|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 877increase the penalties for breaking the speed limit. Let us have practical and reasonable limits and a radical increase in penalties for those who break them--perhaps more or less along the lines that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) suggested.
Mr. Deva: On speed limits and breaking them, does my hon. Friend have any views on the radar detection systems that one can buy and instal in a car? I have not done so, but I have seen them in shops. They warn the driver when a speed detection system is ahead. If one is driving a car and at the same time looking at the speedometer and the radar detection system, it would completely divert one's concentration from the road. I see no reason why people would buy them unless they intended to break the speed limit. Does my hon. Friend have any views on those systems in regard to his theory on increasing speed limits?
Mr. Fabricant: I would not condone any device that would assist people to break the law, although I must correct my hon. Friend. He said that people would be distracted by using such a device. I have not bought one and I do not have one in my car, but I know that they bleep, so it is not a question of looking down. If one enters an area in which the police are operating a radar detection system, the device bleeps. I condemn their use and it is wrong.
People should keep to speed limits, but those limits should be sensible. That is why my third point was that they should be increased by 10 mph at certain times of the morning, which would be sensible. After all, did not the Minister or the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North--perhaps it was both of them--mention the use of inappropriate speeds? People should not drive at inappropriate speeds, but it is appropriate and safe to drive at speeds above the speed limit in the early hours of the morning, if that limit is 30 mph and there are no other cars or children around.
I drive a fast car, but when I drive past schools and parked cars where children might be about to come out into the road and one cannot always see them, I drive at a darned sight less than 30 mph and I am always careful to do so.
The Minister will be relieved to know that I have come to the end of my three points. However, will he assure the House that he will not entertain any plans to standardise our legislation with that of the European Union, particularly when it comes to driving on the right?
Hon. Members may recall that many years ago drivers in Sweden drove on the left. The country undertook a costly programme to change the system to driving on the right. Recently, Transport Ministers in Sweden have said that if they were deciding whether to change the system now, they would not do so because of the cost involved, the increased number of cars on the road and the increased number of traffic accidents that occurred following the changeover. I am reminded of the joke that, when Idi Amin had difficulty with the United Kingdom and called it a toothless bulldog, he said that he would change the system in Uganda so that drivers drove on the right, but to make things easier for the citizens of Kampala and Entebbe, the change would be phased in over a week so that people
Column 878could get used to the new system. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will assure me that that will not happen.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will assure the House that he will resist any moves to make people in this country drive on the right. If anyone here were foolish enough to say that that would help our motor industry, that would be nonsense. Indonesia, Thailand and Japan, as well as much of the Commonwealth, still drive on the left and continue to be major markets for the United Kingdom.
This country has gone a long way and has taken much innovative action to reduce the number of road deaths. That has been demonstrated by the fact that Britain has the lowest road accident rate in the European Union. Much of that progress is due to what the Government have done over the years. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider some of my proposals which I hope might, in a small way, help to reduce the number of road deaths still further. 12.51 pm
Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): It is a pleasure to follow the imaginative, thoughtful and provocative speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant). Of his three points, the most interesting was the first, dealing with the technological approach. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, we have a highly sophisticated system in London and many computerised systems. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) will know--her constituency is close to mine--we also have a number of computerised systems in the suburbs. An effective system has been introduced at Purley cross, where the A22 and the A23 merge. A highly sophisticated computerised scheme, introduced by the Department of Transport, has resolved one of London's big trouble spots. Like any system, when it becomes overloaded it grinds to a halt. Utterly predictably, Purley grinds to a halt at 5pm on a Friday night. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire has a point when he talks of modern technology as a solution to many of the problems and as a means of raising safety standards--the issue at the heart of today's debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend on coming up with positive ideas as they will advance debates such as today's. Only a couple of weeks ago I was reading a book by Admiral Sandy Woodward, who was in charge of the British expeditionary force to the Falkland Islands. When he was flying home at the end of his 100 days in the Falklands--where he experienced the clamour and noise of battle--he considered the number of casualties in the war. He found that, during those 100 days, more people were killed on the roads in Britain than in the Falklands war. He mused over why it was that we took something like the Falklands so seriously--it was the focus of world attention--when more people were killed on Britain's roads. The reason is that the Falklands became a matter of national pride, but road safety forms part of our daily life. We have all learnt to live with it--we all went to road safety lessons when we were at school. That is why debates such as today's are so important. They encourage Ministers to report to us on the steps that the Department
Column 879of Transport is taking to reduce accidents and invite us to sit down and address sensibly the problems which are faced daily, hourly and by the minute on our roads.
