HL Deb 13 January 1971 vol 314 cc132-208

4.23 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, out of a very long list of speakers, I note that I am the only woman down to speak. I hope that this has nothing to do with women drivers. It may well be that I feel so strongly about road safety because I have seen so many people suffering from the after-effects of many road accidents. Sometimes the injury need be only a fracture of the cheek-bone because a person was not wearing safety straps, but that can cause double vision and the whole of that person's life may be changed. Only last week I heard of a case where a person was otherwise unharmed apart from having both eyeballs burst by the rim of a steering wheel. If people who are "had up" for dangerous driving were taken and shown some of these cases it might be impressed on them how valuable road safety is and how tragic and unnecessary many of the accidents are.

I spend a great deal of time in my car and drive thousands of miles a year, much of it on motorways. I find one of the most dangerous stretches of road, where there is room for improvement, is the stretch of A.1 between Burough-bridge to just North of Scotch Corner. The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray of Stourton, may remember this road as he used to live nearby. The road has a dual two-lane carriageway throughout its length and there are five roundabouts and many intersections. The road runs straight and level and invites fast driving. It is situated between two motorways: the Doncaster by-pass and the M.1 to the South, and the Darlington by-pass and Durham Motorway to the North.

I have a personal abhorrence of the intersections on this road, having experienced how dangerous they are. Some years ago I was travelling North. One must drive in the fast lane to cross the A.1 at an intersection. It was in the summer and there was a good deal of traffic. I slowed down, indicating that I was going to turn right, off the road. Looking in my mirror I realised that the car immediately behind me was travelling too fast and had not comprehended what I was about to do. When it was nearly on top of me the driver realised what I was doing. He jammed on his brakes, but behind him a car travelling at about 70 m.p.h. was not so quick to realise the situation. He crashed into the car behind me. The door of one of the cars flew open and a dog jumped out and ran across to the other side of the dual carriageway, very nearly causing another accident. That is typical of some of the accidents concerning intersections. I have been saying my prayers ever since, and I have never used that intersection again.

That road is one of the country's major traffic arteries, linking, as it does, Scotland and the North-East with the Midlands and the Home Counties, and the amount of traffic using it is increasing year by year. People drive on it as if it were a motorway—in fact, it looks like one. The two cars which nearly crashed into me both came from the Midlands, and the drivers said they did not expect a car to turn off the road and thought I had left my indicator out in error. I feel very strongly that some of these most dangerous intersections should be closed. There are also many unofficial crossings along this road. These also should be reviewed and their numbers greatly reduced. It would be a great deal safer if the necessary intersections were well signed and had marked lead-ins. The roundabouts on this road cause numerous accidents. One's view to the approach and the signs is often obscured by tall lorries in front, and in fog, which we often have in Yorkshire. One can be on top of a roundabout before realising one is there. More lighting would be bene- ficial, and warning studs on the road would be most helpful. As this road is so like a motorway, the erection of crash barriers might save life. Also, a hard shoulder on to which drivers could pull in emergency would give a firm base for jacking and dealing with all breakdowns.

Because of the seriousness of casualties on this road, a pilot scheme operated by the local doctors, police, ambulance service, and the fire and hospital services, entitled, "Road Accident After-Care Scheme", was instituted to reduce the seriousness of casualties by more expeditious first-aid treatment. This was introduced on October 23, 1967. It is a flying-squad doctor service with volunteer general practitioners. A doctor is always on call in each area. The general practitioners, who are regularly called out by their local police or ambulance service to road traffic accidents, are fully equipped with special medical equipment, and all safety precautions are taken. Their cars have flashing lights and are marked, "doctor". The doctors also wear fluorescent jackets marked "doctor". They work for the speedy mobilisation and co-ordination of rescue services and for the prevention of multiple accidents on the road. They hope to save life sometimes, to relieve suffering often, and to give comfort always. A film will soon be available, and I am sure some of your Lordships will be interested in seeing how this scheme works. The doctors in the North Riding of Yorkshire have had full local support. That is shown by the fundraising efforts and donations which have financed the scheme. The scheme is developing in other parts of the country, and world, but many of us are proud that it started in the North Riding.

In my local area of the York and North-East Yorkshire police authority, during 1969 120 people were killed on the roads. In 1970, 163 were killed. Over 350,000 people were injured. There is no doubt in my mind that when the roads are adequately patrolled by police cars people drive with extra observance to the rules of the road. Therefore one way of helping to solve the problem of road safety would be to bring the police force up to full strength.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Baroness who preceded me started her speech by saying that she hoped that the fact that she was the only woman taking part in to-day's debate had no connection with women drivers. I should like to begin by saying that I have come to the regretful conclusion that women drivers are, as a whole, much better than men. May I express my great gratitude to my noble friend Lord Ferrier for having introduced this debate to-day. It is well over two years since we had our last debate on this subject.

My noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton gave the figures for the year 1970. But the figures for 1969 were 7,383 deaths and 90,715 serious injuries. Those figures prove that this is a subject of great importance. I am afraid that we have never really got down to tackling the subject seriously. I do not want in any way to belittle the work done by former Ministers of Transport. Mr. Ernest Marples was the first to get road improvement really going, and Mr. Fraser was the first to have the great courage to tackle the urgent problem of drinking and driving. But the fact is, as the figures show, that neither of these two causes has proved to be the major cause of accidents.

I read a notice in the Daily Telegraph last July which said: Road casualties during June were the lowest for the month since 1958. There were 528 fatalities, 2 per cent. fewer than in June, 1969, while the 7.296 people seriously injured represent a 3 per cent. reduction. My Lords, that could be very misleading. People might think that driving standards were improving, or that the roads were becoming safer. But it means nothing of the sort. Marginal variations can be caused by nothing more than perhaps a change in weather conditions. They have no relation whatsoever to driving standards. The fact is that if everyone who uses the roads—and I include pedestrians and cyclists as well as motorists—were to use them with due care and consideration there would be no accidents. That is a millennium which I do not think any of us is likely to live to see but we can at least start moving towards it.

How are we to tackle this problem? I believe that the opinion that I have held for many years is being proved right; that is, that the chief cause of accidents is not any one thing, such as drink, mechanical failure or dangerous roads, but is really what I might term human error. In other words, lack of care, courtesy and consideration for others, lack of technical skill, lack of concentration, bad teaching, or perhaps a combination of them all. Incidentally, my Lords, lack of concentration raises an interesting point. I have often wondered whether it is wise to allow radios to be fitted in cars.

I want to make it quite plain that I am not placing the whole blame on the motorist. Pedestrians, particularly children, can do foolish things, and so can cyclists. I should like to consider the whole subject under four main headings. My first is fitness to drive. As things are at the moment, one does not have to produce any medical certificate before obtaining a licence. One just answers various questions on the back of one's application form. The only actual test which one has is that of eyesight, and even that is of the most rudimentary nature. In fact it was only a short time ago that I learned of a peculiar affliction from which some people suffer, which makes them act almost as if they were wearing blinkers. They can see perfectly well straight ahead of them but can see nothing at their side. This is rather significant, because the number plate reading test would not reveal this defect. But it is vitally important for a motorist to be able to see what is at his side as well as what is ahead, particularly if a car is in the act of overtaking him. Therefore, I should think that one should have to produce a full scale medical certificate, which should include a comprehensive eyesight test, before receiving one's full licence—or perhaps even before receiving a learner's licence.

There is also the question of age. I would be the last to deny that many people of quite advanced years are perfectly fit to drive and are very good drivers. In fact my noble friend the late Lord Howe was a very distinguished driver practically until the day of his death. But they are exceptions, and therefore I think it would be a good thing to fix some arbitary age—I am not going to suggest what it should be—after which a medical certificate would have to be produced each year for the renewal of one's licence. I have one last point apropos these medical certificates. I feel most strongly that they should be paid for by the candidate and should not be issued under the National Health Insurance.

I now come to the second of my headings, education. This has already been touched on by my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton. It is the opinion of the Director of Tests of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, Mr. George Eyles, that the present statutory test is adequate, but on one condition only; that is, that it is made quite clear to the candidate that the passing of the test is not the end of his education but the beginning. The trouble is that too many young people, having passed their test, are quite convinced that they know all that need be known about driving, and it is a great pity to let them learn the hard way that that is not so. That is why I should like a system adopted in this country for which I have pressed very often in your Lordships' House, which was adopted, I believe, by Ulster in 1968 and was followed by France, and later Australia. That is a dual system by which the candidate who has passed his first test is given for one year a restricted licence, as it is called, under which he can drive at 45 miles an hour but no more, and which stipulates his car must carry "R" plates. Australia, I believe, makes it three years. That is a matter for argument and discussion. He must hold that licence without committing any major driving offence, and at the end of the period he is automatically given a full licence without any second test. That obviates the difficulty of extra manpower for test examiners, and so on. If we were to adopt that system here I believe that it would have a very beneficial effect on our driving standards.

That leads me to my third heading, which is penalties. My Lords, fines have been found to be utterly inadequate as a deterrent to bad driving. The reason is absolutely obvious. If a man can afford to drive a car at all, he is not going to worry very much about having to pay £5 or even £10 for some driving offence. Recently we introduced suspension of licence, a matter which was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, but even that has its disadvantages, because if a man is a bad driver when he is taken off the road he will be an even worse one when he comes back in a year's time, owing to lack of practice. So I feel that the licensing system which I have just described would give some new deterrent which would be very effective. The holder of a full licence could be made to revert to R-plates for a year, and the holder of a restricted licence, if he committed some driving offence, could be made to go and take his test again.

Your Lordships may think that this is a very trivial way of tackling the driving offence, but the reason why these methods would hit the motorist so hard is that they would strike at his pride. The motorist's pride is an extraordinary thing. One does not often stop to think how deep it goes. Have your Lordships ever considered the fact that you can tell a man, with perfect impunity, that he is badly dressed, that he smokes too much, or that he is hopeless with his children; but call him a bad driver—that is not a thing I would dare to do to my most intimate friend.

Now I come to my last heading, which is engineering. Vast sums of money are being spent on road improvement every year, and owing to the enormous growth in density of traffic I should be the last person to say that it is unnecessary. None the less, one must bear in mind the saying, if I may quote Mr. Eyles again, that: The roads are as safe as the people who use them, no more and no less. The truth of that is surely borne out by the motorways, which have recently had a very bad reputation for accidents, but in fact they are the safest roads one can possibly have. They are dual carriageways over the whole of their length, with three lanes in each direction; they have no cross roads, and there is no point on them where one cannot see for at least a mile ahead. Why is it that they have this bad accident reputation? It is not due to the roads themselves; it is due to the people who use them. Incidentally, apropos of that, I would keep the restricted licence holder off the motorways.

A large amount of research has also been done in the United States in producing "accident proof cars", as they like to call them. My Lords, such cars never existed and never will exist as long as human beings drive them. None the less, there are some points which I think might be adopted here, perhaps even made compulsory. One is the provision of anti-locking brakes, which reduce the skid risk to an absolute minimum. The other is installation of the dual braking system. In these days, when every car has hydraulic brakes, it is only too easy for the braking system to spring a leak. If one has a dual system, that does not matter. But there is an important point here, and that is that there should be some visual indication on the dashboard to show that each individual system is working, otherwise one system might fail and the driver could go happily on, not realising the fact until the second one failed too. But I must emphasise that none of these things is going to be of any use until we can raise the standard of driving. I would thank my noble friend Lord Ferrier once again for having introduced this debate to-day, and I sincerely hope that the right honourable gentleman the Minister will take note of everything that has been said in your Lordships' House to-day.

4.47 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, was here and took part in our debate to-day. Not only did she enliven things and make the debate far more bright than it otherwise would have been, but looking down the list of 24 names and seeing there only one other noble Lord from this side of the House, my noble friend, Lord Winterbottom, I think that without the noble Baroness it would have been a very poor debate indeed. I, for one, am glad that she was here and took part.

I do not intend to speak for very long, because of this long list of speakers and because, unlike most other speakers here to-day, I want to speak mainly on road safety in my own county, the County of Norfolk in East Anglia. There are other speakers from East Anglia who, I am sure, will be able to say much for the whole of the area; but I am particularly interested in Norfolk, because for the past 18 years I have been a member of the Norfolk County Council and its important Highways Committee. Early this year the electors decided to have a change and I lost my seat, and I have wondered since then if it was because the Norfolk County Council in the past had not spent as much time and money on road safety as they should have done. Great improvements have been made on many of our roads in Norfolk—improvements made to roads which people often did not think were necessary. Bends have been straightened out and motorists enabled to drive much faster and, if they are fortunate, to get to their destination sooner. But, in my opinion, not enough has ever been done about road safety. Most of the great improvements to the roads in Norfolk have been made to the A roads and the trunk roads. These improvements are very welcome indeed. But, to get back to this debate, I think much more should be done to those same roads to enable drivers to drive more safely. In the past I have often thought that the Norfolk County Council and the Ministry have had their priorities in the wrong order: that it would have been better had more been spent on road safety. Many drivers complain that too much is now spent on making roads too fast. I am inclined to agree with this view.

In recent years, the closure of a number of railways in East Anglia has thrown much additional traffic on to the roads, making them less safe than they were previously. This is particularly so in areas where a large acreage of sugar beet is grown. The beet is carted by lorries to the factories for processing. Often the roads in the factory areas are literally filled with large vehicles, and are anything but safe.

It is not surprising that to-day so many Members of your Lordships' House wish to speak on this subject. Other speakers will wish to concentrate on road safety in a wider aspect. I have mentioned sugar beet factories. There are in Norfolk at least three of these large factories; a number of others border on the county. All of them bring a large volume of extra traffic on to the roads, and I am anxious that much more money is spent in the future to improve our roads, and also to make them more safe. This aspect should not be overlooked, because I believe that making the roads safer will have the same effect as spending large sums of money on improving them.

I have already referred to the attention paid in the past to improving trunk roads and A roads, and I hope that in future more money will be spent on road safety. Most of the roads in Norfolk come into the category of minor roads. Many of these small roads are in a very poor state indeed, especially so far as road safety is concerned, and frequently they appear to be overlooked. I understand from the Norfolk County Road Surveyor, Mr. Deavin, that from the road safety point of view the biggest problem in Norfolk is to provide a new Norwich ring road. He regards this as being the greatest need in the Norwich area, and I hope the Ministry will agree to support Norfolk County Council's application for such a road.

Other speakers in this debate will be able to give figures relating to the number of accidents and vehicles involved in recent years. According to the most recent information available, East Anglia now receives a very small grant per mile of principal road, whereas the traffic flow on prinicipal roads has overtaken the national average in the same period. National casualties have decreased, but in the same period in Norfolk, casualties have increased. During 1967 to 1969, expenditure on principal road improvements in Norfolk fell to half the national average. In recent years a number of things, including the breathalyser test, have helped to reduce the number of road accidents, but I suggest the best way to reduce them further is for those responsible for the roads to spend more time and money in making them safer than at present. Last weekend at least three people were killed in road accidents in Norfolk. One, a lady, was crossing the road to attend church. Surely that is a harmless occupation; people ought at least to be able to cross the road in safety to go to their church.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, has allowed me to intervene out of turn for five minutes because I have engagements elsewhere. I have passed the age of being a driver of a motor car, but I have had a good deal to do with it in my life. The main observation that I wish to make is a very short one; namely, that all those who normally drive a motor car should, before they begin the drive from their house, put to themselves the question, "Can I be quite sure that I have been kind to everybody else?".

