§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth rose to move, That the regulations laid before the House on 8th February be approved.420
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords. I beg to move that the draft order laid before the House on 8th February be approved. I should like to start by saying a few words about the scope of the regulations. Broadly, they apply to all vehicles heavier than the private car or motorcycle. They apply mainly to commercial vehicles. They also apply to private cars and motorcycles when these vehicles are towing trailers or, in the case of cars, caravans. They do not apply to solo motor cars and solo motorcycles. Nor do they affect the normal road speed limits, such as the motorway 70 mph limit, the national 60 mph limit, or the 30, 40 or 50 mph road speed limits found, for example, in built-up areas. Whenever a lower road speed limit exists, this always takes precedence over any higher vehicle speed limit which may be found in the regulations currently before the House.
§ The history of vehicle speed limits goes back a long way—right back to 1861. The present limits go back, in the main, to 1967. The framework of the present rules is set out in Schedule 5 to the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967. Schedule 5 was amended by statutory instrument in 1971, in 1973 and finally, in 1981, when new limits for works trucks and industrial tractors were introduced.
§ The regulations now before the House replace Schedule 5 and its amendments by a new set of rules and limits which are not only easier to understand and, hence, enforce, but also are more relevant to today's road conditions and to modern vehicle construction standards.
§ Speed limits must be realistic. If they are not realistic, the majority of drivers break them. Enforcement is not then practicable, and the effect is to bring the limits and the law into disrepute. I shall deal in a moment with the level of the new limits, but first I think it is perhaps worth pointing out that, for the vast majority of vehicles, the new dual carriageway limits represent the only change brought about by these regulations. The need for new dual carriageway limits is, I think, clear and well accepted. Since the last substantial revision of vehicle speed limits, the amount of high-quality dual carriageway in this country, especially bypasses, has grown considerably. The figure is now something over 3,000 miles.
§ The other main feature of the new regulations is their form of presentation. They are now clearer in their meaning to drivers, operators and police alike. This will help drivers to comply with the law and the police to enforce it. The regulations follow very much the form of those circulated for comment last August. They were generally well received, with over 80 separate organisations responding to the consultation. As a result of these comments, we have made one or two changes, which I can best deal with by going through the regulations.
§ The regulations fall into three main parts. Part I covers most vehicles, in that it deals with vehicles or combinations of vehicles fully fitted with pneumatic tyres. Part II deals with vehicles which have a mixture of tyres, including solid rubber or steel, and Part III with track-laying vehicles. Perhaps the House will forgive me if I concentrate this evening on Part I only. Parts II and III are, in fact, more widely understood and, so far as I am aware, are not contentious.421
§ The new limits for coaches are set out in Item I. The limits are 70 mph for motorways, as at present, 60 mph on dual carriageways, which is a new limit generally supported in the consultation, and 50 mph on other roads, as at present. At this point it would perhaps he helpful for me to say something about the 70 mph motorway limit for coaches. We have made clear our concern at coaches exceeding this limit on numerous occasions over the past few months. We have also witnessed, and indeed have criticised, the generally aggressive behaviour of some coach drivers on our motorways. It was quite clear from the number of representations made during the consultation—many unsolicited from members of the public—that the concern is widely shared.
§ My right honourable friend the Minister of State and officials in the department have spoken to both the police and the operators. Two things, I think, are clear. First, however clouded the arguments have become, there is no evidence that the 70 mph limit is unsafe in normal motorway conditions. Secondly, there is general agreement among all those involved that there is a need for greater compliance with the law.
§ It was against this background that we were grateful to the Bus and Coach Council for their suggestion of a code of conduct providing for the voluntary use of tachographs on services using motorway and dual carriageway roads, and the monitoring of tachograph discs by management to improve speed limit compliance. I think it is important for the industry to put its own house in order so far as possible, and for us to avoid placing unnecessary legislative or bureaucratic burdens on operators. The code will be ready for the 1984 coaching season, and I believe that, with goodwill, the code should solve the speeding problem. But we shall be looking closely at the situation over the summer months, and we shall not hesitate to take further action if events prove this to be necessary.
