I beg to move,
That this House views with concern the continued high rate of road accidents in spite of existing measures, and therefore calls for more effective action for the public safety.
To begin with, there is a measure of satisfaction in the news in this morning's papers regarding the reduction in the numbers of killed and injured during the first 10 months of 1938 in comparison with the first 10 months of 1937. It is a reduction of about 40 in the number killed and about 2,000,000 in the number injured. But that satisfaction is somewhat qualified by the fact that in October, 1938, there were 22 more road deaths than in October, 1937, and a considerable increase in the number of those injured. I do not think anyone will criticise me for having brought forward for discussion this question of safety on the public roads. It is a matter of very great importance affecting the lives and health of a large number of people, and the magnitude of the problem can be seen when we realise that during the last 10 years 70,000 people have been killed and more than 2,000,000 injured on the roads. To take the figures over a rather longer period, since the War there have been 110,000 deaths and 3,250,000 people injured. These staggering figures are surely the concern of Parliament, and I am gratified that the Minister of Transport is here so that we may hear from him what the Ministry is doing in the matter.
Every 80 minutes of time day and night throughout the year there is one death; every two or three minutes of time day and night throughout the year there is one person injured. Probably one of the most tragic features is the extent to which the suffering and loss fall upon the very young and the very old. The most dangerous years in life so far as road accidents are concerned are the ages five and six, when young boys and girls have enough activity to take them into the danger zone and not enough understanding to look after their own safety. One in every seven of the people who have been killed over a number of years has been either five or six years of age. Nearly a quarter of the injured are boys and girls. On the rare occasions when we have an opportunity of listening in we hear so frequently that we can repeat the words by heart a police message indicating that some old man or old woman has been knocked down and fatally injured in a road accident; and then comes the same formula time and time and time again, "Will anyone who witnessed the accident please communicate with Scotland Yard, Telephone number Whitehall 1212." Under the term "injured" there is included a very high proportion of people who are seriously injured, injured for the rest of their lives.
It all goes to show the very great magnitude of the problem. We live in an age of speed. The great thing for many people to-day is to travel as swiftly as possible. They have very little consideration for anything else. We live in a day of insensate and unconscionable speed, speed for speed's sake, not necessarily because there is any need to get quickly to a destination. Before the War we used to have discussions about "art for art's sake." To-day we travel for travel's sake, go for a run in a car and rush by some of the finest scenery in the country without looking at it at all. I do not propose to make any attack on the motorist as a motorist. I know very well that the majority of drivers are as concerned to reduce the number of accidents as is any other section of the population. I know that die majority of motorists do drive with a full sense of their responsibility and use the utmost care; but I also know, both from evidence in the newspapers and from the observations of my own eyes, that there is a considerable minority who take very little care indeed in driving about the public highways.
Motoring is the most dangerous form of travel to-day. I believe it is more dangerous than air travel, I know it is more dangerous than steamship travel and it is undoubtedly far more dangerous than railway travel. I thought that that was a universally accepted point of view until I was supplied, as I suppose other Members of this House have been supplied, with the Monthly Bulletin on road information published by the British Road Federation. In their front page article they endeavour to prove that road transport is far safer than rail transport. They use an argument that is specious and misleading and is based on a mathematical fallacy. Their method of arriving at their
conclusions is to compare the number of railway engines with the number of cars on the road and to divide each of them into the respective deaths caused by them, and so they come to a conclusion which is completely incorrect. Having worked out that sum they say:
Can we assume from this that the railway engine is 8.7 times more dangerous than the motor vehicle?
I can supply the answer very quickly: it is, "No." They then go on to a second mathematical calculation and work out the number of train-miles and the number of car-miles and relate the appropriate number of deaths caused by each, and again they get a wrong result. The only test for safety on the roads, as against the number on the railways, is not the number of engines as against the number of cars, is not the number of miles run in each case; it is the number of passenger-miles, the number of miles multiplied by the number of passengers conveyed. If that test is applied it will be seen that the railway is by far the safest method of transport in this country today. Every day from one of our London termini a train goes to Edinburgh, 400 miles, and another train comes in the reverse direction. Many trains do that daily and there are 400 or 500 passengers on each train. In the course of a week that one journey out and home will produce 2,250,000 passenger-miles, and week by week and month by month and year by year these trains run with no loss of life and no injury to passengers. Where can you find road transport that is at all comparable with safety of that kind? In my judgment the chief cause of the large figures of deaths and injuries—I might almost say the only cause, but that probably would be extravagant—is excessive speed. I know there are people who say that if you get the right surface on the road so that brakes act effectively, if you sheer off the blind corners and if you have a good system of lighting, the accident figures will decrease. Frankly, I do not believe it. The better the surface the higher the speed, the straighter the road the higher the speed, the better the lighting the higher the speed, and with the increase in speed there is less control over the rushing vehicle and much more likelihood of an accident.
The figures of the Ministry of Transport are entirely on my side in this contention. They show that 60.5 per cent. of the accidents occur on straight roads or open road bends, only 4·2 per cent. occur on blind bends and 3·3 per cent. on steep hills and supposed danger spots. The accidents occur on the straight roads. Then 75·5 per cent. occur on roads more than 20 feet in breadth. In only 14 out of 6,942 accidents was the road excessively cambered; 81.6 per cent. of the accidents occurred in clear weather when motoring conditions were good and speed was, therefore, possible; only 3·3 per cent were in fog, only 4·09 per cent. were in snow or sleet. Then 57·7 occurred in daylight. Out of 1,254 accidents in built-up areas during darkness 904 were in areas where the lighting was good, and only 244 occurred where the lighting was reported to be poor. Moreover, 3,736 accidents out of 6,314 occurred in conditions of very light traffic. Out of 2,391 accidents in which a car and pedestrian came into collision 1,295 were in very light traffic, 979 were in moderate traffic, and only 95, a very small proportion, were in dense traffic. All these facts go to prove that where there is a facility for increased speed and speed is increased, however good the lighting, however good the surface the accidents occur, people are killed and the hospitals receive the products. I plead with the Minister for the institution of a 25 miles per hour speed limit in built-up areas. The majority of accidents, especially the accidents to pedestrians, occur in built-up areas where at present there is a 30 miles speed limit.
Does the hon. Member think it will make any difference whether he is knocked down by a motor car or lorry travelling at 25 or 35 miles an hour? He will be dead in either case.
But there is less likelihood of being knocked down at all by a vehicle travelling at 25 miles an hour. The inquiries which the Ministry of Transport have carried on entirely support this contention of mine. At Worthing in three months before the 30 miles limit was imposed there were 13 accidents in 1934. The next year, after the speed limit was imposed, there were four accidents during the corresponding period. In Liverpool the figures were reduced from 137 to 106, in Birmingham from 152 to 137, in Portsmouth from 55 to 38. There are numbers of other cases I could quote. Where the contrary has been found, where a road had been restricted and the restriction had been lifted, it was accompanied by an increase in the accidents. In Swindon in eight months there were 18 accidents when the road was restricted, and after the restriction was removed the number grew to 29. In Leeds the increase was from 15 to 39 and in Gillingham from 17 to 28. I know that there is a considerable opinion against the imposition of speed limits, but when the facts speak so clearly they point unerringly to the imposition of speed limits as being the most effective way that the Minister can use for reducing the huge number of accidents.
Is the hon. Member not aware that the motorist has control in a speed limit, and if the hon. Member says that a reduction in the speed limit or an increase has a bearing on the responsibility, he is blaming the motorist for it.
The hon. Member says that the motorist has control in the case of a speed limit. He may or may not, but he has not as effective control of his vehicle if it is travelling rapidly as he has if it is travelling slowly. The hon. Member probably knows as well as, or better than, I do that a vehicle travelling at 30 miles an hour takes 43 feet to be brought to a stop, if the brakes and the road surface are good, but if the vehicle is travelling at 25 miles an hour that stop can be imposed in 29 feet. That 14 feet difference may be the difference between life and death for somebody.
I submit to the Minister that what is urgently required is that the present speed limits should be effectively imposed. They are disregarded everywhere to-day. In London and provincial towns vehicles are to be found travelling in the restricted areas at well over 30 miles an hour. You find public vehicles and lorries, all of which are supposed to be confined to that speed limit, going well beyond it. A question was asked in this House of the Home Secretary by the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) on 17th March this year, about a stretch of road with which we are all familiar, the Thames Embankment, including Millbank and Grosvenor Road. During 12 months, 300 persons were injured or killed on that stretch of road. During the same 12 months there was a very large number of police prosecutions of people who were exceeding the speed limit. A watch was kept upon the Birmingham and Coventry road within the parish of Meridan, arid it was reported that, in the course of one hour and 40 minutes, out of 116 vehicles that passed, 39 exceeded the speed limit by a substantial margin. I could give other examples, but I do not think I need do so. Anyone who moves about London can almost daily see vehicles travelling far beyond 30 miles per hour. The road with which I am very familiar is Rosslyn Road and Haverstock Hill, that straight road that leads down from Hampstead Heath to Chalk Farm. I should say that the majority of cars come down that hill outside the 30 miles limit.
What about the public service vehicles? I have here an official time-table of a road company that undertakes to take passengers from London to Edinburgh. The vehicles are not supposed to exceed 30 miles an hour, but you can board the vehicle at the Victoria coach station and find yourself in Edinburgh 15 hours 19 minutes later. Allowing for stops, the average speed of that motor vehicle is over 28 miles an hour. When one realises that in London and other cities the vehicle would be compelled to slow down, one must come to a conclusion that the only way that the time-table can be kept is by large parts of the journey being carried through in violation of the law. The Minister of Transport and the Home Secretary cannot feel comfortable about this state of affairs. I have come to the conclusion, as the Government have, that, in the public interest, a speed limit is essential, yet they know, as we all know, that the limit is being violated every day all over the country.
