exceeding the speed limit, less than 1 per cent. were fined; and that of those who committed graver faults the penalties applied were only 6 per cent. to 9 per cent. of the maximum allowed. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, spoke on the same lines. That may be quite true, for those who pointed this out were of great experience. Apart from failure to carry out the law, however, there are certain modifications of the law which would be helpful. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, suggested that those found guilty of causing injury to others should themselves be made to pay part of the damages. I should like that done, but in this way: damages sustained should be fully met by the insurance company and the insurance company should then have power to collect a proportion from the guilty party. The reasons for that will be appreciated by the gentlemen of the law.
Other suggestions have been made. It could be made an offence for a motorist to turn his vehicle to the right without giving proper warning, to pass another motorist within a few yards of a zebra crossing or to have more than a certain proportion of alcohol in his blood. I am glad that this question of alcohol has been so clearly brought forward in this debate. My own view is that a licence to drive a motor car should not be given to any person under the age of 21. To my mind the age of 17 is much too low. It seems to me, too, that motor cars capable of very 368 high speeds—100 miles an hour or more—should not be allowed on our roads.
To my mind the best suggestion for reducing these casualties is one that has already been brought forward in this debate: that there should be observation by officials or police over our main roads. My own view is that a Commissioner should be appointed whose business it would be to devote himself entirely to the control of accident prevention. He should be given a corps of police to assist him, and these men should make observation as to traffic and inquire into every serious accident. I believe that if that were done we should see, before long, a real reduction in the number of these casualties.
§ 6.38 p.m.
My Lords, we have now listened to eleven speeches which have threshed out most aspects of this subject, and I am bound to say that I rather agree with those noble Lords who have seen some virtue in the motor driver and have not been all condemnation. I myself take the view that, on the whole, the majority of motor drivers in this country do their best to be careful; and when one thinks of the enormous number of vehicles scuffling about these winding roads, at all hours of the day and night, it is surprising that there are not more accidents than there are. But, of course, that is not to say for a moment that we do not all desire that there should be fewer accidents; and I wish to speak to your Lordships for a few minutes from an angle different from any which has yet been taken in this debate—from the point of view of the insurance companies.
I must declare an interest here, because I am chairman of the Guardian group of insurance companies and therefore perhaps speak with some little knowledge on this subject. It is notorious that motor business is an extremely unprofitable department of insurance companies' work, and we are therefore extremely anxious that the toll of accidents should be reduced. Various speakers have said that it is pace that kills. One or two speakers have rather pooh-poohed that, but I believe that any insurance man would agree that it is excessive pace more than any other factor, perhaps, which is the cause 369 of accidents; and if speed were a little more limited than it is, in proportion the toll of accidents would improve. It would be a rather difficult thing to bring about, because the great advertisement of all the competing motor-car companies is the speed of the vehicles they turn out, and to ask them to turn round in the opposite direction would be by no means easy.
But another potent cause of accidents is momentary carelessness. The remedy which I should like to see adopted for that is to make the driver, the insured person, more liable than he is for the cost of the accident. I am not speaking now of a fatal accident, only of one that causes damage to his car or damage to some other car with which he may collide. I feel that there is sometimes an element of carelessness in driving nowadays because of the thought, "Oh well, the insurance company will pay. I pay my premium every year: let them pay." But if the driver had to bear the first £25 of the cost of any accident which occurred to his car, I think that would induce in the general driving public a good deal of additional carefulness. How that would affect the companies I do not know. I do not speak with any authority on the subject. Probably the "no claim" bonuses to which insurers are entitled if they have no accident would be increased, and that would benefit the insurers. I think there would be many fewer claims on the companies. That, of course, would benefit the companies. And I think that garages, perhaps, would be more careful in their charges if they knew that the insured person would have to pay the first £25 for any damage which occurred. I see that the chairman of the Royal Insurance Company said in his annual speech that there is no ground for the opinion that many garages are, shall we say, very extravagant in their charges if they think that an insurance company is going to pay. I hesitate to contradict such a notable authority as the chairman of the Royal, but I think that a good many insurance men would not agree with him.
But, my Lords, what I wanted to say is that the insurance companies cannot adopt this suggestion of mine on their own. They are prevented by competition between themselves and with Lloyd's, 370 and so forth, even if they agree with what I say. I have no authority to speak for them, of course, but I think that what I am saying is an opinion pretty generally held in the insurance world. They will not take the step I have mentioned unless it is imposed upon them by Statute. If legislation compelled the owner of a car, the insured person, to bear the first £25—I take that figure just as an illustration—on any accident that occurred, I think that would induce very much more care in driving. The sum might be graduated. We might say £20 for a cycle or small car, £40 for a medium and faster car, and £60 for a big car. We might also introduce a sum in respect of an accident to a third party: say that the first £50 (or some other figure) of the cost of the damage caused to a third party should be payable by the insured person.
I recognise that there would be a difficulty to be overcome where an accident occurs to an insured person through no fault of his own. If my oar is standing by the side of the road and someone else comes and runs his car into it and does it £50 worth of damage, it seems rather bad luck that I should be called upon to pay the first £25 of that £50. However, that is the sort of thing which would have to be thought out if any such measure were introduced and the difficulty would have to be surmounted in some way. The only point I want to leave with your Lordships is that if every insured person, including the motor-cyclist, knew that he had to bear the first considerable sum of the cost of any accident which occurred to him, I think that the standard of driving, which I now maintain is on the whole good, would become much more careful even than it is.
§ 6.47 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CARLISLE
My Lords, nearly everything has been said that I hoped to say. Indeed. I felt almost inclined to withdraw from this debate, but I came a long way to support the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and I should not feel quite happy going back without at any rate having said something in support of the Motion.
The first point that I should like to emphasise is that this problem is a great social evil, the gravity of which has not yet been fully accepted by the people of 371 this country. I call it a social evil because it is killing so many of our citizens and maiming quite seriously upwards of 100,000 of them every year. And it is a social evil that arises out of prosperity. We are familiar with the social evils that arose out of poverty and exploitation, and we look back with horror to some of the things that happened to young people and others in the nineteenth century. But here in the twentieth century, with full prosperity, we are killing and maiming a great many British citizens every day; and, somehow or other, our people do not yet realise how grave this is. Therefore, a debate on this subject in your Lordships' House is always of value, in that it draws public attention to what can only be described as a public disgrace. When I use those strong terms I am blaming myself and people like me as much as those who have experienced accidents. But it is a matter for all of us now to make people more aware that we regard this thing as a great evil.
When it comes to remedies, your Lordships have heard a great many suggestions. I want to say a word about speed, because I am convinced that it is a very considerable factor in road accidents, and I should like to support those who plead for a limitation of speed. The principle was resisted and rejected 25 or 26 years ago. I can remember a great outcry about it. But it was accepted; it was applied. The 30 m.p.h. limit has been in operation, and people know that it is beneficial. I think, however, that it was applied to many roads where it was not necessary, and I am glad to think that now in many roads approaching towns there will be a 40 m.p.h. and not a 30 m.p.h. limit. But the 30 will stand, and the 40 will sand. Why not a 50? Why not a 60? I should like to see an appropriate speed applied to every ordinary road, though I would exempt the motorway, at any rate for the present, from any limitation of speed. It is not too much to ask people to travel at a speed which is regarded as making for safety in the circumstances. It is a limitation which the citizens of most other countries where motor cars are in abundance have to accept.
Is it realised that we have, I suppose, as dense a population as any country? And I am told that the motor traffic density in this country is greater than 372 that of any other. Because of that, I think we shall have to be prepared for limitations which might not be necessary were we not so prosperous as we are, which prosperity has enabled so many people to get what we are all glad to see them have—the privilege and opportunity of enjoying the ownership of a car. Let us be quite clear about that. I rejoice at the prosperity, and I rejoice that so many people are able to have this privilege and this pleasure. But all privileges carry with them responsibilities, and there is a corporate responsibility to see that this enjoyment is had without causing undue suffering to a great many of our fellow citizens.
The second thing that I should like to say a word about is this. I thought that I had kept one point that would be my very own, but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Reid, stole it from me a few minutes ago. Nevertheless, let me emphasise it. Whilst I do not want to exaggerate the influence of drink on driving, I believe that it has a bigger effect on road accidents than any statistics suggest. I believe that there are many prosecutions that might well have been prosecutions for driving under the influence of drink but for the fact that it is so hard to prove and to get a conviction, so that the charge has been changed to that of driving to the danger of the public, or some similar charge. Without exaggerating the contribution that drink makes to road accidents, I believe that we have to deal with it as an important factor; and I do not believe that we shall ever be able to deal with it until there is, as the noble Lord, Lord Reid, said, an objective chemical test that is independent of opinion. If science can give to us that test, and can assure us that it is objective and reliable; and if medical science can assure us that alcohol above a certain percentage in a human body renders the person less capable of driving than he ought to be, then I believe we shall have something that is clear and definite and will commend itself to the large majority of our people. Only then would it be possible to legislate with any hope of success.