I do not know whether people like to hear such things, but in my own case I would put in what is really a prayer before starting to drive. It reads: 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, a 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. That little prayer can be read over while you are warming up the engine before starting your drive. As soon as that is done, off you go. You are thinking of that all the time, instead of thinking what horrible people there are. As I explained, I wanted to put that point forward, although I do not myself now drive a motor-car because I am too old.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, I want to make a brief speech and to concentrate on one of the broader issues of this very distressing and often emotive subject. I am doing this because it is rather important to try to face some of the broader issues more honestly than we sometimes do. Therefore, I should like to say at the start, and I shall probably say it again at the finish, that my own view of the whole of this problem is, I hope, a great deal more balanced than the speech which I intend to make now.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, has said, the serious injuries which are often permanent are even more distressing than the deaths, because they represent at least 12 times the number of deaths. We are all deeply concerned about this aspect, but it is not true to say, as a Minister once said in this House, that he would do anything to prevent them. What he meant was that he would do anything reasonable which did not cost too much, and I think we must always face that rather unpleasant fact which applies to most areas where safety is of concern. When we look at this from the Government's point of view, they also have to consider how far they can reasonably go with the support of public opinion.

One very simple step which we could take, which would have far more effect than anything else on the number of injuries and would cost virtually nothing, is to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory for drivers and passengers. We ought seriously to consider that point and wonder why it is that the drivers themselves do not use them even when they know the risks. I can suggest some reasons, but one may ask whether it is right to force people, knowing the facts, to do what they do not want to do. We are frequently doing this to-day, and when one takes into account the cost of the accidents, some of which falls on the nation through the National Health, such a measure would probably be justified.

With our modern technology it is possible to take this a stage further and say, "Let us cut out accidents as far as we possibly can." Broadly speaking, we only have to take three steps. First of all, we have to make cars crash-proof up to, say, 30 m.p.h. That is not very difficult, but the driver and passenger must wear seat belts. We then have to have an absolutely rigidly enforced 30 m.p.h. limit. Finally, we fence all our roads and allow pedestrians to cross only by under- or over-passes. That will virtually solve the accident problem. If we want to carry the matter even further, reductio ad absurdum, there is of course the man with the red flag.

What I am really saying is that somewhere down the line we have to decide what is reasonable having regard to what we can spend and what people are prepared to accept. It is extremely important occasionally to view the problem from that sort of angle. Very often in the past Governments, faced with unpopular and expensive measures, have tended to blame the motorist and to increase restrictive legislation and penalties. That does not cost anything and shows that the Government are doing something. But one is not always sure that what they have done is justified by results. I therefore very strongly support the Road Research Laboratory, because most of these issues need to be looked at quite dispassionately on a cost-effectiveness basis. At the moment there is a demand for putting crash barriers along the motorways. That would undoubtedly save lives, but if we have only a limited amount of money is it the best way of reducing accidents, or should we concentrate on putting down a better road surface at accident black spots?

It is almost certain that the cause of the bulk of accidents is not hotted-up Minis or sports cars, though they have the worst record. As the noble Lord, Lord Somers, said, the real cause is driver error due to a number of factors—inattention, selfishness and the rest. I have seen people do really dangerous things, such as overtake on the crest of a hill which they could not see over or cross a white line. This has nearly always been done by an inattentive or slack driver. He has sat behind the car in front for ten minutes or more, missing four or five good and safe passing places. Suddenly, he has decided to speed up and, without looking, has either gone over the white line or over the top of the hill.

We can do something about driver error. We can exhort drivers, we can give them more training in their youth and so on. But I am afraid that human error will always be with us and it is no good trying to say otherwise. We must take facts as they are and deal with them. This applies very much to the question of accidents in fog. I do not necessarily disagree with the solution of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, but the plain fact is that the people involved are not all criminal lunatics. There are far too many of them drawn from average motorists to conclude that they are exceptional. They are driving too fast and they are driving when they cannot see. But there are several good reasons why they do so, and it is only now that people are beginning to find out why. I recommend that any of your Lordships who are interested look at some of them, but I shall mention only one or two.

When you are in a fog, at whatever speed you are driving, you do not have much visibility, and even at 10 m.p.h. it is questionable whether you will stop in time if there is something parked in the middle of the road. You are frightened, but there is a red light in front and you feel safe. You follow the red light and it gives you a sense of location, but as the fog gets thicker, you get closer and suddenly you are too close. There are several other reasons for such accidents. People misjudge speed in fog, they misjudge the distance of vehicles, and so on. This is something which should be studied.

I should like to talk for a minute about punitive sentences. The modern tendency is to consider that severe deterrent sentences are ineffective and that everybody should be given a second chance with suspended sentences. We really ought to consider whether the very severe sentences which are being passed on motorists—not for dangerous driving in the sense that it is deliberate, but because of driver error—are producing any useful deterrent. If not, we ought not to impose them and this should be rather carefully investigated. I know that somebody is going to say, "Yes, but what about the totting-up principle?" That has been applied to so many minor offences that I do not regard it as a "let up" in the more serious offences for which people are taken to court.

Broadly speaking, if there is an accident the attitude of the police is that somebody must be to blame. Usually, the simple answer is that both people have made some error which has been cumulative and has resulted in an accident. But do we necessarily want to pass severe sentences on them? If one thinks rather carefully about one's own driving experience—and I would say that for 38 years I have driven fast cars fast and have never made a claim against an insurance company—one will know that periodically, either through inattentiveness or some other error, one has put oneself in a situation where, if one had been unlucky and something had been coming the other way at that precise moment, or the woman with the pram on the corner had moved, or what-have-you, something serious would have happened. One also knows, I think, that one is constantly checking, or ought to be checking, one's driving. You find that you develop a little error which could get worse and could be dangerous and if one is a good driver one is constantly watching this. But I put in the plea that we should not go on, without good cause, chiselling away with tiresome and punitive legislation on things which are not necessarily going to produce any useful saving in the number of accidents. If we must legislate for goodness sake let us be certain that it is worth while.

To conclude, my Lords, I would once more emphasise that I have taken a rather specialised point of view to-day. I do not disagree overall with a great deal of the legislation which has been introduced, but I think that before we make life for motorists harder we ought to be jolly certain that there is a real benefit to be obtained from any further restrictions which we place on them.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, through the years I have listened to and taken part in many road safety debates in your Lordships' House. In the past, most speakers would rise to condemn drunken drivers and speeding, without a true appreciation of the many other important factors involved in making the roads safer. I believe most strongly that more accidents are caused by defective eyesight than by drink or speeding, and I would draw your Lordships' attention to the recent publication of the Optical Information Council called The Eyes of the British. From their research it has been estimated that there are more than 300,000 drivers who could not pass the number plate test. I find this very frightening. Probably because having defective eyesight is a respectable failing, not to be compared with drunken driving, nobody seems prepared to do anything about it.

When I raised this point in the form of a Starred Question I was told by the spokesman in the previous Government that as it was an offence to make a false statement on the driving licence application form no further action was needed. However, there are many drivers who genuinely may not know that their eyesight has deteriorated. I know that the police have powers to order an eyesight test after an accident, but I have never heard of this being done. I would venture to suggest that many accidents which appear to be an error of judgment in overtaking could well be because the driver is unable to see well enough to assess accurately the speed of an oncoming car. It is compulsory to pay for a Ministry of Transport test on a car more than three years old before it can be taxed. Sensible people do not begrudge this fee. A driving licence now runs for three years, and I see no reason why a driver should not have to take a simple eyesight test for which an optician would be entitled to charge a certain fee. The driver would then have to send in a certificate with his application. If it is thought that owing to the very large numbers involved it would be far too formidable a task, then let us start with a proper eye test for learner drivers.

Many accidents are caused by frustration, and risks are finally taken perhaps to pass an underpowered, overladen lorry, particularly if it is emitting clouds of unpleasant diesel fumes. I know it is an offence to run a vehicle in this condition, yet the police seldom stop offending vehicles. A simple solution would be to make the fitting of vertical exhaust pipes compulsory, as it is in several other countries. When I asked a Starred Question on this subject I was told that this would not be feasible because smuts from the vertical exhaust might fall down on to vegetables being carried to market on an open lorry. I was so flabbergasted by this reply that I forgot to mention that farm tractors have vertical exhausts, presumably to take the exhaust away from the food on the ground!

Motorway driving in rain is a difficult and unpleasant task owing to flying spray. Mud-flaps, which are compulsory in Sweden, would do much to eliminate this problem, particularly in the case of lorries. I believe that there is an argument against mud-flaps on the ground that the spray is not really reduced but is thrown out sideways. However, whatever the theory, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and there is no doubt in my mind that mud-flaps do make driving easier for following traffic. I should also like to see legislation to alter the lighting regulations, so that the shape and size of a lorry is obvious to other road-users. In this respect, I was pleased that my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton mentioned the fluorescent paint which was going to be applied to the rear of lorries. There have been many terrible accidents caused by lorries leaving transport cafés on dark and rainy nights and being invisible when pulling out. Lights along the length of a lorry and at each corner would help to eliminate this type of accident.

Before speaking on the subject of windscreens I should first declare an interest, in that I have a business association with a safety glass manufacturer. More and more countries are turning towards laminated as opposed to toughened glass. Laminated glass is already compulsory in America, Canada, Italy, Sweden and Norway. It is compulsory for saloon car racing, and is in most cases fitted on very fast tourist cars. With the older type of laminated glass there was a danger of being thrown through the windscreen and severely lacerated. Nowadays, the inter-layer is made twice as thick, and there is no doubt that the latest laminated windscreen is much safer than the toughened one, which can be shattered by a sharp stone flying up from a passing vehicle, causing shock to the driver and severely restricted vision. The only reason why laminated glass is not more widely used in this country is the cost factor. It costs a motor manufacturer two or three times as much to fit a laminated windscreen as a toughened one; but I do not think that the question of cost should necessarily be the ultimate factor.

On the subject of speed limits, I was pleased to see that the urban limits are under review, with the possibility that speed limits on many stretches of road which are now 30 miles an hour will become 40 miles an hour. That is perfectly sensible, bearing in mind that the 30 miles per hour limit was originally introduced in 1934, when, by modern standards, the steering, brakes and springing of popular cars left much to be desired. I was disappointed that the Minister of Transport has decided not to raise the 70 miles per hour speed limit on motorways. I have never believed in it; nor has anyone produced figures to prove that the 70 miles per hour limit has reduced accidents bearing in mind that central crash barriers and the ban on lorries using the fast lane were introduced at about the same time. I should like to see a 90 miles per hour limit tried out on, say, 50 miles of motorway for a given period of time. This would prevent the selfish driver from cluttering up the outside lane of motorways and refusing to move over because his speedometer reads 70, whereas, due to the usual degree of instrument error, he is actually going at only about 65 miles an hour and is therefore causing an obstruction.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Somers that because the roads are now so congested we might well introduce a system of restricted licences, as has been done in Northern Ireland and France. An advantage of this is that other road users can show greater consideration to the newer driver. Those who drive in the larger cities abroad will appreciate the smooth flow of traffic in London by comparison. I should like to see traffic lights at selected junctions during off-peak periods such as the early hours of the morning replaced by yellow flashing lights in both directions to urge caution, as is done with success on the Continent.

While death on the roads must always be a matter of grave concern, it must be kept in its proper perspective. A person was more likely to be killed crossing a road in London 68 years ago, mown down by a horse and carriage, than he is by a motor car in 1971. Road deaths account for only about one third of accidental deaths, and you are more likely to be killed in your home than on the roads. However, if you are killed on the M.1 you are national news; if you fall down the stairs or slip getting out of the bath, you are not. Yet I have not yet heard of any organisation campaigning for non-slip stair carpets or baths. We have one of the lowest motor accident rates of any motoring country, and that is due to the skill, care and courtesy of the much-malgined ordinary motorist. I trust that Her Majesty's Government will feel that at least a few of my suggestions are acceptable and will take action accordingly in the interests of safety on the roads.

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, without disagreeing with anything that any previous speaker has said, I should like to move from the people aspect of road safety to the vehicle aspect—with one exception: that of commenting upon a remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, when he was discussing the education of the road user. I would suggest that road safety instruction and hints given on television might perhaps be better timed. A number of such television advertisements or T.V. "spots" that deal with matters which are for children are shown very late at night, when the children, by rights, will have been asleep for some four hours.

I do not have an interest to declare in anything that I am about to say concerning motor vehicles and their condition. May I set the scene by reminding the House that at almost any time of the year in various parts of the country checks and tests are being made by all kinds of bodies and organisations. I have three reports of such tests; one of them, held in my own county during December by a motoring organisation, being a check on vehicle lighting. Of 9,987 cars checked, 9,329 were found to be faulty. Earlier in the year, in another part of the country there was a particular test on brakes and braking. The check on brakes, as set down in the annual test, is really very modest: brakes have to show 40 per cent. efficiency at 20 m.p.h.; hand brakes must show 35 per cent. efficiency at 20 m.p.h. These standards are not very high. Yet in that particular check 658 motor cars out of 1,521 were found to have faulty brakes. In a general safety check in the Midlands, again towards the end of last year, one-third of the cars checked had steering faults, one-quarter had brake faults, one-quarter had tyre faults and one-fifth had lighting faults.

Against that semi-technical background, against the background of the figures of injuries and deaths of which we have already heard, I believe that we can quite quickly and significantly make a contribution, not perhaps to the reduction of the existing levels of accidents but certainly to the reduction of the increasing number of accidents, if we can make those people who deal with motor cars—the manufacturers, users and repairers—much more aware of their responsibilities. In the 1969 highway statistics, the census of private car and light van users was put at 11½ million, and probably the usage later in 1970 was nearer 12½ million of which about 7 million will have been licensed in the years prior to 1966; that is to say, around 7 million motor cars will be four years old and older.

Currently, the annual testing scheme embraces only those cars that are three years old; and currently the test, while setting down certain standards, leaves many areas of testing to be determined purely by an expression of opinion. We must not forget that the tester and the testing station has already been examined and certificated by the Ministry of Transport's own inspectorate, so presumably (perhaps, I should withdraw the word "presumably" in favour of "without doubt") they have satisfied an independent inspectorate of their ability to conduct such tests. Yet I should find it difficult to find three experienced testers agreeing, as an expression of opinion, as to the amount of wear in, for example, the front steering swivel pin, the steering box or other parts. Those parts can be measured. It is quite a simple thing to do but it takes a little time and therefore costs money. I believe that the existing test—carried out as it is by the garage industry and carried out reasonably well—should be considerably more stringent; and that firm and fixed standards of measurement should be set down from which there need be no departure. I assure the House that many a motor car is offered for testing at one station and refused on the grounds of an expression of opinion; whereupon the owner goes to another garage where the expression of opinion will perhaps be a little more liberal. I do not believe that if the test is to be worthy of its purpose it should be left to arbitrary considerations that should be the criteria between "pass" and "fail".

