HL Deb 09 December 1976 vol 378 cc715-68

4.45 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN rose to move, That this House takes note of the proposed New Highway Code. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the present version of the Highway Code was published in February 1969. Since then changes in the law, in traffic and road conditions have made it out of date in several respects—and many minor ones, too. It badly needs updating.

Since 1969, the total volume of traffic on our road system has increased by more than one-fifth and the volume on motorways has more than doubled. Motorways now carry 8 per cent. of all traffic as against 4 per cent. in 1969. Many measures have been introduced to improve the safety and flow of traffic. New features include the zig-zag markings at zebra crossings, mini-roundabouts, and a big increase in the number of pelican crossings. Power to revise the Highway Code rests, under Section 37 of the Road Traffic Act 1972, with the Secretary of State and any revision is subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament.

To ensure that noble Lords could consider the present proposed revision the Government published, in January 1975, the Green Paper entitled, A Proposed new Highway Code, which was also, of course, available to anyone with an interest in the subject. As an additional help to noble Lords, we have prepared a paper for the debate today, the white one, which is available in the Library and in the Printed Paper Office, setting out the text of the Green Paper draft side by side with a further revised version prepared in the light of the comments received on the Green Paper. I hope noble Lords will agree that it would be more fruitful to discuss the up-to-date text, and when later I refer to rule numbers, the reference will be to the revised draft, the white one. The next stage in this long gestation will he to prepare the final text in the light of noble Lord's comments, and in the light of comments made in another place, and to lay that text before both Houses.

May I take the opportunity of thanking all who commented on the Green Paper, including many interested organisations, and noble Lords who either made or passed on comments to the Department. I think that we all feel at some time or another that we know more about transport matters than Ministers of Transport. Indeed, this illustrates the point that I shall develop in a minute. The Highway Code is of direct interest to a great many people. This is the first time that a proposed revision has been so widely circulated for comment, and the response has shown that it has been well worth while. Some of the suggested additions or amendments have been accepted and included in the draft before your Lordships; others have not. I welcome this opportunity of hearing noble Lords' views.

The Highway Code is a familiar document to most people, at least in the sense that we remember that we once mugged it up—or some of us did—before nervously presenting ourselves for our first driving test. And having disposed of that hurdle we probably put it in a bottom drawer, or in the pigeonhole of a desk, where it rests to this day, or where at least it remained until it was thrown out some years ago. In a sense, it is like a set book at school. We read it because we had to, and thereafter its intrinsic value was lost beside the memory of the circumstances in which we first made its acquaintance. But I venture to suggest that it is worth reading again and will be more so in its new and revised form. It deserves some kind of a place on the bookshelf, perhaps beside the cookery books or the gardening books—and, if not, at least in the glove box compartment of the car. Wherever it is, it will more than repay the odd quarter of an hour reading, either to look up a point we found we were unsure about, or simply browsing. And the chances are that something of value will be found in it.

This brings me to an important point. The Highway Code is not just for learner drivers, or for children taking the cycling proficiency test. It is a digest of the rules of the road, the rules of good conduct, for road users of all ages and degrees of experience; for pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, drivers and people riding on horses or leading animals. It sets out the broad framework designed to regulate the flow of traffic of all types, so that it can move at a reasonable speed with the minimum of confusion and the maximum of safety. The Code does not attempt to deal with every situation; but to be adequate for modern traffic conditions the rules are sometimes complex, and there are many of them. But the precepts behind them are simple and the intention is that the Code be drafted in straightforward language which is easily understood.

Noble Lords will no doubt wish to comment on how well this has been achieved in the new version. Perhaps I may venture to suggest at this point that during the debate noble Lords might concentrate on the substance rather than the detailed wording of the revised Code. I would also suggest that noble Lords might confine their arguments or discussion to the Highway Code and not be tempted to stray into the fields of highway inquiries, speed limits, parking restrictions, and so on, which are not really within the purview of the Highway Code. I shall of course be prepared to deal at the end of the debate with some of the points that may be raised and I will see that all the points mentioned in the Official Report are considered later, but noble Lords with detailed drafting points would be particularly welcome to write to me or to my right honourable friend about them.

I shall turn in a minute to the main changes which have been proposed since the present version of the Code was published, but before that there are one or two more general points. The Code is not a statutory one in the sense that failure to comply with its provisions is a criminal offence; but non-compliance can be cited in legal proceedings as "tending to establish or to negative" any liability in question in those proceedings. Two things in particular flow from this; the Code ought to be kept up to date, to be revised at reasonably frequent intervals. The fact that the present Code has remained unchanged since 1969 is a matter for concern: it is, if I may say so, the consequence partly of the need for any proposed revision to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. My right honourable friend in another place has already given assurances that he will look at the procedure and will try to make it less restrictive.

The second point is that the Code can only embody practices which have been developed and tested to the point where they are accepted as good practice. The Highway Code is not the place to introduce new driving techniques, new road markings or the results of the latest experiment at the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. All these must be widely tested before they find a place in the Code. This I think is absolutely right, and noble Lords will, I hope, recognise a familiar ring to the provisions of the Code to which I shall now turn. I am sure that your Lordships will not want me to comment on all the detailed changes from the present Code, so I shall concentrate on the main changes and those points in the draft Green Paper that drew most comment.

The first part of the Code contains advice for pedestrians. This is not new to this revised version, but it needs to be more widely understood that the Highway Code is for pedestrians just as much as any other class of road user and their interest is not limited to the first section of the Code; they should also read the rest of it so that they may better understand the drivers' point of view. In recent years more emphasis has been given to the provision of facilities for pedestrians; and it is worthy of note that this has been accompanied by a steady drop in the number of pedestrian casualties; they are down from 84,000 in 1972 to 69,300 last year. While this is an encouraging trend it should not lead us to complacency.

I will now turn to the Green Cross Code, Rule 7 on the white document, pages 3, 5 and 7. This was introduced in 1971 as a replacement for kerb drill and is now included in the draft Code. It has been given a great deal of publicity in its own right, and although many people commented on points of detail there has been virtually complete acceptance of the Green Cross Code as the safest way to cross the road. It is for use by all pedestrians but has been devised with children especially in mind, and it is intended that the wording of this part of the Code should be understandable to young children.

The aim of the Green Cross Code was to give pedestrians, particularly children, enough information and advice in a form that they can understand, without encouraging the "ritualistic" approach of: "Look right, look left, look right, and when nothing is coming cross over" of the old kerb drill. The Department was greatly helped in devising the new wording by a Committee set up by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and by research carried out by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory to discover how children react to various traffic situations and the form of words they would understand and translate into safe actions.

The emphasis on the Green Cross Code is on helping children to understand the procedure; it is not enough that children recite the words or the jingles. This in turn brings out the need for adequate teaching and this is an area, particularly with young children, where parents must play a key role. Certainly up to the age of five years children's safety is entirely the responsibility of the parent or the guardian, and ever after that they must still play an important part in advertising and helping their children. The Department began a campaign last year using leaflets to draw the attention of parents to the problem and to offer advice.

In the first years since the introduction of the Green Cross Code child pedestrian casualties have dropped from 39,300 in 1972 to 30,400 in 1975. Zebra crossings—whose use is covered by Rules 10 to 13 on page 5 of the new revised document—have been with us for many years and are accepted as one of the safer places for crossing the road. But a study by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory has shown that crossing the road within 20 yeards of a zebra crossing is three times more dangerous than crossing on it. In 1971 zigzag lines were introduced to mark this danger area. The revised Code also explains the procedure when a pedestrian puts one foot on the crossing to gain precedence. Provided the pedestrian gives drivers plenty of time to stop, and the drivers themselves are aware of their responsibilities towards pedestrians on the crossing, dangers and difficulties should be minimised.

Rules 14 and 15 on new pages 5 and 7 concern pelican crossings which are now being installed in greater numbers throughout the country. There are now more than 2,000 of them. They have been the subject of a number of comments. It became clear that there was a need for more guidance on the use of these crossings than had been given in the draft Code and we have therefore rewritten the advice to make it clearer to both drivers and pedestrians.

I will now move on to the next part of the Code which contains advice to the road user on wheels. The advice in Rule 29 on page 11 about drinking and driving and the use of drugs and their effect on driving ability has aroused a good deal of comment. Most of it has asked for expansion to give more detailed advice. However, it is difficult to formulate specific advice to cover all cases which would not be open to misinterpretation and, on balance, I think this is as far as one can go in the Highway Code.

There is however a need for more general information about drinking and its effect on driving in a form which would be useful to the driver, and the recent report of the Blennerhasset Committee on drinking and driving drew attention to this need. My right honourable friend is now considering how such information might best be provided.

In the new Rule 48 on page 15 drivers are reminded that buses sometimes have difficulty in reentering the traffic flow in busy urban streets and are urged to give way when they can do so safely. This is in accord with an international convention on road traffic which the United Kingdom expects to adopt in the near future. There has been some comment that this advice conflicts with the earlier rule, number 37, about moving off, but the words, "you can do so safely", together with the cautions included in Rule 37, are a clear indication that all drivers in this situation are expected to exercise the necessary caution.

Bus lanes are now being installed in many towns and cities to make more efficient use of road space and to assist the flow of public transport, particularly at peak times. The relevant rules in the draft Code have been expanded and it is proposed to include illustrations of the bus lane signs and road markings. In another place my right honourable friend has given an undertaking to revise the rules on bus lanes.

My Lords, Rule 49 on page 15 concerns driving in fog. Accidents in fog are a continuing cause for concern. Although they form only a comparatively small proportion of injury accidents, there is evidence that in fog the frequency and severity of accidents are higher on fast roads and motorways than on other roads. Some measures to reduce the rate of these accidents have already been introduced—such as lighting selected stretches of road. But there is no substitute for better driving behaviour. The same features which make driving on motorways comparatively easy and safe in normal conditions, make it harder in fog. More restraint and self-discipline are needed and, above all, slower speeds and adequate separation distances. The "Fog Code" brings together the most important rules of behaviour when driving in fog. These have been subject to various suggestions for amended wording. No great advantage has been seen in most of the suggestions, but the revised draft includes advice not to speed up because of a close-following vehicle. It also takes account of new regulations requiring the use of headlamps in poor daytime visibility.

