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Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, a recent letter in The Times criticising the Deputy Prime Minister for being anti-motorist went on to say that most motorists are law-abiding citizens. The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, whose opening speech was very interesting, has put that story to bed.

Perhaps I may give an example. Recently, I drove from Oxford to Cambridge down the motorway and along the M25 doing 70 miles per hour all the way. I did not overtake a single vehicle; everybody overtook me! As we have said on many occasions, the limit set by law is too high. I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on the roadspeed management study now taking place.

Some of your Lordships may have seen an article in the Guardian in August about a survey by Carlton Television. It showed that 80 per cent of viewers favoured 20 miles per hour limits on residential roads in London. Cyclists and pedestrians fear cars on the streets. Therefore, I hope that the study will be completed soon and that the Government will take account of the massive majority in favour of lowering the speed limit.

I know that motorists do not like going slowly. As we all know, they feel safe inside their cars. I get the impression that the police do not always like enforcing speed limits. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, in his most interesting maiden speech--the first of many, I am sure--mentioned that he is a member of the Oxfordshire Police Committee. I recently noted in the Oxford Times that the police were saying, “It's no good lowering the speed limits in two villages because we can't enforce them". I hope that at some stage my noble friend will tell the House why, because I believe that that is wrong.

Let us have education in this regard and a budget for it that matches the public relations of those who sell cars and drive them. But let us look at what was suggested in last week's Sunday papers: speed-limiters in cars set so that the limit cannot be exceeded on any particular road.

7.58 p.m.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Tenby for introducing this important subject. Since the introduction of the motor car on our roads--and a few noble Lords may recall that a man with a flag proceeded the vehicle--there have been dramatic changes, which have been highlighted in the debate tonight. In the 1940s and 1950s 30 miles an hour was the norm. Today, as we

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heard from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, 70 and 80 miles an hour seems to be the norm. The number of vehicles has increased by 500 per cent in the past 40 years. There are now--I do not believe that this statistic has been quoted--over 23 million cars on our roads. The roads are overcrowded, and in some areas, particularly in the south-east where I live, they are becoming gridlocked.

Many roads, particularly C-class roads, are no straighter now than they were 40 years ago, making lines of visibility much shorter. Technology in the construction of all types of vehicle has advanced dramatically over recent years. There are far more heavy vehicles with articulated trailers, 4 x 4 vehicles--many of which will never see the countryside and are bought purely for show--and, of course, the Transit vans which breathe down one's neck, bearing only one letter or parcel.

The performance of those vehicles is often twice the legal speed limit. Turbo, catalytic converter, ABS and GTi are familiar household terms of which we would not have heard some 40 or 50 years ago. The relationship between speed and accidents is straightforward: the faster the speed, the greater the number of accidents and the more serious the level of injury on impact. Some drivers even appear to adopt the attitude that no one else should be on the road and that speed limits are there to be ignored. People appear to drive fast because of stress and--I hardly dare mention it--because it is sexier, or to save time or because it gives them a sense of power. I find it quite strange that because they have a stereo playing loudly they must go faster and faster.

Last year, tragically, 3,421 people were killed on the roads. Over 40,000 people were severely injured and 250,000 others were injured.

What is to be done? Many suggestions are being made and I shall not waste your Lordships' time. However, currently there is a campaign called “Kill your Speed", which was, I believe, initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. Comparisons are often made between that campaign and that aimed at reducing the number of accidents caused by drink-driving.

Drivers do not look upon speeding as a criminal activity, all too often believing that they are driving at the speed appropriate to the circumstances of their journey, such as 50 miles per hour through a town at night--which is far too fast. They simply do not consider that they are endangering the safety of either themselves or others, nor the consequences to the police, the medics and all the people concerned with accidents.

Time is running out, but in concluding, I ask the Minister to consider introducing the following: a reduction and simplification of the speed restriction and road sign system to make them more effective than at present; that all drivers should be required to carry their driving licences at all times; and the possibility of using the driving licence to impose on-the-spot fines. Drivers found to be in breach of a driving ban should

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receive a harsh penalty and not be let off lightly. I suggest penalties such as confiscation of their vehicles and even a jail sentence. Consideration could be given to the recovery of medical and police expenses where a driver is found responsible for an accident causing injury and damage.

