HL Deb 24 January 1983 vol 438 cc3-5

2.41 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps are being taken to make motor bicycles and their riders more conspicuous by day and by night.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the Transport and Road Research Laboratory is still evaluating the relative merits of a number of likely ways of improving both daytime and night-time conspicuity of motor cyclists. The results of this evaluation should be available early in the summer and our conclusions will be announced at that time.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords. I thank my noble friend for his Answer. May I be the first to congratulate him on a very well deserved and, if I may say so, popular elevation to the Front Bench and wish him well? Having said that, may I say how unhappy I am—rather, may I ask him to accept that I am very unhappy about his Answer, because the Government have been looking for some time at this particularly difficult problem? Does my noble friend know that in the August issue of Magistrate, a copy of which I have in my hand, it is said that one out of four deaths among males between the ages of 15 and 19 is due to motor cycle accidents? Would my noble friend agree that that is a very high figure? Could I therefore ask him to do something about this particular problem with the utmost urgency?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her very kind remarks. I am quite sure that her unhappiness is not associated with them. The noble Baroness will probably remember, as indeed the House will remember, that in 1980 the Transport and Road Research Laboratory produced a report which was found to be not acceptable by a majority of people. Further studies were therefore undertaken. A very great degree of seriousness and speed is involved. which is why these other reports and investigations will be completed later this year. I am happy to be able to tell the noble Baroness that the 1981 figures for motor cycle deaths and serious injuries are marginally lower than those for 1980.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, surely the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, will agree that no research is necessary to show that the use of headlights on a motor cycle in daylight is beneficial; and that instead of waiting until the end of this year we should get on with some legislation that would make that compulsory now?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the noble Viscount is not correct in his assertion that there is total acceptance of the use of headlights being an aid. In fact it can be a disadvantage. The series of tests which is now being undertaken is to determine the effectiveness of motor cycles using headlights both by day and in inclement weather.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, may I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, upon his promotion to the Government Front Bench? We wish him well—but not too well! May I say also that we welcome the research being carried out by the Road Research Laboratory but urge that it should not research only into the conspicuity of motor bicycles by the use of headlights but should also examine the possibilities of fluorescent harnesses and the important question of "learner plates", which are of absolute importance to the novice, untrained motor cyclist? Will the noble Lord accept that these points are not being urged from any persecution of motor cyclists but because, despite what the noble Lord has said about there being a slight diminution in the number of accidents, the figures are so serious that action is needed in the interests of motor cyclists as well as in the interests of other road users?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for his remarks. All deaths on the road are serious, and the Government accept this as being a very serious matter. The research and inquiries now being undertaken and made embrace all areas of conspicuity—particularly that of motor cyclists. That is one of the reasons why these inquiries may perhaps be taking rather longer than usual.

Lord Glenkinglas

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that it is a matter not just of clothing or headlights; it is the appalling nature of motor cycle riding, such as that seen in London, which is the cause of so many accidents?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I cannot totally accept that argument. It may be a contributory factor.

Lord Strathcarron

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that a simple reflective belt and shoulder strap such as that worn by the police makes the rider very conspicuous by both day and night; and that it has the further advantage that the strap is cheap to buy and is also suitable for the safety of pedal cyclists and aged or infirm pedestrians?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Strathcarron for that helpful supple- mentary question. The Government would agree, as all sensible road users must agree, that any kind of reflective clothing and any kind of clothing which draws to one's attention the presence of a motor cyclist, pedal cyclist, pedestrian, or any other road user is most helpful. As the House will be aware, these reflective items are very inexpensive and are available quite freely from car accessory shops and also from RoSPA.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, is it not a fact that the noise of an approaching motor cycle makes known the fact of its presence to other road users; and is it not a fact that we prosecute large numbers of motor cyclists each year for making an excessive amount of noise when using the road?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I believe that the noise is probably most evident when the motor cycle has already passed. There are regulations in respect of noise levels of motor cycles, but I cannot add anything as regards the number of prosecutions of the type mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland.