§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, your Lordships and, I think, the whole country are indebted to my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth for giving us the opportunity to debate this very important subject and also for the manner in which he has marshalled his own great experience and knowledge of it. He has reminded us that we are injuring on the roads every year 350,000 people, of whom 85,000 are seriously injured—and killing some 7,000; and however one looks at the figures, however some have gone down or some have gone up, this figure does not shift at all. The other day Sir George Godber, Chief Medical Officer to the Ministry of Education, put it another way when he said:Accidents of various kinds, including road deaths now account for many more deaths among schoolchildren than all the respiratory and infectious diseases and congenital malformations put together.He added that in future medical research could be counted on to deal with these diseases, but so far as the road accidents were concerned they could do nothing, but the situation was a challenge and a reproach to us all. In fact, tuberculosis, diphtheria and all the other scourges have lost their terrors, or most of them. It is roads which ate the killers now.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, mentioned as one of the factors the gross overloading of commercial vehicles. I quite agree with what he said. The major contributory factor to the increase in road accidents is the gross overloading of the roads themselves by commercial vehicles which ought not to be there at all. They are there either because of Government failure or because of deliberate Government policy. No one doubts the sincerity of any one who urges measures, who exhorts motor users to keep death off the roads, but it is not much use if death is beckoned back by Government policy. If that sounds too harsh a judgment, let me just quote one or two things from the Ministry of Transport's own Press statement yesterday which summarised road accident statistics in the first nine months only of this year: 898The largest percentage increase in casualties was among goods vehicles, drivers and passengers. The number killed and seriously Injured"—this is in only nine months—was 4,049, 11 percent. more than in the previous year.That is a fantastic number when we consider it concerns only the drivers and their mates, who are the only permitted passengers. Of course, the number does not include the numbers of other people involved, pedestrians and people travelling in other cars. I do not think the tremendous increase in goods vehicles on the road is generally realised. Here again are figures from Road Motor Vehicles 1961, published by the Stationery Office. In just four years, from 1957 to 1961, the number of motor vehicles over three tons unladen weight went up from 150,000 to 272,000—an 81 percent. increase in 4 years. And, although that number represents only 1 in 37 of all motor vehicles, the damage they do to the roads in wear and tear is out of all proportion to their numbers; and the effect they have on road accidents also is out of all proportion.
My noble friend mentioned a 4-ton lorry being laden with 8 tons of coal. That is quite common. And, as he said, these motor vehicles have not stopped at 30 m.p.h. It must have been the experience of every noble Lord in this House when he has been driving along to be overtaken by one of these leviathans, and if you have stood on a footpath when they have gone by you will know that they actually shake the footpath. Those motor vehicles are on the road, using our 200,000 miles of highway at what cost? In taxation for the 4-ton vehicles less than £1 a week. They pay no purchase tax. Of course, they pay a tax on fuel. It is that situation with which I mainly want to deal.
Last year heavier goods vehicles alone—that is, those over 1½ tons—were involved in nearly 30,000 personal injury accidents, of which nearly 10,000 were fatal or serious. Of that total, vehicles of over 3 tons unladen weight accounted for more than 60 percent. It is Government taxation policy which in large measure determines the volume of goods traffic on the roads, because in Britain, as in every industrialised country, the Government decide the balance between road and rail. In France and Germany 899 most freight is carried by rail. But in Britain for the last ten years Government policy has been directed to the diversion of traffic from the railways to the roads.
I make no criticism of the "A" and "B" licence holders who operate public road freight services under control. They are an essential part of a co-ordinated transport system and they are as much the victims of the present policy as are the railways. Incidentally, as a general picture, the "A" and "B" licence vehicles are better maintained than the general run of commercial freight vehicles. My criticism is directed to the heavily subsidised, uncontrolled expansion in the number of "C" licensed vehicles. "C" licensed vehicles over 2½ tons have increased by over 80 per cent. in the last ten years. In many cases such licences are not justified in the national interest, because both road and railway services are available, and many of these "C" vehicles do up to 40 per cent. of empty mileage. The real cost of running is concealed, but it adds to production costs and we all pay for it as taxpayers and consumers, and in the misery which such vehicles cause by adding to the congestion and to the toll of accidents on the roads.
I mentioned the heavy subsidies which we pay to such vehicles. That may come as a shock to those noble Lords who are accustomed to think of subsidised railways only. The railways had originally to buy or lease the land for their track, to construct and maintain the costly track and its expensive signalling system; they had to pay rates, police costs, interest on capital; in fact, the entire costs of running a railway from first to last; and the extent to which they fail to do so, at present running at about £170 million a year, is regarded officially as the measure of their inefficiency, and it is now being used as a yardstick which will determine their future.
The Government, through Dr. Beeching, are very properly conducting an exhaustive inquiry into railway costs. They have ordered no such inquiry into the real cost to the nation of the use of the roads. I regard the appointment of a Beeching of the roads as an urgent and major priority. Without the facts which such an inquiry would reveal, no impor- 900 tant decisions on transport can have any financial validity. Meanwhile, just consider some of the costs which road vehicles would have to bear if we asked them to pay precisely the same type of costs which we insist must be heaped on to the railways: first, interest on the cost of the free track including, like the railways, the historic cost. The replacement cost of our 200,000 miles of highways is anybody's guess, but there are a few facts to go on. I understand from the Ministry of Transport that the cost of motorways, trunk roads and Class 1 county roads varies between £500,000 and £750,000 per mile. On 1 April, 1960, there were in England and Wales alone 21,500 miles of such roads. If you take a mean figure of only £600,000 a mile, the replacement cost of those 21,500 miles alone would be nearly £13,000 million. In addition, of course, there are some 56,000 miles of class 2 and class 3 roads and 95,000 miles of unclassified roads. Would anyone dispute that £40,000 million would be a very low figure at which to value them?
Five per cent. per annum on that would mean that road users are getting free use of a track which is worth £2,000 million a year. If you add to that maintenance and new construction, annual cost of £200 million, cost of accidents £230 million, economic losses from road congestion £300 million, police, signals, damage to buildings, vibration noise, fumes and so on, you come to the conclusion that the cost to the nation of the roads is about twenty times the present railway subsidy, or railway loss if you like, and four times as much as the total paid in oil duties and motor vehicle taxes. It will be more than that because of the reduction of the purchase tax on motor cars, but certainly it was four times the total paid in all kinds of taxation by all motor vehicles. It is surely beyond dispute that this disparity of basic costs between road and rail—deliberately, as I said, fostered by the Government—has not only largely created the present difficulties of the railways but has diverted freight to the roads. It has added to the congestion and again considerably increased the toll of death on the roads.
The fact that everyone knows about railway subsidies and that very few people are aware of the twenty times 901 greater subsidies to road users, is entirely attributable to the efforts of the Government aided by one of the most persistent, powerful and successful lobbies this country has ever known, that of the British Road Federation. I have in my hand one of their recent publications. It lists 101 of the national organisations in their membership. Every single one of those organisations has a vested interest either in road construction, the motor trade, or in preserving the present system of unlimited use of the road for freight vehicles while paying only a fraction of the cost.
Of course, the Road Federation is not satisfied even with that. This document is entitled "Missing Motorways". It reads, "Hundreds and hundreds of miles of them" missing. It points out that the current Government proposals will ultimately give us 1,000 miles of such motorways and says that the present rate of buildings is "slow, slow, slow". It also points out that:The authoritative County Surveyor's Society have said the Government programme is not half big enough. A further 1,700 miles of first-class roads, most of them motorways, must be added.That 1,700 miles additional to the Government's programme would cost another £1,000 million on top of the Government's £1,000 million programme. Yet this brazen organisation has the colossal impudence to urge us to:Spare a thought … for our six-and-a-half million over-taxed motorists. Should they not be given better facilities for all their money?Comment is scarcely necessary, certainly not any comment I could make in this Chamber.
More and better roads we must have, but surely—and I feel it was implicit in what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said—the taxpayers' money should be spent first on relieving the turban congestion where most of the accidents happen and on improving danger spots, and certainly not on new motorways to duplicate and compete with main railway lines. More roads alone will not solve, or indeed relieve, our traffic and accident problems. This same document refers to the fact, which I think is generally accepted, that early in the 1970's there will be, not 10 million motor vehicles on our roads but 17 million. So it just is not possible, 902 even if the country could afford it, to go on building roads to the extent which will carry that volume of traffic unless we do something else. The Americans have discovered that. They have a 600 billion dollar annual road programme. It has given them eight-lane freeways, flyovers and flyunders; but many of their roads are still choked solid, and we know that in California and other parts of the United States they are building new railways.
I am not suggesting that road users should be required to pay the entire cost of the roads, but I agree with what was said by Mr. D. L. Munby, the Reader in Economics and Organisation of Transport at Oxford University, in a Paper that he read to the Statistical Society of Manchester last week, when he said that:Equitable distribution of transport costswould provide anideal solution of the road/rail problem.It would also help to reduce road casualties. I am encouraged to believe that the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Transport is beginning to think so too, because in his speech at the Institute of Transport luncheon on November 6 he said, among other things, that:The Government would consider what may be necessary in other fields such as vehicle licensing".He added, I think significantly, that there were a lot of vested interests in transport, and he assured us that—and again I quote:his Ministry would meet the resistance of vested interests with courage.That is good news, and if he stands up to the Road Federation he will have the ordinary people with him; and the transport economists too, because Mr. Munby in the same Paper, said:Some system, however crude, of charging for the use of congested roads is a necessary part of any economic solution to the road problem. What was required above all was a serious attempt to treat roads as economic assets, not merely as a service to be provided or not, as local political forces decreed.I emphasise the words "to treat the roads as economic assets"—in fact, to treat them just as Government policy has decided that we should treat the railways. We are all aware that for at least the last twenty years transport has been bedevilled with politics and vested 903 interests. Costs to the taxpayer have soared astronomically. Our roads and cities are becoming choked to a standstill and the casualty figures have more than doubled. Is it not time that, in the interests of the people and of the nation as a whole, we forgot politics over this subject, stood back and looked at transport as a whole? I urge the Government to do just that: to get all the facts and not to consider the roads in isolation from other forms of transport; to get all the facts, not only of rail, as they are doing, but of road as well, through a similar kind of inquiry; and meanwhile—this is important—to take no major decisions until they can be made in the light of all the facts.
Every day the national and provincial newspapers carry news of changes which are now being made. For example, in January the cattle-loading points all over the country on British Railways are going to be reduced to a fraction of what they are now. But whatever part of the country these reports come from, they all tell the same story: that every change being made means more traffic being forced on to the roads. It must stop. If it does not stop, then I say that talk of road casualties is meaningless, even hypocritical. It just is no use talking only of what I might call technical adjustments, important as they are, of ensuring that vehicles are tested, that old vehicles are not allowed on the roads and that kind of thing, and teaching children—380 schoolchildren were killed on the roads last year—their drill.
I do not agree with my noble friend about the general standard of driving. There are still lunatics who ought not to be in charge of a car at all and who turn it into a lethal weapon. My own impression is that the general standard of driving has in fact improved; but in view of what I have said, I should also say of goods-vehicle drivers not only that their standard of driving is not only good but, generally speaking, that their standard of road courtesy is high, and that these awful accident figures are forced on all road users by congestion.
Therefore, the major contribution to the saving of life which we can make on the roads is to endeavour to adjust our economic and other policies so that there is not so much unnecessary traffic on 904 the roads. I feel that that is an hypothesis which is unanswerable. I submit that if the Government will to-day give an assurance that they will consider these things, that they will call a halt to this present, as I regard it, madness of shoving more and more traffic on the roads, either through the economic pull or arbitrarily, and also give an assurance that their final decisions will be made objectively on the basis of all the facts, then this debate may well be one of the most important to the people of this country that has been held in this Chamber for a long time.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I hesitated to interrupt the noble Lord in the course of his remarks, but before he sits down I should like to get quite clear one small thing. He referred to certain remarks made the other day by my right honourable friend at a luncheon, and I think that, probably inadvertently, by implication, in the way he put it he suggested that the remarks on the subject of vested interests applied to certain specified vested road interests. I should like to correct that impression, because my right honourable friend's remarks applied to any interest in the whole world of transport that might be described as "vested", and not to any particular section.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I am most grateful for that observation. I was most careful in what I said, and I hope I did not give that impression. I quoted a report of the Minister's actual words. But this speech, as reported in The Times, I regard as of great significance, if only for the fact that in several important details it was at variance with the Press hand-out of the Minister's speech; and I cherish the hope that these differences to which I refer were, when he was speaking to the Transport Institute, from the heart and not from the brief.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I do not complain a bit. The noble Lord got the words right. I think it was the implication that he hung on them that I wanted just to square off.
§ 3.59 p.m.
THE EARL OF GOSFORD
My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to those of the noble Lord, Lord 905 Stonham, to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for bringing forward this debate to-day. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has a vast knowledge of the subject and is assiduous in his campaign for road safety. Alas! he knows also all there is to know about the subject, and leaves little for those who follow him other than to cross the "t's" and dot the "i's". I think that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has almost plugged any other holes that were left. Sir Richard Nugent, when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, said in another place that when human beings get into a car they drop 2,000 years of civilisation. Alas! this is only too true, and I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that this is the major cause of accidents. Selfishness—trying to get ahead of the chap in front, leaving it too late to get to an appointment and therefore having to go "hell for leather" to keep it—is one of the major causes of these accidents. If in walking along the pavement we behaved in the same way as when we are driving cars, we should end up flat on our backs before we had gone about five yards. I should think that would certainly happen to me.
I fully appreciate that legislation and the enforcement of motoring regulations make an important contribution to the campaign against road accidents, but it seems to me important that measures of this sort should not be regarded as a substitute for constructive action—and I also mean by that construction which certainly involves expense. Heaven knows! my Lords, it is money well spent when one thinks of the number of lives which would be saved thereby. To take roads first, although there has recently been a welcome expansion of the road programme, and even more recently an announcement of further expansion, like Oliver Twist I come back for more. There are more than 10 million vehicles on the roads today, and the Road Research Laboratory estimate that by 1970 there will be approximately 17 million—an increase of 70 per cent.; by the year 2000 even that figure will have been doubled.
The Minister of Transport has stated—and these figures have already been mentioned today—that approximately 1,000 miles of motorway will be con- 906 structed by the early 1970's. However, the County Surveyors' Society have recently recommended that, not this figure, but nearly three times this figure is what in fact will be needed. It would seem from these figures that the race is lost before it has even started. If more and more cars are going to be allowed to pour on to the roads, roads which become less and less adequate, accidents through impatience will increase in geometrical progression.
In its 1961 Report the Road Research Laboratory gave some information about the drop in road accidents resulting from the construction of a number of new bypasses. Accidents on new roads by-passing seven small country towns, and added to the accidents on the old roads so bypassed, were compared with the numbers on the old roads alone. There were 25 per cent. fewer injury accidents on the new and the old roads combined; and there were 60 per cent. fewer on the old roads that were left. My Lords, this proves certainly to me that the greatest contribution to the reduction in road accidents is an adequate road system.
