HL Deb 18 December 1968 vol 298 cc811-92

3.2 p.m.

LORD FERRIER rose to call attention to the Ministry of Transport's publication Road Accidents 1967, and to the general question of road safety; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper I should like to remind your Lordships that it has been said that the road accident is the most serious social evil of our time. To-day, annual casualties run at about 7,000 people killed, nearly 100,000 seriously injured and some quarter-of-a-million slightly injured. The drain upon our economy was estimated, as for 1965, at £246 million. That is without taking into account the pain and the shock, the anguish and distress of countless individuals—factors which cannot be considered in terms of money. To use the more precise definition by the Road Research Laboratory, that is excluding costs ascribable to human suffering and the intrinsic value of life".

I feel, therefore, that it is proper that the situation should be debated periodically in your Lordships' House, and in my opinion it is a pity that some four years have elapsed since a Motion on road safety generally appeared upon the Paper. We had a canter around the course, as it were, last week on the Highway Code, and the subject arises from time to time—recently and significantly in the debates on the Transport Bill, and last year in the various stages of the Road Safety Bill.

Be that as it may, my Lords, it is a matter for congratulation to all concerned—for rejoicing, even—that the 1967 casualty figures show a significant reduction overall. I use the word "overall" designedly. Indeed, the latest news is that the figures for the first ten months of 1968 show a continuance of that trend. We can thank the drink-and-driving legislation, the 70 m.p.h. speed limit, the new tyre regulations, progress with regard to safety belts and, of course, the steady, if not dynamic, improvement in our roads. There is no Party political issue on the subject, and no clash of personalities. The Motion I beg to move is intended to attract contributions from all sides of the House to the end that this scourge may be further mitigated.

However, your Lordships will agree that it would be quite wrong to be complacent. That, indeed, is the burden of my song. Take, for instance, the dreadful fact that in London the number of child fatal casualties has in fact increased. The Motion refers to Road Accidents 1967, which was published by the Ministry of Transport and is an annual publication. It is not my intention to analyse its contents, for three reasons. First of all, an analysis has been carried out in the nine-page introduction to the book, including three significant graphs. Secondly, if I started and felt competent to do so I could speak for a good long time upon the subject—too long, indeed, especially as my third reason is that the number of noble Lords who intend to speak make it clear that a wide variety of deductions will be made in the course of the debate.

Let it suffice for me to say that there are approximately 11 million private cars and some 2 million goods vehicles on the roads. It should be remembered that their mileage differs, in that it is estimated that the 11 million private cars cover 83,000 million miles and the 2 million goods vehicles 23,000 million miles. So although the numbers differ, the actual road usage is much higher in the case of the commercial vehicle. Then we must remember that in this country we have 69 vehicles to every mile of metalled road, which is the highest density in the world.

In confining my speech to generalities I would mention in passing some of the numerous publications which have a bearing on the subject. First of all, there is the Road Research Laboratory's publication Road Research 1967, which is an important and very up-to-date document running to some 220 pages. There are also a number of supplementary Road Research Laboratory Papers which are published from time to time. Then, in 1966 we had the interim report on the 70 m.p.h. limit; and the White Paper Road Safety—A Fresh Approach was published in July, 1967. This latter, I believe, would have warranted a debate in your Lordships' House, but time was not available, though I believe it might have been found. This Paper was not only of great significance at the time, but it is to-day. Then, How Fast?—A Paper for Discussion was issued early this year, and no doubt your Lordships have had access to that. Then, of course, there was the new Highway Code, to which I have already referred. This is not to mention unofficial but penetrating documents, such as ROSPA'S Road Accident Statistics and other ROSPA papers.

This catalogue illustrates how interdependent are road safety and road and motorway design, road surfaces, road lighting and the kindred subject of road signs which were covered some years ago by the Warboys Report. Then there is the connection between vehicle design and injury prevention. This matter is studied not only by the Road Research Laboratory but by the Motor Industry Research Association; and it is a subject brought into prominence by the recent campaign in the U.S.A., which tends to show, I feel, that this country has been well ahead in this particular respect. The tyre, the glass and the accessory industries, too, are continually at work on research in their particular lines; and there is another important matter—namely, the medical approach to accident injury and recovery.

Then there is the study of pedestrian behaviour; and also the whole subject of motor and third-party insurance, to which the insurance industry is resolutely addressing itself and whose statistics will in time to come contribute to the mass of information available for the scientific analysis of the causes of the scourge to which we give our attention to-day. Nor should we forget the work of the motoring organisations—the R.A.C. and the A.A., the Motoring Schools Association, the Institute of Advanced Drivers and the like. I myself particularly remember the "Safety Number" of the Autocar magazine in February.

So many minds are being applied to the whole subject that my own main impression is that the most important and per- haps the most complex subject for decision now is the co-ordination of all this research. What is the right course into which to channel all these streams of study so that the greatest advantages accrue? This seems to me to be a necessary preliminary before the full value of scientific research can be obtained. To anyone who, like myself, has had the privilege of visiting the Road Research Laboratory, it is I think clear that the Laboratory is becoming that focal centre—which is just as it ought to be.

I can assure your Lordships that the work being done at the Laboratory at Crowthorne appears to be something in which the whole country should take the greatest pride. The Safety Division was my principal concern; but the work of the Laboratory ranges from road construction materials to road surfaces, from crash barriers to anti-dazzle screens and through vehicle design to such long-term problems as traffic control by computer and the analysis of the psychology of the motor driver—from the safe driver to the accident-prone. It is interesting that only to-day two of the Starred Questions concerned matters of this nature. At Crowthorne I saw films of experiments on anti-dazzle screens, on steel rope anti-crash barriers for motorways and of studies into the problem of (shall we say?) the vegetable matter that the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, suggested might be used. The problem there—and I think I am betraying no confidences in saying this—is that the ability of the hedge (or whatever it may be) to control vehicles depends on the angle at which the vehicle strikes it.

At the Laboratory I was impressed by the Director's insistence on meaningful research. I think this is very important. The emphasis is on objective research; not just research for the sake of research. Perhaps in his reply the Minister will outline the present proposals to replace the Advisory Council on Road Research (which is listed in Appendix 7 to Road Research 1967) and what progress is being made with the regional committees and the co-ordination of their studies. Incidentally, the appendices to Road Research 1967, which list the divisions, the committees, and the panels, g ye the student a good idea of the width of the spectrum of the Laboratory's work.

Seeing the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, in his place I am tempted to remind your Lordships of what happened on the last occasion that I moved a Motion about the co-ordination of rsearch. I was agreeably surprised, and then dismayed, by the noble Lord, who was then on the Front Bench, accepting my Motion for Papers. It was not long before I got a message from the Table asking me what Papers I wanted. I had not the faintest idea. Eventually I asked for a list of road research reports of the previous twelve months and in the Chamber the next day I was presented with them, tied up with tape. I left them in my place; but they followed me to the Library and eventually found a resting place in the Printed Paper Office. Until that moment I had wondered what happened when a Motion for Papers was accepted.

My Lords, I have nearly completed my task of launching this debate. If I may venture only one suggestion—one which is uppermost in my mind from a fairly extensive experience on the road—it is this: that the part played by the stationary vehicle as a cause, or as a contributory cause, of accidents is not given enough prominence in research or in the figures in the Green Paper. Consequently I feel, rightly or wrongly, that it is not receiving the due measure of attention that it should receive if it is to be the next step in reducing the incidence and the severity of accidents. The Minister may be able to give some indication of the contribution, if such is the word, which the stationary vehicle makes to the overall accident figure—for we must remember that much of that contribution is lethal or results in terribly severe injuries: halting or parking on curves or on blind rises; faulty or obstructed or snowed-up or dirty rear lights or reflectors. Perhaps much of this is due to the absence of any regulations regarding the warning triangle which is illustrated in page 23 of the Highway Code which we studied the other day. The use of the warning triangle is obligatory in some countries. Perhaps our regulations on the position, the number or the intensity of rear lights need overhaul.

However, my Lords, no speech introducing a subject of this nature would be properly balanced without reference to the police and to their arduous, often distressing and sometimes dangerous task of attending to road accidents. These duties absorb an unreasonable proportion of time when, below strength as they are, crime in all its aspects is presenting them with so serious a challenge. They know better than we that if the existing traffic and vehicle laws could be thoroughly enforced, accidents would be halved. I imagine that all your Lordships will agree that the grave responsibilities of the police in this field are being undertaken with energy, skill and compassion—not to mention the weary hours of somewhat wasted effort which go into attending the courts when breaches of the law have occurred.

My mind turns to the prominent part in the whole question of road safety which is played by the chief constables and their offices in endless negotiations with local authorities—who are nearly always co-operative. The chief constables' offices also have in their hands the preparation of the statistics which have to be rendered to the Road Research Laboratory and which are the essential material of the research carried out there. I feel it is yet too early to evaluate the success or otherwise of the special road safety officers envisaged in recent legislation; but there is a consensus of opinion that we ought to have more police engaged on law enforcement on the roads, more police seen to be on the job. But from where are they to come? It has been suggested that we should bear in mind that the motor industry and the motorists pay some £1,500 million a year in taxation and that only about one-quarter of that goes into road works. Would it be unreasonable to suggest that it would be an investment to spend more of that money to step up the number of traffic controls upon our roads?

My Lords, this brings me to my final point; namely, the responsibility of every road user. I include the pedestrian; but the pedestrian is not at the controls of a potentially lethal projectile. I lay my stress on the responsibility of the individual driver. All the research, all the effort, all the expenditure of the nation's treasure, are wasted when the individual driver is incompletely trained or neglects his or her duty to the community. No evidence in court such as "I didn't see the halt sign", or, "If there had been a '30' sign, I would not have gone so fast", or "I was late for an appointment", or, "I didn't know that my brakes needed relining"—no such evidence will bring the dead to life or will renew a shattered body. The ultimate responsibility rests with the individual.

It is, or it should be, a matter of conscience for us all. It is a problem of the spirit. I sometimes wonder what the Churches could do more than they already do to din into folk from the pulpit and through broadcasts that this social evil is a challenge for each Christian man and woman. No spiritual adviser of whatever persuasion could well do otherwise. Can the call go out that, no matter the provocation, no matter the temptation of indifference, or idleness, or bad temper, the individual driver's care and courtesy are the rocks on which road safety is founded. If evil communications corrupt good manners; if bad manners are infectious, there is, thank heaven!, an alternative which can be more infectious still, even in the turbulent society of to-day; and that, my Lords, is good manners. I beg to move for Papers.

3.21 p.m.


My Lords, I am very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, has put down this Motion because, as he rightly said, it is a very good thing that we should from time to time talk about this great problem. It is a one that has been with us for a very long time. I was looking up the figures of the accidents which occurred on the roads before the internal combustion engine came into use, and I found that in the year 1881, when the population of England and Wales was 26 million, about 1,441 people were killed in traffic accidents. In the year 1883, with about the same population, the number of fatal accidents was about the same. I think that was because at that time there was no great expansion in the number of people owning cars or motor-cycles, or in the number of people who drove carriages or drove horses. It was a fairly stationary figure.

We come now to road deaths at the present time, about which the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, has told us. Compared with the figures I have quoted, if it were possible to make a fair comparison, the result would be quite different. One of the things which has kept the figure down to the rather frightening total of 7,000 is that far more people who are injured in traffic accidents recover from their injuries because of the increased skills of the medical profession. But there is one unfortunate group of patients, for the most part young people, whose bodies are physically quite well but whose brains have been irretrievably damaged in motor accidents or -motorcycle accidents. I have been to one or two hospitals and seen such people. There are not many at the present time, but I think the number might guile well grow. To me these seem even more tragic cases than those in which people are killed. If the wearing of crash helmets by motor-cyclists could be made compulsory, rather than voluntary as at present, it might result in a reduce ion in the number of these really tragic cases.

One of the things on which road safety depends is the temper of the driver. I agree that it is wrong that a matter so important as this should depend on people's tempers. We should al have perfectly calm and equitable tempers; but unfortunately we have not, and I think that the people in charge of road transport should try to remove as many as possible of the things that make a motorist bad-tempered and irritable and cause him to do things that he would not dream of doing if he were in a calm mood. I have a few suggestions that I should like to make to your Lordships; and I will put them briefly, because time is short.

The first relates to traffic lane control. More of our roads now have traffic lanes, and I think that the lane discipline is deplorable in this country compared with what I have seen in the United States; though I admit that there are far more "traffic cops" in America so that the motorists have to keep it lane. But the American motorists do use their lanes much better; and I think that the lanes are better marked. Secondly, we should do away with as many right-hand turns as possible in big towns. They cause a great amount of traffic delay and create much bad temper. It does not take any longer to drive a greater distance in negotiating a left-hand turn than the time taken in waiting to make a right-hand turn.

I think that the "traffic boxes" at intersections have proved to be a very good idea. These yellow boxes, painted on the road at crossroads, enable traffic jams to be avoided, so that vehicles move faster, and improve the tempers of motorists. Then I wonder whether we could encourage, or compel, pedestrians to cross the streets at traffic lights. The system was, I think, first introduced in Italy by Mussolini—and possibly this fact may not commend it to your Lordships. But it seems to me that a valuable means of controlling the traffic in a big town would be to prevent people from wandering about the streets. I know that if you find a street which looks nearly empty you tend to walk straight across, and a motorist may have to pull up sharply. But it might be a good thing if pedestrians were obliged to cross the streets at traffic lights, even though there might be no traffic present.

There are two matters in respect of which we could make more use of traffic wardens than we do. One is the maintenance of much stricter discipline about the loading and unloading of vehicles in narrow streets, particularly where there is a yellow line or a double yellow line. Tied up with that is the need to prevent the pernicious practice of parking vehicles at corners, so that until you in your car are halfway across the road you cannot see round the parked car, by which time another vehicle may be on top of you. That seems to me something which traffic wardens could deal with, because at the present time we cannot add to the burdens of the police. They do a magnificent job, as the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, said, but we cannot expect them to do more and I think that responsibility for these simple matters, which do not involve terrible crimes, could be placed on the shoulders of traffic wardens.

Motorists and pedestrians might be assisted by the provision of pedestrian-controlled lights at crossings on broad one-way streets. It is a fearsome thing for a pedestrian to have to cross a wide road like Pall Mall, even on a zebra crossing; and it is an even more fearsome thing for a motorist if he cannot see the pedestrian on the crossing until he is almost on top of him. Another thing that would make for road safety would be to improve the skill of drivers. There is a tendency for people to think that learning to drive a car is a once-and-for-all operation. That is why I think that people should be encouraged to take the advanced motorist's test, or some other similar stringent test: particularly those who have driven for a long time and may have become stale. A man gets out of practice if he does not drive regularly. He may think that he knows everything about driving, but he finds that he does not.

Another point to which I should like to refer—and the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, did mention this—is that the number of road traffic accidents has dropped since the introduction of the breath test. One wonders whether it is completely logical to say that police cannot—I will not say lurk around the corner near a public-house, but cannot, if they see people coming out of a public-house and are suspicious of their condition, do a series of random tests: and not wait until such people are driving a car or behaving in a peculiar way, or until they have an accident. It seems to me that the purpose of the procedure is to stop people driving when they have had too much to drink. While it may be said that it is not fair on motorists to catch them before they have done anything wrong, that is not the point. The point is to stop them driving when they have had too much to drink, and anything we can do to encourage that should be done.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, I ask for the indulgence of your Lordships' House for this, my maiden speech. As the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, has said, this Motion is not a controversial one and I am sure that your Lordships would approve of any steps taken by Her Majesty's Government to improve safety on the roads and to reduce accidents. Your Lordships, of course, may think and say that the Government are not doing enough to reduce the number of accidents. However, I shall endeavour to say nothing controversial. I propose particularly to refer to safety belts, or seat belts as they are now frequently called, and also to children's safety seats. I should however declare an interest, as I am chairman of a company which has developed a range of protective equipment for children and now receives royalty income from one of the big safety belt manufacturers.