§ I should now like to turn to the speed limits for cars towing caravans or trailers. This has proved to be something of a contentious area, due largely, I think, to a misunderstanding of both the present rules and the new regulations. I am sorry to say that this misunderstanding is shared by some of the specialists in the field, so I hope the House will bear with me if I go into some details.
§ Apart from certain specialised long-wheelbase caravans or trailers, the speed limit for private cars towing caravans or trailers is at present either 40 mph or, if certain weight-ratio rules are met, 50 mph. These limits apply on all roads. The rules governing weight-ratio are that if a trailer or caravan has brakes its weight must not exceed the weight of the towing vehicle. If the trailer or caravan is unbraked, its weight must not exceed 60 per cent. of that of the towing vehicle. If the combination satisfies these requirements, it must then display a "50" plate to prescribed dimensions. If the combination does not satisfy these requirements, it can still go on the road but can go no faster than 40 mph.
§ I think it will already be apparent that the present rules are difficult to follow and hence to enforce. In practice, it is likely that 50 mph is widely regarded as the limit for all combinations. My department's 422 proposals last August were, accordingly, that the weight-ratio rules should be abolished and that uniform limits whould apply to all combinations. These were proposed as 60 mph for motorways, to allow for improved vehicle performance since 1973, and 50 mph for all other roads.
§ Although the proposals were generally welcomed, some organisations expressed concern about safety, especially of the 60 mph limit proposed for motorways. In the light of these representations it was decided to withdraw the 60 mph proposal in favour of a 50 mph limit for all roads. At the same time, we decided to proceed with the abolition of the weight-ratio rules.
§ I should now like to move on to the limits for goods vehicles, where the first change, arising out of the consultation, is the removal from the scope of the regulations of solo car-derived vans. At present, these light vans are allowed to do 70 mph on motorways but are restricted to 50 mph on other roads. There are no technical or safety reasons why these vehicles should not be treated in exactly the same way as the passenger cars from which they are derived, or in the same way as estate cars. The regulations now provide for this. Items 3 and 4 of Part I of the regulations provide for car-derived vans also to be treated as cars when they are towing trailers or caravans.
§ For goods vehicles generally, the main change is the introduction of a new speed limit of 50 mph for heavy lorries travelling on dual carriageways. I should make it clear—and, indeed, underline—that the current lorry limits of 60 mph on motorways and 40 mph on single carriageway roads remain unaltered. An associated change in the rules is the harmonisation of the speed limits for articulated goods vehicles and draw-bar trailer outfits. The regulations therefore provide for all heavier vehicles to be restricted to the same limits: 60 mph on motorways, 50 mph on dual carriageways and 40 mph elsewhere.
§ We have also removed an anomaly in the dividing line between light and heavy vehicles. The regulations therefore provide for a uniform cut-off point for all roads. This is set at 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight. This is the generally accepted equivalent of the current 3,050 kg. unladen weight cut-off point—what, a few years ago, was known as the 3 tons limit. It is also the weight at which reflective rear markings become obligatory, thus enabling ready identification and easier enforcement. Following the changes, therefore, the pattern of speed limits for light goods vehicles will be 70 mph on motorways, 60 mph on dual carriageways and 50 mph elsewhere. Heavier vehicles over 7.5 tonnes laden will have limits of 60 mph, 50 mph and 40 mph respectively.
That, in essence, is what the regulations contain. Obviously, I should be very pleased to answer those questions which any noble Lord would like to ask of me. It might be useful if I say at this stage that throughout all the consultations we have been guided to a great extent by the industries concerned and, indeed, by the police. The Association of Chief Police Officers gave evidence to the Commons Select Committee on Transport relating to speed limits, and I shall quote from it if I may. They said:
Speed limits in this country are in a mess. There are too many totally unrealistic speed limits and too many speed limits being imposed for the wrong reasons. It is the view of many chief constables and of the ACPO traffic committee that local authorities have not taken a sufficiently responsible attitude to the published criteria. Additionally, some speed limits remain for historic reasons when they have been overtaken by other factors".