This brings me to the subject of the three-lane carriageway, which I dislike just as much as does the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I know that we shall probably be told by my noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chesham, who is to reply, that the Road Research Laboratory in its 1961 Report says that only 2½ per cent. of the total accidents which were reported involved vehicles overtaking in opposite directions. Nevertheless, the same Report says that in a comparison between 30 ft. carriageways and dual carriageways, although the two categories had the same personal injury accident rate on the roads, the 30 ft. carriageways caused far more serious casualties and involved a much larger number of vehicles.
The effective reduction of accidents achieved by segregating motor traffic by motorways or dual carriageways is, to me, self-evident. The London/Birmingham motorway has saved between 600 and 800 casualties in a year, and between 20 and 30 fatal accidents. The casualty rate per vehicle-mile travelled has proved to be less than half the rate on other unrestricted roads, and less than a quarter of the rate averaged over all other roads, both restricted and 907 unrestricted. I think our great-grandchildren will look back on us in horror when they think that cars on our present roads which are not dual carriageways can pass each other at a combined speed of over 130 m.p.h.—that is 60 in one direction, and 70 in the other. It is quite mad to allow this sort of thing to happen, and therefore we must press on with dual carriageways.
Before I leave this point I should like to put in a plea for the by-passing of villages and towns, instead of continuing with the present trend—I know this is a trend on the part of local authorities rather than the Ministry of Transport—of widening village and town streets to allow through-traffic to flow more freely. This seems to me an abuse of village roads and town roads and streets. Through-traffic should go round the towns and the villages and not disrupt the life of the inhabitants.
My Lords, I talked about segregation in regard to vehicles going in opposite directions, but a further segregation which must happen, and must happen soon, is that of segregating the pedestrians from the cyclists, and the cyclists from the motorists. It seems fantastic to me that in this day and age all three can wander about more or less at will in town streets. This, I believe, is where statistically the bulk of the accidents takes place. I know this is a difficult problem: it will cost money, and it is also a political subject. But the Government—some Government—must soon take a strong line and introduce proper segregation for these three classes of road users, for their own good and for their own safety.
I have two more points to make. The first is in regard to traffic police, which subject has already been mentioned, though not possibly this aspect of it. In their memorandum of evidence to the Royal Commission on the Police, the motoring organisations stressed that the presence of uniformed police on the roads, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, mentioned, in vehicles which are readily identifiable as police patrols, is a most effective safety measure and a deterrent to bad driving. An experiment introduced by the Home Office in 1938 provided for special forces of police 908 patrols (known in those days as "courtesy cops") who were instructed to tackle the road accident problem by a programme of courtesy rather than by prosecutions. This experiment, although conducted in only a few counties, was considered to be extremely successful and in fact resulted in a reduction in fatal accidents, of 18 percent., and in all other injuries of over 40 percent.
In its final Report, the Royal Commission acknowledged that with more traffic patrols the number of road accidents could be substantially reduced. The view was expressed, however, that in the promotion of responsible driving, firm enforcement of the law need not rule out efforts to improve road courtesy by this form of persuasion and friendly advice. Mr. Houghton, the head of the Ministry of Transport's Road Safety Campaign, said earlier this year:The presence of uniformed police drivers on the road is one of the biggest factors in encouraging motorists to behave sensibly. We should therefore like to see an expansion of mobile police patrols. We are discussing this whole question with the Home Office and chief constables.And I hope that, when my noble friend comes to reply, he will be able to report some progress in these discussions.
Finally, my Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, mentioned driving instruction and said that anybody can open a driving school without let or hindrance or, for that matter, licence. On top of that there is the special problem of instructing motor-cyclists, and I would urge that steps should be taken for special roads or special places to be built for instructing motor-cyclists, who naturally when they are under instruction cannot have an instructor with them, other than standing by the roadside. It seems to me dangerous that people who are learning to ride motor-cycles are forced to get straight on to the motor-cycle alone on open roads, because nothing else is available to them. My Lords, accidents are, I know, caused by human beings, but if they are not given the proper roads, or are given roads which themselves cause accidents, then it is not entirely, though it is basically, their fault. I would urge that more money be spent on giving us not only a more adequate road system but a much safer one.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, in view of the length of the list of speakers this afternoon, I had resolved to deal with two aspects only of this great problem. But having heard the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, on the subject of three-lane highways, I think I can reduce my headings to one and a half.
As the noble Earl has pointed out, although statistically the number of accidents on three-lane highways does not appear to be very great—Indeed, statistically I daresay the number of three-lane highways is not all that great, thank goodness ! —nevertheless, my Lords, these are the serious accidents; they are the head-on collisions which kill. I should therefore like whole-heartedly to support the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and the correspondent of The Times a few weeks ago, who both made a strong plea that every three-lane highway in the country should, for virtually the Whole of its length, be subject to the double white line system, so as to ensure that the centre lane was reserved exclusively, first for the traffic going in one direction, and then for the traffic going in the other direction. For this purpose the road would be divided up according to its physical characteristics, into stretches, in the same sort of way that a river is divided into its separate reaches.
My Lords, the only other aspect of three-lane highways which I should like to mention is this. I wonder whether, where we have three-lane highways being used very heavily by what one might describe as the tidal flow of rush-hour traffic, we could not use them more effectively. If my memory serves me aright, the Lion's Gate Bridge across Vancouver Harbour is a three-lane highway. The centre lane is reserved during the morning rush hour for the traffic entering the city, and in the evening it is reserved exclusively for the outgoing traffic. I should have thought that that system might usefully be adopted in this country. I know that it would entail moving barriers daily across the width of the centre lane, but I believe that in many cases that would be well worth while.
The only other subject I wish to touch upon is—to use the language of the Road Traffic Act of this year—driving "with 910 uncorrected defective eyesight". This, I think, was made a specific offence for the first time only this year by Section 42 of that Act, and subsection (2) of that section empowers a police constable, who has reason to suspect that a driver is driving with uncorrected defective eyesight, thereupon to submit the driver to a test of his eyesight. My Lords, the only trouble as I see it is: what is to lead the constable to diagnose that the trouble is caused by the driver's defective eyesight?
When this clause of the Bill, as it then was, came before your Lordships, when your Lordships were considering the Commons Amendments to the Bill, I ventured to suggest that we might well adopt in this country a system which I know obtains in many parts of North America whereby a driver who requires glasses for driving has that fact recorded in some fashion upon his driving licence. I think that that could be quite easily done here. The Ministry of Transport examiner, when issuing his pass certificate, would mark the certificate in some special way, which would indicate to the licensing authority that the licence was to be marked to the effect that the driver wore glasses for driving. People with defective vision who drove without their spectacles would then know that, when they were stopped by the police and had their driving licences examined, they would be found out. As a result, this practice, I feel sure, would cease. The answer given to me by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, on that occasion was admirably brief. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 243 (No. 113) col. 324]:I should like to think about that".My Lords, I mention the matter now, because perhaps we may this evening have the benefit of the noble Lord's deliberations upon this problem.
Finally, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the very last paragraph of the Minister's Report for 1961–62, Roads in England and Wales, where he coins the phrase "full motorisation", for which I suppose the English translation would be "dense traffic". I could only suppose that, for one who normally speaks so very plainly, he had on this occasion caught an infection from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, who, 911 in their Report entitled Road Research, 1961, make use of the expression "benefit from dualisation". My Lords, I should have thought that a Minister of the Crown, speaking upon this topic above all others, ought to stick to ordinary good English, and make his message understood by the ordinary man. If the Minister announces that he fears that more people will get hurt on the roads unless they take greater care, the message may go home, care may be taken and the disaster may not occur. If the Minister says that he envisages increasing hospitalisation, the average man will say to himself, "This cannot apply to me", no regard will be taken of it and the disaster will come upon us.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ LORD KENSWOOD
My Lords, I hesitated for a long time before deciding whether to take part in this debate, but the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and subsequent speakers have dealt with this problem rather in general terms, and I am therefore inclined to think that a specific instance in which I personally am concerned may throw a little light on the problem. I live in a road in St. John's Wood, where I have a flat, and from time to time during the last eleven years residents have made representations to the police on account of a very dangerous crossing on that road, which is crossed by an important through-traffic road. There have been accidents at this corner, but we have been told by the police that—and I am quoting here—"With patience and care the crossing can be safely made at the peak periods of traffic"
I ask your Lordships to consider this. At the end of my road there are five schools, ranging from a kindergarten up to a secondary modern and a grammar school. I myself have four grandchildren who have to cross that road at least twice a day, and it is not always possible to give even them safe conduct across the road. Many of the children who have to cross this road—in fact, the bulk of them—cannot be accompanied by adults, and on their way to school they have to face this terrible possibility of being run over. There have been tragic cases within the last eleven years, and I put it to your Lordships that what the police say is, "With patience and care the crossing 912 can be safely made at the peak periods". I am speaking now of children—with patience and care! How many children have patience and care to cross these thoroughfares? Some of them are properly brought up and can do it, but the risk is always there; and there have been tragic accidents at this corner. What has been demanded from time to time by the inhabitants through petitions, very widely subscribed, is that there should be a traffic light at that dangerous corner, or possibly at the next corner, in order to break up the traffic and thus reduce the speed. But this has always been turned down. The police have always said that "with care and patience" this crossing can be made safely.
I will not keep the House much longer, but I think it is important to enquire whether a traffic light, which could be set up here and which could save life and limb, is too much to ask for. It would certainly be beneficial, not only on account of what has been called "hospitalisation"—a horrible term—but also on account of the suffering, not only to the children themselves but to those who have to look after the children, and the anxiety they have to go through every day. My Lords, I strongly support the plea put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ LORD ALLERTON
My Lords, I wish to join with other noble Lords who have spoken earlier in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for having introduced this Motion, and to congratulate him upon his usual excellent and well-informed speech. The terms of the Motion are very wide, and I trust that I may be permitted to make a few suggestions—some of them, I fear, rather specific suggestions. In my view, a wrong mental approach to the problems of driving is responsible for the majority of accidents. In this, I would include a lack of knowledge of the rules of driving. This is normally something from which many drivers suffer; and your Lordships will know that almost every time a journey of any length is undertaken one or more situations arise when one or another motorist has to take some action, usually rapid, in order to avoid an accident. The normal reaction to that is then to blame the other motor car. But is this always right? If we are 913 honest to ourselves, we sometimes have to admit that we ourselves might have been driving a little better—and some of us would have to make this admission more frequently than others.
I believe that a very large section of the motoring public do not know nearly enough about the basic rules of driving. This is something for which a remedy can be found. The right honourable gentleman the Minister of Transport quite rightly makes good use of both the Press and the broadcasting system in communicating his ideas to the public. I suggest that he makes use of both these media and, through them, both pictorially and diagramatically, draws attention to the basic rules of driving. For instance, it would be simple to explain the dangers which arise when a car is not properly positioned on the road. This is something which could be explained to the public; and, although it may sound very elementary and not up to the standard of even "L" plate drivers, it is something which could possibly be brought home very much more strongly than it is. The Ministry are well aware of the rules of driving; but, although the public also are supposed to know these rules, there is ample evidence every day that either the public have no knowledge of them or that the rules are broken. I therefore suggest that, however elementary these rules may be, they be brought to the notice of the public so often that, sooner or later, they begin to sink in.
I used to regard myself as an experienced and capable motorist. In holding that view, I should not have been alone: I think that is something from which most drivers suffer. On the score of mileage covered and freedom from accidents, I suppose I had some reason for my feeling, but it was not until I read Roadcraft, and through the kindness of a police driving instructor in his spare time, received some instruction that I began to realise how little I knew about the basic rules of driving. I cannot believe there are not others who would benefit from reading Roadcraft and I suggest that some of the diagrams and illustrations in this admirable book should be more widely brought to the notice of the public.
I do not believe that it is possible to produce good manners and consideration for others by legislation: I think 914 it can be done only by education. In my view—and I know that this may not be the view of all your Lordships—heavy penalties are not necessarily the answer. They may intimidate to some degree, but they will not get to the root cause of the trouble. But I will say that when it is necessary to inflict penalties, I believe that suspension of licences, even if only for a short period, depending upon the seriousness of the offence, is a logical answer to the problem. The danger is thereby removed from the road. But in my view, prison sentences axe rarely appropriate for motorists. Many people, when they get into a motor car, seem to think that they have special rights. This idea must be dispelled. They must be made to realise that they have no rights but only a duty to behave themselves properly while on the road. The same principle must apply to pedestrians or anyone else who forms part of the traffic problem.
If I may turn to more specific ideas as to steps which could be taken towards reducing accidents, I would say that I never cease to be amazed at the number of drivers who refuse to put on their sidelights until it is almost dark. Regard for even their own safety does not seem to exist. Also for some fantastic reason, it seems to be regarded as not being good form to use dipped headlights until long after it has become necessary. I believe that the experiment in Birmingham, whereby motorists have been asked to drive with their dipped headlights, even under town conditions, has been successful; and, if that is so, I should hope to see that principle extended. As it is, if one turns on one's headlights in reasonable time the usual result is a series of angry flashes from other traffic in the opposite direction. The folly of this action should require no explanation, but some education on this subject would be helpful.
I believe that all dual-carriageways should have anti-dazzle fences down the middle, similar to the so-called experimental anti-dazzle fence down the middle of part of the M.l. At night, that is the safest stretch of the whole road. It has not been my experience that dazzle from behind, which this type of fence is inclined to produce, is nearly so dangerous as dazzle from the front. This type of fence is also fairly robust 915 and is frequently strong enough to prevent skidding cars from crossing the centre section and going head-on into oncoming traffic. These fences may be ugly, they may be expensive; but roads are there for a purpose and not necessarily because of beauty—any more than are railways. Trees and high hedges may be beautiful, but they do nothing to improve visibility, and in many cases they should be either cut down or removed. I believe the powers exist to do this but they seem to be used too infrequently. For my part I would sooner look at an ugly road than at a beautiful cemetery.
While speaking on visibility, I would draw your Lordships' attention to the regulations regarding vans and vehicles of the Land-Rover type. It has been ordained from a laudable desire to extract more taxes from the public that these types of vehicles, not otherwise subject to purchase tax, must pay the tax if they are fitted with windows in the sides of the van portion of the body. This regulation so reduces the visibility of the driver that these vehicles can become positively dangerous. Many of your Lordships who own either vans or Land-Rovers may have had the experience of attempting to enter a main road from a side road with the intention of turning right. Any traffic which may be coming from the left is completely invisible to the driver, and so a very dangerous situation can be caused. I would urge the Government to withdraw what I would regard as a ridiculous regulation. Even if a few pounds are sacrificed in the cause of road safety a great many lives could possibly be saved.