I understand that there are only two children's seats which have the approval of the British Standards Institution. They can be used by a child from the age of about two years up to nine years and thereafter the seat is discarded but the belts can still be used. Once the proper anchorages are fixed, the seat itself can be attached or removed easily. Neither the time nor the cost involved is much when compared with the life of a child. The other seats are of the type which hook over the back of a car seat and are thus most dangerous. In an accident such a seat would probably come unhooked and would certainly do so if the car rolled over. A seat with B.S.I. approval is fastened properly to the car and would remain in position, and a child fastened into this seat with the belt provided would have a much greater chance of being uninjured. The public should be made more aware of the danger of these hook-on seats, particularly when fixed to the front passenger seat.

Your Lordships will be aware that all cars registered after December 31, 1964, must have safety belts fitted for the front seats by the end of this year. I have lap and diagonal belts fitted in my own car, with three belts for the back seat passengers. My family—and I have three children—use these belts all the time and it is second nature to wear them.

Page 79 of Road Research 1967 sets out a table of 17 safety features in order of the ratio of their effectiveness to cost. The first item is "increased front-to-rear braking ratio to reduce incidence of rear-wheel locking". The second item is "fitting front safety belts (assuming 30 per cent. worn)". The Road Research Laboratory Report No. 16 on the effectiveness of safety belts states on page 1 that where safety belts are worn in front seats there is a 70 per cent. reduction in deaths and serious injuries and a reduction of one-third in slight injuries. These figures are also referred to in the White Paper Road Safety which also states that only 40 per cent. of those who have safety belts wear them. Leaflet No. LF 69 (Issue 2), issued in April of this year by the Road Research Laboratory, amends the 70 per cent. reduction in serious injuries to one-half. The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, has already given us the numbers of killed and injured on the roads. If these were reduced by half and the slightly injured by a third, there would be a great saving of life and money. To quote two figures from the White Paper Road Safety, seat belts are now saving 3,500 fatal and serious injuries in cars and vans, and if everyone in the front seats of cars and vans wore belts, we should save 43,000 such casualties. Surely the fitting of safety belts on older cars should be speeded up; and perhaps my noble friend Lord Winterbottom will tell your Lordships whether the Ministry of Transport are considering making the wearing of safety belts compulsory.

As your Lordships are aware, many accidents are due to human error, perhaps caused by impatience, the many restrictions, the bad driving of others and so on. One thing that irritates me, and no doubt others on motorways, is the misuse of the outside lane or, to be more precise, the right hand or overtaking lane. The noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, said during the debate about two weeks ago when your Lordships approved the new Highway Code, that if the Highway Code was obeyed by everyone, both drivers and pedestrians, there would be no accidents and I would suggest that all your Lordships would agree. In the section of the new Code relating to lane discipline on motorways, paragraph 114, it states that the outside lane—that is, the right-hand lane—is for overtaking only. The Code continues: If you use it move back to the middle lane and then to the inside lane as soon as you can. There is a very great reluctance on the part of drivers to use the left-hand lane and thus the middle lane becomes overcrowded and the overtaking lane has to be used more than would be necessary if drivers moved into the left-hand lane more often. Many drivers sit on the overtaking lane at a speedometer reading of 70 m.p.h., which is more often than not about 65 m.p.h. Such drivers are frequently reluctant to move to the middle lane when someone wishes to overtake. The driver in front thinks, why should he get out of the way to let someone exceed 70 m.p.h., and the driver behind, who may only want to do a true 70 m.p.h., gets annoyed and sometimes passes in the middle lane. I know from occasional timed checks and from my revolution counter when my car is doing 70 m.p.h. and I have often felt like passing on the wrong side. I hope that by publicity greater prominence will be given to the necessity to use the left-hand lane and to the need to get out of the overtaking lane as quickly as can safely be done.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, in his remarks about stationary vehicles. About two-thirds of accidents take place in built-up areas. I was proposing to ask my noble friend Lord Winterbottom about the use of headlights, but the Minister of Transport has now laid Regulations before another place for the compulsory use of headlights at night in roads outside a "lit area"—that is, outside areas where the lamps are 200 yards or less apart. I am sure that this will help to reduce accidents. I, however, would like the use of dipped or dimmed headlights made compulsory everywhere at night. The use of headlights in built-up areas is not so much for the benefit of drivers as for the benefit of pedestrians, who frequently do not notice sidelights.

The final matter I would refer to is the 70 m.p.h. speed limit on motorways, which is a source of irritation to many. As your Lordships will be aware, the Road Research Laboratory Special Report No. 6 on the 70 m.p.h. speed limit trial includes a section, on page 31, of motorists' views on that limit. A number of questions were asked of so-called motorists, but if one refers to Table 28, of the 2,243 respondents interviewed, 1,426 were without a current driving licence. The conclusion drawn was that 61 per cent. of all motorists—that is, those with current licences—were in favour of a permanent 70 m.p.h. speed limit. Of those who drove on a motorway once a month or more, the percentage in favour dropped to 49. Of the 2,243 interviewed, only 817 had current driving licences and only 177 drove on motorways once a month or more and many were incapable of exceeding 70 m.p.h. Surely one should interview drivers who use the motorways and not persons without driving licences.

The Institute of Advanced Motorists, in its magazine, asked the same questions of its members. Only 10 per cent. of those who replied thought the 70 m.p.h. limit on motorways was a good thing. This compares with the 61 per cent. interviewed for the Road Research Laboratory. Of the 7,079 who replied, over 90 per cent. drove cars capable of travelling at over 70 m.p.h. To the further question as to what the speed limit should be, 90 per cent. said more than 70 m.p.h. About 10 per cent. said the limit should be 80 m.p.h.; just under 30 per cent. said 90 m.p.h., 40 per cent. said 100 m.p.h. and over 10 per cent. said no limit.

The Institute of Advanced Motorists does not accept—and I agree—the conclusion of the Report on the 70 m.p.h. speed limit, that the speed limit trial was mainly responsible for the decrease in the motorway casualty rate. The Institute thinks that the removal of the lorry from the right hand lane, the fog warning lights and the advisory speed limit in fog, together with extra police supervision would inevitably play some part in the reduction of accidents. I returned recently from Leeds on the M.1 on a Sunday morning. On the section North of the M.18 there were no other cars for miles. In such circumstances, with a dry road and in a car capable of cruising well over 70 m.p.h., I see no reason why speeds much in excess of 70 m.p.h. should not be used. Raising the limit would cut bunching, which is dangerous, and reduce the time taken to overtake. Therefore, my Lords, on motorways I would favour no speed limit at all, but this would be subject to an advisory speed limit in adverse conditions, with strict enforcement, and severe penalties in connection with dangerous driving or driving at a speed dangerous in—that is, inconsistent with—prevailing conditions.

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, may I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Ferrier for introducing this debate, and congratulating him on the interesting speech with which he opened it. I would then go on to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, on his most admirable maiden speech, which we have all so much enjoyed. Many of us will remember with pleasure his distinguished father serving both here and in another place. I can remember, when I first went into the other place, the very distinguished figure of his father filling the Chair as Chairman of Ways and Means. Indeed, I remember one dramatic occasion when there was a dead heat in the 1950–51 Parliament, and Major Milner (as he then was) had to give his casting vote, which he did, naturally, on the side of the Government. He played a distinguished part in the other place and here, and from what we have heard to-day, I do not doubt that his son will follow in his father's footsteps and make an equally distinguished contribution here.

I enjoyed listening to his expert advice on certain aspects of road safety, and particularly on the matter of safety belts. I am 100 per cent. with him in thinking that probably no measure has been more valuable in saving injury in accidents; and my own view is that anyone who does not wear a safety belt, either in the driver's seat or in the passenger's seat, needs his head examined. But if I may make this suggestion to the noble Lord, who obviously has expert knowledge and some expert part in the matter, it would be a help if he would put his clearly ingenious mind to some rather better kind of fastening, which would encourage the use of these admirable safety measures, for at present they are often all too complicated and difficult to put on.

I now turn to some of the points made by my noble friend Lord Ferrier, and I refer in particular to his appeal to the Church to support the cause of road safety. Of course, the Church does this; and I know how much the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester regrets that he is unable to take part in our debate to-day. He has an urgent meeting which demands his attention elsewhere and is therefore unable to make the contribution which I know he would otherwise have made.

I was interested to hear the comments of my noble friend Lord Ferrier on the Report of the Road Research Laboratory, which, like him, I have read with interest. In the past, I too have visited their laboratory, though on its old site, and I agree with my noble friend that they do most valuable work. However, I should like to make a mild criticism for the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom. The Report seems to me to have got into a form where it has now become more interesting for its description of the methods of research rather than for the results of the experiments, and increasingly elaborate formulae are introduced into the reading matter, which may be understandable to the expert but are quite incomprehensible to the layman.

What I would suggest is that the authors of the Report might consider writing it in a different form, starting with a shorter report for the layman describing the more interesting research work, and especially the results achieved during the year as well as the larger research projects which are in hand and from which they hope to get some results. Then in the Appendix they might include this mass of material which is of greater interest to the expert. I think that if this were done it would make the Report even more valuable.

Turning to the Report, Road Accidents 1967, referred to by my noble friend, this Report and the recent figure:; given by the Minister in another place, show a most encouraging trend, and I should like to congratulate the Minister of Transport and the Ministry of Transport on the improved trend in the decrease of fatal accidents—and, indeed, all accidents. I do not doubt that the introduction of driving legislation has played a big part in this, and the Government deserve congratulations for putting it on the Statute Book.

I should say that I have always supported the statutory setting of a maximum permitted level of alcohol in the blood, or a minimum level above which there would be a prosecution leading to conviction, because experience has proved that it is impossible to get a conviction in court unless a statutory level has been fixed. I did consider, as noble Lords may remember, that 80 mg. per ml. was rather too low a level and might in practice cause difficulties. In the event, however, the admirable discretion of the police in operating this statutory level has resulted, I think, in a perfectly satisfactory situation: those who should be prosecuted and convicted have been, and are being; and the situation see ms to be working out well. I am not in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, in regard to his proposal to tighten up certain aspects of this law. There is a nice balance here. I wish to see the cooperation of the general driving public, and we must not make the task of the police too difficult. I should certainly like to congratulate the police on the discretion and wisdom with which they have administered this new law.

My Lords, I now wish to take up four points in this vast spectrum of road safety, and to discuss them for a minute or two. The first is the question of speed limits, to which the noble Lord, Lord Milner, referred so interestingly; and particularly I want to refer to the Report on the 70 m.p.h. Speed Limit Trial and the Government's Green Paper, How Fast? I would say that experience in this country and elsewhere has shown that speed limits are a basic weapon in the fight for road safety; and if we study the curve of accidents, we can see that the most dramatic reduction in accidents, in the whole of our experience since records have been kept in this country, occurred after the introduction of the 30 m.p.h. speed limit in urban areas in 1935.

Experience in other countries has proved the truth of this thesis. In the United States, speed limits are a good deal tighter than they are here. There they have reached the position where car ownership is almost universal, and this means that both in the comprehensive nature of traffic regulations and speed limits and in the strictness of enforcement they are bound to get ever stricter and more comprehensive. This may be regrettable, and obviously would be, I think, to the noble Lord, Lord Milner: indeed, it is to me, and I dare say to other noble Lords of my age who have in the past been able to drive cars fast, if they wished, without much regulation.

But I think that those of us who are enthusiastic motorists must accept that we have a future prospect in this country similar to that in the United States of universal car ownership, where everybody is going to be driving a car; whether he is clever or whether he is stupid, every adult is going to be driving a motor-car. As traffic densities become even greater, and as progressively everybody is driving a car, it is inevitable that traffic regulations, and speed limits in particular, will have to be set in such a way that the road is, so far as possible, made safe for the worst drivers. This means that the minority of very skilful drivers just have to accept these tighter regulations, including tighter speed limits, in the general interest of safety on the roads. I regret this personally, but even a limited experience of driving in the United States quickly convinces one that there just is no other alternative. We must accept it. Therefore, let us prepare for it as best we can.

I would suggest that two consequences follow from this proposition. The first is the absolute need to win the understanding and co-operation of the driving public—I emphasise "co-operation". The second is the need for effective enforcement of speed limits and other traffic regulations. If I may say so, I think that this Ministry of Transport pamphlet, How Fast?, which discusses speed limits in a very interesting and scientific way, is in every way helpful. I congratulate them. It is objective and understandable, and makes a sharp contrast with the Report on the 70 m.p.h. Speed Limit Trial, to which the noble Lord, Lord Milner, I thought most interestingly and penetratingly, referred. He referred particularly to the public opinion poll, which I think convinced nobody. The whole impression of that trial was that somebody in the Ministry of Transport had thought up the idea of a 70 m.p.h. limit on the motorways; that was established; and then they set out to try to find the evidence for it. My own belief is that had the limit been set at 80 m.p.h. similar evidence could have been found. Incidentally, I have always understood—the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, will tell me if I am wrong—that the police would have much preferred it to be set at 80, because it would have given them less impossible problems of administration. So this, I should think, is the classic instance of how not to win the co-operation of the public and how to make the maximum resentment at the same time.

The discussion paper, How Fast?, which is a later document, is thoroughly sound and I hope that the Ministry will continue with this kind of approach. It starts off with the thesis, which I have already mentioned, that speed limits are essential and inevitable. I think every responsible person would agree with that. It proceeds to discuss the various basic factors which are involved, and to discuss them most objectively, in order to arrive at the right answer. It is very well done. After publishing a document like this, the Ministry should proceed to consult with the various organisations of all sorts and kinds which are interested, representing the private motorist, the commercial motorist, the pedestrians and so on, in order to try to carry them with them in preparation for the further developments on speed limits which are quite inevitable.

I should like to ask this question. Here perhaps I should declare an interest. I am an active member of the Royal Automobile Club and also a Vice-President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. I do not doubt that ROSPA has been consulted and is giving some very good advice. But is consultation going on with the R.A.C. and the Automobile Association and with the various commercial organisations; and how is it going? I ask this question advisedly because I detect over recent years a deteriorating trend of the Ministry of Transport's relationships with these motoring organisations, both the private motorists' organisations and the commercial organisations. Those relationships have, I am afraid, worsened with the passage of the Transport Act. But this, I am sure, is a mistaken policy. The Ministry of Transport must exert themselves, whoever forms the Government, to win the co-operation of these bodies. They represent millions of drivers and we must have their co-operation if we are going to succeed in making the roads safer and in getting proper observance of speed limits and other traffic regulations.

I am not asking that the Ministry of Transport should defer on matters of policy. Of course they must proceed with what they think right. But there is a very big area in which they can consult, and indeed to some extent be guided by the views that are put forward from these quarters. I believe we could gain a useful bonus for the various measures which the Ministry must put forward in new traffic regulations if we could get a little more co-operation from these organisations. Already they do a great deal between them in promoting road safety. If their co-operation could be won, I think they could play an even bigger part.

May I raise one point here about 30 m.p.h. speed limits? This very objective document recognises straight away something which we all know: that all too many of these 30 m.p.h. speed limits are not being properly observed now. Cars move at an average of 37 or 39 m.p.h., it tells us here, which we all observe; and this is a mistake. When a speed limit is established we must try to ensure that it is properly enforced. If non-enforcement is tolerated, then inevitably the value of speed limits generally is weakened, and this is something which is against the interests of road safety in a very serious way.

This brings me to the complement to co-operation, which is enforcement. We must visualise a tighter enforcement of speed limits when they are laid down. If30 m.p.h. is too low over a stretch of road—and it is too low on many roads on the outskirts of towns—then it ought to be revised to 40. Ten years ago we did a good deal of revision and a number of limits of 30 were put up to 40. That ought to be done over bigger areas; and having set the limit either at 30 or at 40 we ought to see that it is much more tightly enforced. There is only one way of effectively enforcing traffic regulations, including speed limits on moving vehicles, and that is by mobile police.

May I refer again to the American example with regard to the number of mobile police? As the noble Low, Lord Milner, said, "speed cops" are around; they are legion; they are ever} where. They will give you little tolerance either on speed limits or on lane discipline or anything else. If you breach a regulation they will "nab" you. If everybody knows this, then everybody will obey. There is nothing more effective for good driving than the presence of a police car on the road, with "Police" plastered all over it so that everybody knows it is there. Everybody then drives a great deal better. If we see one here we know we shall not see another one for 50 miles, so once you have seen it and got away from it you can do as you like. That is no good, my Lords; we must have plenty of them.