I move on now to Rules 99 to 105 on pages 25 to 27, which are about roundabouts. Mini-roundabouts are now sometimes constructed at junctions normally controlled by traffic signs or traffic signals, and studies have shown that they call reduce the number of accidents by up to 30 per cent. Various organisations have asked for an illustration of a mini-roundabout (the sign is already in the Signs section), and for more detailed advice about how to negotiate such a roundabout. The rules on procedure at roundabouts were compiled with mini-roundabouts also in mind, but Rule 99 on page 25 has been expanded to cover the situation where the normal give-way rules do not apply. My right honourable friend is considering whether advice on mini-roundabouts should be separated from general advice on roundabouts, and we would welcome the views of noble Lords. An illustration will be included of the most usual form of mini-roundabouts, but it will not be possible to show any of the more complex arrangements.

The revised draft contains more detailed advice on action to be taken by those who are first on the scene of an accident—this comes under Rule 125 on page 35—and new advice on what to do if a vehicle containing dangerous goods is involved—Rule 126, also on page 35. This is related to the new system of "hazard labels" which is being introduced for such vehicles. The labels will be illustrated in the new Code. In response to demand from the voluntary aid societies, advice on first aid has been restored to the Code, and is contained in a section at the back.

The section on Extra Rules for Cyclists (Rules 127 to 134 on pages 35 to 37) contains only minor changes from the present version, but many comments were received suggesting that Rule 129 on page 35 contained an error and that "Ride in single file on busy narrow roads" should read "busy or narrow roads". The omission of "or" from what is in the current Code was intentional. Strong representations had been received from cycling interests that "busy or narrow roads" was too restrictive and the point has been accepted. The draft Code included advice about an alternative procedure for cyclists at roundabouts where, because of inexperience or any other reason, a cyclist did not feel able to follow normal roundabout procedure. The wisdom of having such alternative advice was doubted by some commentators, but there is a risk that if the Code were inflexible on this point, inexperienced or timid cyclists may feel bound to follow it, perhaps to their cost. The alternative procedure is therefore maintained in Rule 132 on page 35.

More people now ride horses for pleasure, often on public roads; there is therefore a greater risk of accidents between them and vehicles. The section entitled, The Road User and Animals, (Rules 135 to 141 on page 37), incorporates a change in procedure in that persons leading an animal are now advised to do so on the left, keeping the animal on their left, instead of leading on the right as previously. This change resulted from consultations with representatives of horse riding interests. RoSPA, the National Farmers' Union, the AA, the RAC and the Horse Society of Great Britain were all in favour of the change; the Jockey Club of Great Britain was the only organisation against it. Although there was conflicting advice on this, we felt the clear balance of opinion was in favour of the change.

In Rules 163 to 167 on page 43, we have expanded the advice about motor-way signals by explaining exactly what to do when red lights are flashing over one or more lanes. Police comments indicated there was a need for this advice.

There were a number of more general comments received by the Department about the draft Code. A considerable number of suggestions were received that the Highway Code should show metric units in all cases in addition to or in place of imperial units. This would pose a difficult problem; the complexity would tend to confuse most road users, particularly since speed limits and road signs will not be metricated for some time. Concern has also been expressed at the length of the revised Code. Many other letters asked for even more items to be put in. Obviously the aim must be to keep the Code as short as possible, but the volume of modern traffic and the complexity of roads and legislation inevitably means that additional advice had to be included.

My Lords, I would commend this Code to your Lordships; and without wishing to delay final publication, if any noble Lords have specific points they wish to raise during or after the debate I or my colleagues, or the officials in my Department, will be happy to give further consideration to any valid suggestion made to us.

Moved, That this House takes note of the proposed New Highway Code.—(Baroness Stedman.)

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, first of all, may I say how glad I am that the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, is taking part in this debate for the Government, and that the sundering of transport from the Department of the Environment has not deprived us of the company of the noble Baroness in our transport debates. It then falls to me to thank the noble Baroness very much indeed for her introduction of the suggested new form of the Highway Code, and for her very detailed description of it.

The subject of our debate today is in no sense a partisan issue. The subject of road safety concerns us all equally. No Government, and no one of us who has had any transport responsibility in Government, has any grounds for complacency as regards our record on road safety. The new Highway Code, the subject of our debate today, is perhaps the major contribution which the Ministry of Transport makes to road safety education. The Green Paper used to be priced at 50p, but I do not know whether inflation will put up the cost of the completed version when it is finally issued. However, I do know that when this is finally issued, whatever the cost it will be excellent value. The importance of a publication designed to improve road safety can hardly be over-emphasised. If I do not follow all the details put forward by the noble Baroness in her speech, it is only because of a general agreement with them.

With your Lordships' indulgence, before moving on to the specific question of the Code, I think it might be useful if we considered the general position of road safety, which, after all, is the context within which this Code will operate. I feel the more justified in doing this since this is the first debate on road safety matters which we have had in this House for some time, and therefore I think it only reasonable to use this opportunity to range over this whole question. There is no graver social problem facing us today than road safety. Last year alone some 6,330 people were killed on the roads, and a further 311,000 injured, several thoussands of whom will have been maimed for life. Cold statistics reveal the dimensions of the problem. They cannot, nothing can, convey the anguish and heartache of the relatives of those killed, and the long suffering of the injured, and the senseless terrible waste of young lives. We have not yet learned to live with the motor car. It may well be that our descendants will see our acquiescence in these casual slaughters as one of the major moral lacunae of this age.

What, if anything, can we do, for we are dependent as never before on the motorcar and on road transport. Nor is this dependence merely the result of blind economic and technological development. It has grown out of the conscious choice of millions of our fellow citizens. They wish to own and drive motor cars because the motor car is vastly the most convenient mode of personal transport. It is clear also that the future lies with individual transport. A track system will remain indispensable to deal with readily identifiable flows of traffic, such as commuter in conurbations or heavy bulk freight or interCity traffic. But most travellers for most of their journeys want a service, not a system, and they can obtain that service much more easily either by providing it themselves or by utilising road transport.

If we accept that the lorry and the car are indispensable, are we then in our moral criticisms of the casualty figures merely being deficient in realism? Is this just a form of self indulgence like those undergraduate conversations in which, at a certain stage of inebriation, we solemnly decided, that life had no meaning, only to move on a later stage of inebriation, to singing Land of Hope and Glory in the quad. I believe the French Marxist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said something to the effect that, while a future without Communism was unthinkable, to live with the Communists was impossible. That kind of startling lucidity may be all very well in Marxist philosophy, but it will not exactly do for road safety. I think we must accept that the motor vehicle as we know it will always be a hazardous instrument, a dangerous weapon in the hands of the incompetent or the careless or the unlucky.

If we cannot get on without the motor vehicle, we must therefore do everything we can to civilise it, and in this process of civilisation the Highway Code clearly has a vital role to play. I intend to consider the Code in more detail, and also to make various suggestions as to how it can be circulated more widely. But, before doing so, I should like, with your Lord-ships' permission, to examine the general context of the safety of our roads. An important point which should be made here is that there are some hopeful signs. First, the rate of accidents relative to the volume of road traffic mileage has been declining steadily since the war. If we take 1938 as the base year, there were in fact four times more accidents relative to traffic mileage in that year than there were in 1975. In absolute terms there were 318 fewer deaths in 1975 than in 1938, although there were almost 40 per cent. more injuries in 1975. There are various reasons for this: the fact that the death rate has remained static, and even gone down, while the number of injuries has increased obviously owes much to improvements in medical treatment, especially surgical techniques, and also to the speed with which accident victims reach hospital.

Secondly, by a curious paradox in one important respect the growth of private motoring has led to a fall in the casualty rate, in that more motoring means less cycling or motor cycling. Today, two-wheeled vehicles account for only 3 per cent. of the traffic on our roads, but they are involved in over 27 per cent. of accidents. But in 1938 motor cycles and bicycles accounted for four times more mileage than cars and taxis. Of course, cyclists and motor cyclists would immediately, and quite rightly, point out that if there were no cars there would be little problem. This, I think, makes the point that we should do everything possible to develop bicycle lanes, so that this eminently pleasant and healthy form of exercise can be enjoyed in safe conditions.

Another significant development has been the steady improvement in our roads. This improvement has yielded substantial benefits, even though the increase in vehicle numbers and vehicle mileage has been so considerable. Today we have more vehicles per mile than any of our EEC partners except Italy, and more than three times as many vehicles per mile of road than we had 20 years ago. That we have been able to contain the casualty figures despite our crowded roads owes a great deal to improvements in road quality. Every driver knows that dual carriageways, as well as allowing greater speed and more relaxed driving, are also safer than two-lane or three-lane roads and this is borne out in the accident statistics. The figures for injury accidents per thousand million vehicle miles are almost three times better on motorways and trunk roads than they are on A roads. We have, therefore, a second paradox to ponder: that the fastest roads are also the safest roads.

One main reason for this, of course, is that motorways and trunk roads are the nearest that car drivers come to having a reserved track. In general, and especially in towns, the car has to share its track with other users, and it is when this happens that the car is at its most dangerous. The latter point about speed also helps to explain why the police have always favoured realistic speed limits, by which they mean limits related to actual road conditions rather than arbitrary limits to conform to an arbitrary national pattern. At the moment we are in the rather absurd position of having 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70 mph limits. The poor driver may therefore be forgiven if he feels occasionally a trifle confused. And we do not want to confuse the motorist.

Nor do we want to make him feel that road traffic law is merely an arbitrary assemblage of politicians' prejudices. For we have to remember that the 50 and 60 mph speed limits were introduced originally during the energy crisis resulting from the Yom Kippur war. It turned out that the energy saving resulting from these limits were minimal. The answer to Britain's balance of payment problems does not lie in lower speed limits. Subsequent attempts have been made to justify the limits on grounds of safety. Two problems exist here. Firstly, there is no evidence that this is true. These limits have no visible effect on casualty figures. Secondly, it is surely unacceptable that legislative measures introduced in one set of circumstances should be kept in other circumstances for different reasons. The point about speed limits, and the need above all to have realistic and enforceable limits, in order to retain drivers' confidence, applies over the whole range of road traffic law. Let us remember that as the Highway Code stands today derestriction means 70 miles per hour.

Although mentioned in paragraph 27, I do not propose to discuss the seat belt question today, despite the recently aborted legislation; but there is one point that perhaps should be made here. There is some doubt that legislation to enforce the wearing of seat belts might either be unenforceable, in which case it would be open to the objection that the law of England should not be used as an extension of the Ministry of Transport's propaganda activities, or it would lead to considerable ill-feeling on the part of the motorists against the police. There is no way of computing the effect of this latter point on accident statistics, but it is a factor which we should not disregard.

To return to the question of accident levels, I mentioned earlier that the safe car is still a long way distant in the future and that car usage will inevitably be accompanied, I fear, by casualties; but I am sure you would agree that there are two categories of victims, so to speak, whose numbers could and must be reduced—pedestrians and children. Last year more than 2,500 pedestrians were killed and more than 70,000 injured. Now the Highway Code is primarily designed for drivers, but I think we have to do more. We have, as it were, to find an equivalent of the Highway Code for the use of pedestrians and also to take steps to improve the traffic education among children.