If we take tyres, tyre regulations are really quite simple; but they do not include any inspection of tyre valves. The tread, the walls, the bulges and so on are all to be examined. The "pass" factor, apart from cracks and bulges, is that the tread pattern is one millimetre deep—and this, on the most popularly-used tyres, is just slightly less than one-eighth of the total. I do not think that this is a sufficiently wide margin of safety. Incidentally, on commercial vehicles the same minimum tread depth is required, and this represents slightly more than one-twelfth of the total. Surely it depends on the use to which the tyre is to be put. A light family saloon car may perhaps be driven with that minimum tyre condition; but another motor car, which is being driven at the maximum permitted speeds on motorways, would require a larger margin of safety. I have known owners change car wheels and tyres from one vehicle to another for the purpose of a test, and I do not think it impossible to relate tyre serial numbers to vehicles and enter them in the log book, as we do with engine numbers.

As I have said, I can find nothing wrong with the basic concept of this type of test and the method by which it is carried out; but I should like to see the test strengthened considerably and one or two items added to it. I should like to see firm standards laid down, and probably a greater amount of expertise and the use of measuring instruments demanded of the tester and test station. We have had eight years of vehicle testing and have learned a great deal from it, but I do not believe that we have covered what is perhaps one of the most dangerous features of the modern motor car, which is popularly called corrosion damage. I will come back to the subject of corrosion damage in a moment. I am suggesting that we should move to a two-tier test system—I use that description for want of a better term: it is easily recognisable because of the two-tier system of postage and other things that we have come to accept.

I suggest that the first tier should be the existing test, supported as I have outlined, and that would take place in the second year of the car's existence. The second tier of the test would follow in the third and subsequent years. This test would include all the points included in the first test; but also the removal of various parts of the motor car for examination. For example, the brake drums could be removed, because when a vehicle gets older it is not sufficient to take a motor car on the road or on a rolling road and apply the brake meter test without having a look at the condition of the brake drums or the brake wheel cylinders. I do not wish to be technical, my Lords. Please accept from me that these are things which you cannot measure without sight and without removing them.

I turn now particularly to corrosion damage, the menace of rust, which is taking up a tremendous amount of the time of the Road Research Laboratory, manufacturers and other bodies because it is so vitally important. I have seen motor cars which were four years old where the rear axle anchor points were in imminent danger of breaking away should the vehicle hit a kerb or a rut in the road, there being no material left because it had rusted away. The two-tier test system would include what I believe the Swedes call the ice-pick test, where a little hammer is used to find the weak points. There are people who, wittingly or unwittingly, cover up these points with bitumastic or other anti-rust products. It may well be that these anti-rust preparations would have to be stripped away to enable a full examination to be made, and so we could develop the points which may have to be looked at in the second tier of the test.

I think it essential that a time scale should be attached to these tests. With the existing test it is sufficient only for the tester to say by the issue of a certificate, "Yes, this car conforms to the regulations and is roadworthy at this particular moment of time." When we are looking at rust corrosion or brakes or very many other things—the propeller shaft universal joint—in a two-tier test system I think that the examiner should be permitted to express a professional opinion—I stress that it would be a professional opinion. In effect, he could say, "Yes, I have examined this car and in my opinion it conforms to the regulations and is roadworthy for"—a certain period, not exceeding 12 months; or perhaps two or three months— "because" (and here he would refer to a certain condition, rust in the rear wheel arch, or wear on the front swivel pin) "and I shall require this car to be re-examined because of this at" such-and-such a period.

I accept, my Lords, that this test may take more than the 42 minutes permitted and agreed for the existing test. I agree that it may cost an owner considerably more than the 23s. 9d. that he is required to pay now to a testing station, plus 1s. 3d. to the Ministry. It may well cost him £5, but I do not think that would be very expensive, because again I would emphasise that there are nearly 7 million motor cars running round the roads of Great Britain to-day which, potentially, are extremely dangerous.

If such a test were adopted, I believe that before there was a change of ownership every motor car should be subjected to that test. There is certainly recourse to a dealer by a purchaser if the dealer sells a car which subsequently, in two or three months, is found to be in a bad condition. There is no such recourse in respect of a private individual who says to a potential buyer, "You can have my car; I want £x for it. Here is the log book. Goodbye." However, if every motor car underwent the two-tier test, a buyer would be assured about what he was buying. I admit that there are other safeguards. Motoring organisations run inspection schemes and so on, and continually advice is being poured out about where to buy a motor car. But I would quote the President of the Motor Agents' Association who, just before Christmas, said in a speech, "One of the menaces of the roads to-day is the below-par car." I do not think that it would be impossible to see this menace removed by putting cars through a two-tier test.

I now come to the question of the body with authority for taking motor cars out of use, not arbitrarily but by measurement. It is essential that there should be uniformity of testing, strict impartiality and, although I would not wish to over-emphasise the point, the removal of all commercial considerations from the tester's decision of pass or fail. It would be in the best interests of car owners and therefore of road users and of road safety in general and of the industry in particular, if such a test were carried out at a Government testing station, a station similar to that now testing commercial vehicles with such undoubted success. I do not believe anybody would deny that the commercial vehicle testing and plating centre is anything but an unqualified success.

If the car population grows and the problems associated with such a growth increase, I do not believe that we can fight them with restrictions. We cannot restrain a man from wanting and buying and using a motor car. I say that the adoption of some of the points that I have suggested will make him more aware of the responsibility he is undertaking by the ownership and operation of a motor vehicle. I do not think that that price is too high to pay.

I should like to turn—because looking at the list of speakers I do not believe that anyone else is likely to turn—to the topical but vexed question of car repairs and repairers. This has a bearing on road safety. There are three classes: fleet users, the do-it-yourself car repairers and the industry itself. The growth in do-it-yourself repairers has been quite staggering. I deplore that growth. I am also frankly very afraid of it. Many people come to me, even on Saturdays and Sundays, and they may say, "Look, I have taken the brakes apart, put new linings on and tightened them up, but tell me, does the spring in the wheel cylinder go at this end or that?" I will say, "I am sorry, I do not know that particular model intimately", to which they will reply, "Oh well, never mind. I will put one on one way and the other on the other way and we'll see which one works the best and then we will know." You cannot repair motor cars in that fashion. It is potentially dangerous. You cannot just take a steering knuckle joint off and push another one on. There are measurements and adjustments to be made. You cannot just take a tyre and ram it on a rim. There is a right and proper way of doing it, with the right and proper equipment, and the do-it-yourself motorists just do not have it. Neither have they the intimate knowledge of particular makes and models which the repair industry ought to have.

I read the other day that one of the leading United Kingdom petrol companies is proposing to set up do-it-yourself workshops, where tools and parts will be available. But these leading fuel suppliers have also said: "We urge such operators to take out an insurance against any accident that may occur as a result of using the tools and machinery and of faulty workmanship." We cannot encourage people to do this kind of work, although they may be encouraged to do many types of jobs on their cars.

I do not think it would be fair if I did not refer to the garage business, the retail motor vehicle repairing industry, in which, as your Lordships know, I have spent many years. The industry carries out some 1¾ million repair jobs every week. Lamentable though it may be, I think it is hardly surprising that some errors and omissions occur. I do not think that any good purpose would come from my setting out some of the reasons for any of the shortcomings of the industry. Sufficient, I think, to say that the manufacturers have a responsibility here and that certainly the industry have a responsibility, which they recognise and which I believe they are currently tackling very hard indeed. But as the noble Lord, Lord Somers, said, the number of motor cars and the number of miles covered shows that we have a business of such magnitude that Her Majesty's Government cannot beg the question any longer. If they are as sincere as the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, would have us believe, it is necessary for them to take some more positive step in the field of motor vehicle maintenance and repair.

Some 25 months ago, I suggested a way in which this could be done, and I repeat the suggestion: that all businesses engaged in motor vehicle transportation should be licensed. This is not an impossible task. After all, everybody selling petrol is licensed and there are inspectors to see that they abide by the conditions of such licences or their licences are taken away and they are put out of business. Why should garage repairers not be licensed? A reply given in another place on November 16 suggested that the National Economic Committee for the Motor Distribution and Repair Industry was to examine this problem and report. I do not believe that it is sufficient for Her Majesty's Government to encourage quasi-official bodies to examine their own shortcomings and report. It is necessary for a Government Department—obviously a section under the Minister for Transport Industries—to take the leading role in setting up a standard for those engaged in the trade and issuing licences, maybe long-term licences, embracing not only qualifications of skill and competence but also financial ability and professional expertise. In that way there will be a real urge for the industry to maintain their standard, otherwise their licences may be withdrawn, they are out of business, and they will be unable to set up round the corner in some other guise.

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, I venture to address your Lordships for only a few moments. In considering the subject of road safety we must realise that we are talking about people. We are not concerned merely with a number of cars, but with many people travelling in a number of vehicles. Anything we may do to try to improve our road safety must be related to the people in the cars. It is true that no two people are alike: but people fall into a number of categories which are certainly to be seen on the roads. One finds very good tempered drivers, and very bad tempered ones. Then, there are the most appallingly impatient drivers, those who in order to get somewhere are prepared to do anything to push people out of their way. Then one discovers ten minutes later that they were endeavouring to get to a cafe, or something like that. There are people who cannot wait for three seconds behind another car, although probably they wish to turn off only 300 yards further on.

Thinking of road safety in terms of people, you have also to think of how to cope with them. First, I would implore Her Majesty's Government to introduce legislation which people can understand and which they can obey. One of the most fantastic of things to be seen is the exodus from London during the rush hour. You go down a three-lane, 40 m.p.h. motorway, and you consider that in travelling at 40 m.p.h. in the left-hand lane you are behaving like a perfect gentleman. But there are people passing you at 50, 60 and 70 m.p.h. You look at these people and you wonder why this was made a 40 m.p.h. motorway. This happens not just on one occasion, but on every night of the week. There is not a policeman in sight. If there were, I would not give him two pennyworth of a chance of dealing with the situation which exists. I feel that when revising speed limits one must bring to bear on the point what people think is right, and that which will be obeyed purely by reason of the intelligence of the person using the road.

I do not think there is anything in the way of road signs or communications on which you can improve at the moment. Modern road signs are magnificent provided that people understand them. A newcomer on the road must feel rather as I did in the first half at Eton, when invited to learn all the house colours in ten days flat. The variety of road signs that one has to understand now is enormous. But I must confess that they are extremely good. Consideration might also be given to direction indicators when you come to roundabouts, indicating turnings off the roundabout. As you arrive at the roundabout you see a sign which looks like an inverted cow's udder, with white things sticking out all the way round. Sometimes it is very difficult to see which of the turnings is the road that you want to take, particularly if you do not know the area. Something should be done to try to improve the visibility for people who want to read these signs in a hurry and when they are travelling fairly fast.

I entirely agree with the noble Lord who introduced this debate with regard to the following point. I am sick and tired of seeing road signs left up by people who have been working on the road but which bear no relation to what is now happening. One of the most difficult things in the world is to get drivers to respect signs if they mean nothing. It is quite ridiculous to see a sign which says that there are traffic lights ahead when in fact the traffic lights are no longer there; they have been taken away because the people who were working on the road have gone home for the day. Or you might see a sign indicating men working. You slow down and find nothing there. You also get occasions when the sign is pat up but the work has moved three quarters of a mile further on, so one thinks that there is no work going on at all. It would be excellent if the Government, when overhauling their legislation, could ensure that whoever puts these signs up positions them at a minimum distance from the work which is taking place, and could lay down requirements that they be taken down again when they are no longer needed. It is one of the most difficult things in the world to make people take any notice of anything if the method employed to make them take notice is misused.

Unlike the noble Lord who has just sat down, I do not think very much of the Ministry of Transport test certificate. It is a most fantastic performance which takes place. You can go to three different garages, and you will get three different results on a car. One garage will pass it, two will not; but the two who do not pass it will say that it cannot be passed for different reasons. On getting the certificate, however, you can licence your car. When you go to licence it again four months later although the car may be a wreck by then it does not matter, you can licence it because you have the test certificate in your hand. You can temporarily patch it up, sell it to somebody else and say: "Here is the Ministry of Transport test certificate", and a person may buy the car in genuine, good faith. He can go down the road and take the car into a garage which would then discover that the gear box was only held on by a piece of wire, but the owner still has the M.O.T. certificate and the law has not been broken in any shape or form by putting that car on the road and licensing it. The car could be re-licensed four days before the certificate expired and that would be legal, although the car may be a complete wreck. If this M.O.T. certificate is to be of any value at all it should be renewed each time a car changes hands. I do not think that to be able to sell a car which is not fit to go on the road is something which can be permitted to continue much longer.

I do not wish to take up any more of your Lordships' time. I wish we could approach this matter with the feeling that we are dealing with people. The man driving a big lorry down the road at 40 m.p.h., with a two-mile long stream of traffic behind him, may be infuriating those people behind him, but he is merely doing his job. One of the most important matters to get over to people travelling in cars is that everybody is using the road for a reason, and while the reasons may not please them, they must use self-control in their driving. It is only by getting that over to people that we shall improve the accident rate on our roads.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, we must all be grateful in thanking my noble friend for introducing and, furthermore, insisting on this very important debate this afternoon. On such a wide subject one felt one must confine oneself to one or, at the most, two aspects. After a little thought by the last speaker I came to the painfully obvious conclusion that, whatever suggestions for improvements would be made this afternoon, none could be carried out without drivers' behaviour being paramount; although I must congratulate my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who made a most illuminating and technical speech unparalleled by any other speaker in this House. I said that drivers' behaviour was paramount, but I begin to think again. There can surely be no other subject, except possibly the weather, that is discussed so widely as road safety or, anyway, driving. At any rate one is not so universally criticised, yet in a large proportion of cases it is the pot calling the kettle black.

I should now like to draw your Lordships' attention to the Road Research Laboratory Reports on drivers' behaviour written by Mr. Quenault and his team. The reports are, for the record, R.R.L. report, L.R.70, entitled "Driver behaviour"—safe and unsafe drivers; R.R.L. report, L.R.167, "Age Group and Accident Rate"—driving behaviour and attitudes; and R.R.L. Report, L.R.212, "Dissociation and Driver Behaviour". These reports, I am happy to say, have been written in reasonably simple terms but with extremely technical and scientific appendices. I am afraid that time does not permit me to comment very fully on all their implications. I shall just pick up one or two points. Therefore, I suggest that your Lordships study them yourselves in greater detail because they are very worthwhile studies.