Our roads are now busier than they have ever been, with 14 times as much traffic on them as when records began in 1926. The Government have long been encouraging people to be more responsible as road users, both as drivers and pedestrians, but with the ever-increasing volume of traffic, new measures must be constantly sought to improve safety.
Our roads are among the safest in the European Union. However, because of what some observers have entitled the greatest epidemic of our time, about 4,000 people are involved in fatal accidents each year and more than 300,000 people are involved in less serious accidents. Although the figures for deaths and serious injuries caused by road accidents continue to show a welcome, encouraging downward trend--in 1993 they fell by 12 per cent.--we must still do all that we can to make our roads a safer environment for their users. As well as the terrible human costs of road safety accidents, they impose a massive financial burden on society. According to the Department's own figures, an accident resulting in slight injury costs more than £9,000. If that accident is more serious, the average cost rises to £84,000, but should it tragically prove to be fatal, the cost is in excess of a massive £760,000.
In 1993, road traffic accidents in the London borough of Croydon, part of which I have the privilege to represent, cost society £52 million. That represents a vast waste of human and financial resources which no society can willingly bear without considering how the majority of those accidents can be prevented.
The Government's efforts to reduce accidents on our roads are working and I congratulate the Department of Transport on everything that it has done. The number of drink-driving incidents has reduced, but, unfortunately, drink-driving is still responsible for up to 14 per cent. of deaths on our roads. The need for deterrence is still as strong as it has always been.
I am aware that the Government's annual Christmas advertising campaign, which rams home the awful consequences of drink-driving, is due to start on 6 December. Over the years, that campaign has been successful in reducing the number of those who drink and drive. It has been assisted by the way in which society has come to view those who act in such an irresponsible manner. The attitude to drink-driving has changed drastically and people now view with contempt those who take the wheel when under the influence of alcohol. That shows how effective the medium of television advertising can be.
Mr. Deva: Those of us who drive are careful not to do so when under the influence of drink. People may go to a dinner party or a ball by taxi, consume some alcohol and then take a taxi home. In the morning one assumes that one is sober enough to drive a car, but there is no way or knowing whether one is under or over the limit. The instruction and advice available to the average driver on whether he should drive his car in the morning, having consumed alcohol the night before, is scarce. That problem has been on my mind for some time and I wonder whether my hon. Friend has any views on it.
Column 880allow at least eight hours before driving. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister can provide an answer when he winds up. I believe that one can buy a personal breathalyser, but that there is some doubt about their reliability. If one has any doubt, one should not drive. I do not argue that no alcohol should be drunk, because I believe that the present threshold is about right. If one has drunk half a pint of shandy, for example, there is no reason why one should not drive home. Perhaps those of a scientific mind may be able to answer my hon. Friend's question later.
Under revised guidance in the Road Traffic Act 1991, the courts can ensure that drink-drivers and those who cause death through dangerous driving receive the sentences that they deserve and which reflect society's attitude to drivers who recklessly endanger lives by their selfish actions.
New and younger drivers remain high accident risks. Although they represent only 10 per cent. of all drivers, they are responsible for 25 per cent. of all accidental road deaths. I welcome the Government's announcement of new measures to reduce accidents caused by newly qualified drivers. Most important among them is the attempt through education to change attitudes. The Department of Transport has proposed the development of a scheme devised by the Driving Standards Agency in collaboration with the insurance industry, to give newly qualified drivers financial incentives. They would undertake a structured training course to improve the driving standards of that vulnerable group, designed to impart skills such as observation, hazard perception and awareness that are known to make drivers safer but which can take years to acquire. Drivers who successfully complete the six sessions that comprise the course could be guaranteed a discount on their insurance premiums, to reward skills that are so necessary to that high- risk category.
Automobile Association research showed that young, newly qualified drivers do not know how to drive safely and are sometimes known to choose to drive badly, often solely to impress their friends. The AA has asked the Government to consider implementing measures to deter bad driving behaviour with lower penalty point thresholds for new drivers than for experienced motorists. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister carefully to consider those proposals and to work hand in hand with the insurance incentives that I mentioned.
