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Column 865death of a victim is not a factor in the careless driving charge, and inevitably victims' families are upset when it is not even mentioned in the court proceedings. The sentence is also thoroughly inadequate: fines result in most cases.
In the most serious careless driving cases--those tried in the Crown court- -of the 278 findings of guilt, 189 were dealt with by fines; 21 by conditional discharge; 16 by probation or supervision orders; only three by community service; and 49 were otherwise dealt with. No one was gaoled. The average Crown court fine for cases of careless driving was £206 and only one fine was in excess of £800. At the magistrates court, the average fine is £99 when sentences for careless driving are passed by a magistrate.
There seems to be a problem with the concept of causing death by dangerous driving. The acquittal rate is much higher than for any other offence and no different from the old law against death by reckless driving, which was known to be flawed. The police seem to be reluctant to press charges as they charge only the same number of people as they did under the previous charge, which they were widely felt to be reluctant to invoke.
However, organisations such as Roadpeace and relatives of victims of road crashes are understandably upset about sentences. Their concerns seem to be split between the apparent inadequacies of the present system--gaps in the law--and dissatisfaction with the severity of sentence handed down. In 1992, of the 320 people found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving, 70 received a sentence completely unrelated to prison, 27 received a fully suspended sentence, five received a partially suspended sentence, 60 were sent to a young offenders institution, while 156 got an unsuspended sentence.
Mr. Ottaway: May I take the hon. Gentleman back to something he said a few moments ago? It has taken me a little while to reflect on it. He was complaining about the number of acquittals in cases of death by dangerous driving. He might correct me, but I was under the impression that such cases are jury cases. I understood that they are not matters for the prosecution or for the police but that 12 good men and true decide on acquittals.
Mr. Miller: I would not complain about the principle of jury trial. I am merely putting on record the statistics--which are giving rise to a great deal of concern--the greatest of which is that many people who cause a death in a road accident are prosecuted under the Road Traffic Act 1991 not for causing that death but perhaps for leaving the scene of an accident or for some seemingly trivial matter. That is the theme that I am attempting to develop, but I am nevertheless pleased that the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) is listening carefully.
Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South): One of the reasons given for introducing the charge of death by dangerous driving was that, at that time, juries were very reluctant to convict on manslaughter so another charge had to be introduced. However, it followed that juries were equally reluctant to convict on the death by dangerous driving charge. If the hon. Gentleman is advocating some sort of fiercer punishment for death by careless driving, it will probably follow that there will be an equal reluctance to
Column 866convict. The view might be that, if the death were due to, for example, momentary inattention, the jury would be thinking, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."
Mr. Miller: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman, who is my neighbour in constituency terms, is also listening attentively because I shall develop that very point. If he waits for my conclusion he will find that I shall propose an idea for consideration by the House which would accommodate his concerns but which would nevertheless deal with the very real needs of victims and victims' families. I hope that the House will bear with me for a few minutes while I complete my statistical analysis.
Sentence lengths are unsatisfactory and the much-lauded increase of maximum sentences from five to 10 years seems to have had little effect. Groups such as Roadpeace are understandably outraged at such sentences, which they regard as pitifully low. Even after Alison Burgess successfully brought a private prosecution and got her husband's killer, and killer he is, gaoled for three years, she was understandably unhappy about such a sentence for a killer in circumstances which, by any standards, do not fit what the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) called the "There, but for the grace of God go I" cases. That case involved a serious criminal offence.
A reform of the law to ensure that the charge of causing death by dangerous driving can be brought more easily by the police is unlikely to satisfy such campaigners. Many people feel that justice is not done.
Mr. Waterson: I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman is saying about sentences, but is not one of the difficulties, not only in motoring offences but in other cases of unlawful killing, the so-called tariff of sentences? Life sentences do not mean "life" but, on average, 12 years. As, sadly, no death penalty is available, the whole tariff is depressed. Does he agree that, even if we do not restore the death penalty, we could at least ensure that life sentences for manslaughter and murder mean life, which would pull the whole tariff upwards?
