HL Deb 05 February 1964 vol 255 cc185-238

5.3 p.m.

BARONESS SUMMERSKILL rose to ask Her Majesty's Government, having regard to the increasing number of accidents on the roads particularly on the motorways, what action they propose to take. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I have felt compelled to put this Question on the Order Paper because, Eke many other people, I have patiently waited for some action to be taken which will reduce the road casualties, and I was very encouraged when I saw the list of speakers to-day to realise that noble Lords on both sides of the House are seized with the urgency of this matter. I feel, in the first place, that I should state my qualifications for speaking on this subject. I am a Londoner who has driven in London for many years and, in fact, drives in London every day unless I am on my holidays. As a pedestrian, like many of your Lordships I have known what it is to jump suddenly for my life when I ant crossing a road.

First of all, I should like the House to realise what is the measure of this problem. In 1962 (the last year for which we have figures) 6,709 people were killed and 95,000 seriously injured on the roads, and we are told that in the next six years traffic will be doubled. Therefore the urgency of the problem can no longer be ignored. No doubt regulations designed to combat this problem will be resisted as fiercely as those which were introduced to reduce the mortality rates in other fields. Why? Because self-interest was opposed to the interests of the community.

May I bring to your Lordships' attention what I consider is an apt analogy. I have in mind the efforts to reduce the mortality and morbidity rates which were related to unclean water, unclean air and, particularly, unclean milk. The farmers declared that Parliamentary action would infringe the freedom of the individual, and for about half a century reformers, no doubt both in this and the other House, tried to persuade farmers that infected milk killed and maimed children but, with a few exceptions, we were unsuccessful. At last, after having used all methods of persuasion, the 1948 Parliament was compelled to introduce the Clean Milk Bill to prohibit the sale of infected milk. The result has been dramatic.

I have said before that, unfortunately, in life chastity has no gossip value. The fine things in life are not talked about; the newspapers and our other media of propaganda are more concerned with unpleasant topics. But the fact is that that Bill had to be imposed on the country and on the farmers. The result has been that the orthopedic hospitals, which treated thousands of children who suffered from bovine tuberculosis, are now being used for other purposes. I feel that this analogy is apt because successive Ministers of Transport are doing precisely what had to be done by Members of both Houses in the last half century—introducing small reforms, making speeches, asking people to be careful on the roads but not imposing those measures which they should do. Last week, despite these appalling figures of deaths and injuries on the road, the Minister of Transport said that action should not be in excess of what public opinion would tolerate—and that was said repeatedly about the fatalities from infected milk.

Is the public aware of the situation? We have had exhaustive inquiries which have recently culminated in the Report Research on Road Safety, which was initiated by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. Despite this, the Minister satisfied himself in the debate in another place last Friday week with these recommendations, after there had been a full-scale debate and both sides of the House had made very important contributions. The Minister said that he was thinking of sending glamorous racing drivers to speak at the schools; that he would compile a register of driving instructors; and that speed limits would be adjusted. I feel that these are a series of bromides. They just do not meet the situation. He then said that he did not want to say anything about the effect of drink because another inquiry is proceeding into the Christmas fatalities. But what can this reveal? It can only delay action. We had an inquiry in 1959 on the Christmas road accidents which showed that the proportion of accidents in which alcohol is a factor may rise as high as 56 per cent., and the Minister has himself said—and these are his words [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 687 (No. 38), col. 1528]: Past research"— and he says that this research has been done— has shown clearly that even small amounts of alcohol—say, two pints of beer or three single whiskies—can impair a driver's reaction … This is agreed, I think, by everybody who has studied the problem. Yet we are told that we must wait for yet another report.

I think it is significant that in Denmark there were no deaths on the roads over the Christmas holidays, and in Sweden there were only two or three. In those countries they have really grasped the nettle; they are having no nonsense. They use breathalysers, and fines are imposed which are related to income. I attach a lot of importance to that. It is of course quite absurd to fine a wealthy man the same amount as a poor man. There cannot be any deterrent to the wealthy man if he regards the fine as insignificant. Why cannot we adopt the same methods as Sweden and Denmark? I would remind your Lordships the Scandinavian countries have led the world in social reform in many other matters, and we have been only too happy to follow their lead.

The Minister said also that we want to know more about the human factor in road accidents and we must wait for a further report on that aspect also. I do not know whether he has realised—perhaps his advisers have not brought it to his attention—that the Royal College of Surgeons who reported last May on road accidents paid special attention to the human factor. They drew attention to the man who is normally intolerant, aggressive and anti-social and who comes from an unstable background, and they concluded that: A man drives as he lives". I think we all recognise that; the whole country recognises it. We ensure that the men who drive our public vehicles, police car drivers, tram drivers and bus drivers, are carefully chosen and supervised, with the result that they have a very low accident rate. Yet a psychopath has no difficulty in obtaining a licence and securing control of a powerful weapon, a car, to drive alone to the danger of the community.

The rate of accidents in different age groups varies. The 17 to 20-year old group have a very high accident rate, 4½ times the rate of those between 30 and 50. In my opinion—and this is my own opinion—I think that after the first serious accident a driver, let us say in this age group where the accident rate is so high, should be expected to pass the driving test again. The Report on Research on Road Safety said: If young drivers favour sports cars or have old cars which may have mechanical faults their accident rate will be thereby inflated. I believe that if a young driver, a man between 18 and 21, is driving a car of this character, he should be compelled to undergo a second test with the car he is driving. It seems to me ridiculous for him to learn on a mini-car, to have his test on a small mini-car and go straight to a high-powered car or to buy a second one which is rather faulty. This can be disastrous, and the figures show that this is so.

Furthermore, if he is considered grossly culpable and kills or severely injures an individual, then his licence should be withdrawn. After all, if a doctor drinks or misbehaves and in consequence a patient dies, he can be struck off the register. Why should not the same principles be applied to the reckless driver guilty of homicide or serious injury? If the bus driver, the train driver, the man who is driving the police car, misbehaves himself, if he has a serious accident, then there is a most careful inquiry; and if it is considered that this man is unfit to drive he loses his job. And the public applaud such action; we all do; because after all the public have a right in this matter. There is a tendency to think that only the driver has a right; but the public have a right to be protected. It may be said that a penalty of this kind would be too severe; but if the penalty is to be effective as a deterrent then it must be severe.

I do not belong to that school of thought which sees safety in removing speed limits. The fact is that where-ever a moderate speed limit has been introduced, safety on the road has been increased. Furthermore, I am not advocating narrow roads, but the fact is that where a road is narrow and twisting there are fewer accidents than on broader roads. The driver is compelled to go slowly, is compelled to take greater care; he is, incidentally, looking after himself.

Then we come to the pedestrian. I believe that the aged and the very young should be afforded protection by prohibiting crossing on all main roads other than at a pedestrian crossing. I know that this is being tried in some main roads. I know, of course, that there will be a tremendous outcry, and people will say that this will inconvenience them. But if we are to reduce the appalling death rate among the aged and the children, we must regard roads as we regard railways. We should be appalled to think that old people or children might be crossing railways when an express was due, but we are quite prepared to let them try their luck at getting across a main road in a very busy suburb. I think it should be prohibited and the pedestrian crossing alone should be used.

I wish to say something about the new motorways. I was impressed by the comments made by two lorry drivers involved in the pile up on the M.1 at Christmas. No doubt your Lordships saw it on television, where I saw it. They both, when asked the cause, said "They are idiots. They will speed, even in a fog". In the first place I want to say something on behalf of lorry drivers. They should be protected by regulation from the owner who offers incentives to drivers to complete a journey in a time inconsistent with safety. Let us establish that first. Do not let us say that the lorry driver is always wrong. Pressures may be brought to bear upon him which he never reveals and cannot reveal. He may have a large family. It may be extremely important for him to earn this extra money. So, first of all, let us establish immediately the fact that he must be protected.

I would ask your Lordships to read the study of M.1 fatalities made by Mr. William Gissane, the surgeon, and Dr. John Bull, of the Road Injuries Research Group of the Birmingham Accident Hospital. They studied the 74 deaths occurring after accidents on the M.1 between its opening in November, 1959, and December, 31, 1962. They say that the greater speed made possible by good road engineering has been offset by increased hazards resulting mainly from driver behaviour. They recommend that a minimum and maximum speed limit could reduce the differential velocities of impacts when collision occurs, and that heavy vehicles should not be allowed to use the fast lane. I am very glad to hear noble Lords loudly applaud these sentiments. But when this, which obviously appeals to our common sense, is suggested, there are so many interests involved that they make life difficult for those people who are anxious to change the law.

There is another point. We were told when motorways were introduced that drivers should be allowed to go right through and should not be tempted to stop in a café. The doctors in this group who have studied the matter think that this is the wrong approach. They have formed the opinion that motorway cafes might have a potential safety value in refreshing the driver, who might otherwise attempt too much, particularly young people trying to rush through and do a big journey in a quite limited time. Therefore, these doctors advise that there should be cafés for refreshment.

The post-mortem findings which this particular group of doctors were able to supervise are really horrific. The post-mortem findings showed that each fatality had more than five severe injuries compared to three to four on other roads. Unhappily, the design of the motorways delays quick ambulance attendance. I have no doubt that, in regard to the men who constructed these roads, nobody raised his voice and said at the time, "Surely you are going to have a hospital near the motorway". I suppose if someone had done that he would have been jeered and told he was being rather pessimistic. To take the example of a ruptured spleen, the bleeding that ensues forthwith of course needs immediate surgical treatment. Surely, as a result of these experiences proposed new hospital accident departments and new motorways should be related.

Now I come to faults in driver behaviour, which seem to be the main cause of 32 of the accidents resulting in 41 deaths: that is, two-thirds of the total of deaths can be related to driver behaviour. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I say this, but this is my simple analysis. I believe that the explanation of the change which takes place in a reckless man when he encloses himself—I emphasise the words "encloses himself"—in his car is, as I say, fairly simple: he removes himself from public opinion. The result is that the car is an extension of his ego—it can do something which he cannot do. Of course, for the most part this may be sub-conscious. He wants to score, to be superior to the next man; he wants to establish his financial status by giving the impression that he has a faster car. With a little alcohol, he becomes even more boastful, and his better self, his super-ego, becomes subdued. Even a fog will not act as an antidote to that man, as we have seen in the records. Consequently, the answer must be more prosecutions for careless driving.

