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House of Commons

Friday 25 November 1994

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Road Safety

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Lightbown.]

9.35 am

The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris): I am delighted to be opening this morning's debate on road safety. By common consent, it is a matter of vital importance to us and to all our constituents, and one to which the Government devote a great deal of effort --and they will continue to do so.

On a personal note, it is now about four months since road safety was added to my other responsibilities in the Department of Transport. I was delighted that the challenge was offered to me. It is a particular pleasure to be the first Minister to have the words "road safety" as part of his official title. I am sure that we all want a specific commitment to the concept of road safety in everything that the Department does.

Modern road safety history began in 1987, when the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), announced what has become known as the casualty reduction target to reduce all road casualties by one third by the year 2000, compared with the average numbers for the years 1981-85.

Setting that target was a historic decision, and in some ways rather a gamble. I dare say the officials who advised my right hon. Friend might have called it a courageous or brave decision--as followers of "Yes Minister" will appreciate. He made it against the background that target setting has never been a popular practice in this country. Delivering the target depends on not just the actions of Government or official bodies but the behaviour of millions of individuals.

My right hon. Friend's decision proved entirely right and, paradoxically, that is precisely because so many other people are involved in delivering road safety. Nothing is gained from setting a target when achieving it is entirely in the Government's hands--that is simply a hostage to fortune. But in a case such as this, where so many other players are involved, setting a target can act as a focus for attention and activity, and a beacon to remind people that they are not working alone, but that we are all striving for a common objective. In many ways, we set a trend. Since the road safety target was set, there have been others. I cite in particular "The Health of the Nation" targets, which included the reduction of accidental death as one of its prime objectives.

Road accidents are the most common single cause of accidental death, especially for the young. In 1992, they comprised 38 per cent. of all accidental deaths in the whole population. Among 16 to 19-year-olds, 79 per cent. of accidental deaths and 35 per cent. of deaths from all

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causes occurred on the road. "The Health of the Nation" target is to reduce the death rate from accidents among children under 15 by at least one third, and among young people aged 15 to 24 by at least a quarter by the year 2005.

We cannot build for the future unless we do all that we can to ensure the survival of young people. In that context, reducing road casualties is an important plank in the Government's overall strategy to improve the nation's health and well-being.

It is worth looking for a moment at our assumptions in 1987 when we set the casualty reduction target. It was not a panic measure simply prompted by ever-rising casualty figures. As hon. Members here, all of whom have considerable experience of these matters, will be aware, casualty figures at all severities had fallen steadily throughout the 1970s, but were levelling off in the early 1980s. At the same time, there seemed to be no end to the steady growth of traffic volume. Our research at that time had shown that we could maintain casualty figures at effectively the same level against an annual 4 per cent. growth in traffic, but if traffic volumes grew any faster, casualties would also rise. So to maintain and, preferably, accelerate the downward trend in casualties, we needed to push a bit harder.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire): Has my hon. Friend read the recent article in The Times , which said that although we should not be complacent about the number of road accidents, the number per road mile in the United Kingdom is lower than in any other country in the European Union?

Mr. Norris: I shall say a little more about the context of accident rates in this country. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the link between the absolute number of accidents and the growth in traffic, which is the point that I was just making. It is appropriate to put that on the record at an early stage in the debate, and my hon. Friend is noted for always getting his point on the record at a very early stage. Indeed, taking the Minister's best ballpoint is another practice at which my hon. Friend is a master. I yield to no one in my admiration for him in that respect. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will be delighted to acknowledge the fact that Britain's record on road safety generally is literally second to none in the developed world. It is from that basis that we start looking to do even more. It is an extraordinary commentary on accident rates that fewer people were killed on our roads in 1993 than in 1926, when we started to collect accident statistics. That is an extraordinary statistic. I forget the precise rate of increase in traffic growth between then and now.

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): Fourteen times more.

Mr. Norris: My hon. Friend prompts me to say that the figure is about 14 times more traffic. Yet traffic deaths are fewer. The other side of that tragic coin is that nearly 4,000 people lost their lives as a result of road accidents of some kind. That is the important context of the debate that we shall have today and why the House should devote time to this vital subject.