Mr. Miller: That is one issue on which I agree with the Prime Minister. I am fundamentally opposed to the death penalty because mistakes are made, as happened recently in the Stefan Kiszko case and many others. Although the hon. Gentleman's logical argument about the suppression of sentences needs consideration, I do not believe that taking his uncivilised approach--I am sorry to have to use that word--in extreme cases is the solution. We must find another way. In an attempt to find another way, I have examined the law as it stands and, in response to the point made by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), some of the cases that I considered were in countries where the death penalty is enforced. I examined all the states of the United States of America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand for some inspiration about how to deal with this horrific problem. My research involved reading thousands of pages of text, some of which is beside me in case colleagues want to question my conclusions or join me in trying to secure an improvement in the law.
There should be an automatic charge of culpable death by driving when an investigation reveals that an incident was not a pure accident. It should be akin to motor manslaughter, a charge that exists in some of the states in America. As hon. Members will know, the Law
Column 867Commission is examining that proposal. In fact, the closing date--31 October--for submissions on its consultation paper entitled "Involuntary Manslaughter" has just passed. I hope that the commission will listen carefully to the spirit of this debate. I should like the House to consider paragraphs 5.22 to 5.29 and paragraphs 6.5 to 6.7 of the commission's consultative paper No.135. The commission states, among other things, that
"We do not think it can be sensible for the present law to remain untouched."
The two sets of paragraphs to which I referred appear under the heading "Motor Manslaughter".
I believe that the law requires fundamental reform, and that it should include the concept of motor manslaughter. There are arguments for and against calling the offence "manslaughter", "motor manslaughter" or any number of other titles but my assertion is that any title should link three points--culpability, the fact of death and the fact that the person was driving. The penalties should be in line with that for manslaughter; in other words, wide ranging, up to and including long prison sentences.
In an intervention on the Minister, I referred to breath testing which, I believe, should be automatic when a death occurs, as should testing for illegal substances if there are suspicions about the state of the driver. There is a further problem when the person who is alleged to have caused the crash is himself hospitalised. Forensic samples should be taken and analysed, but not released until the accused is in a fit state to give consent. Failure to give consent at that stage should either be interpreted by the courts or become an offence in itself.
Such a scheme should overcome the British Medical Association's ethical concerns, which were voiced by the Government when my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) raised the matter in the Committee that considered the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill in the previous Session. In response to my hon. Friend, the Minister of State, Home Office said:
"The BMA would be very unhappy about samples being taken from someone who was unconscious and had not given his consent. Although I am sympathetic to the point that the hon. Gentleman made, we cannot move towards such a policy because our law fundamentally depends on the consent of the person." --[ Official Report , Standing Committee B , 10 March 1994; c. 1335- 36.]
I made inquiries at the House of Commons Library about the history of the BMA's position. The research officer of the ethics, science and information division of the BMA replied to the Library on 23 June this year. He wrote:
"If a blood sample has already been taken for clinical reasons, it is not acceptable for that sample to be released for police purposes unless specific consent is gained from the patient." I have looked at that point in a number of countries. It is interesting to note that in Germany, a blood sample is taken automatically without any consent. If the investigating police officer believes that the person who is hospitalised was the cause of the accident, he has the right to require a blood sample to be taken. A more liberal interpretation--
Sir Anthony Grant: Where are the Liberals?
Mr. Miller: Indeed, where are they?
A more liberal interpretation of the need to provide vital information to determine the innocence or guilt of the driver in question is found in Australia. New Zealand,
Column 868incidentally, has a system in which no consent is required, but there are some qualifying caveats. The general philosophy in Australia, as I understand it, enables a sample to be taken and analysed, but the information is not released to the police until such time as the person concerned is able to give consent. That seems a sensible way in which to overcome the understandable objections from the BMA's ethical committee. The question of consent to information being released to the police is not dealt with until the person is fit enough to consent. If the person does not consent, I believe that either the courts should be able to interpret that refusal or refusal should become an offence in itself.
We need to consider how the issue of culpability is dealt with in some cases. The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West made the point that four out of five road accidents involving
deaths--"accidents" may be a misnomer--are not caused by drinking and driving. There are cases in which driver schedules, road design, local parking arrangements and the design of vehicles should, perhaps, require other persons to join the driver in the dock. Examples are the lorry company that requires a driver to go out when it knows that the vehicle is not fully safe or the coach company that provides a timetable that is not sensible in terms of getting from A to B. We must consider the possibility that culpability can extend far beyond the driver. The Law Commission is looking at the concept of corporate manslaughter in the broader sense.