If the traffic is to be doubled in the next six years we must increase our mobile police force in order to supervise these "idiots" (to use the lorry drivers' apt expression) who use a powerful vehicle as a means of self-expression. The knowledge that he may be observed, and that a severe penalty may follow if he misbehaves, is the only deterrent to such a driver. I think the position is so serious that we should use police in plain clothes. It is a rather curious thing that if you talk about using police in plain clothes in this context there is a frightful outcry, as though you are suggesting something almost indecent—that you are putting spies on the road. Well, we use policemen in plain clothes to detect criminals. Why not use them to detect potential homicidal maniacs on the roads? What is wrong with that? All right, they are spies. They are spying out for these anti-social, irresponsible individuals who are prepared to kill and maim perfectly innocent people.

Now I come to my final words, and what may be most controversial in your Lordships' minds. I may be told—I probably shall be—that we have not enough men for mobile police duties. Then why not use women mobile police? We have accepted the principle of women police. I understand that they are doing well. Are they not qualified to police our roads? I want to remind noble Lords that I am asking for a deterrent. These women will be driving about and spotting the careless driver. It is not a question of a policewoman every now and again having a fight with somebody; and if it is a question of brute strength, I suppose that there could be a man in the car as well. But I am talking about daylight operations for women police in civilian clothes, simply driving about our roads.

Are they qualified? Again, I hardly dare say this, but the Institute of Advanced Motorists says that women make better drivers than men. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, says, "Hear, hear!" But there is even better evidence outside your Lordships' House. Practically every Government car has a woman driver, and politicians and civil servants prefer women drivers because of their reliability. We tried it in the war. We could have changed over, and we have not done so. There they are, sitting outside the Palace of Westminster, awaiting their masters, waiting to drive them safely and well, and to look after them. If the Government prefer women to drive their Ministers and civil servants, why should they not be recruited in a mobile police force to help administer the law? My Lords, that is my final word, apart from reiterating my view that strong action must be taken to control the irresponsible driver. Why wait until thousands more have been killed or injured on the roads?

5.28 p.m.


My Lords, I am extremely pleased that the noble Baroness has seen fit to raise this matter. I should like to say straight away that I share the great disquiet, to put it mildly, that she has shown at the number of people killed every year on the roads. But when one comes to think about the number of people killed on the roans and the factors involved, there are one or two rather curious and—again I use the word—disquieting facts which emerge. I find it difficult to understand why, if one takes the total number of people killed in 1938, when the number of motor vehicles was about one-third of the number we have on the roads now, the figure is almost precisely the same as the figure in 1963. At the same time, I observe that the number of people who were seriously injured between 1938 and 1963 has gone up quite considerably. So I take it that one reason why the number of deaths has remained so constant is that people are becoming better at coping with road accidents; that there are more casualty services available. But it remains curious that those numbers should have remained the same, and I think in some way it shows that there has been some improvement in the standard of driving—though, of course, nowhere near enough.

One thing which impressed me greatly when I went to California about four years ago, and where they have a magnificent system of roads, was that the people there drove carefully and not very fast. They did not drive fast because there was a speed limit on the main roads. I forget whether it was 50 or 60 miles per hour, but I think that on a good number of them it was 50 miles per hour. Furthermore, the roads had markings on them showing what lane to keep to, and drivers kept to them. I remarked to the people who were driving me about what a remarkable thing this was. They said, "If we do not conform to the law we soon get caught and are severely punished". That seems to me to be the answer. What is the point of having a law if you make little attempt to enforce it?

At present we have a 30 m.p.h. speed limit over a large part of the country. I, like the noble Baroness, am a Londoner and have been driving in London for close on 40 years. When driving I try to keep to the 30 m.p.h. limit in town, but the number of times I am passed by other drivers is beyond belief. I have tried to count the number of cars that have done this—big cars, little cars, new cars, old cars—and I have so often wondered why there has been no "traffic cop" or patrol to check these people. I share the noble Baroness's point of view that speed is dangerous; but if one is a first-class driver, driving a first-class car, speed is not necessarily dangerous. But if one is a rather mediocre driver, driving a mediocre car, then speed is dangerous—and it is speed that kills. Therefore, the right way to cope with the problem is to enforce the law a great deal more than we do now.

There is one particular form of enforcement which we do not use enough, and that is to withdraw people's licences—not necessarily for very long, but, for example, to take them away for a month for some comparatively mild piece of careless driving. This will be far more effective than fining the person £10; and if a licence is taken away for six months that does much more. One must not be too much impressed by the plea put forward that if a driver's licence is taken away it will mean he will lose his job. When it is a case of people being sent to prison one does not see the argument applied: "One must not send this criminal to prison because he will lose his job In the same way, if somebody does something criminally careless, which involves other people in death and mutilation, I cannot see why his licence should not be taken away, even though it does mean he loses his job.

Before I sit down I should like to make one further comment. We are a strange and peculiar country, because, although there is all this talk about the large number of people who are killed on the roads, the public do not seem to be really worried about it. We are told that far more people die from lung cancer every year through smoking cigarettes than are killed in accidents on the road. One would think that to get the cancer figures down, something should really be done to decrease the consumption of tobacco. Yet, so far as I can see, nothing is done about it. In the same way there must be some strong action to reduce road accident figures if people are not going to do something about it themselves. They think it will not affect them, and therefore do not try to do anything about it.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, I could not agree more warmly than I do with what the noble Baroness said, and we should all be very grateful to her for having asked this Question. I feel that there is one point on the other side; that is, that the driving standard in this country is not quite so bad as one might think from the figures, since we have, I suppose, about the heaviest traffic and the greatest number of cars per mile of road of any country in the world. Taking that fact into consideration, the percentage of cars that are involved in accidents is not outstandingly great. But that does not mean that action of some sort should not be taken by the Government if we are to save this frightful waste of life and ability.

I do not think the noble Baroness made it quite plain enough that the majority of accidents are caused by a comparative minority of dangerous drivers. On the whole, drivers are fairly reliable, and I do not agree with the noble Baroness's idea that when one gets into a car and shuts the door one shuts oneself off from the world and is in possession of a lethal weapon, and so on. That may be so in some cases.


My Lords, I was not referring to the noble Lord. I said "the reckless man".


I quite agree that it is the reckless man who does so. When the good driver sits down in a car, he feels that he wants to drive in the best way possible. A very few dangerous drivers can cause a large number of accidents, and unfortunately those accidents are not always to themselves. A point which has been consistently overlooked by the Government, and consequently by magistrates who deal with motoring offences, is the reason which lies behind dangerous driving. The noble Baroness dealt with that aspect up to a point. Some of these cases are due to mere incompetence and ignorance and inability to control the vehicle, but personally I think that those are the minority. Others are due to daredevilry in the very young; others are due to a total lack of consideration for others; others, as the noble Baroness said, are due to drink.

An understanding of the reasons that lie behind these accidents is very important—for two reasons. It is helpful in finding a possible preventive, and it influences the decision on the appropriate penalty. As regards the latter, I am strongly of opinion that there is only one penalty suitable to a dangerous driver, and that is instant disqualification for life; not, as it is at the moment, after three convictions within three years, or whatever it is. In cases where an accident is due to mere incompetence, the culprit should be allowed to take the test again after a given period; but in cases which are due to other causes I think the disqualification should be a life one. This may sound very harsh, and a great deal has been said about depriving the man of his work. But are we all so feeble that we cannot learn to earn our living in some other way? I am sure that it is only by eliminating this type of driver from the roads that we are going to achieve anything like safety.

I have recently seen some terrible cases of drivers who, obviously, had not the slightest feeling or consideration for anybody else on the road. I have seen three examples of one particular trick which I think is absolutely lethal; that is, nipping past on your nearside and then, owing to something being parked on the road ahead of you, swerving out in front of your nose. I have seen that happen three times within the last six months or so. That sort of thing is not going to be cured just by a fine or by six months' disqualification. It is caused by something inherent in the driver, and I think there should then be absolute and total disqualification.

I should like to touch on one other point. Because of the importance of ascertaining the reason behind an accident, I feel that special courts for dealing with motoring cases are necessary. I know that the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack has rather set his face against them, but I think they are essential, in spite of the fact that some people think that the motorist would be likely to get more lenient treatment from them. That is far from the case, my Lords. If a magistrate in a motoring court had real knowledge of what was happening, he would be far more likely to be a great deal more severe, because he would realise the importance of preventing the wrong sort of person from driving.

As regards the test, that is all very well for just proving that a driver can make his car move, that he knows how to turn round in the street, that he knows on which side to overtake, and that he has read the Highway Code— which, of course, does not teach him much—but it does not go much further than that. I feel convinced that the two-tier test must eventually come. The advanced test, which should be something on the lines of the present advanced motorist's test, need not be compulsory. A driver could take it if he wanted to. The two-tier test has already been adopted, so I am told, in three countries; France, Greece and Australia have all got it. In France a driver is limited to a speed of 50 miles an hour for one year before he can take his second test. I do not know what the regulations are in the other two countries, but they are probably similar. I should say that in a country where the roads are as crowded as ours, 40 miles an hour would be a more appropriate figure.

I do not think the type of car one drives matters a great deal, because when one looks at these Mini-Minors and sees the speed that some of them can do, one realises that it is not the size of the car that matters but how one drives it. Of course, the objection will be raised that the instructors and testers cannot be found. The same objection has been raised as regards higher education and the extra year at school. The difficulty exists, but where the end is desirable one can find the people to do these things. In the same way, I feel that one could find instructors and testers for the second test.

The noble Baroness mentioned motorways in her Question and in her speech. Motorways are not dangerous in themselves. Some people have said that they are, and I know that my wife, who has just passed the test, certainly refuses to go near one at the moment, but I am hoping to persuade her one day. They are not dangerous in themselves, but, as in the case of any other road, they are dangerous if yon drive badly on them. You must know how to use them. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness that, on the whole, lorry drivers are by far the best drivers on the road, but they sometimes act unwisely. I heard of a case not long ago where there was one lorry in the slow lane on one of the motorways travelling at about 15 miles an hour, which I think was its maximum; there was another trying to overtake it, which was doing 20 miles an hour; and a third one tried to overtake the two of them in the third lane at 25 miles an hour, while they were still abreast. Your Lordships can imagine for how long the entire motorway was completely blocked. I think there should be some regulation that lorries should not be allowed to use the fast lane.

The noble Baroness also mentioned cafés. I entirely agree with her there, and I think they are a very good thing. All I would say is that the only time I ever stopped at one was on the M.1 coming south, and the food was so utterly disgusting that I vowed I would never go there again. So I think something might be done there. Another important point is education. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, when discussing the Newsom Report not long ago, said that he felt that children of 16 should be taught to drive, and I quite agree with him. I think that even younger children should be taught how to use the roads, because all accidents are not due to motorists; a great many of them are due either to pedestrians who use the roads foolishly, or to cyclists who do the same. Unfortunately, in school areas there have been quite a number of accidents, because young children have suddenly seen a friend on the other side and, without a second's thought, have dashed across to talk to them when there has been a car coming and the worst has happened. Children should be educated from the earliest possible stage not to do that sort of thing. The motorist cannot take the blame. There should be films of how accidents happen, to make it even more realistic to them.