I was delighted to hear the noble Baroness expound on the Green Cross Code and what her views on getting it across to the children were. This is a point on which we would all support the Government 100,000 per cent. The most effective method of reducing road casualties is among these two groups, and I believe that we could effect a quite dramatic reduction by the right kind of campaign. I think we all recognise the good those excellent Government advertisements, seriocomic safety shorts on television, do. This is the kind of thing which will back up the Green Cross Code and the Highway Code more than any other thing there is because television is now the universal medium.

The point emerges from all this that better roads will make a contribution towards road safety. The better the road, the easier and safer the driving, and also on better roads arrangements can be made to segregate cyclists and pedestrians from the surface used by the motorist. This is something that should be borne in mind when we consider the future of the roads programme. Cut-backs in road building beyond a certain point not only impair a vital part of our economic structure but can actually cost lives. This is also true of cutbacks in road maintenance. The Consultation Document estimates that deficiency in the road surface is a factor in 28 per cent. of all accidents. This again should give pause to those who want to make economies at the expense of road works.

I am trying hard to be completely neutral and non-partisan in this debate; but when one considers the cost of certain measures which, for certain reasons, have occasioned a little difficulty between your Lordships' House and another place at the end of the last Session, surely the money, if it is going to be spent at all, could be better spent. I think that the roads programme would justifiably stake aclaim and not only for the motorists: every new cycle lane will help to save lives.

I think you will all agree that there are three main questions which we have to consider. First, the Code itself, and then the arrangements for discussing the Code in Parliament, and the most effective means of making drivers more aware of the Code's contents. Of course the revised draft Code owes a great deal to the Government's consultations with the road safety organisations—the RAC, the AA, RoSPA, and several other bodies. I think that we should all pay tribute to the distinguished service which these bodies have provided. Their work on behalf of road safety is absolutely invaluable; I think we should all pay tribute to the work of other experts in the road safety field. One such who has made an important contribution is Mr. Edward Terrell, the distinguished QC, who has placed his great knowledge and expertise in these matters at the disposal of many public bodies. I have learned a great deal from discussions with him, and I would certainly suggest to the noble Baroness that his views are worthy of her Department's and the Department of Transport's most serious consideration.

The contribution that the societies which I have mentioned have made has been considerable. The revised draft bears witness to this. Most of the points which were made as a result of the first Green Paper have already been picked up by the Ministry, but one or two which have escaped them are worthy of further examination with a view to inclusion in the final draft. The first of these concerns the question of hand signals. The advice concerning these, which is given on page 41 of the Green Paper, appears to impose a new specific obligation to give an arm signal when slowing down or stopping at zebra crossings—which would often be impracticable. I hope that the noble Baroness can give us more information in her concluding remarks on the Government's attitude on this matter.

Another point concerns a mode of transport which has been mentioned by the noble Baroness today but not to my mind totally satisfactorily. I refer to equitation. I spoke earlier about problems of track-sharing, but whatever problems and difficulties human beings face are vastly compounded when it comes to the animal kingdom. So far as I can see, despite what the noble Baroness has said there is nothing sufficiently strong in the Code to advise motorists how to behave in the presence of horses or ponies. I am sure noble Lords will agree that the horse has always enjoyed an especial place in Englishmen's affections, and most certainly I would say the same for Irishmen, and no doubt Welshmen and Scotsmen. If Mozart had been an Englishman—he did, after all, live around the same period as Stubbs—perhaps he might have produced an adaptation of La Donna e Mobile (or perhaps, loosely translated, "The Filly Skittish.") Such an adaptation would have well merited inclusion in the Highway Code, and it is a point that motorists would do well to keep in mind when they come into contact with horses.

As regards this, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to a form of words suggested by a body which the noble Baroness did not mention, the British Field Sports Society. They suggested that the following words might be inserted: If you are driving a car or riding a motor cycle and wish to overtake mounted or mounted and led horses, choose both your place and distance on the road carefully. Never overtake horses on a bend from which opposing traffic is unseen, without making sure before hand that it is safe to do so. Do not get too near the horse's hocks or hindquarters or ' rev ' up your engine too near the hindquarters of a horse, as horses are extremely susceptible to noise and could be irritated to the point of smashing your headlights with a smart kick. Remember that the horse is an animal of spirit and that your car is a machine within the competence of human control. When passing any animal on the road, either from behind or in front, exercise care and understanding by slowing down to a reasonable speed: the speed of a car is often frightening to animals. I would strongly commend this wording, or something similar, for inclusion in the revised Code. I hope that the noble Baroness will take note of this. On a personal note, I can say that I have had three personal friends killed through ill-considered actions by motorists or lorry drivers acting in ignorance and rashly in the presence of these people who were on the road.

As regards the question of the Code in Parliament, it has to be said that matters are by no means satisfactory. As the noble Baroness said, the Green Paper was published in January 1975: nearly two years later we are at last getting round to debating it. I cast my mind back over our debates these last two years. I do not think that I can recollect subjects of such overriding importance as to push road safety into the background. We have had legislation aplenty—but of all the Acts which we have seen passed into law I cannot recollect one that rivals the subject of today's debate in importance, or which can make a tithe of the contribution to the welfare of our fellow subjects which the Highway Code can make.

One problem is that there is no mention, of course, of the Highway Code in Holy Writ. Neither of those two booklets of the newest testament, that of February or October 1974, saw fit to mention it. In arriving at their policies, the Government seem to be motivated solely by the need to please their more militant supporters, and of course road safety, I fear, can make no contribution here. Therefore, road safety appears to take second place. We have to wait two years to debate the Highway Code.

On the specific point, it might be useful if in future minor changes to the Highway Code could be effected by the Negative Resolution procedure because it is imperative that future additions or substractions are speedily adopted. In the old Code there is a sign depicting a bicycle which is described as indicating that the roadway in question, generally a lane, is restricted to cyclists and mopedriders. But since the publication of the present Code, these lanes have been restricted to cyclists only. In two recent cases at Bow Street—R. V Rodgers and R. v Limerick—the magistrates threw out the prosecution because of this confusion.

Although of course ignorantia iuris nemine excusat, it is surely undesirable that the Highway Code says one thing and the law another, although of course according to the Highway Code the speed deristriction sign still raises the limit to 70 mph. However, there is no evidence of that being cited successfully as a defence and it is to be hoped that the emergency limits will soon be discarded. Traffic conditions are changing all the time and it is clearly of great importance that the Code be kept up to date.

As for making drivers aware of the Code, I am reminded of a story concerning the poet Hugh MacDairmid. He wrote a book called A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, and to advertise the book the slogan was coined, "Every Scottish house has three things, the Bible, Burns and a drunk man". I do not know whether the drunk man has ever quite achieved the status of the other two, but I do know that every house should have a copy of the Highway Code. It is horrifying to think that a driver who would never dream of throwing away the instruction manual given out by the manufacturers of his car will casually discard his copy of the Code as soon as he has passed his test.

How can we prevent this? I have two ideas which I throw out for discussion. The first is that the police should be entitled to require motorists to produce not only their driving licences and insurance certificates at police stations but also their copy of the Highway Code, which would at least ensure that people had a copy. Secondly, I suggest that car manufacturers be compelled to issue a copy of the Code with each new car and be allowed to recover the cost of doing that from the motorist.

None of this would ensure that motorists actually read the Code—nothing can do that—and I have no doubt that as soon as the average driver passes his test he tends to forget his Code with the same facility as schoolchildren forget all their lessons. But whatever the danger of elevating the Highway Code to the status of the great unread, one certainly cannot read it if one does not have a copy of it, and the measures which I have suggested would at least ensure that motorists had a copy of the Code. I was delighted to hear how aware the Minister was of this problem and her views on it.

I would also suggest that the Department of Transport should try in its publicity measures to encourage motorists to feel the same pride in knowing the Highway Code as many of them do in understanding the innards of their car engines. There are various aspects of a man's personal performance which are sacrosanct and which only a close friend would dare to criticise. I fear that one of these is his driving. If the motorist could be encouraged to believe that knowledge of the Highway Code was a vital part of his driving abilities, road safety would greatly benefit.

I appreciate that while I have spoken for a considerable time, I have raised more questions than I have answered. I make no apology for that because road safety is an enormously complex issue and there are no easy answers. The one point I would make is that the more time we give to this question the better. I believe that none of our discussions are more important for the welfare of our fellow subjects than our deliberations on means of greater road safety.


My Lords, when the noble Lord referred to Mozart, was he thinking of La Donna é Mobile or Cosi Fan Tate?


I would be happy for that to be quoted in the Code, too, my Lords.

5.36 p.m.


My Lords, we on these Benches also wish to express our appreciation to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and the Government for producing a proposed new Highway Code for the general safety of everybody living in these islands. The last time the noble Baroness and I were concerned with motorised transport it was in respect of non-moveable cars. Today the picture is much wider.

I have been driving for nearly 35 years, doing a large number of miles each year; indeed, I have worked out that I must have driven about I million miles. Touch wood I have not yet—I hope this will continue to be the case—been involved in a fatal or bad accident, so perhaps noble Lords will feel that I can speak with knowledge of some of the difficulties that beset the motorist and suggest ways in which the Code might be improved. At the beginning of the new Code, dealing with road users on foot, the pedestrian, advocating that light coloured clothing should be worn, I wonder whether more emphasis could be put on this, particularly for pedestrians at night. I say that because many pedestrians seem to think that because a car has its headlights on they are completely visible. I know, very nearly to my cost the other night, that that is not so.

We now have zig-zag lines at the approaches to zebra crossings. However, when one is driving even slowly and the road is wet, if one needs to stop rapidly one may still skid. I wonder therefore whether the Road Research Laboratory could investigate the possibility of finding a substance to be used on the surface of the road at the approaches to zebra crossings which would be less liable under wet conditions to cause vehicles to skid. I was glad to hear Lady Stedman say that the Government would be considering how bus lanes could be marked more prominently. Only the other day in Piccadilly I witnessed what happened when a man stepped off the pavement, looked the wrong way and got hit.

Returning to the subject of light coloured clothing, could more emphasis be given in the Code to motor cyclists and cyclists at night? Perhaps the word "fluorescent" could be explained more clearly to them. The Code deals with this, but many people still believe that "fluorescent clothing" is the same as or as good as light-coloured clothing; according to the Code that is not the case.