The "other factors" referred to are the improvements in the last few years in roads and, indeed, in vehicles. They continued:
The proliferation of unnecessary and unenforceable speed limits are not only an unacceptable burden on police resources; they also bring other perfectly proper speed limits into disrepute. There is a strong case for a total reappraisal of all speed limits to make them more understandable and acceptable to the community at large and. therefore, more likely to be obeyed and enforced.
We believe that these regulations do just that. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the regulations laid before the House on 8th February be approved.—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for explaining this order. While I agree that the tables are perfectly clear, the explanatory note to the order does not tell us the present and future limits for different vehicles. I found the appendix to the department's press notice issued on 8th February particularly helpful in this respect, because it set out in simple form the present limits and the new limits to which they are changing.
I was also much helped by the national speed survey of 1983, which was published only on 28th February. Was that speed survey available to the 80-odd organisations which responded to the consultation? They were circulated on 12th August but, as I said, the speed survey was not published until 28th February, unless special copies were made available to them.
I found the national speed survey report very interesting and I shall refer to one or two points. The Minister has stated—as, I gather, did his Secretary of State in the other place last night, although we have not seen that Hansard—that most drivers break speed limits if they are not realistic. He also said that in such circumstances enforcement ceases to be a practical possibility and that the new proposals should make the task much easier.
I should have thought that there were other factors to be considered, such as energy consumption, economic factors—that is, the additional time taken by slower vehicles—driving conditions, the condition of coaches and lorries and environmental and safety considerations, if we increase speeds. None of these factors has been mentioned. The only two points we have heard about are, first, that if speed limits are unrealistic drivers will break them; and, secondly, that limits can be enforced if they are more realistic.
I want to deal with the main categories. First, may I deal with cars drawing caravans and trailers? The Minister said that in certain conditions there will still be a 40 mph limit for some cars drawing caravans and trailers. But when I look at the appendix to the Department of Transport's press notice, I cannot see any reference at all to them. I can find a reference only to private cars towing caravans or trailers on dual 424 carriageways, which are at present restricted to 40 to 50 mph. In future, they will all be able to do 50 mph, and on other roads, where they are at present restricted to 40 to 50 mph, they will be allowed to do 50 mph. Perhaps I am not reading the order correctly, but I should like the Minister to say whether there will still be a 40 mph limit for certain types of caravans or trailers.
All noble Lords who travel by road will know the problems when they have in front of them a caravan which is moving from left to right across the road. I get as far away from caravans as possible. Except for those categories about which I have asked the noble Lord, they will all have a 50 mph limit, irrespective of any other considerations. I hope it will not be said that because they are slow they are difficult to pass, because that is not the only factor. The other factor is the conditions under which vehicles are towed.
This is one case where it is not possible to use the argument that there is a general exceeding of the speed limit for towing caravans or trailers, because I find in the speed survey report that only 28 per cent.—I use the word "only", because it is descriptive—exceeded the present speed limit on dual carriageway roads. Therefore, the overwhelming majority of cars pulling caravans and trailers do not break the law on dual carriageway roads, according to the speed survey. It may be that the majority of them break the law on motorways, but they certainly do not on dual carriageways. The speed survey also showed that only 7 per cent. exceeded the speed limit on single carriageway roads, and yet we are now to have the speed limit for all cars towing caravans or trailers set at 50 mph. So there seems to be one category where the argument that drivers break an unrealistic speed limit does not apply.