The target that we set was simple. It did not distinguish between different levels of severity or types of road user. With hindsight, it is easy to question whether it would

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have been better to set different targets for different levels of severity. Arguably, there is a considerable distinction between causation of minor accidents and that of accidents in which people are killed or seriously injured. But the important proposition, which Ministers rightly accepted at the time, was that that would have meant sacrificing the clarity and simplicity that have proved so valuable in galvanising into activity the various agencies involved in road safety. We were well aware that some measures would reduce accidents altogether while others would simply reduce severity. But it was important at the time and remains important today simply to get the overall numbers down.

In the event, the best results have been in reducing really bad accidents. Fatal and serious casualties have fallen far more rapidly than even the most optimistic might have hoped. In the 12 months up to June 1994, there were 33 per cent. fewer road deaths than the average for 1981-85 and 39 per cent. fewer serious casualties. That means that, when we take fatal and serious accidents together, we have hit the target that we set for the year 2000 seven years early. That is an extraordinary performance and a tribute to a range of organisations and individuals, including excellent officials in the Department of Transport and countless thousands of volunteers, individuals and local authority road safety officers, who have all played a part in that staggering achievement. [Interruption.] If my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) would like to intervene, I should be delighted to give way to him.

Mr. Ottaway: I apologise for intervening from a sedentary position. I simply said that the Minister, too, should take much of the credit for that achievement.

Mr. Norris: I owe my hon. Friend one. I am merely the rapporteur in this matter. I am not a protagonist. But several of our hon. Friends, especially the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), who was a distinguished roads and traffic Minister, deserve credit, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), who, during his time in that post--he was there far longer than I have been--devoted a great deal of attention to the matter. Ultimately, Ministers simply indicate the importance with which a subject is to be treated in a Department's range of priorities. I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend on that score. My antennae must have picked up the fact that my hon. Friend was going to say something nice, which is why I fear that I embarrassed him by asking him to say it formally. But it is an important point.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): Before the Minister forgets the point of the debate, with the plaudits coming from behind him, may I make a serious point? The publication, "Statistical Report on Road Accidents in 1991", produced by the European Conference of Transport Ministers, rightly says that, apart from Norway, Britain has fewer road casualties per road mile than the rest of Europe, the United States, Japan and Canada. That is a remarkable statistic. But throughout Europe, the rate of road accidents is falling consistently. It would be interesting if the Minister identified areas of research that have shown where the real successes have come from. Some countries have adopted a legislative

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approach, some have looked at vehicle design and others have considered the question of speed. Which research has been useful in that matter?

Mr. Norris: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The reduction has in some respects been mirrored elsewhere in the world and is attributable to three main causes, all of which have many complex subheads. First, it is, of course, attributable to vehicle design, a matter on which I intend to expand later but which I mention briefly now in response to his intervention. Secondly, it is related very much to the work carried out by the Department of Transport and local authorities to make the road system itself inherently safer. Thirdly--this is the absolute key--it is attributable to driver behaviour.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Transport Research Laboratory, many independent institutions, the manufacturers of safety products and others have all carried out extensive research. Manufacturers alone have spent literally billions of pounds, but not one single reason can be isolated as either the single or most common cause of the reduction.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is ironic that car manufacturers are designing ever-more powerful car engines which can go from zero to 60 mph in X seconds? When I ask car manufacturers why they make such powerful cars, bearing in mind the fact that there is a 70 mph speed limit, they say that drivers like them. Surely powerful cars need to be curbed-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Norris: I might have to protect my hon. Friend from the blandishments of my substantial colleague, the notionally silent Whip on duty--my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown)--who, to judge from his sedentary intervention, appears mildly to disagree with what she said and whose disagreement was audible at least at the top of Whitehall if not as far as Staffordshire. At the risk--and it is a substantial risk--of incurring the wrath of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-East, I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) makes a valid point.

Generally speaking, the more powerful engines are safer in the hands of experienced, capable and responsible drivers because such engines give drivers the opportunity to escape from potentially dangerous situations provided that they act properly. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam was also referring to advertising that stresses the transfer of libido that occurs when one buys a nice red sports car such as that owned by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant), whom I remember seeing exit from here in a rather natty Lotus, something that he no doubt enjoys hugely.

I shall refer later to the encouraging trend in the design and manufacture of motor vehicles. That trend has been identified not by selfless, charitable manufacturers but by hard-headed and sensible ones. Largely because the climate is changing, they are beginning to accept that customers are finding safety and security elements in the design of cars increasingly attractive.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West): Has my hon. Friend noted that insurance companies now take a very serious view of the issue and that their line on insurance premiums means that many young,

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irresponsible idiots with over-powered cars are deterred whereas responsible drivers, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant), are not?