One of the tragic cases brought to my attention--such cases are happening all over the country--occurred in the Wigan area. It took place in a narrow road; perhaps the local authority could have done better. The parking arrangements may have been relevant; perhaps, again, the local authority had not addressed needs as well as it could have done. I am not accusing the local authority, but simply speculating about a particular set of circumstances. The driver backed the van and he did not act very sensibly because he backed the van where visibility was poor. The Department of Transport and the Minister himself are responsible for the type approval for that van. That van had no audible means of signalling the fact that it was reversing and it had huge blind spots which meant that it had a questionable level of safety.
A whole series of circumstances need to be looked at carefully when the question of culpability comes up. In the particular case to which I have referred obliquely, a small child died unnecessarily. The van backed on to the pavement over the child and then drove forward over the body of the child. The Minister said in his opening speech that things were getting better. However, we must all remember those tragic cases.
I hope that the Minister will give his support today to encouraging the Law Commission to look at those matters in a positive manner. The consultation period is over and it is now down to the commission to respond.
I give my thanks to the people who have written to me from all over the country. Many of them are victims or the families of victims. They have contributed to my research despite the obvious grief that they are suffering. I extend my thanks to organisations such as Roadpeace, and to the many organisations throughout the world that have written to me. On a light-hearted note, I especially thank the National Commission Against Drunk Driving in the United States, which wrote, "Dear Minister Miller," which may be a little premature. Organisations in the
Column 869United States, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which has collated enormous amounts of information from all the states, European organisations and people in a good number of countries outside Europe who have also provided information deserve thanks. All the information helps us to examine the possibilities rationally. I have today floated one possible way in which to eradicate the deaths that take place as a result of the drinkers and the lunatic fringe who still exist on the roads. I am not seeking to penalise the motorist. I have driven large mileages all my adult life in a number of different occupations. I understand the pressures that the Government would face from some of the motoring organisations if they were to take a draconian view. The point I emphasise time and again is that we must never lose sight of the interests of the victims and their families. We should accept that the point made by the Minister at the beginning of this debate was correct. We should not relax in our effort to reduce the number of deaths down towards zero. Our national record may be good, but one death is one death too many. 12.10 pm
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire): It should again be emphasised that the Government have a successful record in helping to reduce the number of tragic deaths on our roads. I have a few suggestions to make which, if implemented, would, I hope, help further to reduce such deaths. As I suspect that some of them might be considered controversial, I shall welcome responses from Opposition Members and from my hon. Friends if they feel that I am going beyond the mark.
My hon. Friend the Minister emphasised that deaths and serious injuries as a result of road accidents have been reduced considerably and are at their lowest level since 1926. It is worth emphasising, too, that there are 14 times as many cars on the roads now than there were in 1926. The reduction in serious accidents and deaths is something of which we can be proud. In the European Union table of accidents per road mile, we find that the United Kingdom is the lowest. Again, that is something of which we can be proud. Perhaps I can say in these troubled times that it is a statistic which might reflect on the British sang froid as opposed to the more excitable nature of some of our European neighbours.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) talked about drinking and driving. It was interesting to hear him say that people of his generation are possibly more lax about it than young people. In Lichfield, there is a fair amount of drunkenness on the streets on Friday and Saturday nights. It has been suggested by members of the city council that the young people involved should go to Tamworth, where there are cinemas and discotheques. There is none in Lichfield. Young people do not go to Tamworth, interestingly enough, because they are not prepared to drive there, to drink and then drive back to Lichfield. That is laudable. As much as I condemn drinking, I condemn even more drinking and driving.
There are some important issues that the Government are examining in the long term. My right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor), the former Secretary of State for Transport, said on 9 February that drivers should be retested if they have been convicted of
Column 870serious driving offences. That is an exciting and interesting initiative. It has been suggested that post-test driver training--"pass-plus"--and better road safety education should be introduced and made available for the 16-plus age group. Those are excellent initiatives.