I apologise for being a second over time, but until we achieve discipline and a calm flow of traffic on our roads at all times, the carnage will continue. We need a mix of self-enforcing measures to be introduced now. The technology is there, and the question is how, and what will be the cost.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, perhaps I may courteously remind all noble Lords that we need some discipline on time. When the indicator shows “00:03", it means that Members have exceeded their time limit.

8.4 p.m.

Viscount Simon: My Lords, a couple of weeks ago I was on traffic patrol with the police, quite late at night, when a young man was stopped for driving at between 95 and 100 mph. That speed was excessive, not only because the driver had passed his driving test only a month or so earlier, but also because it was raining, which made the speed both excessive and inappropriate. Noble Lords might be disturbed to learn that this particular driver's excuse for his speed was that his windscreen wipers did not work.

It is the terms “excessive" and “inappropriate" speed that are generally misunderstood. “Excessive speed" is that which exceeds the speed limit while “inappropriate speed" is a speed which is inappropriate for the conditions. For example, a speed of 1mph in a 70 mph limited area will be inappropriate when there is zero visibility. An AA report about to be published states:

    “the wrong speed on the wrong road kills around 1000 people a year. We need to manage speed better. The key lies in defining the right speed limit for each stretch of road".

All speed limits should be reviewed. Getting the right speed on the right road is one of the most pressing road safety issues. Speed limits should be reconciled to the character of the road and, where the character of the road and the limits are at odds, there must be an explanation; for example, deceptive bends. The link between the 30 mph limit and street lighting should also end as it is not generally understood. The derestricted speed sign should be replaced with the speed limit in force. Authorities must implement speed limits which respect the integrity required of a national system. If speed limits are set too low and ignore police objections, motorists' acceptance will be undermined. It has been shown on the M.25 that variable speed limits are effective in reducing accidents and improving traffic flow. Their use should, where possible, be extended.

A few years ago a noble Lord remarked to me that modern cars were perfectly safe proceeding at 90 mph. My reply was, “Is the driver safe to proceed at that

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speed?". Enforcement of speed limits will greatly assist road safety and will reduce the cost to society due to deaths and injuries of motorists and others.

The competitive nature and thoughtless actions of some motorists leading to accidents involving inappropriate speed must be addressed. Making motorists understand the potential implications of inappropriate speeding, which must be a prime objective, will be an uphill task, but it is one which has to be won. Education must be better than using satellite technology passively to enforce speed limits, thereby adversely reducing driving involvement, but that new method of enforcing speed limits is being tested and could become a reality if motorists do not become more responsible for their actions on the roads.

8.6 p.m.

Lord Gladwyn: My Lords, the Government's review of speed policy, admirably conducted by the Minister, has itself already raised public awareness of this subject quite dramatically. The Kill Your Speed television campaign has also played its part, although it has been swamped by the mass of TV ads and programmes in which speed is adulated. The only law which is never broken on even the most violent films is the ritual fixing of the seat belt, a ridiculous acknowledgement to safety.

In a classic understatement, the White Paper vouchsafes that

    “there is some evidence that driving fast is seen as “macho" and driving slowly as “old fogey" or “feminine"",

and it is surely this, as much as saving time, that forces the foot hard down on the pedal. Indeed, I myself was once a macho driver, pushing my Jag out between the cats eyes of the three-lane highway and daring the oncoming lights, but now I am a strict limitationist, provoking the fury of the flow.

I should like to speak for the pedestrians, bearing in mind that many pedestrians are also motorists whose attitude, indeed whose personality, can change once they are behind the wheel. For pedestrians, the main issue is what happens within the present 30 mile per hour speed limits. There is a powerful case for a reduction in urban speeds. That relates not only to protection from danger, but just as much to the need to alleviate the mental stress and the air and noise pollution of urban living.