Here I must "give the stick" to the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, about the Government's record. The Government have, as the noble Lord well knows, increased public expenditure more steeply than any Administration has ever done before in peace time. Yet they have not been able to find any more money for an increased establishment of mobile police. That is a measure of basic importance. My noble friend Lord Ferrier has referred to it; I warmly support him. Will the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, take this message back to his right honourable friend the Minister of Transport? It really must be given a higher priority. It will not only cover speed limits, but it will also cover lane discipline, to which the noble Lord, Lord Milner, referred. In this country we are on the whole fairly good drivers, but we are not good on lane discipline. We are terribly bad on that. We weave about in the traffic, and nothing could be more dangerous. I should like to see the law changed on this matter to make it an offence to pull out of one lane into another, which baulks the car which is oncoming. That is the law in America, and that provision is very necessary if we are to cut down the number of accidents involving moving traffic.

Finally, my fourth point is on education. The best time to teach people any-thing s when they are at school, and the best time to teach people to drive is when they are young. Boys and girls like learning and take to it very easily. There are certain basic rules of safe driving which, if they were drummed into boys and girls at school, would be remembered by them for the rest of their lives, but those rules go in with much greater difficulty when we are adults, if indeed they are assimilated at all. I know how difficult it is to fit anything more into the curriculum, and the educationists do not like it. However the R.A.C. has promoted some 450 junior driving courses. This is a good start. In the United States of America driving tuition in the schools is quite widespread. The admirable document issued by the Ministry of Transport, Road Safety—A Fresh Approach, tells us that the Government are making an urgent study of the project of driving tuition in schools. That was printed last year. Will the noble Lord tell us what progress has been made and what hope there is of a more general development of driving tuition in secondary schools?

Speaking of schools, may I say a word in support of the Government in regard to the policy of B.S.T.—British Standard Time? I hope they will stick to their three-year experiment. Naturally we do not like the dark mornings and they are dangerous for children, but on the whole people drive rather better in the morning than in the evening and therefore I think the balance is about right. I hope the Government will not be hurried into trying to take decisions on altogether too short an experience. May I conclude by again thanking my noble friend Lord Ferrier for giving us this chance to have this interesting debate, which I hope will make some contribution to road safety.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships have discussed the problem of road safety on a number of occasions, but to-day we are able to do it with renewed hope because after years and years of steady growth in the number of accidents and casualties, the tide seems to be turning. Chart 3 in the Report which we have before us is, to my mind, one of the most cheering things which we have seen for a long time. Those strange "worms", some of them black and some spotted, which have been steadily climbing up the page, have turned and seem to be beginning to crawl down again. This is surely something for which we must be immensely thankful, and I should like to add my own measure of praise and thanksgiving to the Ministry and the Government for what they have done. In the midst of much trouble and anxiety in which we live, here is something for which to be thankful: 666 people were alive at the end of 1967 who would have been dead if the casualty rate of the previous year had been maintained. Six hundred and sixty-six is a biblical and rather ominous figure, but in this case it is a figure for which we must be thankful. But, as your Lordships know, the situation is still bad. Almost exactly 20 people are killed on the roads every day, of whom two are under the age of 15.

To achieve the fall in the number of casualties much good work has been done, but there is still much more to do. I can speak only as a layman this afternoon. I have no special knowledge of this subject, but in the course of my duties I cover an average of 62 miles a day on the roads, and as for a good deal of the time I am being driven by somebody else, I am able to make certain observations on the behaviour of other drivers. It is from these observations that I should like to throw out a few suggestions to your Lordships—to put something into the pot, as it were, in the hope that those whose job it is to battle with this tragic affair may give some consideration to them.

The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, has already spoken about lights on vehicles, but one of the things which shocks me is how badly many vehicles are lit. Everyone knows that dusk is a dangerous time to be on the roads. If your Lordships will look at Chart 2 in the Report you will see how the accident rate leaps up in the late afternoon. This is the time when people drive with only their sidelights on (if they have any), but so often only one light comes on. Driving on 12 miles of the M.6 the other day, I counted 11 cars which had only one light showing. I passed a large lorry with only one rear light on the near side, and I wondered how long it would be before some driver, thinking it was a motor bicycle, ran straight into the back of it. This is something which could easily be remedied if the police would simply stop motorists with defective lighting and order them to present themselves and their cars, properly equipped, at the police station of their choice within 48 hours. This matter would then quite quickly be put right.

Again on the subject of lighting, many people seem to be reluctant to put their lights on at all in the afternoon. Yet in the United States of America it is quite natural for people to drive all day with their side lights on if it is at all dark and cloudy. Personally, I would make the lighting-up time half an hour earlier in the winter months, because if we cannot see each other on the roads how can we avoid running into each other?

As we all know, there are many drivers on the roads to-day who have no right to be there, for the simple reason that their licences have been suspended. Yet many of those who have been penalised in this way continue to use their cars. They keep their cars outside the areas in which they live and are known to the police, and they go out on the bus to collect their cars and then continue to drive in the usual way. The chances of these people being caught are very small indeed, but this practice could be stopped by regular checking of the licences of all people driving on the roads. In forty years of driving I can remember only one occasion when I was stopped and asked to produce my licence—and that was in the year 1934 Perhaps I have been lucky in this respect, although I can assure your Lordships that I do not need any luck on this matter. But it seems to me that if the purpose of a suspension of a licence is to keep dangerous drivers off the roads, then they must be kept off. And if we, who, I hope, are not dangerous drivers, have to suffer a little inconvenience, that might be part of our contribution towards bringing down the casualty figures and making the roads safer for all.

The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, both referred to the churches and to education. I am quite sure that on the assumption that almost every child in school to-day will in due course be a driver, everything ought to be done to increase the education of children in regard to the principles of safe driving, something on the lines of that excellent book Roadcraft of which your Lordships no doubt know. I think this could be done by setting out certain simple rules which could be explained to them, such as: "If an obviously faster driver comes up behind you, the sooner you let him pass, the better. He is bound to do so before long. The longer you keep him waiting, the more impatient he will get and he may end up, not by killing himself but by killing you." Do not say to yourself, "I will give this chap a run for his money"; let him go and get rid of him.

Another simple rule: if you feel sleepy do not deceive yourself into thinking that you can keep awake by willpower, because you cannot. There are two remedies for sleepiness at the wheel. One is to stop, and if you cannot do that take your shoes off and drive in your stockinged feet. I have done this on more than one occasion, and I can assure your Lordships that it is an infallible remedy, so simple and so effective. The third rule that I would drum into prospective drivers is to treat all pedestrians as irresponsible children and all other motorists as criminal lunatics. These are just a few practical suggestions and observations which I venture to put before your Lordships. Some of them, if carried out systematically might, I think, help to reduce the number of accidents, and keep those "worms" moving down the page.

I think we all know at heart that the problem of road safety is a personal and a moral problem, a problem of selfishness, a lack of consideration for other people, and of recklessness. These characteristics of human nature cannot easily be cured. They will not be cured by fear; by those dreadful pictures of widows and coffins and wrecked cars which seem to me merely to bring the whole thing into disrepute. Nor will they be cured by legislation and only partially can they be cured by education. There will always be bad drivers because there will always be selfish and inconsiderate people. We whose job it is to improve human nature know how difficult and at times heartbreaking this can be. But I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, that the Churches are very much aware of this problem. I have preached on more than one occasion special sermons about road safety and there is in fact a special society for church people who are drivers, in which you have to promise that you will keep certain rules.

One of the things which we can teach people is that safety on the roads can be achieved only if those who drive well and carefully are prepared to put up with a certain amount of inconvenience in order that those who drive badly may be stopped. This may mean some restriction on our freedom, but that, surely, is something which we should accept willingly as our contribution towards the general good. If the root cause of road accidents is selfishness, as I believe it is, then we who care about it must be prepared to show all the more consideration and self-control. This is something which surely we can offer towards the solution of this tragedy and so, please God, keep those black lines in the chart on their downward path.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon on a maiden speech of great interest and value, and I venture to express the hope that he will make many more contributions to our debates. I was also most interested in the points mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds. May I join other noble Lords in expressing my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for raising this debate. I have already apologised to him personally, but I must apologise to the House that I shall be unable to stay to the end of the debate owing to a previous engagement.

I have had a driving licence since I was 17, and, as your Lordships can see, I am not "Sweet Seventeen", et cetera, any more. I have driven many thousands of miles, not only in this country but on earth roads in Africa and Arabia and, like some noble Lords, in deserts where there are no roads at all. During the 16 years I lived abroad I came here from time to time for several months. When we do not see places very often we notice changes in their appearance much more easily than those who see them every day; and this is why I venture to say that there seems to me to have been very great improvement, both in road safety and in road manners, and that the Government deserve our warm gratitude for the strenuous efforts that have recently been made.

Much has been said about speeding. I doubt whether the number of prosecutions has much relevance to the problem of compelling the observance of speed limits. Anyone can observe that the mere sight of a police car acts as an instant deterrent; again and again on the motor roads I have watched motorists who have been exceeding the 70 m.p.h. limit slow down either when they see a police car or, as is quite notorious, when other drivers signal to them that there is one in the vicinity. Of course police patrols are expensive, and police themselves difficult to recruit, and in terms of men alone we certainly cannot have our roads more heavily patrolled, but I think there is a way round this which would cost very little to Government.

Several million law-abiding citizens use the roads every day, and I see no reason why a proportion of them should not be recruited as special traffic constables. Regardless of where they live, they would be empowered to report speeding and any other infringements of the law on the roads; the ordinary processes of the law would follow. They could be issued with badges or simply paper stickers for their windscreens and rear windows; and even if they did not make many reports of excessive speeding, or even if their reports did not lead to many prosecutions, their mere appearance would be some deterrent. I hope, my Lords, that the Government will be so good as to look into this suggestion. Done on a sufficient scale, and by recruiting perhaps especially from those regular long-distance drivers who are spoken of as "the gentlemen of the road", it could perhaps save many lives.

Looking round the area where I live, I notice also some other matters. Zebra crossings are not infrequently sited dangerously near to corners. Bus stops are often badly sited, some so near to traffic lights as to impede the circulation of traffic—there are examples of these in York. A matter which is causing great concern in the village where I live, Sheriff Hutton in the North Riding of Yorkshire, is the provision of a 30 m.p.h. speed limit. The centre of the village has a very dangerous crossroads which is partly blind. The village street is crossed by a B-road popular among drivers of cars, lorries and caravans as an alternative route to the A.64 from York to Scarborough, especially in the summer. It is also one access to an important centre of the stately home industry, Castle Howard. Every day in term time half the children in the village cross this crossroads four times a day going to and from school—not my children, because they are away at school, but I am just as much concerned for my neighbours' children.

Some time ago our rural district council tried to get a 30 m.p.h. speed limit instituted. As one of the councillors said to me, "We are just as much entitled to a 30 m.p.h. speed limit in the village—just as much to safety—as townspeople are in residential areas in towns". And anyone who sees the traffic passing over this crossroads can see that its volume is far greater during the summer months than in the majority of most urban residential areas. Eventually an answer was received from the county area highways committee that under existing Ministry of Transport regulations no speed limit was justified. Similar moves were made in the nearby village of Wellburn. In that village not only was the same dusty answer received but what some felt was an insult: the street lamp standards erected with council permission by public subscription from the village were decorated with de-restriction signs.

My Lords, I am greatly concerned in this matter, not only for children but also for many elderly people. In the whole of the North Riding there are very few speed limits in villages which are not on trunk roads. It could be argued that any speed limits are expensive to supervise. Of course they are, at least at present. But most villages have their special constables. We have three or four. If the Government would accept my suggestion of special traffic constables, surely this would go a long way to help. The two villages I have mentioned are within five miles of each other, and I wonder how many cases there are of this kind up and down the country. Have we really got to wait for casualties? Who are to be the casualties? Some of my neighbours in the village? Some of us, my Lords?

It would be unreasonable of me to expect the noble Lord who is to reply to this debate to answer any of these questions to-day. All I ask is that the Government should think again about speed limits in villages, even 40 m.p.h. before there are casualties, not after.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, I crave your indulgence for but a brief spell as I address your Lordships' House for the first time. On the complex subject of road safety I do not wish to bring up any controversial matter, but I should like to make two points that concern me deeply. As a former racing driver have driven very fast under varying types of road conditions, and I fully realise what a lethal weapon the motor car can be. I must confess to your Lordships that I should be somewhat less nervous driving at 160 m.p.h. than addressing your Lordships' House to-day.

But, in regard to fast cars, anybody can walk into a showroom and buy a high-performance vehicle without any regard being paid to his driving ability. I do not think that an age limit is the answer to the problem. Just a; there are good "rugger" players and cricketers, so there are good drivers, and so there always will be. Some people, whatever their age, whatever their experience, will never be fit to drive a car of this sort. Could not a simple secondary test be devised to ensure that the prospective purchaser is capable of handling the goods?

I feel it is possible to teach safe driving, and this brings me to my second point. As your Lordships know, at the start of every motorway is a sign expressly forbidding the learner from driving on it. But a driver can pass his test, and on that very day he may buy a car and drive it at 70 m.p.h.—or more if he flaunts the law—on a motorway, by day or night, without any previous experience of the conditions he may encounter. I am not saying that the new driver is the primary cause of any accidents on motorways, but simply that the very different techniques of this sort of driving should be part of the course. They cannot be acquired by driving at 30 m.p.h. or less in a built-up area.

I am not suggesting that learner-drivers should be taken on motorways by their friends or family, as this might well be a case of "the blind leading the blind"; but it would be sensible for properly recognised driving schools to be allowed to take their pupils, when they have reached the necessary advanced stage, on the motorway and teach them the correct method of driving. I realise that many people live too far away from motorways for this to be practicable, but could not certain town centres acquire simulators for hire to both driving schools and individuals? I know that these are very expensive, but in the light of some of the horrifying accidents that occur I would ask: does one view the loss of human life that cheaply?

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, it is my pleasant duty to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Portman, on an excellent maiden speech on a subject about which he obviously knows what he is saying. We have heard three excellent maiden speeches to-day, and I sincerely hope (this is of course a common thing to say after all maiden speeches, but I really mean it) that we shall hear the noble Lords often again. If things go on as we fear they are going, they will still be allowed, by gracious permission of Her Majesty's Government, to speak, and I hope that the noble Lords will make full use of that privilege.

This Report, Road Accidents 1967, that we are discussing is all very well in its way, but one has to remember that statistics, while giving a picture of what has actually happened in the rise or fall in the number of accidents, do not give any information as to how they happen, who was to blame, what were the conditions at the time, or anything of that sort. Therefore, while I realise the value of the Report, I think that in certain ways its value is to some extent limited. For instance, let us look at Table 6.

Many noble Lords before me have mentioned the beneficial effect of the introduction of the Road Safety Act 1967. I entirely agree with them, but I think it is a pity that it was not introduced many years before. On the other hand, these statistics prove to me what I had always felt to be the case. It will be seen that the fall in total fatalities between 1966 and 1967 was only a matter of a little over 600, on a total of 7,000. That proves to me absolutely certainly that drink is not the main cause of road accidents. I have always held that view. I think it is an important cause, and that the then Minister of Transport was quite right to introduce that Bill which I supported; but I do not think that it is the main cause. I think the main cause is bad manners, lack of consideration for other people. When one observes the way that drivers can thrust past, without the slightest knowledge that they are going to be able to get past without hitting one, it is quite frightening. Sometimes in the outer London area I have had people overtaking on the nearside, then, on discovering that there is something parked just in front of them, having to swerve out in front of my nose. It is not pleasant. But that is really due to what I may call the "pusher" instinct.

Incidentally, there is a note to Table 5 on page 10 of the Introduction which I think is rather interesting. It speaks about fatalities on two-wheeled vehicles, and it concludes with what I feel is a piece of quite profound research: The overall downward trend in these casualties is due mainly to the declining use of two-wheeled motor vehicles. That conclusion must have taken a great deal of working out! I feel sure that that is one of the great achievements of the Road Research Laboratory. I have nothing to say against the members of that particular body, who I feel are all qualified gentlemen with degrees in civil engineering. But what is needed to find out the causes of danger on the road is not academic knowledge but plain experience at the wheel. That, I am afraid, is what they are so often sadly lacking.