I would ask the Minister whether he would consider the compulsory use by all vehicles of a mechanical arrangement, to be permanently affixed to vehicles which are subject always to the speed limit, for the purpose of preventing them from going at a speed above that which is legally allowed, and to private cars, which are sometimes under the speed limit and sometimes are not, in such a way that it can be adapted either to the requirements of the speed limit or not, as circumstances necessitate. The operation of the mechanical control would be indicated on the outside of the car, and the police and everyone else could see whether a vehicle was going beyond its proper legal speed. One of the interesting aspects of this matter is that when one becomes in any way interested in the question of reducing the number of accidents one is bombarded by all sorts of interesting people pushing forward what they want to say. In the public interest I do not want to help them.
There are two minor suggestions I want to put to the Minister. It is frequently difficult for a motorist to know whether he is inside or outside a restricted area. He passes the 30-mile control disc and gets into a town or a city. Later the character of the road begins to change as he nears the country on the other side, and there is nothing to show whether he is supposed to go at 30 miles an hour or is entitled to go beyond that speed. It might be advisable to have some intermediate indication for the benefit of the motorist who desires to keep within the law. The other suggestion concerns lighting-up time. I am not certain whether this matter comes within the province of the Minister of Transport or the Home Secretary, but, if the Home Secretary, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would pass the suggestion on to him. Lighting-up time is at present one hour after sunset in the summer and half an hour after sunset in the winter. I have no complaint to make about the half-hour in the winter. In the middle of the summer an hour may be satisfactory, but at the beginning and the end it means that people may travel on bicycles with no light at very great danger to themselves. It would be all right if our English climate were always nice, bright and sunny, but on the dark and rainy days in the spring and autumn it is legal for cars and bicycles to be without a light during that hour, and the position is exceedingly dangerous. Something ought to be done in the direction of tapering up and down the time after sunset before the lighting-up regulations come into operation.
I return to a previous point and say that in my judgment the best way of dealing with this huge problem is to impose in built-up areas a speed-limit of 25 miles an hour. I sometimes think—I am not quite certain that I do not always think—that it is a pity that the internal combustion engine was ever invented, and that it would have been better if it could have been postponed for 100 or 200 years until mankind had acquired a little more commonsense and sense of humanity. We should not in that case be discussing this problem now, or be harassed by the far larger problem of being bombed from the air. But we cannot go back; the internal combustion engine is here and it will be used in increasing numbers on the road. We have to devise a way of saving the population from the danger which that position inevitably brings about. My suggestion is the lower speed-limit.
We can draw up a balance sheet on this question, a profit and loss account, with the debit on one side and the credit on the other. On the debit side are all those boys and girls and men and women who are being killed and maimed. A few years ago some of us tried to form a national organisation to stir up public opinion in regard to the matter. We were helped by the Bishop of Winchester, Lord Elton and a number of other people. I shall always remember that at one of the early meetings of that organisation a schoolmaster rose and spoke. He represented one of the educational organisations and he described how his wife and only daughter left the house one day and within half an hour were killed by a car. That man is left to lead his lonely life. There are parents who send their boys and girls to school in the morning, and the next time they see them the children's bodies are mangled and lifeless. Imagine the suffering and the agony, and the hasty recall of the husband from his work and of the abiding memory that remains.
That is on the debit side. What is on the credit side? What is the gain to the nation of all this speed, just that some one can knock a few minutes or an hour off a journey? In any assessment of the value of the two sides of the balance sheet we ought to restrict the speed at which people can move along the public roads to the public danger. I expect the Minister will say that a committee has been set up in another place and that we must hear what it has to say and the recommendations it has to make. I am not quarrelling with that at all. He will probably say that the figures tend to improve a little. He is pleased, as we are all pleased any time we see improvement in the number of killed and maimed; but this problem is not to be satisfactorily dealt with by knocking 10 or 20 off the number of killed and 100 or 200 of the number of injured. Something far better, larger and more courageous than that is required. This is a pressing matter which affects the lives and homes of our people, and I urge it. I have no doubt that the House will carry this Motion, because it is almost non-contentious, and is certainly non-party. I hope that the result will be that the Minister and the Ministry will devise means whereby our roads may be made safe—or much safer than they are, at any rate—and these appalling figures be reduced very considerably.
I beg to second the Motion.
I think the House will agree that we have listened to a most able, moving and earnest appeal on this matter, and I wish to associate myself to the full in that general way with everything that my hon. Friend has said in his speech. I know, of course, that there is not a Member of the House who is not deeply and gravely concerned at the death toll on our British roads, and I know that we are all equally anxious to find a remedy for this disastrous state of things. To find that remedy, we must begin by analysing the causes, and, the moment we begin to do that, we reach very serious differences of opinion.
I want to begin with the courts of justice. They have much to do with the settling of responsibility for road accidents. In 1936, the usual 6,000 persons were killed, and the Home Office return for that year attributed 1,956 of those deaths to motor cars. In my judgment it was a gross under-statement, but I will let that pass. In connection with those 1,956 deaths, only 128 motorists were indicted for manslaughter. What happened to the 128? Seventy-one were acquitted; 34 cases were dismissed or withdrawn, and only 23 convictions followed. What happened in the case of the 23 convictions? The longest sentence was three years' penal servitude, and four of them got that. Four others got 18 months or less; 12 got one year or less; one had his licence suspended for five years, and the remaining two were bound over. From these figures one reaches a very clear conclusion, namely, that, in the opinion of the courts, little or no blame attaches to motorists for 6,561 road deaths.
Then there is the Ministry of Transport, with its committees. They issue reports as to the alleged responsibility for deaths on the roads. They say that, in 1937, 2,484 deaths were due to the faults of pedestrians. All but 44 of those deaths were of the pedestrians themselves. These figures are taken from a precis of the evidence of the Pedestrians' Association given before the House of Lords Select Committee recently. The House will observe that 2,440 pedestrians were adjudged guilty in their action without hearing what they had to say. They were dead, and could not speak. Their case went by default, and the evidence of those who had killed them was accepted. In a Home Office return issued on 22nd March, 1937, 1,283 deaths were attributed to cyclists. Most of those deaths were of the cyclists themselves. They were absent, therefore, from the witness-box, and, as every lawyer knows, that is fatal to one's case.
I dare say there is some wit in that observation, but its relevance is very obscure to me. When an accusation of negligence, or jay-walking—which I think is the phrase commonly used—has to be brought, the safest person to accuse is a corpse. Take another example. The Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis issued a report on accidents to children in 1936. He said that, of 6,000 children involved in accidents, all but 500 were to blame for their death or injury. Can that be true? Are children of six, five, four, three or two years to be properly held responsible for accidents to themselves on the highways? That is a new kind of aspect to be introduced into British law.
I want to repeat one or two of the statistics which my hon. Friend referred to in the Ministry of Transport return regarding the places where accidents occurred and the conditions under which those accidents happened. There were 60.5 per cent. on straight roads or open road bends; 75·5 per cent. on roads over 20 feet in width; and 81.6 per cent, occurred in clear weather. A good, thick, soupy London fog brings down the accident and death rate with a run; only 3·3 per cent. occurred in fog. The illuminating thing about those figures is this: The Ministry of Transport had something to say about them, and here is what the Ministry of Transport said in regard to fog:
This confirms the impression that conditions of low visibility bring home to users of the highway the necessity for caution and for reducing speed.
I quote that because it provides one of those very rare instances where you have the Ministry accidentally admitting the virtues of lessened speed. The Ministry of Transport have, I believe, committed themselves to the view that only 1.2 per cent. of road accidents are due to road conditions—road defects. I imagine that that is a very fair and correct estimate. But, on the other hand, you have the Oxford county surveyor, Mr. G. F. Bennett, who says that 76 per cent. of the accidents in his area in four years were caused by road defects. This statement, of course, has earned him the warm gratitude of motorists all over the country; they look upon him as a real friend in need. In this House, on 17th June last, the Minister of Transport informed us that in his opinion the greatest cause of accident is human error in the form of carelessness or lack of consideration. It is not a statement that gets us anywhere and there is no help in it, however true it may be.
When one comes to ask what the Minister is doing about this matter, one begins to realise how helpless he thinks he is. He and the Chancellor of the Exchequer between them have merged the Road Fund into the general reserve. He has issued reports; he has appointed accident officers; he has increased the mobile police; he has derestricted 1000 miles of roads, mostly against the wishes
of the local councils concerned; he has erected 2,700 sets of guard rails. His predecessor was the author of the fatuous "Belisha crossing." Untold millions have been spent in making our highways beautiful speed tracks. New main roads, new by-pass roads, and scores of thousands of spin splayed corners and widenings, have been initiated under the respective Ministers of Transport. Trees and hedges have been
That is the best interruption that the hon. and learned Gentleman has made. The narrow, winding roads are the most free from fatalities to-day. I read, for instance, that the little village of Hunstanton, in Norfolk, has not had a fatal accident for six years, because of its narrow, twisting streets; yet the main road through Hunstanton, so the people of that village say, carries the heaviest traffic in the country except the London-Brighton road. But it is narrow, like the rest of the streets of that village. With the Mover, I believe that speed is the chief menace. There are cars on our highways to-day that can do 100 miles per hour, and are guaranteed so to do by their makers. They ought to be prohibited. I do not deny that there are considerate motorists; far from it. One had me at his complete mercy the other day, and declined to slay me. But something mysterious happens to the kindly human being when he gets into the seat
of a modern high-powered luxury car. He becomes a different person. He regards both the pedestrian and the cyclist as nuisances. He says their carelessness causes his heart to jump into his mouth. No doubt that is true, but, if he were going at 15 miles per hour instead of 50, his heart would stay in its proper place. The exhilaration of high speed is well known to every motorist. To the young it is quite irresistible, and even to those who are not young it seems to be almost equally irresistible. I was enlightened as to this when I read the following little extract in the Press of 15th January:
Berlin, Friday.—Mr. Leslie Burgin, British Minister of Transport, who is on a highway inspection tour of Germany, said on arriving in Berlin to-day that the Hitler roads were so good that he was able to drive at 89 miles an hour in perfect safety, though the surface was icy.
The exhilaration microbe is there seen at its fell work. The Minister of Transport knows that there is no such thing on the roads as perfect safety, either in Britain or in Germany; but his blood was up. He had a mild, temporary delirium which was extraordinarily pleasant. But I hope he has since reached the decision that at that moment he had actually crossed the sanity frontier.
