HL Deb 08 December 2003 vol 655 cc541-3
Lord Dubs

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of the benefits of road humps and other traffic-calming measures.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the Department for Transport has an extensive programme of research into the benefits of all forms of traffic calming, including road humps. Full details of current research and summaries of results of completed research are provided in the road safety and local transport research compendia, produced regularly. These are available on the department's website.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I think I am grateful to my noble friend. Does he agree that there has been an epidemic of road humps, certainly all over London, and that they do not help the police, ambulance or fire services'? I doubt very much whether they add to road safety. My noble friend did not really tell the House whether they did. But they may provide a bonanza for the firms that repair suspensions and shock absorbers.

Is it not a waste of money for local authorities—at a time when money is tight—to be putting in road humps, sometimes in streets that are unlikely to have speeding traffic? Can the Government do anything to advise local authorities to desist?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for those questions. I assure him that we regard traffic-calming measures, of which speed humps are the most effective, as very significant indeed in reducing road speeds and hence accidents. The figures are quite straightforward. Research shows that a 1 mile per hour reduction on mean speeds produces a 5 to 6 per cent reduction in personal injury accidents. So they are effective.

They are effective too for the police because speeding limits are enforced without policemen needing to be present. I bear in mind what my noble friend says about the issue of speed humps interfering with the emergency services—police, fire and ambulance—on certain occasions. The attempt is to seek to ensure that there are not speed humps on through routes. But in residential areas members of the public campaign for speed humps because they know they are safer for them and for their children.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that some of these humps, particularly the ones at entrances to railway stations—for example, Euston and Waterloo—are notoriously vicious and dangerous? Can there be some kind of minimal or maximum specification on the size of these humps?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, there are specifications. The steepest humps are in places such as railway stations because of the vast amount of pedestrian activity, sometimes unaware pedestrian activity when people are in strange and unusual surroundings and can blunder into traffic. So the speed humps are there to make sure that the traffic moves at the slowest possible speed in such congested areas.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the word traffic "calming" is rather confusing? In fact, traffic-calming measures tend to aggravate even the nicest, kindest and slowest of drivers.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I think the concept of "calming" is addressed to the vehicle rather than to the personality of the driver.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is rather better to have vicious speed humps than cars that are speeding viciously from the view of a pedestrian or cyclist?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, that is the point. Traffic-calming measures are related to reducing accidents, particularly accidents to pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, do the Government really have their policy right? Is it not as opaque as the Minister's Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs? How does he explain that in Yorkshire a £4 million fleet of new ambulances is sitting idle because it cannot get over the road humps; and that Barnet council in London has recently made the decision to remove all the speed humps in its borough following a statement by the London Ambulance Service that speed humps cause delays and cost lives? How does he explain those two facts in the light of his answers and the Government's policy?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, it is interesting that the noble Viscount puts emphasis on the one borough which has taken this dramatic action and not on the other boroughs which have not. We must have regard to the needs of the emergency services. There have been some problems, particularly where speed humps have been on roads which are through routes and it has been necessary for emergency services to use them on occasions with some speed.

Overall, the position across the country is quite straightforward: local authorities are besieged by residents seeking to have traffic-calming measures in their neighbourhood. They have to reach a judgment between the increased safety they may well provide for residents and the proper needs of the emergency services and other traffic to proceed at reasonable speed.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the problem is far from simple and that road humps cause a tremendous amount of inconvenience to everyone using the roads? As has been pointed out, they cause inconvenience to ambulances. One police force even said that they prevent it reaching accidents and emergencies. Why do not the Government do away with the stupid things altogether?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, there are more ways than one to achieve traffic calming. As the noble Earl will know, there are chicanes and flashing signs that state at what speed one should be travelling. But let me reassure him of this about traffic-calming measures. Our most recent research states that on the introduction of such calming measures, the average annual accident frequency fell by 60 per cent; child pedestrian accident frequency fell by 70 per cent; child cyclist accidents fell by 48 per cent; and there was an overall reduction of 67 per cent for all child accidents. That is a gain worth having.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, does the Minister agree that most of us who represent rural areas are besieged with applications for road humps and speed cameras because, in most villages, there are no police and people rely on self-enforcement—namely, cameras and humps—to give some peace to the residents of rural areas?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, that is certainly so and provides an additional answer to the question asked by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. Of course a balance must be struck; we all recognise that. There may have been excessive enthusiasm in some areas that has affected routes that need to be used by the emergency services. But I do not believe that any of us denies the obvious fact that speed kills and that it is important to reduce excessive speed.

Baroness David

My Lords, am I right, as I have been told, to say that such humps are not good environmentally because cars must slow down and then accelerate, encouraging a greater use of petrol?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, any alteration in vehicle speeds involves extra fuel consumption and adds to environmental problems but, frankly, we must balance the question of the safety of our fellow citizens against that marginal environmental aspect.

Back to