I heartily agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and my noble friend Lord Gosford said on the subject of three-way roads. One of the worst examples of the dangers of three-way roads is on the A.l, between Stamford and Polsterworth. This three-way road extends for approximately eight miles and is marked in three lanes. It is straight except for a curve at Wool-fox aerodrome. The camber is correct and I think I am right in saying that the road is 33 feet in width throughout. No part is restricted for speed; there are no lights, and no cycle-track. It was made a clearway in August, 1961. This specification would seem to be adequate, 916 yet the accident rate of this stretch of road is very high indeed. Furthermore, it continues to increase. The number of accidents this year is already in excess of the total number for 1961. The figure for this year includes eight fatal accidents and I believe there was another one last week-end, though of that I am not certain.
It is possible that one of the reasons for the high accident rate on this apparently good stretch of road is that it lies between two dual carriageways, both of which are up to motorway standard, and on which drivers have become accustomed to driving at a fast speed in safety. The drivers may have thus temporarily lost their judgment of speed and the realisation of the dangers of traffic coming from the other way. Also, it looks to be a very good and fast road, though it presents hazards which can outwit even a good driver. It is an example of improving an old road insufficiently. The result is that drivers are lured into making mistakes which they could not possibly make on a motorway. Be that as it may, these accidents are causing considerable disquiet locally. I have here a cutting from the Stamford Mercury of November 9 last. It reads:Rutland A.l death stretch. Ministry to act, but not before 1965 or 1970.I trust that this date may prove to be wrong and that this stretch of road may be converted to a dual carriageway long before 1965.
I am aware that the Ministry can be involved in very long delays in the acquisition of land for road improvements, and, I venture to say, too long. However, the improvement of this portion of road would not appear to present so many difficulties as usual, and I urge the Ministry to press on with the necessary improvements with all possible speed. I refer to this road in some detail in order to support my argument that a fast three-way road is much more dangerous than a slow two-way road, especially if it lies between two stretches of fast, dual carriageways.
The Sunday Telegraph of November 11 last, reports the Chief Constable of Essex as saying that impatience is the chief cause of accidents. He considers that impatience leads motorists to drive at speeds in excess of their capabilities. He is also reported as having said that 917 more could be done for road safety by education than by harsh penalties and that it is better to impose a speed limit on drivers rather than on roads. He suggests that drivers who have passed the "L" test should replace their "L" plates with plates bearing the figure 45, denoting that they must not drive at speeds in excess of that figure until they have shown, toy passing a more advanced test, their ability to do so. This is an interesting line of thought and is worthy of consideration.
Anyone who uses the M.l regularly will be aware of the dangers which can be caused by lorries and other commercial vehicles passing other similar vehicles which are in the centre lane. To do so, they have to occupy the fast lane which, owing to their nearly identical speeds, they occupy far too long. Furthermore, these vehicles are not designed for and should not travel at the sort of speeds attained by motor cars in the fast lane. The fast lane would be safer if it were restricted to motor cars only. I read that this restriction has been imposed in Italy on the Turin-Milan autostrada and the results have been very beneficial. I feel that a similar restriction could be beneficial here.
In conclusion, I should like to pay tribute to what the Ministry of Transport have done already in the interests of safety. Traffic is half again what it was in 1954 and it continues to increase. The Ministry of Transport have faced great difficulties, and in the past they have not had nearly enough money at their disposal. I would refer to the work of the Road Research Laboratory. This organisation has received not much thanks and very little publicity, but it has contributed greatly towards the safety of our roads. There is no one and no easy solution to all these problems. To me the remarkable thing is that there are not more accidents than there are. But much could be done by education; by better road engineering and by increased self-restraint on the part of all those who use our roads to reduce the number of these accidents and to lessen the amount of human suffering which they entail.
§ 4.48 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWELL
My Lords, I think that something has to be said from this Bench to emphasise 918 the concern of the Church in the question we are discussing this afternoon. Concern is rather too weak a word—I should say, involvement. The reckless wastage of human life which we are debating is an absolute affront to the Christian conscience. But I will not be long and it will not be a sermon. In my experience, moral exhortation is the least rewarding of human activities, except perhaps, passing pious resolutions.
We have to accept the fact that the traffic density of this Island, already the thickest in the world, is going to increase absolutely and proportionately. In a sense, we have to welcome that. We ought to be glad that more and more people have the chance of owning and running a car, with all the liberation and widening of life that it puts into the reach of an increasing number of families, and there cannot possibly be any talk about restricting the number of cars. But the cost in human life and suffering of all this moving around is frankly appalling. Everybody knows the statistics, but really when one thinks of nearly 7,000 people being killed, in addition to the number of people maimed and disabled and all the mental suffering of their relatives, it is appalling. If anything like that number of people were killed in mines and factories, there would have been a revolution long ago. And children—767 children! All the children's diseases have been reduced to almost nothing in their incidence. The Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Education reported the other day that rheumatic fever used to kill 1,700 children a year, and it now kills 31. Tuberculosis is down from thousands to nine; and similarly with diphtheria, polio and other children's diseases. But children's deaths on the road number 767. Why, if 70 children were killed in accidents by fire or flood or a catastrophe of nature, all the flags would be half-masted; there would be a Lord Mayor's Fund and all the rest of it! But when it happens on the road we try to pretend it is not and look the other way. We are accepting a sort of fatalistic attitude to the whole problem, as if it is something that just happens—and when I say "we", I mean the public in general.
It is no good our clamouring for the Government somehow to solve the problem, because legislation that goes too far 919 ahead of public opinion is self-defeating. The question is how public opinion can be made more sensitive and for how much public opinion will stand. It is often said in solemn terms that this is a moral problem: ecclesiastics say it, and Ministers of Transport say it. Fundamentally, of course, that is true, in that it is a problem about human life itself. But I think we have to be careful how we use that phrase, because it can easily become a kind of escapism in which we all join in the merry game of hunt the scapegoat. We are always asking what was the cause of an accident. As a matter of fact, there is probably hardly ever any one cause of anything. We always suggest that somebody has been to blame, and that if so and so had been more conscientious and, therefore, less culpable than he was it would not have happened. But that is by mo means always true. All sorts of accidents occur to which no moral judgment is applicable: some unpredictable mechanical failure occurs; a wisp of fog suddenly sweeps across a road in the Thames Valley; a sheep jumps over a dry wall in Westmorland.
What happens then is nobody's fault. Insurance companies may have to try and assess liability, but that is quite another point: nobody is particularly to blame. You cannot use moral language quite so slickly as that. It is a moral question in the sense of being one of personal and social responsibility. And there are so many interests involved in the whole business of traffic on the road. There are the people who want to sell cars and those who want to sell petrol; the millions of firms who want to get their stuff along as fast as possible; the catering industry, agriculture, amenities, and even pedestrians, who have as much right on the roads as the cars. These are all perfectly legitimate interests, but they often come into collision.
The community, as a Whole, has somehow got to take control of the situation and to assume a moral obligation to avoid these tragedies so far as may be. But it can only act through the State. In other words, the technical and moral intertwine here. If it is a moral obligation to try to save life, then it is a moral duty to will and enact the technical means that may conduce to that end. 920 We do not want to throw about praise and blame too slickly. Most people are reasonably careful most of the time; but we should remember that there are quite a lot of men and women who spend the greater part of their working day on the road in the course of their lawful occasions, and nothing is going to make all the people careful all the time. We cannot entirely eliminate human failure, not even by automatic signalling. What we have to do is to try to reduce to the smallest possible margin the element of human failure. We take that for granted (at least, I hope we do) on the railways, at sea, in the air, in the factories and the pits. But on the roads we still leave far too much to chance. I am sure that we are never going to approach this problem with sufficient drive and determination if we get away from the fundamental Christian principle that the top priority in all planning must be the absolute value of human life. We take that for granted, for example, in the factories, where we have safety at some cost in convenience or even profit, and so on. The absolute value of human life must be the guiding principle and top priority. But that moral axiom carries with it the technical steps to get somewhere near to its realisation.
As for better roads, we should all be grateful for the improvements that we are getting. But is it certain that better roads are the only answer? Better roads will attract more traffic, and we may get into a kind of vicious circle. If we try to build highways on the American model, then there will not be much England to build them on. Better roads are not in themselves a complete panacea. I wonder whether, if we cannot ever hope to tailor the roads to the traffic, we had not better start the other way round and tailor the traffic to the roads. Do we not need an overall transport policy? Is it so certain that railway policy at the moment, however beneficial it may be to British Railways, is in the long run socially desirable?
I am going to end, simply as an amateur and a private citizen, by making one or two suggestions. First, with regard to speed, it must stand to reason that there is some correlation between high speeds and accidents. Higher speeds may not mean more accidents, but they certainly mean worse accidents: the impact 921 will be worse, and the collision may mean death instead of a sprained wrist. The statistics from the Ministry of Transport seem to suggest that where the 50 m.p.h. limit was imposed last year there was a remarkable drop in the number of casualities. I wonder whether an absolute speed limit of 60 miles per hour would be an intolerable infringement of the liberty of the citizen. After all, they accept that in the United States.
Just a word about headlights. Dazzle has a most mesmeric effect if you are driving for long on, for example, the A.l. You do not get it on the Continental Routes Nationales. I can never understand why we do not insist on either amber bulbs or some kind of different focusing gadget, which I am sure the manufacturers could easily produce. Now a word about motor cycles. It is seventeen times more dangerous to ride a motor cycle than to drive a car. While there has been, I gather from the Ministry's figures, a general decrease in the category of deaths of motor cycle riders, the casualities in people under 20 years old have increased. I agree with what the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, said a few moments ago. Is it really right that any boy who has hardly left school should be able to get on to one of these lethal things and dash away on it? When one sees the corpses of seventeen year old boys lying around on the road, one cannot help wondering whether the liberty which society allows them is quite fair to them.
Finally, may I say a word about drink? I am not speaking as a tee-totaller, but by common consent this is one of the important factors in the problem. It is not insignificant that the peak hour for fatal accidents, after the rush hour in the evening between 5 and 6 o'clock, is between 10 and 11 o'clock, when people are going home from shows and parties. One need not be too much alarmed about the increased number of convictions for drunkenness; there are more people to convict, and the police may be "doing their stuff" better than they did before. What is much more alarming, to my mind, is the indication which seems to emerge from statistics, that there is a marked increase in drunkenness amongst what the statistics call pedestrians, and especially in the younger age groups.
922 But, when all is said and done, is drunkenness the whole problem here? No doubt there are a few alcoholics around and a few people who occasionally drink more than they ought. But the Ministry of Transport itself remarks that police figures of those being under the influence are known to underestimate considerably the total contribution of alcohol to the rate of casualities. There is considerable evidence that an alcoholic content in the blood very much lower than what As accepted by the police and the courts to justify charges markedly impairs people's judgment, and encourages a dangerous rashness in the things they do.
Government agencies have been doing their best. They have dome extraordinarily effective work in their posters about cigarette smoking. I know from my own experience that if you go into a youth club now it is surprising how few people you see smoking. That warning has gone home. But it is put in words which stab the young people. It simply says: "If you smoke you get cancer". I am mot discussing the truth of that, but that is what they believe. We say, "If you drink, don't drive." I think you want to say something more violent: "If you drink and drive you will probably be killed". Anyway, it seems to me that we want to try to secure public and social support for a far-reaching campaign on this subject of drink and driving. One would like to see it become a point of honour and social decency for a man to say, "No, thank you, I have to drive home."
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ LORD SALTER
My Lords, I propose to devote the very few minutes for which I shall ask your Lordships' attention mainly to one general consideration. I believe that most of what is wrong with our system of dealing with motoring faults is due to the fact that it has grown up as a development of the ordinary criminal law. There are two very important differences between other criminal offences and motorists' faults. By and large, the ordinary criminal offender has intended the kind of damage to his victim that he has inflicted. If he stabs, he at least intends that his victim should be hurt, if not killed. If he robs, he intends that his victim should lose his goods. It is 923 therefore natural that there should be a reasonable relationship between the kind of damage which has been caused and the kind of penalty that should be inflicted—that the punishment should fit the crime. In the case of motoring offences, however, the position is completely different. A motorist, however culpable, has not intended to damage, still less to kill the victim by his conduct. The consequence is that either you inflict the kind of penalty which is grossly excessive in relation to anything like personal guilt, or you take action which is fantastically small in relation to what has been the result of that conduct. That is one difference.
The other difference is this. In practically all criminal offences, which may occur anywhere, the only way in which you can attempt to protect the public in future, apart from the relatively limited extent to which you cam effect moral reformation, is either by a complete deprivation of personal liberty by imprisonment or by some other form of punishment that is so severe that it will deter either that offender or others who might act in a similar way. But in motoring offences there is this difference. They do not occur just anywhere; they are absolutely limited to driving in a car on the Queen's highway. Therefore, you can completely protect the public by a restriction of the individual freedom and liberty of action which affects only his driving a dangerous machine on the Queen's high road. It may seem hard to deprive a person who is not personally guilty of a serious moral offence of the enjoyment of driving a car. But, after all, nobody had that 100 years ago. It is, it is true, a greater loss if that person's means of living depends upon his driving a car. Yet the loss or inconvenience caused by having to change jobs to something that does not involve driving is very small by comparison with the loss of life or limb to completely innocent persons which not only may be but is likely to be caused by a driver who is shown by his record to be likely to drive in such a way as to involve more than the normal risk.
I do not propose to illustrate this point either in detail or by many examples, 924 but the right reverend Prelate who preceded me referred to the particular case of drink. I do not want to punish a man for drinking, but I do want to prevent him from causing great danger to the general public by driving when he is in such a condition that the risk in his driving is greater than normal and intolerable. I remember that some years ago a great judge was talking about this aspect. He had had long experience of dealing with various kinds of motoring cases, and his comment was: "You know, my experience is that something approaching a half of those cases would never have arisen if the driver had never drunk at all. I do not think he was drunk in all but a relatively small number of cases, or even that he was, in the ordinary sense of the term, driving under the influence of drink. But in most cases he had in fact drunk a little before the accident, and it was enough to do two things: to make him a little more optimistic in judging a crisis when it occurred and to make his reactions in dealing with that crisis a little slower."
I should like to see, not imprisonment or punishment of other kinds but exclusion from the roads in cases where a driver has been at fault with serious results, on such serious criteria as would develop the practice and habit in this country of not driving if you drink and not drinking if you are going to drive. It is not an impossible thing; it has very nearly happened in Sweden. I remember some time ago being given a cocktail party. I went and I saw there a number of mainly youngish people. They did not at all look to me tee-totallers by habit, but I noticed, to my surprise, that none of the men was drinking anything except lemonade, or something of that kind, while all the women were drinking normally. I inquired about this and I was told that the wives had made an arrangement, very advantageously to themselves, that while they would drive to the party their husbands should drive home. The prospective penalty has changed a general habit over a large section of the motoring community. I suggest that, if we have regard to the terrible dimensions which this problem has now reached, it is not unreasonable that a man should know that if he drinks before driving and then 925 has an accident he is likely to find himself excluded from the roads in future.