The first report on safe and unsafe drivers was derived from a sample test taken from two groups: one the C group—in other words, careless group—which contains drivers with one or more convictions for driving without due care and attention; and the R group for which drivers were taken at random. For the purposes of making it easier, they have put drivers into four classes, the first being the safe drivers. Your Lordships will all know what the meaning of "safe" is, but I should like to repeat how they explain it. They are those drivers who are fully aware of all the relevant presented information as they drive and who react to this information in such a way as to reach their goal without carrying out unnecessary manoeuvres, taking risks or causing near accidents or accidents. The second class are injudicious drivers. They are equally with the safe drivers fully aware of all the relevant presented information as they drive, but they from time to time make a false judgment of the relevant presented information that results in the occurrence of a near-accident or accidents.

We come on to the third and fourth groups, which are the dissociated groups. If certain noble Lords were here they would probably ask for a definition of the term. I have not come across it before. I suppose it is in the Oxford English Dictionary, but it is somebody who is not thinking quite as straight as he should do. I will now repeat the Road Research Laboratory's explanation of a dissociated action driver. He is a man who drives with a complete unawareness or neglect of some aspects of the relevant presented information. Such thereby causing near accidents or accident. In thisg roup, to give a typical example, is them an who will charge out, overtake two or three cars and nip in on a bend, and tend to be rather edgy and frustrated.

The last group is on a parallel with and similar in some ways to this driver, but he is called the "dissociated passive driver". They are the drivers who show an incomplete awareness, again, or neglect of some aspects of the relevant presented information as they drive. From time to time, because of their method of driving, they find themselves in situations with which they cannot cope in the time and space available, and hence near-accidents or accidents ensue. I will give your Lordships an example of these: a fellow is bumbling along, probably quite happily, at 30 or 40 miles an hour and suddenly he sees parked cars. My noble friend Lord Ferrier talked on the matter of parked cars, but here is the driver who sees a parked car and an oncoming car. For no reason at all, instead of waiting and letting the oncoming car come by, he goes on, thereby causing a near accident or an accident.

Having explained the types of driver, I will now explain the terms of the test on which the experiment took place. The C group drivers drove on average twice the mileage of the R group, and used their cars for business and pleasure rather than for pleasure alone and had three times the amount of reported accidents as R drivers. All drivers picked at random lived near a large town in Buckinghamshire and had to drive over a set course with two observers in the car with them, one sitting in the front and one behind. It was shown strongly that a higher proportion of the dissociated drivers came from the careless group. Apart from the driving test, each driver had to do a pencil and paper test in the laboratory. But there were no significant differences between the groups of drivers; and also on the question of what is termed in the report "neuroticism", which means introvert or extrovert drivers, there was no significant difference between them on that score.

The next report was on the age group and accident rate—driving behaviour and attitudes. Here a sample was taken from the under twenties and the over sixties and tests were made. The results were more or less what one would have expected. The younger driver liked showing off; he drove faster, he overtook rather more than he was overtaken; his reactions were quick and he liked driving for driving's sake, for the pleasure of power behind the wheel—as you can see, in other words, a cocky fellow. But the older driver was more cautious; he drove slower, his reactions were slower, but he was probably able to cope. He enjoyed driving more for the scenery than for manoeuvring the vehicle.

Your Lordships must surely be asking yourselves: where does all this lead us? How will accidents be reduced by these methods? Is this not an appalling waste of time? Well, of course, this is not a waste of time. It is very important to get a grasp of the real need. There is a need to attempt to establish the real nature of the lack of awareness or neglect of part of the relevant presented information—I am sorry to repeat that phrase quite so often, but I think it is important—on the part of dissociated drivers as they drive and to correlate this with behaviour. Is it really a lack of awareness or a neglect of items of information perceived? Could it be due to a lack of integration of items perceived and not to neglect in the drivers' seat? Research of this kind requires rightly scientific techniques and at this stage can be long and involved. The question we must try to resolve is that both the dissociated active and the dissociated passive driver ignore or fail to integrate the information to the same degree and in the same fashion.

Does dissociated driver behaviour appear in a complete form after drivers have passed the M.O.T. test, or does it develop over a period of years? Then, more important, we ask ourselves: can this behaviour be trained out of a person? Does it vary from day to day, week to week or from month to month? As I have said, there is already some concrete evidence where dissociation in drivers can lead to more road accidents than occur among drivers not so affected. Research is still in its early stages.

One question I asked the Road Research Laboratory was: was there any evidence of good and bad driving as between men and women? My own impression is that there is always a sex war on the roads. Whereas a man will behave in a perfectly normal manner, like standing up when a lady comes into the room, and observe all the other common courtesies, when he gets on to the road he behaves quite differently. If a lady in front of him is approaching a crossroads he will think that she might hesitate or take hours to get across, so he will nip in front, thus causing a near accident. I should have thought that the Road Research Laboratory might well look into this matter further.

Another point that I thought was true, but I am told there is no evidence of it, is that a man is different when he is in a car than when he is out of it. In fact he has a split personality. I know myself that on odd occasions I have been thoroughly ashamed of behaving in an off-hand and peculiar way on the road, but at the moment I gather there is no evidence to support this. Here again, I suppose some people are always equable while others are very pleasant in their own homes and a fiend at work, or vice versa.

I should like to ask the Minister one question: do the Government, when introducing new legislation or new regulations, correlate the evidence of patterns of drivers' behaviour, and if not will they do so? One thing that I am afraid is all too true is that nearly every motorist considers himself to be an expert. I am sure that Government posters do much good work in alleviating accidents by showing the horrors on the roads, but I feel they should do more.

Before I sit down I should like to draw attention to a point mentioned to me by my noble friend Lord Vivian. The noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, mentioned this point, and also the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, from the point of view of corrosion. My noble friend and I were surprised that the question of mud flaps on vehicles was not included as a hazard in the Road Research laboratory report. I am sure we have all had experience of filthy windscreens caused by dirt thrown up by heavy vehicles that do not have mud flaps. Questions on this subject have frequently been asked in this House, and I can recall recently a Question asked by my noble friend Lady Emmet of Amberley which was answered by the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom. The answer given by the noble Lord was that rubber flaps can cause tyre heating and therefore they cannot be insisted upon, but surely in 1971 something else could be found from which these flaps could be made. Do not let us be fobbed off, but let us find an answer to this problem.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for putting down this Motion to-day. I see that it is just over two years since your Lordships debated the subject of road safety. It is with regret that the debate is being held with the knowledge that the provisional total number of deaths for the first nine months of 1970 is 1.2 per cent. up on those for 1969, and the figures for that year were 8 per cent. up on those for 1968. Also, in the first nine months of 1970 1.6 per cent. more children were killed than in 1969, compared with a drop in the figures for 1968–69 of 2 per cent. Let us not forget that an average of 172 children were injured on our roads every day in that year. My Lords, why, after two years of declining figures, have we an 8 per cent. increase in road deaths, when the actual accident rate is the lowest since 1959? Is it because people are less concerned about the breathalyser test, or is it because people drive faster, or is it because there is more traffic on our roads? Or could it be that the driver is not being educated to drive properly? I think it is a combination of those things, and probably a lot more.

It appears that the effect of the law against drinking and driving is wearing off and could well be given a new lease of life. As for the speed and increase in traffic. I would quote from ROSPA'S 1969–70 Annual Report, on page 4 of which they say: Speed in the right conditions is not inherently dangerous. But excessive speed in the wrong conditions, whether of road, vehicle or driver, is bound to have more serious results. Increasing traffic with its inevitable delays has been seen to result in more aggressive attitudes from drivers. Such attitudes are highly detrimental to road safety. My Lords, the condition of our roads is improving all the time. Soon all our motorways will have crash barriers down the centre and we hope that they will all have three lanes. Our trunk roads also are improving with the aid of all the new ideas that come from the Road Research Laboratory, which I had the privilege of visiting just before Christmas. Here I should like to thank them for an interesting day, as well as to encourage them to carry on the fight for better roads and all that is connected with road safety.

I mentioned education of the driver. That is something which I feel could be improved. It would give him a better sense of road safety. In particular, he ought to be told and shown how to drive on a motorway, be it with simulated or in actual conditions, as I do not think it is right for a person to pass his test and then a day later to drive on a motorway. He is endangering not only his own life but also the lives of other people, as he cannot have the experience or skill to drive a car at 60 to 70 miles an hour, let alone on a motorway. The standard of driving on motorways is extremely low. The biggest offender is the fast lane squatter, who causes frustration on the part of the other motorists, resulting in overtaking in the middle lane, similar to weaving down a ski slope. I feel that we should give new drivers a better education, just as children are being given a better education in regard to road sense by the police and by the Tufty Club, to whom we should give a great deal of credit.

My next point is directed to the manufacturers, and in particular the brake manufacturers. I am thinking of the anti-skid brakes: if these could be made a commercial proposition driving would be just a little safer. In a national paper just before Christmas it was announced that Mercedes-Benz cars are to be fitted with these brakes. It is claimed that in normal conditions, in a crash stop from 60 miles per hour, a car with standard brakes will pass by at 25 miles per hour, when a car fitted with the new system of anti-skid brakes has stopped. On wet roads stopping distances would be reduced by up to 40 per cent. At present these brakes cost £200. That amount is not much more to pay on a car costing £4,000, whereas the same sum on a family car costing £1,000 would be a big extra which few could afford.

There are five questions I should like to put to Her Majesty's Government. First, do they propose to strengthen the law against drinking and driving, and, if so, how? Secondly, what plans have they to increase the police patrols on our motorways? Thirdly, when will there be crash barriers on the M.40? Fourthly, have the Government any plans to widen the M.1 near Watford, where it is at present two lanes? Fifthly, would it be possible to make the driving test stiffer, with a written test as well as simulated or actual motorway instruction? I feel that if we could do just a few of the things that have been mentioned here to-day we could save a lot of lives, the country a lot of money, and—who knows?—we might even save the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, from putting down a Motion in a year or two.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I say that I should be glad to put down a Motion again as soon as this debate is over. This Motion was first put down on December 15, 1969. It has come on more quickly than the one I put down before. I suggest to your Lordships that perhaps the stage has been reached when we can rely upon the Front Bench to organise a debate of this nature perhaps more often than a Back Bencher can arrange one.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord has a point.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, I was just thinking of the Test Match; I cannot think why, but when you are not even twelfth man on the batting list in the order of speakers there is very little left to say which has not been said. If I do err in the direction of repeating what has been said, I am sorry. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for once again introducing this subject, which is obviously of tremendous concern not only to all of us in your Lordships' House, but to everyone outside. It is a sad fact that road accidents have become commonplace and accepted by some as just one more item on the bill for mobility. We must face up to the fact that accidents will never be totally eliminated, owing to the human element, but we can, in my opinion, make a sustained and determined effort to hold the accident rate in check. This will never be achieved, however, with a flood of rules and regulations, which in my opinion only confuse and anger the motoring public and force some people to ignore them because in their opinion they are not justified by reason of lack of realism.

Before the last war, driving a motor car on the public roads was a comparatively simple task; the roads were empty compared with the ever-increasing millions of vehicles, some 15 million, on the roads to-day. Driving has now become a highly skilled operation needing maximum concentration, steady nerves and hours of practice before one is really qualified to handle what some have described as a lethal weapon. At the same time, designers and manufacturers of the modern motor car have produced for us all a wonderful machine, so developed mechanically that its manoeuvrability has improved beyond all measure, capable in skilled hands of doing all the driver asks and more; improved suspension, disc brakes, tyres to stand the roughest treatment, far better lighting systems and seat belts, to mention just a few things, and road-holding which will cope with increased speeds from the modern internal combustion engine.

The noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, referred to anti-skid brakes. I think he meant anti-locking brakes. This is a magnificent device. Mercedes-Benz have developed this device until now it has reached the stage that it will soon be in production. The only thing is that, as fine an improvement as it is, unless it is made universal it is dangerous. If you are in a car with anti-locking brakes and you make use of those brakes and stop, what happens to the poor chap behind you in his Cortina or Mini which has not got the device? It is important to produce them at such a price as to make them universal.

My Lords, I come from a motoring family. My father, who was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, just now, and I myself were and have been involved in motoring and motor sport for many years, and experience taught us that not only the simple rules of the road but education in the art of driving is needed more than ever to-day to produce someone who is safe, courteous, considerate and skilful in his or her motor car. Therefore, the sooner pre-driver training starts on a national basis where facilities exist, the better. Catch them young and they are less likely to make mistakes later on. I ask Her Majesty's Government to place more emphasis on the education of motorists to a higher standard of driving.

On this theme I urge the Government to encourage pre-driver training in schools as an extra-curricula activity, the subject of road safety should be integrated with the work of the school. It has been my privilege, and will be again in a few weeks' time, to present certificates to senior pupils in schools on passing their preliminary driver training, both theoretical and practical, so that when they leave school they will have a good chance eventually of becoming expert drivers, and passing the M.O.T. driving test will not be the nervous ordeal that it is to many people, including the instructor. It is not good enough to be taught to drive by a parent, for obvious reasons; instruction must now be given by a registered driving instructor. That is fair enough.

A pilot scheme was organised last year at a county secondary school for boys within the High Wycombe area of Bucks. Six senior pupils took part and all qualified for certificates; these students were given a responsible attitude towards motoring and road safety before they left school and received formal driving instruction. I hope that this scheme will be expanded, and that, with pressure, other schools with facilities will participate. Auto-simulators are also an invaluable aid to safe driving. I should like to see more of them around. They enable drivers to learn the basics of safe driving in complete safety. The I.D.T./Link trainer system is another method, but rather too expensive for local education authorities to purchase.

Motoring in many countries has shown me that others have adopted measures which will, I am sure, increase road safety. Only last year, driving about South Africa in a small Alfa-Romeo sports car, I noticed that vehicles over a certain unladen weight and most trailers, have by law to be fitted with reflective rear marker plates consisting of red and yellow chevrons. For years, with different organisations, I have pressed for such a system; I feel it is long overdue. It shows up with startling clarity by day and night to following motorists. Much use is made of that reflective material Scotchlite. This material shines through fog and water, reflecting the headlight beams of following traffic, doing a great deal to prevent the all-too-frequent shunt in the back. There may be some reason why this material is not pressed by Her Majesty's Government. It is expensive here; it is cheap abroad. A great deal of it is used in other countries. I think we could well afford to do the same.

We are soon, I hope, to have crash barriers down the central reserve of motorways. I hope they will be included in the specification for all new motorways. Again this is long overdue. In America these ARMCO barriers are painted yellow on fast bends considered to be dangerous. This fact certainly attracts attention. I sometimes feel that we are too inclined to say, "Anything you can do we can do better". I would be the first to say in many cases that is perfectly correct. But it is not always so, and I feel that it does no harm to copy others and improve on their ideas as necessary.