A new consideration is the use of head-lights in bad weather; I am not talking about fog. The British seem particularly allergic to turning on their headlights, whether it is raining, lighting-up time or whatever the conditions; and when they turn them on, they generally switch on the sidelights, which, as noble Lords may know, are just about useless in bad conditions. I should very much like to see more emphasis given to the need to use headlights much more frequently in day-light. This is particularly so in fog on motorways. Most modern cars are today fitted with hazard warning lights and although one is told not to use hazard lights when moving, I cannot believe that on a motorway, where fog can suddenly appear and then disappear rapidly, it would be bad to have car hazard warning lights flashing. Flashing yellow lights on either side of a vehicle are much easier to see in fog than the normal red lights. After all, aeroplanes fly with flashing yellow lights. I believe that some multiple pileups on motorways could be averted if hazard lamps were used by moving vehicles.

On roads which are marked with double and single lines, sometimes these lines seem to have been ordained and put where they are by people who have absolutely no idea of where and when it is safe to overtake, unless one is driving a Ferrari or similar vehicle with the most extraordinary acceleration. I should like to know whether the noble Baroness can say which is the authority that is responsible for putting down these lines. I am not in favour of doing away with them but some are badly positioned and very dangerous.

The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, was speaking about roads that are mixed up between single carriageway and three lanes. I believe that the three-lane highway is one of the most dangerous roads there is. I strongly advocate that, where there is a three-lane highway with a middle lane where overtaking is optional, there should be no option—for one mile, the traffic on the side should be allowed to overtake and for the next mile the traffic on the other side should be allowed to do so. In other words, there should be double white lines on all three-lane highways. There is one piece of three-lane highway four miles from where I live, and on that stretch there have been three accidents and four people killed in the last three months, entirely because nobody knows who has the priority on a three-lane highway, because there is no priority.

To come to one-way streets in London and other towns, one very often finds that at a crossroads in a one-way street the arrow on the road indicates that one can turn right, but one turns straight into a two-way street—there is very often no warning that this other street carries two-way traffic. One is inclined to assume, that, if the arrow is on the right-hand side of the road and one can turn right, one should be able to drive on the right hand side of the road in the new street.

There is one other point as regards turning right at crossroads where there are traffic lights. It says in the Code that cars should pass each other on the off-side. If there is a double line of traffic proceeding both ways and both want to turn right when the lights are green and if one leaves the oncoming car on the off-side, it is very rarely possible for more than one car or at the most two cars to turn right at the junction. The entire right hand lane is held up in both streams, whereas, if one passes on the near side, much more traffic is able to turn right and it does not hold anybody up. Perhaps thought could be given to that point. I have already mentioned headlamps and lighting and the strange reluctance of the English to make themselves visible, but I should like to reiterate that dipped headlights ought always to be used in towns, not so much for the advantage of the driver seeing where he is going but for the pedestrian who will realise that the light which is approaching is on a vehicle. Otherwise, if only side lights are being used, the car may be taken for a pedestrian with a torch or a bicyclist.

One further comment. The signposts that appear in the Code are all very fine but the signs in many English towns are, to say the least, confusing to the motorist. If there could be some way of having a more standard placing of signposts it would be an advantage. Some are on the right, some are on the left, some are low down, some are high up. One can have a sign saying "Fork Left for A"; one forks left and comes to another crossroads only to find that place A has vanished and has become something totally different. This is very frustrating and confusing and, when motorists get frustrated, they drive badly. They become irritable. I also entirely concur with what the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, said about present-day speed limits. I do not believe that they are of much benefit. I do not believe that they are enforceable by the police, and I feel that, if anything, they cause frustration; and anything that frustrates the driver must be bad.

There is one other point. I wonder whether one could not try to educate the drivers of this country into taking greater pride in their driving. Perhaps the Government could promote a campaign with the Institute of Advanced Motorists. I believe that it would not be a bad thing and would not cost very much money, and I feel that it could only prove beneficial in the long run. My last point is the following. As the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, said, the Highway Code is not only for motorists. It is for the pedestrian. Might it not be an investment if a copy were sent to every householder? I am sure that the cost of printing and delivery would be less than the cost of repairing lives damaged through accidents.

5.47 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, am delighted not only that we have this opportunity to discuss the new Code, but that the new Code should be being introduced by the Government at this time. It is certainly highly necessary, as the last Code came out in 1969. Those of your Lordships who know me and know my disability might possibly think that my method of getting around the country should be by bath chair, but I should like to say, though I hate practising "one-upmanship on the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, that I have driven all types of motor vehicles for the last 45 years without having anything on my licence. I even drove Green Line buses during the war when they were used as sitting-case ambulances. I was very young and we drove them in the dark and without lights. So I have a certain amount of experience and I think I can perhaps claim to be the only disabled grandmother in your Lordships' House who drives a really rather fast sports car.

I should like something like the following to appear at the very front of this Highway Code"A good motorist must have good manners, a knowledge of the law, a sense of timing and distance, and quick reactions." I do not know whether the House will agree with me on those points, but I certainly always put good manners first. I should like that to appear there. The Code is presumably meant primarily for first generation drivers and young drivers, but I think that it is much too long and involved. It has taken me a lot of study to try to find my way through it and I still have difficulty. Perhaps it is because there is no index to the new Paper for Parliamentary debate, but presumably there will be an index in the final version.

I want mostly to address my remarks to the younger generation who will be the users of the road in the future. We are all aware that most schools are given lessons on the Highway Code and how to behave on the road, how to behave on a bicycle and, sometimes, in the sixth form, how to behave in a car and, indeed, how to drive. But I have yet to find any school, whether the pupils are taught by the local police or by their teachers, which gives adequate teaching in the use of the ordinary traffic signs and signals. I am talking about the lights. The number of times one sees children, who obviously have no idea what they mean, looking up at lights is worrying. I hope that encouragement can be given to those who are teaching our young in schools so that children may learn this part of road use.

I want to make a few suggestions, despite the fact that I have grumbled about the length of the Code. One matter which I fear is increasingly annoying me—I do not know whether any noble Lords would agree—is the use of very darkly tinted glass on mini-cars and on very large cars. I am thinking of tinted glass fitted all the way around the vehicles. In a narrow road it is possible to see around a mini and perhaps over the roof of a mini, except of course if one is also driving a mini. But in, the case of a very large car with all the panes consisting of very dark tinted glass it is not possible to see through the glass, and of course one of the methods of seeing what is ahead on the road is by looking through the glass of the car in front of you.

I also wish to make a suggestion concerning very long vehicles which turn in dual carriageways across the road to go back in the opposite direction. The driver of such a vehicle manages to get across the dual carriageway, but a considerable part of his vehicle is still sticking out into the offside of the dual carriage-way. At night it is obvious that it is the broad side of that long vehicle which is confronting the motorist who is coming up on the offside. This part of the long vehicle is unlit and at night it is almost impossible to see it. I suggest that lights should be fixed along the entire side of these long vehicles so that they are adequately lit up at night.

I am delighted to see that more and more motor-cyclists switch on their lights when in traffic. This enables other drivers to see them, and the practice should be encouraged. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, drew attention to the very bad state of some of our roads, especially some of the streets in our boroughs. Quite recently I have seen two motor-cyclists catapulted from their machines due entirely to the state of the road. This happened in two boroughs not at all far from Westminster. The motor-cyclists came off. I do not think they were killed, but they were hurt. I hope that something will be done about this.

I am also delighted to see that the Government have paid full attention to, and given more encouragement towards, light clothing being worn by pedestrians—a point which other noble Lords have mentioned. This is vitally important, and I agree completely with the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, on this matter. Pedestrians, even though they may be wearing dark overcoats, dark jeans and dark polo-necked sweaters, still think that motorists, with their lights on, can see them. But in rainy conditions, where there is a lot of reflection in the roads, it is almost impossible to see these people, and so I hope they will be encouraged to wear lighter clothing, or perhaps arm bands.

I turn to my main worry which is about child cyclists who, certainly in the urban areas, are allowed to ride their bicycles in the dark without lights. It is very difficult for the police or anybody else to pick up these small children or to prosecute them, yet they are in terrible danger from motorists in all classes of vehicles who are quite unable to see them. I should like to suggest that these children should wear arm bands. I know that these arm bands are available; in connection with a walk to be done by children in aid of a charity which I help, all the children are being provided with arm bands which have a reflective stripe on them. All children should be encouraged to wear these arm bands at night and to have lights on their cycles.

I also want to suggest that the part of the Code dealing with cyclists should be produced as a special small leaflet, which should be available in all cycle shops and in all schools. We cannot guarantee that parents would provide these leaflets of their own free will, but I think that children should be given something that is not too difficult to read and which will encourage them to have good road manners and to obey the law. I should have thought that such a leaflet, which would be small and probably quite cheap,—even if the Government could not give it away—would encourage children in this matter.

My last point has already been touched on, but I wish to touch on it again. It concerns the revised speed limits. In company with the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, I do not think these limits save lives or petrol or prevent accidents. But my point is this. Unless at the entry of a road there is a sign displayed stating the speed limit which the law allows (and that includes the new revised laws) I do not think that the speed limit should be cited in a court of law. I am well aware that the Government think that the revised speed limits are known by everybody and that it is obvious what class of road one happens to be on; and that if it states 60 miles an hour one must automatically know that it is only 50 miles an hour. But this is not true, and in my respectful submission such an attitude is not fair to the motorists. This is out of date now, and I urge the Government to bring back the normal speed limits for that one reason. I do not think that motorists should be brought to court for contravening a law which is not visible. I hope that my meaning is clear. I have asked many people about this, including the police and road safety people, and nobody seems quite to know the law. Those are the only comments I have to make, and I hope that this Code will be speedily produced for all road users.

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve on her excellent speech and on her ability to drive sports cars, buses and HGVs with a blameless record. I shall never again be able to criticise a lady driver regarding her abilities at the wheel, especially when I think of my noble friend's record and my own rather adventurous one. If one were to discuss this Code in every detail and consider every single item it would take all night. I do not speak for very long, and I do not intend to do so this evening. The proposed Code has now been in front of us as a Green Paper for some considerable time and there have been many changes in its different requirements, some included in the White Paper version, in a year. I do not think that the Green Paper, which I personally have got to know fairly well, is all that different in content from the new revised version. I feel that that is the case. But it is somewhat disturbing to see that new drivers are quite possibly being trained to be knowledgeable about a Code which must be out of date in many ways. Unless one can streamline these Highway Codes—and I think that this was said by the Secretary of State for Transport, and has been confirmed by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman—we shall have great difficulty. It is only right that this should be done, and I hope sincerely that this is what is intended so far as any new Codes are concerned.