I conclude only by recalling to your Lordships what is the kind of dimension of this problem. I always think it is better to look at figures on a relatively small scale; to give them, for example, not by the year but by the day. By and large, summer and winter, holidays and on working days, about twenty people are killed each day. What I think is even more important is that something like twelve times that number, about 240 people a day, are seriously injured. I am now excluding all the lesser cases of injury and taking the category adopted in the official Report of "serious accidents". I suggest that that figure of twelve times the number of actual deaths probably represents, in human loss and human suffering more than the actual deaths themselves.
This brings this particular kind of disaster into the order of magnitude of a major killing disease, but again with this difference: that on the average, the people who die of a major killing disease, such as cancer, are people who probably had a lesser expectation of life than people in general, either by virtue of physical frailty or of age. Motoring victims, however, have, by age and general physical condition, at least as good an average expectation of life as the average—and possibly, in view of the number of young people killed, a greater expectation.
It is in the perspective of that perfectly terrible rate of injury and of death that I think we should judge the whole of our system of dealing with motor accidents. Would it be so unreasonable that, quite apart from the kind of penalty which the courts impose as a punishment, the record should be taken into account with a view to the exclusion—not on grounds of crime or guilt, but on the grounds of preserving the public from an undue risk—from future driving licences of people whose record has shown that they do involve considerably more than the normal risk? There may be hardly any element of personal fault in the ordinary sense. Through age, or through impairment of some of the faculties, quite a number of people are temperamentally or otherwise unfitted to drive without involving more than the ordinary risk.
926 My Lords, I think that dominating all our policy should be this aim of trying to exclude from the roads altogether that not very high proportion, but still substantial number, of drivers whose record shows quite clearly that driving by them will involve substantially more and very serious risk to the ordinary public.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER
My Lords, somewhat reluctantly over the years I have come to the conclusion that the real reason why we do not diminish this terrible toll of slaughter is that we do not want to; or at least that we do not care sufficiently to pay the price in inconvenience to the motorist and perhaps to others which it would be necessary to pay if these ghastly figures are to be reduced. It is very difficult to understand why they make so little emotional impact upon the community.
The noble Lord, Lord Salter, has admirably expressed them in terms of the daily result, and perhaps your Lordships will bear with me for a moment if I express them on the grand scale, as he has put them on the small scale. At the rate at which we are now, in 1961, killing and injuring persons—and for this purpose I include all injury—we shall in ten years have killed or injured a total population equivalent to every man, woman and child who now live in the cities of Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Bristol and Cardiff put together. My Lords, in ten years! If we were to exclude the slight injuries—the slight injuries which usually involve a serious amount of stock and fright at the very least—we shall still have injured, at the 1961 rate, the entire population of Manchester and Cardiff put together.
We have already killed 45 per cent. more persons on the roads of this country since the war than the number of civilians killed by enemy action during the war. I sometimes think—though the comparison, your Lordships may feel, is a little macabre—that it might bring it home to us if we were, so to speak, to assemble the dead each year, perhaps as Christmas approaches, and put them in the Albert Hall; the year's dead would occupy seven out of every eight seats in the Albert Hall. This, I think, is the kind of comparison which brings home to us what the figures really mean. The terrible part is that of those killed 927 or seriously injured nearly one-third are under the age of twenty. Our motto seems to be, "Medicated survival for the elderly and death on the roads for the young".
I have come to the conclusion that we do not really care, for two reasons. One is our failure to adopt simple, physical, practical precautions, and the second is our total failure, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, pointed out, to enforce the laws that Parliament makes. Let me just mention one or two of the physical precautions. Many noble Lords have referred to the three-lane road. The three-lane road is simply an invitation to death, and one of the worst features of it is that stretches of three-lane road get this reputation. There is a section of the Kingston By-pass which is known locally as "Death Alley", and rightly so known. One of the consequences is that there are practically no prosecutions on these stretches because the police, not unnaturally, take the cynical attitude that anything that happens on this road is due to the fact that it happens in "Death Alley". I think the truth of the matter was well summed up by a report of what the coroner said in a case in which I had a deep personal interest, because one person who was killed and another who was seriously injured were on their way to take dinner at my house. The coroner remarked, "This is a collision and death, like so many others on that road, that was avoidable. If both drivers had moved out of the way, or if one had moved, it would not have occurred".
Besides the three-lane road there is the double white line, I have raised this point in your Lordships' House before and I will continue to raise it. We paint double white lines, but we take very few precautions to ensure that people do not cross them. It is perfectly possible to place kerbs in the middle of the road where there are double white lines, and this is done in the under-passes. The kerbs can be removable in case of breakdown when it is necessary to have controlled passing. This is a perfectly simple device and I cannot think it would cost more than would be saved in the wastage and death which is occasioned constantly by crossing double white Lines
928 There is a further physical device. When I was in Australia last year, I was very much impressed by a contraption they had in and around Melbourne which showed on a clock face how long a green light had been at green. The clock face moved round for green and amber and red, so that you could tell when the amber was coming up and when the amber should turn to red. As a magistrate I have over and over again had serious cases of shooting the lights. It is extraordinarily difficult to say who it was who went over on the amber or red, or whether both parties had done this together. This happens because people approach the green light under the extraordinary illusion that it will be green to eternity. Experience apparently does not teach them that if it has been green for quite some time, then more than likely it will presently turn to amber. The clock face would do it, but we do not install that. I have to say, with regret, that in Australia they are thinking of removing them because they are too expensive. I am not at all sure, from my experience, whether it is not true that traffic lights cause more accidents than they prevent, because people do not look at the traffic but only at the lights.
As to the enforcement of the law, we do not enforce the speed limits. The Ministry of Transport go to great trouble to say that this should be a 30-mile road and this a 40-mile road, but nobody enforces it. Spot checks have been made which show that in different parts of Great Britain an average of something over 40 per cent. of cars are violating the speed limit at any one time. This is common experience with any motorist who keeps to the speed limits. We could increase the detection of violations of speed limits by mechanical devices, radar devices, but we do not use them. The extraordinary thing is that if your Lordships look at the returns of prosecutions you will find that even though traffic density has been greatly increasing in recent years the number of prosecutions for speeding is actually falling.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, referred, as he has done before, to the shortcomings of the magistracy and the courts, and he quoted a remark of mine, as reported in The Times, associating myself with the ineffectiveness of the sentences that we pass. I am sure it is not the noble Lord's fault, but this 929 particular quotation was taken somewhat out of the context in which the speech was actually made. Certainly, I stand by what I said. If you judge by criminal statistics as a whole, we are not successful in stopping crime. But, on the other hand, there are some factors in this matter which have to be taken into account. I think it is true that the courts take far too lenient a view of the very serious motoring offences. Only a small proportion of all fatal accidents result in a charge of causing death by dangerous driving. From that one would expect that where such a charge is brought and proved it must be a really serious case. It is, after all, what is sometimes known as motor manslaughter; the popular name is motor manslaughter. If you are convicted of any other manslaughter, your chance of going to prison, or borstal if you are younger, is over three in five; but if you are convicted of causing death by dangerous driving, your chance of going to prison is less than one in five.
I think, too, that the courts are reluctant in certain cases, more reluctant than they should be, to take away licences. This is partly a result of public opinion. Public opinion has somehow established that your licence is like your vote: it is a kind of inalienable right, and grave injury is done if a licence is removed. Constantly I have had to argue, even with my fellow magistrates, who are extremely reluctant to take away a licence from a man whose profession is driving, that if his profession is driving he probably drives a great deal, and he is therefore a greater risk. The argument is used that this is his livelihood. My answer is, "Do you use the same argument in connection with an air pilot?" I believe we have to think of driving cars as being much more like driving aeroplanes than we have hitherto done.
It is also true that the machinery of the courts could be improved by a few simple devices. Certainly so far as the magistrates' courts are concerned, I think we should do much better justice and deal with cases better if there were not the terrible time lag. Only the day before yesterday I was hearing a case of a charge of careless driving. The day before yesterday was November 19 and this was a case which occured on May 14. The case, like most motoring cases, 930 turned upon fine calculations of speeds and distances. All the evidence given was almost completely valueless. A motor-cyclist, who was not the defendant but was involved in the accident, was asked to estimate his speed, and, as everybody does, he estimated it at about 25 miles an hour. It may be that this was correct—it is not for me to say. He was cross-examined, and he was not only asked what his speed was, but how he estimated his speed on May 14, on a stretch of road on which he did not know there was going to be an accident. The answer was completely valueless, as are all the elaborate calculations which are built up on hypothetical situations.
One of the difficulties about motoring cases is that whereas, quite understandably, people do not like to say repeatedly, "I do not remember", they therefore say, "There may have been"; and having said that there may have been a car behind them, before the case is finished not only was there a car behind them, but one knows what the make and the date of the car ware, the number of passengers in it and the age and appearance of the person who was driving it, all of which is entirely hypothetical.
Therefore I do not think that the courts by themselves can really cope with the great part of this problem. There are one or two other things that have to happen. I am sure that one of the things that has to happen is that driving instruction and testing has to keep pace with the changes in driving skills. Driving skills are much different now from what they were when I first began to drive, which I am ashamed to say is 38 years ago. The great skills that were required then were brought about by the often wayward temperament exhibited by some of the machines which we drove and which were far harder to manage than those of to-day, but the skill required for road management was as nothing compared with to-day's.
I do not think that driving instruction, from what I know of it, or driving tests, pay nearly enough attention to some of the most serious offences. One of these is parking in a dangerous position. What do you do when you find a car parked in a dangerous position? Do you sit behind it for the rest of the day until the driver comes out and moves it, or 931 do you pass it on the blind corner, with a risk of meeting somebody coming fast in the opposite direction? I can only say that a colleague of mine did it not long ago, and it resulted in her death. This is a serious thing but, so far as I can see, nothing is done, except a rather formal examination in the Highway Code to bring home the importance of all these new rules which we have to observe. So I do not think that severity is going to be enough.
I would entirely agree with the right reverend Prelate that moral exhortation is not much good; yet somehow the sanction has to come from within. The fear of the severity of the law is no adequate answer, either for this or for other crimes; it is the sanction from within which is effective. But, unfortunately, it does not happen in motoring oases. Some months ago an Oxford psychologist, Mr. Michael Argyle, gave a broadcast in which he reminded us that what keeps most of us from committing what sometimes are called major crimes is early conditioning: it is the fact that from an early age we somehow absorb from the atmosphere that it is wrong to steal, wrong to kill and wrong to do personal injury to other people. But we do not absorb at our mother's knee that it is wrong to drive while intoxicated or to take unnecessary risks upon the road. It is no difference of morals which explains why the Ten Commandments make no reference to drunken driving; it is merely due to a difference in the technological conditions of the age of the Commandments and our own. Surely, what we have to do is somehow to rewrite the Commandments so that they can be interpreted in the code of modern society, and yet at the same time be invested with the same kind of sanctity that attaches to those which we absorb in our infancy.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, I have listened with great interest to what the noble Baroness who has just sat down has said. But I cannot help feeling that the speakers I have heard this afternoon, including the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, to whom I am most grateful for introducing this Motion, have shown that we are 932 really being rather alarmist over these casualties. I quite agree that 7,000 people killed is an appalling figure, but we have to remember that the figure of casualties is falling. In the first six months of this year the casualty death rate has fallen by 6 per cent. and the injury rate has fallen by 3 per cent.—this, in spite of car traffic having increased by 7 per cent. Having regard to these figures, I think we have quite a lot about which to congratulate ourselves. I believe that the United Kingdom is the only country in the would which has reduced accidents on the road during the last 25 years. To take the incidence of accidents in the home, through people electrocuting themselves or falling down the stairs, 8,000 deaths occur every year.
As we all know, the cause of accidents on the road is threefold: there are the human factor, crowded and poor roads, and mechanical failure. The second and third of these factors are being fairly satisfactorily dealt with by Her Majesty's Government, who are trying to make great strides by creating new motorways and introducing car testing. It is the human factor which is the main thing, and that is extremely difficult to regulate, human beings being what they are. In the human factor there is frustration which, to a great extent, is caused by crowded roads. There are inattention and inexperience, which can be reduced by stiffer tests. We also have drink, in regard to which we are now giving heavier penalties. Then there are slow reactions. The only way to combat slow reactions is to give people far more severe tests, and if their reactions are so slow that they really should not drive, well, they should not drive.
I agree that speed is the great danger. But speed in the right hands, in the right car, on the right road, is not any danger. Speed in the wrong hands, on the wrong road, in the wrong car is of course an absolute killer. I understand that Her Majesty's Government have thought of introducing next summer the 50 m.p.h. speed limit on all roads at weekends. I think they are going about it in the wrong way, because it is bound to harm the motor industry especially in relation to export. We have to have a strong home market, and if we are going to allow cars to travel at only 50 m.p.h. 933 there is, of course, no object in manufacturing cars that can do 130 m.p.h. I would far prefer Her Majesty's Government to try to separate the sheep from the goats.
For instance, I feel that before people under a certain age drive E-type Jaguars or Mercedes or some other extremely fast car—and I feel this ought really to apply to everybody driving such a car—they should pass a special, advanced test because such cars in the wrong hands are of course extremely lethal. I should also like to see people over a certain age (this is rather a ticklish subject, I agree, especially in your Lordships' House) being required to take another test, because I think we have all had experience of old people—through no fault of their own at all, but perhaps because their faculties are not what they were—being rather dangerous drivers.
The other thing I cannot understand is why it is that driving tests are always conducted in the daylight. I feel there ought also to be tests at night time because, as I understand it, the majority of accidents pro rata to the number of cars on the road occur at night time. It appears odd that we do not have tests by night. My Lords, the other day I had an extraordinary experience of inattention. I was approaching a corner and a girl in a car came round, completely on the wrong side, actually powdering her face, with her elbow on the steering wheel, causing me to go right into the edge of the road with my wheels on the grass. As she passed me, she had the impudence to smile, which I thought was a bit thick.
I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that eventually the Government will have to take some of the heavy long-distance traffic off the roads, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, pointed out, the increase in goods traffic on the roads has been phenomenal. One passes enormous coal lorries carrying 10 or 20 tons; one also passes great car transporters. I feel that all that heavy merchandise should go by rail; I think it is complete nonsense to have it on the roads. I also agree about these three-lane roads; but at a corner—perhaps this would not be practical—instead of having the double white line, how about having a low brick wall about a foot high? This would really keep 934 people on to their right side of the road because you cannot cross a low brick wall. At any rate, I certainly should not like to.
As to the dual carriageways, I understand that the experience in Germany on the autobahns has been that a straight road for mile after mile rather tends to mesmerise drivers, and there have been quite a few instances of drivers dozing off at speed and having the most appalling accidents. I suggest that dual carriageways ought not to be straight for ten miles, but that there ought to be curves every mile in order to keep the driver's attention. Happily, of course, we very seldom have mechanical failure causing accident with a new car or a car that is two or three years old; but, as the motorways in this country increase, one is going to have people driving their small cars all-out for a long time. I suggest that motor manufacturers ought to take this into consideration and that every car ought to have a rev-counter on which the last 500 or 1,000 revs ought to be marked in red in order that the driver understands that if he keeps his engine at maximum power for, say, half an hour, it will probably blow up. I have in fact seen small cars on motorways do just this owing to their being over driven.