Now let us look at Table 17 in the Report, detailing the numbers killed during the hours of daylight and darkness. I think this is most misleading. It seems to imply that fewer people are killed during the hours of darkness than during daylight. Of course that is so, because during most of the year, until this year, all the peak hour driving has been done in daylight. Naturally, there are fewer drivers out at night, and therefore there are fewer accidents. My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford said this afternoon that people are apt to drive more carefully in the dark. Of course they are.


My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend? I said that, on the whole, people are apt to drive more carefully in the morning than in the evening.


Well, the morning is dark; so it comes to the same thing.


Not at all.


Yes; I think that is probably so. But of course one has to remember that in pitch darkness it is far more dangerous to drive. Therefore, if motorists drive, say, 10 per cent, more carefully it is not surprising, considering that it is 100 per cent, more dangerous, as British Standard Time is in force and most local authorities have not seen to it that the roads are properly lit in the mornings. My wife has to drive to her work in pitch darkness every morning. She is usually moving down the road just before 8 o'clock. She tells me that on many stretches of road which in the evening are normally properly lit, there have been as many as three or four street lamps completely out, followed by one which is half on. That does not make for safety. What is worse, of course, is that children have to go to school in the dark, and that makes for a great deal of danger. My wife's work is at a school, and the difficulties which the children have experienced in crossing the road—which, incidentally, is a very dangerous one from the point of view of traffic—have been immense. I suggest that school patrol crossing wardens should have an electrically illuminated sign with the words, "Stop, Children crossing" on it, which any approaching motorist could see in pitch darkness.

Table 18 shows that the highest rate of casualties among car drivers is in the 20 to 24 age group. That confirms a suspicion that I have had for many years, that is, that the young drivers who have just passed their test, and have just been able to buy a small red sports car, are among the most dangerous drivers on the road. To my mind this emphasises what I have felt to be an outstanding need for a long time, that is, the need for a dual test. It is no use thinking that the moment you have passed your driving test you are a 100 per cent, skilled driver You simply are not. Your driving education has not finished; it has begun. Therefore, I say that you should most certainly have a beginner's licence and be forced to wear plates, perhaps with a "P" for preliminary, or something like that, and that you should be limited to 45 m.p.h. until such time as you choose to take the advanced test. Of course, I am not speaking of the advanced test of my own Institute, the Institute of Advanced Motorists, but any advanced test that the Ministry of Transport seeks to introduce, which I think would probably be very similar.

I should like to read, apropos of that, a letter from an Australian, who says: The standard of driving in this country"— that is in Australia— is nothing short of appalling, although this may be attributed to the actual driving test which seems to be if you can go forward and go backward, you can drive. In most cases the testing time is something like 20 minutes, and I cannot believe anyone can be tested in such a short period of time. However, after passing a driving test a person must display a 'P' sign on his car for 12 months 2nd may not exceed 45 m.p.h. whilst driving, otherwise a loss of licence seems to be inevitable if one is caught by the police. It seems lo work rather well, and Britain could do worse than give it a try. I entirely agree with that. We have urged this introduction of the dual test many times, and it is a great pity that the Government do not feel that something should be done about it. The ordinary standard driving test is obviously inadequate owing to lack of time. When you think that a driving examiner has to put his examinee through his course and ask questions all in about a quarter of an hour, it obviously cannot be very complete. He can only ask the driver whether he has read the Highway Code and, as I pointed out only a fortnight ago, a driver can say that he has read the Highway Code if he has read only the first page.

Some of your Lordships may have seen an article in the Daily Telegraph which says: There may well be a large group of British motorists psychologically incapable of learning the meaning of road signs, according to the most recent survey conducted by Mass Observation. It is found that 36 per cent, of motorists questioned gave the wrong answer when asked to identify the ' All Motor Vehicles Prohibited' sign, and 31 per cent, did not know what the sign was. The proportion of wrong answers in the most recent survey was higher in some cases than in a test conducted a year ago. One man in Bournemouth told a researcher who asked him to recognise signs that he did not know any of them because he only drove locally. "They don't have signs like that here', he said. If that is to be the standard on which you gain a licence to drive a car anywhere in this country, then heaven help us!

Table 21 of Road Accidents 1967 gives the manoeuvres and actions of riders and drivers and number of learner drivers in fatal or serious accidents. Under "Manoeuvres", the highest one in all cases was, "Going ahead, not overtaking". This seems to imply that it is highly dangerous to drive a car at all. I think that some clarification of that phrase might be made. I do not know what "Going ahead, not overtaking" means. Anybody who drives a car at all is going ahead, and presumably most of the time he is not overtaking. All in all, I think this publication tells us very little about the main problem, that is, how to make the road safer.

I should like to make just one or two suggestions. I do not want to speak too long because we all want to keep our speeches short tonight. One refers to the question of lane discipline. There must be more strictly enforced lane discipline. To begin with, we must have very clearly defined lanes, and I think that that would be much better done by the use of gantry signs, such as they have in America, over the road instead of on the road. Certainly they are not very beautiful, but on the other hand they are a great deal more beautiful than having an accident. There should be penalties for moving out of a lane, in circumstances where one has not made quite certain that it is safe to do so.

In regard to teaching, I feel that it should be compulsory for anybody passing the driving test to have learned from a qualified teacher. At present you can learn from your elder brother, or your mother, or anybody who chooses to teach you, but it does not follow that you have learned how to drive; and in fact the driving test may not ever find whether or not you can drive. Furthermore, I feel that instruction should always be given in dual-control cars, because if the car concerned happens to have the handbrake situated on the offside the instructor can do practically nothing in an emergency.

I entirely agree with what was said by my noble friend Lord Nugent that speed limits are necessary and must be enforced. However, I should like to question one thing which he said. He said that when the 30 m.p.h. limit was introduced there was a much better standard of safety. We must remember that before the 30 m.p.h. limit was introduced there was a 20 m.p.h limit over the whole of the country, so what in fact happened was that the limit was made realistic. It was not just a theoretical limit but was designed for a purpose. That is what the average motorist is going to respect. That is why we must see to it that speed limits are made realistic, and then we should enforce them absolutely to the nth degree.

Another important matter is education from a very early age. The Institute of Advanced Motorists—I do not like to speak too much about them because, as your Lordships know, I have an intimate connection with them—have been doing excellent work in this field, and the Director of Tests frequently speaks to various secondary schools around the country. Knowledge of road safety is important, not only to the motorist or future motorist but also to pedestrians—in fact to everybody who uses the road. Motorists are not the only offenders. Many accidents are caused by foolish pedestrians, or foolish cyclists, or foolish dogs. One cannot train a dog to recognise traffic lights, and so on, but surely one can train his owner.

I referred earlier to the necessity for finding the cause of an accident. This is a most important matter. One must know what has caused an accident before one can know how to avoid it. Therefore I am going to advocate something which I know my noble friend Lord Merthyr thinks is absolute nonsense, and I am rather "sticking my neck out". I am going to advocate special motorists' courts presided over by those who are experts in road matters. My noble friend asked why this should not be carried into other fields, and whether we were to have special burglars' courts presided over by experts in burglary? It is not an exact parallel since burglary is a crime, whereas motoring is not. I feel that this would assist in finding out the cause of an accident and who was at fault.

My noble friend Lord Ferrier—to whom we are all most grateful for having put down this Motion—referred to the burden on the police. Would it not be possible to enrol a corps of traffic police or traffic wardens, whatever one chooses to call them—mobile people, who would be able to arrest those who were committing traffic offences and deal with nothing else, thereby leaving the police free to do their other and more important work? I think that this is a possibility. We all recognise the importance of increased safety on the road and we are confident that the Government also recognise its importance.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, explained exactly the amount of driving she has done. Therefore I feel that I ought to declare my interest by saying that, as an advancing octogenarian, I gave up driving two years ago, after I had driven for more than 60 years. The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, referred to the various documents, and I have a pile of them beside me. I constantly feel that what is most necessary is a study of the Highway Code, since it is easily obtained, and if people really want to avoid accidents that is the document to read, remembering that it includes advice to pedestrians.

A recent article by the Motor Correspondent of The Times remarked that the desire of many drivers of motor cars is speed. That may be encouraged by the advertising of new motor cars— advertisements which usually give the high speed of which the vehicles are capable. There was an instance in the same section of The Times, which described a small car which is so efficient that in a very quick time it can achieve a speed of 80 m.p.h. That was not its maximum limit, but what it could achieve in a very few seconds after starting. That is the speed car.

Then there is the sports car. There is a great deal of advertising of the modern sports car. I suppose that the "sport" which is carried out is to be done on the public highway, and it is splendid to be able to achieve the speed of passing other people and the skill of one's driving. A further article s being published at present and that is about the use of certain material in the construction of motor cars which makes them less damaged when they have been in collision. As a steelmaker, I have enough experience in research to know that this development will take a little time and that we should not expect anything of the sort very soon. But I always come back to the point that the structure of the car, and everything else, really depends on the driver. So many people feel that their friends are delightful people, always very engaging and very nice to know; but when those same people drive a motor car their character changes completely. These remarks apply to only a small number of drivers, but the Ministry of Transport publications make very careful reference to that fact.

We have already mentioned The Highway Code, which has been improved and was discussed in your Lordships' House a fortnight ago. The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, referred particularly to Rule 35, because it is very rarely observed. It refers to the distances which ought to be maintained between moving cars. Above the table which shows those distances, is the remark that then should be a gap of one yard for each 1 m.p.h. of speed, but this is a little confusing as the only time when the two figures are the same is at 40 m.p.h., when the distance between cars should be 43 yards. That is very easy to remember. But the other speeds are different from the number of yards. At 50 m.p.h., which is a fairly common speed, the distance given is not 50 yards but 58 yards, and at 70 m.p.h. the distance given is 105 yards. So it is a little difficult to know which one to follow—the table, or the rule of one yard for each 1 m.p.h. of speed, which I understand is favoured by the minister of Transport.

The white Paper on Road Safety sets out in paragraph 26 the need to give publicity to three important objectives. They are, first, to increase the road user's knowledge of particular hazards and how to cope with them; secondly, to induce a more positive attitude to road safety and, thirdly, to alter the behaviour of the exceptional people so that they do not put themselves, or others, at risk. It is constantly suggested that many drivers require such a change of attitude. I understand that it is compulsory to carry certain documents in the car. Surely it would be simple to require that a copy of The Highway Code was carried in the car. Mention has been made of the application form for a licence to drive a car. In the old form there used to be the question: Have you studied the Highway Code? It is suggested that a great many people put, "Yes" against that question when it was a complete lie to do so. They had not studied it. To-day that question is not in the application form; instead there is the statement, almost a direction: Read, study and practise the Highway Code. May I come back to my point? What matters most is the attitude of the driver and his care for others. I have here a card which I always have pasted on the windscreen of my car. It is grey, so that light does not shine through it, and it can be read quite easily by the driver or passenger. It is quite short and is a little litany which can be read while one is warming up the engine before driving off. This is what it says: From domineering driving, From the vanity of power, And the infection of speed, Good Lord deliver us. From carelessness and indifference, From the demon of impatience And the tyranny of time, Good Lord deliver us. From ignorance and ungraciousness, From harsh judgment And the flood of invective, Good Lord deliver us. From inattention and monotony, From the delusion of drink And the obscurity of fatigue, Good Lord deliver us. Grant us Good Lord, Divine courtesy to all. Awake in us an abiding care for the slowness of age, And the rashness of youth, Let our vehicles become instruments of Thy purpose, Bringing happiness to all who travel with us, And leaving no man weeping at our passing. This we beg in Christ's Name, Amen.

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, may I first join with those noble Lords who have congratulated the noble Viscount, Lord Portman, on his maiden speech. I cannot say that I would go along with everything he said, except that it may be a good point that recently-qualified drivers should serve some kind of probationary period and should display such probation by way of a sign on the car. The debate so far—and we have arrived at about the halfway point—has concerned itself with the people aspect of road safety, and, of course, it is very difficult to disagree with anything that is said on the cause of road safety. But perhaps I may be permitted, quite briefly, to disagree with the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, who would like to see a new special force of police. I feel that the existing force is very good and an improvement in numbers would satisfy all; but to have a new class, a new grade of policemen, is rather horrifying.

I rather admire the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for his perseverance in bringing this debate to fruition, particularly as it falls on a date so near Christmas. One can only hope that all that has been said so far, and all that is likely to be said, is not going to be lost in the welter of the annual Christmas message which comes to us in the Press, on radio and on T.V. from various important people. I sometimes wonder what value that message has, but perhaps it is only representative of the rather hysterical mania there is for motoring and motors, whether it be for life-saving purposes or even for taxation purposes. So I should like this afternoon to depart from the people aspect of road safety and concern myself, and I hope interest your Lordships, in the mechanical, the vehicle, side of road safety.

Only a few weeks ago I went to one of the Government testing stations for commercial vehicles and I was tremendously impressed by what I saw and heard. There is no doubt that although the testing fee, which includes the plating requirement, is rather expensive, the work being done there, the thoroughness of the examination and, most important, the sense of responsibility in interpreting the regulations can lead only to an improvement in vehicle efficiency and, in this manner, in road safety itself.

The requirements to take a vehicle are such that only 600,000 vehicles are involved—less than one-tenth of to-day's total vehicle population, and perhaps only one-twelfth of the projected vehicle population for 1970. So what about all these other motor cars? The average motorist—and the bulk of the vehicle population is made up of the average motorist—covers some 7,500 miles a year. The interval of service as recommended in the case of most modern cars is something about 6,000 miles; so we can see quite easily that a motor car which is, say, three or four years old may go to a garage once a year, apart from its compulsory test, which is now set at the three year limit, or may receive attention to a schedule once a year. During this time the car will have been through three seasons—spring, summer and autumn; autumn, winter and spring; or something of that kind.

I do not think that that is enough. I think a greater accent should be placed upon the safety element of maintenance and good repair; and I was encouraged to hear the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon when he was reminding us of the number of motor vehicles he saw quite recently without an adequate number of obligatory lights. I do not feel it is very good that the Minister in the House of Commons should lay regulations regarding headlights when even the regulations regarding sidelights are not being observed, and I should certainly like to see a far greater enforcement of the regulations regarding the obligatory lights before we move on to any other lighting regulations.

Another factor which has worried me for some little while now, particularly as I have been in the motor trade, is the proper carrying out of repairs. The number of vehicles involved in accidents in which there was personal injury is set out in the green booklet as 440,000-odd. There are undoubtedly a great number of other vehicles involved in accidents which are never reported, and there is no doubt that the bulk of these vehicles receive some damage to their chassis frames or their steering. It is quite usual, of course, to go to the garage of one's choice when one has advised the insurance company, and to get an estimate. If the estimate is of a minor nature the encouragement will be for the owner to see whether he can get the work done more cheaply and so save the no-claims bonus which may be involved. If, of course, the estimate is fairly considerable, it is likely that the extent of the damage also is considerable.

In the first case, the owner may very well take his motor car to a gaJ7age or repair place where they are not quite so strict about their responsibilities. Indeed, any slight damage to the steering track-rod or track-rod end, or something of that nature, may not become evident for some 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000 miles later, by which time the damage is done and there is no recourse upon the repairer. If the repairs are of an extensive nature, the owner is required to sign a note of satisfaction. In this manner the garage can get their payment from the insurance company. But I think it would be fair to say that there are very few motorists who would know whether the vehicle was satisfactory or not; and it seems to me that the insurance company's engineer or another suitable engineer properly appointed should be the person to determine whether the repair has been carried out satisfactorily or not.

There is another way altogether, and this is the way that I should like to encourage. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, if he will ask his right honourable friend the Minister whether his Ministry will give some further consideration to the thought that garages should be licensed. This is not the time or quite the occasion to expand this argument for licensed garages, but in this way we should be sure that every establishment offering a repair service to the general public had reached a sufficiently high standard, not only of technical ability but of moral business behaviour, and that they had a complete understanding of the laws of the country in so far as vehicles were concerned.

