HL Deb 09 January 1995 vol 560 cc5-7

2.48 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action, if any, they consider may be appropriate to reduce the level of pedestrian casualties in Britain.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen)

My Lords, within our overall target of reducing all road casualties by one third by the end of the century, we aim to reduce pedestrian fatalities by 35 per cent. and serious injuries by 40 per cent. from the 1981–85 average. The reduction will be promoted through a wide range of measures, including traffic calming, pedestrian education, penalties for dangerous and careless driving, research, improved pedestrian facilities and substantial advertising campaigns.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. But is it not clear that, sadly, the number of pedestrian casualties is out of gear with the fall in accident rates involving motorised vehicles? Is that not to some extent due to the inability of people properly to use crossings? Is it not also due to the fact that the technology—the lighting and alarms for disabled people—is out of date? Has the department any plans for updating that technology?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, it is important to put the trend of pedestrian fatalities into context: they are now at their lowest since records began in 1926. But the noble Viscount is right to draw attention to the problems associated with pedestrian crossings. A statistic has emerged from research that over 90 per cent. of pedestrian crossing movements at light-controlled crossings are against a red light. That is why we have carried out a great deal of research and have come up with a so-called intelligent crossing which will hold the red signal to drivers until pedestrians are clear of the crossing.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, can something be done about the increasing habit of cyclists jumping the traffic lights and speeding ahead when the crossing is in favour of the pedestrians? Are the Government aware that many accidents have taken place? The noble Viscount did not mention that in the list that he gave in his original Answer to the noble Viscount.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, as I believe we discussed on an earlier Question, that is an offence. Cyclists are subject to the rules of the road as are motorists. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the police to prosecute those who break the law.

Lord Finsberg

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I was about to raise in part the matter to which the noble Lord has just referred? I was going to ask my noble friend whether there are any statistics to show how many pedestrian casualties are caused by those cyclists who ignore all the rules of the road. My noble friend has said that it is for the police to enforce the law. I ask him specifically to request his right honourable friend the Home Secretary to ask the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis to pay some attention to that instead of allowing many of his officers to stand and watch those things happen without taking action.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I believe that I previously answered that exact question from my noble friend. I said that I would take his remarks back to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of the police to enforce the law and the police must make their own priorities.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, will the noble Viscount consider resurrecting the "See and Be Seen" campaign which we had some years ago? Recently I have noticed that pedestrians seem to be walking on the wrong side of the road along country lanes at night in dark clothing. In fact, my daughter and I had a very narrow escape the other day and received abuse when my daughter complained to the three youngsters concerned.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, we are continuing to carry on with the very campaign to which the noble Countess referred. Indeed, we issued recently half a million copies of the leaflet used in the "See and Be Seen" campaign. We believe that that is the right approach to promoting conspicuity for pedestrians.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House whether the number of pedestrian fatalities is higher in the evening when people are coming out of pubs?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, my noble friend has put his finger on a very important point. Some 80 per cent. of pedestrians injured between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. were under the influence of drink.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that during the recent holiday period in most areas of the country the number of those who were breathalysed and did not pass the test was unfortunately higher than it was last year. That was even allowing for the fact that the police were not able to stop and test quite as many motorists as they did last year. One good feature of the statistics is that last year there was a very slight reduction in the number of pedestrian casualties, but that is not enough to give us any great encouragement.

I am delighted with the programme which the Minister laid out for the future to reduce the accident rate by 35 per cent. However, will he give us an idea of what authority local authorities have, for example, to institute on a wider scale the 20 miles an hour speed limit in densely populated residential urban areas?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right to draw attention to the success and the potential of the new 20-mile-an-hour zones. We believe that such traffic calming is extremely effective in reducing pedestrian accidents. A recent study of the first 100 20-mile-an-hour zones showed that they have reduced child, pedestrian and cyclist accidents by 75 per cent. That is an extraordinary statistic and we shall continue to work very hard on such measures.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, in view of the large number of accidents actually on pedestrian crossings, may not pedestrians be placing too much faith in the crossings and simply be stepping out? Is there not a case for educating pedestrians so that they understand that a motorist needs a certain distance within which to stop?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, that is an important point. It is obviously part of the problem. The 90 per cent. figure for pedestrians crossing at light-controlled crossings against a red light indicates that much of the blame lies with those very same pedestrians. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of both motorists and pedestrians to ensure that the crossings are safe.