Mr. Norris: I was able to agree with all that my hon. Friend said-- until his final remark. My hon. Friend makes an observation which I am sure that many other hon. Members will develop if they are lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Ninety-five per cent. of all accidents are caused by human error. My hon. Friend is a stalwart of the Guild of Experienced Motorists and is the first to acknowledge that it is experience and responsibility behind the wheel, rather than the technical specification of the vehicle alone, that prevents accidents.

I was talking about the accident reduction target. We allowed 17 years to make the one-third reduction, but achieved it in 10. The peak of road deaths in the mid-1960s was about 8,000 a year and, as I said, the number last year was well below 4,000, although traffic has increased 14-fold. Those people who believe that nostalgia is not what it used to be and who look back on a golden age when it was apparently safe to walk, cycle and play in the streets should think again. One is often tempted to look back on a mythical bygone age that may have felt safer, but, in fact, a great many more people lost their lives.

We are doing remarkably well in reducing the number of fatal and serious road accidents, but we have not finished our work. One should not rest on one's laurels. We must ensure that the trend is not halted or reversed. All our projections have assumed that at least the present level of road safety effort will be maintained and we still have a long way to go to reduce the number of slight casualties to the target level. In addition, we must remember that the target is not a destination but merely a milestone. Every accident is, of course, one accident too many and it is extraordinarily intolerable that, in an average week, 75 people die on our roads.

If we consider separately the different classes of road user, we find that the best progress in reducing accidents is made among what are commonly called the "vulnerable" groups. That is not a patronising term; it is simply a matter of physics that people are more likely to be injured in a crash if they are not surrounded by a metal box. Pedestrian deaths have been reduced by 36 per cent., pedal cycle deaths are down by 44 per cent. and motor cycle deaths by 56 per cent. However, in my opinion, the most gratifying news is the reduction in the number of child casualties which, by the end of 1993, was 40 per cent. below the average for 1981-85.

Those figures reflect the priority that we have all given to safety measures directed at the vulnerable road user. Of course, some, but by no means all, of the reduction reflects a drop in distance travelled by those modes. For example, the average distance walked fell by only 4 per cent. between the national travel surveys of 1976 and 1991.

More than half all road accidents involve car drivers and passengers. In this sphere, too, we have reduced fatal casualties by 19 per cent. and serious casualties by 24 per cent., but, unfortunately, there has been a steady rise in slight casualties involving car users. They are now 49 per cent. higher than in the early 1980s which, sadly, is almost enough to offset all the gains that we have made among other groups of road users. Of course, as I said to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller),

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some of that shift from the "serious" to the "slight" category is due to safer vehicle design, the use of rear seat belts and compliance with seat belt legislation and, of course, increased car use in general. However, it is still a matter of some concern that we have not done better in this regard. There is still a substantial amount of time until the target date in which we can continue to act.

Lady Olga Maitland: Can my hon. Friend give any figures about the accident rate among cyclists, bearing in mind the fact that there are more cyclists on the roads than ever before? They are extremely vulnerable to the risk of traffic knocking them off their bicycles, which can cause quite severe injuries.

Mr. Norris: The point made by my hon. Friend is immensely important. One of my concerns when I first came to the Department of Transport two and a half years ago was that we appeared to stress that cycling was dangerous, as my hon. Friend says, because the cyclist was very vulnerable in modern traffic conditions. The Department did not feel that it could encourage an activity that involved such danger. It has been of tremendous benefit to us all to have changed that psychology to an approach that represents best practice in pretty much every other country in Europe. The centrepiece of cycling policy there has been that cycling is healthy and environmentally friendly, that it eases congestion and that it should be encouraged in many ways.

If one wants to treat cyclists sensibly, one must protect them from their vulnerability to much larger and heavier pieces of metal travelling at speed. The separate cycle way is far more a feature of the continental landscape than it has been in the United Kingdom. I am delighted that we are now looking much more positively at the role of the bicycle.

