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Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery) : I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate, particularly as we heard a broad speech from the Minister for Roads and Traffic, who opened the debate. He showed plainly that he is interested in and wishes to listen to the views expressed on many issues.
I begin with a plea from the heart. As I was driving my car through the Members' Entrance this morning, I was involved in a minor accident with a cyclist. Fortunately, the cyclist was wearing a helmet and he was not injured. I do not believe that the accident was the fault of either of us. However, it highlighted the difficulties that are faced both by cyclists and motorists in busy parts of our great cities where inadequate provision is made for cycle lanes. That cyclist could quite easily have been seriously hurt in the accident. I support the calls that have been made by those hon. Members who cycle. I confess that I cycle only in the countryside, where my home is. I am not enthusiastic about cycling in London because of the dangers involved. I join those hon. Member in their call for better provision to be made for cycling routes.
I welcome what the Minister said about rear seat belts. It is so much easier to persuade people to wear seat belts in motor cars if it is made compulsory. I encourage those who travel in the back of my car to wear seat belts. My children were very reluctant and put up great resistance to wearing seat belts until they had to do so. Thereafter, there was no question about it ; they quickly became accustomed to putting them on and keeping them on--and continuing to wriggle, even with their seat belts on.
I share the Minister's misgivings--this is a personal view, not the view of my party--about random breath tests. I believe that the police have all the powers that they need to breathalyse people. They have wide powers to stop motorists. If the police stop a motorist, using their powers, and find that they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that the motorist may have alcohol in his body, they can breathalyse him. There is no difficulty about that. The statistics show that the police have had considerable success.
The use of random breath tests seems to identify the wrong issue. I am concerned that 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood is still high for motorists. The message that we are trying to convey to motorists from all quarters in the House is that one should not drink and drive. In my view it would be far better if the level were pitched significantly lower, so that motorists knew that anything but the smallest drink would render them liable to disqualification from driving, and that the real message is, "If you are driving, drink soft drinks." I should like the blood alcohol level to be reduced to a maximum of 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : The hon. and learned Gentleman makes a sensible point about safety, but I wonder whether he thinks that this is the right time to change the law. In practice, one is permitted to have up to the legal limit of alcohol in the blood. Above that limit there is nearly always an automatic conviction for a crime. Lowering the blood alcohol limit could discourage people from taking the sensible advice never to mix alcohol with driving. If we
Column 836keep the limit at 80 mg per 100 ml, at least for the foreseeable future, people will thionk that that is the legal limit, rather than the safe limit, and will be more likely to take the advice not to have even one drink before driving.
Mr. Carlile : I am not sure that that is entirely logical. What is more, the likelihood of being acquitted of a breathalyser offence is now small. In my early days at the Bar, I frequently prosecuted and defended breathalyser cases--they were usually Friday cases--in the Crown court. It was common for sympathetic acquittals to be obtained. However, juries' views changed. Breathalyser cases have sensibly been taken out of the Crown court and put into the magistrates courts. I cannot imagine that there would be sympathetic acquittals in the magistrates courts, even if the level were reduced to 50 mg per 100 ml of blood. I expect that a reduction to 50 mg would reinforce the view put so forcefully by the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley).
It is a matter of regret to me that no Welsh Office Minister is present on the Government Front Bench today. No doubt Welsh Office Ministers will read the report of this debate with great care. I wish that I could speak with enthusiasm about the attention paid by the Welsh Office highways department --I do not criticise Ministers--to representations made to it about certain aspects of road safety on trunk roads which are distant from Cardiff. The Welsh Office highways department suffers from what I call the Wales-near- Cardiff syndrome. Sometimes it fails to recognise the problems on trunk roads in parts of Wales, some distance from Cardiff.
In rural Montgomeryshire, and in all rural areas of Wales, we have a high proportion of elderly people. Elderly road users, especially those living in villages with trunk roads that pass through them, face special problems.
I recently made representations to the Minister of State, Welsh Office, the hon. Member for Conwy (Sir. W. Roberts) that speed limits should be introduced on the trunk road which passes through the villages of Llanerfyl, Llangadfan and Foel. I know that road well. I have stood beside it for long periods with elderly constituents who have complained to me. Heavy goods vehicles have been mentioned. I have seen articulated lorries thundering through those villages at speeds far in excess of 60 mph.
I have been driving for 25 years. I drive great distances, and I can recognise a car travelling at 90 mph when I see one. I have seen cars travelling through those villages at speeds of up to and over 90 mph.
I received a most extraordinary reply to my letter from the Minister of State. He suggested that the introduction of a speed limit in those villages might put drivers' speeds up. I simply do not understand the logic of that.
I understand that the police are reluctant about having yet more speed limits in vast rural police areas, which they have difficulty policing to the full. That is understandable, but public safety surely demands that, in villages with an increasing proportion of elderly people, in which there have been accidents and where there is evidence of danger, it makes sense to introduce speed limits of 30 or 40 mph even if all it achieves is to slow down the odd articulated lorry.
