HL Deb 18 December 1968 vol 298 cc799-801

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many cases have occurred in recent months where fatal accidents have been directly attributable to the absence of dividing barriers between the up and down channels of motorways.]


My Lords, I regret that this information is not readily available. However, during a five-year study on 38 Miles of M.1, between 1962 and 1967, less than 2 per cent. of personal injury accidents were fatal accidents of this type.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that reply, may I ask him to bear in mind that, though the figures may be comparatively small, these are all fatal accidents. Indeed, in one accident, in which two men who were working for the Houses of Parliament History Trust were concerned, no fewer than three persons were killed. In view of that ought we not to contemplate spending more money on this very obvious remedy for a great danger?


Yes, my Lords; there is no doubt whatever that the accidents caused by crossing into oncoming traffic are the most serious that can happen. However, one can only work on statistics and allocate priorities on the basis of statistical information. There are other fields where we believe that the limited amount of money available should be spent before this particular field of expenditure. There is a point of road usage on motorways when in fact it does become justifiable, a point when more than 40,000 vehicles a day are expected to go past a given point.


My Lords, if I understood the noble Lord correctly, he said that less than 2 per cent. of personal injury accidents were fatal accidents of this kind. But can he say what percentage of fatal accidents were of this kind?


My Lords, that is another question. If the noble Lord wishes I will try to give him an answer.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that crash barriers are being erected in European countries? I noticed that particularly on the autostradas in Italy. Does not the noble Lord think that, if the Italians consider it a sufficient priority with their resources, which cannot be much different from ours, there may be a case for reviewing the priorities which are at present operating here and giving a higher priority to this particular safety measure in this country?


My Lords, the Road Research Laboratory is very well equipped to make assessments of this kind, and I am certain that this is a matter which is under constant consideration.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that on their M.1 type motorways the Swiss use a special type of wire rope and post safety fence, which is comparatively inexpensive and easy to maintain, and that they have used it with great success so far? This particular fence has been constructed and developed by British Ropes Limited and the Road Research Laboratory, and I am wondering whether it would not be advisable, if the experiment is successful in Switzerland so far, for us to experiment with something of a similar nature and thereby save a few lives.


My Lords, the Ministry are aware of this type of barrier but its erection needs a hardened foundation, and the total cost of the wire barrier is not very different from that of the steel barrier to which we are used in this country.


My Lords, is there not a great deal to be said for tough shrubbery in the central reservations of motorways which has a cushioning effect on any vehicle that gets out of control, whereas any form of rigid barrier is likely to result in a very dangerous impact and probably cause the vehicle to bounce back on to the highway?


My Lords, the noble Lord's second point is one of the arguments against having too great lengths of this type of barrier, because the accidents caused by a vehicle bouncing back into the path of traffic moving in the same direction can be as serious as a head-on collision. The point made about bushes in the centre is one on which I have answered questions in this House. I will write to the noble Lord giving him the answer.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the earth on the centre of a motorway is only 12 inches deep and therefore will not carry shrubs?


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the type of fence I have suggested does catch stray motor cars and helps to prevent them from bouncing back into following traffic?

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