HL Deb 12 December 1985 vol 469 cc348-9

3.21 p.m.

Lord Monson

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 conclusion they draw from the Department of Transport's findings that, in the 24 months after 31st January 1983, more pedestrians and pedal cyclists were killed and seriously injured than in the 24 months preceding compulsion by vehicles in which the wearing of seat-belts by the drivers became compulsory, whereas fewer pedestrians and pedal cyclists were killed and injured by vehicles in or on which the wearing of seat-belts remained optional or not feasible.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, before answering the Question I have to point out to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, an error in his Question. Although fewer cyclists were killed, regrettably there was an increase in the number seriously injured by vehicles not subject to the seat-belt law. However, we agree with the independent assessors that the casualty increases which have occurred are unlikely to be associated with compulsory seat-belt wearing.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for that reply. Would he not agree that, in general, the safer and more secure an individual feels, the more relaxed and hence inattentive he becomes and the slower his reaction times are likely to be; and that only this can explain the 6.3 per cent. increase in fatal and serious injuries to pedestrians and a staggering 18.4 per cent. increase in fatal and serious injuries to cyclists caused by belted motorists since the seat-belt law came into force?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, what the noble Lord fails to take into account is that there is a long-term trend but a greater proportion of pedestrians and pedal cyclists are hit by cars and vans. The reason for this, among other things, is that car traffic is growing faster than other traffic and that the increase in lorry traffic is making much more use of motorways and by-passes which this Government are building at a rapid rate.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that the Question does not refer to injuries or fatalities suffered by pedestrians and cyclists who are hit by moving vehicles? Is there any monitoring of the casualties suffered by pedestrians and cyclists? If so, what does that monitoring prove? Is there any evidence that this is due to seat-belt wearing drivers and what are the conclusions on that point? And would it not be most unfortunate if question and answer of this nature in this House reduced the confidence that is shown in seat-belts by the 94 to 95 per cent. of drivers who believe in wearing them?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I would certainly agree with the noble Lord on his last point. We have done extensive assessments ourselves and produced our own report on road accidents in Great Britain in 1984. We have also undertaken an independent inquiry by two professors, Professor Durban and Professor Harvey, at the London School of Economics. These are fairly detailed statistics, copies of which are in the library

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the kerbside cycleways which are increasingly in evidence in London streets are very much appreciated by London cyclists, and will he do as much as he can to encourage the construction of more of them for safety?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I think that on the last point my noble friend had better speak to the GLC or the boroughs.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the solid benefit of the saving in life and serious injuries—200 lives and possibly 7,000 serious injuries every year—can be set against any doubts of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, that there might be an adverse trend, for which there is no solid evidence whatsoever? Is my noble friend aware that the opponents of compulsory seat-belts are more to be congratulated for the tenacity of their viewpoint than the logic of their arguments?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I can confirm his figures. In addition to the figures he gave, there has been a reduction of 13,000 slight injuries since the seat-belt laws came into effect.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, can the noble Earl confirm that the Compulsory Wearing of Seatbelts Order has to be renewed in January 1986? Can he confirm that this House will have an opportunity then to debate the whole issue?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, indeed, the regulations have to be reconsidered by Parliament, by both this House and another place, by 31st January next year. The timing of the debate is a matter for the usual channels.

Lord Monson

My Lords, would the noble Earl not agree that much of the reduction in deaths among motorists since 1982 is attributable not to seat-belts but to stricter enforcement of the drink driving laws and particularly to the introduction of the evidential breath test? Is he aware that the reduction in fatalities among sober motorists, as revealed by post-mortems, was a fall of only 4.4 per cent. between 1982 and 1984?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I think there are a number of factors which have accounted for the reduction in the loss of lives since the introduction of seat-belts and I think that it would be wrong to highlight too many individual ones.

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