The same could be said of the Welsh Office's attitude to pedestrian crossings. In Newtown, there has long been a campaign for a pedestrian crossing across the trunk road, known locally as the Llanidloes road. A week or so ago, there was a serious accident on that road, and yet we still
Column 837face resistence to the introduction of a pedestrian crossing near to a point where many schoolchildren cross the road on their way to and from the local high school from large housing estates. I should like the Welsh Office highways department to display more flexibility--under the influence of the Minister's Department--towards speed limits and pedestrian crossings. Lollipop or road crossing patrols are an associated subject. Largely because of local government expenditure levels--I do not wish to talk about that, as it is too political for today's debate--lollipop controls have been withdrawn in rural mid-Wales. Some still exist because they are funded by community councils, but such councils have limited funding. If they pay a lollipop man or lady, that bleeds them of a considerable proportion of funds, which they cannot afford. Part of the education budget, decided at Government level, should include a realistic allowance for school crossing patrols. Every week we hear of young children, or even teenagers, who are injured or killed as they cross the road to school. That would be obviated by the discipline that the school lollipop person brings. Lollipop men and ladies have made a contribution to young people's education, because they are often fairly strict disciplinarians, within their limited purview, and they teach children an element of road safety more cheaply than it can be taught in schools.
I am 100 per cent. in favour of the measures that are being introduced to compel all motor cyclists to have basic training. However, some considerable time ago a Government spokesman stated that those measures would not be introduced until they could be enforced universally. At the moment that cannot happen because rural areas are disadvantaged. I know that the Minister has received representations on this matter and I merely re-emphasise them. People who live in rural areas will find it extremely difficult and expensive to obtain basic training. Evidence shows that the Department of Transport is removing, rather than adding to, facilities in rural areas--an example in my constituency is the indefensible removal of the Machynlleth driving test centre. I invite the Minister and his colleagues in the Welsh Office to consider carefully the provision of adequate basic motor cycle training facilities in rural areas, including rural Wales. It is a fact that a higher proportion of young people in rural areas use motor cycles, especially small ones. My 17-year-old daughter has a moped. It is almost necessary for her if she is to get around an area in which there is no public transport. The alternative is for parents, if they are there--unlike Members of Parliament--to act as taxi drivers at extraordinary hours of the day and night, young people being what they are. There is a particular need for training of young motor cyclists in rural areas. It is fair to say that most of the dealers are extremely careful about ensuring that those who buy mopeds can ride them reasonably safely, but many of these young people do not go to dealers to buy their first moped. They buy them for £50 or £75 from some other young person who is moving up to a 125 cc motor cycle and then they do not have the necessary training. Debates such as this, carried out in as apolitical a spirit as possible, enable us to make progress on an important
Column 838issue. I look forward to a favourable, or at least hopeful, response by the Ministerr on some of the issues that I have raised. 11.51 am
Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East) : I, too, welcome this annual debate on road safety. I particularly welcome the measures announced in the Queen's Speech which will contribute to road safety. Implementation of the recommendations in the Horne report for the more efficient management and co-ordination of street works to keep obstacles and other restrictions to traffic flow to a minimum, for which my borough council has been calling, must be in the interests of road safety.
Private sector investment in the building and operation of new roads, including new motorways, will also be in the interests of road safety. Anyone who has driven across France will appreciate that. One has a choice there between existing national routes, usually highly congested, and the fast, safe pe age autoroutes. That is a choice to which I look forward in this country, although I fully appreciate that the opportunities open to us here are more limited because Britain is just one third the size of France. A glance at the motorway map of England and Wales shows that our most heavily populated areas in the south of England are nowhere near as well served by inter-urban motorways in the north-east and north-west. I look forward to the private sector being allowed to put that right. I also welcome the announcement earlier this year by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport that we will proceed with the missing link in the M3 to the south coast ports and resorts to replace the pre-war Winchester bypass, with its atrocious record of traffic jams and accidents. Now that the last public inquiry is over and the last appeal has been turned down, I hope that we can proceed with all possible speed. I look forward to my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic--the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope)--confirming that that will happen.
I wish to put two particular points on road safety to the House. They both arise from experience of the same road in my
constituency--one with which many hon. Members will be familiar, especially my Conservative colleagues who attended our party conference in Bournemouth last month. They might recall that, in heading for the town centre of Bournemouth, they would have driven over the so-called Cooper Dene flyover as soon as they passed the borough boundary on the A338 Ringwood spur road. It is, in effect, the main gateway to Bournemouth and the rest of Dorset.
Tragically, on 20 July 1988, during the construction of this flyover, a worker was killed by a reversing truck. His death could have been avoided if that truck had had an automatic, audible, reversing alarm fitted--a bleeper ; and so might the 140 other deaths, the 603 serious injuries and the 1,774 slight injuries, totalling no fewer than 2,517 accidents since 1980, involving reversing heavy goods vehicles. In 1980, there were eight such deaths ; in 1989, there were 20. No one can ignore that trend. Unfortunately, those figures are not serious enough for the Department of Transport to consider making reversing bleepers compulsory, as they are for trucks in other EC
Column 839countries. I strongly urge my hon. Friend the Minister to give new thought to this situation in the light of those statistics. My second point concerns a cattle and farm crossing close to the same flyover in my constituency. I am sure that the House will agree that such crossings and dual carriageways carrying fast-moving traffic under virtual motorway conditions are utterly incompatible and can hardly be in the best interests of road safety ; yet this is precisely the situation about a quarter of a mile from the very same flyover where traffic will undoubtedly be accelerating either to climb it or in coming off it. This traffic is then required to come to a halt when cattle or farm vehicles are crossing or if flashing red lights indicate that they are about to do so.