I believe that the vast majority of British people would accept such a test, and would say to themselves, "Now we 373 know that if we take more than x of alcohol we are making ourselves dangerous to the public". The vast majority of people would accept it; and in the case of those who would not, I think we should all agree that there should be a very clear, definite and quite severe penalty for that offence. The only penalty that is really a penalty is the suspension of licence; and I know of no penalty that fits the crime so well, for it is a penalty in itself and it takes a dangerous driver off the road for the time being.
The submission to a clinical test, or the limitation of speed, would, of course, be a restriction on the freedom of the individual. But must we not be ready for such a restriction, living in a country so densely populated, and with such a high density of motor traffic? In face of the present carnage on the roads, every citizen must be prepared for a restriction of freedom in the cause of safety on the highway. Legislation is needed, and it can do much; but it cannot do anything like enough. Legislation without self-discipline will always fail—and here I get back to the simple truth: that I believe the vast majority of people would exercise that self-discipline if they were given the clear assurance that any tests or any regulations made were in the interests of the community as a whole. In passing, I would say that I think that public opinion is a tremendously important factor in this problem. I believe that if we could convince the public that drinking above a certain level was dangerous, it would be accepted. Perhaps that invitation, "One for the road", might be frowned on by more people. I know that it is well meant, but I do not think it can be regarded as the invitation of a responsible person. For "one for the road" may mean one for the grave.
Lastly, my Lords, let me say this. We were, I think, gratified that the casualty list for Easter was lower than was expected. For after Christmas there were great fears that, when all the cars came out at Easter, the casualty list would be much higher. I believe that we were saved from that to a considerable extent by the wonderful prominence which the national and provincial Press gave to the need for road safety; and here I should like to pay tribute to the Press for the contribution they have made to road safety during the Easter 374 vacation. I should like to hope that, from time to time, without harping on the obvious, they will do something similar, so that they may be one of the powerful agencies forming a public opinion that will regard the casualties in this country from motoring as a great national disgrace, and an offence to God and man.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER
My Lords, I am sure that it is not necessary in any way to emphasise the gravity of this topic, but perhaps I may remind your Lordships that during the five years from 1940 to 1944 about 58,000 civilians in this country were killed by enemy action and we are now killing at rather more than half that rate without the help of any external foe. The other aspect of this matter which is particularly deplorable is the extent to which motoring offences breed disregard for the law. It is well known that well over half the cases now tried in our courts are cases in which motoring offences are concerned. We are all greatly disturbed by the increase in crime, but it is a fact that between 1957 and 1958, even with the low level of prosecutions which we have, motoring offences of all kinds increased about twice as fast as convictions for indictable crimes.
At this later hour, I want only to make a few concrete suggestions. They will relate, first, to changes in the law; secondly, to the enforcement of the law, and thirdly, to the part to be played by the courts. So far as changes in the law are concerned, I would preface any remarks I make by upholding the principle that it is useless to pass further motoring legislation unless we intend, and unless we are in a position, to enforce it. There is no magic in filling the Statute Book. That, in itself, will not reduce our casualties. But I think that there are a few specific changes that might be made.
The first for which I would ask is that the offence of failing to report an accident or not stopping after an accident might be made one for which a licence could be suspended. This is not a matter of bad judgment or of imperfect driving skill. Failure to report or stop after an accident is a straightforward piece of sheer irresponsible behaviour. Here may I quote one case which came before 375 my own Bench this very week? A man habitually parks his car, as many do, in the road outside his house. His son, a fully qualified driver, takes it into his head to take the car for a drive. He has a collision with a motor cyclist—and let me make it perfectly clear that no blame has been assigned to either party, for the reason that we have no evidence about what occurred—and the motor cyclist is injured so seriously that he subsequently dies. The young man panics, parks the car round the corner, goes home and says nothing about it. In the morning, the car is missing. The owner rings the police to say that it has been stolen and inquiries are set afoot. The car is finally traced and, for technical reasons I need not go into, it is plain that it is the car that was involved in this accident. Eventually the young man's conscience gets the better of him and he tells his father it was he and not someone else who was involved in the accident. He pleads guilty and is dealt with by the court. But there is no power to prevent that young man from driving again immediately.
Secondly, I would ask that a disqualification might be imposed before the third offence of exceeding the speed limit. May I again quote a case from my own experience? A boy of 16 rides his motor bike down the Westminster Embankment at 50 m.p.h. He is seen and stopped, brought to the court and fined. A fortnight later he does it again, and by some miraculous good chance he is again seen, stopped and brought to court, and fined somewhat more heavily. But he will have to do it a third time before he can be prevented from committing the same offence.
I should like to ask—and here I touch on something that is my very own and which is a little more revolutionary—that an endorsement on a licence should mean something. I do not think that we recognise that endorsement has no meaning at all. Convictions are recorded, and in the event of a subsequent offence they will be counted. An endorsement merely records in the owner's licence the fact that he has committed the offence or brings it to the attention of a police officer who may stop him on some subsequent occasion. But there are places in the world where it does mean something, and "ticks up" marks which 376 eventually lead to automatic disqualification. It seems to me that either we should not have endorsement or it should have a real meaning. While dealing with changes in the law, I would ask that the age at which a licence to ride a motor cycle is issued should be raised. As the statistics show, the motor cycle is one of the most lethal of our motor vehicles, and it is quite absurd that the age at which this engine may be used is lower than that required for driving a car. It is actually, I am sure, much more difficult to ride a motor cycle than to drive a car.
Then perhaps I may say a word on the subject of drink, which has often been mentioned. I think it important to keep one's head about drink as it is always to keep one's head above drink, if one can. I believe that the time has come when we could gain from using an objective test of the amount of alcohol in the system. This would make some reduction, but not perhaps so great a reduction as might be hoped, in the total volume of accidents. Primarily its value would be to make it possible to deal with offenders much more justly and efficiently. I know that it is true, and anyone who studies the facts can have no doubt, that the consumption of even small quantities of alcohol impairs the judgment and the finer co-ordinations. It is also true that these small differences are not numerically a very large cause of accidents. Most good drivers drive with a larger margin of safety than that which is impaired by a very small consumption of alcohol.
Perhaps I might refer here to what seems to me to be a most striking piece of evidence. It is from an inquiry in Toronto, the results of which are summarised in the Medical Research Council's recent Report. In this inquiry an attempt was made to check on the blood-alcohol level of drivers involved in accidents and of other drivers who passed in the neighbourhood at the same time, so that the conditions—time of day and so forth—were substantially the same. It was found that up to a level of 100 milligrammes of blood alcohol, there was very little difference between the proportion involved in accidents and those not so involved. When it went from 100 to 150 milligrammes the proportion of accident drivers with that level of alcohol in their blood was twice as great as the proportion of those who had no 377 accident, and when it went Ito 150 milligrammes and above, the proportion was eight times as great, which is surely a very significant figure.
Nevertheless, if we are going to impose a law of this kind, again I would say it is essential that we should be in a position to enforce it. I am doubtful whether the machinery for its enforcement would be adequate. I think it would result in the locking of a good many stable doors after the horses had escaped, because people will not believe that they are going to have accidents. They will risk being slopped so long as they are not inebriated to a point which is likely to show in their ordinary driving. But what this kind of test would do would be to discourage improper acquittals, if one may so describe them. It would make it very much easier for juries to decide which were and which were not bona-fide cases. It is not quite fair to juries to take the view that the high proportion of acquittals of cases that go to trial—it is about 44 per cent.—is due merely to the sympathetic feeling of the jury for the accused person. It is very often genuinely due to the difficulty of arriving at a conclusion.
That is all I want to say about changes in the law, and now I would say a few words about enforcement. The real difficulty in motoring cases is to get good evidence (and I shall want to say a word or two about that when I speak on road courts), but I think we could improve our evidence, and not only by the use of patrols. There are mechanical means for recording the speed of passing motor vehicles and there is the possibility of using photographic evidence. I think, particularly in regard to traffic signs and speeding, we ought to make the fullest possible use of these mechanical devices, thereby saving manpower and getting objective proof that an offence has been committed.
I should like also—and again this is a point which I think is my very own—to plead that in those places where overtaking is at all times dangerous it should be prevented by the simple use of a physical obstacle. The noble Lord who spoke earlier, in his delightful maiden speech referred to the use of tar barrels for this purpose, in the Belgian Congo. It is not necessary to use anything so formidable as tar barrels. It is perfectly 378 possible to put, instead of a double white line which can be crossed, a small kerb in the middle of the road. Nor is it any answer to say that in the event of a breakdown this would hold up traffic, because it is possible to use a detachable kerb which can be removed on the authority of the police. It is a great pleasure to me that in the Hook underpass this has in fact been done, and I can see no reason why it should not be done in any place where at present a double white line is painted on the road. A double white line means no passing in any direction at any time. Therefore I think there can be no excuse for not making this physically impossible.
