HL Deb 19 November 1964 vol 261 cc673-733

3.12 p.m.

LORD FERRIER rose to call attention to the necessity of more effectively coordinating all information about serious road accidents and their results so that, by analysis, their causes can be more readily assessed and their incidence and severity reduced; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the Motion which stands in my name I need hardly remind your Lordships that this is a subject which has been debated on several occasions in your Lordships' House, on the last occasion, in February, on an Unstarred Question by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, when she asked at that stage what action the Government proposed to take on the general subject of accidents.

From that debate and from the Government's reply there emerged, so far as I am concerned, the feeling that whereas massive research is in progress on this subject from many angles—and I propose to refer to some of them later in my speech—and whereas there is now already a considerable measure of co-ordination, there is still room for increased co-ordination if the full benefits of the research and the statistics available therefrom of which I speak are to be led into channels from which speedy and precise instructions and advice can reach the public. Further study of the matter gives me the impression that my first view is confirmed. My Lords, this is not a Party political matter we are all in it together; and as it is fair to assume that your Lordships are all experienced motorists I will not waste time by claiming any particular expertise, because researches show that everybody thinks he is a good driver.

Estimates put the loss due to road accidents, that is, loss to the community in terms of national income, at over £200 million per annum. This is but a cold calculation to which must be added a quite inestimable figure for the cost in terms of shock, tragedy, pain and sorrow, family disaster, orphans, widows, widowers. This, of course is something which is appreciated by all in varying degrees dependent upon their own experience.

It is not my intention to dwell on details which have been debated before in your Lordships' House, but, with your Lordships' permission, I am going to assume that intricacies of road planning, road design, road surfaces, traffic flow, urban parking and so on can be accepted as having a very important but a long-term bearing on the problem. Indeed, there is another and most important long-term aspect, which is the manifest need for an increase in the police force; and trained policemen do not just come out of a hat. There are, however, short-term means of reducing the causes of an accident per se, and it is on such that I propose to concentrate. I take the view, not without support, that new developments in methods of concentrating information can lead to "more effectively coordinating" the same. Those are the words, as noble Lords will appreciate, of my Motion.

May I also assume that we can all take it that excessive speed relative to conditions is the most potent single factor of all and that, of course, this question of speed is part of individual human judgment? From that, may I go to the point that research shows that it is always the coincidence of more than one factor that accounts for an accident and for the seriousness or otherwise of its effects?

To illustrate, if I may, the results of research hitherto, let us take four straightforward developments which have already been impressed on the public and which are straightforward, simple deductions from facts now to hand. First of all is the "Drink and Driving" campaign, to which I shall refer later. Secondly, I take the rule set out in the Highway Code that pedestrians on roads not provided with footpaths should walk on the right of the road; thirdly, that motorcyclists should wear crash helmets; and. fourthly, that motorists should equip themselves with and wear safety belts. These, of course, stem from almost elementary calculations and they are set out boldly in the Highway Code, price 6d. I say that because it occurred to me that perhaps the Highway Code could wisely be more widely circulated if its price was less, say, 1d., or even available free across the counter of the Post Office.

Talking of papers on the subject—and I begin with the Highway Code—I will not attempt to catalogue the range, from the D.S.I.R.'s Road Research Laboratory's massive Report, to which the noble Lady referred in the debate in February, to the British Medical Association's Report, the Ministry of Transport's papers, the Warboys Report, the Report of the Chief Inspector of Police, the Road Federation's publications and the Royal Automobile Club's recent pamphlet, and so on. All I will do is to refer to the Royal Automobile Club's pamphlet and, with your Lordships' permission, will quote a paragraph. It is this: The public tend to be seriously concerned about road accidents when there has been much Press publicity concerning a large number of accidents during a holiday period, but generally do not appreciate that the daily totals throughout the year are not greatly lower than during the holiday periods. As a result, the attitude of the public at such times is usually not based upon an objective consideration of the facts. It is important, therefore, that there should be a clear presentation of all the relative facts to the Press and to Parliament. These should not relate only to the results of an investigation of accidents at Christmas or other holiday periods but should also provide a thorough analysis of the general problem of road accidents throughout the year.

In this respect it is, to my mind, a pity that the Ministry of Transport Paper, Accidents, 1963, is not yet available, if only for comparative purposes. However, the British Road Federation's book of 1963 figures provides all the facts required for my purpose. One of these facts discloses that over thirty years, from 1934 to to-day, although the total of killed and injured has risen by a good 50 per cent., fatalities are much the same as they were. A number of factors contribute to this: improved vehicle design and construction and, of course, improved medical and surgical processes. Again if we refer to these figures and look at traffic densities in terms of vehicles per mile on metalled road, we find that we have 41 vehicles per mile in this country compared with 23 in the United States. The highest figure in the schedule is for West Germany, at 42½, and the lowest is for India, at 2. Thus and thus we might be tempted to say, "Accidents will happen", or we might say, "We are not doing too badly, are we?" But are we? Ask the doctors. Ask the casualty departments. Ask the police. Ask the coroners.

It may be said, and has been said, that the road accident problem is endemic. But need it be? I believe that to admit this would be halfway to defeat. Accidents need not happen: if they do, human judgment somewhere is to blame. Whether it be in the design and maintenance of a vehicle, or in its loading and operation; whether it be physical or psychological failure; whether it be lack of consideration for others; whether it be sheer ignorance; whether it be sheer recklessness, human judgment is to blame. I hope that the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Winchester will be able to develop these attitudes towards the problem.

I do not propose to refer at length to the "Drink and Driving" campaign. Not only is it uppermost in all our minds at this particular season, more especially after the opening of the Ministry of Transport's Christmas campaign yesterday, but I am also assured the noble Lady who is to follow me will deal with it. I urge that the Christmas campaign should have the public's wholehearted support. But, of course, accidents, including those involving drink, go on all the year round. I make no apology for repeating this point, because the upsurge at Christmas and New Year, and at Bank Holidays, must not be allowed to blur this fact, and during most of the year drunken driving has not the same heavy incidence upon the causation of accidents. With your Lordships' permission, I will quote from the Telegraph's leader of to-day: in one place it says: it has not yet been proved that alcohol is the main cause of most accidents, though it may well be a main cause of avoidable accidents.

Here I think the Press and news agencies, television and so on, can take a lesson. Do not let them relax when the New Year comes. Rather let them take a good look at themselves, ask themselves whether their reporting on road casualties is angled towards pure sensation or towards the public weal. Too much emphasis, I think, is placed on sensation, and this emphasis may blur what are in fact more important aspects of the problem. If any of your Lord- ships were to be involved in a drink and driving chary what news—what headlines! perhaps a popular Press sensation, provided there is not something more shocking to hand! Death or ghastly injury may follow when a car runs into the back of some stationary vehicle on a country road left without lights or dirty and obscured reflectors. Yet that is a local matter, probably reported only in local papers.

Which brings me to another point which has been mentioned to me in my researches. An accident is "hot news", but the inquest, some weeks later, is not. Take, for instance, what happened to day. Your Lordships will recall that some weeks ago a terrible tragedy occurred near Exeter, when a young man, already disqualified, was responsible while driving for the deaths of six people, including himself. This was "hot news"; it was reported widely. The inquest took place yesterday. The Times, the Telegraph and the Guardian report the fact that the young man had also been drinking. But the popular Press, so far as I have been able to see, made no reference whatever to the inquest or its findings. That is my point. If the findings of coroners' courts are not brought to public notice, how are the public to judge what in fact caused the accident, and how otherwise can they be warned? This is one of the factors that has made me venture to present this Motion to your Lordships. Is it possible that only through some central analysing authority will the immediate prime causes of accidents be presented to the public so that they may be avoided?

To turn to something else, I will again quote, if I may, from the Daily Telegraph, which says at the end of the leader: Strict and impartial enforcement of the law is the best deterrent to bad drivers, drunk or sober. I have already referred to the Report of the Chief Inspector of Police and to the fact that, as we know, the police are under strength. We: also know from his Report that the traffic police, and especially the motor-cycle personnel, are proving their worth. Their reinforcement is, of course, being taken in hand, but, as I said earlier, this is necessarily a long-term problem. But I say let those who are operating be seen. Is it not noticeable how very sensible drivers become when they know that police are watching? It is also noticeable in the United States, and in North America generally, that the traffic "cop" standing with arms akimbo by a massive motor-cycle, in full view of passing traffic, makes a specific contribution to road manners. It may be worth suggesting that motor-cycle police uniforms here too closely resemble the garb of the top "ton-up" boys (I shall refer to this again later), especially on the open road when the weather is bad.

Before I leave the police, another point I would make is that an early task might be the co-ordination and the consideration of Form 19, which is the form on which police stations report serious accidents. This might well be extended. I have no doubt that the matter is in hand, because it is within my knowledge that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has ideas on this subject and has a draft form to that end.

While on the subject of information about accidents, I would point out that another problem is the collecting of information from individuals. I do not know quite how this is to be overcome, because the problem is the willingness or the unwillingness of people involved in accidents to disclose all the information they have, all the facts at their disposal, especially to the police. Indeed, they may, and sometimes do, refuse to give information even to research crews, such as those who are working with the Road Research Laboratory now. The research crews are unable to guarantee that any information given to them will be treated as confidential, and to that extent their ability to collect full information is limited. On terms of information too, the insurance companies, we must remember, quite properly (and here I disclose an interest as a director of an insurance company), naturally warn policy holders that they are not to admit liability to any party in an accident. In passing, it is worth mentioning that information collected centrally by insurance companies is collected not to the end that causes of accidents should be deduced, but to the end that the premiums charged should be related to the risks covered. This, of course, does not alter the fact that a reduction in road accidents would benefit insurers and insured alike.

I have not referred to road signs, because the subject is being actively pursued following publication of the Warboys Report. All I would say is that it occurs to me, as it has occurred to others, that as a short-term step the positioning of existing road signs might be remedied.

I trust that I have said enough to commend this Motion to your Lordships. I assure you that I could go on and on. You cannot see the heap of papers I have beside me on the bench. I am sure that noble Lords who follow me will develop other aspects of the problem. I am tempted at this moment, if I am within the Rules, to quote from the noble Lord, Lord Snow, in this House yesterday. In his maiden speech the noble Lord said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 261 (No. 10), col. 594.]: … when you are faced with this kind of situation it seems to me that there are two dangers. One is to sit back and say you can do nothing until you know everything… The second mistake is to pick out one idea, one gimmick, one trick and say 'This is the answer'.

If I were to be asked, obviously unscientifically, what I would do about it now, I would say, first, let everybody support the "Drink and Driving" campaign. Secondly, I would try to see that all local authorities are instructed to check now that the 30 m.p.h. signs on the outskirts of built-up areas are positioned at the best places for to-day's conditions. Many of them are much to close to built-up areas, now that roads have been improved and that vehicles travel at enhanced speeds, compared with when they were first installed. I would say that in many cases 100 yards further out would be too little a distance. Then I would ask the Home Office to devise a much more distinctive uniform for motorcycle traffic "cops"—a uniform that would be protected by the legislation passed last year: I refer to the Police Act, 1964, and in particular to Section 52. That section was inserted into the Act by your Lordships' House. It is the one that refers to the imitation of official uniforms.

Then I would urge the Press, the television and wireless to follow up the Christmas campaign by emphasis on the continuing incidence of accidents, and the importance, especially in winter of keeping reflectors, stop-lights and rear lights clear of dirt and snow. If they have to stop, let drivers attend to these before they tackle their windscreens. Remember that, unlike a windscreen, the lighting equipment at the rear of a vehicle has no washer and no wiper.

Before I sit down I should like to commend to your Lordships the painstaking, scientific and elaborate work of the Road Research Laboratory, and also to thank the Director and Deputy Director for their help to me. My Lords, I trust that I have made a good case for increased co-ordination of all the multifarious figures which are at our disposal. I look forward to the debate, and I now beg to move for Papers.