This is allowed for by the highways authority, Dorset county council, despite my objections before the flyover was constructed and those since by Bournemouth borough council in response to accidents that have occurred. On this occasion, I believe that the county council has acted, uncharacteristically, irresponsibly and with great shortsightedness in failing to build an appropriate overbridge or underpass at the same time as the flyover was constructed. Indeed, the farmers concerned, my constituents at Holdenhurst farm and Manor farm, are obliged to cross from one to the other daily, as they have done for more than 20 years. Moreover, in May and June, when they commence silage making, they need to cross the dual carriageway up to 80 times a day with two teams of tractors and trailers. Obviously, they take their lives into their hands, as do the motorists who ignore the flashing red lights urging them to stop. Needless to say, the lights have been subject to frequent vandalism. I suspect that those of my constituents who run these farms act more responsibly than they want to in not taking cattle across as frequently as they would wish, in which case it is totally wrong for the county council to deny them their livelihood in this way. When they staged a French farmers' style demonstration last year- -a photograph of which appeared on the back page of The Times --by blocking the road with tractors to make their point about the dangers of such a situation, traffic stretched back for miles. An additional factor is the nearby location of the new Royal Bournemouth hospital, the second phase of which will include a major accident unit. It can only be a matter of time before a fast-moving ambulance dealing with an emergency is required to halt for a tractor team.
I hope that I have said enough for my hon. Friend to share my concern for safety on one of the fastest roads in our county and I also hope that he will inquire into it. His predecessor but one was content to leave the matter to the county council, so I am glad to have had the opportunity today to raise this matter in the House. 11.59 am
The road safety record of this country and of this Government is good compared with that of the rest of Europe, but if is still utterly unacceptable. In this country, more people die on the roads than in accidents in the home or in the workplace, through fires, through drowning or from acts of violence, including murder and terrorism. Five times as many people in this country die every year as
Column 840a result of road accidents as died in the Falklands war. Many people are rightly concerned that if there were a military engagement in the middle east there would be considerable loss of life, but many of us find it hard to believe that similar consideration is not given to the 5,000 people who die and to the 300,000 people who are injured on our roads.
Road safety is a particular problem for children and for young people. The most common cause of death for children and for people up to the age of 30 is not, as one might think, one of the major diseases with which we still have to cope, but fatal accidents on the road. That is why it is important that today we have the opportunity to consider the topic.
The cost to the country has been estimated to be £6 billion. From the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) this morning about medical costs alone, that figure appears to be conservative, to say the least. If my hon. Friend's figures are accurate, the cost would be about £8 million per constituency, so hon. Members can consider the problem in terms of the loss to their own people.
One cannot, of course, calculate the human misery caused by death and disability from road accidents. Hon. Members may find it hard to believe, but every minute during this debate a person will be killed, maimed, disabled for life or otherwise injured on our roads. We should bear that in mind throughout the debate.
The Minister rightly pointed out this morning that 95 per cent. of road accidents, unlike accidents at work, are caused through human error, such as lack of judgment, carelessness, drink-driving and speeding. He seemed to conclude that that made it far more difficult to resolve the problems and to reduce the casualty rate on our roads. I beg to differ. A body of knowledge has been built up over the past 15 or 20 years by our own research establishments, by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, by the World Health Organisation and by others which tells us that we can tackle the problems. The fact that the Government have set themselves the laudable target of reducing the road casualty rate by one third by the year 2000 emphasises that point. Despite the fact that the primary cause of road accidents is human error, we can do a lot to effect a further great reduction in the toll of deaths and carnage on our roads.
I am one co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary advisory council for transport safety and the other is the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) who unfortunately, is unable to attend today because of a long-standing prior constituency engagement. We should like to put on record our thanks to the Government and to local authorities for their actions on road safety over the years. However, we are bold enough to suggest that there are some important further steps that the Government should contemplate so that they can achieve the standard that they have set themselves for 2000.
One important step is education in our schools. The provision of road safety education varies dramatically, there are no set guidelines and there is no universal provision, although I recognise that there may be different needs in different areas and that variation is needed. However, as I said earlier, in some schools, there is no safety education and, as our children are the most likely victims of road accidents, that is unacceptable.
Our second proposal to help to achieve the Government's own standard is new measures to control
Column 841drinking and driving, and excessive speed. I am pleased to see that some proposals on that were covered--at least in part--in the Gracious Speech. We also want more resources to be allocated to the implementation of small highway engineering and traffic management schemes to contribute to accident reduction, improvements in vehicle safety standards and in the use of protective equipment and, last but not least, improvements in enforcement and the introduction of technological aids to assist traffic law enforcement. Again, those matters have been laudably covered--in part--in the Gracious Speech. I had intended to cover three areas which I had chosen because they are the most cost effective, some of the easiest to implement and will have the most dramatic effects. However, I am delighted to say that I have had to reconsider one of the proposals because the Minister announced this morning his intention to go out to consultation on the introduction of regulations for the compulsory wearing of rear seat belts by adults. My organisation, the House and the country will have been grateful to hear that because we know that such a move will have an immediate and dramatic effect. Within the first year, it would save 80 lives and up to 4,000 injuries. The introduction of the compulsory wearing of front seat belts has been a great success. It has saved about 20,000 lives, and that is an achievement of which any Government could be proud. The measure introduced by the hon. Member for Cheadle to make seat belts compulsory for children under 14 has already saved the lives of and prevented serious injuries to at least 200 children. The new proposal is definitely a step in the right direction.