Public opinion is coming round. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned the Carlton TV poll, but the Lex report of 1996 showed only 25 per cent support for lower limits. However, the case is articulated by the Slower Speeds Initiative, and in the country lanes and villages the message has been more clearly heard.

The new 20 mph zones, with their proven reduction of pedestrian casualties by 60 per cent, are greatly to be welcomed. Now that the local authorities are able to authorise them, we can expect many more. But they will still be confined to certain suitable residential areas with special traffic calming measures, and the

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Government are wary about more general sign-only 20 mph zones, doubting whether they can be enforced, even with those awful repeater signs.

I should like to see local authorities promoting wider experimentation of 20 mph limits, perhaps embracing a whole city except for the main roads. The other method of speed reduction is by rigid enforcement of the existing limit; a zero-tolerance imposed by means of automated equipment, just as strict as the Government Whips' clock up there. Most motorists accept that that would be impartial and, despite its Orwellian implications, I dare say its time will come.

I brake violently in order to conclude my speech on time.

8.10 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, one of the worst features of being the ninth speaker out of 10 is that everything has been said. However, I hope that in this case the repetition may seek to emphasise some of the points I want to make.

Whatever reservations there may be about some of the statements made in this debate, there can be no doubt that the biggest single cause of accidents, including death and serious injury, is speeding. The main issue is how drivers can be prevented from exceeding the speed limit. There are certainly three methods: first, what be might be called the “physical" way, such as speed cameras and road humps; secondly, the greater use of the police; and, thirdly, the use of deterrents.

The most depressing aspect of speed control is that all of those methods, and others, are failing. Last year 3,241 people were killed on the roads--I repeat, killed on the roads--with most of the deaths caused by speeding. I want to stress my view--unpopular, it seems, in this debate--that the single most effective deterrent is heavy penalties. Those penalties would increase with repeated offences. I take a hard-line view, advocating, for example, heavy fines and, with repeated offences, loss of licence for a limited period with, ultimately, permanent loss.

The reality that present measures are failing is recognised to some extent in the recent report issued by PACTS, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, which states:

    “The police, Crown Prosecution Service and courts do not appear to be taking full advantage of the powers available to them".

It is clear that that is true. I believe that all of us who have an interest in this matter think that that is true, and I assume that the Government can do something about that most serious allegation. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister will comment.

I, too, applaud the Government's decision last year to establish the speed review. I understand that the report of that review is due to be published very shortly. I hope that it will be a major step forward. I remind your Lordships that it is 10 years since the Government's last road traffic law review and, in that time, some fundamental changes have occurred. Much

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evidence is available for the review. My noble friend the Minister has shown a deep personal interest in road safety. Therefore, we hope that long overdue changes will result from the review.

Underlying all of the suggestions and proposals for improving road safety, whether related to speed or other factors, is the need for greater resources: more and better policing, increased use of technology and more publicity on the consequences of road traffic offences. There is much to be done. Those and other matters will cost money. If the Government do not make this provision, we shall know, regrettably, that they are not really concerned about improving the present situation.

8.13 p.m.

The Earl of Rosslyn: My Lords, I have been a police officer for 19 years, serving first with the Metropolitan Police and now as a superintendent in the Thames Valley. Nowhere in policing, I believe, are contradictory attitudes to law enforcement so evident as in the subject raised this evening by my noble friend Lord Tenby. Although the level of support in public attitude surveys for speed reduction is high, officers enforcing speed restrictions have to absorb some rather less supportive messages from drivers, often delivered in terms too plain to be repeated in your Lordships' House. Many of those most insistent in their demands for action will themselves emerge as offenders when speed surveys or enforcement is undertaken.

However, those ambivalent attitudes do nothing to undermine the evidence of a number of studies that just a one kilometre per hour reduction in speed can produce up to a 3 per cent reduction in the number of personal injury collisions; nor do they alter the fact that such speed-related collisions will involve more vehicles, be more severe, and will result in a higher proportion of passenger injuries.

Raising public awareness of those dangers may require discrete though complementary strategies since some drivers may simply be unaware of the risks while others know the risks but choose to ignore them. But those strategies will need to balance effectiveness with acceptability if they are to succeed.