Another major cause of traffic accidents is total disregard for speed limits by a small number of road users. Excessive speed is a contributory factor in 30 per cent. of all road accidents. That single most important behavioural factor endangers, especially in built-up areas, the lives of not only drivers but pedestrians. Of the seven people killed in traffic accidents in the borough of Croydon this year, six were pedestrians--speed being a primary cause. The introduction of speed cameras in certain areas has reduced deaths and serious injury by up to 40 per cent. That is a remarkable achievement, but detectors that alert a driver when a radar trap or camera is ahead are, according to the police, increasing in popularity. It is not illegal to supply such equipment--only to use it. Until there is a sea change in public opinion against motorists who speed, there will be drivers who continue to believe that the law applies to everyone but themselves and who will look for ways to avoid being caught.
Column 881There are more subtle ways of preventing road accidents. For more than 70 years, we have taken part in an annual ritual which leads to more road accidents--caused by the lack of daylight in the darker hours that we experience when the clocks are put back one hour in September. [Hon. Members:-- "Hear, hear!] Twilight, when many people are on their way home from work or school, is a time when traffic accidents are notoriously common. I raised that matter when I intervened on my hon. Friend the Minister's opening speech, and his response was fair. I appreciate that the matter embraces a number of Departments, but I hope that the Government will address the issue seriously. As we have just heard, there is a strong feeling that something straightforward can be done to reduce the number of accidents. As most hon. Members know, the Daylight Extra group, supported by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, is actively campaigning on that issue. The transition would be achieved simply by failing to put back the clocks one autumn. We would then go on to double summer time the following summer.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), who has taken a particular interest in that subject, will develop that theme in due course. The pure financial benefit of that inaction has been estimated by the Policy Studies Institute at more than £200 million, but the reduction in the cost of human lives--an estimated 140 fewer fatalities and just under 2,000 fewer injuries on the roads--is a much more compelling argument. British summer time was maintained throughout the winters of 1968 -71 as an experiment which the House ended in 1970. Opposition has come mainly from the agricultural and construction industries, but subsequent analysis shows that the experiment was effective in reducing the number of road casualties, especially among pedestrians and children. The number of lives saved by wearing seat belts in rear seats of cars is about the same as would be saved by an extra hour of daylight. The Government have proved their commitment to safety by implementing the former measure; I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider carefully the benefits of that simple but effective measure.
Another issue that has a great bearing on the number of accidents that take place each year is the urban road environment. Many steps can be taken to make our local roads safer, such as traffic calming through the use of speed ramps; chicanes; improved road markings; and other measures. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam mentioned the need for more humping on local roads. This has become a valuable tool in slowing down traffic and has helped to avoid pedestrian injuries and fatalities. My hon. Friend is probably well aware, however, that local communities are sometimes upset that local roads that they have used for years have become irritatingly slow. Lady Olga Maitland rose --
Column 882long-suffering constituents have put up with those wretched humps for years. When I talk to the highways department of Sutton council, however, I discover that people hate them. Councillors make that admission with a rueful laugh. When I ask why they stick to humps without considering the litany of other ideas that would achieve the same objective, the answer is that we are stuck in a groove on this issue. The time has come to look at the wider selection and move away from those wretched humps.
The most vulnerable sectors of society, but mainly children, have great difficulty judging the speed of oncoming traffic. In Croydon, 80 children on average are injured, some seriously, each year. The Government's successful campaign, "Kill your speed--not a child", helps to force home the message that traffic speed in urban areas all too often has tragic consequences. Thankfully, however, in certain areas including parts of my constituency, traffic-calming measures have reduced accidents in known urban black spots by as much as 20 per cent. The schemes have the benefit of improving road safety without necessarily reducing traffic volume and I hope that many more local authorities will consider using them.
Before dealing with passenger and driver safety, I should like to make a further plea to my hon. Friend the Minister. I took my driving test some 30 years ago and passed it the first time, having been examined on the "Highway Code". But what I was examined on 30 years ago bears no resemblance to the road signs that I now see around the country. One may read in the newspapers what new signs mean--"straight on" or "no right turn", for instance--but it is an ad hoc way of learning about new regulations. It is a fundamental principle of British law that ignorance of the law is no excuse, but that does not help when we are trying to improve road safety and reduce the number of accidents.