Some 23,000 people have been either killed or injured because they were adults who were unrestrained in the rear seat of a car, and it is good to attack that record. We sometimes forget the horrific injuries that can result from the failure to use rear seat belts--and some adults still do not use them even though they have been fitted in their cars. I must urge those who have rear seat belts to wear them now and not to wait for regulations. In a crash, an adult in a car travelling at average speed can be projected from the back seat with the force of a three and a half tonne truck. Often, the only obstacle in front of the passenger in the rear seat is the head of the passenger in the front seat. One can imagine the multiple head injuries that can be sustained in such an accident. The sooner the consultation is completed and the sooner regulations are brought before the House, the sooner we shall be able to start to prevent such accidents.
Random breath testing has been referred to today. We are disappointed that it was not covered in the Gracious Speech and that the Minister does not support it because it would be cost effective and easy to introduce. We know from the experiences of other countries that random breath testing works. It has been suggested today that there is no evidence to support the view that the introduction of random breath tests would greatly reduce casualties that occur as a result of drink-driving. That is simply not true. The vast majority of national and international expert opinion believes that random breath testing will work, and the experience of New South Wales proves that it will. As the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) said, it has resulted in a 35 per cent. reduction in the number of
Column 842casualties caused by drink-driving in that state. It is highly cost effective--so much so that savings have amounted to 20 times the cost to the police of introducing it. Sweden, which already had a good record, introduced severe penalties as a deterrent, but there was no dramatic effect until the introduction of random breath testing increased people's expectations of being caught. Punishment alone will not achieve our objective, although I welcome the proposals in the Gracious Speech for harsher penalties and new offences. We must make these wrongdoers--these criminals--realise that they will be caught.
We have the support of the police in this matter. Chief Constable Peter Joslin, the chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers traffic committee, addressed a conference at Copenhagen this summer. He traced developments following the change of public attitude which has resulted in a welcome reduction in drink-driving and accidents due to it but said :
"The attitude of Chief Constables has also changed and as a result of information gleaned from colleagues in the Australian State of New South Wales, it became clear that not only could the public's attitude to this be changed and harnessed for the good, but a deterrent-based enforcement system was far more effective in reducing drink drive fatalities than was the traditional enforcement model." We know that the police would like their rights to conduct breath tests to be unfettered, but there is a civil liberty argument and that is why random breath testing should be given a high profile and strictly controlled as it is elsewhere. It will be no less effective for that.
I shall not go into the other arguments about the success of random breath testing. Everyone except the Government seems to support it and, in the Government, the Secretary of State for Transport is a notable exception. Earlier in the year, it was widely reported in the press that he appeared to be very much in favour of random breath testing. I hope that he will use his considerable influence to make his Ministers and the Government support that view. Many of us are frankly astonished that the Government are not considering the introduction of random breath tests given that, in the first year, it could reduce the number of deaths by 300 and the number of serious injuries by 2,000. Apparently, 77 per cent. of the public support the measure and 70 per cent. believe that it would be effective. I urge the Minister to reconsider his position and put right the omission in the road traffic Bill.
The third measure that we think could be very effective in reducing injuries at a relatively low cost is the introduction of local safety engineering schemes by local authority highway departments. We appreciate the fact that the Government have now earmarked a proportion of the transport supplementary grant for allocation to local safety schemes, which may involve, for instance, a mini roundabout or road markings at a black spot. Such improvements may even be provided on an area-wide basis, and that can be most effective in reducing accidents, as can traffic-calming measures and the provision of refuge for pedestrians trying to cross the road. We know that such small common sense schemes can do the trick, but our local authority highway officers and safety experts do not have the resources at their disposal. The Government have said that 15 per cent. of their target reduction could be achieved by this method. I am glad that an element of grant is to be set aside but we recommend--along with all the motoring organisations, local authorities and professional institutions-- that £30 million should be
Column 843allocated in the first year, or £120 million in the first three years. If the Government do not provide the necessary resources, they will not be able to achieve their target.
We have suggested a number of measures, one of which the Government have taken on board. I wrote to the Minister last week to say that I am delighted at the positive response that we have had. The introduction of those measures alone would prevent 4,000 deaths and serious injuries in the first year. It would save the country £250, 000. If the Government take road safety seriously, they should seriously consider our proposals.
I calculate that, since I started my speech, about 22 people have been killed, maimed for life or otherwise injured on the roads. If for no other reason than that, the Government should consider our request.
Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden) : This is a most important debate. Hon. Members from both sides of the House have stated clearly the quite appalling statistics. When I recall those great days of battle when we fought to introduce the law on seat belts, it seems like a bad dream or a fantasy that people should have resisted so strongly a measure which has clearly been of great benefit.
I have always worn a seat belt because I thought it was sensible to do that. I suspect many motorists would agree with me when I say that I feel almost naked and very vulnerable without my seat belt on. Part of that is psychological and part of it is a result of my being involved in the campaign and having seen the statistics.