Finally, may I speak about the road courts?—and here I speak as a magistrate who has had occasion to try with my colleagues a considerable number of motoring offences. There is a constant demand for heavier penalties, but I think that many of those who ask for heavier penalties do not envisage the great difficulty of trying motoring cases. The problem is aggravated by the fact that the easiest cases to try are usually the least serious. In a housebreaking case it is reasonably obvious what has occurred: somebody has broken in, and you can see it; somebody has stolen articles, and the articles are missing; the only problem is to find out who was the man who did it. In a case of dangerous driving, or indeed of bad driving of any kind, it is extremely difficult to get good evidence. Sometimes we speak as though magistrates sit at the side of the road waiting to see dangerous drivers and then let them off with far too light penalties. The task of magistrates would be a great deal easier if that were so; but it is not the case. It is only in the less serious motoring cases that proof is generally easy. Here I would remind your Lordships that the improperly parked car is unique among criminals in that it alone waits patiently to be caught. But that is not so of the driver. And the dangerous driver is not even, as a rule, taken in the act. The act is normally inferred from what has happened afterwards; because it is quite exceptional, although it does happen, for cases to be brought unless there has been an accident.
Nevertheless, there are two or three points on which I think the courts could 379 do more. The first relates to persons who have already been disqualified. Persons who have already been disqualified by court order and who are subsequently found driving must, under our present law, be sent to prison, unless there are special reasons. But the courts must find special reasons very easily, because 1,708 people were found guilty of this offence in 1958 and only 988 were sent to prison; that is to say, something like 42 per cent. of them apparently had special reasons for driving when they had been disqualified by court order. In some other cases the courts seem unduly reluctant to use the weapon of disqualification. Parking in a dangerous position is an offence for which proof is perfectly easy; it is not, in that respect, like the difficult driving cases. There were some 2,000 prosecutions for parking in a dangerous place in 1958, and not one of the persons was disqualified. Speeding, again, can be proved. There were over 88,000 convictions for exceeding the speed limit in a built-up area, and only 260 of the drivers were disqualified.
Finally, I think the courts are weak in restoring licences to persons who have been disqualified. In 1958, of those who were disqualified for periods of up to two years, some 3,300 applied for the disqualification to be subsequently waived. Nearly 55 per cent. of those applications were successful. This seems to make a mockery of the suspension of licence imposed in the first instance. In cases where the disqualification was imposed for life, out of 8 applications for cancellation of the suspension, 6 were successful.
Those are, I think, rather modest suggestions, but taken in the aggregate they might do something. I would still say, however, that dangerous driving is a matter of judgment and of consideration. Those two factors outweigh all the others that have been mentioned here this afternoon, and, therefore, the burden rests, as we said it rested in our last debate on this topic, upon the motorists themselves. Here I think we can say there has been a considerable movement of public opinion, for which perhaps our debates may claim some small credit and for which I think the Press, even though it sometimes is hysterical on this subject, may claim 380 some credit, too. I think opinion is moving, and the vital factor that has to change is the impatience and the lack of consideration of probably quite a small proportion of the motoring public.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
My Lords, I am sure that even at this late hour your Lordships will forgive me if you think I am being rather perverse by taking a somewhat different line from some of the other speakers who have gone before me. I am sure that no civilised person would deny that our road casualties should be reduced, but I feel that in the last few months there has been what I would call a complete hysteria about this subject. This is a matter in which it is important to get public opinion on your side, and I do not believe that the emotional approach is the right one. I think it is important to state the facts, and these are issued by the Ministry of Transport. If one studies the facts, they do not show such a bad picture as some would try to make out. I do not think it is the slightest use for the public to be told the whole time about the ever-increasing road accidents, when that simply is not true. A person no less than the President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said in his Presidential address last year:We can be proud of the fact that Great Britain is the only country in the world which has reduced traffic accidents over the last 25 years.In fact, our casualty figures in this country are the envy of such countries as France, Germany, and the United States. Our accident rate per 100,000 population has gone down tremendously since before the war.
The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, although I do not think he meant to do so, gave the impression that child accident figures have gone up. In fact, they have been halved since 1945, which is something for which he, with many others, can take credit. The point I am trying to make is that the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and others have been rewarded, and I should like to pay tribute to them on the fact that the casualties have not gone up in the way they would have done had those efforts not been made. I do not believe that telling people wrong facts is going 381 to help in this matter. Our road casualties are bad, but the fact is that if it were not for the measures being taken by the Government and by all these societies who do such hard work, they would have been far worse. It is no good crying, "Wolf, wolf!" the whole time to the general public, because they will get hardened, and no campaign will have the slightest effect.
Take the question of speed. I think that from the year 1960 one very strong point will emerge. I confidently expect that the casualty figures on M.1, which was so wrongly named "the murder way" when it was first opened, will show a tremendous reduction over the previous year. Here is a road which was built for speed, and I hope that noble Lords who have admitted in this House that they have never been on that road will try it, because I think they will realise what a tremendous contribution such roads can make towards reducing road casualties.
I do not wish to go on too long, and I have only four main points to make. I am sure all people will agree that this is now a national problem of great importance. I do not believe that Parliament gives the Minister of Transport enough powers to deal with this problem in a national way. I, for one, would support any measures the Minister cares to introduce into Parliament to give him more powers to bring more uniformity in the way of street lighting, double white lines, and so on. The second point is this. The sum of £600 million is taken from the motorist each year, and only 17 per cent. is spent on new roads. This is an absolutely absurd situation and one for which no Government is alone responsible. This has been going on for years. At last roads are being built, and there is no doubt that this is having a great effect on saving lives.
Thirdly, there is the question of education. I hope that in the Minister's new road safety campaign, which is to go on during the next few months, he will not be squeamish. A few years ago we had an excellent poster called "The Black Widow" which had to be taken down because of protests. Let us have more exhibitions like that run by the Daily Mirror, which is a first-class show and will shock people into realising what is going on. I think the Minister can 382 well stick up for himself, but I resent the attack made on the Minister from the Opposition Front Bench. I think he is doing a wonderful job. I think that any publicity he gives to this subject should be applauded. So far as his presence on Panorama last week is concerned, I thought he did a wonderful job. If the person who was interviewing him did not know his facts, then he should have done.
I want to say one other thing. I think the Government and all the other organisations are doing a good job. I believe they need to study why they have been successful, rather than try to find more ways of restricting traffic. They should introduce further measures to make those successes more effective before they start introducing thousands of other measures. Perhaps I could leave one thought with your Lordships. The right reverend Prelate said, quite rightly, that this is a great social evil. Six thousand people were killed on the roads last year. But I think it puts things slightly in proportion when we realise that 8,000 people were killed in the home. Do we have people asking for a Minister of Home Safety? Do we have campaigns, except, again, in the Daily Mirror, about inflammable night-clothes? I wonder how many accidents are caused in the home by drink—I think a good many. I believe that, with a little less emotion and a little more constructive thinking on this problem; a little less crying, "Wolf, wolf!" and a little more study of the facts which are there, this situation would improve.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, the immediate causes of road accidents are many and various, but there is no question, I think, that one of the great underlying causes of road accidents in this country is the hopelessly congested state of the roads. No doubt some of the principal periods when the roads are in their most over-congested state are the times of national holidays. Indeed, the Automobile Association stated the other day that in their opinion this Easter most of the 6¾ million motor cars and motorcycles licensed in this country were out upon the roads.
Most of the national holidays, of course, are to be encouraged, because of their association with the great religious 383 festivals. But there is one great national holiday, August Bank Holiday, which does not have this association. It so happens that August Bank Holiday is, without doubt in most years, the worst Bank Holiday for congestion upon the roads. First of all, it usually enjoys the best weather of all the Bank Holidays; secondly, there are the normal Bank Holiday crowds upon the roads; and, thirdly, there are all those people travelling who have striven to tack the August Bank Holiday upon one end or other of their summer fortnight's holiday. So you there have perhaps the greatest congestion of the whole year over the August Bank Holiday week-end. Quite apart from the danger upon the roads inherent in that it means the most frightful discomfort for an enormous number of road users. It is sad to think of so many of the hard-working people of this country being condemned to spend long hours in traffic jams, with the August sun blazing down upon a steel roof a few inches over their heads. The modern motor car is no place in which to spend time at a standstill under a blazing sun.
The August Bank holiday was instituted many years ago, I believe by Act of Parliament, at a time when, apart from the Whit Monday, it was the only summer holiday that many people had; so that it filled the long felt need. But whether that still applies, and whether there is a social need for August Bank Holiday in these days of the five-day week and holidays with pay, is surely open to doubt. I do not stand for depriving hard-working people of the holidays which they have earned and deserve, and if people to-day still really need one more day's earmarked summer holiday, let them still have it. But let them have it when they feel inclined to have it. Let them have it either as one isolated day's holiday or, as so many people do now, tacked on to one end or other of their normal summer holiday. But let them do it when they like, so that there can be a much better staggering of the holiday period and we can get away from this fixation whereby people's summer holidays must be taken either in the last fortnight in July or in the first fortnight in August.