Although the police service may stereotypically be associated with enforcement alone, much work is, in fact, undertaken by officers to influence attitudes and change behaviour. In our force, road safety continues to be an important part of our schools programme, and police officers support a number of driver skills courses for young people, such as the Driving with Attitude scheme in Reading and the Community Drive project in Slough. The latter includes courses for students attending Thames Valley University, responding to concern that, for some, school-based programmes are not as effective as those targeted at young people who have recently started to drive.

The force is also applying restorative justice principles when dealing with speed-related driving offences, bringing offender and others affected

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together to discuss how the offence occurred and how the harm caused can be repaired. We are working also with local authorities in schemes where speeding drivers are given the opportunity to attend road safety presentations as an alternative to prosecution.

In all those ways the police service can contribute to addressing the underlying causes of excessive speeding, rather than treating the symptoms alone.

8.16 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, we should all be grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for initiating this debate, which has demonstrated the expertise on this subject of many Members in the House and particularly of the noble Viscount. It has given us two splendid maiden speeches. I am sure that the debate will make interesting and, for people like myself, very useful reading.

I rise to make only two points. First, I want very much to endorse what has been said on the subject of the psychologically intimidating effect of ever-increasing amounts of traffic and ever-increasing traffic speeds, particularly on minor rural roads and in residential areas in towns and villages. Three thousands deaths on the road are a tragedy, but accident rates are in fact still falling.

On the other hand, a whole way of life is being destroyed by the pressure of traffic, and of speeding traffic in those areas. Traffic on minor rural roads is rising faster than elsewhere in the network as larger roads become clogged. Meanwhile, there is a vicious circle of more people taking to their cars in the countryside because of the fear of increased traffic. I very much hope that in reply the noble Lord will be able to tell us that the Government fully support the case for reducing traffic speeds on rural roads, and that they will provide the funding to enable local authorities to build on the experiments in area-wide traffic calming already carried out by some in partnership with the Countryside Agency and its predecessor bodies. I should also like to hear from the noble Lord that the Government will give time and support to the Country Lanes and Villages Bill.

Secondly, I should like to draw attention to the fact that we have in this country no culture--to use a popular word--of obeying the speed limit. To take but two examples, the Dutch and the French do not drive more slowly than do the British on motorways, but unlike us, they slow down in villages and towns. Not only is that a safer and more considerate practice, it is also much cheaper. One has only to think of the money that local authorities and, ultimately, the Treasury could save if people generally obeyed a 48 mile per hour limit on a minor rural road and a 20 mile per hour limit in a residential street. That is what they do in Graz in Austria, for example, where there is an obeyed 20 mile per hour limit in residential zones in the city. There are no road humps, no ugly and intrusive signs, and less engineering. That all equals less expenditure of cash--a prize which is available to us if we can persuade people to drive at lower speeds.

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Therefore, I support everything that has been said and I look forward to hearing the Minister's response to the comments on the subject of the education of drivers. I do not mean education only at the moment that people learn how to drive; I believe that the campaign has to be carried into the schools as well as on to our television screens and radios.

We have to punish offenders. I believe in fining at the roadside. We also need to improve the culture and to persuade people not to drive too fast.

8.20 p.m.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I have only three minutes, so I shall have to dispense with the usual pleasantries other than to add my congratulations to the excellent contributions of both our maiden speakers.

In listening to the speeches, it is clear that your Lordships well understand the problems. I believe that the root cause, so ably articulated by the noble Viscount and other noble Lords, is that many drivers have an inflated opinion of their driving capabilities and their vehicles. Furthermore, most of us drive fairly close to the speed limits and thus any reduction in mean speeds would be accompanied by the welcome reduction in accidents desired by many noble Lords. In short, for many of us our standard of driving leaves room for improvement.

However, I do not believe in the concept of zero tolerance, and I am uncomfortable with some of the draconian solutions suggested tonight. First, they would alienate the police from the people whom they aim to serve--a point mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn. Secondly, they would remove the discretion from the police to target their efforts. Finally, there are technical problems mentioned by other noble Lords. I believe that education, encouragement and enforcement combined would be more effective.