During my rallying and racing career I had many accidents and I can remember one that would certainly have prevented me entering this House had I not been wearing a full harness seat belt. Competition driving is one thing, but the dangers on our roads continue. Therefore, I take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his move on rear seat belts. Most sensible people use them and we are urging people today to use them before regulations are completed. However, the proposal is an excellent step forward and most hon. Members would congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on that.
I wish to refer to the design of cars and of motorways. Car design is very important. Having been involved for 20 years in engineering and marketing in the car industry, I have always found it difficult to sell safety. I understand that attitudes are changing. The raft of different perceptions of the environment and personal safety have meant that there are more opportunities for safety products. Over the years, technology has produced things like run-flat tyres and toughened glass. There is even a way of monitoring tyre pressure. However, all those things cost money. Most high- safety products involve complex technology, new materials or extra money. The argument has always been that the decision-making process in buying a new car involves looking at its colour, the texture of the materials and the quality of the in-car stereo. In fact, at last year's motor show I heard a man who was intending to buy a car say, "But it's got only two on- board computers." I should have asked him whether he had looked at the tyres, the brakes and the other safety aspects. He was not basing his purchase decision on those aspects. Many people decide to buy a car in response to advertising. To most people, whether one can do 170 mph
Column 844in a car that is capable of that speed-- although obviously not on public roads--is irrelevant. What matters is being able to boast to colleagues and friends that one has parked such a car outside. For some people, such a car is an extension of their macho image. They will never drive it at 170 mph ; the important point is that their car is faster and more capable. That is extremely dangerous. Advertising can influence people whose ability to control those fast cars might be less than desirable.
I am not just talking about cars capable of 170 mph
Mr. Mills : That may be so. However, the emphasis on many models lies with the potency of the car's performance. Variants of quite humble cars such as the efi or turbo have achieved extraordinary marketing success. Modest cars are garnished to produce better performance, better styling and better looks. That is a reaction to market demand. I recognise the difficulty in persuading car manufacturers in a highly competitive market about safety features. Until people go into car show rooms and say, "Right, I know it's got a video, stereo and a radio, but what are the safety features? I want this, this and this", safety features will not be so important. There must be a role for Government publicity to encourage people to make the car industry market led instead of supply led.
Car theft is a serious problem. There is a car park in my constituency which serves Birmingham international airport, the railway station and the national exhibition centre. The thousands of cars there are a target for the organised teams who want to remove the in-car entertainment equipment and for the lads who want to steal a business man's BMW while he is away in London or in the NEC and then go burning up the A45 or the M42.
As an ex-engineer, I am appalled by the simplicity of car locking systems. It would be wrong of me to reveal the technique for breaking into cars, but it is well known that one can do in a couple of minutes all that one has to do to get into a car. It is not impossible once inside the car to bypass the steering lock and start the engine. Until manufacturers improve the design, cars will be stolen and driven badly and that will add to our road safety problems. However, I understand that there is pressure to have British standards for car locks with higher security standards. Recently, there was a tragedy on the M42 in which a number of people died. My hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King), for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) and I went to see the Secretary of State for Transport about it and he confirmed that the matter was important and that he would let us have a response as soon as possible. We hope that that response might appear today. The M42 runs right through my constituency. I often enter the road at the top near where I live, I have access to the A45 and the areas around the NEC and I can then approach the Solihull turn-off and the A41 with access to the villages of Knowle and Dorridge and then to Hockley Heath. I know that motorway extremely well. I have seen it develop over the years from a little-travelled short stretch into its present state --absolutely burgeoning.
Four Ashes has a riding club. It has become an extremely unhappy experience to take one's horse box or trailer on the motorway even on a Saturday or Sunday,
Column 845because of crowded traffic conditions. In a slow-moving vehicle, one gets trapped. Even travelling at the legal speed on the M42, I am rarely able to use the right-hand lane--the fast lane-- because I am holding everybody up. I have to move into the centre lane where I am passed by everything except cars towing caravans. The bigger lorries are, the faster they go. The traffic is solid at peak times. The exits on the A45, north and south, and at the island further on at Dunton, are serviced by essential part-time lights. They mean that people stop. Cars build up at the exit and eventually come to the motorway. Even at peak times, there is not a crowd of cars actually on the slow lane of the motorway.
When there are large exhibitions at the NEC, road conditions become crazy and dangerous. People either see the queue and suddenly swerve to avoid it- -sometimes they do not--or are in the queue and get fed up when they suddenly realise that they still have half a mile to go, and pull out from the left-hand lane into the middle lane. With everybody in the middle lane doing 70 mph or even more, that is extremely hazardous.
It would be wrong of me to draw conclusions, because I understand that an inquest is considering these matters, but the three hon. Members who saw the Secretary of State felt that we should put forward some strong views about actions that might help to prevent any further incidents.
Certainly, a permanent 24-hour video surveillance system is essential to assess the problem. Indeally, that would be connected to a form of automatic warning signalling, but even a huge painted signal board at the key spot would be better than nothing. Warning motorists is essential. The other part of the solution is to increase the hard shoulder or the run-off area so that cars can stack up further back without getting into the slow lane of the motorway. There will be changes from the M42 to the M6 going south when the extra lane is added at some stage, but, as I learnt from discussions with officials and the Minister, that will not resolve the problem within the next couple of years.