That is getting a little away from the subject under discussion in this debate, although there can be no doubt at all, 384 I think, that the staggering of holidays would play a notable part in reducing the congestion at peak times upon our roads. It will no doubt be said that there are certain sporting events which are time-honoured fixtures and which must take place on August Bank Holiday; but there are many sporting events in the calendar all of which contrive to draw their crowds of devotees without the necessity of a national holiday for the purpose. I should like to see an experimental period during which August Bank Holiday as such was abolished; a period lasting until such time as the road system of this country is capable of coping properly with the volume of Bank Holiday traffic which it will be required to bear when the time comes, possibly, to reintroduce the August Bank Holiday, if the experimental abolition has proved a failure, which I do not think will be proved.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
My Lords, I should hesitate to follow the line upon which the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, has just concluded his remarks, but I have been exceedingly interested in what he was saying. My primary object in having sat through this debate to-day was to listen and to learn, and the speeches which we have heard from all quarters have provided some exceedingly interesting comments to one in my position. I was grateful for the opportunity of intervening in the debate, if only for a short time, in order to offer some comments as the Chairman of the Standing Joint Committee of the motoring organisations. We share to the full the feelings which have been expressed concerning casualties on the roads. I think it quite likely that they are brought home to us almost more than to most organisations, apart from the Royal Society, because of the intimate contact which we have with so many of the people whose families suffer as a result of these accidents.
If any one solution could be found that would eliminate the risk of accidents on the roads, I know that is one subject upon which every motorist and every expert (as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, has referred to the Members of this House in this capacity) would agree; and there would be no hesitation whatever in accepting it. We have regularly as a standing item upon our agenda 385 the consideration of road safety matters. Yet one thing which does arise—and I think it has arisen in the course of this debate—is that there is no one solution because there is no one cause. Road accidents arise from a multiplicity of causes, and I feel sure that even the analytical legal mind of my noble and learned friend, Lord Reid, would accept that in seeking to define the basic causes of the accidents it is exceedingly difficult to apply the results of his analysis to any practical solutions.
For that reason I think it is necessary for us to try to break down the causes, in order to see the matter in its proper perspective. The thing which causes us such great anxiety is the reversal of the trend which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, and the noble Lord who spoke after her, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu: the reversal, or the apparent reversal, of the trend of the improvements in the statistics. Perhaps I may refer to some figures quoted earlier in the debate by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and amplify them somewhat. It is true that in 1932, if we can go back as far as that, there were only 2¼ million vehicles upon the roads, and during that year there were 206,000 casualties in the way of injuries and 6,667 deaths. I appreciate that a comparison between accidents and the number of vehicles is not a good basis of comparison, but it is the only one we have at the present time, and the only one we shall have until the records of the Road Research Laboratory, who are working upon a comparison between accidents and traffic mileage on the roads, have arrived at a sufficiently comprehensive state to give us a better form of comparison than we have at the present time.
In 1957 we had just. under 7¼ million vehicles on the roads, compared to just under 2¼ million in 1932, but the number of injured had risen only from 206,000 to 268,000, a very modest increase for a very substantial increase in the number of vehicles. The number killed was actually less: the figure I gave for 1932 was 6,667, whereas in 1957 it was 5,550. Then in 1959 (I think some of the figures have been referred to) the number of vehicles had risen to over 8½ million and the number of injured to 326,000— 386 a modest increase, but one not in proportion to the increase in the number of vehicles. The number of killed—6,520—also showed an increase on 1957, but that total was still less than the 1932 figure of 6,667. But the trouble we feel we are getting into now is that during recent months that trend, in which we thought we saw the graph of accidents steadily falling in comparison with the increase in the number of vehicles upon the road, looks as though it is changing. Because in 1959, with an increase in motor traffic as a whole of 13 per cent. compared with 1958, while the number of deaths increased by only 9 per cent., and the number of slight injuries by 9.6 per cent., the number of serious injuries increased by 16.6 per cent.
However, except for the number of serious injuries, the percentages did fall, and in the number of serious injuries the percentage rise, as compared with the percentage rise in the number of motor vehicles, was comparatively modest. By a long way the heaviest percentage increase in the casualties was to the riders and passengers of motor cycles, scooters and mopeds, and it may well be that some lesson can be learned from that fact. Of course, there was an increase in the number of the machines that they were riding; nevertheless the percentage increase was still considerably greater. One good point which I think was referred to indirectly by the noble Earl in the remarks which he made when speaking first for the Government is that the number of casualties to adult cyclists is actually fewer than in the year before. If we can discover the cause for that, again there may be a lesson which we can learn and from which we can benefit.
Now we come to the bad news—namely, that in December last we had the worst month for deaths for eighteen years. At present, we do not know anything, from the statistical point of view, of the causes of that trouble. But again, in January deaths rose by an actual figure of 37 more than in January, 1958—I take that year rather than January, 1959, because they rose by 126 or one-third more than in the month of January, 1959, when your Lordships will probably remember that there was an extraordinarily satisfactory month and 387 we really thought that the trend of deaths upon the road had in some way or another been interrupted and that we had largely succeeded in tackling the problem. In February the increase in our casualties equalled 33⅓ per cent. over February, 1959, and that despite the fact that the motor traffic increase was only 16 per cent. Therefore, we have a bad comparative ratio for the month of February, the last month available. This new symptom, or this symptom of a new trend, is causing us great anxiety, because if the trend develops it shows that we have not begun to get upon the right lines in tackling the problem, whereas it is too early as yet to say whether the symptoms that we see do represent a trend.
If I may make one or two comments upon the general problem, and particularly upon what has been said this afternoon in your Lordships' House, I would quote to your Lordships some wise words which were spoken in another place recently by Sir Richard Nugent, who is a person of considerable wisdom and who, from his experience as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, has a sane view upon these matters. Whether in fact he was quoting me, or whether I am now quoting him, I should not like to say; but I think that the content of what we say is largely what was quoted by the right reverend Prelate from the Council of Churches Memorandum, and also by my noble and learned friend Lord Reid. He says:The main cause of road accidents is not the driver who drinks or who speeds, but the average driver who does not pay attention.I am convinced that it is the driver who does not pay attention who is the fundamental cause of the majority of the accidents upon our roads.
But we know far too little about the causes of the accidents on our roads to be able to speak with certainty upon that, or indeed upon any other subject, and I hope very much that it may be possible by a considerable increase in research into these questions to ascertain, for instance, whether the confident period that we know does exist in motor drivers who have been driving for ten to fifteen years gives them a sense of false confidence whereby they take risks which result in accidents. Or again, what is the effect 388 which we know exists of weariness at the wheel? Does it arise after a prolonged period of driving, or does it arise more after a prolonged period of sitting in an office? Problems of that sort flow from such information as we now realise is available but which, so far, has not been analysed, nor has it been investigated by research workers. There is therefore a great deal to be done; but, as has been said this afternoon, a great deal has been done and, I think, is largely responsible for the improvement in the accident rate that we have seen of recent post-war years, particularly through the road improvements which have been effected. There are many other ways, too, in which the improvements from the accident point of view have been helped in certain respects, both with regard to motor manufacture but particularly with regard to the elimination of blind spots, and so forth, on dangerous parts of the roads themselves.
But I am sure that all these things have to be investigated separately. The cause of each separate type of accident has to be ascertained, and then that cause can be tackled and a solution can be found which will eliminate it. It is a question of research and, as my noble friend Lord Bossom in his admirable maiden speech indicated, it is a question that requires the attention of in great deal more traffic engineering in this country. We hardly know anything about it. Until we expend considerable sums in the universities upon fundamental research in traffic engineering as well as in the training of traffic engineers, so that we have a steady flow of really high-powered traffic engineers in all our local authorities, we shall not know whether the solution which we are applying is a correct one or not.
Indeed, there is as well the question to which I referred: the investigation of accidents. I believe that if we could interest the insurance companies, and particularly those dealing with motor insurance, they could be of invaluable help in that direction. I am quite sure that it would be to their interest, too, if only they could find it possible to provide the information upon which research could be conducted into these causes and related matters which result in accidents. I believe that it is only along those and similar lines that we can approach this subject; that there 389 is not an immediate solution, that there is no one solution and that it is only by pursuing a slow and painful course that ultimately we can hope to achieve the object that we all seek, which is road safety.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ LORD CROOK
My Lords, at this late hour I should not have inflicted myself upon your Lordships at all were it not for the fact that I am the last speaker on the list of speakers and particularly from this side of the House, and I should not like to appear discourteous to the noble Lord who has initiated what I may call this excellent debate to-day. On behalf of noble Lords on this side of the House, I would say what I think has been obvious to the Government and to everybody: that the Government can rely upon those of us who sit upon this side, even if we have varying ideas and hobby-horses to ride, to do all that we can to co-operate with them on this important and vital subject. I had my own hobby-horse which I wanted to ride, but I am not going to do so.
One other thing I particularly wanted to say, for myself and for others, was a word of appreciation of the maiden speech of an old colleague of ours, although not of our side of the House—that of "Alfie" Bossom, who has come here as Lord Bossom, from Maidstone, and with whom many of us have worked amicably over many years in politics. I cannot fail to mention something of one hobby horse, because in his speech Lord Airedale raised one of the subjects that I should have tried to deal with in some detail when he suggested the experimental abolition of August Bank Holiday. Some of us have been toying with this idea for some time. Scotland has done this very much better than we have. Scotland, by spreading its Fairs holidays throughout the year, has avoided many troubles and difficulties over hotel accommodation as well as in the use of the roads. If we cannot have enough roads, one thing to do is to try to get some vehicles off them. Even if we have the money we have not the manpower or the machinery to build roads to the coast to avoid, for example, the 14 miles' bottleneck at Exeter—because none of us could justify giving priority to the building of roads which, while they would carry a full load for perhaps 80 390 days in the year, would carry, by comparison, a negligible load for the rest of the year. Therefore one of the possibilities left to us is to get vehicles off the road.
I regret that on the A.1, the A.5 and other main roads, when travelling by car to-day one is held up by long strings of lorries painfully making their way along at a slow pace, carrying large quantities of goods which should be on the railways; and I hope that when we get the Report of the Committee which has been set up by Her Majesty's Government we shall hear something of ways by which we may get back to the policy of co-ordinating transport to help to alleviate the position on the roads, and to get traffic back not only on to the railways but on to ships.
The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, speaking in your Lordships' House a month or two ago, in the debate on the Shipping Industry, directed attention to a fact which I knew only too well: that large numbers of lorries laden with material, queueing up to go into dock gates, may be seen standing on the railway lines of railways which could be but are not being used to move those goods. Those lorries are carrying exports. Material is no longer being loaded into tramp ships, because the trade of the tramp ships has now been put on the roads to lumber them still more. The Times newspaper of last Friday carried a further report from the Chamber of Shipping that yet another 100 tramp steamers have gone to the scrap heap in the last three years, making, I believe, about 400 altogether in recent years. As a result, more and more material is being pushed on to the roads, to cause more and more damage to the roads and more accidents of the kind at which we are looking to-day.
Sir Donald Anderson. Chairman of the P. & O. Line, speaking at the Institute of Transport, made a statement which is good enough for me to use in conclusion. He said:The country needs road, rail and coastal shipping; but if it is to keep all three it must have a transport policy to enable each to do what it can do best.One of the first recommendations I make to Her Majesty's Government as I sit down is that they should try to co-ordinate the three forms of transport and 391 cut down the load on the roads, which would make a great contribution towards reducing road accidents.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT (LORD CHESHAM)
My Lords, we have certainly had a long and interesting debate, and one that is notable for the wealth of ideas which have come from it and for the wide variety of views that have been expressed. Ideas, suggestions and criticisms have been innumerable, and of all kinds, though I am bound to say that worked-out solutions were not quite so numerous; but I must go on to try to deal with the points that have been raised.
I claim that I have perhaps some right to deal with this matter because, apart from my departmental responsibility, it happens that I have now spent well over thirty years studying the art and science of driving motor cars, motor-cycles and bicycles. I dare say that I can probably claim a greater mileage (and a very happy mileage at that) on motor-cycles than the majority of your Lordships, so perhaps I have some reason to speak. Far too many suggestions, questions and ideas have been put forward for me to deal with now. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, alone put forward about ten, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger and the noble Lord, Lord Uvedale of North End, must have run him fairly close. I can give an assurance, however, that any points with which I am unable to deal will be most carefully dissected and studied after the debate, and I will write to anybody where that seems necessary.
None the less, I certainly welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in bringing out these points. Unfortunately, at this hour, which is quite late, my speech, I am sorry to say, must be a little on the long side, because I feel that the importance of the occasion and of so many of the subjects which have been brought up, warrant that; and it must be unrelieved by any feeble attempt at humour of which I may be capable, because there is certainly nothing at all funny about the situation. I was very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, extended his original Motion to a more all-embracing one, on the subject of road accidents, because I 392 believe that his original Motion would have been too narrow to do much good. As has been said, there is no magic wand which can be waved, no panacea which can be used, to avoid accidents and reduce the casualty rate, which is so shocking to everybody. There is no fundamental law which can suddenly be passed that will cut the accident rate as we want.
As the noble Lords, Lord Morrison of Lambeth and Lord Brentford, have said, it is a question of tackling, the whole widespread field; and the original Motion would have allowed us to tackle only one sector of it in isolation. There is no one answer to the whole problem, yet each aspect has to be tackled as a problem in itself, within a problem, as I shall try to show. It seems to me, and evidently to many of your Lordships, that it is only by making a great number of efforts, striking many blows, taking many chops at the tree—however one may put it—ithat an appreciable reduction can be made in the casualty figures. It looks as if we have to find many dozen, perhaps hundreds, of ways, each of which will reduce the number of accidents, if we are to get at the root of the problem. I do not think any of us needs to be told how bad the problem is, how tragic, how much it means in terms of human misery; for we know. None the less I welcome the words of the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Carlisle; and I hope that they will receive the widest circulation.
My first task is to try to do what other noble Lords have sought to do—to get the problem into some kind of perspective. A number of figures have been quoted. I do not want to quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about those, but I, too, thought he had rather overstated the case when he insinuated that nothing at all had been done. I have a slightly different selection of figures applying to the period mentioned. Using those, I have looked at it in this way: in the 10-year period from 1929 to 1938 (both years inclusive) the figures for deaths on the roads were higher in every year than in any of the last 10 years—which is quite a thought—until we get to 1959. In 1959 the death rate was higher than in only one of the earlier 10 years.
I agree that the number of injured is going up, and I do not for a moment 393 suggest that I can prove anything with these figures. I claim only that they are some kind of indication that the noble Lord's—I think I can say "assertion", that little or nothing has been done cannot be true; because I do not believe those figures could obtain in the tremendously increased traffic conditions we have nowadays unless something had had some effect somewhere on road safety. The more important thing, though, is to preserve clear thinking, and, as has also been said (there is practically nothing, my Lords, that has not), we must not get led away into panic measures. Ill-conceived or ill-constructed measures simply will not do because they will not have effect. I was very pleased to have the agreement of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. It is important not to get hysterical; and although the noble Lord, Lord Elton, was glad that the Press "went to town" with "national disasters" and "blood baths" and things like that over Easter, the fact is that the death rate over Easter was the average for the whole of last year.
I do not want to be called, and I am not going to be called, complacent about it. I am not. The death rate is too high; let us get that quite clear. But where I differ from the noble Lord—like him I welcomed this Press propaganda that took place, and I think the pronouncements of public figures and so on are helpful in the sense of having propaganda to help bring these things home to people, and I think they did a good job on that—is that I say they do not engender an atmosphere in which the proper measures can be taken and certainly not a reasonable atmosphere in which to rush through emergency legislation without the necessary consideration of it.
I want to go on to responsibility and to action. My noble friend Lord Bathurst, who unfortunately was unable to remain in his place, explained something of training and road safety propaganda measures which are taken, and he explained where, so far as the law is concerned, responsibility lies. I want now to consider the responsibility of each of the partners, so to speak; the Government, local authorities and individuals; their responsibility for what has been done, what is being done, and what has yet to be done. I think that, par- 394 ticularly so far as the Government are concerned, I am right to do that, because there has been some fairly hefty criticism of the Government to-day from the noble Lord, Lord Elton, behind me; from the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, opposite and from other noble Lords, including Lord Moynihan on the Liberal Benches.
I was, of course, very pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Crook, make his offer to support and co-operate in these matters, and I hope that that offer of support will be a little more valuable than the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth—because, quite frankly, I was very disappointed in what he, as a former Minister of Transport, had to tell us. I have no doubt that he enjoyed himself enormously with his long personal attack on my right honourable friend, and I have no doubt that he gave immense political satisfaction to the Opposition Benches in what he did. But as a contribution to road safety in this country its value was nil, absolutely nil. And he then went on, if I may say so, to make a Second Reading speech on the Road Traffic Bill, which is presently to go through another place, and criticised it in various ways in that it was not a road safety measure. But, of course, it is not intended to be. But I am sorry to say that the noble Lord is even wrong about his views on that, as I shall presently go on to show.
I do not want to spend more time on that aspect, because I want to get on to road safety matters. I want to consider them under what I call the "three E's": engineering, enforcement, education. By engineering I include the traffic engineer, who has been advocated by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, and the noble Lord, Lord Bossom, in his excellent, bright and constructive maiden speech. I hope he will continue like that, and I should like to congratulate him on his speech to-day. Both noble Lords were quite right: traffic engineering is young in this country; there is a shortage of trained men, and we have to get to work as soon and as fast as we can. There are, fortunately, encouraging signs, such as the creation of a Chair of Traffic Engineering at the University of Birmingham. But I refer also to highway engineering, and I include the responsibility, which is shared, as we know, by 395 the Government and local authorities, for providing new and improved roads. That, of course, includes the replacement, as it is possible, of the three-lane highways of which the noble Lord, Lord Allerton, in his excellent maiden speech, on which I congratulate him, quite rightly expressed his dislike.