Moved, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the necessity of more effectively co-ordinating all information about serious road accidents and their results, so that, by analysis, their causes can be more readily assessed and their incidence and severity reduced.—(Lord Ferrier.)

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that I should apologise to the House for speaking on this subject twice in the space of one year. It will be recalled that I initiated a debate last February, when I said that I hoped that by the end of the year we should be able to point to a most significant improvement. Unfortunately the situation is deteriorating. Therefore, I am sure that noble Lords will agree with me that it is appropriate that to-day we should have a second debate, and I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for putting his Motion on the Order Paper.

He assessed the position in terms of hard cash, and reminded your Lordships that the country loses from road accidents something like £200 million a year. May I assess it in terms of human life and misery? The situation is that on an average 20 people are killed in road accidents every day, and another 250 are seriously injured; and over the four days of the Christmas holiday last year, in 1963, the average of deaths rose to 30 a day. Therefore I think it is appropriate that just before the Christmas holidays we should debate this matter.

While I entirely accept the noble Lord's Motion, I must confess that I am slightly critical. I think my approach was a little more dynamic than his. He is asking people to collate information. As a politician of many years standing and as a former Minister, it would have delighted my heart to hear the Opposition give me instructions to collate material. After all, one can collate for a year or two, indefinitely. I think that in my Motion I asked for action. However, let us hope that the information will be collated and that it will be of such a nature that those who collate it will be stimulated to more action.

As the noble Lord said, a number of bodies have examined the problem, particularly the Road Research Laboratory, and of course the Birmingham Accident Hospital have done marvellous work in this field, together with the A.A. and the R.A.C. I understand from a Question which my daughter put down in another place two days ago (I suppose nobody has said that before in the history of Parliament) that the Road Research Laboratory are to undertake a further investigation into fatal road accidents this Christmas.

There have been all these investigations, but what mote can we learn? I agree that we may learn a great deal about road surfaces and that side of technology; but when it comes to the major causes I feel that we are in a position now to pronounce on the situation, and the noble Lord did so. He attached great importance to speed and to alcohol. I intend in my address to speak on the same subject. But while these various bodies have made these investigations, let us not forget that 60 years ago, in 1904, there were people interested in this same subject who were also making pronouncements. I would remind the House that Constance Everett-Green wrote in the Cyclists' Touring Club Gazette that the abuse of speed by motorists was "a species of madness".

That is a statement which surely rings true to-day. For condemning speed in motorists she was dubbed a crank; and ever since those who have advocated restrictions on speed have all received the same kind of condemnation from motoring enthusiasts. Indeed, I think there have been Ministers of Transport—it would be invidious of me to name them—who have said that people who condemn speed in this day and age are suffering from panic or hysteria. As a self-driver in London for many years, I declare myself a wholehearted supporter of Constance Everett-Green and her statement in 1904, because I believe that speed is the most important factor in accidents.

Of course, things like road safety drill are important, but you cannot stop all children from running into a road after a ball, or an elderly person from misjudging the situation or being physically incapable of hastening at the right moment. Motorists must accept the fact that pedestrians are human beings with human failings; and I believe it should be no defence for a motorist, as indeed it seems to be in our courts to-day, that he kills somebody because she had a human failing. If I were giving a general direction to all motorists in the country would tell them always to drive as though there were a policeman following them. It has a salutary effect—and I want to say more about this in a moment when I speak of the shortage of police—on these dangerous drivers do they know that a penalty may be imposed.

I should like to draw to the attention of the House the fact that, while motor vehicles have been killing people at an average of twenty a day, there has been one significant change. Between the world wars the majority of victims were children who might run into the road, or elderly or disabled people who were unable to avoid a fast car or lorry. Now, according to a report from the Road Research Laboratory, it appears that a majority of the victims are "young male adults and older teenagers". It seems to me that our affluent society has had one effect on young people, an unfortunate effect: these young people are able to acquire a motor vehicle before they have learned to control the urge for speed.

All kinds of curious things happen in adolescence, as we have seen from the various "ban" groups, and some of us sit back and are puzzled by the behaviour of the modern adolescent. But, of course, this is a phase. The most interesting thing is that, after 16, 17 or 18 when a boy wears his hair long, his heels high, and adopts a most curious kind of costume, suddenly a change takes place. He gets a "steady", the girl of his dreams appears, he cuts his hair, he lowers his shoes, and he becomes what we consider—but we may be wrong—the norm. The tragedy is that during this transient stage when the boy is emotionally unstable, when he is seeking something to give him security, he knows not what, and as a result adopts all kinds of fantastic costumes in order that he may say to the world, "I am an important person, whatever you think"—during that time we give him a lethal weapon. I am not blaming him; I am blaming society. This boy has already proved to us all very clearly that he is not very secure in himself: that he is unable to control all kinds of urges, complex urges which bewilder him. At this point of time, with the amount of traffic we have on the road, traffic which is going to increase, with our crowded streets, we give these youths lethal weapons. It would appear that the result is that the motor, like war, is responsible for exerting a selective destructive action on our young manhood.

I ask your Lordships to look at reports in The Times to-day of tragic cases involving young men of 21 and 23. In the first case the young man killed three people on one of our motorways, and in the other case there were appalling injuries. The result of this—and I think this should be remembered, because it is of such great importance when we are thinking of this age group who are chiefly involved in accidents—is that, with the decline in other causes of death, road accidents are now the commonest single killer of this age group. This is a medical fact. If as a young woman I had been asked what was the commonest single killer of this age group of young adults and teenagers, I should probably have said, "Well, perhaps tuberculosis". That has all gone. The commonest single killer of these young men to-day is accidents on the roads. So we must not accept this situation with any complacency. I was told that it is estimated that in Great Britain the cost to the community is £170 million a year, half of which represents lost productivity, but I bow to the noble Lord's figure.


My Lords, the figure of £200 million was taken from the British Road Federation's figures.


My Lords, I can recall noble Lords in this House (I cannot remember in which debate, because we have had other debates on this subject) and, I believe, the Minister of Transport—I can be corrected by his former Parliamentary Secretary if I am wrong—arguing that the faster we go the safer we are, and that if we had these colossal motorways we should be assured of complete safety. May I just remind your Lordships of the statement of Professor Gissane and Dr. Bull, who analysed 76 deaths on the M.1? They said: It seems likely that the risk of fatal accidents to car occupants and perhaps to lorry drivers per vehicle mile travelled is appreciably higher on the motorway than on other types of road. It would appear that the greater speed made possible by good road engineering has been more than offset by increased hazards resulting mainly from driver behaviour. This goes to prove that the arguments which have been advanced in both Houses in debates on transport have been completely destroyed during the last few years.

The Road Research Laboratory, it will be recalled, published a very important Report last June. They pointed out that accidents rarely have a single cause; and when I say that I attach so much importance to speeding I am fully aware of the fact that there are other factors; nevertheless these factors might not be operative if the driver were more careful. The Report says that the fact which stands out is the drinking of alcoholic beverages. To quote the Report, these had been consumed in the case of one-third of all pedestrians killed, one-third of all drivers involved, and a quarter of all riders of motorcycles or pedal cycles.


My Lords, I must apologise for interrupting the noble Lady, but she invited me to do so. I only do so before she passes to the next point. It is absolute news to me that "the faster you go the safer you are" has ever been a policy of the Ministry when I had anything to do with it. I think the noble Lady must make clear to the House that there is a very great difference between the policy of the Ministry at the time and the interpretation which she chooses to put on it.


My Lords, the noble Lord must not take this as a personal attack. I have observed during the last week or two that he has been very sensitive. I am hardly conscious of his being there as an individual, only as a former Parliamentary Secretary in a big Government Department. I do not charge him with anything, I can assure him. I think the House knows that my approach to this subject is one designed simply to reduce the number of deaths on the road, and I hope that he will accept it and let me continue with my argument without any further interruption.


My Lords, I should like to accept that, if the noble Lady will allow me, because I never intended any other meaning. But she stated what she considered to be the policy of the Ministry at the time, and invited me to put her right if it was not so.


I had been talking about the attitude of various people to certain aspects of this problem, and I have said—and I am certain that I am quite right—that many people had said that if we had motorways and if the speed were increased, then there would be a greater degree of safety. I am now in the process of demolishing that argument, and I have demolished it by the quotation. I ask the noble Lord not to take all these matters about which I am talking as being directed at him or at his former Department. I am now talking on the side of the Government. The noble Lord is no longer in power, of course. He sits there powerless, a man absolutely without power, and the noble Lord on my left, Lord Snow, who has just written a book on the subject, knows what that means. I ask the noble Lord to listen to what I have to say without feeling that this is directed at him. I am sorry he interrupted me because when one is thinking of these things it is difficult to turn back one's thoughts.

What I quoted was the report of the Road Research Laboratory, which I am sure is not denied by anybody. I wanted to say that in 18 per cent. of the accidents a driver was stated to have been going too fast for the conditions. That proves my point that, while one condemns speed, there can, of course, be cases of alcohol and speed combined. But the Report states that alcohol was the main factor in increasing the casualty rate at Christmas, and that is why I think it is of tremendous importance to recognise this now, before the festive period.

Unfortunately—and I am sure everybody will agree with me—most men believe after a little drink that they are wittier and altogether more attractive personalities. This, of course, is a delusion caused by the over-confidence and lack of self-criticism which alcohol brings. I am glad to see my noble friend smiling at me. I have seen him at many parties and I have listened to his witty speeches, but I am not charging him with that. But that is the effect of alcohol on the human being, and all human beings, men and women, at some time like to think that they are much better than they are. Similarly, as regards driving, a man believes that a little alcohol actually improves his driving, and does not realise that the reverse is the case.

So I welcome the Minister's campaign—the noble Lord went into some detail about it—to direct attention to this aspect of road accidents. But the Minister must bear in mind that a man drives as he lives. You cannot change a personality simply by putting up pictures, however horrific they are. I believe that these horrific pictures will have an effect on the man's wife, his girl friend, his friends, the publicans and so on, and they will remember it. But the man himself, will not respond solely to persuasion or exhortation. This campaign will have little effect unless there is a severe penalty attached to dangerous driving. We all know that in life the penalty is an important factor. I would remind noble Lords who have had their houses burgled—and I suppose there are probably not many of us in this House who have not had it—that house burgling is successful these days because the young burglar has learned that crime pays and there are few police about to catch him. It is the same with the delinquent driver. He feels safe, knowing that there is a shortage of police.

The noble Lord talked about the police, and I would remind the House that in the course of my remarks last February I suggested that if there was a shortage of police women mobile police might be used. The noble Lord suggested a smart uniform. These women have done excellent work and I think there will be plenty of them available. Why cannot we comb the ATS the WRAFS and the WRENS? One gets the finest women there. Put them in a smart uniform and on a motor bike, so that the driver can see through the mirror that there are plenty of people in the street following him. I consider that that was a good idea and I thought it was received well, but I am afraid no action has been taken.

My Lords, I simply want to sum up my two points, which are very similar to those of the noble Lord. I attach the greatest importance to careful driving, and I believe that raising the speed limit militates against this. I believe that training for individual responsibility should play a bigger part in our schools before a youth is permitted to control a car. I will not go so far at the moment as to say "Do not give a licence at a certain age", but we must accept the fact that these boys are not ready to control a powerful vehicle.

Secondly, sobriety must be a prerequisite for driving, and the most effective test available should be applied to those involved in accidents, where it is suspected that alcohol is a factor. And, of course, my Lords, there must be a clinical test in the first place, because, after all, although a driver's condition may in the initial stage be diagnosed as being due to alcohol, it may be due to the fact that he is suffering from some pathological condition. On the subject of breathalysers, I am told that they are going to be used at Christmas; that a driver will be asked if he minds using a breathalyser. I am not quite sure how many will agree.


All those who have not taken any.