The NEC is doubling in size and it will double its capacity to entertain and educate people. How are they to get there? A fair number come by train but most come by cars. Therefore, the NEC will need more car parks. Will cars be stacked up at the A45 island? If so, there will be cars in the slow lane down to Solihull unless something is done. Some form of dedicated exit both from the north and the south, directly into the NEC, with suitable traffic systems in the NEC to ensure the swift dispersal of cars will be essential. I shall not detain the House much longer, as many of my colleagues wish to speak. However, I declare an interest as a long-time tyre and car man and adviser to the National Tyre Distributors Association. We are pleased that the law will be harmonised on a European basis and greatly improved. However, that will lead to confusion about what are legal and illegal tyres. Tyres are important to road safety. A car is supported by four tyres and four contact patches about the size of size 9 shoes. If a tyre does not have tread and it is raining heavily, that adds to the hazard. Some form of publicity and communications programme will be essential when the law is changed. My
Column 846hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) is smiling and no doubt recalling having this conversation some time ago.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : For the avoidance of doubt, I thought that tread is what is cut into the rubber--I may be wrong--and that, unless it is wet, it may be better to have no cut in it at all. The law is somewhat different. I do not think that we should propose to re-run arguments that I lost before.
Mr. Mills : I thank my hon. Friend for being so decent. Having been a tyre designer, I inform him that it is common to call the part that touches the road the tread. If it is raining, one will want more. It is important that people understand the changes when they take place. The industry and the association will play a part in that. A form of Government education and communication will be most important.
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting) : This has been an interesting debate covering many road safety issues. All hon. Members, whatever party or part of the country they represent, know that we shall get letters about the poll tax, our future in Europe, and the Gulf crisis. Such matters come and go. But week after week, from January to December, we receive letters from our constituents expressing their deep concern about road safety in their areas.
As hon. Members have already said, we hear far too often about tragic accidents on our motorways, which are often attributed to the speed of the car, the driver's lack of awareness about what he or she is doing, or to the weather conditions. Those are the accidents that get the publicity. However, all hon. Members--whether we represent an inner-city constituency here in London, other large cities or even smaller towns--know what concerns our constituents. I am sure that the area that I represent is similar to many parts of the country. I can remember when there were very few motor cars. Local residents often had motor cycles or scooters, and many had bicycles, but not many had a car. There were certainly no two-car families. As we all know, that position has completely changed, but we do not pay much attention to the key question of parking. Indeed, not much attention has been paid to it this morning. As we often hear, there is an increase in the number of cars and that is what people want. I do not dispute that, but we do not hear about where those people are supposed to park their cars, although that is a key question facing the Government and one that will face the next Labour Government who will shortly take over control of the country.
I know that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, do not represent a London constituency, but you live in London so I am sure that you will understand my next point. In many parts of London, including in my constituency and in the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, motor vehicles are double parked at night in road after road. They remain there throughout the night, with no lights on. This is not an isolated occurrence--it happens in road after road--yet I do not believe that anything is ever done about it. I have taken up this matter with my local police, whose response is, "Well, it is difficult, sir, isn't it? Where are they supposed to park? Do you really expect us to
Column 847hound these people, because, if we do that, where can we tell them to move their motor vehicles to?" Nothing is being done about that dangerous problem.
Linked to that is another problem which we all see and which has been referred to this morning--cars that park with two or more wheels on the pavement. I have also noticed repeatedly cars which have been parked across the corners of roads. That causes problems for pedestrians, especially for mums with pushchairs, and for disabled and elderly people who can get about but who are not as mobile as they once were. They find that they have to walk into the road because a car has obstructed the corner on which they would normally wait before crossing the road. It also presents problems for other motorists who want to come out of the road into another road and who are forced to edge into the centre of the road because the parked car has obstructed their vision of the oncoming traffic. Again, I do not believe that much is ever done to curb that clear offence. That leads me to question the Government's general policy towards ordinary men and women and their safety provisions. As I have said, when I have raised the problems of cars without lights being parked overnight and of double parking, the police say, "Yes, it is a problem, but we do not have the staff, sir, so we do not intend to do anything about it." Who has responsibility for it? I received in this morning's post a leaflet published by the London Boroughs Association. The Minister may have seen it. I should like to quote one or two of the comments that highlight the point I am trying to make. The leaflet says :
"Consider these facts. Every day 350,000 parking offences are committed in central London alone. 149 out of 150 offenders go free. A recent Government study showed that the increased enforcement activity reduced illegal parking by 45 per cent. A House of Commons Transport Committee said in 1982 that London needed 4,000 traffic wardens. The Government's current budget is for 1,800 and 500 of those posts are unfilled."
The debate has not touched on the role of traffic wardens. We know that they are not popular with motorists, but their job is essential. If a driver runs foul of a traffic warden, it is obvious that he is breaking the traffic regulations that apply in the area where his car or lorry is parked. What is the Government's policy on traffic wardens? Are they encouraging the appointment of more, and, if not, why not? Surely the appointment of more wardens is essential. I am sure that all hon. Members have experienced complaints about motorists who drive through residential areas. The Minister was once a councillor in Wandsworth and I expect that he will know the roads that I intend to mention, even though they are in my constituency and not in the area for which he was a councillor. I and the residents of three major roads in my constituency are trying to get some safety provision. The routes are Ellerton road, Southcroft road and Longley road. During the morning and evening rush hours, dozens of motorists drive along those residential roads in an effort to avoid potential bottlenecks or hazards.