The Ministry of Transport inform us that in 1937, for every car or lorry driver killed there perished 20 other people, 10 of whom were pedestrians, 4·5 cyclists, 3·7 motor cyclists, and the rest passengers, drivers of horse vehicles, riders of horses, conductors, attendants, etc. The immunity of the motorist is startling. He provides less than 5 per cent. of the fatalities. I think the onus of responsibility resting upon him is far more terrible than he has yet begun to realise. The size of the casualty lists prove that. Those chief constables who single out cyclists and pedestrians as the chief menace of the roads try one's patience. Among them I note the chief constables of Manchester, Oldham, Bedfordshire and Carnarvonshire. They are unfair, and pro-motorist. A few months ago I suggested in this House certain things which I felt would tend to reduce drastically the death roll which is on our consciences to-day. They were not well received. I am not proposing to repeat them now, but I stand by every one of them; and I am still hoping that the Minister himself is giving them his consideration.
I do not know whether either of the hon. Gentlemen opposite happens to be a motorist of long experience. I am a motorist, with a certain amount of experience, and, being a married man, I am also a pedestrian at times. It is my conviction that one cannot put the blame entirely on either the pedestrian or the motorist. There are bad motorists, of course; and there are jay-walkers, too. I have had the remarkable experience on two occasions, when driving a car in traffic, of having jay-walkers walk into me. I saw on one occasion that that was likely to happen, and I thought it would do no harm if it did; so I stopped the car, and sure enough it happened. The person walked into the car; and was furious with me.
I do not believe the trouble on the roads arises purely from speed. It arises much more from diversity of speed—both from unevenness in the speed of particular vehicles, and differences in the speeds of different kinds of traffic. The greatest differences of speed arise, of course, when one compares the speed of the motor car with that of the pedestrian. The railways have solved this problem. Time was, no doubt, when people were allowed to walk across the railway lines. Now they are forbidden to do so, but one hears no hue and cry about people not being allowed to walk on the railway lines. I doubt very much the exclusive right of pedestrians to walk about the roads irrespective of what other people are doing. All classes of road users should have definite obligations not to get in the way of others—to enjoy the rights they have in such a way as not to restrict the rights of others. It is my belief that about as much control of motorists has already been put into force as can be put into force. I do not believe that the difference of five miles an hour between the present limit of 30 miles an hour and the 25 miles an hour which has been suggested would make the slightest difference.
What I think is needed is segregation of traffic. That goes as much for segregation between pedestrians and motorists as for the segregation which goes on these days in other ways. There is no doubt that the greatest number of accidents occur in built-up areas, where the population is most thick. Use has been made recently of barriers on pavements, to prevent pedestrians stepping off suddenly. I believe that one of the outstanding examples of the successful use of those barriers is at Hounslow. The pedestrian is very often himself in just as much hurry, for as little cause, as the motorist. He cuts corners, he does not wait for a pedestrian crossing. The number of pedestrians outside this very building who go to the trouble of waiting for an opportunity of crossing to the centre of Parliament Square, knowing that they have to cross another road equally full of traffic within another 100 yards in order to get back to Whitehall, is ludicrous. If only those people realised how much time they would save in the end, from how much trouble they would save themselves, and from how much annoyance they would save other people by going back to the crossing. I believe they would do so.
There is this question of the flow of traffic. How much longer is the Minister of Transport going to allow a car in, say, Bond Street, a very busy shopping thoroughfare, calmly to draw across the street to set somebody down and then to draw back across the lines of traffic proceeding both ways, in order to get on its proper side? In many countries that has been stopped long ago. And how long are cars to be allowed to turn round in a street when they know well that they cannot turn in one sweep? So many regulations are issued against motorists that I believe they would not mind regulations dealing with these two matters being added. It is so easy to go around the block, and to pull up beside a pedestrian crossing.
Yes; and I have no doubt that Mr. Speaker, in his wisdom, would have called me to order if he had not seen the connection. The car that is crossing four lines of traffic—two going each way usually—in order to set down a passenger is slowing up the traffic suddenly. The traffic may even come to a standstill, and then some pedestrian probably says, "Here is my opportunity to dodge between this lorry and that private car," and he steps off; the traffic then starts again, and he gets hit. If the traffic flow were even, people would not try stepping off in that way. A regulation to deal with this is one of the things that I think would help. It has been very efficient in some of the countries where it has been put into force. I suggest that some kind of report might be made by means of which reliable figures could be put before hon. Members of this House. The hon. Member opposite had some interesting figures, which were difficult to take in while given by word of mouth. The House would be very interested to know what plans the Minister has for the cutting down of this toll, more particularly in the streets of big cities. I am sure that whatever plans he has will receive unanimous support.
The last speaker was, I think, right when he said that neither the Mover nor the Seconder of the Motion was a practical motor driver. It is a pity, because we might have had a more useful and enlightened contribution to the Debate if either of them had had practical experience.
Would the hon. and learned Member think my qualification for indulging in the Debate any less because I have been knocked over and flung through the air by a motor car?
I do not think the hon. Member's views on that would give any enlightenment to the motorist. If I had my way he and the motorist would not have been in the same road. I concur with what the hon. Member has said about the railways. Our railways for nigh 100 years have had a wonderful record in regard to the lives of passengers. There used to be a certain number of employés who lost their lives, but even that has greatly diminished, if not altogether ceased. Historically, what have we to thank for that? It is not altogether the excessive care of the railways. It so happened that when the railways started people did not realise the enormous danger they were, but a Cabinet Minister, Mr. Huskisson, was run over and killed, near Liverpool, I think. The sacrifice of that man saved the lives of thousands of people. There is no Cabinet Minister to-day, least of all the Minister of Transport, whom I would like to see sacrificed in that way; but the effect in that case was tremendous.
The aristocratic Government of that day, with a far greater consideration for human life than is possessed by our modern Parliaments, elected by universal suffrage, said: "We cannot allow our people's lives to be endangered by this dreadful instrument of death." So they said to the railways, "You must make roads for yourselves and fence them in carefully, and allow nobody to trespass on them." But, after all, the railway was not nearly so dangerous, even if left open, as an ordinary road, because all you had to do to prevent yourself being killed or run over was to keep off the lines. You knew where the railway engine was going, but you do not know with any certainty where the lorry or motor-car is going. They will even mount the pavement. I never walk on the outside of the pavement for that very reason. As I go along I always keep a watchful eye to see whether something is going to mount the pavement. I suppose that I have had more experience of road traffic than any Member of this House. It is 54 years ago since I used to perform acrobatic feats on an old penny-farthing bicycle. There was nothing that I could not do on the bicycle. I used to ride up and down the pier watching and crossing the gaps in the planks, and then ride on top of the wall with a big drop down into the sea.
Then there came the safety bicycle, and as far back as 1900 I was riding a motor bicycle, a very dangerous form of locomotion. I have also driven tens of thousands of miles in a motor car, and I have never once had even the vestige of an accident. The reason for this was that I used to drive with my conscience in front of me, realising that there might always be something that might run out, even a rabbit, that I did not want to destroy. I was sometimes abused by succeeding motorists for going too slowly, though I often exceeded the legal limit when I had an open stretch of road and could see the country round about.
It is not the motorists nor the pedestrians nor the cyclists who are at fault, but the House of Commons who, when the motor came upon the scene allowed it to go on to the road among cattle and sheep, and human beings, children, and horse-drawn vehicles, mixing them all together. No matter what speed regulations you make such mixing of traffic will not work. If you have a speed regulation of 25 miles an hour, who is to see that it is kept? We are told that the speed limit of 30 miles an hour is never kept. I have never kept it myself. I am the best judge of what is safe and what is not safe, and I have put that to the test successfully over a long period of years. If you are to enforce a speed limit you need to have a policeman sitting beside the driver in every car.
You can see the danger of non-enclosure in regard to the railways. Wherever there is a level crossing in any part where the railways run, you get accidents, though a level crossing can be perfectly safe. There are always accidents happening, and unfortunately the foot passenger is often killed. I have had the same experience as my hon. Friend on the left. I remember going down the lane from my house on one occasion. I saw a man driving a milk barrow, with tall tins on it. He was busy talking, and I saw that if I accelerated I might get past, yet might scrape him. I just stopped, and he ran into me. I said, "How dare you drive furiously with that milk barrow?" There was some joyous laughter by the onlookers. But when all is said, why should the man who is only careless be killed? The penalty is far too great.
One thing that could be done when the railways were put down originally was that, to prevent monopoly, they were to be toll roads and you could provide your own horse and your own engine. The whole idea of government in those days was to prevent monopoly, but modern Governments do all they can to promote monopoly and to get big combines because they can get bigger sums in taxation. But they are enslaving the people, because monopoly always leads to enslavement. The relies of the anti-monopoly idea remained till up to 1885. When you received your bill from the railway company, you could ask for it to be divided into three—a toll charge, a haulage charge, and a general charge. The purpose of that was to prevent monopoly. But the mechanical nature of the single railway created a monopoly and very soon, when it was found that they had a monopoly, they imposed all those conditions of common carriers and the like. Until the advent of the explosive engine the railways did their work very well, too well. They hauled all the people from the villages into the big towns, and they created all these huge congestions of population, which bring all the social evils of overcrowding, which put poor unfortunate mothers in high tenements, storeys up, where they can give the little children nothing else to play upon than the street untended. That has led to a very great evil, and we saw the other day, when evacuation was suggested, how impossible it would be to make a successful job of it because of the congestion of the population.
It was very unfortunate that we were the pioneers of railways, because in the olden days the people dwelt in the country with little towns in the centre, and it would infinitely help if we could get back to something of that kind. If we could get back to something of that kind we might cut down the road accidents, those monstrous figures of 70,000 people killed. To-day if any friend, wife or child, should be late returning home, what is the first thought that occurs to you? It is, have they been run over? Nobody is free of that fear. I got into the habit early of telephoning home. If I had said I would be home at a certain time I always made a point a little before that time to go to the telephone and advise them of my delay, because I knew that my household would suffer anxiety in case I should meet with an accident. That fear simply haunts everybody. The advice that I gave to those of my household who go to work is never to indulge in brown studies, but to keep a watch all the time, knowing that every day there is some motorist who will kill you if he possibly can, and you must be ready to dodge him.