As to enforcement, which the noble Baroness mentioned, I quite agree with her that women would make an excellent source of recruitment to the mobile police. I also think that mobile police should not always take the form of travelling about in cars which are easily recognisable as police cars. One always sees, of course, where there is a police car, that everybody is on his best behaviour. As soon as the police car is out of sight, the best behaviour vanishes. I think the police should be in places where they are not very visible to those persons on the road, and equipped with fast motor cycles so that they can catch up the really dangerous driver and, let us hope, secure a conviction. My Lords, this really is a very important subject, and I sincerely hope that the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Transport will pay a little less attention to people who park where they should not but where they will not kill anybody, and a little more attention to people who drive in a manner that is causing this terrible mortality.

5.52 p.m.


My Lords, I feel sure that when this debate ends one thing will have been proved: that everyone agrees with the noble Lord, Lord Somers, in thanking my noble friend, not only for giving us an opportunity of discussing this problem but also for the informed and, indeed, moving way she presented the case. We are also grateful for the excellent suggestions she made for trying to lessen what I think everyone now regards as a social curse or menace which must be drastically dealt with, otherwise it will become endemic. The rising tide of traffic is already seeping through every street and alley of every town, spreading confusion, death and injury, noise, fumes and ugliness. The cause of traffic accidents is quite horrifyingly simple. We have created a vast mincing machine wherein we move in conditions which are too much for us. Every now and then someone slips, and it is statistically predictable how many will do so. Your Lordships, and particularly my noble friends, will be aware that I myself should be quite incapable of penning those words, and I declare them at once, therefore, to be the words of Professor Buchanan. I am quite sure that the noble Lord, Lord Newton, will accept Professor Buchanan as one of the leading authorities on this subject, and that his description of the menace that confronts us is not overstated.

My Lords, Professor Buchanan says that it is "statistically predictable" how many of us will slip, and it is predictable, therefore, that, in the 24 hours of this very day, 20 people will be killed and 1,000 people will be injured on the roads of this country. If that were the result of an earthquake, or if one-tenth of that number were to be killed or injured as the result of an air crash or a disaster at sea, it would make headlines in the newspapers of the world. But it is happening every day in this country, and does not make headlines at all. Indeed, the only time we appear to get really excited about it is at Easter, Whitsun and Christmas—and particularly Christmas, when we hear a lot about it on the television, with a great number of exhortations, and when the "cricket score" is put up every day, showing comparisons with the score last year. But, of course, if you look at those figures of deaths on the roads at holiday times you will find that, on the average, with rare exceptions, they are the same as are occurring every day of the week the whole year round. In fact, there are some holiday periods when the casualties are below average. They are below average largely because there are fewer road freight vehicles on the roads at holiday times, although there may be more cars. That is the measure of the problem with which we are confronted.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, I have driven a car nearly every day of my life for the last 43 years, and in the course of driving rather more than half a million miles I have never yet injured myself or any other person—touch wood! I am quite willing to admit I must be extremely fortunate, but I think that some part of it, at least, must be due to exercising normal care in driving. But I agree with my noble friend Lord Lindgren, not in his suggestion to "touch wood!" but in believing that this charmed life must very soon end. So much so that I am exercising discrimination in now driving only in London; in always going by train whenever I have to do a journey, and in quite deliberately never driving on the M.1 or other motorways—or, indeed, as my noble friend says, on the Kingston Bypass. Whatever one may say about these motorways, we know that in other countries in Europe, where they have far more of them, the accident rates are very much higher than they are in this country. I beg leave, therefore, to differ from those who regard motorways as safe. Certainly, if I can avoid them I will never travel on them again; nor suffer what I regard as the indignities and hazards to which one is subjected when travelling by car on these longer journeys.

My Lords, it is not so much the drunken driver I fear as the "thrusters"; the "speed hogs", who are much more numerous than has so far been suggested in this debate. My noble friend Lady Summerskill gave the accurate description of such persons from the Report by the Royal College of Surgeons; but they are the unmannerly, the utterly selfish people, who, unfortunately, seem to me increasingly to characterise the age in which we live, and who really display the attitude of many people to-day when they get inside a car. The noble Lord who has just resumed his seat mentioned the mini-drivers, from whom we have all suffered constantly as they dash by, literally under our right ears, coming from nowhere; and he instanced that as indicating that it was obviously not the cower of the car that is the deciding factor. I believe that it is power in relation to weight, because I find that the chief offenders are always either the drivers of Jaguars or the drivers of the mini-cars.

My noble friend Lady Summer-skill put forward a number of extremely valuable suggestions for policing these people, and suggested that we should have mobile women police. That is an excellent idea. But, my Lords, we cannot possibly have sufficient police, whether in uniform or not in uniform, to deal adequately with these people. I think that motorists as a body, ordinary decent motorists who try to care for other people, whether they be other drivers or pedestrians, will have to do this matter for themselves by reporting as acts of dangerous driving all the kinds of incidents with which we are all familiar. It is not very difficult to take the number of a car and to note the place if any car has gone whizzing on even if, on that occasion, it has not caused a serious accident. We know the kind of bad driving and bad manners which inevitably will involve accidents; and I think we ought to help the police in doing the public work of reporting these incidents.

But, my Lords, however we deal with the end-product, as it were, it cannot in my view be denied that the major cause of this problem, the real basic cause, is the frustration arising increasingly from urban congestion. I know that urban congestion does not exist on the motorways; but if accidents are analysed, then unquestionably the major number occur in such areas and in the conurbations. The point has not so far been made in this debate, but, in my view, the Government are increasing congestion by deliberate acts of policy. I have very large correspondence on this subject; I have letters every day. Here is one that I received this morning from a man living at Uxbridge. He says: The branch line between Uxbridge and West Drayton was closed to passenger traffic just over eighteen months ago because it was losing money (it was said), about £10,000 a year. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Newton, thinks that what I am going to say is funny. I do not. I think it is a serious and important subject. The letter continues: Uxbridge is a fairly large and populous town growing rapidly and it is to be redeveloped shortly, and a large Brunel College is also to be built with many hundreds of students who will require transport. The branch line is a short one with only one stop in between … the run throughout only occupying eight minutes. The line has since been maintained for goods traffic, but on February 24 it is to be closed altogether and all goods traffic is then to be brought into the district by road from Slough. … When the passenger service was stopped it was promised there would be an improvement in the bus service. On the contrary it has worsened; and there is no shelter for shivering passengers … passengers returning home in the evening have to wait for a long time for a bus.… I wrote to Mr. Marples some time ago. The reply was: 'This is a matter for British Railways'. Further, at West Drayton, a large coal concentration depot has been opened, said to be the largest in Europe.… It sounds good, but all coal merchants within a radius of eight miles from West Drayton have to go there for their coal supplies. This includes Uxbridge, Slough, Southall, Hayes and other places. All this coal traffic having to be brought by road where it used to be conveyed by rail to these towns. I know that reasons are given for accidents of this kind; usually they are financial reasons. Whether or not they are valid I am not at this moment prepared to discuss. But the point is that all the towns I mentioned on the Great West Road are in areas where there is already an enormous amount of traffic. Slough, for example, one of the most accident-conscious towns in the whole country, has taken very great measures with regard to road safety because of the formerly high accident rate. Yet here we are, not merely adding more buses, but adding large numbers of lorries on to those roads gratuitously, quite apart from the fact that there will have to be very considerable provision of roads. I assure your Lordships that that sort of thing can be duplicated in every part of the country; and in many cases traffic is being forced on to roads totally unsuitable for it.

This is the case not merely in urban areas. Two months ago in Devon a railway line was closed down and a bus service was approved in its place. At Morebath in Devon buses are now allowed to go over a road where the road is ten feet wide and the gradient is one in five. I pointed that out to the Minister, but he refused to intervene. I do not pretend this is the only cause of accidents, but surely it is beyond dispute that the increasing congestion is a major cause of accidents particularly in urban areas and in the conurbations. Why, therefore, do not the Government call a halt to the tragic farce, as I see it, of allowing British Railways to advertise railways of this kind in our conurbations for closure. I call it a "tragic farce" because Dr. Beeching himself said only a few months ago that they must defer closure procedure in such areas.

Only three weeks ago the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Housing and Local Government sent out a joint circular to the local authorities instructing them that land use and transport must be considered as a single subject; that the Buchanan Report had been approved; and it instructed these local authorities, in conjunction with their fellows and neighbours, to draw up a plan in which all these matters of road transport, land usage and housing were considered as one subject. What does it mean? I hope the Minister will reply. Why are we going on putting hundreds of thousands of people and many local authorities to the trouble of opposing these closures now advertised, when, surely, it is utterly impossible to imagine that these lines will be closed.

There is, for example, to mention only one, the Manchester-Buxton line, where the trains are crowded to the doors, even in the guard's van, every night and morning and the road itself is always heavily congested. The length of time taken by the buses during the rush hour can vary by as much as three-quarters of an hour above the scheduled period. In such circumstances, it is surely quite impossible to consider going on in that way. It is completely relevant to the discussion we are now having, because if we deliberately force extra transport now from the railway to the roads—and very often roads which are not yet prepared to take the extra transport—and if, at the same time, we destroy in those areas the safest form of transport yet discovered on land, then we are deliberately inviting an increase in road casualties. And it is as certain as anything can be that the casualties would be increased.

No one doubts that, from the Minister downwards, the Ministry of Transport is deeply concerned about road accidents. We know that the Minister has taken, and will doubtless take, other measures to try to lessen the incidence of accidents, but in effect they are palliatives, however determined that action may be, if basically and all the time we build up additional transport and continually increase the congestion.

No one doubts that the sentiments are right, but in this, action counts for more than sentiment and will save more lives. I would ask that as a practical earnest of the Government's determination to fight this menace they make a declaration that, in the conurbations and congested areas, they will not allow any railway lines to be closed and that they will suspend closure procedure on all urban lines which have not yet been advertised for closure. I think that this one step not only would be an earnest of their intention but would also make the most immediate contribution that we can make towards saving lives on the roads.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, I join with noble Lords who have spoken earlier in expressing my gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, for having raised this matter to-day. If I may say so with respect, I found her speech most interesting and construc- tive, and I find myself in full agreement with almost all of it. I should like to try to dispel the idea which has cropped up in certain sections of the Press that so far nothing has been done to reduce the number of accidents which take place on our roads. Much has been done, and it has been done most effectively. It might be expected to be a mathematical certainty that accidents would rise in direct proportion to the number of vehicles at risk. In practice, it has not been so. Although the volume of traffic has risen three times in the last 15 years, the accident rate in relation to the number of vehicles has in fact fallen.