Perhaps there will not be any found at Christmas. But it is an excellent idea. I would suggest to my noble friend, that we might be guided by the experience of Sweden and Denmark, where breathalysers are used and fines are imposed which are related to income. I think that is of tremendous importance. Since our last debate, hundreds of lives have been lost on the roads. Let us hope that a new Minister of Transport may take more drastic action to prevent the continuation of this slaughter.


My Lords, I rise to welcome this Motion. Quite apart from the attractiveness of the proposal contained in the Motion if it should prove practicable, the Motion serves a very valuable purpose of drawing attention once again to a situation which can only be viewed with profound concern and shame. The appalling number of road accidents should shock all right-minded citizens. I will not burden your Lordships with statistics, but may I content myself with reminding this House that during last year, 1963, the total number of casualties resulting from accidents on the roads of Great Britain numbered over 356,000? The total death roll was just under 7,000, including over 800 children.

In the latest road accidents statistical review, it is stated that July this year, 1964, has been the worst month of all on record. Never before has a monthly total exceeded 35,000, let alone 36,000. My Lords, these terrifying figures speak for themselves. Those of your Lordships who served during the last war, as I did, in heavily blitzed areas of this country will remember the indignation with which we regarded the growing toll of casualties resulting from hostile air raids, but these figures of war-time casualties were as nothing compared with the appalling casualties resulting in peace time from sheer carelessness upon the roads.

With regard to the actual concrete proposal which the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, makes in his Motion regarding the co-ordination of information about serious road accidents, un to the present there has been very little co-ordination and, indeed, very little really reliable information. There is a valuable report on fatal road accidents at Christmas, 1963, to which reference has already been made, published by the Road Research Laboratory; there is the annual publication, Road Accidents, containing interesting but saddening statistics. The difficulty of the problem is shown by the fact that, up to the end of 1958, the Ministry of Transport gave annually the causes alleged for a number of accidents. There were 92 different items. But the return was given up, because it was usually a police estimate of the causes at second-hand.

There are now. I understand, four projects in existence. The Human Factors branch of the Road Research Laboratory have a project; there is an Accident Causation Team in the Metropolitan Police; and there are two teams, one in Hampshire and one in Warwickshire, which are looking into the causes of accidents on behalf of the Ministry of Transport. Effective research, however, as is shown in the United States, is an expensive and complicated task.

Those who are engaged in such research are beset with difficulties. It is seldom easy to obtain accurate and reliable information about the cause of accidents. Very often the death or serious injury of one or more of the parties prevents them from giving any account, or at least an accurate account, of what happened. Parties are naturally reluctant to admit that they are wrong, and this reluctance, as has been admitted by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, is often encouraged by insurance companies, who counsel parties not to admit liability. It is also often extremely difficult to find independent witnesses who have actually seen the whole build-up of an accident. Nevertheless, the proposal made by the noble Lord is well worthy of the most serious consideration: for if, as a result of the coordination of information, the causes of road accidents can be assessed, we may hope that the incidence and severity of such accidents may be reduced.

The result of research would no doubt indicate that there are many factors contributing to accidents—such as, for example, slippery roads or poor street lighting—but, my Lords, there can be no doubt that the most serious factor is the human factor, which can be summed up, if we are honest, as human failure. I mean failure for which there is no excuse: lack of consideration for other people, selfishness, discourtesy, bad temper, lack of adequate experience and a total disregard of responsibility towards one's neighbour. And, more often than not, at the root of all these human failures there is the sin of pride—a pride that leads a driver to want to assert his prowess before his fellow travellers or his fellow motorists regard- less of the inconvenience and danger caused by his pride to those past whose cars he seeks to force his own. This is true, as my experience on the Hampshire roads indicates. It is true of the driver of a "Mini" no less than of the driver of a Jaguar; and, with all due deference to the noble Baroness, may I say that it is true of a woman driver no less than of a man driver.

Here, may I pay a warm and sincere personal tribute to our lorry drivers, as I recently had the privilege of doing in their monthly magazine, Headlight? I feel sure I shall be expressing what is in the mind of all your Lordships if I take this opportunity of thanking our lorry drivers for the consideration and thoughtfulness which so many of them—not all, but so many of them—show, either in warning us not to pass when we are tempted to take a risk or in beckoning us on with their hand or with lights when the road is clear. The courtesy shown by the majority of lorry drivers to drivers of smaller cars sets us all, I would suggest, a challenging example. We are challenged to be equally thoughtful for others on the road. So many of our accidents to-day are caused by sheer selfishness and thoughtlessness. And when lorry drivers resist the temptation to speed past a small car, forcing the driver on to the verge, or unselfishly slow down, as they so often do, in order to allow someone else to pass, they are reminding other road users that one of the greatest qualities of human character is a readiness to put the interest of others before one's own interest—or, in the words of a familiar motto, to put service before self.

My Lords, the Church has a particular responsibility for giving leadership in the promotion of road safety, for Christians, to whatever denomination they belong, share, or should share, their Master's in sight into the value of the individual person, the sacredness of human life and the overriding need for a sense of responsibility towards one's neighbour. It is appropriate that I should here express appreciation of the invaluable work being done, not only by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents but also by the Christian Road Safety League, with their motto, "Be careful, be prayerful". This League now launches an annual national campaign to promote road safety, and their slogan for this year's campaign is, "Think ahead". In the City of Southampton, which I happen to know because it is in my diocese, the road safety service recently organised by this League in conjunction with the Accident Prevention Council of Southampton and the city police of Southampton, and sponsored by the Southampton Council of Churches and the Free Church Federal Council, impressed upon the citizens of Southampton the vital necessity of using the roads in a Christian way. I quote that as but one example of many.

In conclusion, may I express the hope that this debate resulting from the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, may be widely reported in the national Press, and may thus serve to bring home afresh to the citizens of our country the appalling story of the wastage of human life on our roads—a story that should fill us all with shame, and challenge us all to greater consideration for the safety and the lives of our fellow men.

4.6 p.m.


My Lords, when the noble Baroness addressed your Lordships she felt it necessary to offer an apology for having spoken in a debate of this kind twice in one year. What I am expected to do, in those circumstances, I hesitate to think, because, apart from the few times that I have been out of the country, I have spoken in every debate of this nature in your Lordships' House for nearly twenty years; and I stand before you this afternoon, with temerity, only because I think that perhaps I might be able to offer one or two helpful suggestions.

With the noble Baroness, and other speakers, I welcome the noble Lord's Motion. He widened it a little from its terms on the Order Paper, but that is to its advantage, and I, for one, am grateful to him. Because, my Lords, this is not a case for the gathering of more statistics. I do not care how long we go, we shall never get more statistics, or know more, about the causes of these things. I agree with the noble Baroness: what we want, and what we have failed to have over the years, is action.

The question that is uppermost in our minds this afternoon is drink and driving. When the 1962 Act was going through your Lordships' House we debated this subject ad nauseam. Noble Lords who are now sitting on the Government side of your Lordships' House moved Amendments and made speeches—the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd; the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, from the medical point of view; the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger; statistics and facts were brought forward from the B.M.A. and from every other organisation; and the experience of countries on the Continent and in Scandinavia was placed before your Lordships. I venture to suggest that it was the opinion of the vast bulk of your Lordships at that time that there was only one way to cure the menace of the drunken driver, and that was to have blood tests: that, although it might have peculiar repercussions on some who are hardened drinkers, and perhaps can stand more than others, that, coupled with drastic penalties, was the only way to cure this problem. But what did we have from the Government? We had a long dissertation on how, if ever anybody attempted to insert a hypodermic needle into the arm of an individual, it would be a bodily assault, and that the law of this country could not stand for that kind of thing. So all the Amendments put forward went by the board.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, as well as myself, has presided over the National Safety First Committee, and during the years when we were Parliamentary Secretaries at the Ministry of Transport we were collating all the information possible. And I make bold to say this: in general terms, the Ministry of Transport have not very much to learn to-day about the cause of accidents. Every time the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, when he was Parliamentary Secretary, was pressed in this House to have an inquiry, or was urged to press his Minister to have an inquiry, after, say, Christmas, or Easter, or after any of the holidays which result in this build-up of accidents, what was the result? There was nothing new to learn; the principal cause was human failure—and that is what will come out of any investigation that we are ever likely to have.

We have gone on exhorting. Your Lordships will remember the weeping "Black Widow". We have now gone full circle; we now have the bloodied, mangled corpse. As the noble Baroness quite rightly said, that may influence the wife, the girl friend or the family of the driver. The noble Baroness knows very well, speaking from her medical experience, that a man tray go into a pub as sober as anyone, have one drink; and the world belongs to him! Sense and reason go out of his mind. If the Government would increase the police force and mobilise during Christmas the police patrols of this country, and put one patrol officer sitting astride a motor-cycle outside the havens where drink is at its worst, it would do far more good than any poster depicting a poor unfortunate girl oozing blood from her body under a mangled motor car. Shall we have this poster in the pub where the man is drinking so that he can look at it? Oh, no! You cannot do than; the brewers would object. And also, perhaps, the Chancellor of the Exchequer—I do not know.

But the principal thing we are suffering from—and wt en I say, "we", I mean that I suffered from it when I was in the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, will suffer from the same thing—is the co-ordination of the various Government Departments. There is no Minister for whom I have more sorrow than the Minister of Transport. My Lords, if I may use the vernacular, I do not "knock" this Christmas programme of the posters. I can stand the sight of blood. I have seen too much of it in my lifetime. But the Minister of Transport is the most impotent of Ministers when it comes to road accidents. He can frame the law: he can get the law through Parliament; but he has no power to enforce it. The buck is passed to the Home Office and from the Home Office to the Lord Chancellor's Department. The Home Office say, "We cannot alter the law; we cannot tell the police what to do." The Lord Chancellor's Department says, "We cannot tell the courts what to do." Who can tell whom what to do? And on we go, my Lords—as the noble Lady said, and as the noble Lord who introduced this Motion said—killing nearly 8,000 people a year. That, I think, is the most pertinent thing we have to consider.

My Lords, I am going to make only one more point. In the course of twenty years in your Lordships' House, and a lifetime of study of this problem, I feel that there is nothing new to be said, except one thing—and that is not really new: that is, action. In this year and age, and in the light of this problem I do not agree with the age-old dictum that nobody can tell the Judiciary what to do, and that nobody can tell the police what to do. Admittedly, the new Police Act has altered the second of them; and I place responsibility for this matter in the future squarely, and without any fear whatever, upon the shoulders of the Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellor, in this modern age, is the custodian of the right administration of the law. The Lord Chancellor's responsibility to the people of this country is to see that the law is properly administered.

The Road Traffic Laws of this country are brought into contempt every day, and will go on being brought into contempt until they are enforced properly. I remember, from the time when I was Parliamentary Secretary, the frustration of having to go backwards and forwards to the Home Office, and backwards and forwards to the Treasury, whenever I wanted to do a single thing. The noble Lord who raised this Motion quoted that excellent leading article in to-day's Daily Telegraph. I should like to repeat the sentence that he read out, because this is the nub of the whole of our problems: Strict and impartial enforcement of the law is the best deterrent to bad drivers, drunk or sober. The noble Lady stressed another point which has my full sympathy. Look at the problem we are grappling with at the present time, the problem of these pile-ups on these motorways! Speed, speed, speed—in the fog! What did the Chief Commissioner of Police say after the inquiry he made into the M.1? He said that when his officers were trying to get through a thick fog to the scene of this pile-up they were being passed by motor car after motor car, travelling at twice the speed at which his trained police officers thought it was possible to drive. Every one of those accidents, my Lords, was caused by a breach of the fundamental principle of all good driving; that is, that you must have proper control over your car and travel at such a speed as the circumstances in which you find yourself dictate. Every one of those cars was travelling too fast It would not have hit the one in front if it had not been doing so.