The only point which I would make at this moment of time to substantiate the argument in favour of such a licence is by pointing to the case of the transport manager who, under the terms of the Transport Bill, must now be licensed. If, as has been argued, for the enforcement of the laws regarding driving hours and vehicles it is necessary to have a licensed transport manager for something under one-tenth of the total vehicle population, then surely those in charge of garages—the directors, the managers, the service directors, the service managers or whoever it may be—responsible as they are for some 10 or 11 million vehicles, should equally be licensed and shown to be responsible and proper people.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, we have just listened to an extremely interesting and capable speech from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I hope the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not follow him, not from any lack of courtesy or interest, for I should like to do so, but merely in the interests of brevity, which I feel will appeal, perhaps, to many. I shall confine myself to the way in which I believe accidents are probably caused. Accidents are not, in fact, what they were when I was a boy—and more's the pity. In the early days of motoring, accidents were mostly caused by motors: not exclusively, of course, for the driver had to help even then, but it was certainly a fact at one time that cars were apt to be dangerous because of imperfections in their structure or design—the car fell mechanically short of its ability to meet the requirements of its driver. Nowadays, it is more often the other way round: it is the driver who falls short of his ability to meet the capabilities of his car.

The combination of modern cars and the infinitely variable, complex and, above all, rapidly-changing situations in which a driver finds himself has evolved into something which the driver can now control only up to a point—and that point is reached for most of us all too soon. We find ourselves, individually and collectively, in charge of a machine and in an environment which has already, largely without our noticing it, outstripped the power of the human brain to control. To put it more crudely, our roads are aswarm with good cars driven by bad drivers.

I believe that if we are to come effectively to grips with the problem of clearing the roads of injury and death, we must face the humbling fact that most of us, if not all of us, are pretty bad drivers—bad, that is, in relation to the demands that are made upon us. Years ago, at some stage of the evolutionary process, there was a time when it was possible, if we had had the foresight, to have prevented this state of affairs from arising. I for long cherished the dream that we might have two-tier motorists (like two-tier Peers or two-tier postage stamps) with two-tier licences and two-tier cars to correspond. Sadly, I have had to admit that this dream has faded—faded, I think, for the noble Viscount, Lord Portman, who mentioned something of the sort in his admirable maiden speech. It has faded not because it would be difficult to enforce the idea—it would; but I think perhaps it might be worth the effort and cost—but because it is too late; because the lowest-performance car which now comes new out of the factory is already too good for the driver who has just managed to scrape, with difficulty and at low speed through his Ministry of Transport test. This is a point that was made by my noble friend Lord Somers. Probably, therefore, differential licensing is for ever out; which means that the 18-year-old who passes his test in a Ford Popular is immediately able to hoist his skull and crossbones upon an Aston Martin or, indeed, on a Mini-Cooper S, a mechanical product which I am afraid I consider to be a piece of misplaced ingenuity on the part of designers and engineers.

I realise that I am being provocative in saying that we are all pretty bad drivers. I do not want to overdo it, but I repeat it all the same. I say that I believe this to be the major cause of accidents. Some say otherwise, I know. It is a very popular belief, and I have held it myself, that accidents are caused by selfishness and bad manners, by the "couldn't care less" attitude of most drivers when they get on the road. My noble friend Lord Somers said just now —I believe I am quoting him correctly—that the chief cause of accidents lies in "bad manners and lack of consideration for other people." Certainly we all recognise, at least in others, the symptoms so described. But are most accidents really caused like this? I do not think so. I take leave also to differ, with respect, from the point of view expressed in a recent debate in the Highway Code by my noble friend Lord Nugent who said: I think it is worth saying that if everybody obeyed the simple rules in the Code … the appalling toll of killed and maimed on the road would end tomorrow. This would certainly be so".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3.12.68; col. 91] I suspect—and I hope I did not misunderstand him—that the noble Lord, Lord Milner, attributed this remark to me, in which case I must accuse him of being somewhat controversial in his maiden speech.

Alas, my Lords, I feel that what my noble friend said would be so would certainly not be so. The toll on the roads would not instantly be reduced practically to nothing by obedience to the Highway Code. Perhaps I can most easily explain my fear by throwing out a few simple questions for motorists. I will not bother to answer them. Your Lordships will already know the answers. How can you increase the adhesion between the back wheels of your car and the surface of the road when you are driving round a bend on a rainy day? Before a long spell of high-speed driving on a long, hot day, say on a motorway, should you raise or lower the pressure in your tyres; and if so by how much? If you do not know the answer, what particular type of fatal accident are you making more likely, and how? In what conditions is a front-wheel skid possible; how do you recognise it; and what is the treatment? What is the correct reaction when a dog runs across your front in a busy street? Would you notice a change in the appearance of the road surface some distance ahead? What do you do about it, if anything? Where is your fire extinguisher?

Perhaps somebody will tell me that there is no need to know these answers; that one can get along without them. One can, of course. Millions have done so, and do so, and will do so. But some of those millions are in hospital, some are dead, and some will die. These six questions have four things in common. There is nothing esoteric about them. They refer to ordinary motoring. Neither knowledge of the answers nor the ability to apply that knowledge is officially required of any motorist. None of them is mentioned in the Highway Code. There is no reason why they should be. Finally, the difference between knowledge and ignorance of any one of them may on some occasion be the difference between safety and disaster. Such things form part of the ordinary stock in trade of the efficient driver; but they do not make him an infallible driver The requirement for that is unwavering concentration.

My Lords, passing the advanced driving test of the Institute of Advanced Motorists (which is based on safety) by no means guarantees that a man will drive forever safely; nor does it make him a super motorist. I have; and I am not. And in connection wit a different test, I might mention that last Thursday I met a police car showing nothing but useless sidelights in daylight fog. A driver may know his Highway Code and Road Craft Manual by heart and do his best to follow them. But it is still likely that, sooner or later, a rapidly-changing traffic situation will contain one factor, perhaps a quite small one, that will escape his notice. His reaction to the total situation will then be faulty and perhaps an accident will be caused; possibly even an accident in which he himself is not involved.

Let us remember that a single traffic situation may be composed of vehicles, several of them, moving and stationary, travelling in different directions at various speeds. Some pedestrians may be involved, a cyclist or two, signs and traffic lights. And all these things, their inter-relations and their significances for the driver, are changing all the time and must be observed and evaluated simultaneously by one part of the brain while another part is concerned with the clutch, the brake, the gear lever and the steering wheel and a third part, perhaps, with a chatty passenger.

I know that I make it sound difficult. I mean to. For I contend that a vast part of the danger of the roads arises from the fact that most people drive gaily out into the hurly-burly without ever realising just how difficult and therefore how dangerous it is. The car is so inextricably woven into the ordinary stuff of our life that we take it for granted that anyone can learn to drive it. But how true is that? I think that it is about as true as saying that anyone can learn to play the piano. So he can, I suppose, if he has a mind to. He can learn to pick out simple tunes with a finger or two. But does that make him a pianist? Hardly. He may have the ability, but he will not get far unless he has also interest sufficient to make him want to learn and the will to put what he learns into effect. How many people have both the interest and the will to learn as much as possible of all that adds up to the art of driving both safely and well? I think precious few. And even the best may have an occasional lapse, only momentarily, very likely; but what if it should happen at the precise moment that spells calamity? Your Lordships may remember some years ago a fatal crash involving only a single driver and a single car. But the driver was the motor racing champion of the world.

My Lords, I say that even if all the selfish and "couldn't-care-less" drivers were banished from the roads to-morrow accidents would still not be decreased by so very much—because the roads would still be cluttered up with people who, to return to the piano-playing metaphor, can strum a bit and not much more. And the curious thing is that improvements even in the safety of cars produce their hazards for the unthinking driver. Brakes, for example. The better your brakes, the more sure you are of being able to stop in an emergency. You can afford to drive a little faster, therefore. Can you? Is this perhaps the reason why the skidding rate—that is to say, the percentage of personal injury accidents in which skidding occurs—on dry roads increased in every year from 1959 to 1966? In giving these figures in their 1967 Report the Road Research Laboratory added the remark: Accident data also show that there is an increased risk of skidding on the faster roads whatever their state. Better roads, better tyres, better road holding, better brakes; but more skidding. And who is to blame, if not the driver?

My Lords, I am not a defeatist; nor do I claim that accidents cannot be prevented. I am arguing that if they are to be prevented people must learn to drive better. As has been pointed out several times this afternoon the accident figures for the last two years have fallen. while the volume of traffic has increased; and in that there is much cause for satisfaction and congratulation to the people concerned. But the appalling truth remains that last year 100,000 people were killed or seriously injured. It is not necessary to be a pessimist to see that, while more rigorous law enforcement and various other expedients might—and no doubt would—help, no amount of engineering, on the roads or in the factories, is going to bring these figures down very much.

I pin more faith in two other lines of attack, one long-term, the other less so. By the former I mean the type of research now being carried on, with marvellous patience, by the psychologists at the Road Research Laboratory Safety Division. The object of this research, put simply, is to try to find out why people drive badly and have accidents, and whether they could be better taught before they take to the roads or re-trained afterwards. I understand that very encouraging progress has been made in this direction. I think that at this point it would be appropriate for me to mention that I also, in company with my noble friend Lord Ferrier, had the privilege of visiting the Safety Division of the Road Research Laboratory and I have nothing but praise for it. I should not like the disparaging remarks of my noble friend Lord Somers to go unopposed. I have the greatest possible respect for the Road Research Laboratory.

The other line of attack that I have in mind is simply education. Every possible encouragement and publicity should be given to such bodies as RoSPA, the Institute of Advanced Motorists and others whose business it is to give instruction over and above the bare minimum necessary to get a learner through the driving test. The most potent medium of instruction is, I suspect, television, which the Ministry of Transport already use with great effect. I should like to see it dinned into every road-user, including pedestrians—including myself—that they probably do not know either as much as they think they know or as much as they ought to know. They should be "softened up" and then told what they ought to know. They should be given a hint or a precept at a time by every possible means.

My Lords, one cautionary tale, a very short one, and I have done. Not long ago two children narrowly escaped death on a road in Northamptonshire. As they got out of their school bus they ran straight across the road from behind the bus. A car was coming, driven by a prominent and respected citizen, old enough to have held a driving licence for more than forty years. This motorist braked, swerved, skidded and finished up broadside on across the road. He said afterwards that, but for the Grace of God, those children would have been killed; and also that he intended to write to the police about it and complain about the poor instruction that the children must have been given. In strict fairness, the motorist might have added (perhaps the Chief Constable did, for all I know) that it was also by the Grace of God that he himself faced no charge of manslaughter. He did not seem to have thought about that. My Lords, I did not make up this story, I read it in print, and you may have done so too. It makes you think, does it not? Or, if it does not, then I say, with the very greatest possible respect, that it should.

5.24 p.m.


My Lords, coming near the end of a long list of speakers it is not easy for me to find something which has not already been referred to, but I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Ferrier upon initiating this debate. One matter which in my opinion can never be referred to enough is the vexed and seemingly permanently topical subject of speed limits. I think that it was in December of last year that I was asked to lend my support to a petition, sponsored by two widely read motoring publications, against the present 70 m.p.h. speed limit, and this I, very naturally, agreed to do. I finally helped to take to the Ministry of Transport a petition with well over a quarter of a million signatures, which had been collected in a very short time. If we had had a little longer in which to gather signatures we could have secured well over half a million.

Some of your Lordships may remember that I asked a Question in this House some time ago of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, about the action to be taken on a petition in the interests of road safety that I had taken to the Ministry of Transport. The Answer that I received was courteous but unhelpful. I think that the point for Her Majesty's Government to remember is that here is a great deal of opposition to the 70 m.p.h. speed limit on motorways and the way in which this limit was decided on, not just (for lack of a better word) by enthusiasts, but by all motorists concerned with road safety. I should like to instance a few of the signatories to that huge petition. There were motorway police patrol drivers; staff at the Ministry of Transport at St. Christopher House; magistrates; long-distance lorry drivers; London hospital medical staff; police and ambulance workers; staff at Aston Martin, Ford, B.M.C., Jaguar, Rover, Vauxhall, Rootes, Standard Triumph—to mention just a few people who should know what they are talking about.

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are notorious for making unpopular decisions, and the 70 m.p.h. speed limit was certainly one. Mixing, as I do., with people in the world of motoring I have excellent opportunities to gauge the view of the motorist and of the police. We cannot prevent road accidents completely, as has been said more than once this afternoon, unless the motor car is locked away in the garage. It makes little difference if you are travelling at 30, 70 or 100 m.p.h.: you can still be fatally injured. In fact the accident percentage increases as you go down the scale.

I submit that there was no need to take this panic decision after there had been some multiple accidents in fog. The limit has not stopped such accidents taking place. There will always be a "lunatic fringe" of drivers making the most astonishing manoeuvres and, frankly, looking for somewhere to ha re an accident. One can see this taking: place every day. Only a few weeks ago when motoring South in fog down the motorway from York, I heard on my car radio about a multiple shunt "ahead me, involving some 50 vehicles. I was not at all surprised. Speed does not necessarily enter into this matter. Judging by the way in which the vehicles were all bunched together the drivers were scared of losing sight of the car ahead of them and were following each other bumper to bumper. Incidentally, none of the motorway fog lights in the fog was working; but after coming out of the fog area one found that they were working. I think it would be a great help if some sort of maintenance was carried out in respect of these lights, which are a great help during foggy conditions on motorways.

There is only one way in which we can all help to reduce the severity of accidents on the roads, although we can never entirely prevent them from taking place, and that is to raise the general standard of driving. There should be more concentration, courtesy, and anticipation, and sharper reactions on the part of all road users, including pedestrians. Motorists should be made more conscious of their responsibilities at the wheel. Education, which has already been mentioned, is the key word; not so much by regulations which can always be defied, but by aiming at a high standard of driving. Road safety will never be achieved by considerably reducing the speed at which vehicles can travel, particularly on a motorway. Far more consideration should have been given to the new and obvious dangers arising from speed limits. There should have been more consultation with the motor industry. The views of motor traders and manufacturers should have been obtained, as well as of the R.A.C.; the Institute of Advanced Motorists, with whom my noble friend Lord Somers plays an active part, and other motoring organisations and clubs.

The safest place for a motorist is as far away from another moving vehicle as possible. My journeys on the motorways have shown me that experienced motorists use their common sense to adapt their speed according to conditions, but invariably in order to do this they have to break the law. To obey the regulations their concentration, which I have already referred to as being so important, has to be directed to the instruments on the dashboard, to the engine revolution counter and/or the speedometer, instead of to the road ahead and the cars around them. Travelling at these slower speeds for mile after mile on a wide motor road with an expansive vision splay a driver becomes careless, and is no longer the alert, quick-reacting, safe and skilful driver that he should be on a motorway. Slower speed limits make for sloppy, sleepy driving and lead to the multiple crashes which we are witnessing to-day.

There is another matter that is relevant, I feel, and should be considered in this context. As a nation, we have always been able to pride ourselves on our production of safe, fast motor cars, many of them the direct result of our great successes on the racing circuits of the world. But to export them we must have a strong home market and must prove suspension, brakes, tyres, steering, et cetera, on our roads and motorways at all speeds and under all conditions. Can this really be done, if we are legally permitted to trundle along only at 70 m.p.h.? This limit will discourage development by the industry of new high-performance models, a field in which we have undoubtedly had export successes, and just at a time when we want to promote sales of British cars overseas. And, more important, any permanent limit could discourage research into more sophisticated braking and suspension systems which themselves contribute to road safety. I am not implying that our motorways and certain other outstanding roads should become playgrounds for the owners of the fastest and most exotic cars, but even the most brainwashed civil servant in the Ministry of Transport would, I think, agree that a limit of 70 m.p.h. on a large proportion of our motorways is a ridiculous misuse of the facility they provide and must lead to frustration and accidents.

My Lords, I am fully aware of the fact that I have dwelt only on one aspect of road safety, but it is a very important one. A limit to speed through towns and villages and sometimes crowded areas of this nature is very necessary. I have an open mind as to whether that limit should be 30 or 40 m.p.h., but there are certain sections of road where the existing 40 m.p.h. limit is obviously too low and not realistic or likely to be strictly adhered to. I am thinking of the A.40, the Western Avenue out of London, where on this dual carriageway the limit is 40 m.p.h. The average speed of traffic cannot be less than 50 m.p.h. so why not raise this limit 50 m.p.h.? This could do no harm, and it would be appreciated by the average motorist as a sensible contribution to solving the problem and therefore should be more easy to enforce and less of a burden on the police.