An hon. Member has asked today why people do not do more for themselves. Two weeks ago, a Mr. Gillis, who is well over 70 years of age, and who lives in Longley link road, visited my advice centre. He said, "Mr. Cox, I am absolutely fed up." I asked what was wrong. He said, "It is the sheer volume of traffic that goes through the road in which I live." He had knocked on the door of everyone
Column 848who lives in that road and had drawn up a petition containing well over 200 signatures. The petition called for road humps in Longley road. Such humps undoubtedly slow down traffic, and in the other roads that I have mentioned that is what local residents want. The problem--and I am sure other hon. Members have encountered it--is that, although we are left in no doubt about what residents want, we do not know when the road humps will be installed. In the case of Ellerton road, I have had about two years of continuing consultation, letter writing and discussion with Wandsworth council and I have given clear evidence about what people want. I am told that it is in the pipeline and that one day it will be done. People get fed up with that because they see clearly what they want and exert efforts to get a clear consensus of what people are saying. Then the authority says, "Oh yes, we will get round to it." As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) said, if there is no money to do the jobs, then, sadly, progress on improving safety in many of our residential areas does not take place.
There are consultations between the authority and the police. I accept that that must happen, but the time that some of the consultations take is almost unbelievable. Even if we live in a different area from that which we represent, we can quickly identify the problem and the views of local people. Unless the police or the council say that there are genuine reasons why something cannot be done, quicker action should be taken to put in place what is wanted. In this instance I am talking about humps, but there is concern about the lack of pedestrian crossings. We know that road humps reduce the speed of traffic, but in Southcroft road, for example, which no doubt the Minister will be familiar with, there is a lack of adequate pedestrian crossings. I have a letter dated 12 November from a lady who lives in Southcroft road. Part of it reads :
"One sometimes has to stand for 5 minutes or more to cross Southcroft road from one side of the road to the other."
I hope that the Department of Transport will give urgent consideration to the consultations that take place between boroughs and the police. I am sure that that problem extends beyond London and is to be found throughout the country.
When we talk about road safety and the general movement of traffic, an important consideration is bus lanes. What is the Government's policy on bus lanes? There is a bus lane outside the House, and if at 5 o'clock the Minister were to stand alongside it he would see the actions of motorists who have complete disregard for the regulations which are supposed to apply to the use of the lane. There are constant infringements.
Bus lanes are provided for the use of buses, taxis and cyclists. Many motorists, however, will drive along a bus lane to try to get a few yards ahead of law-abiding motorists, who say, "There is a bit of a jam and I shall have to wait." I am told that the fine for driving a motor car along a bus lane during the period of enforcement of the regulations governing its use is £400. It would be interesting to know how many motorists charged with the offence of driving in a bus lane have been fined £400. That applies to the bus lane outside the House and to bus lanes everywhere.
I believe that we do not have enough bus lanes. It was to the credit of the Greater London council that its policy was to introduce complete bus lane systems, not bus lanes
Column 849that continued for a mile or so and then disappeared, only to start again somewhere else. It wanted an overall London policy for bus lanes.
I received recently a letter from a constituent who had written to a Westminster city councillor. The issue was the removal of the bus lane outside the House. The councillor claimed that problems were caused when Members of this place or the other place had to come to either House for Divisions in the afternoon. I sent on the letter to the Secretary of State for Transport and wrote something like this : "What nonsense is this person talking about?" We all know that bus lanes do not affect the rights of Members in either House when a Division is called and they have to vote. Yet that was a reason given for their removal. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister when he replies or, if he cannot do so then, in writing later, what the policy is on bus lanes. Are they being encouraged by his Department? Are there ongoing discussions with the police about repeated infringements by motorists who have no right whatever to use bus lanes during certain periods?
Hon. Members have spoken about cycle lanes, so I shall not spend too much time on them but they tie up with bus lanes. When the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) was at the Department of Transport, I wrote to him about cycle lanes, tabled questions and received replies. As my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford asked, are we making progress on the overall development of our cycle lane systems, whether in London or in other major cities? This morning we have heard about all the Members who are so healthy because they ride their bicycles and about others who encourage cycling. Cycling is wonderful. I have a bicycle here which I sometimes use because I know that I can get somewhere quicker on it than by car or because parking will be difficult. The hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), who is a keen cyclist, will agree about the need for an overall policy on cycle lanes so that a cyclist knows that after the next roundabout there will be another cycle lane. Sadly, we do not have such a system.
The boroughs must get together, but it is not good enough for the Minister to say that this must be for the boroughs to decide. A variety of decisions affect their policies. They may say, "We do not have the money this year to develop cycle lanes, so we shall postpone it for a year or two", or, "This is where a cycle lane should be." Unless the various boroughs follow an overall policy, development will be piecemeal, which causes enormous dangers for cyclists. Moreover, it stops many others who would start cycling from doing so. They fear that, although there are cycle lanes in one borough, they may not continue in another borough, so it is not worth the risk. The next issue that I wish to raise has not been touched on. [Interruption.] I do not know what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) said, but I have listened to the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford and all the other hon. Members who have spoken. I have not left the Chamber and I have a right to make all the comments that I wish to make.