As regards goods vehicles, we find, in effect, that all heavy goods vehicles over 7½ tonnes will have a maximum of 50 mph on dual carriageways—again, irrespective of types. The Minister made that quite clear. Solo vehicles, articulated lorries and drawbar lorries will all have the same speed limit on dual carriageways—and I would question whether that is wise—except for solo lorries up to 7½tonnes, which can travel at up to 60 mph on those roads. Lorries of all types under 7½tonnes will be able to travel at 50 mph on other roads. I would question whether even goods vehicles weighing under 7½ tonnes should all be eligible to travel at more than 50 miles per hour. Admittedly heavy goods vehicles over that weight will stay limited to 40 miles per hour.
It is argued, again in the national speed survey, that 56 per cent. of all HGVs exceed the present limit of 40 miles per hour on single carriageways. But it is not clear from the survey whether, in referring to HGVs, the survey is referring to vehicles weighing more than 7½ tonnes or vehicles weighing below that. That is a very important point. The survey also shows that on dual carriageways, 42 per cent. of HGVs exceed the 50 miles per hour limit which is to be the new limit. Therefore, to be logical, we should raise the limit above 50 miles per hour because already more than 42 per cent. of vehicles are breaking what is to be the new limit. When the argument for increasing limits is based solely on the fact that drivers already exceed the limit, that is, I suggest, an unwise argument.
425 We are now to have a limit of 38 tonnes for heavier lorries and the Government have made clear that prosecutions will not take place if the overloading of lorries is not more than 10 per cent. We are now to have what some people regard as excessive speed limits for lorries on some of our roads. I wonder whether all the facts I have mentioned have been taken into consideration.
Many noble Lords will have travelled on dual carriageways, motorways and other roads not only with lorries right behind them when they have been travelling at 70 miles per hour—when the best thing to do is to get out of the way of the lorries—but also with coaches right behind them. Coaches have overtaken me when I have been driving at 70 miles per hour. The survey shows that 23 per cent. of coaches and buses exceed 70 miles per hour, and a sizeable percentage exceed 80 miles per hour. On the dual carriageways, we are now to have a 60 miles per hour maximum because we are told in the speed survey that 60 per cent. exceed the present limit of 50 miles per hour. We are told that already 20 per cent. of buses and coaches exceed what is to be the new maximum speed limit. Again, one must question whether the speed limit for coaches and buses is not excessive.
What we do not know is what effect all these limits will have on express scheduled services. Will it mean a speeding up of drivers' conditions? Have the unions been consulted about the change? Incidentally, have the unions been consulted about the change for heavy goods vehicles? This is quite important.
The Minister spoke of "normal conditions"—and I believe he spoke of "normal motorway conditions". I noticed in the Guardian that the Minister of State, Mrs. Lynda Chalker, referred to "normal conditions" and stated that the new limits of 70 miles per hour on motorways, 60 miles per hour on dual carriageways, and 50 miles per hour on other roads would be safe. What does she mean, and what does the noble Lord mean, by "normal conditions"? These will be the maximum speed limits on those three types of roads.
I am pleased at the code of conduct that the Bus and Coach Council has introduced. It is a most reliable organisation, but surely the Government should not depend on just what an operators' council does. Surely there ought to be laws we can all accept because they represent the right thing to do.
To return to the Government's argument that speed limits must be realistic because otherwise drivers will break them, what is the position of private cars on motorways? The Government's own speed survey to which I have referred states that 40 per cent. of private cars already exceed the 70 miles per hour limit. Will it be not very long before the Government come back to us to increase that limit because the majority of drivers are breaking the law? Incidentally, more than 14 per cent. of private vehicles exceed 80 miles per hour. I find very little law enforcement in the case of private motorists driving at more than 80 miles per hour on motorways. I am the last person to want to see the harassment of drivers and private motorists, but if the Government decide that these new limits will make for simpler enforcement, what steps will be taken to ensure enforcement of the law? I am still having my 426 battle with the Home Office to try to achieve uniformity of police procedure regarding fixed penalties, which vary all over the country. I wonder what steps will be taken to ensure enforcement of these new limits.