I do not want to dwell at length on the roads side of the subject because I have other things to say which we must get on to and this is not a roads debate. But we still have, and are faced with having, the biggest programme ever undertaken in this country. Hardly a week goes by without the completion, or what is perhaps more important, the commencement of some new and important project. Only on Monday of this week the "Go ahead" was given for a by-pass around Stevenage costing £1¾ million. Yesterday, it was for a new bypass at Rotherham; a major road improvement in Lambeth; and a new bridge at Nottingham, doubling the width of a very bad bottleneck. They are all schemes, costing only "small fry"—a quarter of a million pounds here or there.
There are not only the spectacular schemes, however. I am very glad to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that there are thousands of schemes of improvement all over the country all of which are combining together to better the road system, and hence to increase safety. In 1959, 1,548 major schemes of new roads or road improvements were started, and it is some consolation—one needs it at times—of being in the Ministry to get some impression of how these schemes are building up the road system into something very much better than it was. The A.1, for instance, has been mentioned. I had always been brought up to believe, and later found out by personal experience, that that was the one road in the country to avoid. With the works that are going on now—it is quite astonishing to see them—before very long, by the end of next year, the A.1 will be one of the roads to seek out, with its newly-built carriageway all the way from London to Newcastle. It serves as one instance of the kind of cumulative progress that is being made.
There is a tremendous backlog of road work and no useful purpose can 396 possibly be served by having an inquest on it, as to who did or did not do what. All I want to make clear to your Lordships (and this has a bearing on what the noble Lord, Lord Crook, said) is the priorities, the firm priorities, which have been fixed and adopted for assessing the various schemes and for deciding in what order they should be done. They are these: the contribution a road makes to the national network which is being created; the industrial load it carries; and—by no means least—its accident record and the elimination of accident "black spots." Those are the criteria by which priority is given to all major schemes all over the country.
If I may go on to enforcement, I do not by that mean simply having enough policemen to ensure the law is carried out, though that is very important. In particular, it is important, I think, that there should be an adequate number of mobile patrols, for which the noble Lord, Lord Allerton, asked. There seemed to be some slight disagreement between the noble Lords, Lord Reid and Lord Salter, as to whether or not they should be in uniform. Personally, I think they would be much better in uniform for the simple reason that they can be seen better and it somehow seems more proper in this country. Perhaps I am "stuffy". But I believe they will be far more effective. There is another very practical snag, and that is that if a man is in plain clothes, why should anyone stop for him? How do they know who he is? These days, the roads are littered with people hitchhiking, and that kind of thing. Hands are being waved all the time; and I should have thought that that was a very relevant factor. What I mean by enforcement is the responsibility (which was explained in detail by my noble friend Lord Bathurst) of the Government and of the local authority for seeing that the new and improved roads, as they develop, are used in accordance with rules and regulations that are not only enforceable by the police but are seen to be reasonable and in the public interest—in other words, my Lords, respectable in the true sense of the word. Because, otherwise, if the law falls into disrepute, we are wasting our time—and in this regard I am entirely in agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, in what she said.
397 May I, for a moment, look at what is being done—and here I must recall the criticisms of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, because I think he made some errors of assessment when he criticised my right honourable friend for what he is doing. I should like to explain one or two things. The first is that before he makes any traffic regulations in the London Traffic Area, the Minister invariably gives careful consideration to requirements of safety, as well as of traffic flow. In many cases the regulations that he makes may be concerned primarily with improved flow, but they also have a very definite use from the safety point of view. For instance, the control of waiting vehicles generally has the effect of reducing them in number, and particularly of getting them away from important junctions, which improves visibility for both pedestrians and for motorists. Then, the introduction of more comprehensive control over parking by the use of parking meters has already resulted in some indication—I cannot produce chapter and verse, but there is some indication—that in that area, in Mayfair, during the hours of meter operation, accidents are not following the current upward trend which they are showing elsewhere. Then, when one-way schemes are brought in, they probably may speed up traffic, but considerable thought is also given to the need to take compensating action for the needs of pedestrians. When, in Cable Street and in the Highway, Stepney, the decision was recently taken to make an experimental one-way traffic scheme permanent, it was decided to install traffic lights, to establish a number of pedestrian crossings and to restrict waiting in their interest.
My Lords, I have already mentioned the Road Traffic and Roads Improvement Bill. I shall not fall into the trap of making the Second Reading speech myself, but I want to say that it includes provisions to clarify the Minister's power to make regulations in the London Traffic Area governing the use of roads by pedestrians. For instance, it would give him power to make the use of subways compulsory where necessary, or to prohibit the crossing of certain streets by pedestrians except where it is authorised to do so. Then, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, pointed out, there was the 398 experiment with the 40 m.p.h. limit which was taken on suitable lengths of road in March, 1958. The Report of the Departmental Road Safety Committee shows that on road lengths where the speed was previously unrestricted, the 40mile-an-hour limit has generally resulted in a decrease in vehicle speeds, and that there have been fewer accidents. That shows that quite good selection was carried out of suitable lengths of road where such a limit could be respected by drivers. On lengths which were previously subject to the 30 miles an hour limit, the raising of the limit has resulted in no appreciable change of speed or in the accident rate. As I think most of your Lordships will know, my right honourable friend is at present seeking Parliamentary approval for the general adoption of a 40 miles an hour limit on suitable lengths of road all over the country.
Now I must come on to the general question of speed, because a good deal has been said about that from all parts of the House. I got the impression from the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that he did not approve of roads such as the M.1, and major roads like that, without a speed limit. I think I took him correctly in that. All I can say is that such indications as we have so far show that since the M.1 has been opened the accident rate on the M.1 and on the old A.5 put together is down by about one-third on the previous accident rate on the A.5 alone: and I think that that must be quite significant, if, again, not a final proof. I was pleased with the support for the from the noble Lords, Lord Moynihan and Lord Merton, although again I was extremely disappointed about the views of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, (which I thought were, to a certain extent, irresponsible, and which certainly have not done anything to help) when he referred, on admittedly nil experience, to this road as a particularly dangerous one because speeds were very high. Of course, that is not so. The figures show that it is safer; and the average speed of traffic on the road is in fact 55 to 60 miles an hour. I therefore hope that he will take some steps to rectify his views on this matter before he utters them again.
Now the noble Lord, Lord Elton, entered a strong plea on the subject of an all-over speed limit in this country. 399 Of course, to start with I am bound to say that, if he wants something like that very quickly, it is not legislatively possible. It is going to require legislation, because my right honourable friend has direct powers over the speed limit on trunk roads only, and he cannot do it. In any case, I am not so sanguine as the noble Lord about the effect on the number of accidents that it would have. Undoubtedly, it would save some, and therefore would be commendable; but there are compensating objections. In any case, my Lords (although I know it is because of the very nature of the thing) the majority of accidents happen in areas where there is already a speed limit. That is because they are the built-up areas. I know that that does not prove anything about speed. What I think is very much more important is this. I do not know New Zealand myself, unfortunately, but over here I should have thought that the widely differing standards of roads that we have in this country would make it very difficult to select an arbitrary limit of x miles an hour which would not be too fast for safety on some of the roads and quite unreasonably restrictive on others. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, or with the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Carlisle, on this flat statement that it is the pace that kills.
§ LORD ELTON
The noble Lord will agree, will he not, that the Minister of Transport's own campaign uses those words—"Remember, it is pace that kills"? That is a quotation from the Government.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I have seen that wretched poster, "Speed kills!", all over the country, as has every other driver. I know who put it there, my Lords, and I still have my own views on the matter. What I did say is that speed kills when speed is applied at the wrong moment. I think that an overall speed limit where drivers are to be so restricted is likely to weaken the sense of personal responsibility that drivers should have. I do not think that, in the circumstances I mentioned, we are going to get the necessary restriction of speed on a road where a high speed 400 would be dangerous which is going to be greatly respected or add all that much to safety.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
My Lords, the Parliamentary Secretary has said that he hates this poster. Would he kindly tell us who had the poster put up? Who authorised it? He said that he did not like the chap who did it.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I said that I did not agree with what it said, which is a different thing. I do not think that a flat statement that "Speed kills" is entirely accurate. That is what I said, and what I stick to.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, what I said in my original speech had no reference to any poster. It was a quotation from the current propaganda campaign—"Remember, it is pace that kills".
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I agree that in many circumstances it is. I am not attempting to deny it. I have already said that I think it is perfectly true that pace kills when pace is applied in the wrong place, but I still do not think that the flat statement is accurate. If what I said is right about arbitrary limitation being too restrictive on one road and too dangerous on another, and we are going to have differential limitation, the whole situation is going to become so confusing that it will not help anybody at all. It may work in New Zealand—I am quite happy about what the noble Lord says about that—but in this country we have such an enormous and tangled network of roads of all sizes that I am far from convinced that enforcement could be made really effective. The fact that there is no statutory power to do this is conveniently overlooked, but, of course, that could be altered. I am certainly not going to say that, just because I do not like the idea very much, it will not be looked at, particularly in the context of specially congested and dangerous times, like Whitsun and Bank Holiday.