My Lords, I cannot let a debate on road safety slip by without some reference to the present speed limits. Many years ago, together with people like Graham Hill, Denny Hulme and some others, I was asked to take a petition by some 280,000 people to Mrs. Castle when she was Minister of Transport. This petition was signed by people who objected most strongly to the 70 m.p.h. speed limit. We did not get very far with it. But shortly after I became a Member of the House, I raised the matter in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, very courteously told me to sit down. I go on a bit too long. I can not help saying that I was surprised earlier this afternoon, at Question Time, to hear these privileges given to a Welshman when I, descended from the Irish, have had no chance at all.

Statements have been made by respective Governments that speed limits must be realistic. I think that all of us are from time to time thoroughly frustrated by a speed limit for which it is hard to find justification. I refer, of course, to the limit of 70 m.p.h. on the motorways. We are lulled into a false sense of security by this particular limit. I had hoped that, with a new Government, a new motorway policy would give us a realistic speed limit on motorways and a more realistic view of speed limits in general. I see few signs of this happening so far. I am not referring to the 30 miles an hour limit, which I think is a very good limit in towns and villages, and I am surprised to see that it is considered that possibly it should be raised to 40. I do not know that I am in entire agreement about that. I am sure that many police officers will agree with me that 80, or even 90 miles an hour—90 is preferable—on the motor-ways would be a realistic and sensible speed for these roads and, what is more, this would, I believe, receive the cooperation of the motoring public, which is very important indeed. The mass of traffic shuffles along to-day at a speed of 65 to 70. Only a small proportion travel at more than 70 miles an hour anyway. They are probably well qualified to drive at over 70, and have suitable cars and know how to handle them.

Nobody wants to break the law. The motorist is not a criminal, but if intelligent people see no justification for it, and the police are unable or unwilling to enforce it, I am afraid that continued frustration, causing accidents, will force the motorist to commit the technical offence of exceeding the limit. In doing so the motorists know that they are getting away from a potential accident zone caused through bunching in convoys, and as they go faster their concentration and alertness is far greater. It is true to say that the safest place on any road to-day is as far away as possible from another moving vehicle, and those who drive a great deal know this only too well. Motorways—and this has been said by one noble Lord this afternoon—are the safest roads.

Fog and ice are other special problems which must, I feel, be dealt with through education and motorists' refresher courses. I frequently use Western Avenue from Buckinghamshire, along the West Way into London, and for years I have been amazed at the speed limit of 40 miles per hour. Invariably cars are driven along at a speed nearer to 60 miles per hour, but the limit still remains at 40. Further along Western Avenue one comes to the new West Way, where after a speed limit of 40 miles per hour for a short distance the limit suddenly becomes 60, then 50, and finally 30. I have just come out of a 70 miles per hour zone on to Western Avenue, and it seems to me that it is confusing to motorists to have these various speed limits; indeed, it is perfectly stupid. I hope that a more realistic speed limit—again I say "realistic" of 50 miles per hour along the whole way could be used, and I hope Her Majesty's Government will pay some attention to this.

Too much reliance should not be placed on statistics. Advice should come from people who use the roads day after day. An independent body of experienced motorists would be the best approach to an admittedly controversial problem, but one so much concerned with road safety. I hope that the Minister responsible will place far more emphasis on raising the standard of driving through education, and that policy on road safety will always follow discussions with the big motoring organisations representing all the motoring bodies.


My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, may I say that he is quite right. I did mean anti-locking brakes and not anti-skid brakes. I apologise to your Lordships.

6.34 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for enabling us to debate in your Lordships' House this afternoon this most important subject of road safety. There is much evidence to show that one of the most effective ways of reducing accident rates is to improve the roads. The publication entitled Research on Road Traffic issued in 1965 by the Road Research Laboratory says this in Table No. 16(1) on page 491. The publication gave an impressive list of the reductions in accident rates resulting from many kinds of road improvements, both large and small, and on all classes of roads. These included, for example, a 95 per cent. reduction following the major realignment of lengths of road; an 80 per cent. reduction as a result of the improvement of visibility and alignment at isolated bends; and a 60 per cent. reduction following the staggering of crossroads. It is therefore important in the interests of road safety that the Government should continue to make adequate funds available for the carrying out of relatively small road improvements, and that the principle of concentrating upon the large-scale comprehensive improvement of trunk roads and the construction of motorways, however desirable that may be, should not be applied to the exclusion of smaller improvements on principal roads and the more important non-principal roads, which can yield a substantial benefit in reducing accidents.

The greatest benefit in accident reduction will clearly be derived from major schemes, and particularly from the construction of motorways, and it is important that the major road improvement programme should be accelerated. I was therefore glad to know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the House of Commons on October 27 last that Her Majesty's Government proposed that expenditure on the main road programme, including motorways, should rise to £552 million in the financial year 1974–75.

May I say how grateful I am to the Minister for his recent confirmation of the order establishing the route of the Newmarket By-pass. It is the earnest wish of all who live in Newmarket and of all who travel on the trunk roads A.11 and A.45 which run concurrently through Newmarket High Street that work on this important scheme will soon be put in hand. There is no doubt that the provision of a much improved East-West highway from the Midlands to East Anglia will make a substantial contribution to the reduction of accidents, particularly having regard to the growth of traffic on this route to the East Coast ports which of course carry a lot of container traffic.

The need for the construction of the by-passes of Cambridge, of Bury St. Edmunds and of Stowmarket, and the completion of the Norwich ring road—which has already been mentioned by a noble Lord—which are already planned, is equally urgent in the interests of road safety. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will give high priority to the improvement of the important roads in East Anglia, now that the improvement of the Great North Road, A.1, and large schemes of this kind in other regions, have almost been completed. East Anglia has waited long for its appropriate share of the funds made available for road improvement works, and as the main roads in the region are becoming rapidly overloaded the need for their improvement is becoming more urgent every day.

Although little large-scale improvement work has yet been undertaken in East Anglia, it is gratifying to know, from inquiries I have made of the county and county borough surveyors in the region, that such very limited improvements, including adequate street lighting, as they have been permitted to carry out in recent years have had the effect of reducing accidents and of preventing a rise in the accident rate, despite the continuing growth in the volume of traffic. It is therefore vitally important that further small improvements designed to remove dangerous road conditions, including the by-passing of towns and villages, should not be neglected, since it has been amply proven that such works improve road safety. These improvements can generally be carried out quickly and bring immediate benefit, whereas the large-scale improvements are usually long-term projects which must, of necessity, take some years to complete. The smaller improvements can eventually be incorporated in the larger.

There are many such improvements awaiting attention, not only on trunk roads but on principal roads and on the more important non-principal roads where, for a relatively small expenditure, a significant reduction in accident rates could be achieved. There appears to be a recent trend, when dealing with reductions in public expenditure, for Her Majesty's Government to think in terms of restricting road improvement works on roads other than trunk roads and motorways. In the Report on the Rate Support Grant Order 1970 (H.C.172) published on November 26, 1970, it was stated that: the level of expenditure on non-principal roads reflects the restriction announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Command 4515 in the allocations for capital works by local authorities on minor roads where the general standard is considered to be good. There is no doubt that the allocation of available funds to the improvement of major roads and the construction of motorways is the right policy. But I hope that Her Majesty's Government will not carry this too far, and that they will still continue to make available, by way of specific grants for principal roads and by way of the rate support grant for non-principal roads, adequate funds for the removal of accident black spots and other improvements of the kind to which I referred at the beginning of my speech, all of which make so great a contribution to road safety.

In conclusion, my Lords, may I say that there is much local anxiety about the serious accidents that continue to occur on the three-lane length of trunk road, A.11, between Newmarket and Stetchworth roundabout. For a modest expenditure this length of road could be provided with a divided carriageway. This would result in an immediate reduction in serious accidents and would continue to serve a useful purpose after Newmarket by-pass has been constructed, because this length of road will always carry a substantial volume of traffic, particularly on race days. This is the kind of small improvement which, in my view, ought not to be deferred. There are many such improvements which would yield an immediate benefit and ought not to be delayed because of a future long-term comprehensive improvement which may not be completed for some years. In this matter of road safety, where lives are at stake, we cannot afford to make the best the enemy of the good.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, I have instructions from my two noble friends beside me to get on with it and not be too long. I wish to speak only very briefly in support of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, and the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, regarding the road safety programme in East Anglia. I appreciate that we should not be too parochial in a debate of this kind, but we all know the interest of the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, in conditions in East Anglia, and your Lordships must blame him for thinking that this debate was an opportunity not to be missed for bringing our points to bear.

Road safety in East Anglia is a problem which is greatly accentuated by the acute shortage of money. Your Lordships will have heard the noble Lord, Lord Hilton, say that, compared with the average of all English counties, East Anglia is now receiving a very small grant per mile for improvements to principal roads; in fact, I believe the figure is a little under half the national average. But the average traffic flow on principal roads in Norfolk alone is now greater than the national average, with the consequence, according to figures given to me, that while the national figures for road accidents and casualties dropped by 10 per cent. in 1967–68, Norfolk's figures rose by 4 per cent.; and whereas in 1968–69 the national figures remained relatively constant, Norfolk's rose by a further 7 per cent.

People are now appreciating what a delightful place East Anglia is in which to live and they, together with industry, are moving in at a steady rate. We are expanding and business in our ports is increasing. All this is causing far greater road congestion, with all its attendant safety hazards. May I give an example of this? The A.47 road is one of the principal roads linking us with the industrial Midlands and the North. In the event of our entering the Common Market, it could become the No. 1 road to the North Sea and possibly, therefore, one of the busiest in the country.

I was travelling along a newly-constructed piece of that road between Dereham and Norwich shortly before the Recess. I was in a queue of cars proceeding slowly behind two slow-moving lorries. A car came up from behind and the driver was obviously in a hurry. He passed me and then, one by one, passed the cars immediately in front of me. But of course the inevitable happened and about half a mile up the road he hit an oncoming van. Your Lordships may say that that is another example of inconsiderate or bad driving, and it undoubtedly was. But it was brought about by the sheer frustration of someone who was, probably justifiably, in a hurry.

Surely, the point is that, on a newly-constructed by-pass on a major road such as that, the possibility of an accident of that nature should have been completely eliminated. A dual carriageway would have avoided this. The land was available, as is evidenced by the wide verges on either side. It is apparent that, notwithstanding all the improvements which have been made to the A.47 within this area, it is still inadequate to ensure the fast and free flow of the type and volume of traffic with which it has to contend. So how much more inadequate will it be in the future? We cannot blame the planning authorities. They have to do the best they can, and they are only able to cut their coat according to their cloth. But, surely, the constant pruning of costs is false economy.

I could go on with other similar examples, such as the proposed, and indeed sorely needed, by-pass around East Dereham. The proposed route for this road, which has been envisaged for some considerable time, appears to be not too well planned in the light of the very considerable residential development which has taken place, and it appears now to be a proposed through-way, rather than a by-pass. It is all a question of money, and it is estimated that it would cost a further £250,000 to take a wider route around the town.

I shall not elaborate further, but I humbly submit that in cases such as this the cost should not be of paramount importance. The future wellbeing and safety of people should be at the forefront of our deliberations. May I implore Her Majesty's Government to give careful and urgent consideration to the possibility of a larger grant allocation for road improvements in East Anglia, and Norfolk in particular? Will they consider bringing up the figure at least to the national average, in order that improvements may be planned which will be completely adequate and safe for all future usage?

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, although I, too, have a home in East Anglia, I shall not pursue that regional interest in the same way as the two previous speakers. Had not my noble friend Lord Ferrier included the phrase, "the continuing problem of Road Safety" in his Motion, I might have been frightened out of an intervention by the highly technical nature of the Road Research Laboratory Report, which we are considering. A wheel fell off my car yesterday when I was on my way here—apparently it was due to metal fatigue—while driving along in the central lane of the A.1. Perhaps I am fortunate to be here and perhaps the Fates have thus made my decision that I ought to take part in this debate.

We have had a wide-ranging debate, and I shall confine my remarks under two headings. The first is the road safety education of children. Road accidents to children are a matter for concern. That is certainly a statement of the obvious, and perhaps, in view of the quite terrible statistics which my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton quoted earlier, I should call it an understatement of the obvious. But the wording I used is not mine. It is the opening phrase of the selected highlights chapter in the Report headed "Survey of Road Safety Education in Schools." This is a very welcome survey, and that the work is to continue is equally welcome; but I suggest it does not mean that we should not consider what action should or could be taken now to help our children further meet the difficulties of what my noble friend Lord Ferrier referred to as the scourge of our generation.

Such statistics as are quoted from the survey in the Report suggest that there is scope for improvement. I must at once say that I am not for one moment denigrating the excellent work already being done by class teachers and head teachers in many schools, or by the various organisations concerned with road safety; nor yet the very valuable contributions made by police and road safety officers and others. But, my Lords, the survey found that among the primary schools which answered the questionnaire which was sent out—and here I quote: There was a planned programme for teaching road safety in one-third of the primary schools. Time was specifically set aside for road safety teaching in one-sixth of the primary schools. In fairness, my Lords, I should add the following—and I again quote: Two-thirds of all schools had taught kerb drill, or had held discussions about road safety, during the term in which they received the questionnaire. One-quarter had had demonstrations in the playground". This does not alter my impression that there really is much which could be done. I know the good which is done: I have three children presently at primary school. My eldest daughter, in the junior department, recently passed her cycling proficiency test, and because the pin on the badge she received was faulty I am currently under instructions to write to Lord Beeching to ask for another one.

Of course parents must exercise responsibility for training and supervision; of course children should be taught the basic rules, or such basic rules as they can comprehend and use before they first arrive at school—and there will always be discussion as to the extent that the responsibility falls on the home or on the school. But to my mind this in no way detracts from the proposition that basic instruction must be universal; nor does it call in question the desirability of such basic instruction being uniform in content, thorough and consistent in quality, or the need for its repetition and for its being built up with added and more sophisticated information throughout a child's schooltime. We all know that neither kerb drill practice nor all the teaching in the world will ensure that little Johnny or wee Jeannie will be accident-proof. This is all too sadly not the case. The unexpected will happen: a child will just once forget. Had I or your Lordships needed any proof of this, I received a timely reminder just before Christmas, when my own six-year old son was struck by a car outside the school gates because he had failed, just that once, to pay attention to the crossing-keeper. Thanks to the very swift reactions of that lady crossing-keeper, he was, thank God! saved from serious injury.

But, my Lords, even given that nothing will ever afford entire protection and that parents must ultimately safeguard their own children, I hope that, with the survey results now available, perhaps the Ministry of Education will get together with those responsible for transport within the Department of Environment—perhaps they have already done so—and, drawing on the experience and resources of all those currently engaged within their own Departments and outside in promoting and teaching road safety in schools, will draw up and institute a programme that will have a full place alongside the "three Rs" in all schools, and that this may be done soon. It is interesting to note, my Lords, that the report, quoting from the survey, tells us that in the case of primary schools 55 per cent. of head teachers felt that there was a need for some guidance in helping schools on how to teach road safety. That parents should be involved goes without saying, and they must be kept advised of what is the nature of the instruction which is being given in order that they can help the children to use it, and augment it. As a start, next time there goes out from any organisation a leaflet which is taken home to parents, it might be helpful if, for instance, it could contain something on the dangers of restricted visibility and hearing which stem from the use of hooded garments, such as duffle coats and anoraks, very popular to-day, which, on a dark and cold morning when a child has his head down, really do create an added danger, welcome though they may be in keeping the child warm.