My Lords, I wish this campaign may go well. I do not think that it will. I am very sceptical about it. I do not know what to do with the drunken driver except one thing, and that is that on the slightest indictment there must be prosecution and conviction. Take him off the road altogether and never let him drive again. That is the only way. Medical evidence tells us that it is no good trying to cure the alcoholic. It is no good trying to cure the man who will always drink and drive. My Lords, I thought I might bore you with another dissertation upon this subject; but what I have suggested, I am firmly convinced, is the only cure for the problem we are trying to solve.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say how indebted I am to the noble Lord who moved this Motion, especially at this opportune moment just before the Christmas holidays. I was not privileged to be a Member of your Lordships' House when this matter was last discussed, but I have read the report of that debate with great interest. Previous speakers to-day and speakers in the previous debate have laid the greatest stress on increased penalties. Without wishing in any way to argue against them, I think that we must recognise that we also have to get the offender first. I may be wrong in this, but I believe that it is more important to get him with a small penalty than to run the large risk of missing many offenders, or getting only a small percentage of them, and then having a thumping big penalty. I think that the first course would be more beneficial.

I do not want any misinterpretation of the points I wish to make. I hold absolutely no brief for the drunken or the deliberately dangerous driver. Both of those have been dealt with by far abler tongues than mine in this debate. Without attempting to distract attention from that group of drivers, I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to another group of drivers, much larger than the drunken and deliberately dangerous drivers, and who in my opinion cause more accidents, but are not so newsworthy (if I may put it in that way) as drunken drivers and I suspect tend to be overlooked. I was thinking very hard to try to get a name for this group of drivers, and when I was reading the report of the previous debate and read the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, I found that he had already introduced this group of drivers to your Lordships. I do not think that he did the group justice. He gave them passing mention. But I am greatly indebted to him because he gave them the right name—"thrusters." I think that they are the group which is responsible for the great bulk of accidents.

What I am going to do is to try and show your Lordships how this thrusting occurs. The point of pride, which I was not going to mention, has been mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Winchester, and I am grateful to him for doing so. I submit that if we have a look at these questions—your Lordships may think of many points while I am suggesting my few—it might be possible to get the co-operation of those authorities who gather statistics, so that we could have a jolly good shot at trying to remove some of these causes. Many of them are created by the "thrusters" themselves, but if we can remove some of the others we may be able to deal with some of the causes of the disease rather than to try to carry out a drastic cure once the disease has started. I am not a psychologist and noble Lords who may be skilled in that science may tear my arguments to bits. I shall be pleased and interested if they do, but I believe the "thruster" to be created by circumstances, and to be a victim of those circumstances.

There must be something which makes an otherwise exemplary citizen, who loves his family and does all the right sort of things, become a completely anti-social monster when he gets into his motor car and, when he gets out of it, after a short period to unwind, again become the loving father or whatever he was before. I wish to exclude in my examples those motorists who are genuinely late for an appointment and therefore wish to get on ahead, and people like doctors who may be attending urgent maternity cases. No motorist objects when he hears an ambulance or fire engine clanging its bell behind him. It is remarkable to see how even some bad-mannered motorists pull in neatly to the kerb to allow an ambulance to get by.

There must be some very strong and compelling factors which result in this "rat race," which all noble Lords who drive have seen going on on the roads. Something creates this hysterical creed of "I get in front" that is the motto of the "thruster". It causes him to take tremendous risks, very often with disastrous costs. Some of the factors I am going to suggest may appear in themselves utterly trivial; how could they possibly be advanced? Yet I think that these and many more can create this stress which eventually makes this peculiar Jekyll and Hyde with whom I think we really should deal.

For an example, I take a driver who is a model citizen. We can assume at the start that he is free of any particular internal stress from having had a bad day at the office, or lost an export order, or had a row with his wife or mother-in-law or something like that. He gets into his car and starts off and the first thing he is aware of is competition. This is about the most important factor I can think of. He is aware that he should not drive competitively. And here, in case any noble Lords may think, "Now we are having the confessions of a thruster", let me say that all of us, if we drive at all, have to thrust just a little. As this chap finds when he tries to move out of his parking place, he has to thrust just a little bit, otherwise he does not even get on to the road. Incidentally, he is just leaving a parking place, one may assume, in the Metropolitan area, and he must have had to drive competitively to get into it before somebody else did. This is competition from lack of facilities.

He carries on driving through a built-up area, and, still our model citizen, he drives at 30 miles per hour. He would not object to those cars who gently drift past him, with their drivers smugly trying to pretend that his speedometer is over-registering and their's are right. No, he is immediately subject to a number of roars as cars and of ten big lorries shoot past him at speeds with a differential of anything from 15 to 20 m.p.h. This worries him a bit. Why should these people get away with it?

Then perhaps he wishes to turn right at the traffic lights, and he goes into the right-hand lane. I am not sure whether the law requires him to do so; I do not think it does. I think the Highway Code only suggests that he should. However, he gets into the right lane, only to find quite a lot of cars there and other (if I may so call them) sportsmen "thrusters" roaring up on his left. They wait until they get to the head of the queue and, with much flashing of indicators, they turn right across the front of the queue and bring the whole thing to a halt. By the time our driver arrives at traffic lights, they have turned to red; he waits, and all he sees are the tail lights, or the back of the thrusting sportsman way on ahead.

All the time he has been driving, should the traffic be at all dense, he is subjected to a tremendous amount of bumping, boring and jockeying for position. The "thruster" behind him—and remember the "thruster's" motto: I get in front "—is just waiting for the slightest moment of weakness. Psychologically, he seems to be able to think," That chap is just giving way, and there is a very attractive little place that I can get into in front "—and he is in front, just like that.

I must say that I think it slightly regrettable that such importance has been placed recently on the small car. It has been partly due to sales; not perhaps the reputable manufacturers, but those who sell these new mini-type motor cars. They are sold with all sorts of phrases like, Very nippy"; "Will turn on a sixpence"; "Get in anywhere"; "Travel usefully in traffic; you will be there long before anybody else", and so on. This is just the weapon the "thruster" has been waiting for; he has got it, and he is using it. I hope that I am not getting too many black looks from noble Lords who drive mini-cars—, "Egad, sir! he is slighting the car I love". I have driven one of these cars myself, and I know that one is inclined to forget that other vehicles do not have a similar deftness in fairly congested but fairly fast moving traffic. Larger vehicles are not always able to stop quickly enough to avoid the little compact mini-type of motor car which hurtles itself diagonally across their front wheels without warning. Thus we can see that the "thruster" travelling along the road breeds in his wake, to a greater or lesser extent, a large number of potential "thrusters".

Apart from these extremely bad manners to which our driver has been subjected, he is now also subjected to noise of two kinds. I will take, first, the horn. The law requires us to have a horn; that is to say, the law requires us to be able to give an audible warning of the vehicle's approach. That, to me, means that if you press your horn what you are saying is: "Be careful; there is a car coming". But how often have noble Lords ever heard that sort of tone from a horn? I submit that you hear something completely different. You hear lengthy irritated blasts, which are only too eloquently saying: "Don't you dare try that on me", or, "You wait until I get you at the next roundabout; I'll show you". Or even the nicest of the lot "Out of my way, you idiot!" Sometimes, I must say, one has heard a horn perhaps slightly plaintively saying: "I say, that was not a very nice thing to do, was it?" The "thruster's" only answer to that is to give a sign which I am afraid your Lordships will rot find in the Highway Code. It involves two fingers of either hand, and what that sign really means—and I hope that "thrusters" fully realise this; there is only one meaning to the sign—is: "I know I am unfit to have a driving licence, but you cannot do anything about it; and, anyway, I got in front". I hope that if these words are reported due import will be given to them, so that they may reach the papers read by some "thrusters" and cause them to think about what they mean when they give that sign.

The other sort of noise is continuous, but it is not so strident: I mean the noise of the vehicles themselves. It seems to me peculiar that the larger the vehicle, the less the noise; and the smaller the vehicle, the greater the noise. You can even find beautiful little chromium-plated gadgets which you can tic on to the back somewhere and which, according to the manufacturer, give you 10 per cent. of something—and certainly they give a 100 per cent. increase in noise. I think it is a fairly good and reasonable statement to say that, according to the textbooks available, the modern, well-designed exhaust system does not measurably detract from the performance of the vehicle. Your Lordships will remember many years ago driving cars equipped with the old-fashioned type of mufflers and baffles, with tremendous back pressure in the exhaust, many of which were illegally fitted with what was known as the exhaust cut-out. No doubt that did increase the efficiency of the engine, by banishing exhaust back pressure; but to-day that is not necessary, and the marginal increase in efficiency that is probably obtained by removing exhaust systems, or by running with exhaust systems that practically do not exist, is of no practical importance on the road. Today we have accurate methods of measuring sound, and I would suggest that some consideration should be given to the introduction of legislation stating exactly the maximum sound permitted to be emitted from a vehicle—not with the vehicle just gently cruising in top gear, but throughout the wide range of throttle openings and engine revolutions, and in the intermediate gears while accelerating.

Another point which may influence our potential "thruster" is smoke. It may be that the reason why a driver on a major road will refuse to allow a lorry to come in in front of him, perhaps from a side road, is that he knows that if he does he is going to be subjected to a large cloud of black smoke, for goodness knows how many miles, until he can get by. If he is in that position, he is tempted to take a great many risks to pass that lorry, merely to get out of the smoke. I know that many eminent engineers have written in the technical Press over the last decade, and more, that the compression ignition engine does not necessarily emit offensive smoke. I agree with these gentlemen, although most of them are trying to show that the one produced by their particular employers is the best of the lot. But they are dealing with engines in their laboratories, beautifully maintained, and are not dealing with the possibly slightly badly maintained engine which is used en the road. I would suggest that a great deal more research and development should be done on the design of injection nozzles and combustion chambers to see whether something can be done to render less smelly and smoky the engine used on the road, with the standard of maintenance it is likely to receive.

The noble Baroness who spoke shortly before me touched heavily on one of the points that I was going to make. However, she did not completely attack it from a particular angle which I have in mind; that is, the young male "thruster". Perhaps he is trying to prove his manhood. In primitive tribes, when young males reach that stage, there is an extensive tribal ritual, with tests and all the rest of it. When these have been passed, honour is satisfied, manhood proved.

Ancestors of noble Lords probably donned their armour and went out and killed a dragon. To-day, many young men find that the best way of proving their manhood, bolstering their ego, or whatever it is, is to "take it out" on the motor car, the roads and the other road users. They feel that the dragons of the police are to be outwitted, and other road users conquered and put to shame by being shown the young gallants' exhaust pipes. To-day, fair damsels, far from being rescued, hurtle blissfully to destruction beside their heroes, probably up a one-way street the wrong way, at twice the permitted speed. While I have been speaking noble Lords may have thought of many ether factors and petty irritations which can produce a "thruster": inconsiderate pedestrians on uncontrolled crossings; the short cut which used to take one home so much more quickly but which has now a "No Entry" or "Road Up" sign; or traffic lights that always go red just as one is coming to them in a hurry.

I should like to conclude on what I think is probably, after competition, the most important factor which makes a "thruster", and that is contempt of the authority. I use the word "authority" very widely. I do not mean any particular Government Department, force or court or anything else, but what is rather generally felt by the "thrusting" type of motorist as the "authority". Because of this, speed limits must be ignored, all regulations, including parking regulations, must be flouted, the police and representatives of the authority must be hindered and in no way helped, and every little failing on the part of the authority must be magnified and ridi- culed out of all proportion. Now, our driver, that ex model citizen, unless he is of a most placid disposition, is a highly stressed, hysterical "thruster" of the first order, or well on his way to becoming so.