I find myself that, as it stands, the Code is far too long. It is more of a driving manual than a precise guide to driving behaviour. There is a manual issued by the Department of Environment, called Driving. The Highway Code and the manual are somewhat similar in substance and content, and I feel that a motorist buying the Highway Code at 50p plus will not want to buy another manual. Cannot these two documents possibly be combined? I hope that the noble Baroness will look into this, because I am really trying to be helpful over it. I know that to everyone here possibly 50p is not very much, but to many people, and to the many millions who will want, I hope, to buy the Highway Code, 50p means a great deal: and if it is going to cost much more than that, and if they have to get the Highway Code and then think in terms of another manual called Driving, they will not be able to do it.

My Lords, some of the advice and instruction is obvious, I feel, and already fully understood by motorists and those who are just commencing to drive. If that is not the case and they do not fully understand what is in the Highway Code then, quite frankly and quite bluntly, he or she should not be in possession of a driving licence. Driving a motor car today—and this has been emphasised by more than one speaker—is a serious business, and in my opinion standards can never be raised too high. Of course, much of the Code is most interesting and helpful, and frankly I do not want to appear to be too critical of it.

I welcome the complimentary remarks made by my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton so far as the RAC are concerned. I know that there are several members of the committee of the RAC in your Lordships' House from time to time, and I am quite sure that they will welcome these remarks as well. Detailed observations concerning the proposed changes mentioned in the Code have already been submitted to the Department of the Environment by the RAC. I hope that the Transport Department will keep in close touch with the big motoring organisations, representing the views of millions of motorists.

May I instance one or two items in the Code, for instance on headlamps? The only important and really useful instruction should be to use dipped headlamps in thick fog or mist, or heavy rain, and not just sidelights. I think everyone will realise, motoring a great deal today, that if you go along the road in very poor conditions of this kind you find that many motorists have only their sidelights on, or one headlight pointing to the sky and another one down to the ground. This seems to me to be rather sad, and very dangerous indeed; so I hope that something will be done to ensure that headlamps are used in the dipped position. The question of driving at this time of year is a difficult one because on the motorways, in particular, there are numerous shunts which involve people driving far too close to each other. This seems an obvious thing, but unfortunately many motorists never seem to understand that they must drive within a safe distance from the car in front, which will enable them to pull up in any emergency.

As to the use of the driving mirror, surely it is not necessary to tell people how to use a mirror. This is part of the motor car equipment, like the windscreen wipers or the seat belts, if we are ever forced to wear such horrible things. I think this is common sense, and I feel that it is rather a waste of paper to include that sort of thing. I do not really see the need for advice on reversing. The motorist, who is unjustly blamed for a great number of things, is not totally ignorant of the fact that he is handling a lethal weapon, and he does not want to hurt his motor car, his pride and joy, or himself. I think it might be considered whether it is worth inserting what is said about reversing. In my own county, Buckinghamshire, I am chairman of the Highways Authority and I have on numerous occasions encouraged the construction of mini-roundabouts. We have a number of them, they work very well in easing the traffic flow and in enabling motorists to avoid long delays and they have been taking the place of traffic lights. But—and I think the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, suggested this—if it is possible to have a separate paragraph on mini-roundabouts I think that would be a very good thing, because although a mini-roundabout is a small roundabout it is easy to make a mistake and to think that the rules must be different.

I do not think that in the Code there is any guidance given at all on aquaplaning and the dangers of loss of braking power when overtaking a heavy goods vehicle in pouring rain. It is not always understood that spray comes from the side of the vehicle, not from the rear wheels and out at the back, and that it feeds straight away on to the brake disc pads or on to the brake shoes, whichever you happen to be handling. This seems to me to be really something which could be usefully put into the Code. I did not want to refer to speed limits, but I have been given the opportunity because my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton mentioned them, and I think we were told not to refer to them at all, but I will. I have to come to your Lordships' House, when I do, covering a journey of about 30 miles, and I have five different speed limits on that journey. They change from 70 to 60 to 50 to 40, up the scale again to 60 and down to 30. This is obviously confusing to the motorist. It confuses me a little, and I try to stick to the rules, but many do not. In fact, I think most motorists ignore them. I think, therefore, that the sooner we get this straightened out and some adjustments made, tile better it will be for motorists. My Lords, there is nothing to say that a motor cycle passenger in the chair of a motor cycle combination should wear a crash helmet, a steel helmet. I think that is very important.

For the Highway Code to be the motorists' bible it must be, I think, positive in its advice, reasonably short and easily read and understood by all road-users, including, of course, the pedestrian, who is very often, in my opinion, more reckless in his behaviour than any motorist. I hope that when the new revised Code has passed through both Houses of Parliament it will be worth 50p and will be read by father, mother, and young people of driving age, and as much of it as possible committed to memory, or at any rate—and this is very important—referred to from time to time.

6.6 p.m.


My Lords, like other noble Lords I welcome the opportunity the Government have given us to discuss the proposed new Highway Code in draft form, but I must confess to some regret that two whole years have passed between its publication and today's debate. At one time in your Lordships' House we had, for several years, an annual debate on road safety, so ably initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and I should like to see us do so again. As the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mr. Horam, said in another place on 8th November last, the Highway Code is not just for learner drivers or for children taking the cycling proficiency test. It is surely for all road-users, whether they are drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, motor cyclists, people leading animals or riders on horses. There can be no citizen who does not have a personal interest in road safety and in the successful working of the Highway Code.

First, I think we ought to congratulate the Minister and all others concerned on the attractive layout and design of the proposed Code. I thought that the illustrations were almost all of excellence. But I am somewhat surprised that the printers have left such large margins all round the outer edges. Surely, if these were made smaller the price might be reduced, so that more people would buy it. I am sure that this is what the Government want. It is useful to have "The Law's Demands" set out at the end, but may I make a plea for an index, which would make it so much easier to use.

Looking through the Code and trying to avoid points that have already been made by other noble Lords or on 8th November in another place, a number of matters occur to me. Some of these are very small, and, while I hope the noble Baroness who is to reply will consider them, I do not expect her to answer them today. Paragraph 8.3 states that traffic may be coming from "all" directions—including, should I suppose, helicopters from above and the humble mole from underneath? It would be better to say "many" directions, I think. Paragraph 12 speaks of an island in the middle of a crossing, whereas paragraph 15 speaks of a central refuge. I think most people know and speak of an island. Paragraph 17 again speaks of an island. I asked my daughter of 16, who is having the Highway Code explained at school, and she said she prefers the word, "island". She also said that the younger children understand the word "island", particularly as they are used to hearing their parents use the word.

In regard to pedestrian crossings, paragraph 45.54, I would warmly support a gradual phasing in of railings near pedestrian crossings and ramps at the crossings, as suggested in another place: railings to reduce the number of accidents near pedestrian crossings and ramps to assist the blind; the disabled, particularly those in wheelchairs; the elderly and infirm; and those wheeling prams or shopping baskets on wheels. I am afraid I disagree with the noble Earl, Lord Howe, in regard to advice on the use of mirrors. I think that paragraph 61 should carry a warning that the interior mirror does not show another vehicle which has already started to pass, and that either wing mirrors should be used or the driver warned to glance over his shoulder before changing lanes. Paragraph 82 could perhaps be better worded when a mini-roundabout may not look like one. But surely a mini-roundabout is at least marked out on the ground with white lines and looks to some extent like one, but I have seen many people ignore them; although they drive straight across it, they do at least give way to traffic from the right.

Paragraph 85 is contradictory. It says: Never go forward when the red and amber lights are showing together (see illustration above)". Quite right; but the illustration shows a green light and so makes nonsense of the injunction. That is on page 18. Paragraph 117 carried the words: If you carry a red warning sign (a reflecting triangle) place it on the road to warn following traffic of an emergency. In Italy and France the use of a reflecting red triangle is mandatory. Could I ask the Minister, when she comes to reply, whether this is an EEC regulation? Would it not be a sensible way of advertising a breakdown or other emergency in this country and could it not be made mandatory rather than optional? I have ridden a bicycle for many years and find myself in disagreement with paragraph 122. I also disagree as a car driver. I think that most roads are unsafe for cyclists to ride two abreast. I am thinking especially of towns and cities with narrow streets—one such is York where two or more cyclists riding abreast are frequently to be seen especially during the rush hours, and I should like to see this paragraph altered to read, "Do not ride abreast." That would be much safer—and I have long thought that all cyclists should be taxed. When my husband and I were living in Tanganyika all cyclists were taxed. They had to buy an annual coloured disc at the Post Office: it was fastened with a screw in a prominent place on the bicycle. The payment of even small tax would, I think, make cyclists more aware of their personal responsibility for road safety.

My Lords, I agree with paragraph 126(g), that is, that. cyclists should wear "light coloured or reflective and fluorescent clothing." During the war three other requirements were made of cyclists: a rear light, a reflector and a white mudguard. I should like to see the wartime rules revived but with the addition that the mudguard of the rear wheel should now be fluorescent. I said that I would avoid points that have been mentioned in another place, but I should like to say that, like Mr. Eldon Griffiths the honourable Member for Bury St. Edmunds, I find it extraordinary that paragraph 130 should recommend that horses should be ridden on the left hand side of the road. I always thought the opposite; that is, that horses should he ridden on the right hand side of the road so that they cannot be surprised from behind. I should also like to see the rider or someone wearing reflective clothing leading a horse. This I should also like to apply to people who go hunting and return after dark along an unlit country road. I have always believed that horses whether ridden or led should face the traffic like pedestrians. But I do not think that I can support the reason that the honourable gentleman for Bury St. Edmunds is reported to have given in another place that: A horse, like a woman, is a volatile creature."—[Official Report, Commons, Vol.919, No.181, 8/11/761] I think that that is a topic that I shall not pursue.

6.14 p.m.


My Lords, I think that at the outset I should declare an interest in that I am the President of the Heavy Goods Vehicle Driving Instructors and latterly have accepted the Presidency of the League of Safe Drivers following the noble Lord, Lord Green-wood of Rossendale, in whose name this Motion was set down about a year ago. I do not propose to speak this evening on behalf of those organisations. Rather, I want to talk about the basic thinking that appears to lie behind the Motion. I would urge the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, to stand right back, absolutely back, from this Highway Code because there was an inevitable predictability about what she was going to say this evening. Much of it—and we accept the reason for it—was contained in the debate in the other place on 8th November.