If one asks people in a city, such as London, why they do not bicycle more, they say first, ironically, that they do not want to run the risk of getting wet. Our weather is hardly likely to alter hugely despite the direst predictions of the ecological lobby. Secondly, they say that cycling is dangerous: they do not want to have to navigate roundabouts where one seems to takes one's life in one's hands. I believe that we can make real progress in that area. I draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam to some figures that I found very telling. The other day, I looked at a graph that showed two statistics which were overlaid and contrasted with each other. The first concerned the proportion of all trips made by bicycle, and the United Kingdom was compared with Germany and Holland. In this country the proportion is, as I suspect the House knows, about 2.5 per cent. to 3 per cent. In Germany, the average was 15 per cent. Other research shows that in individual towns and cities, the figure can be as high as 30 per cent. The figures cannot be dismissed, as people who should know better have done in the past, on the basis that Holland is flat. I am afraid that it is not good enough to suggest that there is a topographical difference which explains the figures. In many European capitals, there is a lattice-work of cycle ways, which are an embarrassing comparison with the British experience.

The figures for accident rates to cyclists in the three countries were very telling. There are several times more accidents to cyclists per cycle mile in this country than there are in countries where cycling is practised so much more. In other words, as part of their culture, those

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countries have built a far larger safety margin into cycling. There is a real lesson for us. There is an environmental gain there, as the royal commission has pointed out, in terms of the nation's health and people's individual health. There is also a gain in terms of traffic safety. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam for raising the issue of cycling.

Mr. Miller: The Minister is quite right in his analysis of the European picture. It is interesting to see the tables on page 35 of the European report to which I referred earlier. The Netherlands is down close to the UK level of accidents. I know that the Minister is right to suggest that increased use of cycle ways and planning cycling into road traffic design schemes would have saved some of the 189 lives that were lost in 1993. How much of the road budget has been allocated for that purpose? Will the Minister ensure that in all road schemes, moneys are ring-fenced for that purpose?

Mr. Norris: The hon. Gentleman is precisely right to point to the need to ensure that when we spend money on our road system, cycling is taken into account. I heard a depressing story the other day from Graham Webb, who is a member of the council of the Confederation of British Industry and a very successful business man. He is also a keen cyclist who lives near Tonbridge in Kent. Although I do not know the scheme personally and, therefore, would not draw too many conclusions from what Mr. Webb says, I trust his judgment. He tells me that a local authority scheme in the area involved the spending of about a quarter of a million pounds, as a result of which cycling in the area is now more difficult than it was before.

That story stresses one point that I want to make clearly on the subject. The answer is often not huge additional resources. As the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston suggested, it is important to ensure that when schemes are designed, they are designed with cycling in place. I can go further to give the hon. Gentleman the assurance he seeks, although I cannot, of course, speculate on the shape of the public expenditure settlement because that is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor. The hon. Gentleman will know, however, that we have made it clear to local authorities that we believe that the package approach to transport solutions is the right way in which to proceed. That package, in essence, stresses the multi-modal approach to congestion and pollution issues, and to the movement of people in town centres. There have been some excellent examples, such as the scheme in York. The local authority has built cycling provision very well into what is still a healthy and vibrant town centre. It has lost none of its economic force as a result of fewer private cars travelling there. I have made it clear in all my discussions with local authorities that I want them to build cycling much more centrally into a budget which, in any year in recent times, has generally been about £1 billion a year, to give the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston a broad idea. The transport supplementary grant settlement from which local

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authorities generally benefit is a substantial sum. I hope that the hon. Gentleman can take some comfort from that reassurance.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North): I am pleased to hear about this refreshing change of attitude towards cycling, which is long overdue. The Minister has just spoken about the importance of integrating cycling into what happens at local authority level. Will he issue written guidance so that all the schemes devised by local highways authorities, within the package approach, will have to address the whole issue of cycling? What will he do within his Department to ensure that what was British Rail and is now a collection of business operators has a policy of encouraging cyclists on to trains? If we do not have a multi-modal approach, we shall not have an increase in cycling at local level, given that we have to fit the whole country together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Mr. Norris: I believe that it will be a beneficial exercise to build in some specific guidance from the Department on how cycling should be fitted into schemes, especially the town centre solution. The other day I and, I believe, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) attended the launch by Sustrans of its national cycle way scheme. It is an ambitious and attractive scheme, much of which concentrates on recreational cycling. I was especially interested in the way in which the project lattices into town centres. There is a double benefit. Such an approach would facilitate safer cycling and would attract people out of the car and on to the cycle to make a straightforward business journey.

There needs to be a substantial culture change if we are to integrate cycling much more into the fabric of urban transport. That is about employers providing employees, especially in larger buildings, with facilities that enable those who come to work on a cycle to change their clothes or at least to present themselves slightly more attractively than might otherwise be the case. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid- Staffordshire needs no assistance in that respect, but others are not so fortunate. There should also be places where cycles can be left safely. There must be a separation of cycles and motor cars.