We have heard about the second EC driver licensing directive. I shall be interested to know what the one Opposition Member who is in his place--the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller)--thinks about the proposal to place photographs on driving licences. I consider it an excellent idea. I suspect, however, that some of the bleeding hearts-- perhaps I should say heart--on the Opposition Benches will feel that it would be an infringement of civil liberties.
Mr. Miller: The hon. Gentleman disappoints me by responding to the debate so frivolously. We are dealing with life and death. I do not think that photographs on driving licences will solve the problems that we are discussing. Identity becomes an issue only in the context of stolen vehicles. An eminently sensible proposal--the hon. Gentleman referred to it earlier--is identifying insurance on a vehicle. That is a better approach. The libertarian argument about whether photographs should be placed on driving licences is a red herring.
Mr. Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman accuses me of approaching the debate frivolously. The frivolity of the Labour party is reflected by the sparse number of Opposition Members in their places.
The hon. Gentleman misunderstands my argument about photographs on driving licences. As he said, the question of identity often arises when vehicles have been stolen. It has already been stated that drivers of stolen vehicles often cause fatal accidents. If we had photographs on driving licences and if there were fewer stolen vehicles, it follows that road traffic accidents would be reduced.
Lady Olga Maitland: I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing such an important topic. Is he aware that Britain is one of the few countries in the European community that does not require photographs on driving licences?
Mr. Fabricant: Indeed, I am aware of that. My hon. Friend will know that I undertook most of my doctoral thesis in the United States. I was proud to hold a United States driving licence, and proud also to have a not very pleasant photograph imprinted on the licence. It was a useful form of identification. All Members have identity cards, on which our faces are imprinted. There is nothing new about identity cards.
Mr. Miller: The hon. Gentleman is going down a blind alley. If his argument were sound, the United States would have better accident statistics than those of the United Kingdom. Instead, they are far worse. The Minister has said that there is a host of issues that are far more fundamental than photographs on driving licences--issues that have been shown to have an impact and that should have priority. Why does not the hon. Gentleman concentrate on some of those?
Mr. Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman is missing the point. I shall come to other proposals in due course.
As for the United States, I suspect that the hon. Gentleman has not read the statistics accurately. He will recall that I was talking about stolen vehicles. Is he aware
Column 871that there are fewer cars stolen per car on the road in the United States than in the United Kingdom? That is the point.
I commend my hon. Friend the Minister on the publicity campaigns that have been introduced. In the coming year, £6.5 million will be spent on road safety publicity campaigns. The Government hope to continue the spend at about that level in 1995 and 1996. As my hon. Friend has said, the campaign themes are likely to be speed, child safety and drink-driving. We have heard from the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston about the importance of reducing the number of drink-driving incidents.
The United Kingdom is in the forefront of developing improved standards in Europe for front and side impact testing for new designs of vehicle. The initiatives of my hon. Friend the Minister are to be commended.
My hon. Friend the Minister and his predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), have been proactive, not reactive, in ensuring that seat belts are introduced in coaches and other forms of public transport.
We are hoping to introduce to all new vehicles anti-lock brakes by the end of the century. It is an interesting objective from my point of view. As I have already said, I drive a Lotus, which does not have that facility. It is most unfortunate that a British manufacturer such as Lotus does not provide ABS as standard or as an option. The hon. Member for Stoke-on- Trent, North (Ms Walley) rightly referred to cycling. I strongly believe that cycle lanes should be introduced where practicable. When I did my masters degree at Sussex university, many people used to ride from Brighton to the university, which was in Falmer. There was a great campaign at the time, of which I was part, for the introduction of a cycle lane. I am pleased to say that such a lane now exists.
One of the Government's great successes over the past few years with regard to child safety in cycling has been the introduction of hard hats or crash helmets for cyclists. More often than not, children and adults now wear hard hats when they are cycling whereas, five or 10 years ago, that was not the norm. There has been an 80 per cent. reduction in the number of child pedestrian and cyclist casualties and that is partly due to the introduction of hard hats. The Government have introduced 20 mph limit zones and these have also helped to reduce casualties. Eighty such zones are now in operation. I want to raise specific points about motor cycles. I used to be, and still am to a much lesser degree, a keen motor cyclist. As I pointed out to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North in the debate on European Union regulations last night, I used to ride a Yamaha FJ1200. I used to travel around Europe every year. One year I managed to obtain a three-week holiday from work and I travelled overland from Britain to eastern Turkey and Kurdistan and returned via the Greek islands. Trying to ride a motor cycle up a 4 in wide plank on to a boat is a difficult and dangerous task.