I picked up last night the report of the debate here on 3rd December 1968. The noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, said almost precisely the same things as have been said this evening by the Minister, and a great number of those people who spoke in that debate have said exactly the same things tonight: wear arm bands, wear light coloured clothing, lead a horse from the left or right, switch lights on when fog comes down, do not drive too fast, children this and children that—almost the same stuff. We had my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton, no doubt in great faith, saying how marvellous it was that the rate of accidents per passenger mile had reduced; that actually in real terms so on and so forth; but that we must do more things to reduce the number of "untimely deaths"—this and other expressions. I do not think the expression "carnage of the roads" has been used this evening, but that is the usual sort of stuff that comes out. It is true that far more accidents take place in the home, but we do not have debates on home safety and we do not have booklets issued on home safety, on the use of flex and of plugs and so on.

My Lords, this book is far too big. If the noble Baroness turns to that 1968 debate, she will see that that is exactly how I started my comments on that occasion. It is too big and lacks urgency. There is no theme throughout. Three things only: "Mirror—signal—manoeuvre". I quarrel with the word "manoeuvre". Why not "move"—"Mirror—signal—move". We all know what that means. There is no theme. There is page upon page of matter which somebody is supposed to read, somebody is supposed to learn and be examined upon. In 1968 we were faced with a small, slim volume which I described as "too big", with 150 points in it, over 41 pages. That was an increase on the previous Highway Code which contained 90-odd rules. It cost Is.3d. (6¼ p). In 1976, we move from 150 rules to 180 rules and the sure promise that before long—indeed, I say before this one is printed and published and passed by Parliament—there will be more than 180 rules and over 61 large pages, at 50p. The Under-Secretary of State said, in column 126 in that debate of 8th December 1968, that this was a digest. My Lords, nothing 61 pages long with 180-plus points in it can conceivably be considered a digest. It is nothing of the sort. It is, as my noble friend Lord Howe has said, bearing upon a manual; it is hearing upon the document I have in my hand, published originally by the Ministry of Transport in 1969 at 12s.6d.: the Ministry of Transport manual, Driving, the third impression of which has come out under the Department of the Environment's Manual priced 67p. I suppose that the next one will be another Ministry of Transport manual priced perhaps significantly higher.

My Lords, let us think about this sensibly. Here is a manual with all sorts of things in it. It tells you how to reverse, about signals, and most of the things contained in the Code. It is proposed to sell the Code at 50p and currently the manual sells at 67p. To take care of inflation, the final figure might be 75p or 85p. That is the kind of manual that we should be encouraging drivers to have as a work of reference. In the Highway Code (I think it is Rule 126) there is reference to hazard labels; but I have in my hand a manual about hazard labels and dangerous goods. What are we expecting the motorist to be? He is an ordinary, average fellow; not terribly clever, no more expert than the next person. He has no special knowledge about acids or petroleum. He has no special knowledge about first aid and accidents. He has no special knowledge about road surfaces and adhesion. He has no special knowledge about things which are contained in the Highway Code. Yet you are going to ask him to read and learn 180 points.


To save people's lives.


My Lords, you must be more naive than I think you are, because the motorist is not going to do it. It has been proved time and time again that he does not do it. During a House of Commons debate an honourable Member produced figures from the Transport and Road Research Laboratory which carried out a survey on motorists. They asked a number of questions about the Highway Code. The answers that the Laboratory received were abysmal and appalling—proving my point and denying Lord Strabolgi's sotto voce point. They do not learn the Code and nobody has yet devised a way of making them do so. We are absolutely foolish in spending all this time about every two years trotting out the same old stuff; no new answers, no new thinking. I implore the noble Baroness, her Department and officials, to stand back. They have been perpetuating it from time immemorial.

It has been a good idea, but how many people in the Department does it employ, for how long and at what cost? I should think the team working on this Code have now started on the next one. In 1968 the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, in his closing remarks, said that they were busy on the next edition. It does not do much good because it does not strike at the real point, which is: who reads it? Who can be made to read it? How can they be made to read it? Those producing a document of this kind must continually be asking questions. I think that it was the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, who said that it is probably a first generation job. I think probably it is. Old dogs cannot be taught new tricks; that is a fact. Most of us drivers are not going to change our way radically. We are too old; we are too much in the habit. We are going to start with the new people. How do we start with new people?

In 1968 the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, said that at that time 10 million copies of the then Code had been sold and 14 million copies had been given away. I wonder what today's figure is regarding the last Code. What is proposed for this Code, priced 50p? Suppose, in total, it is proposed to sell 20 million at 50p? We are talking about £10 million. My goodness! what could we do in training with £10 million over a period of four years? That is where the answer really lies.

I cannot agree with a suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton. Incidentally, two suggestions have been made today as to how we can bring the Highway Code to the attention and notice of more people. The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, felt it might be a good idea to allow the police to demand that a driver should furnish not only a driving licence, insurance documents and the MOT certificate, but also a copy of the Highway Code. He felt it might be a good idea for motor manufacturers to be required to supply the Highway Code as part of their hand-book, because who throws away a motor manufacturer's handbook? Please do not give the police any more rights to ask for any more pieces of paper, otherwise it will be yet another offence if we fail to produce it at a police station within five days. That will irritate the motorist even more than he is being irritated by motoring offences. Do not ask motor manufacturers to do anything more than supply our starved market of motor-cars. Let the books stay with the publishers and the motor-cars with the motor-car manufacturers.

Suppose we suggested that when the application for a driving licence or a new motor vehicle licence is filled in, there were 15 questions on the form? Suppose those useless things called computers were used to pick at random 15 questions so that the chances were that out of every 15,000 forms there might be a different series of questions about the Highway Code two years running? guarantee that not many people could answer the questions from memory, so they would have to refer to the book. At least the book would be opened if only to find the right answer.

My Lords, I wonder whether I might return to the point about who reads these answers. My noble friend has just handed the figures to me. The AA magazine showed that 78 out of 100 people scored less than 50 per cent. of right answers to the questions posed and 18 scored less than 20 per cent. Suppose that under the aegis of the reformed Ministry of Transport we got together the National Association of Approved Driving Instructors (they are a newly-merged body coming from the Society of Approved Driving Instructors and the National Association of Driving Instructors), the League of Safe Drivers, the Institute of Heavy Goods Vehicle Driving Instructors, the RAC/ACU people, the Institute of Advanced Motorists, and so on—all those people doing much the same job with a greater or lesser degree of competency and all desperately poor. We could build them up into a quasi-official body and give them some of the money—some of this £10 million or £15 million that seems to be hanging around the sale or free issue of manuals—and start a proper education and training course in driving, in roadcraft and so on, right at the beginning: that is, the kind of education centre that we have at Crystal Palace, and also in Birmingham. That would surely immediately start people off on the right foot. There would be no rush to the Highway Code to learn a few things on the night before the test.

I urge Her Majesty's Government to believe that if they are to make a significant contribution to road safety it must be in education, and education of the first generation. I urge them to have another look at the whole setup of driving instruction. I have been told on very good authority of driving instructors—and you will remember that all driving instructors are ADI and they have to be passed and qualified, because nobody can just pick up the job and do it for reward—instructing for 90 hours a week. No lorry driver is allowed to be around his wagon for that kind of time. How can anybody instruct for 90 hours a week? One hears also of instructors who work 62 hours, and many of them work 55 or 60 hours a week. Is road safety what we are talking about? Frankly, I am not sure that it is really what we are talking about. I think we are really talking about a Department of the Environment or Ministry of Transport sacred cow, to be fed and fattened in the name of the Highway Code.

6.34 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to address your Lordships, I hope very shortly. I find myself in considerable agreement with my noble friend Lord Lucas. It is a most interesting thing, when you consider this new Paper, that in over two years there are only 53 rules which have not been altered. That is a fairly smart progression from the original draft to this new one. Supposing we get this published, would we then be up against having only 53 rules left at the end of another two years in a newly published Highway Code?

I have a much more grave disagreement over this Highway Code than just the continual building up and up of suggestions as to what should go into it. It contains far too much and it covers far too many people. As a result, far too few people are going to read it. If you get a learner driver who has to go out and take a test after completing a number of lessons, where are the bulk of difficulties to be found? They are normally found around the urban areas. Why do we then present them with something telling them that if they do not answer questions in the Highway Code they will fail? One question which might well he asked is: what does a farmer with 100 cows do when he arrives at a railway crossing? When you come down to examples like that, you have then got yourself on the wrong foot with your Highway Code.

The second thing one might ask is: what is the meaning of rules? You may talk about "Rule 162": that is splendid, but a rule should be something that you obey or else get a four-penny one for not obeying it. But in this case you cannot do that, because they are not rules. You cannot distinguish as you should do, automatically from reading this what you should do, or distinguish between a case of, "Please do this because it is safe to do it", and, "You have got to do it because the law says so". The quicker that matter is introduced into the Highway Code the better it will he and the more people will understand what it is about.

At this period do not think we should go into things such as why spray comes off the road, because nobody can see how to get the water away, and things of that sort. One should get back to a basic principle. Here we have a document which covers pedestrians, animal owners, car drivers with and without animals, and cars with or without children in them, heavy lorries with loads which may be safe or unsafe, which may be hazardous, dangerous, corrosive or explosive. It is all in one book. Children have got to be taught how to cross the road—which is laid down in the Highway Code—but that has absolutely nothing to do with what a lady driver on the motorway and suddenly seeing a lorry tip over on its side and a steaming load come out, needs to know in order to cope with such a situation.

Please let us try to get this Highway Code sorted out into sensible and proper groupings so that people who have a need to know what is in a section intended for them will be able to find out what they need. Do not let us have pages and pages of stuff which does not affect them and which, as a result, if they begin to read it at all, they will not read for very long.

6.38 p.m.

Viscount MONCK

My Lords, I must first apologise for the fact that my remarks may well be even more incoherent tonight than usual. I did not realise until yesterday morning that the Green Paper had been superseded by the white one, and all my notes, page references and so on, were made in regard to the green one. I had to spend the better part of two hours altering them all.

Nevertheless, the first thing I want to do is to hand a bouquet—the noble Baroness did not hear me; she is so used to curses—to all those who during the last 25 years have produced something considerably better than what I first spoke on in your Lordships' House 25 years ago. The one today might refer to as the best Beluga caviar, as compared with rather indifferent fish fingers of 25 years ago. I must admit that the old one contained an awful lot of "codswallop". Nevertheless. I stand by the bouquet.

As has been said by several speakers, this is rather long and there will be a great many grey lies told or written when we fill in the licence application form and answer, Yes, to the question, "Have you studied the Highway Code? "Everybody puts, Yes, and I expect that there will be a lot of grey lies. Nevertheless, I am going to make one or two suggestions. Incidentally, talking about my incoherence, it was not until the noble Baroness got up to speak that I realised that this is virtually duplicated. I was going to make the point that it is too long and the duplication should be cut out, but the noble Baroness said so.

We have to look at what is on the right-hand pages, and the left-hand pages are all out of date. On page 5, it is quite right to say, "Don't run" when crossing the road, but I suggest that the word "quickly" should be inserted after the word "walk", because people must get across the road without imperilling themselves by running. I now turn to lucky page 13, where Rule 46 refers to leaving a gap between yourself and the vehicle in front of you. It states, This will also leave space for an overtaking vehicle to pull in The first thing you see in the diagram below is that if you are going at 20 mph—and most Members of your Lordships' House never go faster than that—you ought to leave 40 feet, or 13 yards. I think that there should instead be a minimum of 75 feet, or 25 yards. I have always understood that that was the military instruction, whether or not obeyed, given to convoys travelling along the road, and I confirmed that half an hour ago with a very eminent General who is a Member of your Lordships' House.

I now turn to another odd number, page 21. There are a great many things that I do not know and never shall, and I do not have much longer in which to learn them, but coming to Rule 79(d) I was never aware that in one-way streets vehicles may pass on either side. I really think that this should be looked at. I imagine myself in a one-way street, with my noble friend Lord Lucas whizzing past on one side and my noble friend Lord de Clifford whizzing past on the other. I should probably have a double heart attack, swerving violently both ways.

Page 29 deals with flashing headlamps. I know that cold towels and wet towels have for years been put around people's heads over this matter, but flashing head-lamps has become so common. In the dark, it is a way of saying, "Please pass in front of me". I go along the same road every morning and see all my old pals coming the other way, and they flash their lamps at me in greeting. So I think that saying," Do not flash your headlamps for any other reason", is going a little too far. I am not suggesting that they should be used in greeting, but how else can one say, "Come on. chum. Come past me"?

Page 39 covers motorway driving. With regard to Rule 142, T had always understood that there was a list of people who could not use motorways, which included L-drivers, but there is no mention of them. I have checked this with several people, and they were under the same impression. It is very important that something is put in there. It then refers to "small motor-cycles". I myself am not a motor-cyclist, like the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, but I think that a small motor-cycle should be defined. I believe that the usual method is to limit them by the number of cc's. Something should be put in to help people realise what is meant.

The noble Baroness answered a question which I was going to ask. She said that there would be illustrations in the new Code. May I now turn to my green friend? The noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, has already referred to my first point. On page 18, Rule 85 states, Never go forward when the red and amber lights are showing together (See illustration above). Above, there is a green light and a couple of anaemic-looking dots. The red is shown on other pages, so it would not be too difficult to put in the red there. Surely we could scratch out the green and put in the red and amber.

Finally, at the bottom of page 39 of my green friend, there is a picture of three constables who are all making different signs. The right-hand one has an arrow, so would it not be possible to introduce arrows for the centre and left-hand ones? I know that it is a little difficult, and one is saying "Come on from the side while the other is saying" Come on from the front", but arrows can be made in different shapes and sizes. So I strongly suggest that, if that illustration is to be kept in the new version, those arrows should be put in. I think that that completes the programme.

6.47 p.m.


My Lords, I believe that in the game of cricket batsman No.11 is usually a fast bowler. But at this late hour I shall try not to deliver any bouncers at the noble Baroness who is to reply. As other noble Lords have done, I welcome the opportunity to debate the proposed Highway Code. The green edition has been on my bookshelf since 1975, and has been collecting dust for some time, whereas the white version, which we are discussing, has been read not only by myself and by your Lordships, but by Members of another place and studied quite well.

The Highway Code is a book which tells drivers, pedestrians and people with animals what they should and should not do for their safety, and for the safety of others. Therefore, it is a pity that animals by themselves cannot be included, for we have not managed to teach them to read, but a stray dog causes a lot of pain. In the few remarks that I wish to make this evening, I want to put forward one or two ideas to make the new Highway Code more precise about what one can and cannot do. Noble Lords know that, in most cases, it is an offence to enter a box junction if the exit is not clear. Here, may I say that a box junction has, without question, helped to speed up the flow of traffic and I, for one, should like to see more of them. Likewise, it is an offence to drive your car in a bus lane during the hours posted on the sign. I was told by Scotland Yard this morning that in both of these cases you can be fined. Therefore I should like to see in the Highway Code the words," It is illegal", or "It is an offence". Would not this be more precise? Therefore let us take Rule 90 which deals with box junctions. Between the first and the second full stop, would it not be better if it read, "It is illegal to enter the box if your exit road or lane from it is not clear"? That, to my mind, means far more than, "You must not", which is what we tell our children at home when they are playing with Mummy's make-up.

That is one example, and at this hour on a Thursday evening I shall not detain your Lordships by giving other examples, such as Rule 165 which deals with red flashing lights on motorways. This point has already been mentioned by the Minister. I hope that serious consideration can be given to my idea as, to my mind, it would improve tremendously the Highway Code. Having mentioned motorways, may I say that it is quite surprising how few people know what the marker posts between the various telephones actually mean. On numerous occasions I have noticed people walking in the opposite direction from the nearest telephone. This was confirmed to me by an AA man when I needed help the other day.

Pedestrian crossings have also been mentioned. I think that it was said in another place that more pelican crossings are to be installed. Likewise it has been suggested that, whenever possible, ramps should be provided instead of just kerb-stones. This would help both mothers with prams and also invalids, either in wheelchairs or otherwise. It would eliminate those tragic, accidental cases of prams upending and depositing the poor infant on the road in front of oncoming cars.

It has already been said that it is high time that we had a New Highway Code to cover all the new and improved rules and signs which have been introduced to help to speed up the flow of traffic in our towns, as well as making it safer for the new generation to cross our streets.

6.52 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for not having put down my name on the list of speakers. I had not intended to speak, as I am no longer a motorist. However, having heard what has been said by other speakers I am impelled to say one or two things. First, I should very much like to join the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, in his remarks about headlights. It is essential, and I think it is recognised now by every responsible motorist, that headlights should be used, even in towns, on lit-up roads. Some sidelights are so minute that they can be seen only about 20 yards away. It is astonishing that sometimes one can see a car before realising that it is using its side lights. Therefore I endorse entirely the noble Earl's remarks.

I should also like to join the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, in what she said about good manners. I put that as one of the first priorities. I live in an area just outside London where one sees more bad driving than anywhere else. Most of this bad driving is due to sheer bad manners, and sometimes it is very dangerous. If only the young could be taught that good manners on the road mean safety, they might consider this point more seriously.

Some of the dangers on the road are not due to the misdoings of motorists. Certain local authorities make their road markings at road junctions in a very dangerous way. At two places not far from where I live "Turn Right" signals have been put up at crossroads, and one goes to the right of the vehicle coming in the opposite direction rather than to the left of it. This can be very dangerous. If a bus is coming in the opposite direction but cannot get quite across the road and stops just in front of you, you cannot see past it to find out what is coming. It is essential that in turning right the rule of passing the opposite of the Navy way—not port to port but starboard to starboard—should always be observed.

We have heard a great deal about "motorway madness" during fog—how people drive along at 50 mph in a patch of fog which results in an absolutely fatal pile-up. Somebody explained to me why that is, and the explanation seems to be quite reasonable. People drive at that pace because they want to keep one another in sight; they cannot see where they are, or which way they are going, and they want to keep the taillight of the car in front in sight, because it shows them the way. That is probably a very reasonable explanation but it results in absolutely fatal pileups. Therefore, at places where fog is likely to occur on motorways, I am wondering whether it would be possible to have electrically illuminated cat's eyes on the road so that the driver could slow down and still see that he was in his right lane. I have thought for a long time that this might be a good solution. These cat's eyes would cost a certain amount of money to instal, but road signs and roundabouts equally cost a certain amount to instal. Surely it is inexcusable not to spend a little money in order to save lives.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, complained about the length of the new Code and asked who is going to read it and how people can be forced to read it. I agree that probably only a very small percentage of motorists have read the entire Code, but they will have read the relevant parts which deal with what they have not already learned during their instruction. It is good to have everything included in the Code. For instance, there are instructions for cyclists. I am a cyclist now, so I read that part of the Code. There are instructions for pedestrians. I am a pedestrian, so I read that part of the Code, also. I do not think that the length of the Code is a bad feature, but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, that a distinction should be made between what is mandatory and what is advisory. There should be two groups marked "Mandatory" and "Advisory". Then the young learner-driver studying the Code would know where he was.

The number of debates on road safety that we have had in this House is fairly large, yet road safety does not appear to have got any better, nor do I think that it will get any better until we have a much more stringent form of test. As I have said before on many occasions, I am all in favour of having a dual test; that is, a preliminary one lasting for a year during which you are a probationer and may not drive beyond 40 miles an hour. Then there need not even be a second test. You could have just a year's experience. That method is used with the greatest success in Australia and in other countries as well. I hope that some day we shall be farseeing enough to introduce it here.

7 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness replies, I wonder whether she could answer what appears to me to be a fairly simple question but the answer to which is not contained in either the green document or the white revised copy. On at least two occasions in London I have driven through red lights when beckoned through furiously, once by a police officer and once by a traffic warden. I did not go back and obtain the relevant copy of the Highway Code, but I assumed that it must be permitted by the Highway Code. In paragraphs 84, 85 and 86 in the green document, dealing with junctions controlled by traffic lights, I do not see this point covered. It might be covered by this situation, that where a policeman or an officer of the law is standing in the middle of the road that crossing is controlled but it is not specified in the Code. I think it was in the Highway Code when I took my test about sixteen years ago. Perhaps the noble Baroness can confirm that this will be included.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness replies I should like to add one similar point. In the Highway Code it is stated that one has to obey policemen, traffic wardens, lollipop "ladies and so on. We arrive at a situation where somebody standing at the side of the road has a notice with the words "Stop" and "Go". So far as I can see that is not covered anywhere in the Highway Code. At the moment, a driver can raise two elegant fingers and drive straight on.

7.2 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I am most grateful to all the speakers who have taken part in this debate and for the interest that has been shown. At the outset I should like to say to the noble Viscount, Lord Monck, that he was not the only one to be confused by the multiplication of documents. So was I at the beginning and it took me some time to sort out what was happening in the white document and which side I was supposed to be studying.