At the same time, it should not be assumed that cycles should be put at the top of a list of priorities within modes. We have made a great mistake in the past in thinking in terms of a priority list of modes, save that the most important priority in terms of traffic and road safety must always be the individual, starting with the pedestrian. That is essential to the debate.

I return to the statistical analysis. The total casualty figure, taking account of the increase in slight accidents, has fallen by 3 per cent. since the early 1980s. That has to be set against the increase in traffic, which was 40 per cent. during the survey period. If we consider the overall casualty rate per 100 million vehicle km we find that it has decreased dramatically from 108 during 1981-85 to 74 in 1993.

In recent years, as I have said to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam, customers have been getting more concerned about the safety of their cars. That has encouraged manufacturers to install features such as airbags, seat belt pretensioners and webbing grabbers, for example. Indeed, they have gone further. They have been working to improve the overall crashworthiness of cars. We see that every day when watching car advertising on

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television. The days when marketing people argued that "safety does not sell" are, mercifully, long past. I was talking recently to a representative of one of the major car manufacturers, who told me that safety and security are now at the top of the customer wish list. That, of course, is the basis on which manufacturers will make their production decisions. Increased customer concern about safety has come about for a complex variety of reasons to which, I am sure, my hon. Friends will wish to refer.

There is still a long way to go. For all the improvements of recent years, the pace of legislative change in vehicle standards is slow. We must continue our efforts to negotiate higher vehicle construction standards in the European Community.

The public are more concerned about the safety of their children when travelling on coaches and minibuses. That is understandable, as there have been some tragic accidents involving school and voluntary transport. It is little comfort for those affected to know that, statistically, it is about twice as safe, mile for mile, to travel in a minibus or coach as in a private car.

There would obviously be great road safety benefits if seat belts were fitted to all seats on all minibuses and coaches. Many schools and voluntary organisations have already fitted seat belts to their vehicles and many others are planning to do so. Virtually all new minibuses coming off production lines have seat belts fitted. But a legal requirement for all new vehicles can be arrived at only through the European Union. We are pressing it extremely hard, and meanwhile we are doing what we can to progress faster within the United Kingdom.

In the summer, we announced that we would seek agreement to make seat belt fitment compulsory on all minibuses and coaches used specifically for the transport of children. We have been having urgent discussions with the European Commission on this. Where seat belts are fitted, we shall be ending the concession allowing three children to be carried on two seats.

The voluntary sector plays a vital role in providing transport in minibuses to many people whose mobility would otherwise be restricted--especially children, the elderly and disabled people. Those people rely heavily on volunteer drivers. Our legislation has long enabled those volunteers to drive minibuses on the strength of their ordinary car driving licence. When we were negotiating the second EC driving licence directive, we fought, successfully, to preserve that important concession through a derogation.

We had to consider especially carefully in the light of some recent extremely tragic minibus accidents whether to continue the concession after the directive comes into force in 1996. We took account of all the views of those responding to our consultation on the issue. It must be said that opinions were strongly divided, some opposing the adoption of the derogation and others favouring it. I announced earlier this month that we came down on the side of adopting the derogation. It was not an easy decision. Shortly thereafter I received a letter from Bert Massie, whom many of us know as the director of RADAR, the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation. In that letter he says

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"how delighted I am at your decision to use the right of derogation from some of the requirements of the directive. This will ensure the mobility of many tens of thousands of disabled people. It is, of course, right to consider these issues from time to time, but I am convinced that you have made the right decision."

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham): Is my hon. Friend aware that there are many youth organisations--notably the Scout Association and parent- teacher associations throughout the land--that rely on voluntary drivers to enable them to carry out their many pursuits, and that they are extremely grateful to him for the close attention that he has paid to their concerns?

Mr. Norris: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I had much in mind precisely the sort of groups to which he has referred. The drivers whom we are talking about are all volunteers. The volunteering element is, of course, the whole spirit of voluntary and community work. It is one of the country's great strengths, and has been across generations. It is not only a matter of cost. It would have been sad to have lost that element. It is an important feature of our social and community life and it is immensely important that we protect it. I am glad to have the confidence and backing of disabled people and of others, as my hon. Friend has said.