I suggest that when a fundamental change is made to road signs or regulations, the Department of Transport might distribute to all holders of driving licences a copy of the new "Highway Code". I do not know how many drivers there are but, if we assumed that there were 20 million and that printing and distribution costs were about £1 a head, the cost would be £20 million. It may be substantial but it would be worth while if it resulted in greater awareness of new road safety regulations.
I have so far confined my comments to accident prevention but I deal now with driver and passenger safety. Although I welcome the reduction in the number of accidents which I have mentioned, users must be able to be confident that, in the unfortunate event of an accident, their vehicle would provide protection. More than 90 per cent. of accidents are due to human error while very few are caused by mechanical failure or the inadequacy of vehicle equipment. However, poor maintenance of vehicles can have tragic consequences. The fatal accident at Sowerby bridge in 1993, caused by a heavy goods vehicle having poorly maintained brakes, led to the death of six people. The promotion of safer vehicles by the Department of Transport through research and constant updating of
Column 883standards is crucial. Research has shown that, although enhanced vehicle construction standards do not prevent many accidents, substantial reductions in accident severity can be achieved by using better-built vehicles. Many manufacturers have recently adopted such enhanced standards.
The introduction of passenger and driver air bags, anti-lock brakes and crash bars, has probably made a major contribution to the reduction in the number of fatalities and serious injuries in the past decade. Many features are now being supplied in standard production models in reaction to heightened awareness of safety. Indeed, safety is often a more prominent feature of advertisements than speed, which also assists in the necessary shift in public opinion.
Following the tragic accident on the M40, when the whole nation felt for the 12 pupils from a midlands school who were killed in a minibus accident, the Government introduced a package of measures to improve the safety of minibuses and coaches. First, my hon. Friend the Minister has taken steps through the European Commission to introduce the compulsory fitting of seat belts in all minibuses and coaches used specifically for the transport of children. I do not share the views of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley), who criticised the Government for not taking adequate action in time. Were she ever to be part of the governing party, she would realise that governing the country is not easy, especially when one has to take steps through the European Commission. I believe that the action taken by my hon. Friend the Minister is utterly reasonable and sustainable.
Secondly, the Government have amended the public service vehicle carrying regulations to ensure that the three-for-two concession, whereby three children were permitted to travel in a double seat, was no longer allowed. I congratulate the Department on that. Such measures can and do work.
In a serious road accident involving a Croydon school minibus in 1993, it was generally recognised that pupils were saved from more serious injury by their seat belts. That has led to the borough of Croydon introducing a £40,000 plan aimed at installing seat belts in all Croydon school coaches.
Standards are rising but there is an ever-increasing hidden danger on our roads--the breed of vehicle now termed "cut and shut". As I am sure the House knows, this is a practice whereby two write-offs are welded together to make one complete but corrupted vehicle. Each year in the United Kingdom up to 150,000 written-off vehicles are rebuilt and returned to the roads. They may have been so badly damaged that they are deemed to be beyond repair, but they can be legally reused. In 1993, the Royal Automobile Club and vehicle inspections across the country uncovered some 800 cars that had been created in that way. That figure, applied to the whole second-hand car market, is very disturbing.
There is nothing wrong with making financial write-offs roadworthy if the cars are repaired well, resulting in a safe and reliable vehicle. However, there are increasing examples of substandard work undertaken by unqualified and uncaring profiteers who produce unsafe and potentially lethal vehicles which they then sell to unsuspecting purchasers. As a result, unsuspecting motorists, many buying their first cars, are placed at risk. Some are lucky enough to discover the defect, but others
Column 884may be seriously injured or even killed when a badly repaired write-off crashes. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can look at that aspect, if not in his winding-up speech, perhaps in the future.
Since 1979, the Government have been at the forefront of road safety campaigning. Many measures, including the introduction of seat belts, standards for child restraints and tougher penalties for drink-drivers, have resulted in a 40 per cent. reduction in total road traffic casualties, a 44 per cent. drop in serious injuries and a massive 66 per cent. fall in the number of deaths caused by drink-driving. However, the Government cannot ensure that people use the roads responsibly. They can only encourage good driving practice and legislate against those who endanger themselves and others through reckless behaviour on the roads.