I come to the double white lines. These were given legal force on May 12, 1959, and the regulations which brought them into operation are important in two respects. First of all, they make it an offence to cross the continuous line; secondly, they recognise that visibility on a length of road may be very different according to the direction of travel. 401 Hence it is possible to vary one stream of traffic as appropriate. Although they have been in general use for less than twelve months, there is evidence that the markings are improving traffic behaviour and promoting a smoother flow. The Traffic Committee of the Central Conference of Chief Constables recently reported that, in their opinion, the system is working well and is making a valuable contribution to road safety.
Much of the earlier criticism was directed at the over-liberal use of the solid continuous line and to too frequent changes of pattern on winding roads. Revised instructions have been sent out, laying emphasis on the need to use lines only where they are clearly required by the visibility criteria which have been established and having regard to conditions locally and on the route as a whole. Before they lay down new markings, highway authorities are asked to obtain the divisional road engineer's approval, although formal authorisation is not required. It is also proposed to review all existing markings, and I am sure that the suggestion put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger will be considered as time goes on.
It is surprising that no mention has been made today of clearways. This was an experiment started in August of last year. It consisted of the designation of certain suitable lengths of road on main routes where there was virtually no reason (such as for pulling up at a house or public house) to stop. These were mostly roads leading to the coast. Stopping on these lengths of road is prohibited. The experiment has been promising and further roads have been designated as an extension of the experiment. Together with the prohibition on stopping effected by the double solid white line, these clearways will make a valuable contribution to preventing the dangerous nuisance caused by cars stopping on main traffic routes.
The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, mentioned control of dogs on the highway and asked why no advice had been put to local authorities. Of course, such advice has been issued. Ministry of Transport circular No. 731 was sent out in 1956 and No. 738 in 1957. There are now 142 orders in operation up and down the country on the same 402 lines as in Slough. The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, mentioned the age of motor-cyclists. My right honourable friend's Departmental Committee on Road Safety thinks that some progessive scheme may be worked out on an age basis whereby licences may be issued to start on smaller machines and graduate to bigger and faster ones, and they have recommended that a survey should be made to get some information about this. That survey is being carried out at present.
The noble Lord, Lord Bossom, and other noble Lords, mentioned the question of vehicle-testing. This, as everyone knows, has been considerably delayed by a number of difficulties, but now it is believed that means have been found of overcoming these difficulties and it is hoped to make regulations in time to enable tests to be started in September. It has been found necessary to amend the law in some respects to meet the needs of the scheme, and the difficulty which is now preventing its introduction before the autumn is tied up with these amendments. It is necessary to provide that testing stations should apply uniform standards throughout the country, and for this purpose new regulations would have to be drawn up which specify such standards in the necessary technical detail. It has happened. But I do not think it is right to accuse the Government of dilatoriness or sloth, because this is one outstanding example—there are others—of a regulation which must work properly and be respected or it just will not be any good.
On Monday last I held in my hand a piece of steel, and that piece of steel had killed somebody. It was part of the steering arm of a car which had snapped. I mention that because the Government have no vested interest in delaying the coming in of these tests. I do not know whether an inspection would have shown up this particular fault, but it might have done; and it might have saved an accident and a man's life. Therefore there is no reason why we should not wish to get the tests going as quickly as possible. In addition, under Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act, 1956, my right honourable friend is empowered to introduce a scheme for spot checking vehicles on the road. This is an inspection which will cover brakes, silencers, steering gear, 403 tyres, lighting equipment and reflectors. My right honourable friend intends to introduce this scheme for spot checking as soon as the periodic vehicle-testing scheme is under way.
One thing which will not be checked under any form of checking—and it is, I believe, creating a problem in these days—is the overloading of private cars. This is a slightly personal opinion, but when I see a somewhat middle-aged motor car containing five adults, two children, three suit-cases on the grid, two deck chairs, a child's bicycle and the parrot's cage on top of the lot, I do not believe that any 20-year-old 8-horsepower motor car was ever meant to carry that load or is safe to do so.
§ LORD CHESHAM
That may be so; the noble Lord's experience is perhaps different from mine. I hope that, even if there is nothing in the regulations, it will go out that people should be careful about not getting their car into a state when it is not safe to drive on the road and its handling characteristics have been virtually destroyed by overloading.
There have often been complaints in the past about the existence and the quantity of abnormal loads, particularly when they are indivisible things like ships' propellers and so on; and the number of them is increasing. Naturally, they cause tremendous congestion and they are difficult to pass; they get people frustrated and fed up, and consequently may be a greater source of danger than their actual size would indicate. We are now considering the introduction of additional controls over loads of more than 14 feet wide or 40 feet in length. It was urged in the past that long vehicles should also carry additional lamps as an indication of their length, and regulations are now being drafted which, broadly speaking, will require additional sidelights visible to the side, to the front and to the rear on vehicles and trailers the overall length of which, again, exceeds 40 feet.
I do not think we could complete a debate like this without my saying a word or two on dazzle, which again the noble Lord, Lord Bossom, mentioned. 404 The use of yellow headlamps has often been urged as a solution to this problem. The tests that have been carried out by the Road Research Laboratory have not established that yellow lamps giving the same seeing distance have any advantage over white lamps. The important considerations are correct aiming and design. The vehicle-testing scheme, once it comes in, will help to achieve correct aiming. So far as design is concerned, we are participating at the moment in international discussions to try to arrive at a generally acceptable specification for headlamps. Although there are still some international differences on some aspects of design, thinking generally is for a white and not a yellow lamp.
Suggestions have been made in the past about the maximum brightness of vehicle rear lights and the dazzle they may cause, and now, after discussions with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, they have issued for their members a code of practice in which suitable intensities of rear lights are recommended. The vast majority of cars on our roads now have, I think, rear lamps which do not dazzle, and there does not seem to be any call, although we are watching it, for any legislative action at the moment. The problem of direction indicators is not quite so easy, because they have to be bright enough to be seen in daytime in sunlight. That is one matter that is not entirely finished with and which is continuing to be watched.
Something which has not been mentioned in the debate is the safety harness, which I think is making great strides and I am told can save a lot of lives. I believe there are Members of your Lordships' House who can bear personal witness to this. There has been some pressure on my right honourable friend to encourage, or perhaps enforce, the fitting of safety harness in all motor vehicles. Up to now it has not been felt advisable to do this, because there have been no standards laid down to which the harness should be made; and while it certainly can make a valuable contribution, if properly designed and securely anchored, if it is not, it may be worse than useless. However, with the support of the Department the British Standards Institution has set up a committee to draw up a standard for safety harness, and they have already managed, in view of the urgency of the matter, to produce a draft 405 standard. This will probably be shortly agreed and should be published within the next two or three months. It is an interim standard, admittedly, and work on improving it will continue.
Now I must tackle this question of drink. A great deal has been said on the subject and I do not think there is any question as to the size of the problem. Obviously, a section of accidents is directly attributable to it, and some partially—it is difficult to know how many, owing to the varying effects and degrees of drink land the manner in which it may affect different people. But one thing that is undoubtedly established and not open to question is that it is a contributory cause; everyone agrees as to that. Not only is that so, but, in passing, I feel I must say that it is not merely a question of drivers who have had something to drink—I do not say those who are drunk or intoxicated, but whose judgment may be impaired. What about other road users? What about cyclists? What about pedestrians?
I met a young doctor the other day in one of the big London hospitals who spends a good deal of his time in the casualty ward. Like almost everybody who is adult in this country, he had worked out what he would do if he were Minister of Transport. He said that if he were he would be more worried about drunken pedestrians than drunken drivers, because he got tired of patching them up. He said that the majority of them totter, the worse for drink, to some extent, out of a well-lighted public house into a relatively dark street and fall under a bus. He said: "You have no idea how many I have to put together again." Although it may be difficult to lay down some code of action so far as other road users are concerned—it is rather easier for drivers, naturally—this is an aspect that must not be lost sight of.
Despite the eloquent and interesting contribution of the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness on the subject (and as the noble Lord, Lord Salter, thought, there is no difficulty in recognising the problem) the difficulty lies in producing a really sound and practical cure. What actual method is to be laid down which will be sound and practical—as it must be, to be effective—to establish the proper test? As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned, it 406 is proposed that a small and expert team should go and investigate very exactly how they do it in Scandinavia. One hopes that it will enable Ministers to determine exactly what should be done about it when they come back.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, wanted a Minister of State at the Ministry of Transport in charge of road safety. I do not acclaim the idea with quite the enthusiasm that he puts into it, because I would ask myself exactly what the Minister of State is going to do. If he is not to get any form of special powers, he cannot do any more than I can. In that case, it might almost be said in a sense that in myself or my successor, or even my colleague in another place, there is half a Minister of State on the job in any case. If he has no special powers, as I say, he can do no more. If he does have special powers, he gets into a certain amount of trouble, because he then must have centralised powers over road safety measures throughout the country; and so much of road safety activity depends on local knowledge and local activity that we get back rather to the state of the gentleman in Whitehall knowing best. I do not think that that would be ether than a valid objection.