In your Lordships' previous debate on this subject, great stress was laid on driving tests. I should like to say very strongly that I think these are utterly useless in the case of the "thruster". The "thruster" is a highly-skilled driver. Probably he may be even more skilled than the examiner. He has to be highly skilled, the way he drives. He is either dead or very skilled, and in my opinion no test, advanced or even super-advanced, will isolate him. The only thing at present which effectively, and very effectively, removes a "thruster" is the day he meets himself coming in the opposite direction.


How can he do that?


To answer the noble Lord I would say, a similar "thruster" coming in the opposite direction. I know, my Lords, that I have presented you with possibly one of those age-old circular riddles similar to the one about the chicken and the egg. "Thrusters" breed "thrusters". How did it all start, and where is it going to end, except in the mortuary? I am making, no attempt to excuse the "thruster", but merely to explain him. I think there is much food for thought in the Motion of the noble Lord, and that if analysis through co-ordinated statistics can prove any of my surmises further we may go a long way to curing the causes of this disease rather than trying to cure the disease once it has happened.

There is, however, one factor which need not wait, and that is an attempt to convert the contempt of the authority into a respect for the authority. Any other attempt by itself to cure a "thruster" will be doomed right from the start unless he has respect for the authority that is trying to do something for him. Perhaps much would be achieved if there were better public relations between the authority as a whole and the public with whom it deals—a feeling of what one heard so long ago now, but one never hears to-day, the "brotherhood of the road". Could not the authority be part of the brotherhood of the road, and be a friend and not be considered to be an enemy? I do not wish to cast any aspersions on the authority, but if that situation could be achieved, surely it would be most beneficial.

The "thruster" is a very hardened person. Pictures of coffins, mangled corpses, signs, "It's up to you", have absolutely no effect on him. In fact, in his heart of hearts he probably thinks it is all rather childish. But I believe he could be shamed into co-operation as a first move. Whatever can be done to remove limitations of the road system and thus reduce the competition for facilities—I know this means money, and it is unpopular to ask for it—would help. Another thing he must be made to understand—I am not saying these things are wrong, but he does not understand them at the present moment, and good public relations might help—is that he has just laws, suited to the car, and not laws for the horse and cart slightly adapted. And, finally, he must be shown that those just laws are being impartially administered by a competent court, versed in the technology of this modern age and the machines with which they deal, and not, as the "thruster" believes, a relic of the Middle Ages, where he strongly suspects that in some cases he will be considered guilty before he is even accused. So often one hears motorists say, "I should not go down there. The Bench is very hard on motorists. They catch you every time"—or of other cases, where the guilty have a sporting chance of bluffing their way and blinding "the beak" with science. If some of these chips are removed from the shoulder of the "thruster", and the potential "thruster", and if the analysis of statistics will help to isolate other causes, we may be able to stop future "thrusters" and extinguish those existing.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, before speaking on this Motion, may I give the reason why I am now speaking from the Cross Benches? This has nothing at all to do with the results of a previous Election, but is because now I have a new appointment in which any strong political affiliation would be inappropriate. As your Lordships probably know, I have never been a strong Party man, and therefore I do not feel that this move is in itself inappropriate, although, of course, I very much regret leaving those of my noble friends on the other side—though I still hope that I have many on this side as well, even if they are still nominally in a different Party from myself. I must, however, be careful, as I am now standing in the place which I used to occupy, not inadvertently, in moving across one Bench when I found there was a shortage of room.

Speaking on this Motion, I am going to take what I think is rather an unusual point of view; and it runs across, in a way, quite a lot of what has been said this afternoon. I should, however, like to make quite clear at the outset that I do not necessarily disagree with anything that has been said. I may disagree with the emphasis, but I am not making points which are contradictory to it. I entirely support the tremendous campaign which we have made for road safety, and I also support most of the measures which we have adopted to try to improve matters. But I think that as a by-product or, if you like, a side-effect of this road campaign there is a danger that we may not be thinking quite as clearly as we ought on the subject and that there is now a certain emotional content in our approach to this problem. Basically all problems which are resolved on a rational basis have a number of factors which have to be weighed one against the other, and I would say that in road casualties we have to weigh the casualties which we are going to save against the cost and, in fact, the restrictions to personal liberty or other inconvenience which we may cause. I should like to develop this theme a little further.

I said that I feel that the emotional aspect of this problem has perhaps got a little out of hand and therefore, as an attempt to put this into perspective, I should like to mention three factors. First of all, fatal accidents in 1934 were as great as they are to-day. There were then only 2½ million vehicles on the road against a total 11½ million to-day. In other words, the situation we find ourselves in to-day is nothing new. It is not even as bad as it is in some countries abroad, but this does not mean—and I stress this—that we should not do everything we possibly can. It is an appalling toll. I am not personally so worried about the death rite, but I am quite appalled by the tenfold greater casualties, serious casualties, on the road. However this is no new phenomenon.

Secondly, I should like to call your Lordships' attention to the fact that the suicide rate is nearly as high as the road accident rate, and it was only about four years ago that it exceeded it. I know it is possible to say that, after all, perhaps it is a man's own business if he commits suicide; and that it may not be his fault if he inadvertently gets killed on the road. Nevertheless, how much do we hear about this? There is a suicides' organisation to prevent potential suicides from committing suicide; but let us remember that here is another problem of equal magnitude, or pretty well equal magnitude, so far as deaths are concerned, although not quite as important so far as serious permanent injuries are concerned. Finally, my Lords, let me point out that fatal accidents in the home, which largely effect old and young people, are running again very close, within 100 or 200 of the deaths on the road. Logically if we are going to do something about the one, we certainly ought to hear a little more about the others.

Very often people say, "Of course, human life is priceless". This is, so far as it goes, the right thing to say, but when we take a broader view I am afraid that we are just kidding ourselves, because it does not matter what field you look into, you are faced with the fact that you can save quite a large number of human lives if you spend some more money. This is only too obvious in the case of hospitals and a better maternity service: if we spent more money—as the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, has frequently pointed out—we should greatly reduce the number of deaths. It is the same, of course, with the roads. I am not now talking about making new "M" roads; I am talking about removing some of the black spots where, clearly, there is an inherent danger in the present road as it stands.

A little more money spent and we could save these deaths. Once again, turning to the railways, even if the death rate is small, I am told, that the most modern method of signalling, at the cost of a few million pounds, would cut the deaths on railways by half.

I mention these facts only to try to get back to the fact that we have to weigh, on the one hand, how much it costs, not only in pounds but in inconvenience, to people, against the rate of accidents or fatalities we are going to save. To look at it in the extreme form, one asks people, "If we could prevent so many per cent. of the accidents if we had a 30 m.p.h. speed limit on all roads, should we enforce one?" Some would say, "Yes", some, "No". But if we wanted no accidents at all, the solution is perfectly simple: we could have a 5 m.p.h. speed limit. Better still, let us go back to the days when we had a man with a red flag walking in front of vehicles, when we should no longer have a problem. We say that this is nonsense. Why is it nonsense? Because no one would tolerate it. So somewhere between this solution which is ridiculous and one where we do nothing at all and say "Well, we just accept these casualties as a part of progress", lies the commonsense decision.

My Lords, each of us will have a different point of view as to where this common-sense decision lies. That is all right, but let us realise that we must judge it at least on a level and not on a purely emotional basis. All of us, I think—and this is inevitable—have ideas as to who causes accidents. To-day we have heard about the thrusters. I am sure that what has been said is true. But how many accidents do they cause? I have a suspicion that the view you take all depends on what type of driver you are yourself. If you are a slow driver, there is a tendency, I think, always to feel that the people who are causing the accidents are people who pass you, because you reckon, probably, that you are driving as fast as is reasonable. Some people have quicker reactions, some are better drivers. As a faster driver you have the opposite idea. You feel the fault lies with the man you are going to pass who, right at the last moment, when you are alongside him, turns out. It is just a different point of view.

I should like to give an illustration of this because I think it is important that we should realise that these differing views are not always well founded. I remember driving with a relative of mine. She was not a very fast driver, and when she came up to another car she would say, "Why doesn't this car slow down, can't it see I want to pass?" Very shortly another car would come up behind her. "Oh", she would say, "how ridiculous! I'm going quite fast enough in these circumstances; I shan't let him pass." This is just a silly little story that illustrates how important this personal angle is, and we should be very careful before believing that this is the truth.

I, like everybody else, have very strong views as to what causes accidents. I am quite certain that the major cause is not thrusters; it is not fast drivers as such. I am quite sure that it is inattentive drivers. Very few people give the concentration to driving which they ought. I will admit to your Lordships that I am a fast driver; but if I am driving fast I never speak at all, and I always give the driving absolutely all I have got in the way of attention. My weakness is that when I am driving slowly and not giving it full attention, as I feel that it does not matter, frequently I am apt to make a silly mistake which, if I were driving fast and concentrating, would never occur at all.

I think this is quite an important factor, because I have seen on the roads, time and again, a driver who has come up behind another car; he has missed perhaps four possible passing places and then, at a most unsuitable moment, he suddenly wakes up to the idea that he has got tired of staying behind this car and has to pass it. He passes on the brow of a hill or over a white line. It is not a deliberate sin; it is, in fact, done because he has not had his mind on the job. I will leave you with that thought: that the major cause of accidents is the driver who is not paying attention.

All this, I think, leads up to the point that we must have statistics which give us a real idea of how important any particular class of driver is in causing these accidents. Some of your Lordships would think that we were justified in bringing in measures whereby it would be illegal to have more than a certain amount of alcohol in the blood, and to enforce this. Well, you are entitled, we are all entitled, to that opinion. Personally, I should like to know first how many we hope to save on road deaths by bringing in legislation which may be somewhat inconvenient to a large number of people. I will not press this point because it is very debatable, and I am not even certain what my own point of view is. But it does apply in many other cases. Are you justified in putting on speed limits almost throughout the country for a very small saving in road deaths? I think we must know what the likely results are before introducing such restrictive legislation.

I should like to give one or two ideas of how I think road accidents might, in a small measure, be decreased. The first three I am going to mention, so far as I can see have no cost at all, either in money or in convenience; therefore I would argue that if there is the smallest indication that they may save accidents they should be brought into force. The first one relates to headlights in a fog. Many people quite regularly turn on their side lights in fog, but the margin during which sidelights in fog are useful over no sidelights is very small. I think that putting on the headlights makes a tremendous amount of difference, and it is "absolute murder" to find when everybody else has headlights on some fool coming along with sidelights, when you can see only a yard and a half. I should have thought it perfectly simple to legislate that when visibility in fog or smoke has become so poor that one cannot read a car number plate at, let us say, 10 yards—I do not mind what the figure is—then headlights must be used. I have never really found out the psychology of a person who is so economical or whose battery is so bad that he will not put on headlights when he perfectly well could; and it is not for himself, but for the other fellow. It is grossly selfish.

I also think it is terribly dangerous to drive on sidelights in an unbuilt-up area. We know that some people support the headlights campaign. We each have our views on that. But I have recently found a number of people driving on completely dark roads with sidelights only. Why, I do not know. When several cars are coming along, all with headlights on, it is desperately easy to miss the man with only sidelights. I do not know how many accidents it causes. It strikes me as absolutely criminal to do this without any good reason. It is difficult for pedestrians, and it may be difficult for other cars, who may be blinded by other headlights, to see the unlit car.

This happened to me the other day in a very badly lighted road. There were four cars coming along with headlights on and one finally with sidelights. He was easy to miss. I did not miss him, fortunately; I missed the car. I also think that just before lighting up time it is sometimes very difficult to detect cars coming along, particularly, again, when half of them have sidelights on and the other half have not. I cannot see why the lighting-up time so far as cars are concerned cannot be half an hour earlier. Somebody will say that the present regulation will never ca use an accident. But the cost in electricity if lights are turned on as soon as it begins to get dusk is negligible. Much depends on the colour of the car whether it can be seen. I should have thought this a useful piece of legislation which would cost nothing.