That is the position into which the people of this country are put. Who is responsible for it? Parliament is responsible. We have no right whatever to allow these dreadful instruments on the road to kill far more people than are killed in comparatively major wars, and to mutilate thousands upon thousands of them. It is a shocking reflection upon us. Attempts have been made by the motor industry, which, mark you, has far more capital and employés than all the railways put together, to get the conditions modified. They wanted to make special motor roads. Lord Montagu of Beaulieu wanted to make one down to Brighton, but was it permitted? No, the influence of the railway company was too great, and the influence of the railway companies in this House and the other House is tremendously great. That is why I say that this House is rotten with railway directors; so it is, and so is the other House. The influence is colossal, and what is the result? The road transport industry has been hamstrung by regulations of a most intricate description, and road commissioners are scattered all over the country to refuse licences to this and to that, and to hamstring and put down road transport.
The true remedy is to make proper motor roads, with one-way traffic, dedicated solely to commercial and other motor traffic. I would compensate the railways and get rid of them because they are absolutely unnecessary. I would make the railway tracks, because they are comparatively straight, into speedways for motors. I would take over the London and North Eastern track to come south from Scotland, and the London Midland and Scottish track to go to the North. Motor transport could go with perfect safety at 100 miles an hour, because they would be comparatively straight routes. One speaker has said that there is no such thing as perfect safety. I hold that there is no such thing as perfect safety anywhere. There is no such thing as perfect safety in bed. Far more people die there than anywhere else. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is a nice place in which to die."] We should lay down motor roads now for motors only. It should have been done at the beginning, and they should be dedicated to nothing else but motors. Let the motor lorry which carries the goods take out its ticket at the gateway and pay its toll, and then give up its ticket at the point nearest its destination. The main difference between road and rail is that of terminal charges. The labour cost is colossal. I remember a piano manufacturer in this House telling me that if he used to send pianos by railway he was lucky to get them in 72 hours. He had to enclose them in cases. The railway lorry came along and he put them into the lorry, and they had to be unloaded at the station, and at the other end of the journey, the same thing occurred. "Now," he said "our road haulier comes along and they are hoisted into the lorry and delivered a few hours afterwards." He said that it saved more than a pound a piano, and that when one sent as many as 20 pianos a week it amounted to a considerable sum—more than he drew out of his business, and there was never a scratch on his pianos and he avoided the cost of the cases.
What I have said is perfectly true. I said that the House was rotten with railway directors, but there seem to be some people in this House who object very much to the defence of road traffic. I say the right thing to do is to promote its safety and develop it. It could be done splendidly. Our railways are far better than the French railways, but they are an absolutely obsolete system. Why should not people have the right to employ the method of transport they desire. The Minister of Transport is not free from guilt in that respect, not only the present Minister but previous Ministers. It is as if the public existed for the purpose of providing transport for the railways. The objection which is taken to motor traffic seems to be that it takes transport from them. They should have facilitated road transport and helped it, and taken up such a scheme as I laid down in the columns of the "Saturday Review" some 10 years ago from which all the new ideas of transport experts are now quarried.
If we had done that it would have saved the lives of tens of thousands of people. The hands of the House of Commons and the railway companies are dripping with the blood of the people whose lives have been sacrificed, because safe roads have not been provided. They are responsible for these people who have been massacred. It is far worse than bombing in a long war, and because it happens here and there, and in individual cases, it does not shock the people in the way that they are shocked if a railway accident occurs and a large number of people are killed. [An HON. MEMBER: "Because we do not get many."] We do not get many because the railways are perfectly conducted. I pay my meed of praise to the railway companies for the way they manage their business, but I am sorry that they have not realised that they are obsolete. I would take them over and compensate them in order to get real effective road transport.
The Minister of Transport is not free from blame for certain things he does. I have had an interesting experience in the Isle of Mull where there existed a 14 feet road between Salen and Tobermory. Do hon. Members know what has been done? The county council are at his instigation cutting down that road from 14 feet to 9 feet, and at passing places where you have to pull up here and there it is causing an enormous hindrance to the local population, and it has already caused some minor accidents. It is an outrage, and the same thing is being done all through the Highlands. The same thing has happened in Kintyre, where a road has been reduced from 18 feet to 16 feet wide. That is very dangerous for chars-a-banc which pass in the night.
Why all these restrictions? Does the right hon. Gentleman wish to be known as the Minister for obstructing transport? So far as the Highlands of Scotland are concerned, that is what he is doing. When General Wade made the roads in the Highlands, there were objections. We did not want roads then. We thought that we should be corrupted by the bad manners of the Lowland Scots. If we are to have roads, they should be decent roads. When General Wade made these very fine roads, by military men, there used to be a saying, "If you had seen this road before it was made, you would get up and say 'God bless General Wade.'" If the Minister of Transport persists in reducing the Salen-Tobermory road from 14 feet to 9 feet wide, the couplet about him will be: "If the people of Mull see this road after it is made, they will get up and say, 'To the Devil with the minister of Transport,'" because he has spoilt a good road, which was suitable for the people and given them a bridle track.
We want roads suitable for all classes of traffic. We want to make our country roads suitable for all traffic. We are making them as if they were intended entirely for motorists. They are too hard and slippery for pedestrians, cattle and sheep. Why not adopt the South African plan, with road strips 2 feet 9 inches apart, made of bitumen or concrete, and the rest of the road a normal macadam road? We should then get 10 miles of road made for the cost of one at the present time. Where there is a considerable amount of traffic there could be two sets of strips. Under this system when the motorists meet, each takes a strip, and they swing out and swing in when they have passed. I ought to have explained when I was speaking about roads to be dedicated to motorists, that when they come out of the motor roads into the ordinary highways, nearest their destination, I should not be content with imposing a 25 miles speed-limit but I should insist that the speed-limit should be 10 miles an hour. That would not be unreasonable, and it would not take them any length of time to get to their destination and they would abate terminal charges.
Many traders prefer road transport rather than the railways. For instance the people of Aberdeen want to send their fish by lorries because the transport is quicker than by rail. It is their fish, and why should they not be able to do that? The railway companies, however, say, "The fish may smell, but we insist on getting the carrying of it," and in that they have succeeded. Motors are well suited for long-distance traffic. Take the example of the cotton growers in South America, where they carry their cotton from the plantations to the ships by motors, a distance of 200 or 300 miles.
If we had splendid roads devoted solely to motor transport many of our social problems would be solved. There would not be the present congestion in the towns, and industries would be scattered over the countryside. There should also be tracks for cyclists. I am very fond of cycling, but I have not the nerve to cycle when motorists are whizzing past me. Cycling is good for health and I would gladly indulge in it if there were safety tracks. The motorist, unfortunately, has made the roads his monopoly. We cannot make people safe by underground crossings or by bridges, which are seldom if ever used. Has any hon. Member ever seen anyone going over the bridges on the Kingston by-pass? There ought to be roads for motorists, and other transport should go on the ordinary highway. That is a fundamental necessity.
Restriction is no good; it is like prohibition in America, where people drank harder than ever. It is utterly wrong and futile and leads nowhere and will not diminish accidents. The proper way is to do what Parliament did in the thirties. We ought to say to the motorists: "You must have your own roads, and when you come on to the ordinary highway and you mix with the other transport you must drop your speed." In the City of London, where the streets are narrow, the traffic practically crawls and there are very few accidents. We do not want the speed on the open roads to be restricted but we want to develop road transport. We are not doing that under the present system, but rather hindering it. That has a most serious effect on the cost of living.
If we had proper roads, not only for safety but as a result we were able to get our factories out into the countryside and the workmen living round them, with gardens to their houses, we should be able to disperse the populations of the congested areas. That would lead not only to safety on the roads but safety from the sky. It is notable that there are considerably fewer motor freight vehicles in existence to-day for the purposes of evacuation than last year. That is because of colossal taxation and the restrictions in the number of licences for hauliers. The whole system is wrong. We have our Minister of Transport and we also had a Chancellor of the Exchequer who started the raiding of the Road Fund many years ago. From £50,000,000, £70,000,000 to £80,000,000 a year have been taken out of the Fund which ought to have been used for providing proper roads. Road transport has been persecuted by successive Governments. That is shown in the matter of fuel. For instance, if the railways had to pay £1 a ton tax on every ton of coal, there would be a great outcry. Yet road transport has to pay that on its fuel. It is a shocking and unjust thing.
There must be some way out of this cul-de-sac. We must secure both safety and speed of transport. We want to restore the people to the country areas, get them back to the land, and make most of the benefits of this new instrument of civilisation, but we are refused the opportunity because a certain amount of money is invested in railways, although it is very much less than the amount invested in motor transport. That condition of things is absolutely contrary to the public interest. I wish railways shareholders all the luck they can get, but they will not get it by hamstringing road transport.
I bow to your Ruling. If the proposals which I have suggested were adopted, there would be a great diminution of casualties on the roads and we should have motor transport in this country put into the almost ideal state of the railways with regard to accidents. There woud be practically no accidents, and there should be none, if we had proper roads dedicated to road transport.
The hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten), like most lawyers I have had to do with, runs wide from his brief. He says that this House and the other place are riddled or rotten with railway interests. As far as my experience goes, this House is riddled and rotten with lawyers. I have never known a Bill to come before this House without almost every lawyer seeking to mould the Bill so as to leave room for plenty of controversy, which means to him his living. If the Bill as it came originally from the draftsman had been left to the lay mind to be brought to bear upon it, we should have had much better legislation than we have at present.