My Lords, we are told by the Minister Of Transport—and I understand he is quite right—that the vehicle testing arrangements are proving a great success. I understand that eventually all cars of all ages are to be tested. I have been told that the ultimate object is to arrange for this. The only query I have in regard to the testing of vehicles is this: is it really a satisfactory idea to have testing undertaken chiefly by local accredited garages?—because I think it often leads to a bit of, shall I say, favouritism. If a client of a garage is a very good customer there, might not the garage be rather anxious to pass his car? I think that, if Her Majesty's Government could eventually have entirely Government, Ministry of Transport, inspectors in every area, it would probably be more satisfactory
I do not think I want to say anything more; I have already spoken for far too long. But the noble Lord, Lord Salter, suggested, I thought quite rightly, that 935 if a motorist appears to have accidents regularly, one must be fairly ruthless; and even if the majority of them do not appear to be his own fault, I think you have to sacrifice him and take his licence away. I have had one or two friends who have been killed on the road, and I think we have to be severe on the motorist. I believe Her Majesty's Government are doing a great deal for the roads by trying to cure accidents with all these dual carriageways and vehicle testing, et cetera. I fail to see now they can do a great deal more, because, as I said, the chief factor is the human factor, and it is extremely hard to do anything about that.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, I join with others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, on promoting this debate. I myself feel that the noble Viscount who has just sat down did not mean to imply any measure of contentment over these ghastly casualties which exist. We may congratulate ourselves that our figures are improving, but I, for one, shall not be satisfied until these are no casualties on the roads; in other words, I am never likely to be satisfied in my lifetime. But I believe, my Lords, that that is what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, had in mind when he promoted this debate. And many of us felt, and feel, that that is what we should aim at—the continuous reduction in the number of accidents which have been so movingly referred to by the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Salter, and which have such dreadful results in terms not only of material loss, but of grief and sorrow. As the noble Lord who has just sat down said in his peroration, it is the personal factor that counts. Selfishness, to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, referred, is a prime factor in bad driving. As regards punctuality, can we compel ourselves to set off early? I find it difficult enough myself. But I am perfectly certain that a campaign to encourage people not to leave it until the last moment, to leave in time for an appointment, will save the odd risk or two.
There are one or two points arising out of the debate, which I feel I am bound to emphasise to your Lordships. 936 One is the problem I have mentioned before, and it is one to which the noble Baroness who spoke just now drew attention—namely, the halting of vehicles on the highway. In my view, fax too many vehicles stop in this way, and I should like to see regulations such as they have in the U.S.A., where parking on the pavement, as they call it, is an offence. My own feeling is that if a vehicle wants to halt on the highway, and it is mobile, it should get off; if it is immobile, due to mechanical failure, then it is the business of the driver to take every possible step to protect traffic coming up from behind. Particularly is this so at night time, as the noble Lord, Lord Allerton, mentioned. Night time is the time when a very high percentage of accidents happen, and this is one of the most serious causes in the neighbourhood in which I live, in the Lowlands of Scotland, particularly at this time of the year, when, if there is not snow, there is slush, and reflectors and rear lights can get covered up by snow and mud in the most remarkably short space of time. Arising out of that, I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply what consideration is being given to increasing the use of the system which I see is spreading, and which one sees everywhere in the U.S.A., of having big vehicles simply festooned with lights, many of them at a height which is quite clear at least of slush, mud and snow thrown up from the road.
But there is another extreme, my Lords—and here I believe that designers, drivers, owners and garage mechanics can assist—in that this festooning with lights can be overdone. Indeed, on the ordinary vehicle which we ourselves use, there are designs which, in my view, have rear lights that are too bright, especially when the stop light is superimposed on them, perhaps with a flashing light also. Admittedly, it is better to have too much light than too little; but, even so, there is an element of risk in having a blinding stop light superimposed on a flashing light. I myself feel that time spent by anybody, whether owner, husband of owner, or garage mechanic who is doing an ordinary service, in having a good look at the lights, especially the rear lights, is time well spent. I think the right reverend Prelate mentioned the importance of having properly adjusted and designed headlights, and I hope that 937 the research people will continue, with every effort they can put into it, to improve the texture, as it were, of head-light beams in vehicles to-day.
May I ask the noble Lord whether it would be possible to reinforce the efforts that police patrols already make—I believe they could make more—in looking out for these stationary vehicles by the roadside? I think that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, was quite right when he said that there is nothing like a whacking big police car with (I think he used the words) "colours flying", to make people take care when they are driving. May I make a specific suggestion: that the attention of all constabularies should be drawn to the danger arising from stationary vehicles? For a word in good time has saved accidents. It may be just a tourist looking at a map; it may be somebody taking the air or looking at the view. Tourists always choose the neighbourhood of a road junction, and people looking at a view choose the brow of a hill. Also, at this time of the year, and in the lambing season, the farmer leaves his vehicle by the roadside and goes to look at the stock in a field.
I specifically suggest that police should be urged, on all possible occasions when they are not in a hurry, to stop and inquire why a car is there, who is attending to it, and whether the driver realises the potential danger that exists. I would go further, and inquire of the Minister whether it would not be worthwhile asking the motoring organisations, the R.A.C. and the A.A., to what extent their scouts can help in this matter. I realise that this is a very tricky point, but I believe that it is worth considering. All scouts, I think, should be specifically asked, when the opportunity arises and when it cannot be called an offence, to draw the attention of people who are parked in dangerous places to the fact that they are in dangerous places.
There is another problem about Stationary vehicles, and it is one which I have mentioned before (perhaps on this matter I have a bee in my bonnet, my Lords; but I have my reasons for it) and I have no doubt that the Minister will refer to it. It is the problem of the stationary tradesman's van, the travelling shop. In my part of the world 938 we have a great many of them, and to my mind there is no question that they represent a risk. Very often I find that these vehicles are halted at a blind spot, within a few yards of a turn-off, whether it is an entrance to a farm, an entrance to a gate or something almost approaching a lay-by. I think it would be prudent if the traffic authorities—I know that there may be difficulties—could get registration authorities in the counties to hand out a leaflet with all registration books taken out for travelling vans, impressing upon the owners and the drivers that they are a definite risk and that they should do everything in their power to keep their vehicles off the road when they are halted, with customers shopping.
Another suggestion which it is easy enough to make is that there should be an increase in the number of lay-bys, though of course that is not so easy as it sounds. Nevertheless, if we are to take seriously this problem of the accidents caused by stationary vehicles, the provision of places where people can pull off the highway seems to me to be essential—because, my Lords, these accidents are the killers. Although I have searched the figures in the tables to see whether there is any way of analysing them in order to prove what I say, I have to admit that I cannot do it. The fact is that a large number of figures are collected, but none contributes to this point. The reason for this is that in the figures given for accidents between two vehicles, shall we say, there is nothing to show (nor can there be, I believe, unless great trouble is taken) whether an accident has occurred as a result of the presence of a stationary vehicle. It is only when the stationary vehicle is itself involved in the accident that the accident finds its way into these tables.
When you come to look at the figures of accidents involving vehicles described as "Stationary, temporarily held up", "Parked" and "Stopping", and add them all up; and when you look at the figure for intoxicated drivers, you find the comparison—8,703 as against 408. That leads me to my other point. I believe that if half the attention given to drunken driving—an additional half, if you like—were applied to looking out to this danger of parked vehicles, 939 we should all be better off. I believe that the Press could look into their own attitude in this respect; and the B.B.C. as well. It is too easy to make a headline of a drunken driver, particularly if he is a Peer—it is wonderful to see, though it may be nothing but a trivial accident—but they forget about these ghastly tragedies where little cars crash in under heavy lorries, or head-on collisions take place, often in three-lane highways, because a vehicle has had to swing out due to the presence of a stationary vehicle. I believe that if something more could be done in this respect many lives and dreadful injuries could be saved.
That brings me on to this question of road design, and particularly to the three-lane highway, which has already been referred to by other speakers, especially by the noble Lord, Lord Allerton. I go so far as to say that they are murder, and that a proper course would be to make it automatic that a three-lane highway is a clearway—that is, if we are to have a three-lane highway at all. I know that it sounds a terribly costly thing to do. But I believe that a three-lane highway is a killer. Again, I have searched the figures, and I know that an analysis has been taken out of the number of accidents which have occurred on three-lane highways, as compared with the number of accidents which have taken place on two-lane highways and on dual-carriageways. But perhaps those figures do not bear out in terms of numbers of accidents the danger of the three-lane highway; and again I say, my Lords, that these accidents are the bad ones. They are the killers. That is a fact we must bear in mind. They are risks, especially if vehicles are allowed to park in them, which simply cannot be calculated.
That brings me to the problem of Scotland. The reason for my saying this is that I have it on good authority that the southern extension of the by-pass around the town Ayr, of which the northern section has just been completed as a dual-carriageway, is to be built as a three-lane highway. My Lords, I will not repeat what I have been saying: you will gather from what I have said what I think of that. Not only is it going to be a dangerous type of road, but it is going to form part of 940 a by-pass, half of which is a dual-carriageway. To my mind, that is a dreadful risk to run. I also have reason to believe that the new highway connecting the Forth Road and Kincardine Bridges with the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire at Abington has certain stretches designed for a three-lane carriageway. I hope that the noble Lord at the Dispatch Box will draw the attention of the Scottish Office to this problem, and to what has been said in your Lordships' House today, in order that every care should be taken before money is spent on a highway which, I believe, will be out of date within a very short number of years. As we all know, to increase the width of a highway by thirteen feet from its design after it has been in operation for a number of years is an infinitely more costly job than building the road the right width to begin with; and, really, in the interests of Scotland, if money is to be spent on highways, no money should be spent on three-lane highways. That is my own personal view, and I trust that other noble Lords will agree.
While I am on the subject of road design, may I say that the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, who has had to leave and who has asked me to apologise for him, has asked me to make a point in respect of concrete kerbs. I do not know whether we are especially addicted to them in Scotland: I rather think we are. Now a concrete kerb should, in my view, be high enough only to maintain the berm of the road and to control the drainage water—no higher. I am seeing increasing mileages of road in Scotland with fairly high kerbs and, even though some of them are chamfered off at 45 degrees, they are not entirely safe in terms of risks of overturning vehicles, even at slow speeds. A very nasty fatal accident occurred to a lorry full of (I think) members of the Boys' Brigade during the summer, in which one boy was killed, through the lorry going into quite a slow skid, slipping into the kerb and turning over. Another horrible accident was due to the fact that a car, admittedly travelling fast, on its own side of the road, met with a car that was overtaking another and tried to swing on to a wide grass verge. It struck one of these 90-degree kerbs, and its wheels were deflected back on to the road and into 941 the oncoming car; whereas, if the kerb had been chamfered (or, better still, had been only of minimal height), that car would have got on to the verge and the people in it would have been saved. Those are points which the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, asked me to make.
There are two other little matters I wish to bring to your Lordships' attention. One is the question: do crashed cars which have been written off by the insurance companies find their way back on to the roads? I have reason to believe that some, not all, do. If this is the case, then perhaps the noble Lord can tell us if these cars, which are sold for scrap, are taken from scrap yards to garages that put them together again. Is it possible to arrange that insurance companies, on classifying cars as write-offs and after paying the write-off value, should be bound to deposit their log books with the police or with the motor vehicle registration authorities?
The final point arises out of something that Lord Lucas of Chilworth said about overladen trucks and the temptation which exists naturally for drivers paid on piece work to overload their trucks and drive them too fast. Would it be possible for a check to be kept on that if it were arranged—I nearly used the word "obligatory", but I will say instead "arranged"—that summonses for such offences as overloading and fast driving in vehicles of that sort couple the name of the owner or operator with that of the driver? I think that might be worth consideration. My Lords, I agree with the right reverend Prelate in all he said about the dreadful burden of loss and grief these accidents cause us, and I am sure your Lordships will agree that if anything we have said here this afternoon has served to save some lives or injuries, then our time has not been ill spent.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
The House, and indeed the nation at large, should be grateful for the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for initiating this debate to-day. I hope that what he has said will receive the widest possible publicity, because every word of it is true.
I wish to deal primarily with two matters: learner drivers and cyclists. The learner has not, I think, been dealt with 942 very thoroughly to-day. It was only nine months ago that I passed my driving test, and I can say that driving tests to-day are fairly severe. My noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard suggested that a driving test be held by night as well as by day. As a matter of fact, that is a point which I raised with my own instructor, but I am told that the problem is that the pay of the Ministry of Transport examiners is inadequate to attract sufficient candidates, though I am told that the position has recently improved. However, I think there is a point there, and there is also a point that possibly those who undergo a driving test should also be called upon to undergo a simple mechanical proficiency test, such as changing a wheel and so forth. Quite often on lonely roads a tyre might burst and a wheel might have to be changed, and to contact the Automobile Association might be a difficult job.
I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether sufficient attention has been given to Section 23 of the Road Traffic Act, 1962, which deals with approved driving instructors. The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, had a good deal to say about the quality of driving schools, and I agree with what she said. Only the other Saturday I was motoring from the King's Road, in Chelsea, to Putney Bridge. There was a lot of traffic, and we got behind a large Vauxhall motor car driven by one of the gentlemen from one of the Colonies who had an instructor with him. He was driving right on the crown of the road, and the instructor made no effort at all to get him into the appropriate lane of traffic. Meanwhile, cars were cutting in on the left and doing all kinds of dangerous things. I do not necessarily blame the driver, but I feel that this particular instructor was being very negligent. I know that the human element creeps into these things, and that not every instructor can be perfect; but it is this kind of thing which is a very contributory factor to road accidents. In the same way the car which does 20 miles an hour in the middle of the road, the small family car whose occupants are looking at the scenery, can cause as many accidents as the Jaguar doing 110 miles an hour.
943 There is another point about learner drivers. I raised it during the discussions on the Road Traffic Act, 1960. There is nothing to prevent the person who has passed his or her driving test in a small saloon car, say, on Monday morning, from driving unaccompanied up a motorway, the M.1 or the M.2, in a large sports saloon, that same afternoon. Passing a driving test does not necessarily mean that one is a fully proficient driver. Of course during the test one is on one's best behaviour. One looks in the mirror, gives signals and behaves like a good child at a party. But all too many drivers, having taken their test, feel fully proficient and start taking liberties on the road. They do not seem to realise that a car is a lethal weapon.
My noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard also mentioned the question of home safety. I know that there are each year something like 2,000 more accidents in the home than on the roads, but I think it can be said that the person who is reasonably safe on the roads takes reasonable safety precautions in the home, and vice versa. Legislation has been attempted to make safety in the home of more significance, and the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and other noble Lords, have all contributed to that end. But, as I said during the passage of the Home Safety Bill, an accident on the road is there for all to see; an accident in the home is not. It is very difficult to make a comparison between the two.
