HL Deb 20 July 2004 vol 664 cc95-7

3.14 p.m.

Lord Higgins asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to ensure that the design of traffic islands and maintenance of signposts on them do not endanger public safety.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the design of traffic islands and the maintenance of traffic signs are the responsibility of highway authorities. Guidance on sign maintenance and traffic islands is given in the Code of Practice for Maintenance Management that was published by the Institution of Highways and Transportation in 2001. The Department for Transport supports the code and commends it to local highway authorities.

Lord Higgins

My Lords, will the Minister give an assurance that the Department for Transport will investigate why highway authorities are failing to maintain signs on traffic islands, which increasingly endanger road safety rather than improve it? Given that bad maintenance increases the risk that more traffic islands will be hit, will he ensure that a limit is imposed on the height of traffic islands, many of which are higher than the level of car axles and endanger both life and limb? In some cases, they resemble tank traps more than anything else.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, in response to the noble Lord's second point, the height of traffic islands depends on their purpose. Some of them certainly play their part in traffic calming measures and that is why they are particularly high. However, there are road markings on the approach to such islands and they are generally attended by lower speed limits. On the more general question of maintenance, local authorities and the Highways Agency have to satisfy safety audits of their levels of maintenance. The noble Lord's concerns reflect the fact that one of the problems is that the modern traffic island can be more subject to vandalism than in the past. Traffic islands are not only struck and damaged by cars, necessitating their replacement, but some are also prone to vandalism. That is why a safety audit needs to be carried out as the noble Lord hinted.

Lord Borrie

My Lords, does not the occasional failure of traffic authorities to follow the kind of appropriate guidance that the Minister mentioned suggest the need for at least some back-up powers in central government, such as will be proposed later this afternoon by the Minister in relation to the Traffic Management Bill?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, as the House has already indicated in broad terms, the Traffic Management Bill has many merits, but the particular issue of traffic bollards and islands has been regarded as a major safety consideration, although there is concern whenever any of our safety measures and provisions falls short of the highly desirable. As the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, indicated in his Question, some aspects with regard to traffic islands need attention. The Department for Transport will be monitoring them.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead

My Lords, does the Minister agree that mini-roundabouts often form an island in a road? Very often, cars are seen to go right across them, causing a danger. Would the Minister agree that, where possible, it would be appropriate to erect warning signs ahead of a mini-roundabout in order that people can take appropriate action instead of having to brake sharply when they reach it, sometimes going straight across?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, all roundabouts need adequate warning signs. My noble friend is reflecting the fact that many motorists have found mini-roundabouts particularly difficult. Certainly, the multiple roundabouts that were introduced in one or two places a number of years ago have created a degree of complexity that has worried motorists. However, roundabouts are very successful in guaranteeing traffic flow and the number of accidents on them is not particularly excessive.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, it is now common practice to divide the carriageways of former three-lane roads and the approaches to traffic islands with white hatching marks. Those are not enforceable. Is it the Minister's intention to make them enforceable, thereby helping many people to avoid colliding with traffic islands and enhancing road safety by reducing the chance of head-on collisions?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that such markings are not enforceable. They are meant as a warning to motorists and an indication that they need to take care wherever those signs appear. It is certainly the case that if we are not successful in that strategy, and collisions with traffic islands then occur more frequently, we shall need to look at toughening up enforcement measures, as the noble Lord indicated. As I said earlier, as with all road furniture, from time to time vehicles collide with traffic islands. That is true of all signs. The fault more often lies with the driver than with the inert sign.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the prime purpose of a traffic island is to protect pedestrians from cars? Would he not therefore also agree that the wider and higher the island is, generally, the more protection they will get? If an incident involves the car hitting it and breaking its axle, is that not a good price to pay to protect the pedestrian?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I think the House has some sympathy for that viewpoint about the protection of pedestrians at traffic islands. But the question is about all traffic islands, and there are many traffic islands which are not designed to protect pedestrians at all. In fact, the pedestrians are nowhere near them. The islands are there to separate traffic on two lanes of carriageway. It is those which give rise to a certain anxiety over the height of the kerbstone and maintenance of the signs. It is very important that all such signs—remember, these signs are in the middle of the road—should be maintained and entirely visible by day and night.

Back to
Forward to