When we try to get the problems of road safety into their proper perspective we must realise that there is no one and no easy solution to these problems. In my view, no one is more alive to the problems than is the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Transport, and no one has done more to improve standards, both of conduct and of driving. He has done a splendid job in keeping the accident rates down, despite an enormous increase in the number of vehicles. The right honourable gentleman has never been afraid to experiment nor has he been afraid of publicity, even of adverse publicity, of which he has had more than his share. But he is not a dictator and he can go only as far as Parliament and the resources at his disposal permit.

Even if the supply of money available were unlimited, I very much doubt whether there would be enough contractors and machines to build new roads and new motorways much more quickly than is being done now. In addition, the acquisition of land is a very lengthy process, and these new motorways require an enormous amount of land. I think I heard the figure of 24 acres for one mile of motorway, but I am not certain of that. The acquisition of land must be a lengthy process, if the objectors to its acquisition, who always arise, are to be given a fair hearing; and, quite rightly, they always are given a fair hearing. I forget now how long it took the Ministry of Transport to settle the objections raised over the M.1 extension to the North of Leicester but, at a guess, I should think certainly two years.

Good roads are not, by themselves, enough, and enforcement of the law is the answer. It must be remembered that the police are already stretched to the limit and that they are already unable to carry out all the duties imposed on them. I say this with regret, for no one is more anxious than I am to see more policemen on the roads. I believe that they do more to ensure good behaviour on the roads than anything else.

Nevertheless, my Lords, better roads must be part of the answer. M.1, much abused though it is, has proved to be three times safer than was the A.5 before the A.1 was built. Many more miles of motorways are necessary. They are the safest roads of them all, for they employ the vital principle of segregation of traffic. For example, on a motorway it is virtually impossible to kill a pedestrian or a cyclist or an animal, and it is very unlikely that another car will hit you head-on. Not that I do not regard it as bad enough to be hit from behind, but, clearly, the combined speed of two vehicles creates a greater impact than a car coming from behind.

What it really amounts to is that it is impossible to legislate against human folly. The recent accidents on the M.1, in conditions of thick fog, show that even the best roads cannot be made fool-proof. The Minister has been criticised for not having a warning system on the M.1, which would give advanced warning of fog and ice. Clearly, this would be helpful in some conditions, particularly in denoting the presence of ice. I believe that this is done in France, and very successfully. I think that everybody would welcome this, because ice is something on which one can come unawares. But why it should be necessary, in conditions of visibility as they were on that dreadful Tuesday, to tell somebody that there was fog, I fail to understand.

To revert to the warning system, I understand that the Ministry are making, or proposing to make, an experiment elsewhere on another stretch of motorway. No doubt my noble friend who is to reply for the Government will correct me if I am wrong, but I think there is some difficulty with regard to the supply of electricity for working these instruments on M.1 which has not yet been overcome. If a driver is unable to see the dangers of fog as it was on that day, he is not, in my view, fit to drive at all. The number of vehicles which were involved in the crash must prove that they were all following each other much too closely and at too fast a speed, which, as we all know, is a common fault in driving.

I must not weary your Lordships with too many suggestions, and I will summarise my points as briefly as possible. I was glad to hear it suggested that lorries should not be allowed to travel in the fast lane, and I hope that some action will be taken to prevent this. In my view, they already go quite fast enough, and they create a situation of grave danger when three enormous vehicles are all going at virtually the same speed and it takes several minutes to establish which one is going the fastest. I hope that something will be done to stop that, too.

I should also like to see the anti-dazzle fence extended down the whole length of the motorway. I suggested that in your Lordships' House some years ago, but the fence is still exactly the same size as it used to be. It may be that other drivers do not suffer so much from dazzle as I do, but I believe that if the anti-dazzle fence were extended it would be most helpful; because not only would it solve the problem of dazzle, but it would also have the tendency to keep skidding vehicles from crossing the centre section and arriving in the face of traffic coming the other way. The fence need not be of any great strength, because anything skidding into it would hit it only a glancing blow. I am informed that this has happened on several occasions where there is such a fence, and that in every case vehicles have returned to the road where they started. This would not necessarily mean that somebody would not hit the vehicle from behind, but anything is better than a head-on collision.

Another thing I should like to see is a return to the pre-war special test for drivers of heavy vehicles, many of which are now driven by quite young men of, say, 21 or so, who have had little experience on the roads. I do not think it is entirely without reason that insurance companies "load" the premiums when asked to insure young people. I am quite sure that these heavy lorries involve a rather different technique and that a fairly rigorous test should be imposed before comparatively inexperienced young men are allowed to drive them. Another way in which lorries may be rather dangerous is that in almost all cases they do not belong to the person who is driving them. If somebody has a car he is probably rather fond of it, and does not want to buckle a wing or dent the side; and he takes considerable pains not to do so. But if a lorry hits a small car even a glancing blow, what is only a slight dent to the lorry is a very heavy blow to the small car, and may even result in turning it over.

I fully agree with what has been said about education in road safety in all its aspects, and if more and better driving instructors could be found—which apparently they cannot—the driving test should be made much stricter. In my view, lack of knowledge and incompetence are far more productive of accidents than is drunkenness. That subject has been discussed at great length, and I do not propose to go into it again; but that is my view. Initial and once-and-for-all driving tests are not enough. Speaking of that, I am intrigued with the idea of the two-tier test. I think this is an admirable suggestion, and I hope that it will be taken up. The number of people who fail the test of the Institute of Advanced Motorists (the proportion is about 50 per cent.) must be proof that the present ordinary test is much too easy. Indeed, I should have thought that no lower test than that of the Institute of Advanced Motorists should be accepted for drivers of motor cars.

In conclusion, I would say that I do not believe that having fines and prison sentences provides a suitable or effective remedy. Motorists may be foolish; they may be incompetent; they may be bad-mannered and selfish. But they are not criminals. But if, by the folly, stupidity and incompetence of their actions, they prove that they are not fit to drive, they should have their licences withdrawn, and they should be restored only after further instruction and after a most searching test has been satisfactorily completed. Prison is not the place for the bad driver; but no more is the driving seat of a motor vehicle.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, unlike other noble Lords whose wide-ranging contributions to the debate I have greatly admired, I am going to make a short speech on a small aspect of this problem. I propose to deal with the driver who is too old to be safely on the roads. This is a subject which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth in our last road traffic debate, and I hope to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Newton, that it is receiving a measure of attention from the Government.

I suppose we should agree that one of the most important qualities that a motorist requires is the ability to realise and react quickly to a dangerous situation. A motorist must be a man who can think and act quickly when the unexpected occurs. He must be ready in a split second to make his decision, and then to brake, to swerve or to accelerate. If he runs into a patch of ice, he must take, in a split second, the necessary action to get out of a skid.

I believe it to be undeniable that old age robs us of these qualities of quick and accurate judgment. It also very commonly robs us of the power to act quickly. Our arms and our legs stiffen with arthritis or some other disability. We are no longer able to stamp on the brakes or turn the wheel with the rapidity required. It will be said in reply that the old driver is generally a slow driver as well. Of course, if everybody drove slowly on the roads, slow driving would be a safety factor. But all motorists realise that the slow driver who goes at less than a reasonable speed is, in fact, a danger factor rather than a safety factor on the road.

Consequently, I suggest that really old people driving cars, and even driving mechanical chairs, are a danger to themselves, a danger to their passengers, and a danger to other road users. Such old people are, fortunately, rare. Most sensible men and women, as they realise that their faculties are beginning to decline, have the good sense and good judgment to give up their cars; and it is generally a matter of enormous satisfaction to their friends and relatives when they do so. On the other hand, it is something of a courageous act for an old person, especially when living in the country, to give up driving. It may mean acceptance of loneliness. He will be henceforth dependent upon other people to come to see him. Therefore, some old people postpone the day of decision, and drive when they should no longer do so.

I may be asked what I mean by "old", and that is, of course, a most difficult and delicate question. But I will suggest that a man or a woman who is in the seventies ought to be required to prove that his or her faculties as a driver are unimpaired. By that, I do not mean that they should be required to take a driving test on the roads. What is needed, I think, is a simple mechanical test, such as has been devised, I believe, by psychologists and could easily be adapted to a test of ability to react quickly enough to drive. Such a test would not be at all costly, since the necessary mechanical apparatus would have its cost covered by a small fee.

There is a further point which would receive attention at such a testing, and that is the sight of an applicant for a driving licence. That is a matter in which Her Majesty's Government show a childlike trust in the applicant. We are asked to fill in "Yes" in the appropriate column if our sight is good enough. Of course, we ought to be very conscientious indeed in filling in that space. But I regret to say that I knew an elderly lady well in the eighties, who fell so low in her wickedness as to fill in "Yes" in that column, when she knew that "No" was the correct answer. To make the story even more painful, she was lured into that immoral action by an elderly gentleman who said that he did the same. We should not put temptation in the way of the very old, and it would, of course, be very easy to give a sight test at the same time as a test of quick reaction.

I hope this matter will receive favourable consideration. I know very well that one has to go on and on raising points like this for years and years on end, in the hope that in the long run a little may be done in the matter. At any rate, if Her Majesty's Government feel able to give any sort of favourable reply, it will be well received in insurance circles, which are well aware of the bad risk that very elderly motorists make.

6.39 p.m.


My Lords, time is getting on and I, too, wish to refer to only one aspect of this complicated subject. May I remind your Lordships again for a few moments of that "Black Tuesday" on the motorways, Tuesday, January 21, to which the noble Lord, Lord Allerton, referred a few moments ago? On that day there was widespread fog throughout the country, although it was not particularly dense fog. May I quote to your Lordships something that was said on that day by the head of the accident unit of the Luton Hospital, a doctor who ha; frequently had the unhappy experience of attending the scenes of accidents, upon the M.1? He said: When the fog comes down the M.1 is just a trap. Drivers travel much too fast. It is ridiculous. You stand out there at the scene of a crash and you don't know from one second to the next whether something will come charging out of the fog and run you down. I believe that this problem was successfully solved by the Armed Services during the last war, and I regret to say I believe that this valuable lesson has been largely lost in the intervening years. During the last war soldiers were driving vehicles in many parts of the world under black-out conditions, which had very much in common with the problem of driving in fog. The Army Council impressed upon soldiers that if they drove beyond the range of their vision so that they ran into some obstruction ahead of them simply because they could not stop in time when they saw it, then they committed a serious offence, and it did not matter what was the nature of the obstruction ahead, whether it was a road block or some stationary unlighted vehicle. If a soldier ran into it simply because he could not stop in time when he saw it, then he committed a serious offence. I believe that simple piece of discipline could perfectly well be instilled into the civilian population in 1964. I am not saying anything new. It is fair to say that the Minister of Transport himself said very much these words in Question Time in another place on the day after that "Black Tuesday".