My whole argument against a blanket 70 m.p.h. limit on our motorways is based partly on the fact that there is nothing to prove with any certainty that any drop in road casualties is due to this factor. In fact, I understand that casualties on the section of the M.1 and M.4 through Buckinghamshire rose after the 70 m.p.h. speed limit was imposed. Surely the more general use of seat belts, better radial ply tyres, improvements in suspension systems and the design of the motor car, and general improvement in road behaviour should be taken into consideration; and, of course, the exclusion of lorries from the fast lane. I suggest further experiments on motorways to start with a limit of 80 or 90 m.p.h., low enough for safety on such roads and high enough to be more respected. This is a limit which in my opinion would not be held in contempt by the majority of competent drivers.

I welcome some of the measures taken by the Ministry of Transport: the breath-alyser test, the exclusion of lorries from the fast lane of motorways, regulations on the standard of safety for tyres, the compulsory fitting of seat belts and the rules for roundabouts. There is still a lot which could be done in order to make motoring safer without punishing the motorist—for example, a crash barrier down the centre strip of motorways which will not deflect motor cars into the path of following traffic, more general use of Scotchlite reflector tape, more care everywhere in siting warning signs for road works. So often we see a man with a green flag and a red flag under his arm, which can be confusing to motorists. In Italy they use two large ping pong bats in red and green, with the green one showing and the red one right out of sight of the motorist. That seems to be a more efficient way of warning motorists.

Certainly the new Highway Code is a sensible document in most respects, though I feel that it is somewhat lengthy. The new international road signs are excellent, but long overdue. I am afraid that the regulations now are so numerous that there is hardly time to absorb the old ones before we have to find out about the new ones. I welcome the discussion paper, How Fast?, issued by the Ministry of Transport, because it stresses the need for speed limits to be realistic. I am also glad of the assurance that the comments of authorities and organisations on many aspects of this complex subject will be considered before a firm policy decision is made. I am not a conceited fellow, but I hope that the Government will pay some attention to the views I have expressed, which I have no hesitation in saying come from long experience and observation gained in all types of vehicles on all kinds of roads, both in the British Isles and in other countries overseas.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, first of all, I should like to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for not being present at the beginning of this debate, but I myself had a transport problem. My car was stolen. What net effect this will have on road safety I am not sure. Two weeks ago your Lordships' House debated the revised Highway Code—an excellent document with, in my opinion, one exception, to which I shall refer later. The Code showed how motorists and other road users could, by intelligently following its precepts, contribute to greater safety on the road. To-day I should like to suggest just a few of the ways, in no particular order of importance, in which four other groups whose decisions can influence road safety—car designers, the police, local authorities and the Ministry of Transport—could contribute in their own way to the goal of lower accident figures which we all desire.

There exist a great many ingenious, although expensive, safety devices which could in theory be fitted to every production car—the Ferguson anti-lock braking system, safety seats with built-in headrests and retractable seat belts, heated rear windows and so on. But in highly competitive world markets production car design, like politics, is the art of the possible, and unless the costs of such features can be brought down drastically and until some international agreement on safety standards is reached, we are unlikely to see them on the average production car.

All the same, in my opinion there are a number of ways in which cars could be made safer which would not add appreciably, if at all, to the cost of production and which would not thereby hinder our competitiveness in export markets. Take a simple item like sun visors. Some manufacturers have been far too slow in changing from the rigid type to the soft collapsible type, and even many of the collapsible types have sharp ridges along the seams, which could cause a nasty scalp wound if the car had to brake suddenly and the driver or the front seat passenger were thrown forward. "But", I can hear people say, "this would be entirely their own fault for not having fastened their seat belts." Possibly, but I wonder whether they would be entirely to blame. Why have not car designers and safety belt manufacturers got together to design clips for the buckles so that motorists do not have to fumble under their seats to find the belts every time or to have mounting points located so that they do not get entangled with the legs of the back seat passengers, thereby half strangling those in the front seats?

Venturing a little further into the question of design, I deplore the cult of the low roof line, a secondhand Detroit styling gimmick, without any genuine merit from the point of view of performance, convenience and (though this is a personal opinion) aesthetics. Most French, German and Italian saloon cars—of course I except sports cars—manage with the higher roof line, which allows a higher seating position and hence better visibility on undulating roads and also round corners where a hedge or fence intrudes into the line of vision. Such cars are also a good deal easier for the driver to struggle in or out of and, therefore, the driver's open door is that much less likely to endanger cyclists or motor-cyclists passing on the off-side. I see in the Report that 255 serious or fatal accidents were caused in 1967 by negligent opening of doors. This is quite a large number. Finally, although strictly this has nothing to do with road safety, a higher roof line usually allows a higher ground clearance, and cars with a high ground clearance are likely, by the nature of things, to sell much better in all export markets outside Western Europe and North America.

I now turn to quite another topic—it may seem a trivial and unimportant one to your Lordships at first sight, but I will explain why I think otherwise—and that is the emission of smoke from exhausts. There is a law forbidding this, but like the Litter Act and various by-laws directed against dogs fouling footpaths, it is splendid in theory, but all too rarely enforced. I hesitate to suggest that our overworked police should be given more to enforce, but I feel that the emission of smoke in the face of a following driver is not only a minor irritant but is likely to cause the driver to take risks in overtaking, to do anything to get out of the way of this smoke belching in his face, and to overtake on the brow of a hill or at a blind corner. And even when there is no question of overtaking, he is likely to become an irritated and therefore a bad driver. All in all, this is something that is undesirable, and I believe the law in this respect could be enforced with greater vigour.

The efficient enforcement of this rule is an essential requisite for the operation of my next suggestion—I imagine it will not commend itself to the Ministry of Transport—which is the re-introduction of the alternate offset double white line system on three-lane single carriageway roads. We have several hundred miles of three-lane single carriageway roads in this country, and for better or worse obviously we are going to be stuck with them for many years to come. They are intrinsically unsafe, because nobody knows who has priority on the middle lane. It is a question of judging the speed of a car coming towards you, and whether you can overtake in time to get round the car in front of you and so avoid a head-on collision. I believe that these intrinsically unsafe roads can be made safer by the use of the alternate offset double white line system. Most of your Lordships will know what I am talking about, but for those who have not experienced them, it means that a driver going in a given direction is effectively confined to a single lane for a mile or a mile and a half, and then for the next mile or mile and a half he has two lanes in which to overtake slow moving traffic in front of him.

About a year ago the Ministry of Transport ordered the abolition of this system, against the valiant opposition of at least one county council, the Berkshire County Council, who put up a good rearguard action, but who had to submit in the end. The reason given, as I understand it, was that drivers tended not to obey the rule about not crossing a double white line, and therefore they caused head-on collisions. This seems to me like saying that we ought to abolish banks because from time to time gangsters attempt to rob them. There really is no excuse for anybody crossing a double white line, except perhaps in the one instance (it is not a very good excuse) where smoke is being blown in one's face by a car or lorry in front of one. That is why I said that the effective enforcement of that rule is a prerequisite for the introduction of this one. Provided that drivers obey the rules, head-on collisions, which I feel must comprise a large proportion of the 13,464 fatal or serious accidents which resulted from overtaking in 1967, are impossible.

Eighteen months ago I drove up the East coast of Sicily a distance of about 100 miles, and I found this offset double white line system in operation there. What was remarkable was that even the enthusiastic Sicilian drivers were for the most part able to restrain their natural panache sufficiently to adhere to the rules, and it worked quite effectively. There were accidents, but not, I think, due to this cause.

I now turn to the question of lighting-up times. Here I agree wholeheartedly with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon, whose maiden speech, like those of the other two maiden speakers, we listened to with such interest. I am not sure whether he wished that earlier lighting-up time should apply only to stationary vehicles or to both moving and stationary vehicles. I think it would be necessary only for moving vehicles. For some reason, it is considered effete for drivers to put on their sidelights a minute or so before they have to. But I have never been able to understand this attitude. One sees people driving desperately along in almost pitch darkness, with no lights on. I feel that lighting-up time might coincide with sunrise and sunset, instead of being half an hour after and half an hour before.

I am bound to say that the Automobile Association, whose opinion I sought on this matter, did not agree with me: they thought that it should be advisory. However, I was pleased to see that Autocar, in a leading article about a 'week ago, also thought that there should be much greater use of sidelights by drivers in dim conditions, as distinct from night time. I said earlier that there was one point in the new Highway Code that I found fault with, and it is that there is no mention anywl-ere of this point. Paragraphs 88 to 94 inclusive (some of them are mandatory, and some are suggestions) refer to lights in varying circumstances—dipped headlights in fog, and so on—but there is no mention of putting on sidelights when the light is poor although there is no fog.

Another beneficial action which I believe the Ministry of Transport should take is greater education of the public on the workings of the new push-button controlled pedestrian crossings. I know that it costs money to advertise, and that we have to think of economies nowadays; but I find that in Kensington High Street (I live nearby) I am constantly seeing pedestrians who hive to scuttle for their lives as drivers drive through the lights, and particularly the yellow flashing lights. Drivers treat these lights as if they are merely advisory, whereas they ought to give precedence to pedestrians when the yellow light is flashing, which from a pedestrian's, point of view means that the green man is flashing. On the other side, I have seen drivers squeal to a dead halt when the cross is showing; they think of it not as a "Go ahead" sign, but as a "Stop" sign. I feel that a little more education on this would help; otherwise one day, if it has not happened already, somebody will be seriously hurt on one of these crossings because they have not understood their mode of operation.

My Lords, I have mentioned local authorities and the action they could take to minimise accidents. I have a specific one in mind; namely, the Greater London Council, which I know best. It seems to me that the G.L.C., perhaps in order to expedite the traffic flow—which is a commendable idea—may occasionally be causing the interests of pedestrians to take second place. If I cite two specific locations it is because I believe that many of your Lordships will know what I am talking about. First of all, there is the junction of Piccadilly with Duke Street, St. James's. Here we have traffic heading eastwards along Piccadilly turning right into Duke Street. It consists of buses, cars, lorries and taxis, and pedestrians have to scuttle across as best they can. There is no traffic light at the pedestrian crossing there. More notoriously, the same applies at Hanover Square. Unless things have changed in the past three months, there is absolutely no way for pedestrians to get safely across Hanover Square. I think that the subordination of the interests of pedestrians to a smooth traffic flow has in this instance gone too far.

Finally, reverting from local to national policies, I believe with the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that there is a considerable case for looking again at the 70 m.p.h. speed limit on motorways. I believe that the removal of this limit in certain cir-circumstances not only would not increase the accident rate, but might go so far as to reduce it. I am thinking of the professional drivers—businessmen, commercial travellers, maintenance engineers—who have to travel tens of thousands of miles a year. They are for the most part competent and skilled drivers. They probably cover quite a lot of their mileage, where they can, on motorways, mostly in the middle of the week—and this is significant in view of what I shall say in a moment. It is a very boring business to drive mile after mile up and down motorways. The bridges overhead come up in front of one with hypnotic regularity. I believe that the sooner the journey is over the less likely they are to become drowsy, to lose their concentration or otherwise find some lapse in their driving standards.

Furthermore, there is the question of drivers having to glance at the speedometer, to check that they are within the limit, and back again at the road. As I believe any eye surgeon or optician will testify, the eye takes a fraction of a second to accustom itself to leaping from looking at a nearby object to a distant one. During this fraction of a second the car may well have travelled one hundred or two hundred feet. I would not go all the way with the noble Earl, Lord Howe, in suggesting the total abolition of this limit—in fact he did not go that far; he suggested raising it to 80 or 90 m.p.h. I believe it is quite right that limits should remain in the following circumstances. First of all, on two-lane motorways. I do not think that we ought to have any two-lane motorways; but the fact remains that we have them, and we have to put up with them, like the three-lane single carriageways.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord on a point of explanation, I was not referring to trunk roads, but purely to motorways where an increase of the speed limit should be permitted.


My Lords, I quite understand the noble Earl; but there are two-lane motorways, with two lanes either side rather than three. I believe that this applies to the M.2 and to a good part of the M.4. Where we have slow traffic—lorry traffic—in the inner lane I think there is a lot to be said for retaining some sort of speed limit, because otherwise we have too great a variety of speeds in the outer lane. But three-lane motorways, I believe, are a different proposition.

Secondly, I think there could well be a case for retaining a limit during the hours of darkness; and finally, and perhaps most important, on Sundays and on bank holidays. On those days there are a large number of drivers on the roads who, through no fault of their own, are not adequately experienced in lane discipline; the volume of traffic is greater, and the general level of experience is lower. There probably is a case for retaining the speed limit then. The professional drivers who have to cover the large distances I spoke of are of course generally not travelling on Sundays, so they are not concerned very much. But I feel strongly, with the noble Earl, that on three-lane motorways, during the daylight hours on weekdays only, the 70 m.p.h. limit is not only superfluous but, for the reasons I have described, potentially more dangerous than conditions would be if the limit were lifted.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, my first pleasant duty is to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for bringing this Motion before us and enabling us to talk on this subject; and to add my congratulations to the three noble Lords who have taken the plunge and made maiden speeches. The other comment I want to make before I start my speech, which concerns two matters, relates to the speech of the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, who I see has now gone. She made a suggestion which I thought was worth at any rate a casual glance. I should like to tell her that this system of honorary wardens is employed by the South African Government with very great success indeed in the Kruger National Park where traffic has to be carefully regulated. The honorary wardens there sculling about put the fear of God into the people who are misbehaving. I think it is possibly well worth while looking at that idea.

I am a member of the Scottish North-Eastern Counties Police Board. That Board covers an area of Scotland roughly the size of Northern Ireland. I am afraid that my remarks are more applicable to the country than they are to towns, but I am led to believe that there is still some country left in England even now. The two matters that concern me chiefly are pedestrians and driving in fog. I believe that something could be done on these two matters without too much difficulty. I therefore obtained the figures of casualties in our district over the last three years. In 1966 the number of persons killed or injured was 1,684: in 1967 it went up to 1,747. This year, to the 30th of last month (the figure is a fortnight out of date), it was 1,507. Since then, to last weekend, there has been one pedestrian casualty in daylight and five more in darkness.

The percentages of pedestrians who are hurt in the dark are these. Of 207 killed or injured in 1966, 26 per cent. were in the dark; in 1967, out of 195 killed or injured, 31 per cent. were in the dark; in 1968, up to the 30th of last month, out of 201, 54 were killed or injured in the dark. The percentage for the current year is 28; last year it was 31 per cent., and the year before it was 26 per cent. So the pattern is very much the same.

That is all I wish to say in regard to statistics. I want now to make one or two suggestions, and I can only say that in spite of the hour and the number of speakers they have not yet been made. First, why should we not make cat's eye buttons? If you had reflecting cat's eye buttons down your coat and on your back you could be seen. There are often large buttons on a woman's coal—why should they not be cat's eye reflecting buttons? At least they could be seen.

Another suggestion is that in this era of mini-skirts why should there not be a very fetching sparkling garter? I hesitate to suggest that the men should be dressed in sparkling "nickytams"—if you know what they are. One fact that has been borne out is that during the "black-out" there were fewer casualties in the dark than there are now. The reason is that in the "black-out" nobody ever walked anywhere without a torch. Another suggestion is that shopping could be carried in a fluorescent bag. Paper carrier bags might just as well be fluorescent. One thing that people will not remember is that if there is a path you should walk on it, and if there is not a path you should walk facing the traffic. People will not do this. If they did, a large number of accidents would be prevented. This is something which I suggest should be put right by Her Majesty's Government.

May I next suggest that it is highly dangerous to park a large furniture van on the "upstream" side of a pedestrian crossing, which one is permitted to do. You may not park a car or stop a vehicle within, I think it is, 25 yards "downstream", but you are allowed to park a great vehicle right against the pedestrian crossing on the "upstream" side. In that situation, the driver of a car coming on its lawful occasions down the other side of the road cannot see pedestrians who are already on the crossing or who dart out, thinking they are safe when they are not. This could easily be amended in the regulations, and in my view it should be done. It is strongly advocated by our police forces and it should be considered by Her Majesty's Government.