The drive for improved road safety is and must continue to be a partnership between the Government, the police, local authorities and, above all, those who use the roads. Motorists and pedestrians must bear responsibility for their own safety and they must ensure that their actions do not endanger themselves or others. Public information campaigns and visible roadside technology are both increasing people's perception of the risk of being caught. However, until we see a change in public opinion, as we have seen on the drink-driving issue, there will always be those who believe that being caught and fined is the worst that can happen to them when they show a total disregard for the law. We must strive to make them understand that the result could be much, much worse.
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): I am delighted to have the opportunity to participate in this important debate and I am even more delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) who, in his inimitable fashion, has put his finger on some of the crucial issues relating to road safety. I shall touch on two central topics. One is the effect of road design on safety statistics and the other is daylight saving, which has already been covered by one or two hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South.
As you may know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for some time, there has been quite a campaign to ensure that we change our clocks so that we are on the same time as most of Europe throughout the year. I genuinely believe that it is an idea whose time has come. One need only run through the host of organisations concerned with road safety and many others that back the proposal to understand the massive support generally for such a proposition.
In October this year, an NOP survey showed that three quarters of British people were in favour of the change including, surprisingly, 62 per cent. of Scots. That is an amazing statistic when one considers that traditionally, the three groups in opposition to the proposal have been the Scots, farmers and builders. The Scots seem to be coming round to the idea, possibly because the statistics show that they would benefit proportionately more than the rest of the country, according to the experts, in terms of saving lives and preventing injuries on the roads. Even the National Farmers Union, at least in England and Wales, has dropped its previous opposition to the proposal, no doubt again persuaded by the road traffic figures.
Column 885The honour roll of organisations and individuals supporting the proposal is far too long to go through here. We have heard about the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, about Age Concern, and about the organisation of which I am happy to be a member- -the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, or PACTS. Having considered all the arguments, I introduced a ten-minute Bill, the Summer Time (Amendment) Bill, on the subject some months ago. When I read the Order Paper, I was horrified to find that my ten-minute Bill was on the same day as Scottish questions. Both sides of the House were awash, if I may use that expression, with Scottish Members. Even so, the Bill was carried comfortably by 103 votes to 86. I believe that on a more typical day on a free vote there would be a more significant majority in favour of the proposal. I think that there would be support from all parties and, indeed, from all the countries making up the European Union.
It is perhaps a matter for regret that the fairly simple proposal that I am recommending was not featured in the Gracious Speech. I hope that one of the lucky private Members in the ballot yesterday will take it up. If that happens, I hope that the proposal will ultimately acquire Government support, and it will be seen through. Apart from road safety, the proposal has a variety of arguments and factors in its favour. It is clear that there would be an enormous benefit to the British tourist industry. I do not apologise for mentioning that during a road safety debate, representing as I do one of the country's premier resort towns. It is estimated by the British Tourist Authority and the English tourist board that an extra £1 billion-worth of revenue would be attracted to tourism by the change that I am advocating.
It is reckoned that £250 million would be saved on electricity bills alone by introducing the change. We often lose sight of doing business with Europe, but there is the irritating difference in time of one hour, or even two hours in some instances, when we travel to the European mainland on business or when we do business on the telephone or by means of fax or telex.
Also to be considered is security in a broad context--I shall deal with roads specifically later in my speech. I have in mind the security of women of any age walking alone after dark, young children going out after dark and the elderly. It is a regrettable fact of modern life that in constituencies such as mine, elderly people often have a sort of self- imposed curfew when it becomes dark. They are unwilling to go out or to answer their door after dark. The change would give an enhanced feeling of security as well as actual security to those groups in our society.
Overwhelmingly, the most important single reason at the top of the list for double summer time, or central European time, as it is sometimes called, is road accidents. We have heard about that aspect already. It is estimated that such a change would mean 140 fewer deaths on our roads and 520 fewer serious injuries. That would result in an annual saving, apart from all the grief and unhappiness caused by such accidents, of over £200 million, including national health service costs.
Column 886In Scotland, double summer time would result in an overall reduction of about 60 deaths and serious injuries each year. As I have said, that would be a greater reduction proportionately than that for England and Wales.
If right hon. and hon. Members have not had the opportunity of reading Mayer Hillman's pamphlet entitled "Time for Change", I commend it to them. It is published by the Policy Studies Institute. It sets out with relentless logic and in considerable detail the arguments for the change.
There is still a sort of instinctive reaction against the change that I am advocating because of worries about dark early mornings and children going to school, for example. A mythology seems to have built up since the days of the Wilson Government, which some hon. Members may just remember, when the experiment was tried unsuccessfully.
