HL Deb 16 November 2000 vol 619 cc344-6

3.22 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne asked Her Majesty's Government

What is the estimated cost to the London Ambulance Service of the wear and tear caused by the traffic calming measures now in place in many London streets.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath)

My Lords, it is not possible to identify the specific cost of repairs to the potential wear and tear caused by traffic calming measures. There may be some impact on the London Ambulance Service, but that needs to be seen within the context of a drive to reduce both the frequency and severity of traffic accidents, with clear benefits to the public and the health service as a whole.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not opposed to traffic calming measures in principle, but is it not self-evident that these bumps in the road, some of which are very severe, will cause considerable additional wear and tear to ambulances and other vehicles, not to mention discomfort to the unfortunate patients inside them? Therefore, is it not a good idea to look again at the extent to which these measures are put in place, particularly the height to which they are built?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, a balance must be struck. Road humps are arguably the most effective method to reduce vehicle speed, and when they are used to slow traffic to 20 mph or less they result in a 60 per cent reduction in accidents. That has a beneficial impact on the health service as a whole. Local authorities are required to consult ambulance services when they propose to install road humps. I believe that the best approach to this issue is to encourage the closest engagement between ambulance services and local authorities so that the benefits of road humps, where appropriate, are effected and issues which concern ambulance services—for example, the impact of road humps on their ability to respond to 999 calls—are very much considered.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. I share the admiration for the London Ambulance Service, but if the DETR's assessment of the cost of one road death as being in excess of £1 million is accurate, does my noble friend agree that that puts into context the more marginal cost of the damage to ambulances from road humps?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, that is right. If road humps reduce the number of people who are injured or killed as a result of road accidents, that must be a gain for society as a whole. Equally, I do not believe that we can overlook the impact which road humps can sometimes have on the ability of ambulances to respond to emergencies. For that reason, I believe that the best approach is to have close consultation and discussion between ambulance services and local authorities when the latter wish to install road humps.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, does the Minister have any statistics which compare motorcycle and car accidents? Does the noble Lord share my experience that motorcycles drive flat out between traffic calming measures and in many cases cause accidents?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, the statistics for London during the period January to June 1999 reveal the following fatalities: 72 pedestrians, five pedal cyclists, 28 people riding powered two-wheelers, 29 car occupants, one taxi occupant and one bus or coach occupant. It is difficult to conclude much from those statistics. However, in considering road safety strategy, whether or not motorcyclists drive safely must be a factor to be borne in mind.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if people observed a 20-mph speed limit there would be no need to spend money on road humps, and patients in ambulances could get to hospital without any discomfort?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, that is undoubtedly true. Unfortunately, members of the public disappoint us in not obeying speed limits. Therefore, traffic calming measures are appropriate in many parts of the country. We need to ensure that traffic calming measures, including road humps, are placed sensitively and that emergency services, such as ambulance services, are fully consulted.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Trefgarne said that he was not averse to road humps. Is the Minister aware that I have a great aversion to road humps and traffic calming measures, which I believe are thoroughly dangerous? People are thrown about in the back of taxis and cars as well as in ambulances. Is the noble Lord also aware that some traffic calming measures, particularly in villages, consist of extending the roadside kerb into the middle of the road, with a piece in the middle of the road extended back, so that one goes along like a snake, which can be extremely dangerous in foggy conditions?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, the noble Earl is perhaps not the most progressive Member of your Lordships' House.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the Minister should see me in a car going over a road hump!

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, that is the whole problem.