I do not know anything about the lawyers' toast, but I know what I would do with most of them, and that would be to roast them, and it would not be in this place. The Motion deals with motor accidents on the roads. The hon. and learned Member has roamed all over the railways, and spoken of aeroplanes and pianos on lorries, but said very little on the subject of the Motion, There can be no doubt that the number of accidents on the roads, fatal and non-fatal, has reached alarming proportions. I remember being asked by the Minister of Transport in a Conservative Government on one occasion to meet the coroners of London and to go into the question of road accidents. That was about 12 years ago and we went into the subject. Still, the accidents continue.
We did not have them there but we get them as Ministers. In 1937, there were 260,566 people killed or injured on the roads, and I would draw the attention of the Minister to what I believe to be the main causes of those accidents. Speeches such as that we have listened to engender antagonism between the pedestrian and motor driver. My experience is that the motor driver as a pedestrian does what the ordinary pedestrian does to the motor driver. Motor owners are responsible for the largest number of accidents. If the Minister will look at his own figures he will see that where the drivers were held responsible not less than 47½ per cent. of the accidents were due to private motor cars, while the figure for motor cycles was 27.4 per cent. Approximately 75 per cent. of the accidents that are attributable, so far as his own figures go, to the driver, are covered by those two sections.
The hon. and learned Member has the same means of getting the figures as I have. They are in the Library. I do not propose to worry the House with them, except to deal with one or two sections of them. There are 507,256 commercial vehicles on the roads, and the drivers of those vehicles are responsible for only 15.1 of fatal accidents and 18.3 of the non-fatal accidents, or a total of 16.2 per cent. Where the vehicles or the equipment were held to be blameworthy, we find that 22.9 per cent. were private cars, 17.4 per cent. were motor cycles and 23.5 per cent. ordinary pedal cycles, making 83.8 per cent. attributable to these three sections. When we come to the number of vehicles involved we find that 33.2 per cent. are private cars, 11.3 per cent. light motor vans, 29.6 per cent. pedal cycles, and 13.6 per cent. motor cycles, a total of 88.8 per cent. That reveals where the trouble is.
I have driven for 40 years—touch wood—and I have never vet touched a pedestrian or had an accident on the road except a damaged wheel, and I have driven millions of miles. If every driver would accept as his motto, "The onus is on me," there would be many fewer accidents on the roads. One of the real troubles is the non-enforcement of the law. I come to this House daily through Millbank and I follow a vehicle which is supposed to go 20 miles an hour. If the law was enforced that 20 mile an hour vehicle would not be in front of a vehicle going at 30 miles an hour. There is no real enforcement of the law and, therefore, there is no respect for the law. That can be taken as a cardinal principle. I say quite frankly that 30 miles an hour is quite fast enough in a built-up area. I was one of those who started driving when one had to have a red flag carried in front of the vehicle, and later there was a 20-mile limit. The whole thing was farcical. To-day 30 miles an hour is fast enough in a built-up area. I will confess that if I set out to go from here to Yorkshire I reckon to complete 100 miles in three hours, that is about 33⅓ miles an hour, which I think is safe driving. I think it is reflected as being safe in the record I have been able to give to the House.
I guessed that an hon. Member would put that point; but when I tell him that my speedometer never goes beyond 40, except when passing another vehicle, I hope he will accept my statement.
I say that while the law is there it should be enforced. Take the schedules which advertise that you can leave Victoria and reach Scotland with an average speed of 28 miles per hour. That in itself must mean an excessive speed through areas which are not built up. The Minister should make it obligatory on these people to submit their schedules to some authority. They are submitted, I know, to the trade unions and to Scotland Yard, and there is very little excessive speed in London, but I am talking of the long-distance coach, and there is no doubt that these vehicles go at excessive speed; they pass me on the road day after day. If the law was enforced these schedules would be considerably lengthened as to time and I believe accidents would also be considerably reduced. I am a critic of the Belisha beacons and also of the guard rails. Today the guard rails are resting places for the weary on many corners, and if they are not being used by the weary they are being used as parallel bars by children, which is equally dangerous. I suggest that the Minister should use his influence in the Cabinet to see that all school playgrounds during the summer are kept open and that in winter the schools themselves are kept open so that the children might be kept off the roads.
I know that the question of cost will be mentioned. I do not know the cost of producing a citizen; it may be £1,000 or £2,000, at least, but if the schools and playgrounds were kept open, with an attendant or a teacher in charge, it would be good for the children, it would be a measure of safety and the cost would be very little for the Government. I want to suggest also that the half-hour for winter lighting up should be made uniform throughout the whole year. There is no doubt that many accidents take place between lights in the countryside in the summer time. It is very troublesome to the eyes and one must assume that it is liable to bring accidents in its train. If we had a system of a uniform half-hour for lighting up it would be helpful. Another point is that in any municipal contracts for new roads there should be a two-colour scheme on the road. It would be a great help on a misty night. On a two-carriage roadway the near side could be of one colour and the off side of another, and you would know when you were on the near side of the road. If it is a three-way traffic road you can have a white line in the centre with two blacks on either side, which again would be very helpful in the elimination of accidents.
Why cannot we have a uniform system of lighting? A committee has been set up to deal with this matter, but I think that the sodium discharge lamp is the best type we have found. It gives a shadowless road; people cannot spring into the road without the motorist having a chance of seeing them. If a system of uniform lighting was adopted it would be a great help to motorists. There is another aspect to which I think the Minister should give his serious consideration. It applies to what I call the learner. In issuing licences to motorist salesmen the Minister knows that in one case, when the salesman is trying to sell his car, he is not allowed to carry anyone other than the potential purchaser, but when a licence is granted to a learner you will see five or six people being driven at speed by a learner on a Saturday at Sunday, especially in the summer.
Where a learner is issued with a provisional licence it should be made a condition that no other person shall be in the vehicle but the person instructing him. In this way a fruitful cause of accidents will be obviated. They get their licence for three months and are a danger on the roads when learning their business. They go up, and fail; and get a licence for another three months. And so they go on quarter after quarter, always a danger on the roads and never troubling whether they ever pass the test or not. They get what they want; which is the use of a dangerous vehicle on the roads without being competent to handle it. I think the Minister should look into this matter. They are this sort of people: Two men were going home and one thought that the other had been drinking when in fact they had both been drinking. He said, "Steady old man, you are driving dangerously," and the other said, "I am not driving, you are driving." Those are the sort of people we get in cars occasionally. It is like the gentleman who had one arm round his lady's waist and was skidding very badly. She said, "Use the other Ebby," and he said, "I am sorry I can't. I want it for driving." That sort of thing goes on.
I hope the Minister will look into the various suggestions I have made. Without going into other aspects of the question I think there is on the roads a good deal of ignorance and a good deal of risk-taking. There is also a good deal of risk-taking by pedestrians. Why is not the pedestrian told that the sanctuary of a crossing is in fact a continuation of the footpath? If motorists also knew this there would be much more respect for these crossings. If it was laid down in the law that these crossings are in fact extensions of the footpath, the pedestrian would feel safer and the motorist would know that he was crossing a footpath. The Minister will know that I am not criticising him as a Minister. All I am doing is to ask him to do what he can to avoid accidents, and if he will adopt some of my suggestions I think he will do much to eliminate what I believe is the worst aspect of the problem to-day, and that is the complete antagonism which exists between pedestrians and motorists. Each would believe that both have a right on the road and both would want to be fair, and if the law was enforced there would be increased respect for the law.
The House, I am sure, will have enjoyed the speech just made by a practical motorist, especially as we have already heard the point of view of another hon. Member who admitted that he is a pedestrian, and, unfortunately, a pedestrian who has met with a nasty accident. The point of view put by the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith) is that he looks on 33⅓ miles an hour average from London to York as a very safe speed. I welcome the introduction of this subject for two reasons. One is that it gives us an opportunity of emphasising the need for safety in the country and the risk of danger on the roads, and, secondly, that it gives an opportunity to hon. Members in all parts of the House to make non-party suggestions to the Minister as to what in their opinion would help to decrease the heavy toll on the roads. Perhaps it will also give the Minister a little assistance when he goes to his colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer for more money than he has thought of spending during the next year or two.
I do not think we ought to criticise the Minister of Transport unduly, considering that, as the Mover of the Motion said in his thoughtful speech, during the 10 months of this year the number of fatalities decreased by 10 and the number of injured by 2,000. Those figures may appear small, but when one considers the enormous growth of motor traffic, the very fact that there is no increase shows that what has been done by the Minister of Transport is bearing fruit. What have we done to diminish accidents during recent years? We have been spending a great deal of money on widening roads, designing new roads and taking traffic round towns in order to avoid accidents in those congested areas. We have put down, over many thousands of miles, a white line in the centre of the road. We have arranged very many traffic light signals, and we have spent a good deal of money on pedestrian crossings and footway railings. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Rotherhithe concerning pedestrian crossings and railings. I consider that they have saved life. I think the Belisha beacons have done useful service, and I am certain that, particularly in guarding children from the road, the footway railings have been valuable. We have developed street lighting, and we have replaced a great many trams by trolley buses, which is a step in the right direction. I consider that a very great deal more needs to be done in street lighting, and no doubt during the next year or two the Minister will give this his attention.
With regard to the vehicle, too, there is little doubt that modern motor cars are much safer vehicles than the ones which we drove, say, 15 years ago. To-day, they have four-wheel brakes, which mean a great deal when meeting a possible accident. They have better tyres than formerly, and there is still room for ingenuity in that direction by the motorcar makers. Certainly, we have found that the white patch carried by the cyclist has helped us to avoid running into him, but still I emphasise—and I think it is one of the matters which the Minister of Transport should take up at once—the importance of the cyclist carrying a rear lamp. I do not believe that there is, in this white patch or in a mudguard painted white, enough evidence of the cyclist being there at night, especially when we pass another oncoming car. I drive a good deal at night, and I am always in great fear lest there should be cyclists on the left side of the road. If cyclists carried rear lamps, there would certainly be less danger of running into them. I cannot see why the addition of this lamp should not be made compulsory, for it would add greatly to the safety of the cyclist, and the cost would not be very much. I would even go as far as to say that on unlighted thoroughfares pedestrians should be compelled to carry either a torch or a lamp. In the country district where I live, it is very difficult at night, if there is a road joining a main road, to see a pedestrian if he is hurrying or running on to the road when one is passing the junction. I think that at night pedestrians should carry a torch or a lamp.