As to references in the report to the use of television time for putting over to children, in cartoon form, information on road safety, and also to where they tell of experiments in more sophisticated learning systems for children who can read fluently, these are all welcome and I wish them well, but I still believe that the school must bear the major burden of this instruction. There are all too few steps which we can take to afford physical protection at all times, and perhaps it is only when the child is on its way to school or is coming home from school that we can really do anything. I should like to suggest that there are one or two things we might consider. During the time that the children are going to or coming away from school, could a flashing red light be switched on atop the familiar "Children" triangular sign which is sited near schools, as an added warning to drivers to take particular notice of that sign at that time? I should also like to ask whether, since parents persist, despite warnings (it may be that they have to sometimes), in sending their children out so that they arrive at school before the gates are open and before the patrols are manning the crossings, we should not urgently ensure that all crossings outside schools and the areas immediately outside schools are adequately lighted in dark or foggy conditions. And is there perhaps not a case for doing for all schools what is done for some schools, that is, the placing of a barrier just outside the school gate? I have seen these barriers in operation. They may not be the whole answer, but they sometimes stop a child from rushing out that much more quickly.

I said that I would confine my remarks to two headings. I will try to be briefer on the second matter to which I wish to draw attention. I know that I am not alone in being concerned about the use of minor roads as through routes by unsuitably large and heavy vehicles. My noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton will perhaps remember that on November 10 last I raised this matter in a supplementary question. On that occasion he was good enough to say in reply—and I quote from the Hansard of November 10, 1970 (column 601)— Yes, my Lords, I think I have already said that the Government are considering proposals to restrict the size of certain traffic on certain roads. I raise this question again because one does not need the statistics for axle loads in the Report that we are now considering to tell us of the damage done on roads—not on little country lanes but on roads often classified as B roads—by vehicles which are entirely unsuited to them, damage left after they have passed, damage done as they are passing. I need not fill in the details; I am sure that many noble Lords as they journey about will have recognised this damage. One particularly realises it if one is cycling or walking or pushing a perambulator. Outside my own house in Essex on a road classified with the prefix "B", if two of these leviathans meet they have to stop. It is on a corner. Should one day any of the people who live near be walking or pushing a child in a pram or be cycling at that spot at the moment that the two meet there will be a more than nasty accident.

I hope that perhaps I may hear that the Government have gone a little further with their thinking to-day; or if that is not possible, they will perhaps say so soon. I believe that on the ground of safety alone the case can be made out for finding some way of restricting really heavy vehicles to heavy roads. I think a case can be made out on amenity grounds; and if these alone are not enough, I refer to the Report of the Committee on Highway Maintenance, the Marshall Committee, to which the Report we are to-day considering draws attention. It was not published at the time that the Report we are discussing was but I think I am fair in quoting from it. In Chapter 12, following up economic arguments and dealing with road maintenance generally, they make some recommendations. They recommend:

  1. "a. that the Ministry of Transport should promote any changes in highway authorities' liability for non-feasance necessary to enable them to maintain only a specified network of roads in a state suited to all traffic;
  2. "b. that all local highway authorities should explore the possibility of using traffic regulation orders as a means of confining heavy traffic to a specified basic road network.
  3. "c. that the Ministry of Transport should look into the possibility of national legislation to confine heavy vehicles to major roads."
I apologise for being perhaps overlong; but the subect is a serious one. I have, I hope, kept within reasonable time bounds in what I wanted to say.

7.4 p.m.


My Lords, the speech we have just heard from my noble friend Lord Gray is surely the latest of many which, by reason of their constructivity and thoughtfulness, have gone farther than is necessary to justify the action of my noble friend Lord Ferrier in initiating this debate. With him, I think it is a subject of vital importance. I am grateful to him also for giving me the opportunity of trotting out a few of my own hobby horses—and I was surprised to find that hardly anybody else had trotted them out. My particular subject has to do with the design of vehicles—the interior design—with two objects in view, both of them to do with safety. The first object is to prevent or to make it more possible to prevent accidents from happening; the second is to minimise the effect of accidents when they do happen.

I shall suggest, perhaps at times rather in the tone of Dr. Strabismus (whom God preserve!) of Utrecht, some slightly way-out ideas and some not so way-out. All of them I hope may receive some attention from somebody. These ideas include one or two which I hope to see in the new car that I want to buy in about ten years' time. The first is five wheels—or a fifth wheel. The fifth wheel is a smaller one, constructed on the principle of a castor, or a trailing wheel on a trolley or on the tail of art aeroplane or on the front of Lady Masham's chair: the kind that revolves when the machine carrying it reverses. This I want to see fixed somewhere under the middle of the back axle, near the differential. This wheel can run in the forward or backward plane only so long as the car behaves normally. When the car reverses, it swivels and runs the other way. The only circumstance in which the wheel can run roughly at right angles to the car is when the car skids.

I hope that some engineer will apply his thoughts to the problem of transferring that lateral spin energy of the wheel to the task of causing a brake to come on the road from the car, a metal brake which will stop it from going sideways, or to activating a device to spray sand under the wheels. It is a question of using a lateral wheel to transfer the sideways energy into producing vertical energy upon the road. That wheel is a small one and it will have one thing in common with the other four: it will be solid-tyred. I want them all to be solid-tyred. We want to get back to the early days of motoring, and get away from the idea of pumping air into a tyre in the certain knowledge that if it bursts all the air will come whizzing out and there will, as likely as not, be an accident. In the present state of rubber technology, surely it is possible to fill the tyre not with air but with synthetic rubber of some kind and thereby prevent, above all, the risk of great crashes through burst front tyres on high-speed roads.

I come now to the question of fog, and I am still talking about the prevention of accidents. There is a passage in the Report on page 45 to which my noble friend Lord Ferrier referred by saying that he was surprised to read it. It deals with the statistics in fog. It says that thick fog reduces the traffic flow by an average of 21 per cent.; that is the average reduction in thick fog of all traffic on all classes of roads. On days with thick fog, the number of fatal and serious injury accidents and casualties were not significantly affected … This is perhaps what surprised my noble friend. But those are the numbers. It is the numbers of accidents that have not gone down, although the amount of traffic has gone down by 20 per cent. Therefore the number of fatal and serious accidents in proportion to traffic volume has gone up by just over 25 per cent. In the statistics referring to minor accidents one finds that their number has gone up in dense fog by 50 per cent., which means that the proportional increase (that is, accidents to traffic flow) has increased by 75 per cent. I think there is a tendency in this paragraph to belittle the effect of fog; it is not intended, but it bears out the advice of my noble friend Lord Howe not to pay too much attention to statistics.

On my car—but perhaps not so much on my own car as on other people's cars—I want to see double rear lamps, another pair, brighter than the ordinary ones, which can be switched on in fog and which will flash. I see no reason why they should not be fitted in addition to the fluorescent labels mentioned by my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton and others. Nor do I see why those particular fluorescent attachments should be confined to lorries; stop lights and so on might well be applied to all cars. Big vehicles—this has been mentioned before—should have lights all down the sides, and once the rear lights have been fitted there must be no projection beyond them. I see no reason why any lorry should be allowed on the road with its tail-board sticking out behind the rear light. There is no technical or practical need for that and it should be forbidden. In fog, and on the motorways in particular, it should be forbidden to have any load projecting beyond the back lights of a vehicle unless there are extra lights fixed on the back of the load as well.

Some time ago a report appeared in a newspaper of words alleged to have been spoken by an A.A. or, it may have been, an R.A.C. spokesman. He said he was mystified that people found it difficult to judge the speed of a vehicle in fog. I think it perfectly appalling that any motoring organisation should allow such a man to put himself up as a spokesman. He may not have been properly reported, but the statement implies that he had never driven in fog. I am sure that no-one will contradict me in saying that to judge speed in a fog can be attempted in only two ways: one is by looking at the speedometer and the other is by looking out of the window. When driving in a dense fog you do not look at the speedometer if you can avoid doing so, because you have afterwards to refocus your gaze; it is dangerous and difficult, and also you are dazzled. As for looking out of the window, there is nothing to look at, particularly on a motorway. When driving in a dense fog on a motorway a driver has no means of knowing how fast he is going, unless he looks at the speedometer.


My Lords, if I may interrupt my noble friend, surely there is a third way—by listening to the note of the engine.


Yes, my Lords; if one is a motorist of the calibre of my noble friend, it is quite possible that there is a third way. But I do not think that more than one motorist in a thousand could calculate from the engine note (and the engine note changes in fog) to within 50 per cent. of his speed if it be less than 30 or 35 m.p.h. So I would not accept that as being a method by which speed may be judged.

What can we do about this? What can we provide for the driver to look at? It all comes down to the speedometer. What is the speedometer? It is a circular dial with a light on it. You have to look down at it, and it dazzles you. There is another kind of speedometer which is arranged rather like a horizontal thermometer, where a tape creeps along from left to right and the calibrations are marked horizontally. I would like to see this kind of speedometer used, but that the glass in front of it should be coloured so that when the "mercury", so to speak, appeared, it would show whatever colour you like (say green) until the speed reached 20 m.p.h. then it would change, perhaps, to red or another inconspicuous colour; and, when the speed reached 30 m.p.h. the colour would become orange or white. This would have two effects: first, it would be easier for the driver to see, because the light would attract his attention whether or not he was looking directly at it. In fog, when it became white, it would dazzle the driver, and automatically he would slow down.

Regarding protection in the event of an accident, I want all vehicles to be fitted with low bumpers. There should be no projecting loads and no lorries without bumpers; so that a small car could not be driven under a big lorry with the roof of the car and the passenger's head being sliced off. To protect the occupants of a car we have to keep them in their seats; and the general object would be to prevent collisions between the human body and those portions of the car which might inflict damage. There are two ways to do this. First, you must try to keep a person in his seat. Up to a point this is already done by the use of seat belts. I see no reason why there should not be side pieces to each seat. The outer side pieces of the front seats could be fixed to the doors, and when closed the doors would hem in the driver on one side and the passenger on the other. In that position, and wearing a seat belt, they would stand more chance of staying in their seats if there were a collision.

The other way to prevent a collision between the occupant and portions of the car which might inflict damage on him is to remove such portions of the vehicle. First of all there is the dashboard or fascia. Why is it there? When cars were first invented a steering wheel was stuck on a column—or rather they first used a tiller, which I think might have been better—and then, in front of it, there was placed a piece of wood on which there were oil gauges and switches. They have remained in that position ever since. The dashboard may sometimes be padded. Various expedients have been thought up by the Road Research Laboratory and others, such as producing inflatable gas bags from underneath the dashboard and all kinds of things. But surely the proper thing to do is to take away the dashboard. It is not necessary. Everything that is put on it could be put somewhere else and the dashboard could be replaced by a quite ornamental cushion padded in the front and underneath. If possible, it should be placed nearer to the occupant of the car than is the present dashboard.

Coming back to the speedometer, this is the one instrument which it is necessary for the driver to have in front of him. If it is to be effective, it should be possible for the driver to see the speedometer without removing his gaze from the road; so it must be high up and as near as possible in front of the driver. Ideally, it should be reflected in the windscreen; above all, it must not be in front of this new kind of dashboard, but should be as far away as possible. Again, ideally it should be embedded in the top of the scuttle and reflecting upwards. Then, whatever might happen to the driver, he would be unable to dash his head on the speedometer.

There are in the Report some statistics relating to the windscreen. It is stated that the majority of major injuries—which form some 41 per cent. of the total—are caused by pieces of glass being stuck into a person's head when it goes through the windscreen. As has been mentioned—although I forget which noble Lord mentioned it—laminated glass is more effective than toughened glass, but is three times as expensive to make. In my own car I should like to have a sheet of transparent plastic, rather larger than the windscreen and with a rubber frame, fitted inside the windscreen, with an inch and a half of space between them. This would have two effects. It would lessen the need for a demister, on the same principle that one sticks a demister on the rear window of the car; and secondly, if a passenger were to be thrown forward and dashed his head against the windscreen, the plastic sheet would come unstuck, and, when his head went through the windscreen, he would already be wearing a kind of plastic "helmet" provided by this inner windscreen and would not get glass in his head or in his eyes.

Above all please may we say goodbye to the steering column? This is a legacy of the very first motor-car, even of the first child's hobby-horse. Why is it there? Surely it could be done away with. Here is the Road Research Laboratory carrying out the most elaborate and expensive research to find out what is the best angle for the steering column. I must say that I part company with the Laboratory in the paragraph where it says: Though it has not yet been possible to determine an optimal loading for the chest, it has been established that for high-angle steering wheel and column assemblies one that yields at 6.2 kN"— I do not know what that is, I must confess— is considerably less harmful to the chest than one that yields at 8.5 kN (Plate 9). The elaborate and expensive research that went into that must have been considerable, but I am in the happy position of being able to provide the R.R.L. with information here. I know what the optimum load for the chest is—it is nil, and it is achieved by doing away with the steering column. Not the steering wheel—that stays where it is, but it should be fixed on an arm that is horizontal, the end of which is attached to the car somewhere near the front edge of the driver's window. The connection between the wheel and the end of this arm may be, for all I know, a couple of cogwheels and a chain and from there on downwards it may be linked with the front wheels by hydraulic linking—but that is up to the designers. The column is now gone and there is no need for a dished wheel. There will be nothing dangerous to hit the driver. The middle of the steering wheel may be occupied by a leather pad or by a cushion, and the steering wheel becomes a protection rather than a danger. I have spoken long enough. Probably the most constructive suggestion of all was that put forward by my noble friend Lord Aberdeen in the litany he presented to us earlier this afternoon.

7.22 p.m.


My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am completely breathless from my noble friend's new inventions, but I do not intend to follow him technically, particularly in relation to a fifth wheel on the car. We all welcome this Motion. We are all, in this House, in Parliament and in the country, aware of the appalling accident rate. Various figures could be produced which would show that we were either better or worse than other countries, but from our point of view the figures are bad. Before continuing, I should like personally to pay tribute to the Road Research Laboratory. Last winter they put me through the night clear test, as a guinea pig, and I could not pay higher tribute to the arrangements they made for me.