The expert evidence is clear. It shows that although there might be a modest increase in the number of accidents first thing in the morning, there would an enormous net saving because of fewer accidents in the evenings. The reason for that seems to be principally that drivers' concentration is less acute when they are driving home in the evening than it is first thing in the morning.
Mr. Deva: Is my hon. Friend aware that medical evidence from the Royal College of Surgeons and from opticians shows that, as twilight falls, it is much more difficult for the eyes to adjust to deepening gloom rather than the other way round when the day becomes lighter? It is part of the aging process that people find it more difficult to see properly as it becomes darker.
Mr. Waterson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his obviously expert knowledge of the aging process. I was not aware of that research and I am grateful to him for adding yet another brick to the wall of the inevitability of that provision eventually becoming part of British law.
The PSI report makes it clear that if clocks are put forward one hour, more journeys home in the evening could be made in daylight. As more of our population are fortunately employed in white-collar occupations and start work a little later in the mornings, problems with the darker earlier hours are becoming fewer. The evidence is clear and detailed. The attention paid by all road users, not only drivers but children going home from school and other pedestrians making their way home, deteriorates as the day wears on.
I commend the PSI report to the House. It states:
"In the four winter months alone from November to February inclusive, and taking into account road accidents on all seven days of the week, there are over 50 per cent. more fatal and serious injuries among adults in the peak hours from 4 pm to 7 pm as from 7 am to 10 am, and nearly three times as many among children in the peak hours from 3 pm to 6 pm as from 7 am to 10 am."
As we know, there have been many legislative changes in recent years in respect of the behaviour of all types of road users. As has already been said, in 1992 the then Transport and Road Research Laboratory analysed the likely effects of the introduction of double summer time and I have quoted the figures of 140 fatalities, 520 serious injuries and 1,300 lesser injuries that could be avoided. My second point relates to the effect of design on road safety. We have heard much about design. One issue when designing roads is that of speed cameras. The Road Traffic Act 1991 introduced new dangerous driving
Column 887offences and it made the use of cameras for speeding and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) very sensibly pointed out, for traffic light jumping, very much easier. The latest figures show that there has been a 37 per cent. reduction in deaths and serious injuries as a result of the use of cameras. That is very heartening.
There are also much broader questions about the design of roads. In my intervention during the Minister's excellent speech, I pointed out that motorways are, on the whole, safer to drive on than dual carriageways which, in turn, are safer to drive on than single carriageways. The evidence for that is clear.
I want to link that argument with a current issue that affects my constituents most significantly. That is the proposal for the new A27 road between Lewes and Polegate. There are many arguments in favour of that scheme, and I shall adumbrate them again shortly with my hon. Friend the Minister for Railways and Roads. For example, there are environmental reasons. One of the issues that the anti-roads lobby seems incapable of grasping is that, on occasions, road schemes actually assist the environment.
There are many economic arguments for the road scheme in my constituency of Eastbourne and in other parts of east Sussex. There are tourism implications in terms of access to the town, which is very difficult at the moment, and there is linking with other road schemes, including the A22 new route, work on which started at the beginning of the month. As you follow such matters closely, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will know that the Government have allocated £25 million to that scheme.
Therefore, it is all the more surprising that a group of protesters is opposing that scheme. I suppose that, in the modern age, it is inevitable that any road scheme, no matter how innocuous, attracts protesters like a magnet. That rag-tag group of opponents includes some of those who may fairly be called the great and the good who happen to have their second homes near the route, some people, including some local Liberal Democrats, who happen to have their homes close to the proposed route, and, inevitably, the Friends of the Earth. The road is extremely dangerous at the moment and it can be made significantly safer simply by dint of turning it into a standard dual carriageway.
I shall quote briefly some statistics. The Sussex police have recorded 141 injury accidents, resulting in 267 casualties. There have been seven fatalities, 63 serious injuries and 197 slight injuries on that stretch of road during the five years to December 1993. That equates to 31 personal injury accidents per 100 million vehicle kilometres, which is extremely high compared with other types of roads. It is estimated, in a report to the county council's highways and transportation committee, that that has cost the community more than £10.5 million altogether--a very significant figure indeed.
