§ Mr. Marples
I have now studied the reports submitted by the police about the accidents which took place on 21st January in fog on the M.1 and on other motorways.
In all 47 accidents were reported to the police; 20 on M.1. 219 vehicles were involved. 97 of these were on M.1; 67 being seriously damaged. There were 4 fatal accidents, 1 on M.6 and 3 on the Doncaster By-pass. A further 61 casualties were reported, of which 16 were serious.
What stands out from these reports is the constant recurrence of the same factor—vehicles travelling too fast in conditions of thick fog and wet road surfaces and too close to the vehicle in front.
Visibility was about 5–10 yards. The Highway Code recommends drivers not to travel at speeds at which they cannot pull up within the distance they can clearly see and not to drive too close to the vehicle ahead. Many drivers obviously ignored these sensible precautions.83W
One vehicle was found after a collision to have its speedometer jammed at 45 m.p.h. Other vehicles were reported to have been travelling at 50–60 m.p.h. In good conditions and with a good driver the stopping distance at 45 m.p.h. is about 150 feet. Since the visibility on M.1 was only some 30 feet, the safe speed was no more than 15 m.p.h. Yet drivers were going at three times that speed or even faster.
Not all drivers involved in these accidents were at fault. Some stopped their vehicles safely but were hit from behind. But, generally speaking, the responsibility rests with those drivers who were foolish enough to exceed so dangerously the safe limits of speed. In some cases driving was so bad that the police have given notice of intended prosecution for dangerous driving.
It has been suggested that some of the lorry drivers involved in these accidents might have exceeded the permitted hours of work. The police have reported that there was no evidence of this.
Though the responsibility for these destructive accidents rests clearly with the drivers, as Minister of Transport I must do all I can to prevent their repetition. We are about to introduce a visual advance warning system on the 84W M.5 by way of experiment. Several other suggestions for both audible and visual warnings have been made by the Chief Constables consulted. These possibilities will be explored. But at the scenes of many of these accidents the police had set up advance warning flares and lights. All too often they were ignored. No warning systems will be effective if drivers, immersed in widespread thick fog, take no notice of them. I have considered the possibility of introducing variable speed limits depending on weather conditions, but I do not think their introduction is practicable.
It has also been suggested that more propaganda about the qualities of good motorway driving should be issued. We are preparing a leaflet which will be issued as widely as possible, it is hoped by the summer.
I must emphasise, too, the importance of drivers ensuring that their rear lights are functioning correctly and that lights and reflectors are kept clean.
But it all comes back to the driver. It is he who can take the necessary action and it is up to him to drive carefully within the limits which conditions require.