HC Deb 06 July 1971 vol 820 cc354-7W
Mr. Fox

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what further action he proposes to take to reduce the number and severity of road casualties.

Mr. Peyton

Seven thousand, five hundred deaths and 356,000 injuries resulted from road accidents last year. Casualties can be expected to amount to 400,000 a year by 1976 unless action is taken.

A new code was launched in April to help children to cross the road safely. Some £500,000 is being spent currently on publicity aimed at reducing accidents to children. Heavy lorries will from 1st November, 1971, have to carry new and conspicuous rear markings; they have been since April of this year, subject to a 60 m.p.h. speed limit on motorways. The overall 70 m.p.h. limit on all roads is being retained. A programme to install crash barriers on 1,000 miles of motorway is in hand. All cars registered after 1st April, 1973, will be required to be fitted with an improved and more convenient seat belt.

I have concluded that further measures are needed. First, a statutory road safety duty will be placed on the new county authorities. The duty will include accident investigation and the taking of remedial measures. Legislation will be introduced at an early opportunity.

Pedestrian casualties account for 40 per cent. of road deaths in this country. Some 2,300 people were fatally or seriously injured last year on or near zebra crossings. Parking will be banned on a 20-yard area on either side of all such crossings. Overtaking will be banned on the approach side. These areas will be appropriately marked.

Parked vehicles were a contributory factor in accidents involving nearly 2,000 fatal and serious casualties at junctions last year. The existing local authority powers to restrict waiting are not enough. I propose to seek new powers to prohibit stopping for any reason other than traffic or an emergency within 20 yards of any junction in a built-up area. New markings will be introduced to show the limits of the ban.

Motor cycle accidents account for 11 per cent. of road deaths. There were 3,300 people killed or seriously injured last year in accidents involving 16-year-old riders of motor cycles or scooters. The minimum age for holding a licence to drive any motor cycle, other than a moped, should be 17, the same as that for driving a car.

To reduce the severity of motor cycle casualties, in which two thirds of all deaths are caused by head injuries, riders and passengers on motor cycles, scooters and mopeds will be obliged to wear a crash helmet of approved design.

Many motor cycle accidents are caused by lack of experience. I intend to discuss with the R.A.C. and motor cycle manufacturers means of improving or encouraging motor cycle training.

A number of new car safety features are at various stages of development. A considerable impetus will be given to perfecting and proving such features by the programme which is being mounted by the Government and the British industry as our contribution to the international experimental safety vehicle project. This programme will cover both the avoidance of accidents, by improvements in design, and the protection of the occupants when accidents do happen.

Many accidents would be saved by fuller use of lights in bad visibility, such as fog or rain. I propose to seek powers to make appropriate regulations.

Seat belts reduce the chance of death or serious injury in an accident by a half. If all drivers and front seat passengers wore them, there would be something like 15,000 fewer deaths and serious injuries a year. To encourage the use of belts, I shall be launching a new publicity campaign in one region later this year. I shall be giving further consideration and encouragement to the development of automatic belts which cannot be left unworn.

Restraints of the kind proposed are, of course, unwelcome; their justification lies in the need to check and, if possible, reduce the brutal toll of accidents.

Consultations will now begin on these proposals with the interests who are concerned with road safety—the police, local authorities, the voluntary societies, those concerned with the manufacture and repair of vehicles and others.

My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales will be taking corresponding action on those aspects of the proposals which come with-ing their spheres of responsibility.