I think it would be in the interests of the pedestrians, and the cost would be a small item. Indeed, I think that most pedestrians at the present time do carry either torches or lamps in the country districts. What can we do further to increase the safety of our roads? We can, without doubt, teach children a great deal in the schools, and we can teach adults by giving them information on the films and over the wireless. I believe that the introduction of the test for driving has improved the standard of driving, although I am not sure that the test should not be a little more thorough. I wish to ask the Minister of Transport whether he will take up this matter with his Department and find out by investigation whether they are perfectly satisfied that the present test goes far enough, or whether accidents might not be avoided by taking a little more care in that direction. I noticed on the Order Paper to-day a question asking whether the Minister would
consider introducing amending legislation that will enable such persons to procure a special motor licence for use at week-ends.
I cannot understand anybody making such a suggestion, because in my opinion a short-licensed car is a dangerous car. The man who is not driving regularly, but who goes on to the road for a short time in good weather, when the roads are much more crowded, is a more dangerous driver than the average driver who drives all the year round. The main way in which I believe the accidents on our roads could be avoided and reduced in number would be by segregating the cyclists and the pedestrians from the fast-running traffic. We know that in other countries they have met this difficulty by building motorways. In Germany, Italy, Holland and the United States of America they have already built roads on which no pedestrian or cyclist is allowed. This is a very thickly populated country. The number of vehicles on the road has been nearly doubled in ten years, and the density of vehicles in certain districts has in many cases been found to be three times as great. Therefore, it is all the more reasonable for Britain to adopt this new system of motorways.
No cyclist should be allowed on a road where cars are travelling at 60 or 70 miles an hour, and certainly no pedestrian and no cattle or horses should be allowed on such a road. I strongly dissent from the view of the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten), who said that our railways are obsolete. I consider that in this country we have room for both railways and good motor roads. What I look to the Minister of Transport to do is to hold the balance of traffic between the road and the rail. Personally, I would far sooner travel by rail for a long journey, but for short journeys and for convenience in getting across country, no doubt a car is better.
We have received recently a very able and carefully-thought-out report from the county surveyors of this country. They have considered very carefully the system of motorways and they have advised the Minister of Transport that it would be wise, and certainly in the interests of the country as a whole, to build seven new motorways in various parts of the country. I know that a thousand miles of these motorways would be a very expensive proposition, but I appeal to the Minister of Transport carefully to consider this plan as a whole, and, although it may not be found possible to proceed with the whole of the scheme within the next year or two, to have it, or an amended scheme, adopted, after consideration in the Ministry, and then to decide to build a certain section of that number of main motorways in order to find out the reaction in the country and the result of the expenditure. I believe that the country would quickly respond to this new idea of highways for motors alone, the pedestrians and cyclists being taken care of on other roads that still exist in the same neighbourhood, and we should build up, as in other countries, a very much safer highway and a very much quicker means of getting from one part of the country to another.
Therefore, there are two things on which I make an appeal to the Minister of Transport. The first is that he should instruct his engineers at the Ministry very carefully to consider this big scheme which has been prepared by the county surveyors of the country, that he should select a route from that scheme which, in his judgment would be the most suitable one to commence with, and that he should put that matter to the Cabinet for consideration. I know that at the present time we may be short of money to spend on the roads, but I believe it would be penny wise and pound foolish if we did not spend on the roads a good proportion of the money which is found by the motorists themselves, through the tax and the duty, and make sure that progress is made on the highways of Britain corresponding to that which has been made in the other countries I have mentioned.
The second matter on which I want to appeal to the Minister is this. I have been told, when I have advocated the building of bridges, that, on account of the strain on the finances of the State, those bridges cannot be proceeded with at the moment. I say there is congestion on the roads caused by the lack of broad bridges, and by roads being narrowed to get over certain streams and rivers. I appeal to the Minister to earmark a certain sum of money each year for the next five years, at a time when the steel industry can well take care of the material and when there is little need for materials to be imported into the country, for dealing with this growing problem, and bit by bit during the next five years to do work in connection with bridges—work which cries out to be done at the present time. Having made those two appeals, I wish again to say how pleased I am that this matter has been raised for debate this afternoon. I hope that not only will the public take notice of the Debate and act more safely on the roads, but that the Minister of Transport will be able to give us a more complete, more progressive and more up-to-date scheme for the next few years.
I do not intend to detain the House for more than a short time, but I feel that some of the things that have been said in one or two very remarkable speeches on the subject call for some comment. It has been said that "in a multitude of counsellors there is wisdom," but I very much doubt whether the Minister of Transport will feel that that statement is true this afternoon. It is very pleasant for us to be able to get up in this Chamber and establish ourselves as authorities on any particular matter. I am sure that, with the expressions of opinion that have been made this afternoon, the Minister will be fully competent to sift the chaff from the wheat and to take that which is of value to his Department, and I hope that it will form the basis for future legislation on a problem which is indeed a ghastly one.
One hon. Member said that whenever any member of his family is late in coming home in the evening, he wonders exactly what has happened to the person. I think he reflected the thought of many hon. Members on this subject. Many of us who have young children immediately wonder, when they are late coming home in the evening, whether they have not been added to that already formidable total of people who suffer death and injury in road accidents to-day. I am fully aware that this is a problem which has grown rapidly. The industry has grown more quickly than we have been able to legislate for it. The solution of the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) would be to root up the railways. The hon. and learned Member said he took off his hat to the railways in admiration of their system, and apparently because he admires them so much he proposes to abolish them, and he would, I presume, place upon our highways all the traffic which they now carry. When one considers that the average railway train carries on one journey the equivalent of what would be carried by 60 motor vehicles, and when one calculates the number of goods trains which must leave this city of London each evening and the quantity of merchandise carried by them, one has to ask oneself what kind of spectacle would be presented by the roads leading out of London if a sufficient number of vehicles were put upon them to convey all the traffic now conveyed on the railways. The suggestion is absurd.
I feel that I may err in the other direction in my treatment of this question. I realise that this country has to face an enormous problem of road construction of a type and on a scale of which we have never had experience before. But there is bound to be an interim period before we can achieve the desired effect and construct the necessary roads to deal with the traffic for which road transport is required. What is to happen in the intermediate stage? I agree with the previous speaker's plea for a segration of traffic. That is sanity. We must segregate the traffic and we must go even further. One feature which particularly strikes me as being anomalous to-day is the spectacle of the conveyance along our roads of loads which are altogether unsuitable for those roads. One sees in some parts of the country lorries with trailers conveying loads of 30, 40 and even 50 tons weight. The roads of this country were never intended for such traffic as that. A time may come when there will be roads suitable for the transport of loads of that weight, but at present our roads are not suitable, and yet we see these abnormal loads running along at four or five or six miles an hour, to the detriment of the safety of every other road user.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith) that the commercial motor vehicle driver to-day is the safest driver on the road. I take off my hat to him for the courtesy which he extends to others. It is in striking contrast to the treatment which was meted out in years gone by. We have advanced tremendously. I agree also, that, probably, the private motorist is a greater menace on the road than the commercial motorist, but the commercial motorist is called upon to deal with loads which ought not to be on the roads of to-day. We find loads which are not only excessive in weight, but excessive in width and length so that overtaking traffic has the greatest difficulty in passing them. I would like to see legislation limiting the total length of any load which is carried on the road. One finds sometimes a vehicle with one or two trailers travelling, not at 20 miles an hour but at an excessive speed, with the trailers swaying and presenting the greatest difficulty to anyone who desires to overtake and pass that vehicle. There is no opportunity for the driver to see whether it is safe for an overtaking vehicle to pass or not. I am told that there is already a limit on the length of the load which can be carried, but I think that that limit should be made much lower than it is to-day. It should not be possible for loads of the length which one finds on the road to-day to find a place there at all.
Reference has been made to the lighting of roads, and in this connection I wish to say something about motor headlights. One of the most difficult problems which I have to contend with in driving on the roads is that of the headlights of approaching vehicles. I should like legislation making compulsory the use of a dipping, not a dimming attachment. Many vehicles on the roads dim their headlights, but they are still very formidable to those who have to meet and pass them. I also consider that the use of the white kerb is a great asset. I was in Bridgwater on Monday last. I need not explain to hon. Members the purpose which took me there. It was a very foggy night and I would not have been able to get there and complete my business on Monday night, had it not been for the fact that one of the roads which I had to traverse in the fog was fitted with an admirable white kerb, providing an excellent guide. On the off-side there were kerb reflectors. I do not know precisely where that road is, but for the purposes of driving in a fog, it is one of the best roads of which I have had experience. The kerb reflectors are a great asset, particularly on a road with which one is not too well acquainted. They indicate exactly where there are corners and whether one is on the near side or the off-side of the road. I should like local authorities to be encouraged to extend the provision of these reflectors and white kerbs for use in fog
I am afraid that I cannot give to the idea of pedestrian crossings that wholehearted support which has been accorded to it by other hon. Members. There is a place for pedestrian crossings, but at present we have far too many of them. They are not appreciated by the pedestrians and not honoured by the motorists, because they are littered about our roads in such lavish abundance. One finds them in some towns at intervals of only a few yards, and a motorist who has held up at a succession of these crossings is tempted to take a chance at the next one to which he comes. I do not think it is fair to the motorist to expect him to be able to keep his eyes on all the Belisha beacons which find place in the streets of many of our towns and cities. The motorist is called upon to keep his eye on the road, to look out for pedestrians, for stray cats and dogs and so forth, to watch out for overtaking traffic, to watch for vehicles which he is meeting and, at the same time, he is supposed to keep looking out at an angle of 45 degrees for Belisha beacons. As I say there is a place for crossings, but not in the abundance in which they exist to-day. I hope some attempt will be made to limit them to those places where there is a definite need for them, and that, wherever they are established, steps will be taken to see that they are used by the pedestrian and honoured by the motorist.
