HL Deb 24 January 1983 vol 438 cc5-7

2.48 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to monitor road accidents after the wearing of seat belts is made compulsory on 31st January with a view to reporting on whether injury was or was not caused by wearing the belt.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, a number of studies will be made to provide information on any changes in the severity and nature of injuries sustained in road traffic accidents, including any that might be attributable to seat belt wearing.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that reply, and in view of what the Government told us during the debate we had last July—that seat belt wearing would be compulsory for only three years, and that there would be a monitoring of any deaths resulting from the wearing of seat belts or otherwise—will my noble friend undertake to insist upon a further statistic in Table 34 of Road AccidentsGreat Britain which will show the numbers of those killed or seriously injured as a result of wearing seat belts?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the preparations which have already been made to monitor accidents will provide information on the level of seat belt wearing, the effect on traffic fatalities and any changes in the severity or nature of injuries resulting from such road traffic accidents. It is not believed that the kind of injuries sustained in road traffic accidents can be positively set as a result of the wearing of seat belts or otherwise. Certainly whatever information comes out of the monitoring will be freely available.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether one of the studies which is to be made will be on the whiplash injury resulting in people breaking their necks, and whether there is the need for head restraints? Is the noble Lord aware that not having head restraints and wearing a seat belt might be very dangerous?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the Government favour voluntary installation of head restraints, but to date there is no firm information to suggest that there is at this time a case for compulsion.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, in addition to the point covered by the original Question, will arrangements be made, if at all possible, to ensure that the monitoring also gives information as to whether or not injuries were avoided or lessened because of the wearing of seat belts?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, certainly any of the monitoring that reveals figures will have some suggestion as to the cause and effect.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, has my noble friend been able to assure himself in the time he has been at the department that the monitoring, when it takes place, is going to be fairly conducted in order to present a really balanced view as to whether the compulsory wearing of seat belts is necessary?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, in answer to my noble friend Lord Mottistone, I can tell him that I am perfectly satisfied that all relevant features with regard to an accident, whether or not seat belts are being worn, will be taken into account.

Lord Monson

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord—whom I, too, should like to congratulate—whether the Government also intend to monitor injuries caused to motor cyclists, pedal cyclists and pedestrians as a result of car drivers being prevented by their seat belts, particularly the static seat belts fitted to older cars, from leaning forward at intersections in order to ascertain whether or not the road is clear?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the accident investigation units employed on this task will certainly take all relevant facts into account.

Lord Collison

My Lords, will the noble Lord ask the people doing the survey to take into account the possible danger involved when a person is wearing a seat belt and there is a collision, not head-on but when the car is struck amidships, and the belt prevents the person from being able to swing free? Whiplash can cause accidents, and, indeed, I know of a death from that cause. I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate that I am not against the use of seat belts; in fact, I voted for them. But I think a statistic of that kind, showing how many accidents involve these side-on collisions, would be useful and informative.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Collison, that lateral accidents are, of course, of extreme danger. The effects they may have relative to the wearing or non-wearing of seat belts are continually being investigated. But there is little doubt in the figures presented to your Lordships by the Government and, indeed, by a number of Members of your Lordships' House during last summer, that the wearing of seat belts will tend to reduce the severity of any accident, whether frontal or lateral.

Lord Derwent

My Lords, is not my noble friend's baptism of fire somewhat excessive and therefore hard-hearted?