HL Deb 20 January 1982 vol 426 cc609-12

2.56 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they will take to try to reduce the very large numbers of accidents involving motor-cycles.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the Government's main measures to reduce motor-cycle accidents and casualties are contained in the Transport Act 1981. These are designed to improve the safety of the young and inexperienced rider, who is the most vulnerable, by restricting him to a smaller machine more appropriate to his level of ability and experience, and by encouraging him to take training and pass his test. These measures will come into operation this year.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Would he agree with the figures that have been issued, which state that during last year 1,163 motor-cyclists were killed on the roads of this country, 581 of them being aged between 16 and 19? If my noble friend agrees with those figures, would he also agree that the conspicuity of the motor-cyclist is one of the most important ways of preventing road accidents which are taking place to a greater level every year? If so, I should like to ask whether the Government can do something about it.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that of course the figures are very distressing. I also agree with her that there is little doubt that the conspicuousness of a motor-cyclist, or rather the lack of it, is a major problem. Research by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory suggests that some 78 per cent. of accidents involving motor-cycles also involve another road user, although it is unable to apportion the blame. Work by the TRRL into the relative merits of different conspicuity aids has demonstrated that a pair of special daytime running lamps is significantly more effective than even a single powerful lamp. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport is looking into this situation and he has deferred a final decision to enable the TRRL to carry out further research.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, would the Minister not agree that alcohol plays a very important role in the causation of accidents involving motor-cyclists, as it does motor-cars, and that research figures by the TRRL show that as many as a quarter to a third of those killed in motor-cycle accidents have taken more than the legal amount of alcohol into their blood stream? Would not one of the contributions that the Government could make towards improving the statistical knowledge of this factor, be to ensure that any person involved in such an accident has a blood test as a matter of routine?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I think that the question is slightly wide of the original Question, but I shall certainly look into it and find out the answer.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there has been an increase from 12 per cent. in 1973 to 30 per cent. in 1981 of those involved in motor-cycle accidents, with acute traumatic injuries, admitted to Stoke Mandeville Hospital Spinal Unit and resulting in permanent paralysis? Would he not think it time to mount a campaign in our schools to educate young people about the horrors and what it really is like to remain paralysed for the rest of one's life?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her remarks. Of course, as I said originally, we are well aware of this problem. I have not heard of the solution that she has suggested, but I shall make sure that it is looked into.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, inasmuch as the benefit of the Transport Act 1981 in this respect depends upon the two-part test of the future, with part of the test taken off the highway, can my noble friend tell us what progress has been made in providing sites for this test to be taken off the highway? At the same time, will he assure the House that the Minister of Transport himself will ensure that every- thing possible is done in order to get this test going as soon as possible?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the introduction of a two-part test for learner motor-cyclists—the first part of which will examine the candidates' machine-handling abilities—to be taken normally with an authorised training organisation (although there will be limited opportunity to take it with the department) will come into effect on 29th March this year. I am glad to be able to reply to my noble friend that the response has been most encouraging. To date some 260 bodies have expressed a strong interest in conducting Part 1 of the test.

Lord John Mackie

My Lords, has the noble Earl any figures to show how many of the fatalities which the noble Baroness mentioned were learner drivers?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I do not have these statistics broken down in that respect.

Lord Monson

My Lords, in view of the fact that over three-quarters of motor-cyclist casualities occur as a result of collisions involving cars, as the Minister has just pointed out, and as it transpires that in a high proportion of such cases the driver of the car in question has not noticed the motor-cyclist, will the noble Earl not agree that any legislation which has the indirect effect of making car drivers excessively confident about their own safety and consequently careless of the safety of other road users, is to be utterly deplored?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I think that that is a slightly inverted question. I should like to stick to the suggestion that the research into conspicuity which is taking place at the moment is very important, and the Government will do their best in this field.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the police are doing a great deal to help young people before perhaps they even get their licences as regards the maintenance of their cycles, and are also encouraging young people to scramble, which is to be approved of?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for those remarks; I am sure that it is useful to have brought them to the attention of the House.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has been trying to ask a question for a long time.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, will the Minister agree that the training centres for young motor-cyclists provided by local authorities are a great contribution to the safety of road users? If the noble Earl agrees, are the Government prepared to make a special advance to local authorities which have these training centres?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, this is a new scheme which will take place, beginning in March 1982, and we are monitoring the cost-effectiveness of it.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that in France motor-cycles are required to have their headlights on all the time? Would he consider that?—because it seems to be a great help.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am aware of that, as, of course, is the department. It is part of the tests which are taking place at the moment.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, finally, on this matter of lights being on during the daytime, will the Minister agree that the 150 cc. cycles which are used by the young are unable to carry the daytime running lights, nor indeed are they able to have a light on throughout the daytime? Will my noble friend ask the Motor Cycle Association, which is particularly involved with motor-cycles and the problems that arise therefrom, to set up a study into redesigning the front of the 150 cc. motor-cycles, thus enabling them to carry lights which could be put on during the day?

The Earl ofAvon

My Lords, I am gratful to my noble friend Lady Macleod for producing this idea, and I shall certainly have it looked into. It is my under-standing that it will be possible to fit the twin day-time running lamps on new machines so that they light up when the ignition switch is turned on.