I turn to cyclists. I have done a lot of cycling in my time. I do not do so much now, but I used to do a good deal, both in the country and in town, and I regard it as an excellent pastime, healthy and interesting. All the same, the dangerous cyclist is as great a menace as the dangerous motorist. May I instance one or two examples of how cyclists can cause serious accidents? First, there are cyclists who drive without lights. The penalties for cyclists caught without lights are all too lenient. There was the other day a case in Hertfordshire, in a town I know well, of a youth who had stolen a bicycle and was caught riding it without lights. He was fined 20s. for stealing the bicycle and 10s. for riding without lights. I submit that that is quite unsatisfactory. If a cyclist's lights suddenly fail, that may be beyond the cyclist's control, but I would urge my noble friend, the Parlia- 944 mentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, to take up with his right honourable friend the question of imposing severer penalties on a cyclist caught without lights by the police.
Then there is the question of cyclist lanes. On the Dorking By-Pass and other roads there are cycle tracks, but how many cyclists use them?—very few. All too many cyclists not only fail to use the tracks, but also fail to observe Section 59 of the Highway Code, which says:If there is an adequate cycle track, use it".and Section 60, which says:Ride in single file when road or traffic conditions require it and never more than two abreast.I have frequently seen, as other noble Lords have seen, cyclists riding three, four and even five abreast on main trunk roads, even when a cycle track is available, and I urge my noble friend to press upon his right honourable friend the need for severer penalties for those who infringe this rule. All too often we are accused of imposing more legislation and more penalties but, with these accident figures, we are accused in the same breath of being negligent in trying to prevent accidents. The nation cannot have it both ways. We have to stem the flow of these accidents somehow.
It has been said that the number of casualties of cyclists has decreased, but the 1961 figures show that the number of casualties among children between 10 and 14 has substantially increased. That is a disturbing figure, because the youngsters of that age are, so to speak, in their embryo cycling days. The police and the schools have done fine work in cycle proficiency tests, but I hope that local authorities and other bodies can be prevailed upon to impose much stricter tests of cycle brakes, chains, tyres and so on, otherwise these accidents will continue.
I should like to say just a word about pedestrians. All too often it is the motorist who is blamed for accidents, because he has the vehicle and can be more readily "spotted," but how many times have we noticed a pedestrian crossing the road ten feet away from a pedestrian crossing, and, when a car nearly runs him down, giving the driver 945 the angriest of looks. Here, again, there is a case for increasing penalties for jaywalkers. I know that under the new Road Traffic Act this has been done, but it is questionable whether it has been done adequately.
I would agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has said about heavy vehicles and the need to get more heavy goods on to the railways, particularly loads which can be dismantled. There are certain things, like transformers, which probably have to go by road for technical reasons. I would ask my noble friend, though it may seem a silly question: when we have the motorways and also trunk roads, why must we have these heavy vehicles travelling on both? Surely they could be sent either by motorway or by trunk road. Your Lordships will have seen the pictures of the A.6 at Shapp the other day during the heavy and unexpected blizzard. Vehicles by the score, including heavy articulated lorries, were laid up because they could not get moving. It is not the drivers' fault. They are doing their best. And, speaking as one who drives on these trunk roads, I yield to no one in my tribute to the heavy lorry drivers. They have been called the Knights of the Road, and how they earn that title! The same thing cannot be said of some smaller lorries and vans. They tear down the London streets, and even down cul-de-sacs, at excessive speeds. I see newspaper vans going at tremendous speeds down Lime Street, a one way street in the City, where I work. Why there are not more accidents I just do not know. It must be some quirk of fate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, spoke about traffic lights. One of the dangers of traffic lights is that some will be on for ten seconds and others for much longer, and it would help if the timing were standardised. Often the lights are "rushed", particularly after midnight, because people like to take a chance; but if the lights were standardised properly something could be done about it. We cannot be complacent about these figures of accidents on the roads. Certainly we want to keep matters in proportion. The general standard of driving has, I think, improved marginally, but another menace is the 946 Sunday only driver, the man who takes his car out only on a Sunday and thinks that he owns the road. I do not say that all drivers who drive only at week-ends are a menace, but many of them are.
Finally, I should like to revert for a moment to the learner driver. Many learner drivers are seen on the main roads on Sundays when traffic is heavy. Some of these drivers may have been driving for only two days and, not surprisingly, they are frightened and have not a clue whether they want to turn left, turn right, go quickly, or anything else. These people are a menace to themselves, to their passengers and to road users at large. Of course, learner drivers must learn to drive somewhere and somehow, but until a certain standard has been reached I hope that instructors can be prevailed upon to use sufficient discretion to compel their pupils not to go out at a week-end in the height of summer on these trunk roads.
I would say again that we all owe a great debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. The Government, I think, can be congratulated, to a certain extent, on their road programme. But I feel that there must be a decision one way or the other about heavy traffic. It must go either on the motorway or on the trunk road, and not on both. If this can be done, I think it would be one factor, if perhaps only one, in cutting down this terrible toll.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ LORD SWANSEA
My Lords, speaking at this stage in a debate has certain advantages and certain disadvantages. The long list of speakers before me has really left little for me to say, and, therefore I have some excuse, if indeed any is needed, for being brief. I do not think there is any other sphere in which there are so many experts as in driving, whether they are real experts or self-appointed experts, and I speak as one of the latter. It is a curious aspect of human psychology that no one will ever admit to being a bad driver. You can call a man anything else you like, but if you so much as hint that he is not as good a driver as he might be, he is up in arms immediately. To paraphrase the well-known saying of Mr. Jorrocks, 947 a gentleman would as soon have an imputation on his morals as on his driving.
It seems to me that one basic cause of the terrible toll of accidents we now have is the deplorable lack of road manners and road discipline. These are the cause of a great many accidents, and it is the lack of consideration for others that we must try to eradicate. Too many drivers stand on their own rights, and there is not enough give and take. Too many accidents are caused by impatience and frustration. We see on our crowded and inadequate roads long lines of vehicles nose to tail, generally much too close together, behind a lorry or behind one of these week-end drivers to whom my noble friend Lord Auckland referred. Human nature being what it is, it is natural to expect a certain amount of impatience, and as soon as there is the slightest chance of overtaking, it is seized with both hands, and frequently at considerable risk. I have mentioned the lines of traffic following nose to tail. Some form of education of drivers ought to take place to persuade them that the best chance of overtaking the vehicle in front is not by placing the nose of your own car two yards behind it and waiting for the opportunity to overtake. Whenever I see one of these people behind me tin my mirror I feel tempted to turn round and say, "If you come any nearer, I shall scream."
On dual carriageways one often sees a driver who imagines that his is the fastest car on the road and he sticks firmly to the right-hand lane; and even if there are three lanes, he still sticks to the right-hand lane, forcing others to overtake him on the left side, and he is rather surprised and indignant when this happens. I have not driven in the United States, but I have been in that country and discipline on the trunk roads is very strict indeed: everybody stays in his own lane, and overtaking takes place on either side; the discipline is such that people do not wander from one lane to another. That is one answer to the problem. I am not sure how desirable it is, but you must choose between that and compelling drivers to stay in their own nearside lane unless they are overtaking. There is a lot of scope for intensive education in road manners.
948 The driving test has also been mentioned and, as my noble friend Lord Auckland said, anybody who passes the test is at once deemed competent to take a car of any power on the road. This is quite absurd. I think that the requirements for competence in driving should be stiffer than they are, and that there should be two tests which all new drivers should take. After the initial test, a probationary licence should be issued for a period of, say, twelve months, and after this period there should be a further and much stricter test, based perhaps on the lines of the present test of the Institute of Advanced Motorists. As I have mentioned that matter, I would add that more encouragement than is given at present should be given to motorists to take the test of the Institute of Advanced Motorists. I do not think enough publicity is given to it, and I do not think there are enough testing centres in various parts of the country where people can go. I myself would certainly submit myself to that test—I am not saying that I should pass; I might not—if there were a testing centre within reasonable reach. There should be more incentive to take that advanced test in the form of reduced insurance premiums and other inducements.
An earlier speaker mentioned the question of an age limit. I do not think one can draw a line and say, "Beyond that age you must not drive." There are many drivers of advanced years who are very expert drivers indeed, and there are many much younger drivers who are an absolute menace on the roads. I do not think one can lay down any rules about that, but I think that after a certain age a condition of renewing a driving licence should be a medical test, particularly as regards eyesight and speed of reaction. The present driving licence lasts for three years, and I think that would be quite a convenient interval at which to conduct medical tests after a certain age.
When bad weather comes, as it did the other day—when we get a little fog or ice or snow—the immediate result is absolute chaos. Everybody behaves as though it had never happened before. People seem to forget from one winter to the next how to drive in bad weather conditions. I think that, if possible, 949 there should be voluntary courses—week-end courses, if you like—run by the police at police driving schools, where drivers could get expert instruction in driving under bad conditions. They should be taken on the skid-pan and taught how to control skids, and coached in advanced techniques.
There is also the question of speed limits. Whenever two or more vehicles are moving along the same stretch of road in the same or in the opposite direction at different speeds, there is a possibility of collision. If one were a mathematician one could calculate it according to the road conditions, density of traffic and the speeds. Whatever speed limits are fixed, somebody will always exceed them, and I do not think enough is done by the police to enforce the speed limits. The noble Lord who initiated this debate mentioned that he had driven on a long stretch of trunk road without seeing a single police car. Those are the very conditions which tempt people to take risks and exceed the speed limit. A general speed limit on all roads is often advocated, and I believe is used in many States in America. There, each State imposes a different speed limit which can lead to confusion, but I believe the speed limits are very strictly enforced and you are liable to get pulled up in very short order by a speed cop if you exceed the speed limit.
In New Zealand there is a general limit of 50 m.p.h. on the open roads which, so far as that country is concerned, I think is rather ridiculous, because on the main roads the density of traffic is not generally enough to justify it, and on the side roads, most of which are unmetalled, it is frequently impossible to achieve that speed. So in that country that speed limit is honoured more in the breach than in the observance. Your Lordships must pardon me if I mention New Zealand rather frequently. It is a country in which I have done a certain amount of motoring and they have one or two ideas which I think are quite good ones. At the beginning of a long straight stretch of road they have a number of white lines painted across the road at intervals to indicate the safe interval between vehicles travelling at a certain speed. That brings me back to what I said 950 earlier about cars following each other nose to tail. I realise, of course, that one cannot multiply markings on roads indefinitely, but I think this is quite a good idea and I commend it to Her Majesty's Government for their consideration.
The next point with which I wish to deal is vehicle testing. I welcome the institution of vehicle testing and the trend towards the testing of younger and younger vehicles, so to speak, whatever may be the inconvenience caused to the owner. In New Zealand, it is compulsory to carry out a test on all vehicles of whatever age every six months, and that test is a fairly comprehensive one. It goes beyond the brakes, lights and steering of our test. If the car passes the test, a warrant of fitness is issued, and the licence of the car may not be renewed, or a car may not be sold, unless it carries a warrant of fitness not more than two months old. I think in a few years' time we shall—or I hope we shall—finish up with some arrangement like that, perhaps not a six-monthly test but in any case a general test for all vehicles as a condition of renewing the licence.
Now one or two remarks about equipment on vehicles. First of all, safety belts. I am glad to see, as no doubt all your Lordships are, that manufacturers are now making provision for fitting safety belts on new cars. But I still do not think that goes far enough. I think safety belts should be made compulsory on all cars, at any rate in the front seats. Tyres are another thing. During the war, if I remember aright, it was an offence to cause tyres to be worn down to the fabric, and I think it should be an offence now to have smooth tyres on any vehicle. It is simply asking for trouble, especially under winter conditions.
There is another little idea from New Zealand. They make the fitting of sun visors compulsory on all vehicles. I do not know whether any manufacturers have ever thought of making that universal. A good many cars have them fittted, but by no means all. Many accidents are caused by dazzle, and if sun visors were made compulsory—they are not expensive; even a strip of coloured plastic material across the top of the windscreen is better than nothing—I think that would play its part in reducing accidents caused by dazzle.
951 The noble Lord, Lord Auckland, mentioned traffic lights, and I agree with him that the timing of traffic lights is not consistent in various parts of the country. All too often the change from the movement of traffic in one direction to movement in the other is too sudden. In my view, at all important road junctions controlled by lights there should be an interval of time at which the lights in all directions show red. At peak traffic hours that would enable the junction to clear itself of traffic before the next stream went across, and it would also allow a period of time for pedestrians to cross the road.
Pedestrians have been mentioned earlier in this debate and your Lordships are doubtless aware that many accidents are caused by pedestrians running into the road or presuming on their rights at zebra crossings. They sometimes appear to have no idea of the distance which a car requires to stop. They step on to the zebra crossing quite regardless of anything that is coming along, and are often very surprised and indignant, if not seriously hurt. But pedestrians, my Lords, are not a class by themselves, separate from others. We are all pedestrians as soon as we get out of our cars, and we are just as ready then to curse car drivers as are those who do not drive at all.
That brings me back to that question of psychology which I mentioned earlier. As soon as a person gets behind the wheel of a car he adopts a certain personality. When he parks his car, gets out of it, walks across the pavement and starts across the road he adopts a quite different personality altogether. Pedestrians are road users in the same way that drivers or cyclists are; indeed, they are often at pains to point this out, and to insist that they have the same rights as other road users. Perhaps they have. But if they have the same rights, surely they should have the same obligations and should be subject to the same degree of control as other road users. The present Road Traffic Bill, I understand, is going to make provision for fines for jay-walkers, and I believe that that is a step which is long overdue.
The present police force is sorely overworked. It has quite enough to do to keep law and order and to keep crime under control. Part of the answer, I 952 think, may lie in some extension of the present system of traffic wardens. If I may mention New Zealand once more, they have there a special corps of traffic police who are specialists in that branch. They are responsible for all enforcement of traffic regulations, for directing the traffic and for conducting all traffic driving tests and issuing licences. As with the present traffic wardens, men could be employed for that job who, by reason of age or physical fitness, might not be suitable for normal police work. However, my Lords, the long-term view must be improvement of the roads. Our traffic is increasing at such an enormous rate that improvement of the roads is the only answer. Until that can be achieved, efforts must be made to improve the education of drivers and to improve the general standards of driving. It is bad manners, lack of consideration for others and trying to stand on one's rights that are the cause of a great proportion of our accidents to-day.
I will finish, my Lords, by quoting you a little epitaph which may or may not be true:Here lies the body of Ronald Jay, Who died defending his right of way".I am afraid that that applies to too many victims of road accidents to-day. I believe that it is in the education of road users that we shall find one answer to our problems.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, if I were to devote myself for three, four or five minutes to each speech that has been made during the course of this debate I should take up a good deal of your Lordships' time with my reply. In addition to that, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, to whom I am also extremely glad and grateful for initiating this debate, would, I think very properly, complain of how his points had been dealt with. In any case, it would be to ignore one or two small matters to which I want myself to refer.