Then there is the question of lighting. Villages and small towns are lit, but the standard of lighting is no more than sufficient to delineate the edges of the road. It is nothing like intense enough to give protection to pedestrians. Until something is done about that—if it can be; it may be too costly—to a certain extent the bad lighting can be overcome by using dipped headlights and not just sidelights. With regard to driving in fog (and this applies on fairly main roads) nobody likes running into the back of a vehicle in front of him, but the reason it so frequently happens is that the vehicle in front cannot be seen. Why in the world should one not put a red glass over a powerful reversing light, with which most cars are now fitted, and then in fog this red light could be switched on. One can reverse in a red glow just as easily as in a white light. It would be an added safety measure in a fog, because the brighter the light the further away people will stay from it.

One other point in regard to lights. In my view it is not so much the number of lights on the back of a car which should be specified as the wattage of the lights. If he can see a thing the normal person—unless he is a complete lunatic, and there are some—does not drive into it. One knows the success of the railway signalling coloured lights in fog. Why cannot that be copied on the roads? Statistics are apt to be dull, but I should now like to mention the case of Andrew Lang. He is a small boy of five. A week ago he was knocked over in the dark, his skull was fractured and he has now lost a leg. If we can stop that happening to one child, it is worth it.

6.6 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise for inflicting myself on your Lordships again, and I shall speak only briefly. My qualification for speaking at all is that some eight years ago, when we debated the Road Traffic Act, I drank a quarter bottle of whisky on an empty stomach (in the interests of the Bill and of society) and was pronounced fit to drive by my doctor. Some of your Lordships may recall that. Since then we have had the breathalyser, which undoubtedly has led to the saving of many lives but which I fear is rapidly losing its sting.

I wish to mention three points. The first concerns the police, whom the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, so rightly praised. But your Lordships may have noticed, as I have, that when the traffic is slack the police patrol cars are active; but so soon as the traffic begins to build up the police patrol cars just do not seem to be there. I am thinking particularly of Friday evenings, when the maniacs come out of their holes and put the fear of God into the hearts of the more careful and scrupulous motorists. Of course, it may be that on those occasions the police are so busy cleaning up the accidents that they have no time to mingle with the traffic, but I have an uncomfortable feeling that what keeps them off the road is a feeling of sheer helplessness and complete inability to cope. Take an empty road and a cold Sunday afternoon in the middle of winter and you will find the police patrol cars out in force, eager (one might say) for an easy kill. Take the A.40 or the A.41 on Friday nights, when everyone is seemingly trying to do down everybody else, and you will look in vain for the police car which, by its sheer presence, as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has said, causes drivers to mind their P's and Q's and their manners. This is a matter for chief constables and I suggest that the point should be brought home to them.

Next, I have a practical point that I do not think has been made so far in this debate, and that is the over-closeness of the new road warning signs at road junctions. In unknown country one suddenly comes upon them and at the last moment one has to jam on one's brakes. Would it not be a matter of common sense to take those signs back, say, five or six yards and so give the driver time to slow down? Perhaps the Minister will consider that suggestion.

Finally, I come to horses. Apparently it is a strange but true fact that there are more horses on the roads to-day than there have ever been before, but it seems that instructors attached to motoring schools do not teach their pupils to respect these most sensitive of animals, who are likely to buck or turn or do any manner of things, if they are alarmed. As anyone who knows about horses will agree, far too little attention is paid by motorists when either meeting or passing a horse. Those are my three little points. May I add one word of comfort? Last year, I believe the number of persons killed on the roads for the first time exceeded the number killed in 1934. Perhaps the Minister could confirm that, or other noble Lords may be able to do so. That, of course, does not make the situation any less tragic, but at any rate it does help to put things into perspective.

6.11 p.m.


My Lords, through the years I have listened to many debates in your Lordships' House on the subject of road safety. The majority of speakers, at any rate, used to dwell on the horrors of drunken drivers and speeding motorists. I do not propose to mention either of those two matters to-day as there are other points which are of equal importance but are seldom mentioned. I refer in particular to the question of eyesight. There are approximately 150,000 drivers on the roads who cannot read a number plate at 25 yards. I think this is horrifying. When I raised the matter in the form of a Starred Question in your Lordships' House I was informed that it was not really a problem because when a motorist fills up his driving licence application he has to say whether he can read a number plate at 25 yards. But that is not the point: probably half the 150,000 may not know that they cannot read a number plate at 25 yards, and the other half know full well that they cannot but want the licence, and therefore put down "Yes" anyway.

This problem is surely quite an easy one to overcome. We have to take our motor car to the testing station once a year. Why should we not all go along to the optician? Any optician could be licensed to do this, and with a simple eye test with letters on the wall a motorist would then if his eyes were good enough, receive a chit which he could take along to obtain the licence. I think I am right in saying that taxi drivers, if they wear glasses, are legally obliged to wear them at all times, and I do not see why motorists who have poor eyesight and can see well with glasses should not be made to wear glasses all the time when driving. I feel strongly about this point.

The second point I would mention is the question of lorries at night. I should like to see lorries lit up like Christmas trees all down the side and on each corner. The most terrible accidents have been caused by long lorries pulling out of transport cafés in the country on wet roads at night. Nothing is more dangerous. Many people have been killed and many more seriously injured. I may well be told that more lights would add greater confusion, but in the middle of a country road there are no other lights to confuse, and we are quite prepared to put up with red neon signs next door to traffic lights. I do not see why a few more lights should make mud difference; and in any case they could be coloured bright orange, which would not confuse anybody.

The next point is the question of vertical exhausts on heavy vehicles. I raised this question also on an earlier occasion, and the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, replied. The main objection advanced was, that diesel fumes might fall down on to vegetables. I do not think that that was a very good reply, if I may say so with respect. If what the Minister said is correct, why do farm tractors have vertical exhausts? Surely the main reason is to keep exhaust fumes away from the food. These vertical exhausts would eliminate the danger when following a smoking vehicle on the road. Such vehicles cause impatience, and many drivers are tempted to overtake when it is not safe to do so. I should like to see as original equipment on all new cars a simple device on the dashboard which would show a light when any of the sidelights or rear lights went out. You can check your lights before you start off—and some of us do occasionally; but on the way, for no reason, one light goes out; you do not know about it, and it is extremely dangerous. Such a warning light would cost no more than a few shillings, and I think it would be well worth persevering with that.

On the question of pedal cyclists there is a country in Europe (I think it is Holland, but I am not sure) where the pedals have reflectors on them. This is extremely useful, because one can see the lights going round and round and cannot mistake the cycles. Such fittings would cost possibly only 1s. 6d. a bicycle, and it would surely be in the interests of safety to make this legislation. We are told that better roads, quite obviously, make for safer motoring. I have always advocated toll roads, because if we cannot afford proper roads we can pay our way with toll roads; and those who do not wish, either from principle or because they cannot afford to, to use such roads can always go on the roads we have at present. This system works perfectly well in many countries of the world, have never seen anything wrong with toll roads.

One of the major causes of accidents is of course, turning right without due notice. There is nothing more infuriating than being stuck behind a driver who has pulled up at traffic lights on the left hand side of the left hand side of the road and who, when the lights go green, suddenly puts out his indicator and starts turning right. I think it should be made compulsory to signal an intention to turn, shall we say, 100 yards before coming to the corner. On the question of clearways, these are very effective, and I cannot understand why they are not extended to cover all main roads. In most other countries drivers are not allowed to stop on the main roads: they would be soon "shooed off" if they tried to stop in France, for instance, on a main road.

Finally, my Lords, I should like to congratulate motorists, because I think it is rather marvellous that after 35 years the fatal accident rate is only one-sixth the figure it was in 1934. One should also congratulate motor car designers and tyre manufacturers and all the other people who manage to achieve this. The death rate is still terrible, but it is rather fine that it is only one-sixth of what it was in 1934. On the subject of accidents, I would add this thought. We are inclined to forget that if you are unfortunate enough to have a nasty accident and get killed you are a headline, but if you fall out of your bath and break year neck nobody mentions it. Nobody worries about safety in the home. You never see a non-skid bath advertised, or bannisters with proper grips. I think one can get over-complacent about any accidents that do not receive publicity. I am cynical enough to think that if we have a debate on this subject next year, or in five years, nothing will have been done about any of the points I have mentioned. But I make them in good heart, in the hope that something will be done.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, sent a very charming note to later speakers giving us what might be described as an advisory limit; I do not know whether it was in the form of flashing lights. To comply with that, and despite road safety, I will try to go as fast as I can so as to take little time. I was delighted to speak at this stage because I follow the noble Viscount, Lord Portman. In the past when we were racing I was happy to be in front of him, but on this occasion, following him, I can congratulate him on a very good speech. One of the points that he raised was the question of tests. I am against two-tier tests, but I do believe that the tests we do have should be very much stricter than they are at the moment.

First, there is the question of skidding. Skidding was referred to on many occasions in the statistics contained in the 1967 Report. Few people of one's acquaintance know how to deal with a front wheel skid, or any other form of skid. It would be a good idea if, in every driving test, people were taken out on to a police skid pan and were checked as to whether they knew what they were doing. Then there is the question of the judging of distance and of speed. In the reports following an accident there are the most fantastic variations in regard to estimates of the speeds of the vehicles. Some witnesses say that the vehicles were travelling at 70 m.p.h., others say perhaps 15 m.p.h. The lack of judgment of most people in terms of speed is really quite fantastic. Some training should be given in regard to judgment of speeds. Again, there is the question of judgment both of width and of distance, of how close a car is and how fast it is approaching as you turn out, because, of course, most accidents occur at intersections.

That brings me to another point. I am afraid a debate of this kind always gives one a chance to air one's favourite points, and one subject which has not been raised is that of traffic lights. In some countries the traffic lights give a warning of amber to stop; they go from green, to amber, to red. In this country, however, for some ridiculous reason—I cannot conceive why—we give a warning to start. This gives many of the more impatient members of the motoring fraternity the chance of a good start in what may be called the Piccadilly Grand Prix. This is lethal. The lights should change from red to green, and there should be sufficient delay to prevent somebody edging forward at the lights and getting out into the path of the one person who thinks he has still got that second to get across. A certain amount of publicity has been given to this matter in the past, but greater publicity should be given to it. In regard to the cost, which is a matter raised in the White Paper, I would say that it would be relatively inexpensive to introduce this change.

Then there is the question of statistics as a whole. In the 1967 Report a vast number of statistics appeared, but I do not feel that they are very detailed, because admittedly it is hard for the police to put down more than a given number of causes for an accident. But when one sees such a vast number attributed to "lost control of vehicle", one asks what exactly did happen? It comes back to the question of skidding, because if people knew how to avoid a skid I wonder how many more people would now be alive?

We are all most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for giving us the chance of airing our views. I have the opportunity of again raising a subject which I raised earlier this year and which is the question of the height of bumpers on heavy vehicles. Some are so high with just the duckboard that with even a large car the first point of impact is the windscreen. On the occasion of a pile-up of consecutive vehicles this can obviously cause fatal accidents, whereas if there had been something lower down the "crumple" parts of the newer motor car could have taken the impact and not the windscreen. That is the point to which I think the Government should give serious consideration.

Another subject which is of great importance concerns road improvements. We are delighted when we see that money is to be spent on road improvements; but money always seems to run out on a road improvement at the most critical point. We in this House tend to say "in our village". Well "in our village" in Northumberland there is a perfect case of what I have just mentioned. A most distinguished lady in another place ended up in a ditch as a result of this difficulty. The road had been improved for a nice long stretch and then came something which would do justice to the old chicane at Goodwood. It turned hard right and had most people completely fooled. In this instance, this most distinguished lady ended up in a ditch and another distinguished politician had to assist her out.

The noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, raised a most important point about lights in fog. We all agree that it is ridiculous to have pathetic little sidelights on in a thick fog. You cannot see them until you are almost on them. I think more publicity should be given to this point. People should drive on dipped headlights, Then there was the point raised by the noble Viscount which worried me; it concerned brighter headlights. If one follows any of the more recent modern American cars one finds oneself completely blinded by their lights. This can be overcome quite simply by wiring the rear lights in series into the headlights. Consequently when one is driving at night these are not quite so bright. That is something which could be done on newer cars. Obviously, it is impossible to do it on all cars.

Finally, the White Paper lays stress on the fact that people think that accidents happen to other people. I should like to remind your Lordships of the advertising campaign that was put out by the advertising industry and paid for 3y the advertising industry, the major media and the allied trades to the advertising industry, back in about 1961. The slogan for this was: "People like you could cause accidents".

6.26 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, when he opened this debate stated that he thought periodic debates on road safety were of value. I agree with him completely. My only regret is that he is the only noble Lord of whom I know who in fact has given an element of periodicity to this, because the last debate we had on this subject was initiated by him four years ago. If he believes in the periodic principle, which I myself share, perhaps he could initiate another debate a little nearer this one than on the last occasion.


My Lords, if [ may interrupt the noble Lord, I put down the Motion some two years ago but it has reached the Order Paper only this year.


Well, perhaps the noble Lord could put down his next Motion now. Before I launch into the debate may I join with noble Lords in congratulating our three maiden speakers to-day. I think they contributed a great deal to the debate: Lord Milner, with his specialised knowledge of a problem which is close to the heart of the Ministry of Transport; the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Ripon, with his humanity and earthly common sense—I am going to follow his advice when the occasion arises—and the noble Viscount, Lord Portman, whose speech was an absolute model of pithy brevity, a method much appreciated in this House, and of particular value to-night for reasons which he knows. I know that we all hope to hear them again in future.

I hope noble Lords will forgive me if this evening I stick rather closely to my brief, because this will enable me to give your Lordships the views of the Government on various points raised by your Lordships, and I think you will find that the views of the Government and those of your Lordships are not in fact far apart. As the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, pointed out, in 1967 some 7,300 people were killed and 93,000 seriously injured on the roads. On every day an average of 20 people were killed and 250 badly hurt. And people have come to think of road accidents as inevitable. But the success of the Road Safety Act shows that they are not. By approaching the problem systematically and working from the facts it can be tackled and death and injury can be prevented. We know that the accident rate can be brought down if we can identify the major causes of accidents and deal with them. Any person is likely to be involved in an accident or to see one only rarely, so that when we think of remedies for accidents we tend to think of those situations in which we ourselves have had accidents, or have nearly had accidents.

For a systematic attack on this problem we cannot rely on personal opinions or hunches; we must know the facts of the accident to enable us to identify those areas in which action is likely to pay the biggest dividends. That is why the police provide the Ministry of Transport with a detailed report of every accident involving personal injury. As from next January a new and still fuller accident report form will be used. These are the reports which provide the material which is summarised in Road Accidents 1967. They go to the Road Research Laboratory and, as is fashionable these days, are recorded on a computer. This material provides the basis on which the planned road safety programme is now worked out. I assure noble Lords, and more particularly the noble Lord, Lord Somers, who was slightly caustic about the form in which the statistics were presented, that these statistics are not just being collected for the delight of statisticians. We in fact put them to hard and practical use. The money and resources which can be devoted to road safey are inevitably limited, and it is vital that they should be deployed where they will be most effective.

At this point I should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, for the very gracious compliments which he paid to the Road Research Laboratory. I think they are richly earned. It is a most stimulating place to visit. I think he will confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, said, that that is the proper place for the co-ordination of research effort so that we can achieve the maximum benefit from that research. As the two noble Lords may have noted while they were there, of course this is not simply a British operation. One of the main centres for the collection of research information is a collaborative operation between ourselves, France, and Germany, with other nations joining in. So the Road Research Laboratory is not merely a centre for the co-ordination of British Research, but is a centre for the coordination of international research. I think we are getting value for money there.

What are the really big problems? Drinking and driving was undoubtedly one, but only one. Noble Lords to-day have, I think, produced a whole list of causes of accidents, which can only be of value. I want personally, however, to touch on three problems other than drinking and driving, all of them of major importance, each differing in character from the others, although there is a connecting link in that each calls for a massive effort in public information and education. The first of them is the problem of child casualties. The very success we have had in cutting adult casualties during the past 12 months has highlighted the problem of accidents to children. But even before the introduction of the breathalyser child casualties were increasing faster than casualties to adults. Over the past ten years child casualties have risen by 58 per cent., as against 47 per cent. for the population as a whole. The number of children killed on our roads rose both during 1967 and during the 12 months October, 1967, to September, 1968, which are the latest months for which we have final accident figures. Children under 15 now represent 16 per cent. of all fatal and serious casualties. They form 38 per cent. of all fatal and serious pedal cycle casualties, and 40 per cent. of similar pedestrian casualties. The pedestrian problem, which of course also affects the elderly, has become first and foremost a problem of child safety.

What are we going to do about these figures. The recent publicity for accidents to children travelling to school on dark mornings has prompted wide publicity and wide concern. But, as we all know, these accidents have been happening all along, and they happen in the light as well as in the darkness. I hope that the newly aroused interest in this question is going to lead parents to question their own attitudes to, and their own responsibilities for, the safety of their children on the roads. In the first six months of 1967, 75 per cent. of the children under 6 who were killed on the roads were, so far as we know, out on their own. We must persuade parents that small children cannot be left to cross busy roads on their own either in darkness or in the light. They cannot be left to run on their own to buy ice cream from mobile vans and to pick their way back through traffic. In fact, the illustration in the Highway Code, in order to make this point clear, has in it an ice cream van. This is a kind of Pied Piper's lure, which is one of the frequent causes of children's deaths. We hope that some work that the Road Research Laboratory plans to do on mothers' attitude towards the safety of their children on the roads—the extent to which they are prepared to let them run errands, or play in the streets on their own, and the difficulties they face in keeping them away from traffic—may help us to direct our effort towards associating parents more fully with this problem and to encourage them to a sense of personal responsibility.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? Does he propose, in that case, to deal with the problem of getting children to school? Because not every school runs a coach, particularly those which draw children from a very wide area.


My Lords, I think most parents have solved this problem themselves. The majority of children are got to and from school safely by their parents' efforts, but we are talking of the exceptions.


My Lords, this is on the same point I am afraid, but the remarks that have fallen from the noble Lord are quite impossible. Take the schools in Scotland. People have not got cars, and these children live out in the country. The road is dark, night or morning—I am not making a point about the time at all. These children have an unlit road, very often with no footpath. The parent may be a farm servant—a "farm labourer", you call them here—with a child, and he has not got a car. Who is going to take that child to school? Under the statutory limitation for transporting children, a child up to 5 years old has to walk two miles, and if the child is older it has to walk three. That is a Government regulation, so I am afraid I cannot accept the last remark the noble Lord made.


My Lords, I think we are all agreed that on the question of British Standard Time Scotland has a special problem. The days are shorter there.


My Lords, I make no point of that special problem.


Unfortunately the problem raised by the noble Viscount is a special one, and I am much encouraged by the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, that we must, as a Government, soldier on, let the three years pass, and see at the end of the three years what the fixing of a single time for this country shows in the field of accidents. No one in advance knows what that will be, but we must not judge on early impressions.


My Lords, I particularly said that it had nothing to do with this, because there are six hours of daylight. You are into the dark at one end of the day or you are into the dark at the other, and you cannot argue with it. This is a fact. I do not think we are going to have any mare casualties—and our preliminary figures show this—with the extra dark in the morning. I am not arguing about that at all. It is the fact that, whether you like it or not, you have the dark at one end or the other, and you cannot get out of it.


My Lords, I think the Government have recognised that there is a special problem here, and it lies with the local authorities who are education authorities to alter the opening and closing times of their schools to fit in with their specific problems. They do not seem to have been very willing to do this; nevertheless it lies in their power.

I think all noble Lords will agree that parents need help, and here a very useful part is being played by RoSPA. "Tufty" clubs, about which some, but not all, of your Lordships may know—I have heard of them for the first time today—are run for children under school age, and teach kerb drill and so on as a game. There are now more than 3,000 clubs, with a membership of over a million. I think this is a splendid and imaginative scheme. For older children, the National Cycling Proficiency Scheme is now reaching nearly a quarter of a million children a year. I am sure, however, that noble Lords will agree that a great part of the effort has almost certainly to be made in the schools. A number of noble Lords have made this point in the course of the discussion. Much work is already being done.

With the co-operation of the Department of Education and Science, the Road Research Laboratory recently sent out a questionnaire to 2,500 primary and secondary schools to find out exactly what training was being given: at what ages, how, and what plans there were for the future. Replies are now being analysed, and my right honourable friends will be looking closely at the results to see how far the need is being met, and whether we can help schools to make their effort still more effective. The Road Research Laboratory, meanwhile, has done some useful work on visual aids, and is carrying out further research into such basic questions as a child's ability to perceive danger, to judge speed and distance—which was a point made by one noble Lord—and to interpret the lessons which it may learn from posters, and so on, in a dynamic situation. Further work is also planned on methods of teaching road safety.

But, my Lords, the heart of the road safety problem almost certainly lies in improving standards of driving, not only in regard to skill but also in regard to behaviour. This was the theme of a number of speeches made in the House to-day. There is still a great deal that we need to know about the factors affecting behaviour, and the ways in which we can influence this, and the Road Research Laboratory are devoting an important part of their road safety effort to the subject. In the shorter term, important measures are in hand, or have been taken, to raise the standard of driving instruction. The registration of professional driving instructors is being made compulsory. The Ministry is publishing an official Driving Manual which we hope will not only help to raise the standard of instruction but also lead to greater standardisation of mansœuvres and so on. New rules, such as that now determining priority at roundabouts, have been introduced in a further effort to help uniformity. We have made a number of films, both for television and cinema (one noble Lord mentioned the virtues of television as a propaganda medium in this field) on particular manœuvres and techniques which we know to be important in the context of safety, and a continuous publicity campaign is aimed at influencing the attitude of the driver to make him more safety conscious.

Again, we hope to obtain help from the road safety education given in schools, and particularly from the pre-driver and driver training in which interest is now increasing very fast. I think that the discussion in your Lordships' House to-day will help to spread the gospel. Just passing a test is not enough. Methods of training have to be improved, and there must be a follow-up of training after the individual has received his licence. The accident rates for young drivers are deplorably high. If only we can inculcate responsible attitudes and sound standards right at the beginning of the driver's career we can obtain big savings in the casualty rate.

On both children's safety and driving standards we have much to learn and a long row to hoe. It is seldom in road safety that there is any single measure which could have a dramatic effect, almost overnight. Yet there is one such measure available now, if only people could be persuaded to make use of it. Road accidents are too often seen as something that happens to somebody else; it is too easy to ask what "they" are doing about it. The Government can, and are, doing a great deal; but in the last analysis we cannot save people from themselves. The one thing which we could all do and which could have an even bigger impact on casualties is simply to wear seat belts on every journey whenever we get into a car. The point made by my noble friend Lord Milner about special seat belts for children is extremely interesting and valuable If, in 1967, everyone travelling in the front seat of a car had worn a seat belt, all the time, we could have saved no fewer than 15,000 fatal or serious casualties in that year alone.

The facts on the value of seat belts are overwhelming. That is why we have made their fitting compulsory on all cars registered in 1965 and since. But seat belts on the floor and not worn are of no use to anyone. Still too few people are taking the trouble to wear them—among them, I regret to say, myself. Mostly they find ingenious excuses, as I do, and there is a host of myths from which these excuses are drawn, few of them with any validity at all. We are trying, through intensive publicity, to encourage more people to adopt this simplest and most effective of all safety measure, and to counter the myths surrounding them. Here is something where every road user can help himself and where we can all set an example.

In particular, let us counter the laziness that causes drivers "not to bother" with belts on short journeys—in fact most road accidents happen on short journeys within a few miles of the driver's home. Most happen in towns, at relatively slow speeds. But at less than 15 m.p.h. without a safety belt you can kill yourself just as completely as at a higher speed, or injure yourself for life. It took eight years for the habit of wearing crash helmets to catch on with motor-cyclists, and I am sorry to see that there are still a few bravados who cannot be bothered. If it takes as long for drivers and passengers in cars to get round to wearing scat belts, about 75,000 people will be killed or seriously injured unnecessarily in the process. I make no excuse for labouring this point. If we are really sincere about road safety, here is something which almost everyone can do—now.


My Lords, may I make one comment? Would it not be possible to make the wearing of crash helmets by motor-cyclists compulsory? I admit that it would be difficult to do with seat belts, in that in a car you cannot see whether a person is or is not wearing a seat belt; but certainly one can see if a motor cyclist is not wearing a crash helmet and then one can jump on him.


My Lords, this is a point which I am sure my right honourable friend will note when his Department studies this debate.

I should like to reply to my noble friend Lord Milner, who wished to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory. We believe that this is not the way to tackle the problem. There are some cases where individuals are physically handicapped, and particularly in the case of pregnant women, and it is undesirable le for seat belts to be worn. We believe that education in the widest sense in building up an acceptance of the wearing of seat belts as a standard aspect of motoring is the more effective way of achieving this end. Again, to-day's debate will help to spread the doctrine.

I have talked to-day about statistics and facts about accidents as the bat is for our programme, but I do not want to give the impression that the Government are ruthlessly carrying out a programme of measures with no regard for the opinion of the public or of other organisations who can often have a lot to offer from their own particular experience. The Minister of Transport is anxious that there should always be the fullest consultation with interested organisations before important policy decisions are taken. This point was raised by two noble Lords.

The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, asked what was happening about replacements for the National Road Safety Advisory Council. I have taken advice on this point, and I find that a rather interesting attitude is developing within the Ministry of Transport. They are moving away from large, formal advisory council meetings, with 50 or so people sitting around a table for three hours, and are replacing them with a whole series of regular, informal meetings over lunch at the Road Research Laboratory and elsewhere where they simply rub ideas together. Consultation en masse does not achieve a very great deal, whereas constant contact between the central research establishment is at the moment, in the philosophy of the Ministry of Transport, the better way of tackling the problem.


My Lords, I had "wind" of this idea, and I agree that it is a first-rate plan.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that remark. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, asked whether the consultations were continuing with the R.A.C. and RoSPA in this particular field. The answer is, yes, there is constant consultation.


My Lords, I went a little wider than that. In regard to the A.A. the R.A.C. and the commercial driving organisations, I have detected a deteriorating trend in their relationships over recent years, and I asked whether, with the new policy, as indicated in How Fast, an attempt was going to be made to try to win their co-operation for the help which they could give.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord can be reassured on that point. Formal consultation is becoming rather less obvious, but informal consultation is growing.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether there has been any consultation with the Institute of Advanced Motorists?


My Lords, I will write to the noble Lord on that point. I am almost certain there has been, but I cannot give an absolutely firm answer. With your Lordships' permission, I should now like to run through various points that I have not touched on in the course of my main speech, which were raised by noble Lords in this very interesting debate. I know that one matter very close to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, is the accidents caused by stationary vehicles. When he first courteously informed me that he was going to raise this point in the debate, I looked at the statistics. The specific type of accident which he was thinking about was that caused by a vehicle badly parked; for instance, without lights at night, or on a blind corner. It is not possible to identify all these accidents from the statistics shown in Table 21, but if the noble Lord looks at the third item down in Table 21 "Parked", he will see that 3.4 per cent. of vehicles in accidents are parked vehicles. Although the percentage is not so particularly high, the accidents caused by this sort of foolish error are very terrible ones. As the noble Lord who questioned me on this pointed out, they are like accidents caused when two vehicles run head-on into one another on a motorway, having crossed the verge. The main problem is caused by pedestrians crossing a road masked by a stationary vehicle, and 23.4 per cent. of pedestrian accidents are caused by somebody coming out from behind a stationary vehicle. Of the 6,600 casualties, almost half—doing some quick mental arithmetic—are children under nine. So this is where the "Tufty Clubs" have a very important role to play.

Turning to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Milner, and other noble Lords, it is clear that the 70 m.p.h. limit is exercising the minds of speakers. Those who have spoken to-day have, in the main, been opposed to a 70 m.p.h. limit on the motorways, but this limit and all other limits are under consideration by the Government. The mind of the Government is not closed on the subject, and the pamphlet How Fast? is an indication of their thinking. If a case can be made to the satisfaction of dispassionate analysts, such as those at the Road Research Laboratory, that the 70 m.p.h. limit can be raised, then raised it will be. But it will not be raised just because a number of people who enjoy fast driving, as I do myself, bring pressure to bear on the Government. It will be raised only if scientific analysis, which we are able to bring to bear on this problem, indicates that it can be done with safety.

An important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, is the question of enforcement and the size of the police force. A theme which ran through this debate was that it is no good having legislation covering road safety if it is not enforced. It is worse than having no legislation at all. The Government agree that this is very important indeed, but, as noble Lords know, there is a heavy demand on police manpower and their resources. The Government have been conscious of this and, as they announced only a few days ago in another place, the authorised police strength for the financial year 1969–70 in England and Wales has been raised by 2,000 police officers, 600 traffic wardens and 1,000 civilian staff. So there will be some additional manpower available for better enforcement of legislation.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to be more specific? We were asking for an extra establishment of mobile police.


My Lords, I can only say that my right honourable friend will note this point, and that he shares the noble Lord's concern. The noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, and another speaker suggested that either special constables or mobile traffic wardens should be created as a new type of supervisory force on the roads. These are certainly interesting ideas, and doubtless they will be studied by the Ministry of Transport when the Report on this debate is read.

There were a number of points made by other noble Lords, which were underlined by most speakers, on which I should have liked to touch. But one point on which I have not yet touched, and which is fundamental to the whole problem, is the sense of responsibility of each individual driver towards his fellow users of the roads. It is a question of a balanced approach to driving and the need for consideration. We can do a great deal to improve the structure of our cars and to improve the standard of our roads, but unless we ourselves accept a greater responsibility for setting high standards of behaviour on the roads, and unless our whole approach to the dangerous activity of driving improves, we shall not really defeat this problem.

But I do not think we should be too defeatist, because if we look at the figures of accident rates in this country compared with those for most of the rest of the world, we really do not shape up too badly. If we compare the figures for the Federal Republic of Germany, our own figures are approaching half the accident rate per 10,000 vehicles licensed or per 10,000 of the population there. If we follow the intelligent analysis of the causes of accidents, the causes of failures in human behaviour, which is going on at the Road Research Laboratory and carry this into sensible legislation; if we try to educate our children and ourselves to the hazards we face on the roads, then, in spite of the increasing number of cars on the roads we may, I think with good cause, hope for a steady improvement in accident rates in this country.

6.59 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his careful reply to this debate, and I also thank other noble Lords who have taken part. It is unusual for three maiden speeches to be made in one debate, and we were very glad to hear all of them. I was also glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, because I remember so well the days gone by when his father used to take such a prominent part in debates on this subject in your Lordships' House. I have an apology to make to the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom. It was not two years ago that I suggested that Road Safety—A Fresh Approach should be debated; it was in July, 1967.

I know that we have little time, but there is one point which I put on my list which has not been mentioned, and that is the contribution to reducing accidents which stems from urban by-passes and urban motorways. This is a factor which I feel should be borne in mind in all considerations of road safety. The Press have not been mentioned, but I believe they should be kept continually aware of their responsibilities. I refer not only to reporting your Lordships' debates, although I am perfectly certain that great advantages have stemmed from debates of this nature; in fact, I believe that collaboration with countries overseas originated from a debate on this sort of subject in this House. We must also remember that the Press are always inclined to be sensational, and they report accidents when they are prevented from indicating causes or pinning responsibility. When the result of any court case comes out it may not be published at all; and that is one reason why conscience, so far as we are concerned, is dulled, in that the Press do not communicate to the people what happens.

The right reverend Prelate mentioned driving with headlights on. This is a matter which is particularly important in Scotland at this particular moment of time; but there is one point which I should like to mention to your Lordships in this connection. When Sweden turned over from driving on the left of the road to driving on the right, it was then a regulation that headlights should be on all day as well as at night. I think I am right in saying that the results have been so satisfactory that they drive with headlights on all day now, although it is now some two years since they turned over from the left to the right. My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, and I could talk about the matter of the stationary vehicle, because I do not think he quite got my point. It is not only a question of the stationary vehicle being involved in an accident, but that the presence of such a stationary vehicle contributes to an accident. It is this, in my belief, that is such an important factor. But we can discuss this on another occasion.

It remains for me, my Lords, having thanked every Peer who has taken part in this debate, to ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw my Motion.


My Lords, may I be allowed to have the last word in this debate to wish your Lordships and, on your behalf, all the Officers and members of our staff, who serve the House so well, a very happy Christmas.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.