Traffic flows on the A27 are very heavy, with 22,000 vehicles a day. It is well within the ordinary parameters of what is required in respect of traffic flows for modern dual carriageways. In fact, the report also points out that
"In safety terms, there are significant gains to be made. The accident rate is approximately one third"--
that is, for a dual carriageway--
"of that of a single carriageway."
Column 888I am indebted to Mr. Brian Stoodley, a leading local surgeon at Eastbourne district general hospital, who has taken an interest in the issue. He is one of the excellent medical team in our local hospital who literally must pick up the pieces of lives and of people when they are injured or killed in tragic accidents.
I underline the point that people in the anti-roads lobby and Opposition Members from time to time oppose roads, often without seeing the safety and other implications in certain road schemes. I do not say that every road scheme is needed. Some road schemes can rightly be criticised, but many road schemes--the A27 Lewes to Polegate is a classic example--will not only enhance the environment and the local economy but will be significantly safer than the existing road. If that means that my constituents will remain alive and well rather than be killed or injured, I am very much in favour of the scheme. I support the Government's integrated, widespread approach to all elements that will make road safety such a success story.
Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva (Brentford and Isleworth): I am grateful to be allowed to follow my distinguished colleagues in speaking in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) has just made a very interesting and articulate speech, putting the case for increasing daylight hours. He has pursued the matter with some vigour, and I commend his efforts to the House.
The people of Brentford and Isleworth, Chiswick and Hounslow are very concerned about road safety. My constituency is bordered by Heathrow airport and is blessed with motorways which allow access to the heart of London. As a consequence, my constituents suffer a daily stream of traffic to and from London and the airport.
In recent months, it has become obvious that the traffic in the area will get worse unless we do something to address it. I refer to the proposal by the British Airports Authority to build terminal 5 at Heathrow, which will double the airport's capacity from 48 million to about 80 million passengers a year. My constituents wonder how those people will be transported to and from the airport. If they are to be carried by road, it will have some bearing on my constituents' safety.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London on attempting to make it safer for motorists to use the road system in my area. I congratulate him particularly on installing the traffic lights system at Chiswick roundabout which has enabled the traffic to flow far more easily. In the past I received letters from elderly constituents who said that they were terrified to go near the roundabout before the installation of traffic lights. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his foresight and vigour in implementing that system.
The Government have a superb record on road safety. As we have heard this morning, the number of road fatalities has decreased by 40 per cent. since 1979, serious injuries have decreased by 44 per cent. since 1979, drink- driving related road deaths are down by 66 per cent., and motor cycle fatalities are down by 63 per cent. Those are bald facts which the Labour party must recognise as a substantial achievement by the Government. The Government have taken the bull by the horns and acted to improve road safety.
Column 889The Government have looked at future trends very carefully. It is obvious that the amount of road traffic will increase and in London particularly there must be a balance between road traffic and public transport.
I am concerned--I would like the Minister to take note of this--that my constituents have had to suffer a number of road works on major arterial roads in the area. Many cones have been stuck all over roads, causing motorists to change lanes and creating traffic jams. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) has said, it is not very nice and it is also very irritating and quite dangerous. I ask my hon. Friend: why do cones have to stay in the same place for so long? I recognise that repair and maintenance work must be carried out, but why is it that every time I drive in that area no one is doing very much work, but the cones are still there? I receive letters asking me to explain that, so I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would do something about a matter that causes great concern and irritation to my constituents.
Various new and radical ideas have been suggested by my hon. Friends during the debate. I want to add a radical idea that may prove helpful. I have noted that motorists on motorways, especially in wet or foggy conditions, tend to drive extremely fast. They come close to the car in front and seemingly ignore the fact that stopping distances increase with the speed.
With today's modern technology and with all the radar equipment, is not it conceivable to fit cars with a warning bleep that would be activated if a motorist approached the car in front of him at too high a speed and without allowing a safe stopping distance? That would be an automatic means of telling drivers to slow down and put sufficient space between their cars and those in front. I am sure that the technology to provide such a device exists. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister would encourage research into that. I do not know what the state-of-the-art technology may be, but I am sure that there is a simple solution as it would be based on radar, which we have had since the 1930s.
I hope that the Government will continue to deal with road safety with the vigour and determination they have shown since they took office. I listened carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) and tried to concentrate on her main theme. Unfortunately, I did not find her speech either comprehensive or comprehensible. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will put that right.