Finally, will the Minister please say—and, again, this may be a lack of understanding on my part—what is the meaning of paragraph 6 of the Explanatory Note, which states that,Provisions relating to brakes of a motor tractor, heavy locomotive and light locomotive are discontinued"?I have been critical of a number of points. We can do nothing about them as we do not vote against orders approved by another place, but I hope that the Minister's reply will be helpful to me and to other noble Lords.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, there is no doubt that motorists are now the new criminal classes in our country. There are more law breakers among motorists than among any other section of the community. Because there is such widespread disregard of the law of speeding on our roads, the Government are proposing a new kind of principle in law-making. They say that if enough people decline to comply with the law, we must change the law to comply with the wishes of the people. We are now adjusting speed limits to those which have been widely adopted by those driving different kinds of vehicles on our roads today.
The real trouble is that there is no enforcement on the scale needed to ensure compliance with the law. This applies right throughout the use of motor vehicles. The motorist is too numerous, too determined to have his own way and to subjugate other members of the community to his convenience and to his desires that one might say, "The motorist rules—OK?". There is not much that anyone can do about it.
I cannot help but be cynical about motoring laws and compliance with regulations affecting them. We try to control unlawful parking on our streets by appointing traffic wardens. They are widely abused by those whose names are taken because they have left their vehicles beyond the permitted time or in the wrong place. The truth is that, in the scenery of police and public relationships over the years, the police were heroes for as long as they were arresting the drunks, finding the burglars, and generally looking after the cruder aspects of law and order. But as soon as the middle classes as motorists came into conflict with the police, then the name of the police was mud. That is when altercations began between the public and the police.
From my own experience of introducing the breathalyser when I was in the Government years ago, I know that one of the major considerations was what the relationship would be between motorists and the police if motorists were asked to undergo that unwelcome test of their sobriety while being in charge of a car. I know that good government requires authority and the law to be harmonised with acceptance by the people. But there is such flagrant disregard of the law at the present time that it is very 427 difficult to have any respect for changes which will probably make no difference at all.
I cannot see that these regulations will make the slightest bit of difference. Mark you, I do not suggest for one moment that motorists are exceeding the speed limit because they like doing so. In many cases they are doing the speed they think the road and reasonable driving safety will permit. Drivers will go on doing that. It does not necessarily mean that they will drive faster still because the speed limits have been raised. Presumably we are under these regulations going to make more honest motorists than there were before. This, of course, is not unknown. We took the prostitutes off the streets and made their profession slightly more respectable. We took the betting slip runners off the streets and put them into betting shops, which made them a little more respectable. It is a well-known philosophy of law-making that you see what you can do to bring the law into harmony with people's behaviour and not the other way round.
I quite willingly forgo my supper to be able to make these few cynical remarks to your Lordships on these regulations. I could, I am afraid, wander widely on my feelings about much of what happens regarding motorists, but I spare your Lordships at this particular hour by not going any further than I have. My conclusion is that I view these new regulations with resignation, with cyncism, and with a feeling of, "Well, this is how the world is going to go round and we probably have to do it this way". But I suggest that with these new speed limits there should be more vigorous enforcement. That has become absolutely necessary. The enforcement of the law is so capricious at present that no one can have any real respect for it. One thinks oneself unlucky if caught.
I wonder sometimes whether the police go out to find some kind of quota of cases which they can take back with the least possible trouble. They go into the sideways and byways and pick up motorists there because they can do it without stopping the traffic on the major roads. The police cannot cope with it; the courts cannot cope with it; we do not want fines on the spot, and so we go on. I speak from the virtuous position of being a pedestrian. I am no longer a motorist. I ought to admit that, in order to put my remarks in the proper perspective.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Viscount Sidmouth
My Lords, while acknowledging that these regulations do a very useful tidying up job, on what was previously a rather tangled web, I should like to ask the Minister whether he would be a little more specific on the philosophy lying behind the raising of the speed limits for coaches and lorries. It is, I submit, extremely doubtful whether public opinion played much part in this matter. All we have had is some suggestion that the new limits are more realistic and acceptable to drivers and, therefore, in some way easier to enforce.