The Motor Cycle Industry Association has said that motor cyclists are the only road-user group to achieve or better the Government's targets. Motor cyclists should be applauded for that. Many people fail to realise that two thirds of motor cycle accidents are caused by other road users--those driving four-wheeled vehicles. It is important that the Government continue to heighten the awareness of car drivers to road users on two wheels-- bicycles and motor cycles.
Column 872It is important to note that the Government introduced compulsory basic training for motor cycle users in 1990. That was a very important initiative. Before that, motor cyclists did not have any formal training although they had to be tested.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North referred to "modality". I was not sure about the meaning of that word, but I understood it from her context when she said that, if we are to encourage cyclists, they must be able to use other forms of public transport, including the rail system. I fully agree with her and I would extend that to motor cycles. Many fair-weather motor bike riders who use their motor bikes in and around urban areas would like to be able to take their motor bikes on trains to travel longer distances.
Mr. Miller: It is particularly important that all road users, including people with bicycles, small motor cycles and invalid vehicles, should have access to trains. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that British Rail should, as a matter of urgency, ensure that its current ludicrous restrictions, including the 63 cm width maximum which is obviously a door constraint, and the rule whereby three-wheeled invalid vehicles can be carried by train, but four-wheeled invalid vehicles cannot, are addressed? British Rail should also consider the transportation of other forms of vehicle on trains.
Mr. Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman has raised a good point. I believe that when the rail services are privatised, there will be very good commercial reasons for taking up the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. Huge sections of the community are not using the rail services for the very reasons that he gave. It will make commercial sense to allow invalid carriages, motor cycles and bicycles on to trains so that more people can use our train services.
I want now to consider several useful improvements. I commend the Minister on the use of cameras on our roads. I am pleased that he reassured the House, following my sedentary intervention, that where cameras are used for checking people who exceed the speed limit, drivers will be pre-warned by signs stating that cameras are present. That is very important.
Cameras have another role and that is to catch red light dodgers at junctions and pedestrian crossings. I appreciate that a cost will be involved, but far too often people cross red lights at zebra crossings. They may think that the light is red and no pedestrians are trying to cross, so they drive through the red light. They might not see a pedestrian at night. It is important that all red lights should be obeyed by motorists. There may be an additional incentive for motorists to do that if they think a camera will catch them if they cross a red light at a zebra crossing as well as at important junctions.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North referred to bull bars. If a young child is hit by a Jeep with bull bars at speeds as low as 5 mph, that child may be killed. However, if the Jeep had normal bumpers, the child would have every chance of surviving. Bull bars serve little or no practical purpose and are fixed purely for cosmetic reasons. They should be banned. I always hesitate to suggest to a Minister that we impose extra restrictions, but I ask my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London at least to consider doing so.
My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned traffic-calming ramps. They have an important role. Several people on buses, particularly in London, have supposedly suffered
Column 873neck injuries as buses have gone over particularly abrupt ramps. I hope that the Government, if they are not already doing so, will issue guidelines on the shape of ramps. I was reassured by my hon. Friend's statement that the Government are considering soft ramps and means by which emergency vehicles can quickly pass over them. It is in the public interest that their speed is not impeded.
I shall now make some possibly controversial points. I shall welcome interventions if hon. Members think that I am going a little too far. I have mentioned that I attained my masters degree at Sussex university. Most of my work for my doctorate was done at the university of Southern California. When I left university, after a very short career in broadcasting--I was also in broadcasting before I went to university--I became involved in business, which caused me to be abroad for eight months of the year. I have travelled a lot. Some of my proposals come about from my experience of driving abroad. I shall make three suggestions.
Some road accidents occur through driver frustration. Although, at first sight, it might seem that my three suggestions might increase road accidents, there is evidence abroad that they can reduce them. First, many motorists become frustrated when, at 2 am or 3 am, they are held up at red traffic lights for one minute, two minutes or three minutes, when nobody is coming the other way, and there is the greatest temptation to jump the lights. Other countries have solved the problem. I have seen the solution in operation in the United States, Australia, South Africa, and, I believe, certain parts of-- Mr. Waterson rose --
Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend wants to intervene. I have not even made the suggestion yet, but I am happy to give way to him.