My last two points are a little more far-reaching. I do not expect that anybody will think they are justified by the accidents they are likely to save. We now have clearways. Excellent! But an awful number of people seem quite ignorant about where they should, or should not, park. They will park on a corner and in the most extraordinary places. I would g3 almost so far as to say that one should never park on a road except in a 30-mile limit. I know it is a little difficult, because there are little villages which have not got the 30-mile limit; but if one thinks of England as a whole, one realises that there is practically no main road which one cannot get off. I do not believe this requirement would cause any serious inconvenience, and I do believe it would save many accidents and a lot of frustration where people have parked in incredibly bad places and lines of traffic are held up by these selfish persons. My final suggestion is that perhaps the Highway Code might be used more for recommendations and for pedestrians, because clearly they must be educated as far as possible.

I would pick up perhaps two points that other noble Lords have made. I think we are right in singling out for the maximum amount of disapprobation and punishment the person who has drunk too much. But, there again, it is rather a question of degree. It may be that he has not been deliberate; he has been to a party, just had a shade more in the circumstances than was wise, and he may well be driving safely. Inattention is not as culpable, but it is also culpable, and we must remember this all along the line. But, finally, when all that is said and done, how many of us can possibly say that there have not been occasions where, if we had been unlucky, we should have had accidents? Think of the possibility of meeting a woman with a pram round a blind corner, with a car coming the opposite way not on its own side: how many of us do you really think come round all corners at a speed that could take care of that sort of eventuality? We are always making minor mistakes. So do not let us be too hard on the people who, through inadvertence, in fact come to grief.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, I want to apologise right away for taking part in this debate without my name being down on the List. The only excuse I wish to make is that I have been living in America for almost two years and I am rather out of touch with the workings of your Lordships' House. In fact I did not know that this debate was taking place this afternoon. I had no idea when I came into the House that I should wish to speak. To take part in a debate of this nature, when so many noble Lords have spoken with such authority on this particular subject, proving beyond a shadow of doubt that they have paid the greatest attention to these problems and have studied them clearly, is, I feel, a most unwise thing to do. But in self-defence I wish to say that this is a subject which is dear to my heart and one that I have thought about carefully, especially while in America where I had occasion to drive a great deal.

I felt that although I was ill-prepared, and obviously technically far more insecure than noble Lords who have given much thought to the subject, and knew they were going to speak to-day, if, through my telling your Lordships about my own personal feelings and experiences in America of driving conditions there, I was perhaps able to save one life on the road, it would justify my speaking in this House to-day. But I again apologise for intervening.

I have been in California for nearly two years and have driven a great deal. During that time I have driven over 22,000 miles in America, and I am happy to say that I managed to do this without once getting a ticket for any sort of traffic violation. To do this in America is not easy, because, frankly, the police are out to get you if you make a mistake. Particularly in California, motorists feel (to refer to the phrase used by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill) that a policeman is in a car driving behind them. There are hundreds and hundreds of patrol cars on the roads of California, and if you do make a mistake you get a ticket on the spot and you are fined a large amount of money. So people in California are anxious not to violate traffic laws, because there they are tremendously strict—far more than they are in this country—and they are rigorously enforced.

But I am bound to say that I found that if you followed these laws and obeyed them to the letter they made good sense; they cut down accidents and were altogether thoroughly satisfactory, because they are prepared by people who obviously have given this subject tremendous thought. In America, the motor car has become an integral part of life; it is accepted as such. The motor car is here to stay; life must be built around it. How people should behave when they are in charge of a motor car is something to which tremendous thought is given.

There are one or two points which I should like briefly to make to your Lordships and which I feel may be of assistance to us in decreasing the ghastly toll of deaths and accidents on the roads of this country. One point which seems to me most important was briefly touched upon in the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. It was to do with driving on sidelights only. I should like to enlarge upon this point for a moment. Anybody who drives in this vast city will, I think, agree with me that London is not the best-lit city in the world. We have certain roads which are well lit and others where there are sudden pools of darkness.

In America, in a comparatively modern city like New York, the lighting is much better. Practically none of the streets used as main traffic thoroughfares in New York are badly lit. We are far behind in that respect. Yet the fact remains that in New York, or in any other major city in America, no one is allowed to drive at night except on dimmed headlights. In America it is illegal to drive on sidelights. In this country, if you try to drive in a city with dimmed headlights, everybody shouts at you, "Turn those things off". So we have cars driving at 30 m.p.h. or more, in a solid stream, on sidelights, which do not enable the driver to see the road more clearly and are merely small imprints of light that may be useful in judging the width of a car. The Americans are not mad in making cars drive at night with dimmed headlights; it is a real saving of life. I strongly urge the new Minister of Transport seriously to consider passing a law that in all cities in this country motorists should be obliged to drive on dimmed headlights. I feel that this would result in a great saving of life, and would avoid accidents caused by motorists suddenly coming on a bicycle badly lit, or something they cannot see. It is most disconcerting at night, when driving in a brightly lit street, suddenly to come into a badly lit street where it is difficult to see well. I think this is important.

Another thing which is rigorously enforced in California, and which seems to me to make good sense, is that people are not allowed to turn left from a right-hand lane and not allowed to turn right from a left-hand lane: in other words, drivers must not go across traffic lanes. That is not so in this country. It happens all the time here. This rule seems to make good sense in America. Also, people in California are not allowed to change lanes. They learn lane discipline. This applies, whether you are driving in the city or on a motorway.

Again, this is some thing that we in this country do not do.

I listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill. I agreed with 80 per cent. of what she had to say. But I did not agree with her entirely when she said that all speed was bad. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, brought up this point: that if you stop motor cars going at more than 5 m.p.h., and had a man with a red flag, it would cut down accidents. But traffic is increasing. The flow of traffic must go on. We do not want stagnation. Therefore, cars have to travel at a reasonable speed, and we have to deal with the matter in that way.

Motorways are one of the answers. If you build motorways you can say that they are bad because people drive fast on them; that therefore they are dangerous, and that we should have narrower, winding roads, because people would drive less fast and fewer people would be killed. Probably this is true. But, like all things, a motorway is a saving and efficient, if properly used. People in this country have not yet learned to use them properly. They do not understand lane discipline. How to use a motorway has never been properly explained to them. In America, motorways are used in a rather different way. For one thing, I noticed the other night, when driving down the MI in blinding rain, that I was passed suddenly by cars going far faster than I was. This is most dangerous. Speed, is, after all, relative. In a good motor car, an experienced driver, driving on a dry night on a motorway at 70 m.p.h., is potentially less dangerous than an inexperienced driver, driving an old motor car on a wet road, at 50 m.p.h. Therefore, just to say that speed is dangerous, without qualifying that phrase, is perhaps unwise.

Another thing which we must realise is that this country has a difficult traffic problem. We shall have stagnation on the roads in a short time if we do not do something about it. We therefore have to consider riot only potential threat to life and limb, but also how to keep the traffic flow continuing. So we are always "robbing Peter to pay Paul" in this respect. One of the things that should be done in London is to paint lines on the road. Islands in the middle of the roads should be removed; these are potential hazards. Lane discipline should be introduced, and some of the methods used in America should be carefully studied and applied here. I know that we have different problems, because we have narrower roads and we have difficulty with local authorities, in getting roads built—it takes longer. But some of the ideas in America should be looked at very carefully.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord to say that we in this country have narrower cars, too?


That is true; but against that we have a different problem from America, and this should be considered when speed limits are envisaged. In America most cars are of the same size, and are nearly always driven at the same speed. In this country most of our cars travel reasonably slowly, and there is a smaller percentage of cars which travel very quickly. Therefore, there is a different problem. My Lords, that is all I wish to say, except once again to apologise to the House for intervening. I only hope that any remarks I have made may be of some slight use.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, begins, may I say one thing? I have not followed this debate right through, and I am sure this point has been mentioned before, but I consider that at present by far the most murderous feature of road accidents is the three-lane road.



It is complete murder. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, and the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, are going to bring up this point—at any rate, I hope they will. Three-lane roads must be done away with as soon as possible. If they cannot be widened, let them be narrowed to two-lanes. But we must not have any more three-lane roads in this country.

5.23 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to take part in this debate, but I should like to make one observation. The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Winchester singled out for special commendation the great majority of lorry drivers; and I am not dissenting from that. But I venture to think that there is another body of men who are also deserving of special commendation, the London bus drivers.



I am a Londoner. I am not a better pedestrian than most pedestrians. I have owed my safety more than once to the care, attention and skill with which bus drivers drive vehicles which, after all, are not all that easy to drive. What a job!—morning, afternoon and evening in one of the most crowded cities of the world. I feel that they really deserve our special commendation. I would venture to hope that if, as I gather, most of your Lordships are of that opinion, we shall remember that when their remuneration is next in question.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened with interested care all through the debate so far, and it seems to me that the majority of speakers have concentrated on a variety of causes of accidents and the remedies which they have in mind. Certainly, very little has been said this afternoon with which in principle I basically would disagree. I feel that perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, who is to reply may not to-day be in a position to reply fully to a great many of the points that have been made. I am not going to address myself to them either, for I feel that there will be an occasion in due course when I should wish to do so and when, I anticipate, he might also wish to do so.

I am going to address myself more to the terms of the Motion itself, because I believe it to be a Motion, although not exactly substantive in itself, which contains in its wording a very helpful spirit. I can see a little more value in it than the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, told the House she could see in it. Among other things, and if for nothing else, I believe it would be extremely useful if in due course, as and when further researches are carried out and when more is known, Papers were laid before the House relating to such matters. I certainly hope that when he comes to reply the noble Lord will tell us that he accepts the Motion.

We have all known for a long time that a great deal of further knowledge is required on the subject of the causation, and indeed the remedy, of accidents. I completely agree with the noble Baroness and others—the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for instance—who said that what we need is action, and action now. But I still believe we require a good deal further and more basic information to make certain that the action taken now is the right action, and, more particularly, that action taken in the future is also the right action. The previous Government, being conscious of the need for fuller and deeper information on these matters, sent the two accident investigation teams, to which the right reverend Prelate referred, to Hampshire and Warwickshire. I certainly hope that Her Majesty's Government are going to continue, and expand, that form of research as and when the pilot schemes, so to speak, are sufficiently advanced to be able to build upon them. I feel fairly confident, in view of the various announcements which have stemmed from the opening of the anti-drinking campaign to which my noble friend Lord Ferrier referred, as it would seem that the Government are of a mind to continue in such matters the same policy as before.

The point I really want to make is this; and I hope to be able to make one or two constructive suggestions. The co-ordination, analysis and interpretation of the results of all the information which we require is, in some ways, somewhat easier said than done. This, if I recollect aright, was also the view of the R.A.C. as quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and is not just my view. As your Lordships know, it was the intention of the previous Government to reconstruct the Departmental Committee on Road Safety on a basis whereby it would be in some ways a more powerful and useful body and be able to do better work. There again, I hope that that policy will remain the same.

It occurred to me to suggest that perhaps this co-ordination of results might be a very useful function to be carried out by that reconstructed Committee. They will be in a better position, because one of the things which has bedevilled matters of this kind in the past it the fact that committees have tended to be so large and so representative of a very wide variety of interests. If, as I hope, the idea is to cut down the size of the Committee, they may well have a chance to do this sort of thing out of the information which we must have, and, more important, the interpretation of it. I am sure the Road Research Laboratory would be represented on it; it is inconceivable that it should not be—that is, if it should eventually prove that the Road Research Laboratory does not marry up with the Ministry of Transport, as I have always personally firmly believed it should do.

There is another point which I think might be useful to put forward as a function of that Committee. In the great desire to deal with this subject—a desire which is shared by almost everybody, if without 100 per cent, agreement on what the methods should be—there are any number of Committees, organisations, and other bodies. mostly voluntary, which are "working like mad" in the interests of road safety, and the vast majority of which are doing very good work in the process. My Lords, it has always seemed to Tie that there was a kind of dissipation of effort and there must be a great deal of duplication. I am wondering whether one of the tasks of that Committee might not be to consider how all that effort could be channelled into more powerful use, so to speak, rather than dissipated in a large number of smaller bodies all working independently. I have often thought that, and I hope that in due course Her Majesty's Government will give the matter some thought.