In this context I refer to a letter written to The Times on 20th August last year by a retired senior police officer who was one of the first on the scene of the M4 disaster which occurred last August when a lorry was in collision with a coach. In that letter he expressed amazement that we still allowed the then existing 428 limits for such vehicles to continue. He referred, appositely. to the United States of America, a country where the motor vehicle is king but where the limits for all vehicles vary according to state between 55 and 65 miles per hour.
It is appreciated that the road lobby has a powerful voice in the Ministry. I believe that the Minister's right honourable friend in another place quoted the figure of cost saving to the industry of£300 million arising from the higher speed operation. That is fine so far as it goes, but obviously it does not give the full picture and it is only the credit side of the balance sheet. What about the major debits? First is the increase to the Government and to the public of the cost of accidents. Secondly, is the increased damage to bridges, infrastructures and road surfaces themselves. On the first point, it may be that the Minister has tucked away in his brief some statistics showing that speed is not the prime cause of many of the accidents that occur. He will, of course, be aware that, if so, this is a misleading statistic because in any road accident, however caused in the first instance, speed has a direct bearing on the consequences; which is what we are concerned with.
If I may be technical for a moment, this is not a simple matter of an increase of 20 per cent.—the difference between 50 and 60 miles per hour. The impact force is directly proportional to the square of the velocity of the vehicle. Therefore, in the case of a coach, using this calculation, the actual increase in impact force of these proposals is 56.25 per cent. The figures for lorries are even more formidable because we are still in the aftermath of increasing the maximum permitted weight for lorries from 32½ to 38 tonnes. On that basis the difference in impact force of a 32½-tonne lorry at 40 miles per hour and a 38-tonne lorry at 50 miles per hour is 82.7 per cent. That is doubled if two of these vehicles meet head on.
There is no need for me to say much about damage to roads and structures except that the joint effects of speed and weight, in my view and the view of many others, have been under-estimated for years, as the Department of Transport is now finding to its cost with bridges and roads all over the country. Finally, what about enforcement? I understand that in the United States, even with its lower limits, both speed and lane disciplines are excellent in most places. Of course, there are remote roads which are sparsely patrolled. However, in that connection may I quote from a personal experience.
Many years ago in East Africa the public transport system ran an extensive network of road transports in Uganda and Tanganyika, as it then was. The roads were remote. They were dangerous after rain. The vehicles were heavy lorries with continental type drawbar trailers and there was a high proportion of cowboys among the drivers. The operation was none the less successful. The answer was governed engines and road speeds and tachometers which were properly monitored. This might fill the Minister and the industry with some horror, but it can be done.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their response to my introduction of these regulations. The best thing I can do, probably, is to go 429 through the major points that each noble Lord has made in turn, because in the majority of cases each covered somewhat different areas.
I start with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, with whom I so frequently have to begin discussions when coaches, other vehicles and roads are concerned. I have a feeling that on balance we are probably more at one than perhaps his speech suggested. The noble Lord asked whether those who were consulted about these regulations had the advantage of having special copies of the national speed survey which was published on 28th February. The answer is: no, they did not have a special copy. We start this exercise from a commitment given by the Government in their White Paper which was in response to the Armitage Report. The consultations and investigations have covered two years. We arrive tonight with a set of regulations that have been hanging around for just over two years.
The noble Lord mentioned a number of areas in which he thought there were disadvantages. He asked about energy considerations. I think he would be the first to agree that the consumption of energy by today's modern commercial vehicles, coaches or motor cars shows an improvement of between 15 and 18 per cent. over seven, eight, nine or ten years ago. That is a reasonable answer to give him under that heading.