Surely the matter is as simple as this. If the fog is of equal density in Oxford Street and on a motorway, and if 5 m.p.h. is the maximum safe speed in Oxford Street, then 5 m.p.h. is the maximum safe speed on the motorway; and if somebody drives at 20 m.p.h. on a motorway because he supposes that, with a bit of luck, the road must be clear ahead, then he is driving recklessly and he deserves to be very severely dealt with. This is the only contribution I have to this otherwise most interesting debate.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, I owe your Lordships in general, and the noble Lady who introduced this Question in particular, an apology for my absence from my seat early in the debate, but I was detained at an important meeting. It is a measure of my concern at this dreadful situation that in the circumstances I dare to speak to your Lordships, but in consequence of my misdemeanour I shall curtail my speech.

First of all, my Lords, I feel (this point may have been made already) that we are short of a proper analysis of the causes of accidents. Statistics, so far as I have been able to get them, are, in my opinion, too vague. On the subject of drunken driving I do not suggest any relaxation in the pursuit of the drunken driver, but I do urge that the hue and cry against him—and, occasionally, unfortunately, against her—should not blunt the dissecting and the evaluation of the other causes of serious accidents. Indeed, like everybody else, I welcome the new and, if I may say so, overdue efforts to analyse specific accidents. I go further and make bold to say that this analysis will prove, I believe, that the stationary vehicle plays too large a part, indeed a good deal larger part than is thought at present, in causing accidents. Motorways and clearways are a solution. Let us have more of them, but let us use them safely. Incidentally, for roads that cannot be made clearways I believe that much more could be done to draw attention to the danger of vehicles being run into from behind. At this time of the year, when rear lights and reflectors soon become obscured, I believe that more advice and publicity should be given about the responsibilities of individual drivers to this matter when they stop.

As every noble Lord has said, excessive speed is the basic cause of most accidents, whether the speed arises from lack of judgment, bad manners or sheer reckless folly. As other noble Lords have emphasised, just what speed is excessive depends upon conditions of the road, of the vehicle and its load and of visibility. On this latter point, I shall refer later to what the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, has said on the question of drivers' eyesight in connection with licences. But I would say that I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, said about driving in fog: five miles an hour may be too fast. Visibility is related, whether in fog or clear daylight, to the ability of the individual driver to see. I would refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Allerton, said about that "Black Tuesday", and on drivers who are driving too close. Unfortunately, many of the tragedies were caused to drivers who were stopped clear of the vehicles in front but were struck from behind by drivers who were going too fast. Then, the good driver was injured. Therefore, it is not the case that all the drivers were driving too close.

My Lords, on the subject of speed I am tempted to say something which I have said in your Lordships' House before. Can we not all remember to start our trips in time, and realise that a run which ten years ago could be safely carried out in 50 minutes—shall we say, from my home to Edinburgh—to-day takes at least an hour? The temptation is to leave at the time one has been used to. I believe that this point could be made in urging people to drive at a more sensible speed.

Of course, there is a remedy in regard to this problem of running into vehicles from behind, particularly in conditions of dark or poor visibility—and this, again, may have been mentioned by the noble Lady. It is that there should be more rear lights on the vehicle, high up, out of reach of mud, snow and smoke. The practice which one sees in a number of large vehicles to-day might be developed, and perhaps made obligatory. Higher reflectors, too, which would be free from the risk of being obscured, would also help.

On this point of visibility, I agree with what the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, said in connection with elderly drivers. The police authorities in my neighbourhood have made a point which I believe to be a sound one—noble Lords and noble Ladies who are doctors will be able to describe it better than I can. It concerns the older—though not necessarily very old—driver. The point is that the older you get, the more careful you must be, coming out of brightly lit premises, such as a shop or one's own home, not to drive off too quickly without allowing your eyes to adjust themselves to the strange conditions.

A young man returning to this country the other day, after some years in the U.S.A., told me that he was horrified at the standard of driving here to-day compared to what it was some five years ago. The driving is probably much the same, but the concentration of vehicles on the roads has made it appear more dangerous. His view, with which I agree, is that a real deterrent to excessive speed, bad driving and bad parking is the visible presence ("visible" is the point he makes, and this point about the police has been made by other noble Lords) of traffic "cops" in cars, moving with the traffic and also halted, where they may be clearly seen from passing cars, as is the case in the U.S.A. Never mind trying to get convictions by cunning traps! Until there are men to spare, let the existing men try to prevent accidents by advertising their presence as the minions of the law.

There are too few police. Other noble Lords have made this point. But is this something that cannot be adjusted very much more quickly than might be thought? Is not the emergency serious enough to justify a class of special constable, or more use of the existing special constables, so as to strengthen this force on the road? Both the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and the noble Lord, Lord Allerton, seemed to feel it is not possible to increase the police as rapidly as might appear necessary; but I wonder whether this suggestion, which perhaps has already been made, is not one which is worth considering.

I agree with the Minister of Transport that it seems to be impossible to make more varieties of notice effective. I am reminded of a friend who was very keen on safety, and another mutual friend said, "That man will kill himself falling downstairs because there is not a notice at the top to 'Mind the step'." There is something in that; one can overdo it. I am reminded also of a man whom my wife unfortunately collided with as he came out of a side road. She said, "You saw me coming; why did you not stop?" He said, "There was no 'Halt' sign". There are difficulties connected with additional notices which can well be watched.

We want more guidance, I believe, from the analysis of statistics, and we want better statistics to guide us. Take, for instance, the principal cause of accidents—either the first or second cause given in the statistics—"Turning right without due notice". I have tried to follow this up, and it is clear to me that a number of these accidents may well have arisen through a quick turn to the right caused by a stationary vehicle which has subsequently driven away. That is an illustration of what I mean by statistics as they exist to-day not being sufficiently full.

I have one other point. Are the Churches doing enough about bringing home to the people this dreadful problem? I wonder whether they are tempted to allow their natural indignation at drunken driving to blur the need for the pressing of the Christian virtues of unselfishness and courtesy on our roads. I trust I have not been unduly repetitive of points which other noble Lords or the noble Baroness may have made earlier in the debate. However that may be, I do congratulate her most heartily on taking this opportunity of giving this House a chance to examine this dreadful situation.

6.53 p.m.


My Lords, I have only one point I wish to make and I hope I shall not detain your Lordships overlong in doing so. The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, rightly mentioned that statistics were needed, and I would ask Her Majesty's Government if they would not be prepared to supply one entirely fresh statistic in connection with accidents, in particular upon motorways. Anyone who drives upon motorways, as I expect most of your Lordships do from time to time, will know that the speed of cars on these motorways is high. The roads are made for speed. But there are many cars going along those roads not only at 60 miles on hour, but at 70, 80, 90 or even 100 miles an hour. In certain circumstances, provided the drivers are good and the conditions are good, that may be perfectly safe.

However, there is a further condition that has to be fulfilled and that concerns the car itself. There are very few cars on the market to-day which cannot in fact travel at 90 m.p.h., but there are very few cars on the market to-day which are safe at 90 m.p.h. There are cars which are constructed to have a maximum speed of 120 or even 150 m.p.h. If they were being driven at 90 or 100 p.m.h., given adequate drivers in good conditions, there would be no danger, because their whole construction is designed for these very high speeds and they are comfortably within their margin. But cars with a maximum of 90 m.p.h. being driven at 85 m.p.h., even by a good driver—and, in my submission, a good driver would not drive such a car at 85 m.p.h.—are intrinsically dangerous vehicles, because their brakes are not constructed for those speeds; their road-holding is not such as to maintain stability in an emergency at those speeds, and all the other things which go into the design are lacking to create safety.

If this contention of mine is correct, one ought to be able to learn from statistics whether certain makes of cars driven along motorways are in fact more susceptible to accidents than others, and I would urge upon the Ministry of Transport the need to publish such statistics. It would not be very difficult. The statistics of the cars involved in accidents are already available. All one needs is spot-checks in order to get statistically accurate figures of the numbers of cars of the different makes that are driven upon the roads, and then there could be published a chart showing that make X has an accident rate of one per thousand cars on the M.1, make Y three per thousand, and make Z ten per thousand, or whatever it may be. I grant that it would be strongly resisted by the manufacturers of the cars; of course it would be. But, after all, in a matter as important as this we cannot afford to bow to susceptibilities, whether they be of the drunken driver, or the 88-year-old lady whose eyesight is bad, or whoever it may be. We are dealing with human life. The motor car manufacturer who produces a car which is safe to be driven, by the ordinary people who buy it, at such speeds as are done on motorways, would have nothing to fear.

If my contention is entirely wrong and all cars are equally safe and road accidents are a purely human factor, there would be no significant difference between the makes and no one would be the loser. But if it were found that certain cars were more accident-prone than others, surely the public should be told of that so that they can either avoid buying such a car, or, if they do, will know they should exercise rather more care with it than with another make. I urge upon Her Majesty's Government that they should give consideration to this. The Minister of Transport is a man of courage: he does not bow down to vested interests in most instances of this kind. The statistics could be obtained with very little trouble, and I think they could be very valuable.


My Lords, is it not possible that the insurers are interested in this angle and might be able to assist the Government in regard to the figures of various makes?


That might well be so, and if so, so much the better. I should be happy if they could.

6.58 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but there was one small point made in the admirable speech of the noble Baroness in introducing this debate that I should like to comment upon. For considerable periods before the war I lived in Norway. The noble Baroness commented upon the good way in which the Scandinavian countries look after these things. One point there which I think is important (I am speaking about the law as it was before the war, but I have no reason to believe it has been materially altered) is the attempt to prevent the drunken driver from driving at all, without waiting until he has had a smash. The police had power to stop anybody—they were particularly liable to stop drivers after a dinner party—and they were not supposed to have drunk for six hours before. They would take a driver to the police station and say, "I am sorry; I must test your blood", and if he was found to have too much alcohol in the blood he had an alternative: it was either one week on bread and water or two weeks on normal rations. He usually chose the one week on bread and water. But it had a remarkable effect. The principal thing there is the attempt to prevent accidents rather than to deal with the miscreants after the accident has happened.