The next factor which I have always thought militated against road safety efforts is this—I am hesitant to call it a kind of class consciousness, because that is not quite correct, but it is the classification of road users by the manner in which they use the road. We talk of motorists, of pedestrians, of cyclists, of lorry drivers, of bus drivers, of anything you like, as if they were a race apart who existed to do nothing else. Certainly I have seen a good deal of wrangling in the past by people whose sole professed desire was the advancement of road safety, fighting each other on the basis of one form of movement or an- other. I believe that anything which can possibly be done to stamp out that sort of thing, which breeds only the most unfortunate impression of hostility and prejudice between people who ought to be working together, will be of benefit. I make no complaint about this but we do it, even unconsciously.

My noble friend Lord Ferrier referred to the "ton-up" boys in the course of his speech when he was referring to motor cyclists, and in these days, with the aid of the Press, we all tend to think of motor cyclists as a whole as nothing but a lot of "ton-up" boys. But "ton-up" boys are a very small, though perfectly horrible, minority of a large section of the community the majority of whom are decent, careful, law-abiding citizens. I was glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, also emphasised in her speech the point about getting together, so to speak, and not remaining in classified packets. I think that any breakdown we can make will build up the mutual consideration between road users for which so many people have asked this afternoon, and it can do nothing but good. I hope that that is another point which the noble Lord will take away with him for further study. I feel that I ought to take the opportunity, if it is needed, to apologise if in some way I offended the noble Baroness in the course of her speech. She was rather cross with me.


The noble Lord has made up for it. It is all right.


But I thought at the time that she had given me an invitation. She looked at me and said, "I see the noble Lord sitting there and he will put me right if I am wrong".


That was rhetorical.


I wonder, to avoid any future misunderstanding, whether the noble Baroness would be kind enough not to be quite so rhetorical in that kind of sense. I suppose that really—I hope she will allow me to say this—I am happy to think that she finds herself unaware of me in this House except as a junior Minister and——


That really hurt, did it not?


No, it did not hurt, my Lords. It really made me wonder whether she could possibly be aware of me as anything else, because I have not been anything else ever since the noble Lady joined us in this House. But, more seriously, from the experience thereby gained, I would say this. I had noticed that there was some small change stemming from October 15, and I had realised that I was sitting over on this side and not on that side. But that fact is certainly not going to stop me at any time from doing whatever I can to help on this subject of road safety. I say that if the Government can move forward along the lines that I have just been sketching out rather briefly they will certainly merit our support in the matter, and I hope that they will make the first move by accepting this Motion to-day.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, may I, first of all, express my very great appreciation, and that of my right honourable friend, to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for putting down this Motion, which we gladly accept, and for the opportunity that it has given us for discussion to-day. As the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, said, road safety—is a matter which is very much in the minds of us all, and it is one in which any Government must take a keen interest. Again, as the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, said, I hope that road safety—the question of human life, the loss of limb and the suffering that arises from road accidents—will never be a matter of Party politics. Just to show how much I think that, may I say that we all appreciate on this side of the House the attention that was given to this subject by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, when he had some delegated responsibility from the previous Minister in the last Administration. At holiday times we all looked for what he was going to say on the television or the wireless in regard to driving behaviour at those times.

My Lords, my right honourable friend and I—again, my right honourable friend has delegated certain responsibilities for road safety to me—will study everything that has been said in this debate. I am in just a wee bit of difficulty because the Motion which the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, put down was a specific one and, in conjunction with the Department, I had prepared quite a weighty brief to reply to him on the basis of his Motion. But the debate has gone exceptionally wide, and therefore perhaps it would be better if, rather than stick to a brief which has been prepared, I dealt in a more free and easy manner with the points which have been raised during the debate.

May I, first of all, say that we accept the position taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. Lord Lucas of Chilworth has apologised for the fact that he had not appreciated that this debate might go on as long as it has and had therefore arranged an engagement for which he has had to leave. We accept that we have a tremendous amount of information, and that we are getting co-operation from every possible source on this question of road safety. The problem, very largely, is how best to use the material that is being made available, and how best to take action on it.

The Government accept the general terms of the Motion, and the Department is doing a tremendous amount on the matter. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, will know of the various sections of the Ministry which are involved in road safety. I have here in a brief information in regard to points which might be raised, even some which one would not have thought would be raised to-day, such as the emission of smoke, lights, the arrangements in foreign countries and the rest. Of course, there are really three basic causes of accidents and they have all been covered to-day. There is the question of the road; there is the question of the vehicle—the maintenance of the vehicle and its standard of construction; and, above all, there is the factor which has been mentioned by practically every noble Lord who has spoken, namely, the human behaviour of the driver of the vehicle.

If I may first of all deal with the general question of the "Drink and Driving" campaign, I know my right honourable friend will be delighted with the universal support which this campaign has received in this House to-day, as he has been, of course, with the reception of the conference held yesterday and the publicity that has arisen from it in the Press to-day. May I also say how much my right honourable friend appreciated the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, having put this Motion down for to-day, also paid us the courtesy of attending that conference and of giving us his support there?

First of all, my Lords, let me say this. Emphasis has been laid on the question of drink, and that is the point I am going to deal with, but on this question of road safety it is equally important to remember, as was pointed out by Professor Cohen of Manchester University at the conference held yesterday to launch the campaign against drink and driving (it is hardly a proper way of putting it, to call it a "Drink and Driving" campaign; it is a campaign against drinking and driving), that sober men and sober women are not safe—nobody is safe—when driving a motor car. The fact is that when alcohol is taken, then even the safest person, he best of drivers, suffers some impairment in regard to the response of his face ties and his attitude to driving.

I also want to make this quite clear, my Lords. Whilst we are emphasising this campaign at Christmas because it is a fact that there is a rise in the number of accidents at Christmas—it arises because a number of people who normally do not take drink take it at Christmas parties, at office and works parties; they forgo their lunch hour, it is a merry time altogether, and then there is perhaps greater danger from those persons on the road—and whilst emphasising the responsibility of everybody at Christmas parties not to encourage others to take drink, we do not want to confine it to Christmas. I am certainly not a teetotaller, and if somebody else is paying I may even have more than one drink, but perhaps one of the foolish things about us (if I may include all of us, or those of us who drink) when taking a drink is this question of being in a school, or being one of a party, of each feeling that we must each pay for our own round. Appreciating the difficulties and the dangers that arise from that situation, there is a responsibility on every individual not to accelerate or encourage it, but to do all that he can to discourage it. We are going to have this campaign, and we hope the results will be effective. If those results are not effective and an alteration in the law seems necessary, my right honourable friend will not hesitate to consult his colleagues to see how the law can be altered to make it more effective.

The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, will remember that at the conference yesterday a film was shown which was made by, I believe, Associated Rediffusion last New Year's Eve. No one could see that film and not be horrified at the complete irresponsibility of men and women out at New Year's parties in public houses—the television firm could not go into private houses: this sort of thing arises in the private house as well as in the public house, but more so in a public house—not only for their own safety but, equally, for the safety of others in other vehicles and on the roads. If an alteration of the law does seem necessary then, as I have said, my right honourable friend will not hesitate to consult his colleagues about it.

Another point on the "Drink and Driving" campaign, raised, I think, by the noble Lord Lord, Lucas of Chilworth, was whether the brewers were co-operating. My Lords, the brewers are cooperating and, in fact, posters—not the posters which are being shown on hoardings and in Press advertisements, but other posters—and mats (those little circular things they have on which to stand glasses and other things in public-houses) are being used by the brewers, and by the publicans, through the influence of the brewers, in furthering this campaign. I think it is fairly evident that those associated with what I think is termed "the trade" appreciate that this question of drinking before driving is a slur on the general conduct of their trade which affects their trade, so that the more they can do to encourage their customers to have a real social conscience, and to relate drinking to responsibility to the community, the better it will be for their trade. So they are co-operating to the full in the publicity for this campaign.


Does that comment include the distiller companies?


My Lords, this is one of my difficulties. Whilst I am a customer, I do not know much about what they call "the trade". I should think the distillers are included in it, but with my proletarian background I am much more concerned with beer than with wines and spirits. Therefore, I think of brewers as brewers; but I am sure that all are co-operating in regard to this campaign.

Equally, there were references to-day by a number of noble Lords to the police—the effectiveness of the police and improvement by the police in the enforcement of the law. Here again it is not my province—in fact, it is that of the Home Office—to deal with the question of the police; but as one who has a local government background, as have many other noble Lords in this House, I know that there is not a police force in this country which is not understaffed. All chief constables, standing joint committees and watch committees would welcome the first opportunity to increase their force and bring it up to establishment, to increase road patrols and generally to make their force more efficient. In so far as they can, they will do so, and are doing so.

In regard to the enforcement of the law, there is a further difficulty. Taking the question of drink and driving, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said that what one had to do was to stop the offender from driving again. Here, there is a responsibility on us all. If, for a moment, I can forget that I am speaking as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, perhaps I might say that one of the things that has worried me, as a magistrate, has been the fact that whenever a person is "picked up" by the police for being drunk in charge of a vehicle, and goes to a lawyer, the first thing the lawyer says to him is, "For Heaven's sake! don't have it dealt with in the petty sessional court; go to quarter sessions, and you will be very unlucky if ten out of the twelve on the jury are not drivers and you do not get away with it".

Now, it is tragically true—and perhaps it is a thing which has got to be looked at in regard to other matters—that many who ought to have been convicted and many who ought to have been deprived of their licences get away with it at quarter sessions on trial by jury. As I have said, this is perhaps a little more than I ought to have said when speaking for the Ministry of Transport, and perhaps it is a good thing that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor sits in this House without intervening in the debate as the Chairman of our Sitting. But it is a point which we have to bear in mind.

My noble friend Lady Summerskill referred to the question of youths on the road, as have a number of other speakers. While it is true that, as the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said, we do not want to put people in categories and make everyone a particular class of driver, whether a London bus driver or a lorry driver or a "ton-up" boy motor-cyclist or the rest, one must appreciate the fact that motorcycles are very dangerous vehicles particularly so far as their speed is concerned. It is twenty times more likely that the motor-cyclist will be killed or seriously injured in an accident than in the case of the driver of a car. That is a most serious factor in our road safety propaganda. The noble Lady referred to speed as a factor and also to the question of motorway accidents. I do not agree with her that accidents on motorways occur at a higher rate or that the motorist is more accident-prone on them. In fact statistics show, on the basis of vehicle miles, that accidents on motorways are much fewer than on the normal trunk roads. But what has been proved (and this bears out what my noble friend said in regard to speed) is that the severity of the accident when it happens, because of the speed, is certainly greater than in the accidents on other roads.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to elucidate one point. He said the accidents on the motorways are considerably fewer than on the trunk roads. Is he measuring them up to all other roads including urban roads or to country roads outside the towns?


I was measuring them on the basis of the normal traffic that goes on the motorways as compared with the other trunk roads. Most of the M.1 traffic used to come down on the old A.5. Some of it still does because the lorry drivers prefer to use the old road. When an accident happens on the motorway then, because of the speed of the vehicles, the severity of the accident is certainly greater.

Some very interesting figures have been produced out by the Road Research Laboratory and by the police. I should like to say that this co-operation between all concerned is shown up in the question of accidents and the handing-over of information from county police forces or borough police forces, and in the facilities they give to anyone who can assist them in their investigations. But what is shown is that the serious injuries could have been reduced very considerably. One percentage we have had is that about 87 per cent. of the serious injuries could have been minor injuries had safety belts been worn. It is not only a question of using safety belts. The Ministry is going into the question with the manufacturers and the British Standards Institution. It is well to have safety belts, but one must be sure, if a safety belt is attached to the car, that it is effectively secured and locked and that the bolts are effective. But if proper safety belts had been worn in those cases the severity of the accidents would have been considerably less. But it still means that one must reduce the number of accidents as well as try to minimise the effects of them if one can.