The noble Lord also asked about economic considerations, as did the noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth. The noble Viscount quoted a figure which was given in the other place last night of £300 million. I think that is probably where he obtained it from. He will probably know, therefore, that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State gave this figure. If I could find the place in the manuscript copy of last night's proceedings I could quote what he said, but in substance he said that this was a figure which the industry had given him—that £300 million would be saved. I was there last night. His tone of voice implied not exactly scepticism but perhaps a little doubt. He certainly was not prepared to substantiate the figure. There can be little doubt that there are economic benefits to be gained in terms of scheduling, particularly, commercial vehicles; but whether they are of that order I do not know.
The noble Lord mentioned the other side of the coin—the cost of accidents and of damage. I cannot reasonably deal with that tonight, but I can tell the noble Lord that the recent consultation paper on vehicle excise duty and track costs as applied to commercial vehicles went out for consultation. That was completed, and the Government's response was made a week or two ago. It is there that we would seek to recover true track costs of commercial vehicles at whatever weight. The new method of calculating that takes into account a number of roads. Previously it did not; it lumped them all together. We have a reasonably accurate figure for the cost. I think that it is in that way that I can best describe to the noble Lord the other side of the coin.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, suggested that I had said 40 miles an hour for certain caravans. Perhaps I did not make myself clear. There will not be a 40 miles an hour limit for any car towing one trailer or caravan when these regulations come into force. There is a blanket limit of 50 miles an hour on all 430 roads. But cars towing two trailers will be restricted to 40 miles an hour on motorways. If I have misunderstood the noble Lord, I shall be happy to correct that when I read through Hansard.
The noble Lord raised at some length the question of coaches. He will probably recall that coaches have always been subject to the national road speed limit on motorways, which has stood at 70 miles an hour since December 1965. We have not made any alteration since 1965. We should recognise the extraordinarily low, and reducing, number of accidents involving heavy goods vehicles. The figure was quoted in another place by my right honourable friend. I was looking for it, but I have not found it. In the past four or five years the incidence of accidents per 100 million kilometres has decreased from 114 in 1972, I think, to 68 in 1982. Again, if I have those figures substantially wrong I shall ensure that noble Lords are advised of it, but the figures are of that order.
The noble Lord asked what we are going to do about coaches. I can only repeat that the operators have agreed voluntarily to install tachographs in all their coaches operating on dual carriageways and motorways, as a management tool. I should emphasise that. It was always agreed when tachographs were introduced that they were not to be used in furtherance of prosecution. That remains so. This is a management tool. It is for the operators to read the tachographs and take managerial decisions on the information that the readings give them.
There have been discussions with regard to speeds which gave rise to the Bus and Coach Council adopting the code of conduct. I have also been at the discussions with my honourable friend the Minister of State. I think everybody agrees that if an industry, or indeed a profession, can discipline itself, that is far better than making yet another set of rules and regulations. I have said that if the code of practice, which is to be introduced this season, is found to be unreliable—in other words, if the practices which noble Lords have described and which I cannot deny continue—we shall have to look again to see whether it is necessary to introduce more law.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, also asked about unions. I can assure him that a number of the unions were involved in the consultations. There were 200 on the list of people invited to consult. As I said, some 80 of those on the list did consult, including a number of the unions.
The noble Lord asked me what "normal" conditions are. I had to smile. I suppose they are those which are not abnormal. In other words, as soon as the fog warning lights came up on the motorway, one would say that that was abnormal. Heavy rain or snow storms and had light would also make conditions abnormal. But, of course, we are talking here about normal conditions.
The noble Lord asked me about private cars. All I can say there is that we have just had the national speed survey at the end of last month. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is giving consideration to what is contained in that survey in relation to motor cars. If there is necessity, he will of course consult with all the interested parties on that 431 matter before coming to any decision. I should not like to give any timescale for that to be undertaken.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked about enforcement, and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, in his wide-ranging contribution to this debate this evening, also spoke about enforcement. I repeated what the police had to say. We believe that there will be a greater element of self-enforcement which will enable those resources which can be best used for dealing with this matter to be used more effectively. The noble Lord also asked me about locomotive brakes. I think that it would be better, and more helpful if I wrote to him on that matter. I do not think it is of great and burning importance this evening.
