HL Deb 02 November 2000 vol 618 cc1180-5

(" .—(1) The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 3 (what a road traffic regulation order may provide), at end insert—

"(5) No traffic regulation order shall apply to the use of a two-wheeled motor cycle in a bus lane unless specifically authorised by an order made by the Secretary of State."

(3) In section 6(1) (orders similar to traffic regulation orders), leave out "and (5)" and insert ", (5) and (7)".

(4) In section 6, at end insert—

"(7) No traffic regulation order made under this section shall apply to the use of a two-wheeled motor cycle in a bus lane unless specifically authorised by an order made by the Secretary of State.").

(5) In section 142 (general interpretation of Act), insert in the appropriate place— "bus lane" means that part of the road which is restricted to public service vehicles and other vehicles in accordance with a traffic regulation order made under section 1 or 6 of this Act, motor cycle" means a mechanically propelled vehicle, not being an invalid carriage, with less than four wheels and the weight of which does not exceed 410 kilograms,"").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the amendment would allow motorcycles to use bus lanes. I was surprised to learn that they cannot. The Minister will have given the matter much thought. I imagine that there are advantages and disadvantages to the proposal, which I am sure that he will explain to us.

Amendments Nos. 323 and 324 are about collapsible warning triangles used in the event of breakdowns. The hard shoulder is the most dangerous part of a motorway. After a breakdown, safety can be enhanced by placing a warning triangle at least 100 metres behind the broken down vehicle. Unfortunately, motorists have always been very poor at doing that.

The latest Highway Code appears to discourage the use of warning triangles on a motorway. Am I correct in my reading of that? Does UK advice differ from continental practice, advice and law? I beg to move.

Viscount Falkland

My Lords, I have less enthusiasm for this amendment than I had for the previous one moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, and accepted so graciously by the Government. Those of us who have been involved with motorcycling organisations through the all-party motorcycling group have always urged the Government to accept the use of bus lanes for motorcyclists as a priority. To an extent, I have been a prime mover in that. I must admit that I have slightly modified my opinion on the matter. I was discussing it away from the Chamber with the noble Earl only yesterday evening.

As the Minister knows, many experiments have taken place in the United Kingdom regarding the possibility of freeing bus lanes for motor cycles. That idea has been met with vigorous opposition from pedestrian and cycling groups. I do not want to deal with the views of pedestrian groups in relation to this matter, although I sympathise with some of the more moderate ones that I have heard. I believe that cycling groups have a far stronger case. I say that because, since deciding to take more exercise, I have been cycling more around London and have used the lanes. I now sympathise with cyclists who, if not threatened, at least feel that there is always the possibility that a dispatch rider or a motor cycle will bear down upon them.

I believe that the principle of putting motor cycles into lanes in order to free congestion is reasonable. However, anyone who fancies that motor cycles will cease to weave around the traffic when bus lanes are open to them is living in a fantasy world. The whole point of having a motor cycle—I have been riding one since long before bus lanes were created—is to get to the front of the queue as quickly as possible. That can be done perfectly satisfactorily by going through or around traffic provided that one is not aggressive.

Noble Lords may be surprised to hear that I have discovered that motorists, including taxi drivers, are surprisingly co-operative with motor cyclists provided that the latter are not threatening. By "threatening" I do not mean waving a fist; I refer to a person's general attitude. If you ride sitting up, people let you go anywhere. If you ride in an aggressive, crouched position with full leathers and kit, motorists are not likely to let you in. Therefore, the background to the attitude towards motor cyclists is complicated.

Dispatch riders generally are not as threatening as they are perceived to be. However, I would not want to see dispatch riders in bus lanes, at least until it becomes illegal for those who ply themselves for hire to do so with L-plates. It would be extremely difficult if those who deliver pizzas and so on were allowed into bus lanes.

I accept the principle behind what the noble Earl says. It would be wonderful if motor cyclists, cyclists, pedestrians and car drivers could respect their respective status as road users, behave with a little restraint and employ good manners. However, I am afraid that in the real world that is unlikely to happen. The greater the number of cyclists and motor cyclists on the road, the more conflict there is. The present situation can be very unpleasant, particularly for cyclists, who cannot accelerate out of the way.

Experiments have shown that benefits are to be derived from opening bus lanes to, what are called, powered two-wheelers. Perhaps in his reply the Minister will agree that some of the suggestions that have been put forward are sensible; for example, those from authorities which say, "Well, it would work if we could put up signs which make it possible for bicycles, motor cycles or scooters to do this at certain times of the day". But the procedure is complicated and expensive.

However, I believe that the general principle behind the noble Earl's amendment could produce difficulties. The situation is not quite as simple as I believe he imagines it to be. Unless more work were done, much friction would result on the roads. I do not know what he intends to do with the amendment but, if he pressed it to a Division, I should probably abstain.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I believe that in general the proposals in Amendments Nos. 323 and 324 are good. However, I am a little concerned that both my noble friend's amendments refer to a broken down vehicle. I understand that a bicycle is technically a vehicle. I wonder where on a bicycle the collapsible triangle can be carried and whether it is practical to carry such an item on a bicycle. Not being an eccentric Peer in the motor cycling spirit—I probably am in many other ways—I do not know how practical it is to carry a triangle on a bicycle.