The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, in his very helpful speech made a point about the price of the Highway Code. That has been referred to by other speakers, and one would have thought from what some noble Lords said that we were expecting to put this country on its feet again by the sale of the Highway Code. The present Highway Code costs 12p, and the Green Paper cost 50p; but we are hoping that the new Highway Code will cost something between the two, and certainly not 50p. So we are certainly not going to make the millions out of it, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, thought we might.

agree with the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, on the importance of the Code as one of the main items in road safety education, and indeed as the basis for the driving test. I agree that accident rates have been declining. This is encouraging, and I think it has probably been partly due to the fuel crisis which has perhaps made people drive more slowly and more carefully. But the statistics for 1976 show that the decline we have had over the last few years may not be continuing. As the noble Lord has said, motor cycles have a very high accident rate, and in the last year or two their popularity has increased rapidly, with a consequent increase particularly in the number of accidents in which they are involved.

We agree that the speed limits should be realistic. I got myself into difficulties recently when replying to a Question in trying to define "realistic", so I am not going to attempt it again tonight; but the Department has recently issued a Consultation Document inviting views on what limits ought to be set when the temporary speed limits of 60 mph on dual carriageways and 50 mph on the single carriageways expire in April next. I hope that noble Lords who have strong feelings about this matter will write in to the Department or will communicate with my noble friend Lady Birk or myself and let us know their views.

The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, also raised the question of hand signals when approaching zebra crossings. This arose in connection with page 41 of the Green Paper. I agree that we ought perhaps to look at this again, and also that we ought to advise motorists about overtaking horses. I think if the noble Lord will look in the White Paper he will see that Rule 61 covers the point that lie, and also, I think, the Field Sports Society, made.


My Lords, if I may intervene for a moment, I accept that it is in Rule 61, but then there is a heavy section entitled "The Road User and Animals", and to my mind it is not sufficiently obvious. In the original Green Paper there were two very good introductory pages which drew attention to what was then Rule 55.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point and we will have another look at that. I am glad he agrees with the Government that there is a need to change the procedure for revising the Code so that we may keep it up to date without long delays in between the editions. Copies of the Code are given free to all applicants for provisional driving licences and we propose to give a lot more publicity to the new Code when it is published.

The noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, was concerned about road users on foot and he wanted more emphasis to be given to advice to pedestrians about wearing light clothing. I would remind the noble Earl that Rule 4 begins "Always". Perhaps he does not think that is sufficient emphasis and we will have a look at it again, but we thought we had covered it satisfactorily in that wording. I agree that it is particularly important for cyclists and motor-cyclists to wear some form of conspicuous clothing and I note with considerable interest the comments made by the noble Earl. The noble Earl also suggested that in certain circumstances motorists should drive with their hazard warning lights on. These lights are intended to give warning of a static hazard. I should want to take advice on this but I think it would be confusing if such lights were used also on moving vehicles. Indeed, I believe it is against the law to use them when a vehicle is in motion. However, I should like to look further at those two points.

On the use of headlamps, I think he will find that his point is covered in built-up areas in Rule No.110, Section a, and on turning right at junctions we give very clear advice on turning offside to offside in Rule 96. I will look at it again and if, as he said, only one vehicle can get round we may have to think again about this. I cannot make any promises but we will look at the point he has raised. I also endorse his idea that motorists should take a pride in their driving, but I am not sure that I could accept his suggestion that we ought to have some sort of joint scheme with the Institute of Advanced Motorists. However, we certainly ought to do everything possible to encourage people to be good, competent and careful drivers, and also to be proud of the fact.

The noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, made a very forceful point, and I agree completely with her sentiment, that the good motorist should have good manners. The prime purpose of the Code is to give advice to motorists and when all is said and done much of it boils down to good manners on the road. However, there will be a Ministerial Foreword to the new Code and we will certainly consider the wording suggested by the noble Baroness when we are talking to the Minister as to the possible content of the Foreword.

As the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, also asked us to do, we shall consider whether to provide an Index for the Code. My personal view is that it probably would be helpful; it would also of course make it longer and these are facts which we shall have to relate one with the other, but we will certainly have a look at it. I agree that it is a good thing for motor-cyclists to be encouraged to make themselves conspicuous. In this respect, at the moment the GLC are carrying out a publicity campaign to encourage this and we shall study the results of that campaign and then perhaps be able to implement it in some other way when we have seen what effect it has had on the position.

I sympathise with the comments made by several noble Lords about the danger of badly maintained road surfaces, but strictly speaking this is not really a matter for a debate on the Highway Code. I tried to steer noble Lords off some topics, but your Lordships were obviously not having it on this one.

On young cyclists, we give a free copy to all the children who take their cycling proficiency tests. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, referred to the manual Driving. It is published by the Ministry of Transport and gives a lot more detailed advice than the Highway Code. I recommend that all drivers should read it, but we still feel there is a separate need for a Highway Code which is for all road users, and not just for drivers. On the use of dipped headlights in fog or poor visibility, we think we have covered that satisfactorily in Rule 109d. On mini-roundabouts, as I said when introducing the debate, we are considering the need for a new paragraph dealing specifically with mini-roundabouts, how to behave when using them. The noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, made some interesting points of detail. I will check Hansard and carefully consider them and, if necessary, I will write to her in more detail.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, was really delivering his broadsides tonight. I thought his comments were interesting about the debate in 1968, that the Code should be shorter. But surely he would accept that as traffic increases road conditions become more complex and this must in some way be reflected in the Code.


My Lords, surely the noble Baroness will accept, therefore, that the more complex the condition, the more simple the rule is to understand.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, and the more rules there have to be to understand in order to cope with the complex traffic conditions. Indeed, many of the commentators who have written to us in the course of consultation have asked for much more detailed advice to be included in the Code.

To turn to hazard labels, we are not suggesting that the motorist has to learn all these signs and all these symbols. What we are advising the motorist to do is to ring the police, and to read to them what is on the label on the particular vehicle involved in an accident. The police and the emergency services will cope with it from there on. We have been under a lot of pressure in this House and other places to have some form of hazard symbol put on the tankers and vehicles which carry these loads. I should have thought the noble Lord would welcome the attention of motorists being drawn to the hazards, and how they can help when they come across an accident.


My Lords, the impression we get is that the diagrams which are put on in various colours are very small. With really dangerous loads, one feels the labels should be perhaps twice the size so that people can see them quickly and can recognise them.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, that is a point of view. It is something which we will look at. The labels are there for identification purposes for the motorists and for the emergency services when they attend the scene of an accident.

The noble Lord also asked, "Who reads the Code?" However long or short it is, there is no way in which we can make people read the Code if they do not want to read it, but that is not an argument for shortening the Code. We intend it to he used as a reference document to which people can refer back. Perhaps you might leave it in the glove compartment so that you might browse through it. We cannot make anyone do it, but it is a suggestion we can make to drivers.

My Lords, the idea of putting down 15 questions on the application form for a driving licence was novel. I do not know whether the noble Lord would like to suggest how many more civil servants we should need if we did this, because we get something like 1¼ million new applications for driving licences every year. It would be a fairly mammoth task if they are to have another 15 questions to check on the application forms; but this was a novel suggestion none the less and it lightened the debate a little.

I have already told the noble Viscount, Lord Monck, that he was not the only one who was confused; so was I. We note his suggestions about possible different words, amended wording, oneway streets, flashing headlights and the fact that we have omitted "L" drivers from the list of examples of vehicles prohibited on the motorways. We will look at these.

The noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, talked about the distinction between rules and advice. The Code gives advice, but in some cases it is based on legal requirements. There is a section at the back which explains what the law demands. Whether it explains it clearly enough I do not know, but it refers to the Traffic Acts of various kinds which have been passed from time to time, under which there are certain statutory obligations on the motorist to do this or that, or not to do this or that.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Monck, for the bouquet he handed out. We do not often get bouquets, and we are grateful to him. We will consider his suggestion about adding the word "quickly" after the word "walk". Nothing is more annoying to a motorist at a zebra crossing than a pedestrian strolling over the crossing. It is safer for pedestrians if they move quickly once they have the right of way.

On Rule 46, the table gives shortest stopping distances. It is not realistic to expect a driver to keep at a minimum distance of 75 feet if he is travelling at only 20 m.p.h., but it is a point worth looking at, and we will do so. On Rule 111, about flashing headlights, we cannot agree that this should have any other meaning than as a warning to other vehicles. We think it would be confusing, as I said in reply to a point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley. We will define what are small motor-cycles. We do define it at the moment and it would be sensible to define it in the Code.


My Lords, I referred to aquaplaning. Does the noble Baroness really understand the meaning of the word? Frankly, I could take her through a pool of water at 70 mph or more, and in no time at all we would fly off the handle". This is a serious position, because you have only to touch your brakes and they will not work. If this is an advisory Code, it is worth putting it in.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, is in front of me. I was coming to the question of aquaplaning. I experienced this two or three years ago on the M.6, and it was a frightening experience, and not one I would like people to go through regularly. I will take up its inclusion with my right honourable friend to see whether this is a valid point, and to take advice on it.

The noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, also made suggestions which we will look at. The noble Lord, Lord Somers, asked for electrically-operated cat's eyes to be used in fog. This is a brilliant suggestion. but I am not sure where the money would come from, or how we would be able to operate it. It is a suggestion not necessarily for the Highway Code, but it may be something which we will pass on to the Road Research Laboratory to see whether there is any purpose served by operating such a system.

My Lords, I cannot answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Lyell. I would have assumed that if a policeman were waving me on he was acting lawfully, but I am not the law. I only sometimes try to make the law. If necessary we can perhaps include something on those lines. I do not know whether the "Stop" or "Go" workmen's signs we have at the moment have legal validity or not. I would have thought it was a question of road safety in the widest terms, and you took your life in your hands if you ignored what they were doing.


My Lords, at the top of page 57 in the Green Cross Code—this is what I was studying before asking what may have been my footling question—it says that when driving you must observe red stop signals. Would that cover the workmen's signs that the noble Lord mentioned? In a court of law, this would be taken as a stop signal, although I, too, with the noble Lord, have been tempted to pass by.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I should not like to give a firm assurance on that point, but I will take advice and come back to it. This has been a most helpful debate. I accept that it is two years since the document was first published. It is also obvious from the interest in the debate and from the comments we have received from bodies and individuals, that the waiting period has been a useful one. It has been a fruitful one. We have made amendments. We are still open to make amendments. We would hope that the Code will be published during 1977. The longer we delay waiting for further comments, of course, the longer the delay in publication. But if any noble Lords, following this debate, have specific points they would like to put to us, if they will contact me or the officials at the Department, we will give them consideration. But please do it quickly.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness could answer one point. Perhaps she would like to take it away and think about it. I did suggest that a small part of the whole Code—that is the part appertaining to cyclists—should be put out in a special little leaflet for children in schools and in cycling shops. Could she comment on that? I think it is important.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness. It was a valuable comment and we will certainly have a look at it.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at twenty-one minutes past seven o'clock.