7.0 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to make one small point, I hope in one minute. I refer to the question of piling up and being run into from behind, of which we had such a vivid example given to us by my noble friend Lord Airedale. Those of your Lordships who have driven in Italy will know that on crossing the frontier one is obliged to take a small tripod with "cat's-eyes" in red, which must be put about 20 yards behind the car in the case of any unexpected stoppage, so that it gives traffic behind a chance to see that ahead there is trouble. Perhaps I may suggest that for the consideration of the Government.

7.2 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for intervening at this late stage of the discussion and perhaps for making points which I fear may well have been made by other noble Lords. Lest this should be the case, I propose to speak quite briefly. First, may I compare the figures of last year with the pre-war figures? I know that such a comparison has already been made by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, but I wonder whether he went back far enough. Are your Lordships aware that in 1962 6,700 people were killed on the roads, and that in 1930, 34 years ago, the figure was 7,300? Are your Lordships further aware that the number of cars on the road in 1930 was 2,300,000, whereas in 1962 it was 10,500,000? In other words, 600 more people were killed in 1930 than were killed in 1962; yet the number of motor cars in 1930 was one-fifth of the number that it is now. The extraordinary thing is that, search as I may through our newspaper files, I cannot find any major trace of public outcry against what was a far more shocking affair then than it is to-day. Perhaps there should have been. I think there should. I simply report the facts.

In our, if I may use the words, almost psychopathic desire to blame ourselves and to prove that in every case the ghastly event was somebody's fault, may we not perhaps be going a little too far? Take this matter of drinking. Of course an excessive amount of drink is a wicked thing for the driver of a motor car or a motor cycle, a cyclist, or a road user of any sort, including a pedestrian. But is there any conclusive evidence that drink is a major factor in the cause of accidents? Such as it is, the evidence seems to be rather to the contrary. The noble Baroness has mentioned the Scandinavian countries where they do not drive when they drink; but in fact 20 people were killed in the Scandinavian countries over Christmas and the New Year, and pro rata in relation to the number of motor cars in those countries and in Britain, I do not think that their record was much better, if at all, than our own.

Again, is it not generally accepted that the effect of alcohol varies with the individual, and that it is not the quantity that a man has, but what man drinks it? I once knew an engine driver in Germany who was not fit to drive his engine until he had absorbed 18 pints of beer, and then he drove it extremely well. Your Lordships perhaps recall that when we discussed the Road Traffic Act two or three years ago, I consumed a quarter bottle of whisky before breakfast and was pronounced fit to drive by my most excellent doctor. By concentrating on drink and legislating against drink as the biggest single cause of road accidents may we not perhaps be in danger of misleading ourselves?

Finally, I put it to your Lordships that, however hard we try, by warnings or by legislative action, we are not going to change human nature. There will always be the man or woman who drives selfishly, impatiently, who is late for an appointment. There will always be the boy who wants to show off to his girl friend. There will always be the fool in driving. I am not a defeatist. I think your Lordships will admit that there will always be the ordinary criminal. Nobody ever suggests that one day there will be no crime. What we have to do, however reluctantly, is to accept this as a national matter, and so to arrange things that those who are in danger of killing or wounding others shall have the smallest possible opportunity of doing so. In practice, I believe that this really means double track roads, with a barrier in between the roads so that motorists going in one direction simply cannot get at those going in the other.

I know about the M.1—I live on it. In a fast car in which I was travelling at 30 m.p.h. in the fog, I was being passed by lorries doing 60 m.p.h. and over. I hope the lesson has been learned. I do not believe that there will be a repetition of these stupidities on the M. roads. Anyway, fog is, thank heavens!, a relatively rare meteorological event. If we really want to reduce the casualty rate, and if we really believe that human life is valuable, then let us spend the nation's money on the nation's roads. That, I submit, is the only sure way to success.

7.7 p.m.


My Lords, I should like right at the start of my speech to join with those of your Lordships who have expressed their appreciation to my noble friend Lady Summerskill for having made this debate possible. I think it is a compliment to her that the standard of debate has been so high. It has made my task in winding up from this side all the more difficult, because there are few points which have not already been dealt with. In spite of the fact that Lord Ferrier regretted that there might be repetition in his speech, there is bound to be repetition in mine, because of the emphasis I wish to place on what I consider to be perhaps the most important points that have arisen during the debate.

Practically every noble Lord who has spoken has said that motorways, as motorways, are not dangerous roads. We have to admit that when an accident happens on a motorway it is of greater severity than an accident on the normal highway, but that is because of the speed at which the vehicles are going. The damage arises from the impact at speed and the lack of ability of the individual within the motor car to stop within the length of his vision, a matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, referred. But whilst it is true that the severity of an accident on a motorway tends to be greater, it is equally true that the frequency of accidents on motorways is much lower than that on the normal highway. The cause of accidents on motorways is not the road; it is either a mechanical defect within the vehicle, or human error and driver behaviour.

I think we can take pride in motorways generally. Their design and standard of construction is reasonably good. But even if we were to reach a state of perfection, both in design and construction, accidents would still happen if men and women drove foolishly and without consideration for others. That major consideration arises from the inability to stop at speed within short distances.

My noble friend Lady Summerskill paid a tribute, as did a number of your Lordships, to the average lorry driver. Lorry drivers are men of considerable skill; they generally show consideration to others and their competence as drivers is beyond reproach. But there are exceptions, one of which was referred to by my noble friend in her opening speech. I would refer to inducements offered by some employers to their drivers to break the Road Traffic Regulations in regard to the speed of vehicles, and even as to hours worked. In regard to road haulage generally it is the curse of bonus and piecework which is a contributory factor to accidents. One does not wish to specify particular trades or callings, but one can speak from one's own experience. My experience has been with the sand and gravel lorry rushing from pit to building site, or the lorry carrying rubble to the tip. Not only is the roadworthiness of the vehicle doubtful, but the driver is on piecework, which is encouraged by the employer, and it tends to make the driver less considerate to other road users than is the case with his colleagues who operate the normal long-distance lorries.

Having said that—and I join with all other noble Lords who paid a tribute to the average lorry driver—I must support the noble Lord, Lord Somers, and my noble friend Lady Summerskill, on their point as to lorries in the third lane. The instance to which Lord Somers referred I have myself actually seen happen. Let us remember that motorways are built for speed, and when a motorist is going safely along in a car at speed and suddenly comes up against three lorries blocking the whole width of the road and travelling at a maximum of 25 miles an hour, this makes accidents likely because of the car's inability to stop quickly enough. In spite of the vested interest that will be aroused—the road haulage associations and the rest are bound to kick up a fuss—on the grounds of safety, when we are dealing with human life, the Ministry ought to consider the question of banning lorries from the third lane and leaving one lane free for fast-moving vehicles. This is one point on which the Minister is not being as forthcoming as he might in regard to the motorways.

In reading the debate in another place, I thought that his answer to the discussion was in some ways plausible. When there are adverse conditions on the motorways, or when an accident occurs, other accidents are made much more likely. A sign on the bridges which cross the motorway saying "Accident ahead" is much more likely to be taken notice of than flashing lights on the roof of a police car, because the police cars themselves are generally moving and in conditions of fog the traffic itself is not restricted as to speed. More ought to be done than is being done at present in regard to experiments with warning signs where it is expected that vehicles will be moving at speed.

To turn from accidents on motorways, there has been a tendency, as the noble Earl, Lord Arran, has just said, to over-simplify the causes of accidents on other roads. There has been a tendency, on the part not only of the public but also of the Press, to emphasise the factor of drink. I should not like it to be thought that any words of mine are intended in any way to mitigate the criminality of a person who drives a motor car while under the influence of drink or drugs. But to say that that is the major cause of road accidents, or to allow it to detract from the basic causes, would be wrong. Here the public have a responsibility.

Magistrates have come in for some criticism to-day. When the police apprehend a person for driving under the influence and the person is charged, it is my experience as a magistrate that the lawyer immediately advises his client to go to quarter sessions. Why? Because he is going to be tried by a jury. The lawyer says to him, "You will be un lucky if there will not be eight or ten out of the twelve members of the jury who are also motorists. You are much more likely to get off because they will think, 'There, but for the Grace of God, go I'." It is no good criticising benches of magistrates when the legal profession advise their clients to go to quarter sessions, for it is the citizens, the motoring public, who tend to be much more lenient to the infringing motorist than they ought to be. There are few of us who have not read Press reports of cases at quarter sessions where one feels that that has happened; although I would admit straight away that one cannot always get all the facts from reading a case as reported in the Press. If one had heard the case in court one might have taken a different view.

Mechanical defects in vehicles constitute a very big factor contributing to accidents, and this is true of road haulage vehicles, commercial vehicles and the motor car. Perhaps I can say from this side of the House what noble Lords opposite might hesitate to say: there are far too many people running cars to-day who cannot afford to run them. When cash is short, maintenance is done on a shoestring or is not undertaken. "Do it yourself" is all very well in some spheres. If you are trying to paper a ceiling and fall off a ladder, it is your fault and it is your leg which is broken. But when it comes to driving a vehicle, if it is not properly maintained and is likely to cause death or severe injury to other persons, then, of course, it is nothing less than criminal. It is all a question of the standard of the vehicle.

It is not only a question of the car driver. This applies equally to some road hauliers and commercial undertakings who are using vehicles and perhaps having a hard time to make their business go, and they let the condition of their lorries or vans depreciate. The tests which the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Transport has instituted in regard to vehicles over five years of age are very necessary, but it is really surprising, when one is sitting on a bench of magistrates and someone is up for an infringement of a traffic Act, how the police then find out that there is no test certificate, and other offences also appear.

The noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, referred to the question of eyesight and mechanical tests for those who are elderly. I would go much further than the noble Earl. We require a certificate to show that a motor vehicle which is going to be driven is roadworthy. Yet any person can get a provisional licence and pass a test without any medical examination whatever. It was reported in the Press last Friday that a driver in Luton who was driving a small minibus had an accident, and the defence proved, by medical certificate, that he was not fit to drive. My contention is that, rather than that we should have a medical certificate saying that a man was not fit to drive because of his physical condition—not through drink or anything like that; it was a heart condition—there should be a medical test before a driving licence is given. There ought to be a medical examination of drivers as a requirement for getting a driving licence; and, equally, a medical examination ought to take place periodically during the life of the licence.

