HL Deb 18 January 1984 vol 446 cc1043-6
Lord Nugent of Guildford

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made in the research into methods of curbing spray from lorries, especially on motorways; and when they expect to introduce regulations to control this hazard.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, research has continued into this complex problem, and the British Standards Institution is expected to agree a standard next month. We shall then consult with manufacturers on the quickest practicable timetable for making lorries conform with the standard.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer. Is he aware that we have had to wait a very long time for some means of preventing the very dangerous spray which comes particularly from heavy vehicles and especially on motorways, as many of us will have experienced recently? Is he further aware that it is very good news that the BSI thinks it can establish a standard, but can he tell us what the timetable is likely to be before we can expect this safeguard to be fitted to all heavy freight vehicles and when he expects to make the regulations?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend is pleased with the situation. Concerning the time-scale, he will probably remember that it was the Armitage Report of 1980 that drew particular attention to the need for further work to be done on spray suppression, so perhaps the time-scale is not too extended. I am not sure how long the consultations with the vehicle manufacturers will take, but one might envisage something in the way of months rather than the years that have preceded this situation.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, the Minister referred to the Armitage Report, which said at that time that it was not certain whether there was a serious threat of accidents arising as a result of spray. Do I take it that the reference to the British Standards Institution means that the department has now accepted that there is a serious accident problem caused by spray? Also, will he say whether this will apply to coaches?—because we experience the same problem with fast-moving coaches on motorways. In the event of a standard being issued by BSI, will it apply only to lorries as from a particular date, or to coaches as well? And will it be compulsorily fitted to existing lorries? Otherwise, we shall have a continuing problem from a number of vehicles for a number of years.

My last question is: in the event of a BSI standard being agreed, is it the intention that this will be confined to one manufacturer, or will a number of manufacturers be allowed to make this up to a certain specification?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I shall deal with the first question of the noble Lord. Lord Underhill, about accidents. While we recognise that excess spray is a problem, he will also recognise that the number of fatal and serious injury accidents in which lorries have been involved has dropped steadily, particularly in the past 10 years, from 8,212 incidents in 1972 to 5,142 in 1982. While one must not be complacent about this, it shows that the accident rate in which lorries are concerned is improving. We do not regard spray from coaches as a major problem, and at this stage we do not propose to take any action. Coach wheels are recessed into the bodywork, and that substantially cuts down the amount of spray.

The noble Lord said. "in the event of a Standard being agreed". I might emphasise the fact that there is no question of "in the event of". A standard will be announced, as I said in my original Answer, next month. The noble Lord asked whether the standard would apply to existing vehicles. The proposals would probably include all vehicles exceeding 7½ tonnes gross. At present we are considering the position with existing vehicles, but there would be 300,000 involved. That is a problem of some magnitude, and it may not be practicable to bring in retrospective legislation.

As far as the manufacturers are concerned, as soon as the standard has been agreed anybody with a manufacturing capability will be invited to manufacture, and since the United Kingdom is in the forefront of converting experimentation and research into a standard, one might anticipate a number of manufacturers taking up the opportunity to supply a worldwide market. This might in turn provide some additional jobs.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Minister whether the operators of long heavy vehicles coming from the continent will be asked whether they will also abide by the standard when they bring such vehicles into this country?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, currently visiting vehicles would be exempt. They are exempt through both the Geneva and the Vienna conventions. Since there is no European directive on this matter—as I have explained, we are in the lead—we would advise operators, as we have already advised the Commission, of our intention in this matter. It is hoped, therefore, that harmonisation will be brought about based on our standard.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in the conditions of melting snow which have been prevailing in the north recently—which, no doubt, will continue from time to time—every time a lorry approaches one's car on other than a dual carriageway, or every time one is overtaken by a lorry, enormous amounts of slush are thrown up on to one's windscreen, and that that itself is dangerous? Will the consideration which he is giving to the question of spray be particularly inclusive of such slush which is thrown up by lorries?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the whole question of spray is not limited just to an amount of water, or slush or sludge. It is a matter of some engineering complexity in that spray, as we see it, is really droplets of water containing energy. The spray suppression equipment which is now being devised is one which is designed to absorb the energy from the droplets so that the water falls of its own volition and is not thrown out by its own energy concentration.

Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, has the Minister had his attention drawn to the coastal road in the north-east of Scotland, the road to Aberdeen, where, in snow conditions, as I discovered to my loss last year, the north-easterly gales throw all the slush straight into one's windscreen, making driving particularly hazardous? Would he like to see for himself what happens on that road going north-east to Aberdeen during the snow?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I have to tell the right reverend Prelate that I have no knowledge of the matter of which he has spoken, but I will certainly investigate it. However, I cannot promise to make a visit to see for myself.

Lord Somers

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that there would be nothing in the way of retrospective legislation in ordering the fitting of apparatus, such as it is, to existing lorries, any more than there was in ordering existing motor-cyclists to wear helmets?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Somers, is drawing a very unfair conclusion. On the one hand, we are talking about vehicles currently in use, whereas so far as helmets are concerned we are talking about people who can go quite simply to buy a helmet. It is not as simple to fit £250 worth of equipment on to a lorry which is in heavy use under operating conditions. As I suggested in an earlier Answer this is something we are looking at; but I advised your Lordships that there were some practical difficulties.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, not only do lorries throw up slush, but cars do so to a tremendous extent as well. Is there any suggestion of legislation to ensure that all cars are fitted with mud flaps?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, no. The problem with motor cars is a good deal less than the problem with lorries.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he would agree that spray mixed with exhaust is worse than merely spray? Would he be able to find out whether there is any research being done on the exhaust pipes of lorries?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, there is always continuing experimentation and research being undertaken by motor vehicle manufacturers with regard to exhaust pipes and exhaust systems.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the suggestion that this is not to apply retrospectively will to some extent defeat the whole object of the exercise? Would it not be worth considering following the precedent which was adopted in the case of seat belts, whereby, on the basis of registration annually, the problem of the backlog might be tackled with benefit to all concerned?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I have explained that we in the department are looking at the problems associated with retrospective legislation. There are practical difficulties. To draw a further analogy, the noble Lord will probably remember that when traffic indicator lights were fitted they were fitted on vehicles after a certain date and that prior to a particular date certain vehicles were exempt. It does take some time, of course, for improvements of this kind to work through the system. There are real, practical difficulties in the way of doing what the noble Lord suggests.

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