I should like to start by dealing briefly with driver training. While not in any way wishing to criticise the examiners who pass drivers through their test, we are all aware that when the ordinary driver has just passed his test he is not a very experienced driver. I should like to endorse what my noble friend Lord Somers has said in connection with a probationary period. I am a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and to my knowledge the Institute endorse this idea, which has been adopted in Australia, Northern Ireland and in several other countries. It is very simple. If you have an "L" plate as a driver under training, you pass your test and then have a period of six months or a year as a probationary driver. In Northern Ireland, you turn the plate over and there is a "P" to indicate that though you have passed your test, you cannot take Daddy's Mark X Jaguar on to a motorway and do 120 m.p.h. I want to endorse most sincerely the point my noble friend Lord Somers made in connection with this probationary period.

When I was working in Canada I had to do three driving tests: first of all a reaction test, then a written test, and it was not until then, on a very snowy day, that I did my practical test. I understand that in this country staff-wise this is not possible. I think it is a great pity. In Canada you are not actually put on a motor car by the examiner until you have done a reaction test on something rather like a link trainer.

I should like to make one or two other suggestions, which I think have already been referred to. When I was at the Road Research Laboratory, they were testing a device for realigning the headlamp beams of vehicles according to the load carried. This is referred to in page 63 of their 1969 Report. This means that if you have a mini and put two sacks of coal on the back, your headlamp beams will tilt up two degrees, which means that as a driver you do not have such good vision and you are also dazzling somebody else. When I was there, it was indicated to me that the only people who were interested in this were one or two foreign motor manufacturers, and I should like to learn from the Government whether there is a possibility of incorporating such a safeguard in the regulations for motor manufacturers to be put into force later this year, as has been mentioned earlier. I saw this under test and it worked extremely well.

The Institute of Advanced Motorists has endorsed the suggestion of luminous strips on the backs of lorries, and the suggestion that there should be regulations to enforce their use is excellent. My noble friend who has just sat down mentioned the subject of double braking lights. Whether that is reasonable or not, I do not know, but I should like to ask the Government to look at the question of whether the wattage of braking lights and tail lights on lorries and cars could be increased.

My last point is this. There is a comprehensive report by the Road Research Laboratory on air pollution by road traffic, No. LR352. It is an extremely interesting report, and as we are all concerned with the subject of pollution, I think that reference must be made to it. According to paragraph 82 of the report, we have legislation in this country, though I have not checked it, to deal with the emission of exhaust smoke, both diesel and internal combustion engine smoke. The figures given in the report of the number of vehicles observed and checked are dated 1965. Most of us who drive know that in the case of A roads, particularly those to and from Scotland the emission of diesel smoke is an immense hazard. I cannot comment on the health aspect, except that the smoke smells filthy, but on occasions I have been behind three lorries with incorrectly adjusted exhausts which have given off a smoke so dense that I could not see whether to overtake or not. I put that down as a safety factor, leaving out the subject matter of health because I am not competent to talk about that. Therefore I would be glad if the Minister who is winding up the debate could say whether there are any later figures regarding the enforcement of the law concerning the excessive emission of fumes.

7.30 p.m.


My Lords, the 20th speaker in a debate—especially when not on the list—is, by definition, extremely unpopular, and, accustomed as I am to unpopularity, I would not put myself in that position except that I am concerned at the very small representation of the Labour Benches in this debate. I should not like it to be thought that we were not deeply concerned with the problem which has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier. I therefore wish to say only two things. At the beginning of this debate we had some valuable statistics quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and we were almost blinded by equally valuable statistics produced by the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton.

I thought it might be useful if I put two of the figures into a slightly more dramatic form. The other day The Times reported the number of American soldiers who, from the beginning of 1961 to the end of last year, had been killed in the war in Vietnam. The figure was 53,000, plus a small unspecified addition. From the year 1961 to the end of 1969 (we do not have the figures to the end of last year) which is a one year shorter period, the number of persons killed on the roads in this country was 65,000. That is 12,000 more than all the American soldiers killed in Vietnam in a period which was one year shorter.

My second interpretation of the statistics is one that I have used before, and I am glad to say that this time when I use it it is slightly less depressing than it was before—but it is quite nasty enough. Your Lordships are accustomed occasionally, I have no doubt, to attend meetings, lectures or concerts in the Albert Hall. If you were to hire the Albert Hall and place in the hall the corpses from one year's road casualties, namely, the year 1969, the number of vacant seats would be one in 13.

7.33 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, when he opened this debate, stressed the importance of your Lordships' House as a forum for the discussion of a major social issue such as this one is. This is a cause very close to his heart, and he has instigated a number of debates in the past on this subject—always very interesting and agreeable occasions. May I say, as someone who is, once again, taking part in one of his debates, but from the other side of the looking glass, that this is equally interesting and stimulating—and perhaps more so. To-day's debate has been extremely interesting and valuable.

A debate in this House on a subject based upon the Road Research Laboratory's Annual Report is, in a sense, a compliment to that excellent organisation. It means that its work does not go ignored by Parliament. Those of us who visited the Laboratory—and I had the good fortune to do so officially three or four years ago—will realise that it is a most lively and stimulating centre of intellectual excellence. It is not only national in its nature, but international. Those who have visited it will remember the interesting international collaboration on the collection of research on to computers—formerly on a Pegasus computer, and now on one of the latest I.C.L.s—which at the press of a button will give a printback on all research in this particular field. The noble Earl, Lord Dundonald, nods his head to this because he has had direct experience of working with this organisation. Noble Lords may not know this, but if things are as they were three years ago, any one of us may go there and take part in their traffic flow investigations, and get paid for it. I do not know whether the noble Earl was paid when he went there, but he should have been. This is a very interesting way of passing an afternoon. It is an excellent organisation, and its work should not be ignored by Parliament.

When we look at the problem of road safety, of course we are all in favour of safety and against carelessness and danger. The subject that really interests me is the reason why we somehow cannot take sufficiently seriously the danger that we face when we go on the roads. All of us are fatalists, and there is a large spectrum of ways of dying which we accept as normal: smoking cigarettes, getting killed in motor cars, and so on. But our reaction when an unusual way of dying occurs—such as the terrible accident at Ibrox Park—is to get very concerned. Yet my noble friend Lady Wootton has illustrated the point almost poetically in a tragic sense. Travelling on the road is much more dangerous than going to war. Let us face this point quite clearly. It is a tremendous killer, but we accept it. Therefore, taking this fatalistic view, what do we do about it? This is costing us a great deal of money. The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, pointed out that the estimate is £320 million a year (if I have that correctly) and that is quite a few pennies on the income tax.

How should we tackle it? We can do so, as I see it, in three ways. First of all, there is the application of human intelligence to the problem, which is what the Road Research Laboratory is doing. There is the better design of roads, and the motorway figures have been given. Also, there is the better design of vehicles; a general analysis of safety with regard to communication and the vehicles that travel on the roads. That is one way of approaching it. The second way is discipline. This has proved very successful. There is the drinking and driving legislation; the Traffic Safety Act. Proper vehicle testing is tremendously important.

Perhaps at this point it might be worth while to mention to the House the extremely important publication by Which? on the subject of the efficiency of the service stations which are supposed to check our vehicles. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, made a most interesting and informed speech on the subject. Unless the people who check our vehicles are doing the job competently, what can we do? We have to depend on those people, for most of us do not have the time, even if we could do the work, to get under the car and check it properly. The suggestion that garages and vehicle testing stations responsible for certifying vehicles as being safe should be licensed is one that appeals to me very much indeed.

As a final comment on the subject of discipline—which has had its effect—I was very much attracted by the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, drawing attention to the use of an "R" plate. Someone who has driven without care and attention would not suffer the penalty suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, of having the right to drive taken away from him, because that would lead to an alteration in a good deal of other legislation, but he should in fact have a dunce's cap put on him. For a limited period he would be banned from using a motorway, but that would not stop him from earning his living. However, it would make the business of travelling about on his everyday affairs more difficult and less pleasant. That proposal is eminently possible and sensible.

I should like to touch on a matter which is not a generally discussed subject, but is, nevertheless, dealt with in some depth at the Road Research Laboratory: that is, the psychology of bad driving. Why on earth are we so silly? I speak with humility for reasons that I will give in a minute. Why is the human race so silly about its own safety? Lord, what fools we mortals be! It is, as I said earlier, partly fatalism and partly laziness.

May I first turn to the question of laziness? When I buy a motor car I always say to the supplier, "Fit a seat belt". But do I ever put it on? No—simply because I am in a hurry or I am going only half a mile, or at any rate because it is uncomfortable. Nevertheless, the whole evidence of this publication is that the safety belt, if worn, is a life saver and injury saver and therefore a saver of money. The cost to the nation of a bad injury is £10,000. I would commend to the Government the work that has been done on the safety belt mentioned in this particular study: a transverse belt fitted from the centre of the car to the door, which is automatically put in position when the driver steps into the car and sits down. If you tell a driver that he must put on a safety belt when he drives, he just will not do it—it is like prohibition in the United States. We are a cussed lot! But if you are as lazy as I am, and as you got into the car and sat down the belt came across you, then it would be accepted; I would accept it. This design has one additional virtue in that it keeps the door shut in a crash, because you are thrown against the belt which pulls the door to; you are not thrown out into the road by the door bursting open. So I would suggest to Her Majesty's Government that this is a field of existing research that is well worth additional study.

If we are talking about the psychology of driving, it is worth studying why we have been able to succeed in getting motor-cyclists to wear crash helmets. With the cussedness of the human race, normally if we went out and told young people not to do something, they would promptly go and do it. Yet, by some psychological magic, we have got our young people to ride about in crash helmets. It may be that they look like space-age men; I do not know. Nevertheless, this particular field of propaganda—and it is nothing else—has been successful.

At this point it might be worth while quoting a Treasury statistic, which was given at one of their schools and illustrates the cost of all this. The Treasury has made a calculation which shows that, whenever a young man bought a Vespa- type motor-scooter, it would be worth the Government's while persuading him to give it up and providing him with a Mini Minor instead. It would be far cheaper for the nation if every motor-scooter bought was substituted by a Mini Minor bought by the Government, because £10,000 is the cost of a major accident. These young people bash their heads into stone walls and cost the nation something like £10,000 each. It is a fascinating thought, if a rather frightening one.

The next point to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention was, I believe, mentioned by another noble Lord in the debate—I believe it was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Dundonald, once again. It concerns the question of reaction testing before one actually obtains a driving licence. Page 53 of the Report deals with driver behaviour. It contains a very head-shrinking paragraph about various types of driver: the safe driver, the injudicious driver, the dissociated active driver (he is the real threat) and the dissociated passive one, who is equally frightening—he is the chap who drives at 30 m.p.h. up the middle of a motorway. These particular driving types can in fact be spotted by psychological tests. Just as the noble Earl, Lord Dundonald, has suggested one might take reaction tests when applying for a driving licence, perhaps these various psychological tests might also be taken in a simplified form because they might indicate where a specific weakness in an individual's driving capacity lay.

One of the consoling factors in this connection is that particular weaknesses can be trained out of the individual. He does not have to continue in his ways. He can take training which checks a psychological blank. This, again, could be applied at the same time to sight. The noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, mentioned eyesight tests. There is "tunnel" vision, which the noble Lord, Lord Somers, mentioned, and changing eyesight, which the noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, mentioned. These could be easily checked. Expensive experts are not needed. I am certain that very simple tests could be devised which would immediately show up this type of physiological weakness which is a hazard in driving.

I have one final point to make on this question of psychological or physiological testing, or factors, in road safety. This is not a subject usually touched on. It is the question of the colour of motor cars. This is a factor which has been recognised. The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, mentioned the fact that we are now going to paint the back of lorries with fluorescent paint. But in fact the colour of cars affects one's ability to spot them in bad visibility and particularly at high speed. A table on page 58 deals with this. At this moment I feel rather like Mr. Henry Ford, in saying, "You may have any colour you like so long as it is fluorescent yellow/orange." There are about four colours specified which substantially increase the visibility of a motor car. They are fluorescent colours, Kilimanjaro white (I do not know why not Fujiyama white), and lemon yellow. These are colours which in fact increase visibility greatly, and it might be considered worth while to prevent black cars and dark blue cars from being sold, because they are the cars which are almost invisible under conditions of dawn, dusk and fog.

My Lords, that is all I have to contribute to your Lordships' debate, except once again to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for instituting the debate, and to congratulate your Lordships on producing such an interesting, factual and concise series of speeches. We are running well ahead of my time schedule. The Road Research Laboratory will agree that perhaps we have thrown out a number of ideas to-day which could even be of use to them. The noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, designed his perfect motor car and a lot of the features in it were not quite so "way out" as he seemed to think they were. Some of these factors might be introduced within the next five years.

7.48 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend, Lord Ferrier, and to all other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I hasten to say that, so far from being unpopular, the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, always enhances every debate in which she takes part; but she is very unpopular with me because she has used precisely the illustrations with which I was going to begin my own remarks. Very many valuable contributions have been made and they will all be considered carefully. They are particularly welcome because at the moment, a number of specific steps, as in the field of drink and driving, having been taken, a far-reaching and wide-ranging review is now taking place; and the comments and suggestions which have been made in this debate will for that reason be all the more timely and welcome.

The background, of course, must be the one to which the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, drew our attention: the fact that on our roads we kill more people than the Americans lost, killed, on the battlefield of Vietnam. This situation is continuing. In fact the trend is for the numbers to increase as the traffic increases: 15 million cars by 1974, about 11 million now; and the proportion of accidents to car occupants is also, alas! expected to increase on present trends. One favourable point that should perhaps be made clear is that now and for some little time past the road programme is expanding faster (8 per cent.) than the traffic (5 per cent.).

We have also to face the fact now that many of the easy, cheap, obvious things have been done. There are few quick, cheap, easy answers left. For that reason I am grateful to all those noble Lords, including the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, and the noble Earl, Lord Dundonald, in particular—and of course the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, who has made the Report of the Road Research Laboratory the peg on which to hang this debate—and also, from his more recent experience, the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, who have paid tribute to the Road Research Laboratory. It is vital now that all our policies, both overall and in their separate parts, should be supported by research.

I should like to spend a little time illustrating how effectively the Laboratory can work by virtue of its being now all on one campus, down at Crowthorne. To take two particular instances, I would point out that several noble Lords mentioned tyres and tyre treads. The first piece of research which the Laboratory did showed that in skidding accidents at the kind of speeds at which most of us are able to drive, the tread of the tyre is more important than the surface of the road. Having established that, the Laboratory then established the further point that for practical purposes the minimum depth of tread after which tyres were no longer safe was 1 millimetre. That minimum has been established by regulation. Now the problem is that the police are finding it rather difficult to enforce. The staff at the Laboratory are looking into ways in which it can be made easier to enforce, and have come up with a suggestion which is now being considered, that when the depth of the tread reaches 1 millimetre a red mark should begin to appear. The question now arises as to whether that can be incorporated into tyres commercially. No laboratory working on less comprehensive lines than our Road Research Laboratory could have undertaken all that research on the same campus.


My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I would advise your Lordships that there is at least one leading United Kingdom tyre manufacturer who does include at 1.6 millimetres a warning strip at six places on the cover. So this kind of thing is quite possible.


