|Railways and Transport Safety Bill
Miss McIntosh: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He has been very helpful, but can he explain why his Department has not come forward with follow-ups to its paper of 2000?
Mr. Jamieson: I was just coming to that. Members will be interested to know that we are working on the development of a framework to assess what speeds are appropriate together with what speeds are actually
Column Number: 604being driven on rural roads. We expect the first results of that work to be available some time in the middle of this year. That work will feed into our plans to revise the guidance on setting local speed limits more appropriately. We also plan to publish advice on village entry signing later in 2003 to assist local authorities in introducing more 30 mph speed limits in rural villages.
The problem of inappropriate speed in rural areas is a real concern. Vehicle spends that are below the speed limit but are considered too dangerous for a particular road cannot be tackled by the use of more conventional and highly successful enforcement cameras. However, we have finished trials on devices that we believe will help enormously in that area. Trials of vehicle-activated signs as a measure to curb inappropriate speeds, especially in rural areas, by warning drivers of potential hazards ahead or reminding them of the speed limit in force, were very successful.
The Committee will be pleased to know that the revised Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 contain much more flexibility in allowing their use. My officials are also currently preparing guidance in the form of a traffic advisory leaflet, which we hope will be available by the end of this month. We are committed on the issues and are taking appropriate action.
The hon. Member for Vale of York talked about cameras and where they are placed. The partnership scheme between local authorities, the judiciary and the police can bring in the use of a camera in certain areas. Where there have been trials, the overall effect of reducing casualties has been dramatic at certain sites that had had a poor road safety record that involved speed. The difficulty is that we do not want to see a plethora of cameras in rural areas where they will not have any effect in reducing casualties, nor do we want a plethora of signs that can be deeply intrusive. We must consider that issue, not least because of the cost of installing such cameras that might have only a minimal effect. We need to focus our energies and finite resources on creating safer environments.
The hon. Lady asked about the number of road accidents in which drugs had been a factor. It is quite difficult to estimate that. Alcohol is far more common and easier to detect, although research has shown that drugs are present in about 18 per cent. of road accident fatalities. However, that does not mean that the drugs are a causal factor in those incidents.
I am sorry that the last time the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington visited Plymouth he had such an unpleasant experience with a speedboat and the chain ferry bearing down on him. I believe that there was an occasion many years ago on which the chain ferry had a slight altercation with a frigate—the chain ferry came off worse, but I am pleased to say that nobody was hurt. I hope that I am not putting the hon. Member for Vale of York off her trip. One or two large, grey ships with guns on them go up and down the Tamar, and if the hon. Lady behaves herself, I might even see if we can get her on one of those as well.
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So that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington can be certain, I tell him we are not doing away with the rural road hierarchy, but putting into place something that is realistic, based on good advice and appropriate to reduce the casualties on those roads.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge made some good points, but I am not quite about speed limits in gradations of fewer than 10 mph—a speed limit of 35.6 mph might not be immediately understood by road users. Nevertheless, local highways authorities may reduce the speed limits where they think that that is appropriate. However, as I said earlier, that must usually be associated with other measures as well, to make it effective.
There is widespread consensus that we need to do something about safety on rural roads. Unfortunately, I am not convinced that the new clause and the way in which it sets out a rather rigid hierarchy of speed limits would give us what I said earlier was our ambition, which is to reduce the number of casualties on the roads. I shall therefore ask that the new clause be resisted.
Miss McIntosh: I am upset and disappointed that the Minister cannot support the new clause and is asking that it be resisted. I have not been put off by my visit to his constituency, and, having driven a frigate—HMS Cumberland in the Gulf—I hope that the Minister can organise it so that I can drive the chain ferry as part of my visit. Perhaps I could drive the ferry and the captain could have the afternoon off, as long as I do not go over a particular speed.
I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for his comments to the hon. Member for Ilford, North. Those of us who represent rural constituencies are deeply vexed about the incidence of traffic and accidents, fatalities and casualties on rural roads. The figures show that North Yorkshire is second only to Lincolnshire in having the highest number of road accidents on rural roads. For the benefit of the Committee—in particular, the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington—the road accident casualties by road-user type horrifyingly show that the number of motorcyclists and passengers killed in 2001 reached 583, which surpasses the figure for child pedestrians although it is not as high as the figure for adult pedestrians.
I should like to put at rest the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge: the amendment was meant as a useful probing exercise. I am grateful for the benefits of a good debate, a good discussion and a thoughtful response from the Under-Secretary.
We have a number of speed cameras in North Yorkshire. I know that it will not go any further than the Committee when I say that not every camera has a film in it, although as we speak, I am sure that most cameras have a film. To provide a deterrent, one would hope that most cameras would record the evidence. I was trying to elicit the point—the Under-Secretary's remarks have been most helpful—that the costs of putting up a road sign are considerably less than the costs of fitting and manning a camera and
Column Number: 606scrutinising film. Even changing a road surface can lead to considerable expense.
I do not know whether the Under-Secretary necessarily responded to my points on enforcement, but he will be bringing forward further provisions in the middle of the year. I entirely support his remarks that the issue does not concern only reducing vehicle speed. We are united in wanting a reduction in the number of casualties on all our roads, and in particular on rural roads.
In response to the adverse reaction from the motorcyclists action group, I support the motor cyclists as road users and hope that they will use the roads as sensibly as they possibly can. Aggressive motor cyclists occasionally use roads in rural areas such as North Yorkshire and Cumbria and impair the enjoyment of other road users such as horse riders, cyclists and pedestrians. I hope that we can all use the roads with equal regard for others. I am grateful for the Under-Secretary's comments and assurances, and we shall watch out for the provisions, which he has assured us will come forward in the middle of this year. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
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