My noble friend Lady Summerskill referred to the question of breath testing. The Road Research Laboratory is carrying out experiments over the Christmas holidays as well as over a more extensive period. The test is, as the noble Lady said, a voluntary one at the moment. There is no question of requiring anyone whom the police suspect is "drunk in charge" to be tested. It will be a voluntary scheme carried out by the Road Research Laboratory inviting the co-operation of motorists; and I hope we are going to have their fullest co-operation. We cannot deal with road safety to the fullest effect unless in fact there is that co-operation with those who are using the roads. They will be invited to use the breath-tester in order that the Road Research Laboratory can provide the Minister with an indication from the tests that they take of the incidence of those using the roads having taken alcohol.

My Lords, we had a most interesting and useful speech from the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Winchester, which has been referred to already. He referred to the experimental schemes started by the last Administration in the Counties of Hampshire and Warwickshire. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, also referred to them. I am happy to tell him that the first year of those schemes is nearly completed. They have provided very valuable information and we hope not only to continue them but also to extend them in other instances. The right reverend Prelate referred, as others have done, to the fact that this is really a social question, a question of how we behave one to another. It is the fact, of course, as many have said, that, for some reason, when a person gets into a motor car he becomes far less responsible than in his other normal social relationships. If we could only make everyone happy to respond as he ought to do, then road safety would be a matter much easier to handle.

The right reverend Prelate referred to the question of witnesses and the lack of social responsibility of people not coming forward when they have seen accidents and giving evidence to enable the police and magistrates to determine what was right and what was wrong in regard to the accident. Here, again, one must agree; but it is also clearly true that perhaps we have some responsibility. Of course, if a witness is kept for a full day at court before a case comes up, and then has to give his evidence and be cross-examined and the rest, he will have found it to be quite an ordeal. Therefore he says: "Well, I am not going to do it again." It is true that the police and magistrates are handicapped in sifting the evidence because independent witnesses are unwilling to come forward. And more often than not the evidence of both sides is a little biased because, as one noble Lord said to-day, anyone involved in an accident never believes that he is responsible; it is always the other fellow.

I think I have dealt with most of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, in dealing with propaganda. I agree that we have collected a tremendous amount of information. What we now have to do is to make use of it in further action. The noble Earl, Lord Shannon, also dealt with the social behaviour of the thruster. On the questions of noise and smoke, I would say that there are Ministry of Transport regulations, and if offences are committed in the presence of a policeman or anyone who wishes to give evidence, offenders can be prosecuted.

The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, rather shook me. He said there was too much emotion shown about road accidents; that emotion tended to get out of hand. My criticism is that there is not enough emotion. It is only when the victim of an accident is a member of the family or is associated with the family that there is horror and tears. Most of your Lordships travel great distances by car, but how often do you actually see an accident? I have driven for the last thirty years and must have driven some hundreds of thousands of miles, but, although I have seen the results of accidents, I have never actually seen an accident take place. Therefore, I think there is a tendency for folk not to pay the fullest attention to the suffering in the home which is caused by the deaths of nearly 8,000 people on the roads in a year.

It is not a question of money. If we can find a method of reducing road accidents, then the money ought to be found. The noble Lord referred to the money spent on hospitals and saving lives at childbirth. What is the use of spending money on hospitals and saving the lives of children if we are not going to do our best for their safety when the children start playing with balls in the road? The more we can apply ourselves, with true emotion and responsibility, to the question of saving lives and saving people from injury on the road, the better we shall do.

VISCOUNT HANWORTH: My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, I should like to make my attitude quite clear. First of all, it is that emotion should not cloud our judgment and that the money which we spend should be spent to the best possible advantage. There is not a bottomless pit for money. I also make the point that we have to weigh up all the factors in every case against the number of deaths which are going to be saved.


I agree there is not a bottomless pit, but the mother whose "kiddy" is killed or the wife whose husband is killed, or the husband whose wife is killed, would not agree on the question of expenditure and the saving of life. I do not think that the previous Government or, I hope, any future Government would callously decide not to spend money to make the roads safer.

The noble Lord, Lord Foley, gave us the benefit of his experiences in America and referred to the question of uniformity of lighting. It is true that we have not gone very far. In 1919, the Labour Party suddenly became the majority Party in most London boroughs, and through the Standing Joint Committee of London Boroughs we set up a committee to inquire into, and secure, uniformity of lighting in the London boroughs. I served on that committee for three years. But London lighting is still as it is to-day. Last year, a working party from the Road Research Laboratory and the motor car manufacturers' and traders' associations went to America to study the very points which the noble Lord made this afternoon. They presented their report and it is being studied by the Ministry.

My noble friend Lord Dudley (I think I can call him "my noble friend", as we worked together for some years during the war) referred to the three-lane road. I entirely agree that sometimes the three-lane road is the most dangerous of all roads. Again it is a question of human behaviour. The motorist who gets into the middle lane, thinks that he has the right. The more we can do to reduce the number of three-lane roads, either by reconstructing them as dual-carriageways or by turning them back into two-lane roads, the better it will be. The same motorist on a two-lane road will not pull out and think he has the right of the road, because he has to go over the white line or the cat's eyes to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, referred to only one point with which I need deal (I think that I have dealt with most of the others in the rest of my speech)—that is, the possibility, which the previous Minister of Transport was considering, of a reconstruction of the Road Safety Advisory Council. As the noble Lord will readily agree, the previous Council was not so effective as it ought to have been: because it was too large, and, in spite of the excellent chairmanship which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, gave to it, many of those who came to it came as delegates of organisations, feeling that they had a responsibility to the organisations which had nominated then, rather than to the problem of road safety and the measures to be taken to deal with it.

The previous Minister had under consideration the question of reconstruction. My right hourable friend has taken up this question and has decided to appoint a small committee of five or six persons, under an eminent chairman, who will be selected for their knowledge and experience in the wide field covered by road safety, to advise him in regard to this problem, not as delegates but as individuals in their own right, speaking front their knowledge and experience. I am certain that this will be a much more effective body than the previous one.

My Lords, the final point I want to make is this. As I said earlier, there is no simple solution to this problem of road safety. No single factor causes an accident: it is caused by an amalgamation of a wide range of factors. But we can do much to tackle various parts which will eliminate some of the accidents that are taking place. The Road Research Laboratory and other bodies which are examining this can determine which factors arise most in accidents, and we can eliminate them so far as possible. We had a Question the other day in regard to road signs. I am certain that the adequate signing of roads, the signing in time and up to the standard recommended in the Warboys Report, to which effect will be given (the first regulations will be brought into effect this year), will be a contributory factor.

What has not been mentioned to-day, but I think is important in regard to road safety, is the question of the roadworthiness of road haulage lorries. The previous Government had its "blitz" on lorries last summer, and all sections of the community were horrified at the results which were shown by the Ministry's examiners in regard to the roadworthiness of lorries. The previous Administration had under consideration and my right honourable friend intends to give effect to it—first of all, the employment of further examiners to carry out more extensive checks on the road.

But what is more important is that we have under active consideration the compulsory examination of lorries on an annual basis. That has to be worked out in conjunction with the various road haulage and other associations concerned.

Here I would say—I think it is only fair to say it—that the vehicles of the best road hauliers are safe. Again it is a minority which is spoiling the good name of those in the road haulage business. But the Road Hauliers' Association and others associated with road haulage are co-operating with the Ministry, in working out schemes which will improve the maintenance of lorries on the roads. Equally, there must be, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, consultation with the manufacturers in regard to the construction and the ability of vehicles to carry loads; better enforcement of drivers' hours for which an additional 100 examiners are being recruited, and better control over the overloading of lorries. All this is being attended to, and I hope will become effective in the comparatively near future.

6.14 p.m.


My Lords I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, for his speech, and it falls to me to wind up the debate. I propose to trespass on your Lordships' time, because, as the noble Lord said, the debate has gone a good deal wider than I anticipated, and I have a long list here of points that I should have raised had the Motion not been so restricted, which list I would offer to the noble Lord afterwards in exchange perhaps for the brief which he did not read.

I am deeply interested in this whole subject. In referring to the noble Lord's speech I should like to thank him especially for drawing attention to the need for compassion in this matter. While we have been sitting here for some three hours three more people have been killed, and dozens of others have been injured. It is a dreadful thing. Compassion is necessary in regard to this matter. I have one point to make—it is not mine, but was handed to me. One of my consultants in this matter said to me: "There is nothing more infectious than bad manners, unless it be good manners". Is it possible that motorists, much in the same way as the Boy Scouts do, could make a vow to do at least one act of deliberate courtesy every day? Would that contribute to the better manners and so conduce to the better human behaviour that we have all agreed is so necessary in curing what we have set out to cure?

It remains for me to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I have one or two points. If I can pour oil on water no longer troubled, it is fair, in referring to the report on the Christmas accidents last year, to point out that there were no fatal accidents on motorways in those four days. This is an interesting point. At the same time it should be borne in mind that there was a speed limit of 50 m.p.h. on all other roads during that period.


I am glad the noble Lord has mentioned this point. My right honourable friend is considering instituting this Christmas not only the "Drink and Driving" campaign but, during the hours of darkness, a 50 m.p.h. limit on all roads except motorways.


Your Lordships will forgive me for going on very briefly. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said that he thought there was little need for further research. However, one point has come up in the last few days which is worth thinking over in connection with what I said about coordinating information, and that is the suggestion that lights should be put on in the event of a crash in fog on a motorway. That needs great thought and research, including psychological research. I have a friend who was President of a "Safety First" association in a town in India where I lived. Somebody said that he would break his neck falling down the stairs because there was not a notice saying "Mind the step". It might also be so on the motorway: if we rely on the police turning on a flashing notice to tell us there are crashes ahead it may prove to be a boomerang.

The noble Earl, Lord Dudley, referred to three-lane highways, and one of the points I propose to hand to the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, refers to this matter.

It is a point that my noble friend Lord Somers has often mentioned: the staggering of white lines, and perhaps the staggering of a double white line on a three-lane highway. Let us pray that, though we have been occasionally discursive, we have not wasted our time and that, as the noble Lord, Lord Foley, said, something we have done or said here this afternoon will contribute to the saving of life.

Frankly, it had not occurred to me to press my Motion, but now that the noble Lord has accepted it I am indeed grateful to him. I thank him for asking me to yesterday's conference, which I greatly appreciated. It was an interesting experience, and more of us should have been there. The noble Lord mentioned the film of the occasion outside the public-house last New Year's Eve. I must say that one of the gentlemen interviewed, when asked how much he had to drink, said "Seventeen or eighteen whiskies". He was then asked: "Are you all right to drive?" and he said: "I can white along a walk line" and the T.V. man said to him: "You cannot even say it." It was a horrifying film, and also included in it were short extracts of what is going to appear as part of the propaganda at Christmas time on television.

One other matter before I sit down. Turning again to the Report on Christmas Accidents last year, I would point out that it says on page 13: Christmas Day. 1964, will fall on a Friday. It is therefore to be expected that the increase in casualties in the Christmas period will again be high. Research goes to show that when Christmas falls on a Friday, that is the worst possible day, so far as the week's road accidents are concerned. I feel it is proper that that point should be mentioned in your Lordships' House, so that it may go on the record and help to contribute to what we all hope will be the outcome, a saving in casualties.

My Lords, I am instructed by the Clerk that, my Motion having been accepted, I have to specify the Papers which are to be laid upon your Lordships' Table. I therefore specify that publications regarding accident statistics or research published by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, the Road Research Laboratory, and Ministry of Transport from January 1, 1962, to date be laid upon the Table.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.