The debate has not been quite so long, I think, as at one time we thought it was going to be. But it has, I may tell your Lordships, brought up a multitude of points. I do not suppose your Lordships have been scoring but I have, because I remember what happened on the last occasion that we had a debate of this kind. I rather believe that there 953 were 78 actual points, any or all of which might have been replied to in that debate, and your Lordships are at least consistent, if not slightly progressive, in that, according to my count, there are to-day 86. You will understand, therefore, that it will not be possible for me this evening to reply to anything like all of them, or even adequately to more than a few. But I do assure your Lordships that all of them will be considered, and I will, in appropriate cases, write to those of your Lordships who seem to need writing to, in particular on the case that was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kenswood, from the Benches opposite.
I am slightly relieved in my mind that some noble Lords are no longer in their places, including the right reverend Prelate for whose intervention on the subject of the moral aspect I am sure the House will be very grateful, as I am. I take that first because I think it would be a very great pity and entirely wrong if we were not to put the Christian, moral aspect in the forefront of our consideration of the whole matter. I have simply nothing to add to what he said in that regard.
I suppose it is more appropriate that I should talk of the Government's road safety policy, and I can most easily do that if I can keep to the three traditional channels we have always used, engineering, education and enforcement, which I should like to do in that order. Apart from being easy, I think splitting it up in that way is, as it were, symbolic of the modern view of tackling the accident problem. It is a view I ought to take because the point is—not that there is anything original in this, but it does no harm to repeat it again and again—that there is no single dominating way of dealing with it, not even by means of an incursion into the realms of political dogma which the noble Lord, Lord Stonsham, presented us with and which, if I may say so, I should have thought more suited to another occasion.
Neither engineering nor education nor enforcement will of itself cure accidents. Taken together they can do a lot but not all. Therefore, the very core of the whole problem is one which is fragmented. Apart from giving us some indication of the action we ought to take, I think it is just as well it is so fragmented, because 954 it tends to reject the common, and to my mind extremely dangerous, feeling that responsibility for action in these matters always rests with someone else. Of course quite the contrary is true. If we can split it up and keep it split up in that way, we can avoid this dangerous feeling. It implies that those who have anything to do with roads or traffic—engineers, policemen, road safety officers, administrators, manufacturers, driving instructors, drivers themselves, cyclists, pedestrians and everybody—are all involved in the responsibility and there can be no question that we are all responsible individually as well as collectively.
In engineering the Government's main form of responsibility and their greatest contribution to safety—and this is as important as, if not more important than, almost any other factor—is, of course, in the provision of more and better roads, each of which goes to improve the whole system. The programme is growing fast. In 1954 the amount spent on roads was £5 million a year, and in the years before 1954, if anything, it tended to be less than that. This year it will be £90 million, and for the five years from 1963 to 1968 the total programme will amount to £590 million or, if you like to put it this way, an average of £120 million a year. In looking at this figure you have to remember that it excludes the amount that will be spent by the local authorities on new construction and major improvements over the five years, which will be a further £82 million, and above that some £60 million a year will be spent by the Exchequer and local authorities together on maintenance and minor improvements.
Because of the long and complicated statutory procedures that have been laid on the Department by Parliament before a new road can be built—and they are laid whether the noble Lord, Lord Allerton, likes them or not, and we have to accept them as being necessary for the protection of the rights of the individual—it takes a long time to get a large road programme into full swing. Next year, with the opening of the M.6 motorway in the autumn of 1963, from just north of Birmingham to north of Preston, which is a distance of nearly 90 miles, and with the completion of the Medway motorway in the early summer 955 of next year, as well as the continuing and now substantial improvement of the Great North Road, we shall begin to reap some benefits from all this effort and expenditure.
By the early 1970's, as the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, pointed out, it is our hope and intention to have completed some 1,000 miles of new motorway and to have improved the trunk road system to a very high standard. The noble Earl informed us that that was much too low a target in the opinion of some people—I think he mentioned county surveyors. But I am bound to say this: nobody would be more happy if we could produce a target like that, or one that would make the county surveyors' target look perfectly silly. But your Lordships know as well as I do that the people who cry for these things, which are entirely desirable, do not also have the charge laid upon them of making full use of the resources which are available. These, though reasonably large, have to be spread over a great many fields and are not limitless. It is quite easy to say that everything should be doubled, if you say that without having regard to the necessity to cover all the other items which the national expenditure has to cover in the public interest.
The effect of the new construction is, I think, worth referring to in another way. I am thinking of the reduction of the accident rate on these roads, if not on the total amount of casualties, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, told us. That may be so. One can only hope that, as more and better roads come into being, the total of accidents will go down. For all rural trunk roads the percentage injury accident rate works out at a figure of 2.5 per million vehicle miles. These figures serve more for comparison than anything else. On dual-carriageway trunk roads it is about 1.6 per million vehicle miles. Last year on M.l the comparable figure was .52 per million vehicle miles, which certainly indicates that a contribution to safety is coming from roads of that kind.
It began to be borne in on me, as the debate went on, that there seemed to be a certain feeling that there was a low safety factor on three-lane roads. While it does seem to me to be a question to which everyone knows the answer by instinct, and there seems no doubt in any- 956 body's mind that three-lane roads are dangerous and that no more should be built whatsoever—the cry goes up that the Ministry should never build another such road; that the Ministry are at fault for even thinking of it, and so on and so forth—it will do no harm to any of us (it might be rather instructive) to examine the facts. An attack on my right honourable friend, saying that he must stop building three-lane roads, rather implies that he is going to build a large number of them. Therefore, I think perhaps some facts which reveal the situation might be helpful.
In this country—and this is the way I should like to indicate it to your Lordships, in terms of trunk roads—there are 6,392 miles of trunk roads, of which 934 miles—which to save your Lordships doing a sum, I may tell you is 14.3 percent.—is three-lane road. That is the first point. Out of 112 schemes which are included in the programme of major trunk road improvements in the next five years, a list which was announced last February, there are only 7 schemes which include the construction of any new three-lane roads, with a total length of 13½ miles.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord, but do those figures include Scotland?
§ LORD CHESHAM
No, my Lords, they do not include Scotland. The noble Lord will realise that my right honourable friend can speak only for his own programme, not for the appropriate authority for Scotland.
§ LORD CHESHAM
Certainly I will let my noble friend know what is the comparable figure, if I can obtain it. There will be a further 5 miles where roads are to be widened from two to three lanes. This will be done generally as an interim measure to deal with the traffic, pending the construction of a parallel motorway. That is what has happened on the A.38 for instance, between Worcester and Bristol. But no one can say that those figures indicate that the Ministry are engaged on a wholesale programme of constructing new three-lane roads. In practice, the roads that are 957 reconstructed first are those which have the heaviest traffic, and these need in almost every case to be reconstructed as dual carriageways. The requirement is for those, and they form the bulk of the programme. In fact, to round it off, there are to-day just four miles less of three-lane carriageway than there were five years ago. That is no great advance perhaps, but I want your Lordships to note the figures and to know what the picture is.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, would the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting him? This is most interesting. Did I hear his figures aright: that there are 600 miles of existing three-lane carriageway roads?
§ LORD CHESHAM
NO, my Lords; I said that there were 6,392 miles of trunk road, of which 934 miles were three-lane.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
So there are 934 miles in existence. The Ministry propose only another 13 miles on top of that 900, and 5 miles are to be reconstructed. Before the noble Lord leaves the three-lane point, would he tell me whether or not it is possible to convert any of the 900 miles, and, if not, would he give serious consideration to the suggestion I made of their future marking?
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, it is a little difficult for me to give the noble Lord any kind of figure as regards conversion. But let me before I go on—because I have not finished with three-lane roads—make the position quite dear. What, in effect, I said was that the concentration is towards converting the most heavily loaded roads into dual carriageways, irrespective of what they were before—whether they were two, three or four lanes on one carriageway. That is what is going on. No doubt as time goes on and it is possible to advance the programme more and more, and to do more and more work, considerable mileage under three lanes, as it proves possible to work it into the programme, will disappear into more suitable dual-carriageways.
§ LORD LUCAS of CHILWORTH
My Lords, is that the Ministry's policy—to build only 13 miles? Is that to be the total extent of the new three-lane carriageway roads?
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, what I said was what we had in mind to do. I want to say a little more, if I may—because I think this is obviously something which is most interesting to the House, and I want to be fairly full about it—as to why we consider there is a justification for building any. It is this. I would ask your Lordships to note these words, because if I could present them to you written down they would be underscored eight times with the biggest red pencil I could find.
We still think that, within the traffic capacity for which it is designed (and that capacity is approximately 7,500 vehicles a day), What is popularly known as the three-lane carriageway—that is, with two traffic lanes and an additional passing lane in the middle—is a reasonably safe and economic form of construction. It is particularly useful as a holding operation providing some relief to increase the capacity of a two-lane road within the existing boundaries of the highway where, because of statutory, or some other, difficulties the construction of a dual-carriageway could not be undertaken for a long time. How to interpret accident statistics is always a little tricky; but what evidence there is in this country, in our experience, does not support the generalised view that three-lane roads are dangerous so far as the rate of accidents is concerned for traffic flows within the capacity that I have mentioned.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, mentioned the Road Research Laboratory. In a survey into the accident rate on a number of three-lane roads their figures showed that only 2½ per cent. of the accidents which took place on those roads were accidents involving vehicles in head-on collisions in the centre lane. The noble Lord gave us the figure of 20 percent. on the Oxford By-pass. I do not doubt it; I cannot doubt it; it would not be right for me to do so. But I must draw attention to the difference between the figure of 20 per cent. which the noble Lord gave and the 2½ per cent. which the Road Research Laboratory obtained from a number of test roads.
Accidents on three-lane roads do involve more injury and damage, and are more serious, than others, and in certain circumstances I suppose they can 959 be termed, as they have been quite popularly recently, as "killers". I do not think that every accident that happens upon them is necessarily due to the roads. Some that I know of would appear to have been capable of happening anywhere. I want to tell your Lordships that the personal injury accident rate on roads in rural areas not subject to speed limits was found to be the same as that on dual-carriageways—namely 1.6 per million vehicle miles. But I am not going to say that if the road is heavily overloaded the remarks I have just made would necessarily apply to it. I think it would be a good thing—and we should be extremely pleased if it could be so—if those roads were replaced and improved. But there are a great many lengths of road, of all kinds and numbers of carriageway from very narrow two-carriageway, three and four-carriageway, and so on, which we should also Tike to see replaced and improved. I hope that it will be possible to do so as quickly as circumstances permit.
My Lords, I think that I have really said enough on this particular subject to deal with it. What I really want to do is to make clear to your Lordships our thinking on this. It is that in certain circumstances three-lane roads are justified, but we realise the problem and the situation is by no means ideal. Incidentally, it is often said that other countries, particularly Italy, appear to have abandoned the use of them, but my impression, certainly within the last eighteen months, was that they were using them in very much the same circumstances as we were. I am surprised to have seen the use they were making of them, having heard all this.
I want to go on now, my Lords, to the question of curing the trouble with the double white lines. The noble Earl, Lord Gosford, who has unfortunately had to go, and the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, both mentioned this point in particular. It is not, as they will appreciate, a new suggestion that there should be double white lines alternately for a mile, or something like that, on first one side, leaving two lanes the other way, and then moving over. Of course, it is justified on three-lane roads at times, and we do in fact do that on corners, steep hills and winding roads. We think 960 it is true that if we use the system widely on straight three-lane roads, there is a danger that the double white line would be disregarded by drivers confined to a single lane for, say, a mile. We simply do not believe that a chap in a reasonably fast car—I do not say a terribly fast one—if he happens to have the road clear in front of him and finds himself behind a lorry proceeding at a legal 40 miles an hour, is going to remain behind the lorry because of that double white line. He is not, and I think that if the habit of disregarding double white lines is to creep in, our last state will be considerably worse than our first.
It has already been suggested this afternoon—and I would endorse it—that it is perfectly easy to go about the roads these days and see frequent blatant abuses of the double white line. I most certainly should not want to have anything to do with increasing the abuse of what we regard as a very valuable asset where visibility on the roads is obstructed.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt? Although references to this blatant misuse of the double white line may well be true, surely the noble Lord will agree that overwhelmingly the double white lines are observed and are of great value.
§ LORD CHESHAM
Yes, my Lords, overwhelmingly they are; but they are also at times abused. We want to increase the first and decrease the second; and to use double white lines in circumstances where people are likely to abuse them is likely to increase the habit of not sticking to them, which is exactly what we do not want and what the noble Lord does not want.
The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, mentioned the use of tidal flow on such roads in particular, and we do, of course, do that. We have carried out experiments with it in the past, and are proposing to do some more. If the noble Lord does not mind, I shall be glad to send him some actual details in due course.
My Lords, I want to come now, while we are still on engineering, to the problem of overloading. I cannot deny what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said—and I think the noble Lord, 961 Lord Stonham, backed up his remark—that there is no doubt that many vehicles are overloaded. All I know about it is that the figures I can get at, figures up to 1959 produced by the police on request, did not show that overloading, unsuitable loading or insecure loading was a serious factor in causing the accidents that happened to commercial vehicles. I am saying that merely as a flat fact and as no form of defence, because I think that the noble Lord has raised a very justifiable point here, and I have more to say about it.
The last time he raised it, he and I agreed on what the law was. Briefly, my Lords, Regulation 68 of the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations lays down, as he pointed out to your Lordships, maximum weights of 14 tons for four-wheeled vehicles, 20 tons for six-wheeled vehicles, and 24 tons for vehicles with more than six wheels. The noble Lord pointed out that 14 tons was a great deal for a four-wheeled vehicle. These Regulations are designed to protect the bridges and the roads. But the noble Lord is, if not mistaken, rather misleading in his contention that therefore, if Regulation 68 says that, a vehicle with four wheels may legally carry 14 tons. It is not correct to say that all vehicles of four wheels, however constructed, may legally carry 14 tons. It is not so, because of Regulation 73. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, I should have hesitated to say that what I quoted to him was a conglomeration of words difficult for advanced intellects to understand, because the majority of the words in the Regulation are words of one syllable.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I am just about to. Regulation 73 says:Every motor vehicle, every trailer drawn thereby and all parts and accessories of such vehicle and trailer shall at all times be in such condition, and the number of passengers carried by, and the weight, distribution, packing and adjustment of the load of, such vehicle or trailer shall at all times be such that no danger is caused or is likely to be caused to any person on the vehicle or trailer or on a road.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me, I would point out that the first Regula- 962 tion he read out was a question of fact: you must not carry more than 14 tons. Regulation 73 is a matter of opinion. Whose opinion? There is only one opinion that can satisfy, and that is the court's opinion. But a police constable has to give his opinion and the chief constable has to endorse it. That is why there are no prosecutions for that.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I do not know that that is strictly true, but, if the noble Lord will allow me to say so, he was talking of precisely the theme I am going on to develop. Since our last debate on this subject we have explored various possible methods, as I forecast at the time, of how to prescribe maximum gross permitted loads for every vehicle without the great amount of labour and expense that would be involved in assessing each vehicle separately and putting the necessary plate on it. Unfortunately, my Lords, for one reason or another these schemes have not proved practicable, and we are left with the necessity to devise a plating scheme for all vehicles if maximum loads are to be prescribed. Furthermore—not that it is any reason for not doing it—we shall in fact need legislation. We are now going on with a further study of what are the administrative difficulties which will have to be overcome. It will be rather a hard task, but I think your Lordships, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, in particular, will wish to know that this is a thing which we are very strongly of the opinion should be done.