There is one point which has not been mentioned to-day, and that is the "cat's-eye". I think that the "cat's-eye" is one of the biggest contributors to road safety which was ever invented. So far as driving in fog or mist is concerned, it is a godsend. So far as driving under normal conditions is concerned, it is a guide to the driver as to exactly where the centre of the road is, and where danger lies. Reference has been made to cyclists and the possible danger from them. I think it is true that a number of motorists, particularly those who have not been driving for a great time, tend to drive towards the crown of the road because of the fear of hitting a cyclist, particularly a wobbling cyclist, and the "cat's-eye" helps them to see that they do not get over the crown of the road. I have been surprised—and perhaps the noble Lord who is to reply will have some answer to this—to find that over recent years the number of both "A" roads and "B" roads fitted with the "cat's-eye" is declining. It seems that where a road is re-surfaced a white line is placed down, and not a "cat's-eye". If that is because of economy by the Ministry of Transport in their grants to local authorities for the work of road maintenance, then I think it is a very foolish economy. In any case, the Ministry of Transport ought to call the attention of the local authorities to "cat's-eyes", and where they have been discontinued they ought to be reinstituted.

Another matter which has not been mentioned is the three-lane roads. In my opinion they are the most dangerous of all roads. Everyone tends to think that he has the right of the road. This may be taken as a criticism of the lorry driver, but the fact is that it is much less difficult for the lorry driver to move from one lane to the other; also, as he has a heavier vehicle, it is wiser for anybody else to get out of the way if the lorry is in the centre lane, rather than continue in it. But the three-lane road is a death trap, because of the possibility of head-on collision at speed with a heavy lorry. I think it would be wise for the Ministry of Transport to abolish these roads. In some places they have converted them into two-lane roads. That does not give the inducement for quite such reckless overtaking, and it is certainly a point of improvement.

Practically all the suggestions that have been made to-day, including my own of a medical examination before getting a driving licence, have been made many times before. I do not want to relieve the Ministry of Transport or the Government of any of their responsibility. They have heavy responsibility. We want more motorways, we want safer roads, we want grants for the road improvements of which local authorities have been deprived for many a long year. But the fact remains that the basic responsibility lies with the public. I agree with noble Lords who have spoken to-day and who said that it is a minority of drivers who cause the greatest danger to the public.

If that is so, then the public has a responsibility. I do not want to keep pressing the point of view of the magistrates, though they have been criticised to-day, but even when the police bring a case, it is very rarely that the police have been on the spot at the time the accident happened. All they can do is to assess the statements made by the drivers of the vehicles involved and then bring a prosecution in the light of the evidence, as they see it, from the statements made by those involved in the accident. More often than not, the problem of the magistrate is to assess which of the two drivers is telling the truth, because there is no independent witness. British law says, quite rightly, that when there is a doubt the person prosecuted has a right to the benefit of the doubt. When they have seen accidents the public should come forward much more generously than they do to give evidence, and so should motorists themselves.

The noble Lord, Lord Somers, referred to the fact that he had seen people cutting in front of others. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham—and we regret that he is indisposed and not able to take part in this debate to-day—in his broadcast at Christmas time was very emphatic about the bad driving that he had seen. I agree with my noble friend Lord Stonham, who said that if a motorist sees other motorists committing offences it is his duty to report it and to support the complaint by evidence to the police. Because, as I said earlier, it is surprising that when one offence is committed one generally finds that there is a number of other infringements which should be looked at as well.

The only other point to which I want to draw attention, and it is one which I might have been a little shy of making myself, is the point of my noble friend Lord Stonham about road and rail transport. As a railwayman, I might be accused of being biased in favour of rail—and I should not deny it; but I think it is another factor. But when one is dealing with causes of accidents, then every cause ought to be taken into account and examined. I think there are very few indeed who would not agree that many of the loads which are on our roads to-day are unsuitable to be transported by road and ought to be transported by rail. But they will not be dealt with in that manner unless there is a directive from the Ministry of Transport, in the light of the type of traffic and type of vehicle, that that traffic should go by rail.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? I entirely agree with what he says, but is it not true that some of the enormous loads that are carried on the roads are so enormous that they are too large for the railway loading gauge?


Yes, my Lords. They are what we, as railwaymen—and road hauliers, too—term "out-of-gauge loads"; but that is really only a question of cost.

What used to happen is that we would take these out-of-gauge loads on railways—and in some instances still do. But what happens with these extraordinarily large loads is that they are erected at the site at which they are manufactured, and taken, as complete as possible, to their destination, to the point where they are to be shipped or erected, whereas they could quite easily be dismantled and reassembled at the other end. It would mean added cost, but everything with which we deal on the question of lifesaving, so far as roads are concerned, is bound to cost money. The provision of "cat's-eyes" in the roads costs money: road improvements cost money; the cost of police supervision is money again. Every factor, of course, means added cost: but when it comes to the saving of life then that expenditure is well worthwhile. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken, and, in particular, my noble friend Baroness Summerskill for giving us the opportunity to take part in this very interesting discussion.

7.33 p.m.


My Lords, I think I should explain that no sinister significance should be attached to the fact that I am replying to the noble Lady's Question. It is simply that my noble friend Lord Chesham is in hospital. However, I am very happy to be able to say that he is going on well after his operation this morning.

I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, that the standard of debate has been high, and for my part I should certainly like to thank the noble Lady for giving us the opportunity to discuss this subject. I should also like to thank all those noble Lords who have taken part, not only for what they have said but also for (shall I say) the spirit which has informed their speeches. As I expected—and, indeed, had hoped—there has been a wealth of ideas and suggestions thrown up; some of them ruthless; some of them moderate; some of them very sensible; some not quite so sensible; some of them aimed at my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport; some of them aimed at the police; some of them aimed at drivers; some of them aimed at pedestrians; some of them aimed at the Church; some of them aimed at magistrates; some of them aimed at the public in general, and some just at human nature.

My Lords, I think it is an excellent thing that this has happened, but I hope that your Lordships will understand that I clearly shall not be able to reply to all the points of detail. As I said, I am a locum tenens, and the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, rightly said that this is a complicated subject. But, my Lords, I feel that it is a very good thing that there should have been this wealth of ideas and suggestions, and I can assure your Lordships that my noble friend and his Department will study them all. I also hope that all the other people I have mentioned, to whom ideas and suggestions have been addressed, will take note of those things that apply to them.

I would say also, without hesitation, that Her Majesty's Government agree entirely with the noble Lady and other noble Lords who have spoken that the present level of accidents is too high, and that we must all—and I stress, all of us—do everything we can to reduce it. Indeed, as my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport said in a debate in another place last week [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 687 (No. 38) col. 1517]: … if there are half a dozen deaths, there are half a dozen too many". The noble Lady was also quite right in saying that the number of casualties on the roads in increasing. It has almost doubled over the past fifteen years. But during this period the amount of traffic also has risen. Indeed, traffic has increased threefold during the period in which the number of road casualties has doubled; so the accident rate has gone down, as several of your Lordships have pointed out. Another mercy is the fact that the number of road deaths has not increased as fast as the total number of casualties: it has gone up by less than half as much. We have also done a good deal better than most other Euro pean countries, where, apart from Norway, Sweden and Belgium, the fatal casualty rates are higher than here, in some cases twice as high.

I mention these figures, not because they give grounds for complacency—far from it!—but because they do, I think, put the problem in the right perspective. They suggest that the measures that have so far been taken to reduce road accidents have had some success, and they give us hope that we can continue to keep ahead of the rising volume of traffic in the future. That, I think, is what my noble friend Lord Arran, who seems to have gone, was concerned to argue in his speech. My noble friend Lord Allerton was also concerned to make that point, and I am grateful to him for having done so. I would also thank him, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Walston, for their tributes to my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport.

The noble Lord, Lord Amulree (who told me he could not remain), also sought to suggest that we have to look at these matters in perspective. While on that subject, I would remind your Lordships that, although the total number of people killed on the roads in Great Britain in 1962 was, as the noble Lady said, 6,709, in the same year the total number of deaths from cancer of the lung was 26,383—nearly four times as many. Yet we know, my Lords, that only a small fraction of that number would have occurred but for the habit of smoking cigarettes. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me for rolling my own Departmental log for a moment, but it will perhaps be recalled that the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, did give me my opening to do just that. How I wish that the public were as much concerned about avoidable deaths from lung cancer as they are about avoidable deaths on the road! And, my Lords, I would even venture to say that I wish your Lordships were as equally concerned.

Now the noble Lady's Question is particularly concerned with accidents on motorways—and, of course, everybody, I think, still has in mind the ghastly accidents on the M.1 in the fog, about which so much has been said. My right honourable friend is still waiting for the full report he has asked for on these accidents, and there is nothing much that I can add to-day to what has already been said about them. They took place, of course, in abnormal conditions, but they draw attention to the fact that, when accidents do occur on motorways, they tend to be more severe. The proportion of fatal and serious casualties to drivers on M.1 is therefore higher than on other roads. But the M.1 is still much safer. The total number of accidents and the proportion of casualties per million vehicle miles is only a third of that on other rural roads, and the proportion has gone down slightly since the motorway was opened.

Before I go on to say what the Government are doing about road accidents there is one point that I should like to make quite clear; that is, that there is no single dramatic solution to the problem. Not even a single road accident has a single cause. There are always a number of contributory factors, some of them more important than others; some of them relatively easy to prevent, some of them extremely difficult. But these factors, and the measures that can be taken to deal with accidents, fall into three categories: the road, the vehicle, and the road user. What we therefore have to do, and what my right honourable friend has been doing, is to find out by research and analysis as much as we can about the factors involved in accidents under each of these three heads, and to devise ways of eliminating them or making their effects less severe.

As the noble Lady has drawn particular attention to motorways, and they have figured largely in the debate, perhaps I might begin by saying what Her Majesty's Government are doing about them. The first thing we are doing is to build more of them. Despite the recent crop of accidents, motorways are still much safer than the average road. The noble Baroness was not correct, if I may say so, in saying that narrow, winding roads are safer than modern high-speed roads. The statistics do not support that view.

Secondly we are experimenting with ways of making motorways safer than they already are. Crash barriers are being erected on two 9-mile lengths of M.1; and experiments are already under way to test the effectiveness of expanded metal anti-dazzle screens and of planting on the central reservation. These devices have disadvantages, as well as advantages from the safety angle, and I am advised that so far the evidence is by no means conclusive that these devices would reduce accidents. But we hope that the experiments will give us the answers. Experiments are also under way to find the best type of reflective material to mark the edge of the carriageway and for lane markings on motorways. And as my right honourable friend has recently announced, a trial is shortly to begin on M.5 to test advance illuminated warning signs. I hope that that news will be acceptable to the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren.