No doubt when later my noble friend decides what to do with his amendments, he will be able to tell me whether it is practical for a cyclist to carry a collapsible triangle on a bicycle.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, the amendment does not provide that a warning triangle must be carried. It simply seeks to prevent the Minister saying that it should not be used.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, I rise briefly to support Amendment No. 322 in the name of my noble friend Lord Attlee. It is obvious that I should do so after what I said previously. I remember raising the subject of motor cycles in bus lanes at Starred Questions about three years ago and hearing terrible groans from all around the House. When the matter was raised more recently, we did not appear to hear those groans. When I asked a colleague, he informed me that the reason was quite simple: it was because there were fewer hereditary Peers around.

I hope that there will now be more support for the idea of motor cyclists using bus lanes. As a motor cyclist, I know full well that the best way to move quickly around London is not with speed, but with care about where I position myself. If one travels slowly, with great planning one will always go faster than the person who travels at 300 miles per hour. It is obvious that slower scooters often beat the most powerful motor cycles, even though, when one travels from one traffic light to the next, the most powerful motor cycles always seem to be going faster.

I believe that much advantage would be gained by allowing motor cycles in bus lanes. It would end the dangerous practice of motor cyclists driving tightly between cars or, worse still, between cars and the white line next to the opposing traffic. It would put them in a much quieter area of the road and away from the contentious area.

Like the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, I believe that tremendous sympathy exists on the roads for motor cyclists. I am always amazed at the number of car drivers who will make way for a motor cyclist as he travels past. That seems to happen more and more often. I hope that the Minister will support the amendment.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, as a cyclist, I do not like this amendment very much. I was a little confused by some of the comments of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. I was not sure whether he was proposing that motor cyclists should be able to travel in bus lanes if they were not plying for hire or were not delivering pizzas. I believe that that would lead to problems of enforcement.

The point that I wish to make is that you feel safer by cycling in a bus lane because the only vehicle that is likely to bear down on you is a bus, which is usually driven by a professional driver. The bus may be a little wider than the bus lane plus the cycle, but it is not much wider than some of the wide motor cycles that one sees. According to subsection (5) of the amendment, a motor cycle can have three wheels and, therefore, may be quite wide.

This matter concerns safety and fear. Whereas cyclists on a pavement engender fear in pedestrians (and that is to be deprecated), similarly I fear that motor cyclists in bus lanes—one never quite knows when they are coming and where they will weave—will engender fear in cyclists. Whereas cyclists and buses can co-exist happily in bus lanes, I do not believe that the same will apply to motor cyclists. Therefore, I oppose the amendment.

7 p.m.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, as the noble Viscount indicated, this issue of motorcycles in bus lanes is more complex than straightforward. As my noble friend, Lord Berkeley, has indicated, it raises fairly passionate feelings on all sides of the House. I do not think that the noble Lord's amendment would provide local authorities with the degree of flexibility required and in the long term, flexibility is necessary.

We are aware, as the noble Viscount says, that there are a relatively small number of local authorities which have made orders to permit motorcyclists use of bus lanes—Bristol, Reading and other places. Unfortunately, none of these schemes has been fully monitored and it is therefore difficult for the department to draw firm conclusions. It is also true that these schemes have raised the kinds of anxieties to which my noble friend Lord Berkeley referred. That is why we have encouraged local authorities to put forward proposals for properly monitored pilot studies, so that we can reach conclusions about this practice.

The Government are not opposed in principle to motorcyclists using bus lanes in appropriate circumstances, but we do require further evidence that this can work without serious danger or traffic reaction from other road users. We are, therefore, encouraging local authorities to come forward with pilot schemes, but the noble Lord's amendment would reverse the current presumption and we do not believe we should go that far.

In relation to amendments relating to triangles, the noble Lord is wrong to say that we seek to prohibit the use of triangles on motorways, but the advice for motorways is different from that for other highways. Although current regulations allow the use of warning triangles and other devices, such as cones, flashing warning lights, and so forth, to draw attention to a broken-down vehicle, a driver of such a vehicle on a motorway has to avoid putting himself in jeopardy. It is therefore something that we would discourage. Rule 249 of the Highway Code advises drivers who experience such problems on a motorway, if possible to stop by an emergency telephone and to avoid walking on the hard shoulder as much as possible.

Warning triangles are not that conspicuous to fast-moving traffic. To meet the distance before a vehicle arrives—as laid down in these amendments—from 45 metres to 100 metres, would require the driver to walk quite a long way along the hard shoulder.

There are already concerns for people who are legitimately attending to broken-down vehicles on the side of the motorway. We do not want to make that worse. Therefore, we adopt a different approach in relation to our advice on the use of warning triangles and that advice is well-founded.

We do not seek to prohibit them, because in default of other signals, a triangle may well be appropriate. However, the dangers have to be pointed out to motorists and we think, therefore, that they are less appropriate on motorways than elsewhere. I hope that explains why we cannot accept the noble Earl's amendment.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. Fortunately, I am not a parliamentary draftsman. If I were, the Minister would be kept really busy. I am grateful for his comments and the fact that he is studying the matter. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 323 and 324 not moved.]

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 325: After Clause 258, insert the following new clause—