§ LORD CHESHAM
The principal difficulty arises from the very large number of existing goods vehicles—some 1¼ million—many thousands of which are not standard. They have been coach-built or modified in some way since they left the factory, and an assessment of each individual vehicle is therefore going to be necessary. The difficulty lies in the very large amount of time it would take, and the large numbers of people who would have to be engaged on it. This is the kind of administrative and financial difficulty that the scheme raises. Apart from that, the noble Lord is of course perfectly correct in what he said about the difference between the two regulations and why it is difficult; and 963 he referred last time to some of the difficulties. One of the difficulties to which he referred was the small number of weighbridges available and the fact that, if a vehicle was diverted for more than a mile and then was found to be inside its allowable limit, the local authority had to pay compensation for the loss incurred. There is something else which I am not sure the noble Lord has noticed, and that is that the police can cause a vehicle to be weighed only if they are authorised to do so on behalf of the highway authority. They cannot do it off their own bat. That means that they can cause a vehicle to be weighed only to enforce Regulation 68, and not Regulation 73.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I think it is worse than the noble Lord has said, because they can only then weigh it, not because it is carrying an excessive load, but to see, by testing the unladen weight, that the Excise law is not affected.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, what I am trying to work up to is the fact that the situation, for what it is, and having regard to other factors to which the noble Lord has called attention, is something that we intend to press ahead with and will try to solve in a suitable way, so that the troubles of which the noble Lord has told us will no longer, we hope, be with us. It has been put forward that perhaps we should not hurry on too much, because of the necessity there will be to line ourselves up with vehicles in other countries in the event of our joining the Common Market; or quite possibly, if we do not join it, it might still be equally desirable. We accept that any plating scheme that we bring in must take account of that, but I do not see that that is any reason for holding up the planning machinery, on the legal and administrative sides, which will be necessary to introduce it; and we do not intend that it should be held up on that account.
My Lords, we have done something on one aspect of vehicle loading, at any rate, by means of some new regulations concerning vehicles carrying long, wide and projecting loads. They are very complicated regulations, and I will not attempt to summarise them beyond saying that, from November 1, when the 964 regulations became effective, vehicles carrying these awkward and dangerous loads are required in certain circumstances to carry attendants, whose job it will be to see that the load does not endanger anyone, particularly when manœuvring, and to have the projections clearly illuminated at night and marked with markers during the day-time. Much wider notification to the police in advance of what they intend to do is also required. I hope, my Lords, that these regulations will be effective in avoiding a number of accidents and a good deal of inconvenience.
My Lords, I should like to move on to passenger vehicles for a moment, because, although I agree that it is again a matter of opinion and not of laid-down limits, it is that same Regulation 73, which I have just quoted, which governs the question of overloading passenger vehicles, private cars and so on. As regards the cases which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, quoted to us, of eight people in a small car; of three or four jammed up in the front seat; of the pram on the roof upsetting the balance of the vehicle, of course, if they are causing a danger they are already illegal, because that regulation is re-enforced by another one, Regulation 86. That states:No person while actually driving a motor vehicle shall be in such a position that he cannot have proper control over the vehicle or that he cannot retain a full view of the road and traffic ahead.My Lords, I do not know (because I have not the information) what is the number of accidents caused by vehicles being overloaded in that way. One has the feeling, seeing some of them swaying down the road, that they must be quite a danger; but there is nothing with which to prove it.
It would be difficult, I think, in any case to lay down the precise number of people, or what should be the load, or how much luggage might be taken, in a particular vehicle. It would be an enormous job. It would mean plating in some way all the private cars as well as commercial vehicles. And people are not all the same size. Are you to be allowed four adults of 20 stones at least?—because there are such beings. Do you have an alternative of three children of not more than 10, four children not more than 5, or how do you do it? I 965 think the noble Lord will agree that it would prove an impossible kind of plan to bring in. But I hope that his views on this matter, which coincide largely with mine, on the desirability of watching it, will reach a good many people concerned.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting, I am not so concerned that the eight people in the car, in the case I cited, were the cause of the accident. I am quite willing to admit that the driver of that vehicle with the eight people in it was quite blameless. But seven were killed, my Lords. That is what I want to stop. Because when there is an accident with a large number of people in a car the results, the fatalities, are prodigious. That is what I want to stop.
§ LORD CHESHAM
The noble Lord is rightly concerned. But we realise that in some cases there is danger caused by passengers being carried, particularly in goods vehicles, either sitting on the floor or on seats which are not properly secured. Yet at the moment there is nothing which prevents that. That is (the kind of thing which is likely to bring on just what the noble Lord fears in the case of an accident—that all the people inside will be hurt. In one case the other day magistrates dismissed a charge brought against a driver for carrying two passengers on the roof of the car, on the ground that there was nothing to say that he must not do so. To deal with these cases, we are proposing to amend Regulation 73 by adding to the words "the number of passengers", "the manner in which they are carried" as one of the items in the regulation which must be such as to cause no danger. Before I leave regulations, I would tell the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, that the all-red phase for which he asked is, in fact, quite frequently used, particularly in London, and often elsewhere also.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, made the point about "written-off" cars. There are arrangements whereby "write-offs" are notified to the registration authorities and they keep in touch with the police about it, who are then quite able to inspect a car before it goes back on the road. The position, if not perfect—because he will appreciate that not every car is insured against 966 damage, which leaves a small loophole—is rather better than he thought.
Now I must come to education and the noble Lord's very valid point about road manners and driving skill. What the Government and the other authorities concerned have to do is to stage the setting, so to speak, and to stage it well. We can provide good roads, we can provide good rules and we can even try to enforce them, but accidents still happen on those good roads and in face of the good rules. The Highway Code lays down standards, and the Government, ROSPA and other authorities carry out incessant propaganda; and yet drivers and pedestrians who use the road carry on doing silly, and sometimes unexplained, things. The noble Lord expatiated on this at some length in his opening speech. He quoted some accidents which, mostly for reasons of inquests unheld, I should like to make no detailed comment upon except to say that I thought he was most unfair in picking on the old gentleman of 94 who was driving on his own private road. If you cannot drive into the Thames off your own private road things have got to a terrible state in this country.
§ LORD CHESHAM
The noble Lord wanted to know what was going to be done, or what was being done. What we want to know, my Lords, is more about what goes on. We are beginning to know quite a lot about the "how": we want to know quite a lot more about the "why". We have one or two new ventures to launch to find out something which will help us, perhaps, to improve driving standards. First, we are setting up a psychological research unit. We do not know very much about what makes the road user "tick", and what makes him, in, exactly the same situation, take a risk one day and not take it the next. This unit will delve into what I might call the undergrowth of road-user behaviour, and will try to diagnose, and isolate if possible, some of the elements which lead to accidents. We might, out of that, get more information about how to educate and how to test driving, drivers and road-users generally. This is a rather specialist, technical field, and there will be people included in the unit 967 with qualifications in psychology, and so on, and they will work with the Road Research Laboratory.
We are also setting up two accident-investigation teams to examine the accident patterns in certain areas and to try out measures for dealing with particular types of accident. They will be quite free to experiment with any new idea which looks reasonable, but they will have no executive responsibility themselves. They will rely on the co-operation of the local authorities for doing things. They will be stationed, to start with, in Warwickshire and Hampshire. The latter county is chosen, not because I live in it, but because with Warwickshire these two counties supply between them a rich variety of traffic situation. The benefits will, of course, be made available for the whole nation.
The noble Lord referred to registered driving instructors and to the desirability of improving standards of instruction, and there again I have no difficulty in agreeing with him at all. We hope that, by giving the mark of approval to acceptable instructors, the public will be better guided in seeking them, and we will certainly try to persuade people to go to them. We are working out the details of the qualifications which will be necessary for registration, and there will probably be some form of examination. We certainly hope to be able to start the scheme about the spring of next year.
The motor-cycle casualty rate is, of course, sadly high, and particularly among those of least experience. One noble Lord (I forget now who it was) drew our attention to providing off streets or private land for them to practise on by themselves. There is only the R.A.C.-A.C.U. scheme under which they can learn in this way, and that is now certainly supported by my right honourable friend's Department, as it is also by the manufacturers and many road safety bodies. Unfortunately, for lack of facilities and for other reasons, this year will see only about 10,000 trainees going through, but we hope that we can get the number very much higher than that. "On to the 100,000" is the cry, and I was very happy to see to-day that it has been decided to spend £8,000 to build a training ground of just that kind 968 in Derbyshire. There are, of course, other schemes for earlier training of those who are going to be the drivers, riders and walkers of the future, at various ages of their career.
I must turn quickly (I have been going on too long, but I must spend a moment or two on this point) to the all-important, vital question of enforcement. So far as the courts are concerned, I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, will not expect me to say very much more at the moment than that we—and when I say "we" I mean Parliament—have just spent a great deal of time considering this particular matter, and I should have thought that there could be little doubt in the minds of the courts up and down the land as to what was the intention of Parliament in this matter. It seems to me that, with the whole of the new set-up which is brought in, or which will shortly be brought in, under the new Act, it would be well to see whether that creates and brings about the improvement which we hope it will and whether it has the effect that we all want. I am sure that my noble and learned friend who sits on the Woolsack will consider very attentively what the noble Lord has said.
So far as the actual traffic and police are concerned, Her Majesty's Government are certainly of one mind with the noble Lord in one respect. There can be no possible disagreement. The enforcement of the traffic laws is vitally important and calls constantly for more and more effort. It might not be inappropriate if I quickly mentioned what is the situation now, because the number of motoring offences which the police deal with is going up every year. In 1951 they dealt with just over 500,000 a year. By 1961 that had rather more than doubled, and they dealt with 1,170,000, the highest number ever. Most of them—nearly 900,000—were dealt with by prosecution, and about 270,000 by written warning. Those came on top of many thousands of cases which must have been dealt with by oral warning and "bit of a tick-off" on the spot.
Of all the people who were charged with non-indictable offences last year, which was rather more than one million, 67 per cent. were charged with motoring offences. I say that for the Record, to 969 show that enforcement is not incomplete or neglected. I do not measure success by the number of prosecutions. I agree with those noble Lords who think that better enforcement will have a deterrent effect more than anything else, but these figures provide some evidence of the attention which the police pay to this side of their duties. If there is to be enforcement there must be the co-operation of the road users, because the traffic patrols must be there to help and not harry people.
We get a lot of uninformed outbursts about prosecution by the police which are rarely founded on fact, because the police say it is only about one in six drivers who do something wrong who are reported and the majority are warned or advised. I was very glad to hear that fact, which related to a certain district, because that makes for a proper relationship between the police and the public. Traffic patrols are carrying out their job very well if they do that. Certainly I would agree that we must have more police patrols and traffic patrols and that they are discouraging to bad drivers. The problem is one of manpower. The recruiting is making good progress, which noble Lords will have been told before. The strength in England and Wales has gone up over 5,000 since the new rates of pay were brought in. I think the continuing rise in prosecutions shows at least that the traffic side of the police must be getting their fair share. Also it can be said that the introduction of traffic wardens has been successful and has made a good many men available for other duties. Whether that increase will be enough remains to be seen.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, was quite explicit in giving his view on enforcement shortcomings. I do not think I would dissent from his view and try to make out he has not stated his case with a good deal of justifiable force, and my right honourable friend will study his words with great care. If we are going to bring in, as everyone has agreed is necessary, more reasonable regulations, nore reasonable laws, such as we are trying to do under the Road Traffic Act, and not only the 40 miles an hour proposed limit which the noble Lord referred to, we must bear in mind the coming into force of the provisions of the Road Traffic Act which were put as a deterrent—in particular 970 the Scheme for cumulative disqualification. If the Act is to work and give the results we hope it will give, then we need proper enforcement and it may prove that a further look may have to be taken at the whole thing and possibly some innovations and new arrangements brought into being.
Enforcement is an exercise in possibilities. If we have too many regulations the police will be too fully stretched to deal with them—they are over-stretched now—and therefore the law will suffer from abuse. We are very conscious that our part will not be fulfilled by our just continuing to produce more and more prohibitive and restrictive legislation, particularly if the enforcement of it is not adequate.
We have to work, we realise, hard and, surely, towards reasonable rules reasonably enforced. When we get them and the people learn to play their part too by realising their responsibility for safe conduct whenever they go on the roads, then we can make some real progress towards a significant reduction of accidents, but we must not be—and in my right honourable friend's Department we are not—complacent in any way because of what has so far been achieved. My Lords, we must press on.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I would point out that he said nothing at all in his long speech about the increase in heavy road vehicles and the unfortunate sharp increase in casualties. Have the Government no policy in respect to that? If they have, can he let us have a word about that?
§ LORD CHESHAM
I did say a word about it earlier on. I said that I thought the argument presented by the noble Lord was more suitable for another time, because it seemed to me that the only thing I could recollect being put forward by him as a major factor was that the situation could not be resolved without going into the whole question of the entire transport policy affecting all forms of transport in the country, as it would be seen toy members of the Party opposite, and as we see it. I listened very carefully to what he said and I could not see that that was entirely appropriate to what we were saying. I agree that I did not make the slightest attempt to 971 deal with it, and I cannot see how it could be dealt with without going firmly into the realms of political issues, which he told me he did not wish to make of it.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, could my noble friend, before he sits down, say something about regulations for using cycle tracks where they are provided?
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, with great respect to the noble Lord, I shall be very delighted to drop him a line about the matter but I have been speaking for nearly an hour. I have covered the main points of this debate. He will forgive me if I do not go back on to the smaller items which came into it.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, it now remains for me to thank all the noble Lords who have joined in this intensely interesting debate. I am grateful to them. I am more than ever grateful to Lord Chesham for his reply. I do not think I have ever listened to a Governmental reply with more admiration and more gratification than I have felt for the noble Lord to-night Although I must confess I gave the noble Lord notice of the points I was going to raise, 972 I am intensely grateful that he has gone to such trouble and has had the persuasive power in the Department to get them to put these things right. I hesitate to say so—I have never said this before of the Government—but I cannot find anything to complain about in the reply that he gave me to-night. I have one point to make—and I know I shall push an open door—on the last matter dealt with concerning the police. Recruitment we can rely upon. Since the police pay has been put up there is no difficulty about obtaining recruits. All we want is the money to equip double and treble the number of road patrols, and, as the Royal Commission say in their Report, that will make a substantial contribution to the reduction of road accidents. Again, I ask the noble Lord to believe in my sincerity. I do thank him. It was a marvellous reply and an encouraging one, and I could have gone on listening to it for a far longer time, which is the highest tribute I can pay to a Government spokesman. With those words, I ask for your Lordships' permission to withdraw my Motion.
Motions for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at eight o'clock.