My Lords, I am glad to have confirmation of that.

May I now give a further indication of the wide range of work that the Laboratory is able to undertake by virtue of the comprehensive nature of its resources? In 1967, before the publication of the previous Government White Paper, Road Safety—A Fresh Approach, it estimated that the full potentiality of seat belts for the saving of life and limb was of the order of the prevention of 43,000 fatal and serious casualties. Seventy per cent. of all the casualties occurred to people sitting on the front seats of the cars. But in fact at that time they were saving only 3,500 front seat casualties—only one tenth of the full potentiality had been developed. It was therefore clearly a valuable act of policy to insist on the compulsory fitting of seat belts.

In 1967 40 per cent. of the people who had seat belts were using them. We are now in a position where seat belts are compulsory. Two-thirds of the cars on the roads have them, so that percentage is increasing; but now only a quarter of the people who have seat belts are using them. Therefore the policy now shifts from the compulsory fitting of seat belts to new cars to the kind of seat belt about which the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, spoke; namely, one so designed that one cannot get into the car and drive it without properly wearing the seat belt. There are further refinements of that, such as having the ignition circuit going through the clip of the safety belt. I mention that only to illustrate the value of a widely based research laboratory. It is most appropriate that a tribute should be paid to it during this debate.

I now turn to the rest of my speech, which covers three main topics: the roads, the vehicles and the people who use them. I apologise for not being able to deal with every point that has been raised. I think if I attempted to do so my apologies would have to be all the greater. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, gave a clear instance of the kind of safety considerations which are so well worth while attending to in the example she gave of the dangers of a section of the A.1 with which she is particularly familiar. I will not now go into that matter in detail, but I will write to the noble Baroness about it, because obviously she is concerned. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked me a question about our present policy in connection with the central reservation crash barriers on the motorways. It is our policy to see that 80 per cent. of the whole motorway system, amounting to about 1,000 miles, is so equipped by 1975. The noble Lord, Lord Gray, asked about school patrols and the crossings. It is now policy to arrange for flashing amber lights to be switched on when the school patrol is in use. This is not yet applied extensively over the whole country, but it is the policy.

I turn from particular points raised by noble Lords to the road programme in general and its effect on road safety. The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, was the first person to mention this and he invited the Department of the Environment to get interested in Scotland and Wales. I am in a position to-day to answer for my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for Scotland, but the Department of the Environment normally would hesitate to stray into either Scotland or Wales. I will write to the noble Lord about the particular question he raised.

Roads and their good design make a major contribution to safety. The safety record of the motorways is good—less than a third of the total number of accidents, comparing traffic with traffic, means that they are three times safer than the class A rural roads. Therefore, where the traffic demands a motorway it is good sense not only from many other points of view but also from the point of view of safety, to provide those motorways. At present there are 700 miles in use, 290 under construction and 520 more miles in preparation. The great achievement of the motorway is segregation, and the whole question of interference with pedestrians, cyclists, people coming into the traffic system unexpectedly, is taken care of.

The amount being spent on new construction and major improvements in great Britain is planned to rise from the current £400 million to well over £500 million by 1974–75. That is an average annual increase of 8 per cent., and the road programme, as I said, has for some years been growing faster than traffic. I think it is wrong to over-emphasise the problems of the motorways and the effect that they can have on accident prevention and casualty reduction, because in fact only 1 per cent. of the fatal and serious accidents happen on motorways. Because they are so safe it is a good thing to press on with their construction, but it is as well to bear in mind that in further measures to reduce accidents and casualties on motorways we are dealing with only 1 per cent. of the total casualties and therefore the scope there is not very great.

Road accidents predominantly occur in the urban areas, where 70 per cent. of all casualties occur and 90 per cent. of all pedestrian casualties. I can assure noble Lords that the urban roads will take an increasingly large proportion of the total expenditure on roads, for this reason, between now and 1974–75, and we plan for an urban programme which will grow about 10½ per cent. per annum. I can also assure the four noble Lords from East Anglia, who seemed very well organised, that they will get their proper share of that increasing road programme. The minor improvement schemes, too, can also show an important dividend in safety if they are based on a careful and systematic study of the local accident problem, and this is why it is so important for the local authorities, assisted by the road safety units, to study accidents in a sophisticated, professional and systematic manner.

In the longer term, we hope that as town redevelopment schemes gather way it will be possible to reduce the pedestrian/vehicle conflict, which is such a major source of accidents and casualties, as well as providing for traffic to flow more smoothly and safely—and in that connection pedestrian precincts are a considerable boon. Where pedestrians and traffic cannot be separated and never will be separated, it may be necessary for pedestrians to accept a greater measure of discipline.

My noble friend Lord Howe raised the question of speed limits. Noble Lords will have seen in the Press recently the proposals being made by the G.L.C. for a review of their roads and the speed limits on them, and this is a process which will be continuing and gathering way all over the country.

I should like now to turn to vehicles. The first thing I would say is how grateful we are to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for the very thoughtful and comprehensive set of suggestions he made about vehicle testing and maintenance and repair across the whole field, and the whole of that will be studied with the greatest interest. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, was, of course, perfectly right to mention seat belts as the biggest single life-saving and limb-saving feature in the field of new design in vehicles, and I hope that what I said by way of illustration will deal with that adequately.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, asked me about glass, toughened versus laminated. Until fairly recently the toughened glass had seemed to have the edge, because of the combination of much greater cheapness with the fact that research had shown that it led to less injury to people being cut by glass when thrown into the windscreen as the result of a serious accident; but, as he pointed out, the fact is that there has been an advance in the design of the windscreen with laminated glass, and the relative merits of the two is something the Laboratory is now looking into with the greatest care.

The noble Earl, Lord Dundonald, asked me two questions, one about fumes and one about headlamps. I can assure him that the possibility of automatically adjusted headlamps is something which the Laboratory are looking into closely at the moment, but we have not reached the position of being able to assess whether the benefits there would justify making the fitting of these headlamps compulsory. It may well be so. On the question of fumes, I can say that proposals are already published to make the British Standard on smoke from diesel-engined vehicles compulsory for new vehicles and to require new petrol-engined vehicles to be fitted with a device to prevent the escape of fumes from the crank case. I am not sure which kind of fumes the noble Earl had in mind, but both are being dealt with, and the Secretary of State is considering whether these particular actions are going to suffice or whether something further will be needed.

Several noble Lords touched on the question of the lighting and marking of vehicles, and perhaps I could deal with them collectively. I think the noble Earl, Lord Howe, may not have been aware, though I think other noble Lords were, that regulations have already been made, which will come into effect on November I this year, for the fitting of luminous strips on the backs of lorries, and that, we think, on the evidence so far, is the biggest single step we can take to reduce the casualties caused by the under-running of lorries when parked or going slowly. Other questions about rear lights were raised, and the position is that on brake lights there will be a requirement as from 1973 for dual-intensity brake lights to be fitted; high intensity may be used in daytime in conjunction with the fog lamp. On tail lights, dual-intensity is not desirable or justified as a compulsory measure at the moment.

There is the further question of reflective number plates, already widely fitted on new vehicles. The Department is considering the case for making them compulsory. Perhaps in that connection I could mention that another possibility is the rear guards which many manufacturers are already fitting on lorries to physically prevent the under-running, but whether they should be made standard and compulsory is another factor that is being considered at the moment.


My Lords, before my noble friend leaves that point, may I ask about the lights down the side of lorries, to which I referred? There is a very great danger of lorries being entirely invisible when pulling out of side roads unless their length is shown by lights down the side.


My Lords, I did not mention, because I think my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton mentioned it in opening, that a pair of amber lights halfway down the side of lorries of more than a certain length is already prescribed. Whether we should go further and have the Christmas tree effect that I believe is current in the United States is the next thing we have to consider.

Turning to the people who use the roads and their behaviour, perhaps some of the most intractable part of the whole problem, two noble Lords—I think the noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, and my noble friend Lord Somers—made some very valuable suggestions and asked some questions about medical tests and optical tests. The fact is that at the moment the evidence that the Laboratory has is that in not more than 1 per cent. of the accidents that have been analysed can the occurrence be traced directly to an optical or medical deficiency, and although what they were saying does not lose all its validity by any means as a result of that finding, it does mean that compared to some of these other things, like the effect of seat belts, it does not deserve quite the same priority.

The noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen and Temair, and the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, both went very properly into the depth of human personality. The quotation of the "driver's litany" serves to remind us that the real source of the trouble lies right down in the depths of human personality. The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, used the words "our cussedness", and that is another way of describing what the theologians call the "fall". We are in fact dealing with the kind of thing which St. Paul was grap, piing with; namely, we know perfectly well what to do, but we do not do it, and we know the things which we ought not to do, but we do them. Until we have found a satisfactory way of changing behaviour of that kind, we shall be faced with a whole range of problems which perhaps all these other measures are only tinkering with and containing.

The test, for instance, is a test of driving skill and driving ability and, as such, is a valuable thing. What is much more difficult to deal with—though heaven knows the Laboratory are spending plenty of time and effort in researching into it—is how to assess and grapple with the general behaviour and attitude of the driver. This is a thing we want to do in all sorts of fields of life, but in particular on the roads, and in driving the question is how can behaviour and attitudes be assessed. If they are found to be defective or dangerous in any way, how can they be changed for the better, and how can the fact that they have been changed permanently for the better be tested?

There are one or two places in the world (I believe notably the State of Victoria in Australia) where there is some sort of dual test; first of driving ability, and then subsequently of experience, behaviour and attitude. Although this has been going on for some years, in our view it has not yet thrown up anything which would enable us to change, with any certainty of improvement, the existing arrangements for conducting the driving test. I was attracted, as I think many other noble Lords were, by the suggestion which first came from the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, about two-stage testing of some kind or another, and perhaps the use of simulators at an early stage. The evidence from the Laboratory so far is that use of a simulator does not show any clear and positive gain over the existing procedure, but research is continuing.

I think the noble Earl, Lord Howe, made the most constructive and practical suggestions which we can contemplate for the moment namely, those concerning the whole field of preparation of young children for moving about in traffic, the training of drivers, and so on. Perhaps in that connection I could say that a manual has now been prepared for use by teachers to show them the most effective way in which to teach driving, and the most effective way in which to integrate it with the school curriculum. If I may go into that in a little more detail (because I think it would be of interest to several other noble Lords besides the noble Earl), the position is now that road safety education of one sort or another is going on in 10 per cent. of our secondary schools—that includes pre-driver and driver training—and the manual is available. Further research on the results of using it is being undertaken at the University of Salford, and this will give us a clearer idea of how to achieve the best results in this particular field.

I hope that I have dealt with a fair number of the points that were raised. I am very conscious that I have not dealt with all of them. I will write to the noble Lords and to the noble Baroness, as I undertook to do. If there are other noble Lords who feel that I have not dealt with all the points or questions they have asked, and they would like me to write to them, I hope they will ask me and I will try to make good any deficiencies in the reply that I am making now.

I should like to end by saying that I am sure we are all most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for having initiated this debate. I am glad that he hung it on the Annual Report of the Road Research Laboratory, because I think the £3 million we spend there is among the best spent of all the taxpayers' money. As he rightly reminded us at the beginning, in proportion to the density of traffic on our roads we are, thank God! one of the safest countries in Europe in which to drive; but we are nothing like safe enough, and the carnage described so vividly, and put into perspective so vividly, by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, is none the less appalling for having become routine. Every effort at the right points on the widest front, guided by the best possible scientific research and by informed public debate, must continue.

8.17 p.m.


My Lords, I am gratified because I feel that this has been a useful debate. More than that, I am quite moved that apparently the House thinks so, too. All the more do I thank those noble Lords who have spoken in the debate and produced this huge range of angles of vision on the problem. I have heard nearly all the speeches, and I apologise to such noble Lords as I was not able to hear. I propose to mention just one or two things, mainly credits, which I feel will just round off the debate. I do not think they have been mentioned. First of all, I remember well the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, speaking from this side of the House some two years ago, when we were all rather beastly about the Highway Code because it was presented without really having been discussed. Something that the noble Lords, Lord de Clifford and Lord Teviot, said, reminded me that from this side of the House he said, "All right, my Lords, next time we produce a Highway Code we will put out a Green Paper and we will discuss it first". I only express the suggestion now that the noble Lord's adversary from this side of the House might carry on that tradition, because I honestly believe, based on a debate such as we have had tonight, that we can make a contribution and prevent ultimate trouble over some of the Papers and, legislation.

One interesting factor which has not emerged is that one of the Scottish branches of the Road Research Laboratory which I visited the other day, is making a great contribution to the environment by concentrating its studies on the use of spoil from bing and coal wastes in the construction of highways.

I have been asked by the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Chester, to apologise for his not being able to be here. As President of the Pedestrians' Association, he nearly always takes part in these debates, but he had an engagement in Chester which he could not miss. He sent his good wishes for the debate. I think they have been amply fulfilled. The noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, spoke about the multiplicity of signs and lights. Is it possible that flashing lights should be warnings and fixed lights should be commands?

That brings me to the question of level crossings, which has not been mentioned. The Road Research Laboratory mention the problem in their Report, and a number of my correspondents have asked, "Why on earth at level crossings do we not have red, amber and green, and not these wretched flashing lights?" Certainly, at one level crossing of which I know the lights are most dangerous, because the crossing is on a main line and the through trains run at 90 m.p.h. while the coal trains run at 20 m.p.h. Another point which has not been mentioned is the bevelling of kerbstones in highway construction. That has not been mentioned in the Report, but it is something which ought to be borne in mind.

One credit which has not been given is a credit to medical research and to the doctors and hospitals, for the part they have played in reducing the incidence of fatalities and in patching-up poor, shattered people. I mention that matter because of the question by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, about the comparison of figures with those for 1934. The comparison does not make sense, because of the advance in medical science. Antibiotics, sulpha drugs, anaesthetics, the advance of surgery and so on, have all produced changes which mean that the figure of fatalities is not compatable with that for 1934.

I hope that the fears which the noble Earl, Lord Howe, expressed about the dangers of introducing advanced braking systems will not delay the introduction of that marvellous invention, but one hopes that its price will go down. I am old enough to remember the days when four-wheel brakes were introduced. In those days I never had a car with four-wheel brakes; but if you did have one you had to have a red triangle on the back. Of course the density of traffic is much greater to-day, but the advantages of the non-locking wheel will outweigh the difficulties which the noble Earl mentioned.

I was greatly interested in the most thoughtful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gray. I had occasion to hear about a school at which the gates were shut during the dark mornings, and the effect of a Question for Written Answer in your Lordships' House was absolutely miraculous. The gates were opened within 48 hours of the publication of the Question, before it had even been answered. Everybody has spoken about the need for additional police, which is an answer to the problem. But I can only repeat what has been said by the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen and Temair, and the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, that what matters is driver behaviour and consideration for others. The lack of Christian charity is the main cause of fatalities and accidents on the roads. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty-three minutes past eight o'clock.