As regards tramcars in our cities, I consider that they are a great menace to traffic. The tramcar with its fixed track is obsolete and the sooner pressure is bought to bear by the Ministry on all local authorities to scrap the tramcars and replace them either by motor vehicles or trolley buses, the better for the safety of the people in the towns. Some comment has been made on the suggestion, which has been freely canvassed, that cyclists should carry rear lamps. I cannot subscribe to that view. I do not think that cyclists should be called on to carry rear lamps. I have never found any difficulty in picking up cyclists by the rear reflectors when I am driving within the limits of my ability to stop. If we call upon the cyclist to carry a rear red light we shall encourage the motorist always to expect to see a red lamp and if the red lamp, happens to have become extinguished, then the cyclist's chances will be very small. Speaking from memory, I think the report of the committee which dealt with the question of safety on the roads showed that the highest percentage of accidents to cyclists at night occurred to cyclists who had both red lamps and red reflectors indicating that the red rear light is no safeguard, and will not render the cyclist immune from the danger of accident.
With regard to schools, I am perturbed at the number of accidents which occur to young children going into and coming out of schools, and I suggest to the Minister the establishment of a special speed-limit in streets in which schools are situated. I would suggest a reduction even to a 20 mile speed-limit in streets where young children are passing in and out of school at various hours of the day. It is not desirable that we should have a multiplicity of speed limits, but when a motorist, travelling at 30 miles an hour, comes to a sign which indicates that there is a school, it does not convey a great deal to him. He may think that it is not a time when the children are likely to be about; he does not, perhaps, pay much attention to the notice; he goes ahead and a child may be injured in consequence. In my own local council I supported a 12 miles an hour speed-limit over two miles of streets. The motorists of the town were very indignant, but the justification for such a limit is to be found in the fact that we have not since had an accident in those streets. I hope it will also be possible for all local authorities to have a policeman, or special constable, or other official, to undertake point duty outside schools when children are entering and leaving. I understand that many of them do it now, and it is very desirable that the practice should be extended.
This problem is a colossal one. There is much traffic on the road to-day that ought not to he there, and I could not for the life of me understand the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Argyll. It seems to me that there must be a limit to the traffic on the roads. We have an admirable railway system which is competent to deal with considerably more heavy traffic than it is carrying to-day. Yet heavy traffic is finding its way on to the roads. It is doing so for one reason only, because road transport has been allowed unrestricted freedom of competition. It has been allowed to select its traffic and to charge what it likes, even to the detriment of the men engaged in the industry. Thus it has been able to undercut the railways. I believe that much of that heavy traffic will be forced back to the place where it rightly belongs when the legislation, which, I understand, is in course of preparation by the Ministry, is brought into effect. The place for the heavy traffic of the country is on the railways of the country. There is a place for light traffic and for passenger traffic on the roads, but it is a complete fallacy to suppose that our roads are suited to carrying loads up to 50 tons. In the segregation of traffic we ought to insist on the heavy traffic being carried by the railways and retain on the roads only the traffic which rightly belongs to the road and for which the roads are fitted. Some day, I hope, we shall be able to construct roads suitable for all the traffic which requires to use road transport, but until that time comes I feel the problem must be dealt with on the lines which I have indicated.
I am sure the whole House is indebted to the hon. Members for Central Hackney (Mr. Watkins) and Central Bradford (Mr. Leach) for having selected as the topic for our discussion to-day one of such very considerable interest, and I thank them for their speeches. I am very pleased with the Debate that we have had, in which a number of suggestions have been put up. I should like to assure the House at the outset that the most careful attention will be paid in the Ministry to all the different suggestions which have emanated this afternoon, and that when we come to a Debate on the Estimates, or whatever is the appropriate place for dealing at greater length with some of the problems that have been raised, perhaps there will be an opportunity to talk about them. I hope hon. Members in all quarters of the House will give me a meed of sympathy. This total of road deaths and road injuries is with me every hour of every day. You cannot come to this House or go from it without having a newspaper in your hand or a placard visible telling of some calamity on the road, and, of course, one tends to ask oneself, "Is this calamity due to something which I have left undone or which I have done wrongly"? It is a very heavy burden of responsibility. Therefore, I am indebted to hon. Members who bring this matter up and canvass it to the best of their ability and who put into the pool their different suggestions.
The problem is a very intractable one, and perhaps one of the ways in which I can best assist the House is to give the House some of the information in my possession which is perhaps not yet general information. Let me say at once that if it fell to me to give any advice to the House, on a private Members' day—and I would only do it with respect—it would be that this Motion should be accepted. I find no difficulty whatever in accepting the terms of the Motion, and consequently that would be the advice that I should respectfully tender to hon. Members. We talk of our roads, we suggest that the road system of the country is inadequate and that it is being subjected to a strain of total and of particular classes of traffic which is beyond its capacity to bear. I am sure hon. Members will realise that every day there is coming on to the roads a very considerable number of additional vehicles. It is not easy to make the balance. The number of new registrations of mechanically propelled vehicles for every day of the year ended 31st March, 1937, was something of the order of 1,293—additional registrations per day. I agree that there is a certain number of cars that are dropping out of registration, a certain number coming off the roads, a certain number registered which do not immediately come on to the roads, but making any allowances you like, whatever problem you have to deal with, it is not a static one, but is one that is being added to at the rate of something of the order of 1,000 new cars on to your roads every day. Therefore, the problem is an immense one.
I do not want to derive any undue satisfaction from any turn in the tide, and the hon. Member for Central Hackney was right to call attention to the slight improvement there is, but I ask the House to realise that if your problem is increasing and your accidents are either stationary or declining, it means that you are not merely making some effort, but that you are catching up with the problem. I am not sure that the figures which the hon. Member for Central Hackney gave were quite clear. For the first 10 months of this year the deaths were 140 less and the injuries 2,233 less. Just as the stories that we have been told, heartbreaking in character, of individual calamities make a great impression upon us, I am sure that we shall be utterly unable to realise the extent of human happiness that 140 deaths less and 2,235 injuries less really involve; and while I derive no particular comfort from it, it is a step in the right direction.
Naturally a good deal has been said to-day which is not really appropriate to a discussion of road fatalities, but is much more appropriate to a general debate on transport, and there is, therefore, a number of suggestions with which I will not attempt now to deal, but I wonder whether the House as a whole and the country outside have made up their minds quite clearly how far the responsibility for road accidents can be a matter within the Ministry of Transport itself. I have listened very carefully to-day. A great number of suggestions were made, a great number of contributions were put forward, and a great number of instances of blame were given, but I detected very few which in any way came down to the state or condition of the road itself. In fact, the hon. Member who opened the discussion pointed out what a very large percentage of accidents did not happen at the nasty corner or on the steep hill, but happened rather on the straight road. I am sure this House will realise that the Ministry of Transport is responsible for co-ordinating the work of highway authorities and for laying down on the trunk roads the schemes of development, but we are not responsible for the enforcement of the law, for the conduct of users of the roads. That is a matter for the police and the Home Office; that is a matter of control. As for the penalties which magistrates or courts of justice may inflict, they have nothing at all to do with the Ministry. I know that it is no answer to say, "It is not our particular business," but I want the House and the country to realise that when this total of road accidents comes up for consideration and when people say, "What is the Minister of Transport doing about it?" the answer may well be that the Minister of Transport would join all individual Members of the House in wishing that the law were more often enforced or that the penalties were greater. Those are matters on which I could be very vocal at times.
I want to examine, first and foremost, any matter that may directly come within my own responsibility. For instance, if there is something to do with road surface or road cambering or something to do with a too narrow bridge or with lighting, matters that come within my province, I would wish to look at them first, because they are a direct responsibility, and I would like to lend the weight of such influence as I may possess to induce other Departments of the State to look at the problem on a wide basis, because, of course, for road accidents the remedy is not a one-man or a one-Department job. A great many voluntary services are hard at work, producing excellent results in their particular lines. I shall have something to say in a moment about some interesting experiments with school children that are taking place, and with the "Safety First" movement up and down the country that are all bringing the right influences to bear, and I have an extremely interesting piece of information to give to the House as to the results in a very great area, the County of Lancashire, of a special concentration of mobile police along stretches of roads where there were large numbers of casualties before the police came on to advise greater caution.
But the summing up of all the speeches that I have heard to-day and of the effects of the information that I have here leads me to reaffirm in the strongest possible way that the greatest individual contributory cause of casualties on the road is lack of care, lack of consideration, selfishness. Really, if that is so, our remedy is not so much in altering the road system as in endeavouring to alter the standard of conduct on the road. It may be that the road system wants extending, but I agree with the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Poole), who delighted us with the speech to which we have just listened, when he said that whatever you do with your road system, there must be an intervening period in which your responsibility is very considerable.
There is one other thought that I would like to contribute, and that is that, shocking, dreadful, as is this total of killed and injured on the road, we must not get it out of proportion. I do not want merely to say that there are countries where the total is greater, but I want to remind hon. Members that very little research on their part will show the dreadful total of accidents, fatal and otherwise, that occur in so many walks of life, in industry, in workmen's compensation, in preventible disease, in poisoning, in burns, in chemical suffocation, in drowning—a tremendous list of which one hears very little. I agree that it does not make my case any better to point out these facts, but I am anxious that the House, in looking at what is a grave total that shocks the imagination, should not pass by quite silently other great families of accidents which are rarely probed into, rarely examined, and, therefore, rarely condemned. The statistical reviews by the Registrar-General show, for instance, that there are some 20,000 fatal accidents in a year from a variety of causes, and those totals are impressive when we are dealing with what we recognise to be the shocking figure of 6,000 or 6,500 deaths on the roads. I want to tell the House that the deaths on the roadways in the United States in 1937 were over 40,000 and that in Germany they approximated to 8,000. I do not want to go into comparisons with numbers of cars, population, and miles; I want merely to give the staggering fact of the totals with which we are dealing.