I am not sure that I entirely agree with the noble Viscount on his comments about HGVs. I believe that the problem lies in that there is only one HGV limit for a single carriageway road--40 miles per hour. Of course, there are many types of single carriageway roads, some of which are good and some of which are bad.

Studies clearly show that the worst offenders are young drivers who drive high mileages, often in company cars. When caught, some offenders take the message and do not offend for some time, often years. Others re-offend in as little as six months. Clearly, they have a problem.

Many noble Lords have talked about education, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Arlington. It seems bizarre that we test our vehicles religiously every year, but a driver is tested only once at the tender age of 17 or 18, and only to the standard of a novice. I believe that that problem was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood.

The problem of speeding is one of poor driving standards, but that can be partially rectified by further training and education to reach an advanced driving standard or at least an improved standard. Drivers

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who drive to advanced standards, among other things, recognise the need for and respect speed limits to a much greater extent. If they travel a little faster than they should, they are less likely to have an accident.

To suggest that additional training should be compulsory for all would be a rather short political suicide note. However, perhaps we could consider additional training for those who have been convicted of careless driving or speeding on more than one occasion. I wonder what the Minister's view is on compulsory additional training for those who have demonstrated that they need it. It is not just the Government who have a role to play. Perhaps the insurance industry could be more pro-active in insisting on higher standards.

Drinking and driving is now socially completely unacceptable. We need the same philosophy to apply to excessive speeding, and I hope that the Minister can achieve that.

8.23 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for raising this debate and noble Lords who have taken part, particularly the two maiden speakers. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Arlington, on her speech, which clearly identified many of the problems, particularly in relation to young drivers. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, on his maiden speech in this House. He is an expert on the topic of transport. It occurred to me that if he were a member of the police authority in Oxfordshire and had only one murder and 63 deaths on the road, it was about time the Oxfordshire police authority transferred Inspector Morse to traffic duties!

The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, referred to the relatively substantial improvement in road safety in this country. We have to bear that in mind. Nevertheless, the absolute figures are still terrifying: 1,000 people killed by accidents involving speed every year. There is overwhelming evidence that excessive and inappropriate speed is the most common contributory factor in the cause of road accidents. The facts are that driving in excess of the speed limit is endemic in this country for the reasons that everybody has indicated.

Research confirms what the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, indicated, that a one mile per hour reduction in average speed would mean a reduction of between three and five per cent in the number of accidents, and those accidents would be less severe. Those figures are part of what lies behind our launch of the speed review.

As Minister responsible for road safety, my postbag is full of two sorts of letter on this subject. Some are from those who believe that they should be able to drive as fast as possible; that the Government are “nannyish" and restrictive in trying to impose speed limits; and that cameras and the police are trying to catch them out. A rather larger package comprises devastating letters from those whose relatives have been killed or seriously injured in road accidents which often involve speed.

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I know where the balance of the argument lies. Speeding is a criminal offence. People caught speeding must recognise that they are likely to be fined. In more serious cases they may lose their licences, and in the most serious of cases they can be imprisoned. Yet, most people break the law by speeding. There is a serious cultural problem. Many simply refuse to believe that breaking the speed limit is unsafe, or do not consider it a serious offence. Placed on a scale of seriousness, in the mind of the public speeding rates somewhere alongside not having a television licence rather than where it should be placed: along with drink-driving and slightly short of manslaughter.

The noble Baroness, Lady Arlington, suggested that the main problem rests with relatively young drivers--those under the age of 25. That is true, but a wider range of people speed and cause accidents, right across the driving population. As noble Lords have indicated, we launched an extensive review of speed policy, relating to safety, mobility, the economy and the environment. I expect to report on that shortly, and it will be taken into account in our overall road safety policy that we hope to issue shortly.

In the context of safety, we shall look particularly at the problems on our rural roads. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, is quite right that that is where there is a serious and growing problem. We shall also look at urban residential areas where the largest number of accidents occur.