Voluntary organisations have always taken, and continue to take, a responsible attitude to road safety. Both the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and the Community Transport Association have produced guidelines on voluntary minibus driving. The CTA has only this month published a code of practice covering all aspects of voluntary minibus operation. The Government are therefore confident that adopting the derogation will not endanger road safety. I have mentioned examples of greater safety awareness among the consumers of road transport. It seems to be part of a wider change in attitudes, and one which was not foreseen when we launched the casualty reduction target. As I said earlier, much of the credit for this belongs to my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham, who was, and still is, one of the most persuasive advocates of road safety. He certainly started a national debate, especially on drink-driving, which has continued to this day.

It is with drink-driving that the change in attitude and behaviour has been most striking. We have had the same drink-drive limit since 1967. When it was introduced, the fall in accidents was quite dramatic. That effect lasted for only about a year before drink-driving crept up again. That shows that changing the law does not of itself produce real changes in driver behaviour. Too many people were still unconvinced that the law was necessary, that it was their drinking and driving that needed to be curbed and that they should do something about it. In any event, the law was so full of procedural loopholes that enforcement and prosecution became something of a lottery. That was the position which we inherited in 1979. During that year there were 1,650 road deaths where at least one driver was over the legal limit. Since then, we have tightened the law and we have introduced evidential breath testing so that taking blood samples is rarely necessary. We have increased penalties, especially where a death is caused, and we have started to carry out medical checks on high-risk offenders. We have also begun experiments with rehabilitation. In short, we have used a wide range of measures and it seems that their effect in combination has persuaded large numbers of drivers to

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change their drinking habits. In 1993, there were about 550 deaths from drink-driving, but that is one third of the level in 1979. The role of the police in the campaign has been extremely constructive. Last year in England and Wales, they conducted just short of 600,000 roadside breath tests. That is about two and a half times the number in 1983, the first full year of evidential testing under the Transport Act 1981. Back in 1983, no fewer than 41 per cent. of drivers tested either gave an alcohol-positive reading or refused to give a sample, which is also an offence. In 1993, that percentage was down to 15--the lowest yet.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): Does my hon. Friend agree that, in addition to the good progress that has been made in reducing drinking and driving, in seeking to persuade potential drink-drivers not to drink and drive it is very important that publicity and propaganda should not shy away from bringing home to those drivers the tragic consequences which can arise from their drinking and driving--for themselves and for others?

Mr. Norris: I hope that my hon. Friend will develop his thoughts on that later because he has hit the point absolutely squarely. The great change occurred the day we recognised that the message, "If you drink and drive, you are breaking the law and you might lose your licence," powerful and perfectly accurate though it was, was never going to work.

We had to bear that point in mind in relation to the results that were obtained--and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) will agree that the advertising material we have used in this respect has been particularly powerful--when we said to people, "You are a perfectly respectable individual. You are not the kind of person who would ever knowingly commit violence on another individual, but you could in a moment do something which would result in a perfectly innocent person losing his life. Not only will that mean that you will carry a serious criminal record with you for the rest of your life, but you will never forget what you have done. You will be haunted by it until your dying day."

God forbid that that should happen to anyone. However, that is, of course, the tragic consequence of just a little excessive drink on an occasion when a perfectly normal person believes that he or she can handle what he or she is drinking. While the law is well intentioned, and these are law-abiding people, they do not believe that it need apply to them.

That is a crucial change. I have taken an interest in practice elsewhere in the world over the past few years. It is clear that our campaign has been a real achievement for this country. There are far more breath tests in other countries. France carries out many more breath tests than we do, but because it has not understood the psychology of drinkers and drivers--I am referring not to people with a substantial medical problem, but to the occasional drink-driver who is the real difficulty--the French have not made anything like the progress that we have been able to make.

Mr. Miller: Before the Minister leaves his point about breath testing, a Victim Support report published in 1994 contains a survey of breath testing by police authorities after road accidents. The pattern is not consistent and that

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is worrying. Only half of police authorities will test the blood alcohol level after an accident as a matter of course. Will the Minister talk to his colleagues in the Home Office and try to increase that ratio? Such tests should happen as a matter of course.

Mr. Norris: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will develop that point. I will certainly draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friends, as I quite understand his point.