Mr. Waterson: I am happy to slow my hon. Friend down a bit. I am most grateful to him for allowing me to intervene. My hon. Friend might be too young to remember that, during the three-day week in the 1970s, when at times there was not the power even to operate traffic lights in central London, if anything, the traffic statistics improved, because people took elaborate care when approaching busy junctions because the traffic lights were not working.
Mr. Ottaway: The traffic ground to a halt.
Mr. Waterson: I wonder whether my hon. Friend had that point in mind when he evolved his three-point plan.
Mr. Fabricant: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. It is not the point that I was going to make, but it is an interesting observation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) said from a sedentary position, the fact that there were fewer accidents may have resulted from the whole of London grinding to a halt because of the lack of traffic lights. However, I wonder whether there is over- enthusiasm for traffic lights.
I sold several radio station systems to Radio Uganda. In Kampala, not a single traffic light is now working. I am told that the traffic system there works a darned sight better now that the lights are not working. At times, roundabouts or other forms of traffic control might be more appropriate than traffic lights.
Column 874Let me now make my suggestion. In the early hours of the morning, or when there is little traffic on the road, we could have a system whereby traffic lights are altered so that, if cars enter a main road from a side road, the traffic lights flash red. The red flashing light would be equivalent to a stop sign. Hon. Members laugh as though that is an odd idea, but, throughout the United States of America, Australia, South Africa, where they strangely call traffic lights robots, and in what used to be Rhodesia--Zimbabwe--that system works.
The idea is that, at certain times of the night, or possibly during the day, a red traffic light flashing on-off would be equivalent to a stop sign. As at pedestrian crossings with traffic light control, drivers would stop at the flashing red traffic light and, if the road were clear, would approach the junction. On the other side of the road there could be a flashing amber light which would be equivalent to a give-way sign. We all know what that means: motorists slow up at the junction and, if the road is clear, they continue. This would alleviate much motorist frustration.
An obvious argument against the proposal is that motorists would become confused. Of course, there would have to be a lot of advance publicity before we introduced the system. However, I am not too young to remember when we introduced traffic lights on zebra crossings.
Mr. Deva: Can my hon. Friend explain how the flashing red light system would prevent accidents from occurring among frustrated motorists, who presumably take care to look left and right before they jump red lights? What additional benefits would the flashing red light system produce?
Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. The answer is that at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning the number of cars may build up at traffic lights. An impatient driver, perhaps two or three cars back, may say, "Blow this, I will not wait for three or four minutes because I have already been waiting long
enough--something may have gone wrong with the traffic lights." That driver may overtake the other cars and cause an accident. A flashing red light would prevent queuing at traffic lights.
As I have said, I am not suggesting anything new in the context of world traffic methods; it is something new only for the United Kingdom. The system has been in use in the United States, Australia and South Africa for years. At junctions where two important roads intersect, all sets of traffic lights would flash red in the early hours of the morning, creating the same effect as a red traffic light.
Mr. Miller: In his worldwide travels, did the hon. Gentleman bother to look at the statistics for road traffic accidents at junctions? He will find that while that practice alleviates driver frustration--which, in itself, is a cause of road accidents--it does not improve safety at junctions. I invite the hon. Gentleman to think about using available technology to adjust the switching mechanisms of traffic lights in the early hours of the morning, with the timing to be determined by traffic flows in the area. It would be very easy to time such changes using technology which is currently available from road traffic research laboratories.
Mr. Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman raises a reasonable point; that would be an alternative suggestion. However, if we were to study statistical queuing theory,
Column 875the number of cars coming from different directions when there was not a constant traffic flow, would cause unnecessary delays and driver frustration.
In answer to the hon. Gentleman's first point: yes, I have looked at the statistics. They show that the number of accidents at junctions at night is lower in countries which use the flashing light system than in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Deva: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Certain countries I have visited--I will not go through a litany of them--have a system called the "green wave". This means that when one is travelling at a certain speed on a heavy traffic road one can go through all the traffic lights at a constant speed. This is not the case in Britain. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Minister for Transport in London could consider implementing that system here?
Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend has raised an excellent point. Returning from Staffordshire, the most beautiful county in the country, to the House of Commons last week, I was coming down Portland place past the headquarters of my former employers, the BBC, and I had to stop at every traffic light. There was no phasing of the system. There would be less frustration if there were.
Mr. Ottaway: My hon. Friends the Members for Brentwood and Isleworth (Mr. Deva) and for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) have made interesting points about phased traffic lights. However, we must remember that under the phasing system they are all timed for traffic to pass through them at 30 mph, so that motorists should get a green light the whole way through. Of course, some smart Alec discovered that he could go through them at 60, 90 or 120 mph, which rather brought the system into disrepute.
Mr. Fabricant: Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister wants to intervene on this point.
Mr. Norris: I am loth to interrupt my hon. Friend. His speech has been fascinating and he is only on point one. I cannot wait for points two and three.
I must tell a number of my hon. Friends--it may be the fault of the traffic authorities that they are not already aware of this--that although my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) may have been stopped at a series of traffic lights, London has the most sophisticated system of traffic light management of any major city in the world. It allows free flow through a whole series of traffic lights on continuous routes. It is called the SCOOT system. I am delighted to say that that technology, which was developed and is used in London, is sold all over the world as an example of how to develop systems to allow continual traffic flows. I am not suggesting anything about my hon. Friend's driving habits as he cut down Portland place past the BBC. I merely take up the observation of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) that to make the system work it is necessary to stick to the legal speed limit.
Mr. Fabricant: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his helpful intervention. Is not it another demonstration of how British technology leads the world? I just hope that the British system was not in use in Milan when "The
Column 876Italian Job" was filmed. As I recall it, Benny Hill reprogrammed the Italian computers to cause a major traffic jam.
Lady Olga Maitland: I thank my hon. Friend for telling me about his night-time driving habits. He praised the system in the United States, Australia and South Africa. Does he have any statistical evidence to show that the accident rate has dropped since those countries changed to the flashing red light system? Have the numbers really gone down? I find that hard to believe.
Mr. Fabricant: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, although it was not totally helpful. Those countries have had that system for so long that I do not think it is now a question of producing figures to show that the accident rate has gone down. Indeed, the United States and other countries have had it for at least 25 years.
I come now to point two, as we have more or less covered point one. The United States--again--has a system that allows traffic to turn right on red. That was gradually introduced state by state, but it is now in use in all 50 states except at junctions that specifically state that traffic cannot turn right. We should have a similar system at certain road junctions in Britain, although, of course, it would be to turn left on red. A motorist wanting to turn left at a junction would treat the red light as a stop sign and would have to stop. However, provided that no traffic were coming the other way, the motorist could filter left. That would be a helpful system and it has been shown to have reduced traffic accidents in the United States. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider introducing a similar system in this country. As no one has sought to intervene, I shall assume that that means that my suggestion meets with the approval of hon. Members.
Finally, my most controversial point--
Mr. Waterson: A man with a red flag.
Mr. Fabricant: I do not know whether they had red flags in 1926, but even if they did I must remind my hon. Friend that there are fewer road accidents now than there were then. Clearly, the red flag was a frustrating influence on drivers, which demonstrates my argument that when motorists are frustrated they can cause accidents.
My final suggestion would certainly reduce the number of people breaking the law. In the early hours of the morning, when there are few cars on the road, many motorists, including myself, often drive at more than 30 mph in a 30 mph zone if there is no traffic around. Everyone does it. I suggest that in zones where the speed limit is under 70 mph the limit should be increased automatically by 10 mph at certain times in the morning. Perhaps, between the hours of 2 am and 4 am--whatever the Minister decides--one might be allowed to drive legally at up to 40 mph in a 30 mph zone.
Mr. Waterson: I do not want to disturb the flow of my hon. Friend's radical ideas, but does he not think that if that were the case people would go 10 mph faster than those limits? People will always drive at speeds above the limit when they think that it is safe to do so and that no one is around--or, perhaps more importantly, that no members of the constabulary are around. If there is an informal increase in the limit at certain times, some people will go even faster.
Mr. Fabricant: That is a reasonable argument. Perhaps, in conjunction with the changes, we should