This debate is not entirely about limits. It is one thing to change limits, but quite another to get people to comply with those limits. Many people will not accept that the limits are appropriate if it seems to them that they could go faster on a road. It is partly an issue of road engineering and partly an issue of culture.

Policy initiatives need to be brought closer to people's preoccupations when behind the driving wheel: that speed is an issue and that the way in which they drive can cause serious accidents on all sorts of roads, whatever the speed limit.

The noble Viscounts, Lord Allenby and Lord Tenby, and other noble Lords referred to different statutory speed limits. It is important that we give greater flexibility to local authorities; for example, to introduce new 20 miles per hour zones and new home zones. Speed limits also have to be understandable and enforced.

On the issue of enforcement and on the slightly misleading reporting that we have had on the issue of zero tolerance, the police are not seeking to prosecute drivers who marginally exceed speed limits. They want to convey the message that speeding is inappropriate and that it is not acceptable, for example, to drive at 40 miles per hour in a 30 miles per hour zone. Also, the severity of an accident is greatly increased by the degree to which the speed limit is exceeded.

My noble friend Lord Dormand and the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, called for harsher and more substantial penalties. The review will be looking at that area, and at compulsory retraining, as suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee; at compulsory driver

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improvement schemes and, for the more serious cases--including the more serious speeding offences--at compulsory retesting. It is important that that is seen not only as a penalty, but also, as the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, indicated, in the case of first offences as a salutary, effective alternative to court proceedings.

The noble Baroness, Lady Arlington, referred particularly to new and young drivers. That is an area in which the appropriate controls and penalties, and the post-driving facilities--including the pass-plus system which has a low take-up rate at the moment and needs to be improved--are being considered by the Select Committee of another place at this very moment. We look forward to its report.

My noble friends Lord Berkeley and Lord Simon suggested that the matter should be entirely taken out of motorists' hands by the introduction of mandatory technical speed-limiters in vehicles. That is a possibility in the long run. The technology is developing. Indeed, a number of manufacturers are seriously considering at least optional speed-limiters being introduced in a range of cars. In a number of years, that may be more widespread.

I have driven a speed-limited car with the speed limits enforced through the satellite system. Like other noble Lords, I am a slightly impetuous driver, but it did not take more than a few seconds for me to adapt to that system. I feel that the immediate opposition to it would be largely resolved if more drivers were to use it. However, the question of whether or not that should be mandatory will probably be answered further down the line as the technology develops.

The noble Viscount raised the question of enforcement cameras and the resources and facilities for them. They have proved an important tool for the police in areas where they have been situated. They have reduced average speeds by around four miles per hour but, more importantly, they have reduced accidents at those sites by around 30 per cent. That is an effective accident prevention measure. I know that many motorists resent them. But the results are clear. It is vital that we use them appropriately and to their full in order to save lives.

I was able to indicate a few months ago that we, along with other government departments, were engaged in looking at a new method of funding enforcement cameras. I am happy to tell your Lordships that we are making considerable progress in that area. Indeed, we have just appointed a consultant to oversee the pilot stage of introducing a programme whereby some of the fines arising from camera enforcement will be recycled to the administration of the police and others in the enforcement process. We hope to roll out the scheme in a number of pilot areas in the early part of the new year.

One other issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, which is more of a cultural issue, was that of advertising. An important step was reported this week which led to the withdrawal of the Peugeot 206 GTi advertisement, when the Advertising Standards Agency upheld complaints that Peugeot's advertising was encouraging excessive speeds. I hope that more

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people concerned about road safety will follow that example and complain about what is quite frequently poor advertising.

It is important that enforcement is effective and understood; that speed limits are more accepted; and that we have the tools to do the job in the form of cameras and better traffic engineering. But it is also important that we engage in education in the widest sense--through our schools; through the driving instruction system; and, as the noble Earl indicated, through education which the police undertake effectively. Much still has to be done to crack this particularly difficult nut. As the noble Viscount said at the beginning, convincing people that drinking and driving should not occur in a civilised society has worked. In one sense it has taken 30 years to improve that position. Let us hope that convincing us all of the dangers of speed does not take as long.

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