Secondly, I do not think we can isolate road safety from the general road sphere of my right honourable friend and his responsibility; and, obviously, such a Minister of State would need to have powerful control over the road programme, over the movement of traffic, and wide powers over the convenience of people. On the other hand, I am rather more with the noble Lord when he said that he thought the balance of road safety, as against the economics and convenience of road users, should be adjusted towards road safety. Of course, that balance is all the time changing towards road safety. But to swing it right over in one go would, I think, be going too far.
My noble friend Lord Bathurst said something of training and education measures which take place. I am sorry to have to disagree once again with the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, but he stated quite categorically that the casualty figures for children were rising. So far as I know, and certainly so far as children's deaths are concerned, 407 they are doing the opposite. If the death of one child can be described as a bright spot—which I am sure it cannot—they are perhaps not quite so uniformly black in the casualty figures as some other sections are. Figures of children killed on the road never dropped below 1,000 until 1947, and it was at the beginning of the 'thirties when they were at their worst, and rose to over 1,600 a year. But after 1947 they dropped below 1,000. In 1958 they were 717, and in 1959 they were 680. That is exactly 680 children too many killed. But it shows—could one say?—a cautious improvement, or something like that. I am not complacent about that either, but I mention it to show that there is some value in training and education.
I should like to put in a word here to say where individual people could help in this matter. I think it would be a good idea if parents would press the schools to which they send their young to give road safety education where it is not given now. I mention that to show that we have to be concerned just as much with the drivers of the future as with those of the present. If the trend continues in that way, perhaps the value of education may show up, and there may be some hope in the future.
May I turn to the road users of to-day?—and please note that I use the phrase "road users" and not "drivers", because I am talking about everybody. The point I do not often hear mentioned is that in the very heavy traffic conditions we have to-day not only driving but all forms of road use are more difficult than in the past. Walking across the road is more difficult, as is cycling. Everything is. I have a feeling that competence in doing these things twenty, ten or even five years ago does not necessarily mean the same degree of competence to-day. It seems to me that our thoughts must turn to greater measures of discipline on the road—things like lane discipline and so on, which must first be brought in, and, secondly, accepted by all road users.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Reid, and other noble Lords have said, we must also look at the qualifications of those who are driving vehicles. Then we must tackle the whole problem, by 408 legislation or regulation, in a way that not only is effective and in the public interest, but is clearly seen to be so. The noble Lord, Lord Reid, mentioned accident-prone people, and in fact my right honourable friend is consulting with the Road Research Laboratory to try to find out what can be done about accident-prone drivers.
I have spoken about new and better roads, which are the responsibility of the Government and local authorities, and I have said something about new and better measures to improve the use of the roads. I have mentioned the responsibility of Government—perhaps I should have said Parliament—and local authorities towards helping people to become better road users. But all these, my Lords, will fail, and we shall not cut accidents unless and until every road user, man, woman and child, shoulders and recognises, or is taught to recognise, his own personal responsibility. That was the point upon which I agreed most with what the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said. A Government other than a rigid dictatorship cannot produce a total enforcement of all or any rule. No regulation can prevent that element of human error or human failing, carelessness, selfishness or bad temper, or what I believe is a great and prevalent fact in this country—I do not know what to call it—unawareness. There seems to be an extraordinary unawareness. People do not deliberately not look round and become conscious of other people: they just do not do it. They do not think about it. All or some of these elements are surely present in almost every accident which takes place.
As I said, the roads can be improved, the laws of their use can be improved, vehicles can be improved; but in the ultimate the road users can be improved only with the full co-operation of the mind of the human being. To this end, as the noble Lord told us, there has been a special national road safety campaign organised again this year by the Ministry of Transport, the Royal Society and the Scottish Home Department. It will be based on the Highway Code and the theme is "Stop Accidents; Honour Your Code". Each month, from May to September, the message will be directed to a different class of road user, and the campaign will, in fact, be on the 409 lines called for by my noble friend Lord Bossom and the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. Last Monday the Minister launched this campaign with a road safety demonstration at Wellington Barracks—and very impressive it was. No doubt before long my noble friend will be announcing his plans for Whitsun.
A national newspaper, the Daily Mirror, is running an exhibition called "Battle of the Roads", on the shock propaganda basis, and I am certainly glad to welcome this contribution, the paper's initiative and what it has done. That is a good thing. My right honourable friend opened the exhibition the other day. One feature they have there is a large number of pictures of people who have been killed on the roads—tragic in all conscience. What we do not know, and will never know—none of us will ever know; my right honourable friend will never know; the Daily Mirror will not and no one will—is how many of these people, mostly smiling, taken from holiday snapshots blown up, and that sort of thing, lost their lives through their own fault.
There is no way of knowing how many of them were like the man I saw last night who ran across the pavement outside Knightsbridge Tube station on the corner of Sloane Street. He ran straight across the road to the traffic island, looking neither way, within five yards of a pedestrian crossing which, incidentally, is guarded by traffic lights with a "Cross now" signal. I wonder how many people were like him. I wonder how many times that man is multiplied up and down the country. I wonder how many times multiplied up and down the country is that middle-aged lady in a small Austin whom I saw pull carefully to the left-hand side of the road before switching on her right-hand indicator and performing simultaneously a right turn, straight across the bows of two lines of traffic. I wonder how many of these crazy "dim-wits" there are on scooters cutting through traffic, with no idea that cutting in at 45 degrees between traffic island and moving car probably leads to death. I think there must be quite a number, because the casualty figures for scooters are appalling. There must be a lot of those up and down the country.
410 Now about the motor-cyclist, I wonder how many of the sort the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, told us about there are—for instance, the chap who passed the car I was in, doing about 45 m.p.h., on the left, with about a quarter of an inch to spare. I hope there are not so many. It may be difficult to do anything about it, but I feel that in the case of both scooters and motor-cycles—although the problem is a much greater one with scooters—the clubs that are being formed may be able to play their part in knocking some sense into these people. The trouble is that the scooters are simply used as transport by non-experts; many motor-cyclists are experts, and study their machines. What is going on, not only in London but no doubt in every city in the country, is absolutely appalling, and I hope that every single one reads Hansard.
How many times multiplied up and down the country are there people walking along the road and ignoring the pavement? How many cyclists filtering up to the head of the stationary traffic column, starting on the yellow and wobbling in front of the moving cars? How many lorries too close together—sometimes because they are being held back by some very small car, driven eight feet out from the kerb? I have seen that time and time again. How many people are there in this and other cities flagrantly ignoring traffic lights? I count in London three a day, and often—or sometimes; let me be fair about it—they are buses, which are a bit heavy to go over the lights on the red. All these things go on. There are, we know, many careful, good, decent road users of all kinds; but some are not. It will not be enough until these things I have been talking about, and many other things like them, are stopped by individual action.
The noble Lord, I think, has done a great service in airing these matters in the debate. It is not enough to cry: What are the Government doing? I have been providing some answers to that question. I can assure the noble Lord and your Lordships that the Government needs no urging in this serious and terrible matter. I hope, therefore, that he will not wish to press his Motion. But however much I answer the question, "What are the Government doing?" we shall not 411 get any big reduction in accidents, the big reduction we must have, until the answer is given by every road user in this country to the question, "What am I doing?"
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, I do not know whether some of your Lordships have had longer and grimmer experience than I in this House, but certainly during the twenty-six years I have been a Member I think that this is the first time I have sat continuously in my seat for six and a half hours without food, without moving, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute; and most of all the speech we have just listened to, although I disagreed with most of it, I thoroughly enjoyed.
I think the speakers in the debate fall into two broad groups. There are those of us who cannot get away from the fact that more than 330,000 casualties a year is intolerable, and therefore that, since casualties have risen to this level despite existing methods, existing legislation, existing administration, some new methods must be necessary. The other broad group consists of those noble Lords who, while genuinely deploring the 412 casualties, no doubt as much as we do, nevertheless contrive, after comparing them in certain ways and with certain periods, to find it possible almost to offer ourselves mild congratulations; and from there it is a comparatively short step to suggesting that demands for further action are panic demands and that concentration on the horrors of the present casualties are hysterical. But I do not think we are either hysterical or panic stricken.
In any case, I thank the noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. They have put forward an enormous number of suggestions, and if the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, is going to study them and write about them he will have his work cut out. I think the debate has been valuable and will be proved to be valuable. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, because it is always a great pleasure to find that one can thoroughly disagree with so much of what a noble Lord says and yet thoroughly enjoy the way he says it. With your Lordhips' leave, I beg to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at nine o'clock.