Before we leave this important area of road safety, I must point out that there has been quite a radical change in the attitude of the drinks industry, among the brewers, distillers, licensed victuallers and so on. The Portman group, which represents many of those interests, has played a very positive role in promoting the separation of drinking from driving in several ways. Two months ago, the group collaborated with the Department of Transport to organise a joint seminar on drinking and driving which was opened by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. That seminar brought together experts from research, medicine, police, advertising and the media to look at ways to bring new life into the drink-drive campaign. There had been a perception in the media and among some road safety professionals that the campaign might be running out of steam. There was no sign of that in the statistics as drink-related deaths are still falling at much the same rate. However, in that area, as in many others, people's perceptions are almost as important as the reality. The seminar produced several interesting suggestions on how we might reduce the number of drink-driving cases even further. People in the road safety world have often said, "If only we could do as well in reducing speeding as we have done in reducing drink-driving, we would be able to take a great step forward." Excessive speed is a factor in between 22 per cent. and 32 per cent. of all road accidents. International experience suggests that a reduction of average speed of only 1 mph could save 5 per cent. of all injury accidents and 7 per cent. of fatal accidents.

Other things being equal, the faster one drives, the more likely one is to hit something and the greater the damage will be. That can make the difference between passengers surviving unscathed, especially if they are wearing seat belts, and being killed. That does not mean that the fastest roads are the most dangerous. Motorways have been designed for high-speed traffic and are by far the safest roads because many of the features that cause collisions have been eliminated. In fact, over half the fatal and serious road injuries occur on roads with a 30 mph speed limit.

The problem is not absolute speed; the problem is relative and inappropriate speed. That is the important distinction between speeding and going too fast. No one would call driving at 25 mph speeding, but if one happens to be travelling at that speed outside a school when children are setting off home, one would almost certainly be travelling too fast.

Sir Anthony Grant: Especially if the road is wet.

Mr. Norris: As my hon. Friend says, the condition of the road surface is relevant in such circumstances.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West and the House will be aware of the new campaign on the "kill your speed" theme in which we have focused on urban and mainly residential roads where

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most of such accidents happen. We will have to continue to plug away at that theme. We want to make speeding take on in people's minds the same status as drink-driving. However, other things are going on.

Engineering measures are being taken to control speed. Traffic calming has moved in from the fringes of road safety and is now playing an increasingly important role. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans), as a private Member, brought in the Traffic Calming Act 1992. That legislation has placed beyond doubt the legality of the way in which techniques such a chicanes and road narrowings are applied in local areas. The variety of measures made possible by that Act are explained in an excellent booklet entitled "Safer by Design", which was launched by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in August.

Lady Olga Maitland: With regard to traffic calming, does my hon. Friend agree that some traffic calming guidelines, particularly in relation to road humps, have been taken on board by local authorities with almost excessive zeal? There is, rightly, a great deal of objection in my constituency to humping down a mile-long road. Should we not encourage a greater variety of traffic calming facilities of which there is a considerable dictionary?

Mr. Norris: My hon. Friend may have to revisit the way in which she phrased that point.

Lady Olga Maitland: I am sorry.

Mr. Norris: There is no need for my hon. Friend to apologise. I am grateful to her for making a perfectly serious point. Funnily enough, we find that people in many parts of the country are concerned about the potential danger to their children, particularly on residential roads. They want measures to stop cars travelling too fast. They know that simply putting up a roundel with a number on it does not achieve the desired effect. Therefore, they have considered taking a variety of measures, of which road humps are one, to stop traffic travelling at excessive speed.

People realise that road humps will pose issues for emergency service vehicles, for example, and that they will constrain people who have been used to using the road perfectly normally and who will find it rather irritating that they must slow down substantially in order to make progress. That demonstrates the importance of always taking such decisions as openly as possible and considering all options before one assumes that one technical solution is necessarily the only one that can deliver the desired effect.

We have also been considering the design of road cushions, which can have the same effect. There are several around Westminster, which hon. Members might have encountered, and they can facilitate emergency service vehicle access and bus access. Low-floor buses are again on the agenda for a very important social reason, which all hon. Members welcome. From time to time, certain low-floor design features might be incompatible with some types of traffic calming measures. It is important to have a variety or a menu available--that is

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what our "Safer by Design" booklet says--and to make sure that people understand the full implications of what they are seeking to achieve.

Sir Anthony Grant: In my constituency, the problem is not road humps but the narrowing of roads to such an extent that poor old farm vehicles cannot get through. That is a great problem for farmers.