I turn now to the question of speed limits on motorways. First, let me make it clear that the recent deplorable accidents on M.1 and other motorways really have no bearing on the case for having general speed limits. Secondly, we must have regard to the extent to which speed limits can be enforced. We do not want to divert too much police effort off other roads to motorways which, I repeat, are still our safest roads. At the same time, I do not want to suggest that my right honourable friend has made up his mind against having speed limits on motorways, either generally or for particular classes of vehicles. We shall certainly consider that idea as we build up experience and statistical evidence, which we can compare with evidence on motorways in other countries. The position inevitably changes as traffic volumes increase, and what has been justifiable policy when traffic is fairly light obviously may require revision in different circumstances. I can assure the House, however, that my right honourable friend is giving very close personal attention to this question of speed limits.

The noble Lady, my noble friend Lord Somers and one or two other noble Lords have talked about the desirability of imposing conditions on the use of the fast lane of a motorway by slow vehicles and lorries. My right honourable friend last year explored this idea with the chief constables concerned with the M.1, and the conclusion was reached that, although there is some abuse of the fast lane, at present regulations would not be justified. But naturally my right honourable friend will go on watching this, and I feel certain his determination will be strengthened by what noble Lords have said about it this afternoon. But the right solution, of course, must be for people to observe the motorway rules laid down in the Highway Code. I cannot help feeling that if that did happen, we should be spared a great many of the accident problems which are perplexing us to-day; and my right honourable friend is planning a further publicity campaign for this purpose.

But motorways are only a part and, at present, a relatively small part of the picture. We need to make our other roads safer and to build more of them to take the increasing volume of traffic. Even quite small improvements, such as better camber, better alignment and better visibility, can reduce accidents by over 60 per cent., and hundreds of such schemes are included each year in the road programme. Public expenditure on new construction and major improvements of the motorways, trunk and classified roads in 1956–57 was £20 million. By 1968–69 it will be over £200 million. This is an increase of ten-fold in just over ten years. Although my noble friend Lord Arran is not here to hear that, I am sure that what he reads in Hansard to-morrow will give him satisfaction. This increase in expenditure is an important way in which the Government are helping to reduce the number of accidents.

Better traffic signs and road markings also improve safety. The Warboys Traffic Signs Committee recommended greatly improved traffic and road markings, including "cat's-eyes". I was glad to hear the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, about "cat's-eyes". Like him, I regard them as extremely valuable and helpful—at least they have always been so to me. The Government have accepted the recommendations of the Warboys Committee, and my right honourable friend hopes to put them into effect within three years on major through routes and elsewhere as quickly as possible afterwards. At the present time detailed guidance about this is being prepared, and shortly a manual covering all aspects of the use of road signs and markings, including "cat's-eyes", is going to be sent to the local authorities.

We also realise the need to make the roads as safe as we can for pedestrians, who represent over one-third of those killed and seriously injured in built up areas. As the Buchanan Report makes clear, the ultimate solution is complete segregation of pedestrians and vehicles; and the new urban road schemes provide increasingly for pedestrian subways and bridges. Pedestrian crossings also help; and my right honourable friend is experimenting with new kinds of light-controlled crossings which we hope will be safer than ordinary "zebras". Incidentally, better provision for pedestrians in the new one-way schemes in London have reduced accidents to pedestrians by 36 per cent.

My second main category, as noble Lords will remember, is vehicles. As to them, the Government can, and do, play some part in laying down minimum safety requirements; but much depends on the owner, who has a social responsibility to satisfy himself that his vehicle is safe and well-maintained. I thought, if I may say so, that the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, made some shrewd observations on that aspect. Not everyone, unfortunately, can be relied upon to see that his vehicle is maintained properly, and that is why, in 1960, the Government introduced their vehicle-testing scheme. It applies now to 44 million vehicles and is gradually being extended. The scheme has had some effect. In the early days, 40 per cent. of the vehicles tested failed at the first test. Now, only 26 per cent. fail.

Finally, I come to the third category—human behaviour. This is perhaps the most important factor of all, and undoubtedly the one which is hardest to tackle. Most accidents need not have happened had those involved been fully alert and considerate, and had they adjusted their behaviour to the prevailing conditions. No Government can control this completely, but we do our utmost by way of training, testing, advice, propaganda and the traffic law. One of the steps we have taken recently is the introduction in the 1962 Road Traffic Act of the new nenalty system for motoring offences. The purpose of the Act, as your Lordships well know, is to encourage better behaviour on the roads.

The noble Lady raised the question of drink and driving, and this question was discussed by most of the noble Lords who have spoken. There is strong evidence that drink is a factor in road accidents, and Parliament recognised that when it passed the 1962 Act. I am glad that my noble friends Lord Ferrier and Lord Allerton pointed out that drink is not the only factor, but I would not go so far in that direction as my noble friend Lord Arran seemed to want to do. The 1962 Act strengthened the law in three ways. First, it redefined the offence of driving while unfit through drink or drugs and it says that a person shall be taken to be unfit to drive through drink or drugs if his ability to drive properly is for the time being impaired. Secondly, it requires the courts to have regard to any evidence of the proportion of alcohol in the body or blood of an accused person. If he refuses without good reason to provide a specimen for analysis, his refusal may be treated as evidence of his condition at the time. Thirdly, it increased the penalties for drunken driving and provides that disqualification is compulsory, subject to special reasons, for at least twelve months for a first offence, and three years for a second offence within ten years of a previous conviction. Convictions for drunken driving also count in the "totting-up" procedure.

These drink provisions have been in operation for only just over a year, and the higher penalties for barely nine months. We do not therefore known yet what effect they are having. It is too soon to say whether new and sterner legislation is necessary, or what form it should take. But my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport has said that if the Christmas accident inquiry provides even more conclusive evidence and the powers of the 1962 Act are shown to be inadequate, he will not hesitate to come to Parliament with fresh proposals. Your Lordships will, I hope, not expect me to speculate to-day on what kind of proposals my right honourable friend may put forward. That is my answer to the noble Baroness, who thought it unnecessary to have an inquiry into the Christmas accidents.

Several noble Lords, as well as the noble Baroness, raised the question of enforcement, and the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, gave an interesting personal story about being overtaken whenever he observes the speed limit. I find that myself at Oxford. But before long we shall have an opportunity of discussing enforcement in detail, when the Police Bill is brought from another place. I know that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is satisfied that the chief officers of police are well aware that the enforcement of the traffic laws is a major responsibility, and recognise the need to ensure that a proper proportion of their available resources is allocated to carrying out this important side of their work.

My right honourable friend the Minister of Transport also attaches great importance to propaganda and training, particularly of the young. Most of this work is carried out for him by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. They organise the National Road Safety Campaign every year and specialised schemes directed al the most vulnerable road users. The child cycling proficiency scheme and the "Tufty Club" for children under five are examples. The Minister of Transport is also giving special attention to the R.A.C.-A.C.U. scheme for training learner motor cyclists, and this is to be expanded. My right honourable friend will soon be announcing details of a scheme for setting up a register of approved driving instructors. I rather thought that the noble Baroness was a little scornful of this, but I am bound to say, with the greatest respect, that it seems to me a very good idea indeed that there should be a register of those driving instructors who are approved.


My Lords, I was scornful only because I felt that the measures that the Minister mentioned were absolutely insufficient.


My Lords, I understood the noble Baroness to be scornful of the idea in general, but perhaps I was wrong. Another point that the noble Lady made was that driving offenders ought to be made to take driving tests again. Perhaps I ought to point out that, under the 1962 Road Traffic Act, the courts already have the power to order a test to be taken for 26 serious motoring offences. The noble Lady also thought that there ought to be automatic or mandatory disqualification for serious offences. Already the courts must disqualify from driving, unless they find special reasons, after conviction for serious offences, such as manslaughter, causing death by dangerous driving and driving under the influence of drink or drugs.

My noble friend Lord Somers called for what he described as a two-tier test, saying that the higher or second test should be voluntary, and my noble friend Lord Allerton supported him in this. I suppose that the higher test would involve tests on high-speed roads, and if we were to do that it would take more time because most test centres are situated some distance from highspeed roads. Nevertheless, I am advised that wherever possible a de-restricted road is included in test routes.


My Lords, I can only say that, when I took the advanced test, it was from the middle of Kensington and we managed to get out to a decontrolled road for high-speed purposes within a three-hour test. Admittedly, that is longer than the ordinary statutory test, but still it is not too long.


My Lords, the conception of a special, second test if it were separated from the normal test would mean, as my noble friend himself recognised, the imposition of some kind of arbitrary speed limit, which I think he fixed at 40 m.p.h., for drivers who did not pass the test. It occurs to me at once that there would obviously be great enforcement difficulties, which I am sure, if he thinks about it, will occur to him. What I really want to tell the noble Lord and your Lordships is the experience of this sort of two-tier test in Switzerland. There they have a system under which 20 per cent. of all candidates for the driving test are arbitrarily required to undertake an extended test, including open road driving, and they have found the pass-fail ratio on these extended tests is no different from that on their normal test, which is similar to ours. I think this tends to prove—I do not want to put it higher than this—that the scope of their normal test is sufficient to ensure that a driver capable of passing it is also capable of passing their open road test.

The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, told us that he had never injured himself or anybody else, and I can only hope that his charmed life will continue. I admire the ingenuity with which he managed to bring in the Beeching Plan, but, however relevant or irrelevant that may be, I do not think your Lordships at this time of night would feel that I ought to pursue it. The noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, discussed the problems of the slower reactions of elderly people and their failing eyesight, and the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, called for medical examination of drivers before the grant of a driving licence. I think the right answer to them is this: that at present there is little evidence either way to show the extent to which age or physical disability or disabilities of health are a significant factor. But if further evidence can be obtained—and my right honourable friend is looking into this matter at present—it will certainly be considered in the light of that evidence what changes of the kind noble Lords are asking for would be desirable. He has not informed knowledge at the moment about what the precise factors are.

My noble friend Lord Ferrier made many suggestions. The one which particularly appealed to me was that elderly people ought to accustom their eyes to the dark before coming out of a lighted house and driving off into the night. That seems to me to be an excellent idea for all people, and not only the elderly. I took Lord Walston's point as to the statistics he asked for about cars driven faster on motorways than, for mechanical reasons, they can safely he driven, and I will ask my right honourable friend to look into this. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, I would say that regulations permitting the use of the triangular warning signs for which he asked will be issued shortly by my right honourable friend.

All the measures that I have mentioned in my reply help to improve the standard of driving behaviour, but we realise that we need to know still more about why people behave as they do and how they can be influenced to behave better. As I have said, this requires more research. This is now being carried out by a team, including psychologists, physicists and engineers, at the Road Research Laboratory. But ultimately road safety is a matter of personal and social responsi bility, and drivers must be brought to realise the terrible responsibility they assume when they take a car out on the road. We may have excellent roads, vehicles and laws, but all this is useless if the man at the wheel neglects his duty to act always with care and consideration for others.