HL Deb 21 July 1988 vol 499 cc1479-81

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied that crash barriers between carriageways on motorways are strong and resilient enough to reduce the lethal effects of accidents.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, current safety fences are designed to contain a 1.5 tonne vehicle travelling at 70 mph impacting at an angle of 20 degrees; and to redirect it so as to minimise injury to the occupants and the hazard to other road users. The Government are satisfied that current safety fences perform as well as, and often better than this.

The Government are assessing the case for stronger and more resilient fencing. Whatever their standards, safety fences are not a substitute for safe driving.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer with which I fully agree. I particularly agree with the fact that the barriers must be firm but not too strong so as not to have any "give" in them. Do the Government think it disquieting that in some recent motorway accidents vehicles which were not unusually large or heavy have crossed the central reservation and hit oncoming traffic?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, fences are struck thousands of times each year. On average over three years, 700 injury accidents are reported each year on motorways in England where the vehicle has hit the safety fence. Of that number only 40 have gone through or over the fence and over half of them involved heavy goods vehicles. In answer to my noble friend's last point, I agree that there is a balance to be struck. If a fence is not resilient the damage done to a vehicle hitting it is likely to be disastrous.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the fences are too low; they are below the centre of gravity of most vehicles? As the vehicles hit them they will topple over into the next carriageway. Therefore the fences should be higher. The strength is not important but the height is.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, out of the many accidents that happened last year only 40 vehicles went through or over the barrier, so I do not believe that is necessarily the case. In fact, I am sure that it is not.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, can my noble friend say by what date the Government estimate that all M-roads will have a substantial central barrier?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, already 99 per cent. of motorways have a central barrier. Those which do not are where the two carriageways are sufficiently far apart. It is better not to have a central barrier if the carriageways are far enough apart because vehicles can run off rather than go into the opposite carriageway.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, while appreciating the Minister's Answer, can he say on what kind of survey it was based? In the light of the other facts that he has given, is it proposed to ask the TRRL to carry out a survey on the question of motorway barriers?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, that is the assessment to which I referred and which is now taking place. It is expected to be completed later this year and the results will then be made public.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I have tested the resilience of the barriers? Is he aware that I did so one night some years ago when I struck a patch of black ice after leaving the House after a debate? My car skidded out of control and I struck the central barrier at, I should think, 70 miles an hour. It was a fast road and there was nothing on it. I struck the barrier at an angle of 20 or 30 degrees and it gradually brought me to a stop without too much damage to the motor car. Therefore it stood up to the design specifications.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am glad to hear my noble friend's report. I am not so concerned about the damage to his motor car; I should have been much more concerned if my noble friend had been damaged in the accident. I believe that the incident proves that the crash barriers work very effectively.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House how many of the accidents happened at night? Does he agree that the height of the barrier is most important because it prevents the lights of the oncoming cars from being a nuisance when they meet cars coming in the opposite direction?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot tell my noble friend how many of the accidents happened at night. I came prepared with a number of statistics but I am afraid that that is not one of them. The lights of oncoming vehicles are a problem but certain stretches of motorway are fitted with overhead lights which reduce the problem and certain stretches also have a barrier of some kind.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, would the noble Lord like to read out the statistics and we can then produce questions to fit the answers that he has?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I always come prepared with as much information as possible.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can my noble friend say how many of the 40 vehicles which went through or over the barriers, actually went over?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, no, I cannot. Out of the 40 vehicles which went through or over the barriers half were heavy goods vehicles. But 1 cannot define which went through and which went over.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, will the Minister encourage the planting of shrubs between motorway carriageways to deflect the lights of oncoming traffic?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, that is an extremely good idea where the space between the carriageways allows it. I must admit that I do not know of our policy on that matter but I have seen a number of roads where it has taken place. However, it relies on there being sufficient space between the carriageways.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, is it not becoming even more important that all the barriers should be as good as that encountered by my noble friend Lord Nugent because of the additional lighting now being installed on the motorways, the standards of which constitute serious obstacles?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I hope that all the barriers are of the same standard as that encountered by my noble friend. As I said earlier, an assessment is being made to discover whether stronger or different materials can be used. We shall report publicly on the matter later this year.

Lord Whaddon

My Lords, is the noble Lord satisfied with the standards of inspection of the concrete footings of the vertical posts supporting the barriers? Is he aware of reports in the media of occasions when, following accidents, they are found to be inadequate and to have made a substantial contribution to the breakage of the barrier and to vehicles crossing into the other carriageway?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord is mistaken in his last conclusion. I agree that some footings have been found to be misshapen, but the TRRL investigated that and published the result which confirmed that that did not significantly impair the performance.

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