No one has referred to defective lighting on motor vehicles. Every day we see many cars on our roads which have only one working light. I have often driven along the road, especially on these dark evenings, and wondered
Column 850whether in the distance I am seeing a cyclist. It is not until I come closer that I realise that it is a motor car with only one working light.
We all know about the regulations on MOT testing. If my car passed its MOT test and a month later something went wrong with the lighting, what checks would be made about that? How often do the police stop a motorist driving such a car? I am not suggesting that they should immediately prosecute, but some system should be in place. When a police officer stops a motorist to say that only one light is working, the motorist should be given some form which within the next 48 hours must be produced at his local police station, following which an officer will come and see that the defective light has been repaired. I do not believe that that is asking too much, especially if we are to believe that driving a motor car is so crucial. At 4 pm it is dusk, and by 6 pm it is dark, but far too often motorists drive at such times without proper lights. In my area, some people do that for weeks and weeks and when I ask when they intend to do something about their lights they say that they are far too busy, but that they will get round to it one day. They should be required to get something done immediately.
We have heard a lot about cyclists and the need to wear crash helmets and reflective clothing. However, we all know that some cyclists of all ages, but especially younger ones, ride without any lights. They ride not only on pavements without lights, which causes great annoyance to many people, but on the roads. We should pay much closer attention to that problem because it is for their benefit that cyclists should be properly equipped with lights as their chances of having an accident are then much reduced.
The Minister has spoken of vehicle safety, seat belts, leg protection and training. My hon. Friend the Member for Deptford was challenged when she spoke about the need for better public transport, but there is absolutely no doubt that that is crucial. However, there will always be people who, for a variety of reasons, will need a motor car. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) said that in his area the motor car is the only means of travel because there is a lack of public transport facilities, and I can understand that.
When the hon. Member for Eltham was responsible for road transport, he and I had a number of clashes in this House because, 18 months ago, many parts of London were threatened by the western environmental improvement route-- WEIR. I do not know whether the Minister lives in Wandsworth, but he knows a bit about that area. There was an ongoing protest in Wandsworth about the potential development of that road system and public meetings were called by the local council, by me and by others who stood to be greatly affected by it. At meeting after meeting people were asked for their views of the public transport system. The overwhelming response was that people chose to use their cars, but that if the public transport system was better they would leave their cars at home.
The Minister will be aware that the Northern line of the underground runs through the Tooting and Battersea constituencies. It is an utter disgrace. A few months ago, the Minister for Public Transport inspected the line. I wrote a letter to thank him for his courtesy and the time he spent on the visit. He showed an interest and he saw at first hand some of the problems. After that visit he said that he well understood the complaints and that he too
Column 851would complain if he used the line. The passengers repeatedly say that they have had enough and that they will use their cars. If that line and public transport services in general in London were better, more people would use public transport.
The hon. Member for Eltham was in charge of road development schemes in London. They were dropped overnight by the Government. Both the Government and I know why they were dropped, but I do not intend to pursue that point. The meetings were attended by hundreds of people, not just by a handful of people who regularly attend meetings. They said that they would use better public transport, if it were provided, and leave their cars at home. In a debate such as this, we must stress that a commitment must be made urgently to improve public transport.
This excellent debate has given hon. Members in all parts of the House the opportunity to raise a number of issues that cause them concern. I hope that the Minister has taken note of what has been said and that he and his departmental and ministerial colleagues will act speedily to deal with issues that cause real concern to the people we represent.
Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield) : I am delighted to be able to contribute to this debate on road safety. It takes place after a bad road accident in the west midlands a short time ago. My hon. Friends the Members for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) and for Meriden (Mr. Mills) have already referred to it. Before I deal with that accident and make what I hope will be relevant points about it, which I hope the Minister for Roads and Traffic will consider, I wish to deal with a number of other points that have been made in the debate about cyclists.
Until recently, I had not ridden a bicycle on a busy road for about 30 years. However, after having repaired one of my son's bikes on a fine Sunday morning I decided to venture out on the highway. I must admit that it was a pretty traumatic experience. I felt utterly vulnerable. As I cycled along I could hear the traffic coming up behind me, but I could not gauge whether the drivers could see me. It was a salutary experience, which I shall remember. The vulnerability of cyclists is appreciated by car drivers only when car drivers are also cyclists. They are more aware of the vulnerability of cyclists and will endeavour to take them more into account while they are at the car wheel.
As for the M42 road accident, it is a strange fact of life that had it been a rail disaster in which six people had been killed and seven injured, or an air disaster in which a similar number of people has been killed and injured, a statement would almost certainly have been made about it in the House. If there is a rail accident, an inquiry is conducted, either by the railways inspectorate or, if it is an extraordinarily bad accident, by a Queen's counsel who is appointed to conduct a full public inquiry. That does not happen, however, after a road accident. I presume that somebody conducts an investigation into what happened. The insurance companies must do so. The police will make a report. If people have died, there will be an inquest which will try to establish the cause of death. It is open to debate, however, whether we learn anything from such tragedies. Unless someone co-ordinates all the evidence, analyses the