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam): I have great pleasure in bringing up the rear from the Back Benches in such an important debate. It is also a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva). He raised a point that I wanted to raise, so I shall simply give him my total support on the problem of what I call motorway madness.
There is an argument for promoting research into developing some sort of radar system to stop cars coming too close or speeding. I dread the experience of a driver of a powerful car roaring up the motorway with lights full on--he would blow his horn if he could--and coming right up behind me, almost trying physically to push me
Column 890aside. That is not safe driving. Likewise, that monster might come right up behind me and then zip to the left and overtake on the inside. That sort of behaviour is pernicious and extremely dangerous. Currently, the only thing that brings such a monster under control is the sight of a police patrol car.
Mr. Miller: The hon. Lady touches on an important matter--drivers' motorway habits. She described someone overtaking her on the inside. That has some bearing on driver education. Why is it that time and again there are lots of cars in the second and third lanes of motorways, but none in the first lane? Perhaps she contributed to the problem by not moving to the nearside lane at the right time.
Lady Olga Maitland: The hon. Gentleman missed the point. One can be driving along in the fast lane legitimately, but if a car rushes up behind at well over 100 mph it can put normal good motorway behaviour out of kilter. No matter how impatient, it is totally unacceptable for any motorist to weave in and out of the traffic as the hon. Gentleman described, although he has a point as motorists must stick to the appropriate lane. None the less, that does not mean that they have to hop around like jack-in-the-boxes because a road monster has leapt up behind them. That is motorway madness and it spins out of control. We must consider more measures to bring it into proportion.
The debate has touched on many topics, including seat belts. While I congratulate the Government on their enormously important campaign to introduce seat belts and the education that went with it, which has resulted in everyone being aware of the fact that they must belt up if they sit in the front seats, regrettably the campaign to encourage people to belt up in the back seats has not taken off. Far too often they are not doing so. I congratulate the royal family, who seem to be meticulous about wearing their seat belts when they sit in the back--especially the Princess of Wales. I want that campaign to go further.
On car design, hon. Members said that improved technology has resulted in cars with more powerful engines. I hope that the Government will join a campaign to encourage the use of small, nippy and effective cars on the basis that small is beautiful. The Minister touched on that, but if we are to go down the sensible route of getting people into sensible cars, we must get away from the idea that it is smart to drive an enormous, high- performance car. I say so with some feeling. I drive a modest car, a Ford Sierra estate with a roof rack, which is in the motherly rather than the racing mode. Other Conservative Members looked somewhat askance when my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) outlined his radical ideas for traffic lights at night. Although it caused some amusement, radical ideas often get the brush-off in the first instance and I urge him to continue trying to persuade the Government to legislate for that if the idea has some merit and to back it up with some factual information. It
Column 891is said that we must think the unthinkable, or we shall never achieve. It is too difficult for me to say whether I would support his ideas, but they should be fully explored.
Lady Olga Maitland: Speed cameras have undoubtedly played a useful role on the roads and their use should be increased. Unfortunately, drivers are beginning to get the idea that the cameras are not a deterrent as they will not catch up with them. We must therefore ensure that they are backed by some sort of power or sanction. It is not enough merely to monitor motorists. We must catch up with the offenders.
The topic of red routes has not been raised today, but there is great feeling about it in my constituency, particularly in Cheam village. If my hon. Friend the Minister opens his map of London he will see that a red route passes through Cheam village. It is a quiet village with broad streets that could easily take almost six cars abreast. As a result of the proposal to introduce a red route, parking has been driven off the streets and local shopkeepers will lose trade.
Cheam is already suffering from village starvation of services. If the retailers cannot provide their services, they will go out of business, which in turn will affect the elderly, the disabled and quick shoppers because they cannot avail themselves of the services of local shopkeepers. Does the red route have to go through the quiet, safe little village of Cheam, which is way outside the intensely urban area of London? I beg my hon. Friend to reflect on the question. He has doubtless already received representations from my constituents, but I should like to emphasise that the feeling in my constituency is strong and hostile.
On a more positive note, I congratulate the Government on their tremendous success in reducing the level of accidents in this country. It is yet another tribute to our efforts to bring rationality to the roads and to save lives, and the success should be shouted from the roof tops. We should be proud of it as it is a credit to us. I was sorry that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) spoke grudgingly about an achievement that has changed the map of Britain in terms of road safety.