Mr. Norris: That underlines the crucial importance of never reacting too quickly. It is said that hard cases make bad law. There is the problem in this country--I suspect that it occurs in every country--that, as I know from my postbag, the minute an accident occurs, the natural reaction is to want to change the law in some respect or take an instant measure as a result. From time to time, that might be necessary, but, in general, common sense has to prevail. As my hon. Friend suggests, serious thought must be given to all the implications of introducing measures such as chicanes, road narrowing, speed humps, tables, cushions and so on. Those measures are all useful in their way, but they must be introduced with care.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): On road design, does my hon. Friend agree that some people in the anti-roads lobby lose sight of the fact that, broadly speaking, motorways are safer to drive on than dual carriageways, which in turn are safer to drive on than single-track roads?

Mr. Norris: Yes. That is broadly the point that I was making. The motorway system has generally designed out a number of the hazards which cause accidents. As I have said, more than half the fatal and serious accidents occur on roads with a 30 mph limit. It is important to remember that.

In that context, we have been considering a 20 mph zone, which is a fairly new phenomenon. I opened the 100th scheme in my constituency in August. We introduced the scheme in a rather unusual way, because we had a considerable accident problem in Epping forest, which had been used by a few motorists as a race track. By definition, Epping forest is a rather rural environment in which the roads were never built for modern vehicle numbers or speeds and in which street lighting would be absolutely impossible. Indeed, there would be no public support for street lighting there. Such schemes can work in context, but that does not mean that the answer to every serious injury accident is the introduction of a variety of measures or 20 mph schemes. It is a matter, as I am sure the House will expect, of putting such matters into proportion.

Much road safety engineering is paid for through the local roads capital settlement. We have made more than £170 million available over the past four years, thereby saving more than 250 deaths and 15, 000 casualties every year. On the basis of local authorities' returns and some recent research by the Transport Research Laboratory, we have calculated that the money invested in that way produces a first-year rate of return of more than 250 per cent.

We have also been attacking speeding in another way--that is, by more effective enforcement. Since the Road Traffic Act 1991, automatic speed cameras have been installed, especially in London. As Minister for Transport in London, I have been associated with the west London pilot scheme from its start. It was introduced in October

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1992. I remember introducing it on Twickenham bridge. Our monitoring and evaluation shows an average speed reduction of 10 per cent., and that accidents are down 21 per cent. and deaths and serious injuries are down 37 per cent. In the first year of operation there were seven deaths, which is tragic, compared with an annual average of 23 over the previous three years.

If we could replicate that improvement nationally, we would really make an impact on casualty statistics. It is a matter of resources, of course, and of enormous fixed penalties and many court hearings. We continue to encourage well-targeted camera enforcement, concentrated on the roads most subject to accidents at speed. The more traditional types of speed enforcement still have their place. Mr. Fabricant rose --

Mr. Norris: We have had a very interesting hour, but it is about time I allowed other hon. Members to make more than just interventions. [Hon. Members:-- "Hear,hear!"] I am disappointed that that is the only remark that I have made this morning which has been universally applauded. However, I inform my hon. Friend the Member for Mid- Staffordshire that, when we introduced traffic speed cameras, I made it clear that the objective was not to prosecute motorists. The objective was to show motorists that they would be monitored and to give them the opportunity not to be an accident statistic. Large signs warn motorists when they approach every camera. That has been a requirement from the beginning of the scheme and it will continue to be so. That is why I regard it as successful not when we prosecute but when we see large reductions in deaths and serious injury accidents.

A large number of casualty reduction measures are being introduced in various areas. We cannot monitor them all individually, but we have a fairly good idea of their impact. The effect could be even more dramatic if one town used the whole range of existing measures, and perhaps some new ideas as well, as a safe town demonstration project. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West will remember the Slough experiment in the 1950s, which pioneered several road safety ideas that later came into general use. We are talking now to local authority associations about the possibility of a demonstration project in a suitably sized town. That project is at an early planning stage, but it will be very exciting.

Engineering measures can be effective, but, as I have said, human error is a feature of about 95 per cent. of road accidents. New and inexperienced drivers in particular are likely to be involved in accidents. There are some obvious reasons for that. Some have been taught to perform well in the driving test and they pass it first time, but they lack the subtle skills that they need to be good drivers. Some, particularly young males, are over -confident or naturally inclined to show off and take risks. Others are just plainly irresponsible--they deliberately break the law and they know that they are putting lives at risk.

Last year, we put forward several proposals to try to improve such matters. We must influence the attitudes of young people even before they start to drive. Some of them think that road safety is just kids' stuff--for example, the green cross code and cycling proficiency--and that, once they are old enough to drive, they can

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