I did so enjoy—as I always enjoy—Lord Houghton's contribution. I am sorry he had to forgo his supper to make his cynical remarks. Perhaps having got the cynical remarks off his chest, it may help him to enjoy his supper without the threat of any indigestion that that cynicism might have engendered had he not got rid of it. I think that the noble Lord spoke largely about motor cars and the motorist in general. He said that the law will not make any difference. If he will allow me to take that a little out of context and say that we are talking tonight about commercial vehicles and coaches, I said earlier what the British Coach Council have said: "We will look after it; if not, we will have to go back to you." I have had a letter—and perhaps a number of other noble Lords may have had a letter—from the Freight Transport Association. I quote their last paragraph:The FTA accepts that parliamentary approval for such changes must result in an equivalent response from industry. We shall therefore give the utmost public support for the need for new limits to be properly respected.That is what they have said quite clearly; and I can assure noble Lords that if indeed they do not do that, then my right honourable friend will have no hesitation in calling them together and telling them of other measures that will have to be taken.
Speaking broadly, the noble Lord said that this change in the law appeared to be merely to accommodate the wishes of people. I think that was the substance of his opening remarks. I would say to him, no, that is not quite true. It is more to accommodate the technical changes that have taken place in both road construction and indeed the vehicles themselves. That is, in part, the reason why we feel it is perfectly reasonable, without a great threat to the accident and injury statistics, to allow these rather modest increases in speeds which, we must face, have been happening in practice for some little time—as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, quoted from the speed survey I think that is reasonable.
The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, may be interested to know that currently there are on motorways some 21.99 billion vehicle kilometres travelled by cars; some .33 billion vehicle kilometres by buses and coaches, and 4.96 billion kilometres by goods vehicles. For those roads with a speed restriction of under 40 miles-an-hour, cars count for 121 billion kilometres; buses and coaches 2.3 billion; goods vehicles 6.5 billion. We also have other figures. So there is an increase in traffic and we have to take that into account.
432 I will make one last comment in respect of Lord Houghton's contribution. He said that the police and the courts cannot cope. The implication was that that is why we are, so to speak, letting some people off the hook. My right honourable friend has been in touch with his right honourable friend at the Home Office. There is indeed a great desire to enforce the law, but the law has to be practical. It has to be one that people respect and wish to obey. We believe that these speed limits that are contained in the regulations will go some way towards that acceptance. It would make enforcement that much easier.
Lastly, I come to the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth. I think that I have covered the general philosophy on coaches and lorries, the question of consultation and also the question of the two sides of the cost coin. He read some very interesting figures, which I promise him I shall study at greater length. If I can add anything to them, I shall certainly write to him; but when on a recent visit to the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, looking at accidents and accident prevention, I was very surprised to see figures—again I do not have them with me but the sense is correct—that suggest that the majority of fatal and serious injury accidents happen at extremely low speeds. That is really quite interesting.
Of course when you get a laden heavy lorry or a coach that gets involved in a major incident, it makes the headlines; but happily there have been few such incidents. Where these headlines grasp the imagination, one should not talk in terms of speed but in terms of road behaviour. There is no doubt that many of these accidents that happen, particularly on the motorways, are as a result of drivers of all kinds of vehicles not obeying the signs that are there for them. We have all seen it, and this leads to massive pile-ups.
I think perhaps one last word on that: I am happy to tell the noble Lord that there is across Europe an agreement very near with regard to coach body construction in accordance with EEC and United Nations directives. Much of this work has been pioneered by ourselves through MIRA and TRRL, and many of the European coachbuilders and our own coachbuilders are already conforming to the standards which we have suggested. So in the unhappy event of a coach accident, certainly injury would be minimised. I do not think I can tell the House any more about what lies behind the regulations. I hope that the House will now approve them.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.