Now perhaps I may give this piece of information about Lancashire, which I think to be so particularly important. The Chief Constable has been trying a most interesting experiment, by using a large number of mobile police, by increasing the number of cautions and decreasing the number of prosecutions, by establishing a code of good conduct on the road rather than a very great anxiety to punish bad conduct. He has enlisted the interest and activities of the whole of his force to reduce accidents, and it has had a most heartening effect. For the six months ended 30th September of this year the average reduction in accidents throughout the country was 5 per cent., but in Lancashire, where this special experiment was at work, it was 46 per cent. Of course, six months is too short a period in which to judge of the possibilities of this scheme being applied universally. There is something in novelty, there is something in concentration, and it may be that the concentration in this particular direction has meant some slight slackening of observation in other directions, but at any rate there is a most valuable report in the hands of my Ministry from this Chief Constable of Lancashire, to whom I express my undoubted indebtedness, not only for the effect of his work, but for the lead which I think he has given.
I may tell the House that on one particular road where accidents were very bad the chief constable, not content with his general concentration, not content with the idea of getting mobile police units on to this particular road, but with the idea of making a real dead set at it to prevent these particular black spots occurring again and again, had this effect, that by concentration on that bad road he has reduced the accidents there by 73 per cent. That is a very startling result. If it is possible by the exercise of greater care, by pointing out how driving errors can be avoided, if it is possible on one bad stretch of road to bring down the accidents by 73 per cent., there is more hope of our being able to tackle this intractable problem than I had before this information was placed in my hands.
It is a long report and perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to send it to him. I hope that hon. Members will not be offended if they have made statements that do not tally with the regulations or the law and I or the Parliamentary Secretary send them the regulations which provide the very things they were recommending should take place. The hon. Member for Lichfield, for instance, wanted limits of length and weight, which are already law, and I propose to send the hon. Member the information I have because it shows the way in which we are already working on those lines.
I would like to do that, but I am not sure that this is the right occasion for it. I would like to do it on some occasion when I can deal adequately with the information contained in the report. I am merely using it now as an example. I was so struck with the consensus of opinion in the House that this was a human factor problem, and I think that the evidence I am adducing rather serves to point that out and to show that it is very largely a matter within human control.
There are one or two specific points which I think it is better to dispose of now. There was a suggestion about lighting-up time. One or two speakers seemed to think that if lighting-up time were altered there would be a considerable improvement in conditions. It is, however, a matter of Statute and it would need legislation to make an alteration. What I think is more interesting is that 70 per cent. of the road accidents involving personal injury occur in daylight, and I would rather deal with the larger size loaf than with the smaller. Of the other accidents, 4 per cent. occur at dusk, and the remaining 26 in the dark. It is not practicable to deduce from these figures any effect which a variation of half an hour one way or the other would bring about, and I am inclined to think that hon. Members are pursuing a wrong cause for accidents if they attribute it to lighting-up time. I think that the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith), in his vigorous denunciation of the profession to which I belong, rather overstepped the limit in thinking that the "L" driver who went out on Sunday with a number of people at the back of the car was a danger to other road users. That it happens and that it is reprehensible I have no doubt, but that it is a major cause of accidents is not the case. We cannot find that the "L" driver is a material cause of accidents. We should concentrate on what clearly is the cause of accidents rather than spread our net too wide and wander into a number of unprofitable inquiries.
There is one other fact which I should like to give for the benefit of the general discussion on this matter. That is that there were 575 fatal accidents last year in which no mechanically-propelled vehicle was concerned. I agree with the hon. Member for Rotherhithe that we do not want to allow antagonism to grow up between those who own or use mechanically-propelled vehicles and those who do not, but I thought the House would be interested in this figure. Of that number 287 were pedal cyclists who came to grief without any contact with a mechanically-propelled vehicle.
The only other matter to which I think it necessary to draw attention is the time table of the public service express vehicle going, say, from London to Scotland. A suggestion was made by more than one speaker that time tables were published from which it was clear that the distance could only be traversed by some infringement of the law. The Road Traffic Act, 1930, Section 72, Sub-section (3), says that the Commissioners shall not grant a road service licence if it appears to them from the particulars furnished that the speed of the motor vehicle would contravene the law. The Traffic Commissioners have as their duty closely to scrutinise the time tables of the long-distance coach services, the time table being a condition of the licence and scheduled to the licence itself. The Commissioners have to satisfy themselves that it is possible to do the journey, including stops, safely within the 30-mileper-hour limit. If hon. Members have individual cases which come to their knowledge in which they think that provision is infringed, I should be grateful if, in a spirit of collaboration, they would be good enough to bring the evidence to me, but here is the law as hon. Members would wish it to be.
I think not. I will make inquires, but I am not aware that this is a source of accidents. I rather gather that the hon. Member was using it for a different argument. His case was that most of these accidents are brought about by speed. He desires that there should be a lower speed limit, and in support of that argument he adduced a time table which, he said, could never be satisfied if the speed limit were observed. I say that the law is correct and that it lays down that there should not be such a time table, but I invite hon. Members to tell me of any cases to the contrary which come to their notice.
I cannot subscribe to the view that the real cause of this trouble is speed. I wish it were so simple that we could diagnose one particular cause. The reason I cannot subscribe to that view is this. Of the whole of our accidents, what is the percentage which occurs within areas to which a speed limit now applies? The answer is that 76 per cent. of all accidents happen in areas where there is a speed limit, not because the speed is reduced, not because there is a legal provision, but because the speed limit applies only to a built-up area and that accidents and congestion are two different aspects of the same problem. Accidents occur where there are great agglomerations of people going about their ordinary business, and these accidents happen by a mixed contribution of carelessness in different degrees from different classes. Alter the human factor, and we shall make the biggest inroad on accidents. Point out to me any specific remedy which I can adopt, and I am willing sympathetically to consider it. The human factor is, and will remain, the principal cause, and that gives us the greatest hope.
I am rather inclined to think that the conclusion drawn by the Minister of Transport from the facts to which he has just referred is not as warranted as he imagines. A number of considerations have to be borne in mind, one of them being the fact that accidents which arise where there are speed limits are not all in the most congested parts of towns. They occur in big city areas upon which a great amount of speeding is done by selfish and inconsiderate motorists, irrespective of the fact that the speed limit exists. Of course, there are bound to be more accidents in the neighbourhood of large aggregations of humanity than in the country. Some hon. Members seemed to express the view that it was unfortunate that Members who were not practical motorists should take part in this discussion. I am not a practical motorist. I am a practical pedestrian. The attitude of mind of those hon. Members who appear to object in that way is expressed clearly in their objection. I agree with the Minister of Transport that it is undesirable to classify people into pedestrians and motorists and to set up, as it were, a class war.
Surely, however, when we are considering the question of pedestrians versus motorists—if one is entitled to use "versus"—one must consider the fact that the pedestrian is one human being while the motorist is a human being in possession of a considerable amount of machinery which is capable of big potential speeds of anything from eight to 20 horse power in capacity, and carrying burdens often amounting to many tons. That fact makes a big difference on the side of the pedestrian if we are making comparisons between the responsibility of one and the responsibility of the other. The motorist must have an initial extra burden or responsibility as he is in possession of an instrument of that character and potentiality. I was a members of the Transport Commission in 1929 and I signed a report which expressed the view that a universal speed limit of 20 miles an hour could not be enforced, was not being enforced, and, for reasons that have been given in similar cases, was a restriction which made an absurdity of the law. That report was acted upon by legislation and I am still inclined to the view that mere restriction of speed is not the way in which we shall solve this problem of slaughter upon the roads. There should be speed limits, and strictly enforced speed limits, in built-up areas and they should be more consistent than they are. There may be a case for the extension of areas with strictly enforced speed limits, but I do not think a general speed limit is a very practicable method of dealing with this question. I imagine that there are other ways of dealing with it. I can see the difficulties of them, and later I shall have a word to say about what the Minister of Transport said regarding the Lancashire experiment.
We have been reminded that motor cars are being advertised and sold to-day upon the basis of their capacity for high speed. I do not say that the average motorist is the terribly selfish person that some people suggest. I have said that I am a practical pedestrian rather than a motorist, but I do a considerable amount of motoring in other people's cars in connection with political work in the country, and I think the position is very much on a par with that see-saw of opinion described in Jerome's book "Three men in a boat," contrasting the journey when it was made in one way up the river and in another way down the river. But, after all, the pedestrian ought to be considered in a rather different light from that represented by the attitude of mind of some of those who have taken part in the discussion. I have seen pedestrians who were jay walkers, if you like, and have felt the irritation of the motorist, because I was in a motor car at the time; and I have seen cyclists just veer a bit and cause a little consternation or difficulty for the driver, and have had the same feeling as the driver about the stupidity of the cyclist; but I am not sure that there is not a case for stupidity. The idea that people in possession of cars represent progress and the other people, the jay walkers, represent something which is very old-fashioned and has to fade away, is not an idea which I am prepared to accept. I think the pedestrian has rights, even if he does not wish to be, or is not constitutionally capable of being, always on the qui vine against the possibility of being knocked down and slaughtered.
With regard to motor car advertisements, I can speak with some experience because at one time I was in the advertising business and I once wrote the copy for motor tyre advertisements. I was very proud of a slogan, "Eating up the miles," which I invented. Since then I have been rather sorry that I invented it. I have since come to the conclusion that that slogan did not belong to an age of reason, and I am inclined to agree with the writer of an article who said the most appropriate slogan was "Robots of the world unite" in respect of this particular problem, where it cannot be altogether true to say that we have nothing to lose but our lanes, because I am afraid we have lost a good deal of those as a result of the developments of road traffic. I challenge hon. Members to go into the Library and examine the motor car advertisements in "Punch" or any of the other high class papers. Almost without exception he will realise that the implication in the advertisements is that the motorist is most concerned about "eating up the miles." The idea is that people with money to spend upon expensive motor cars are more concerned about how many miles an hour they can get out of the car than they are about the rational use of this new instrument of locomotion. I think that is indicative of the attitude of a small but very dangerous section of the motoring public.
There is one other subject which I hesitate to mention but which I feel ought to be mentioned. A good number of the Members of this House know that I am no pussyfoot. I do not believe in restrictions and prohibitions, and do not think we can alter the habits of human beings very much by Acts of Parliament, but I must confess to a very considerable degree of concern at the number of road houses to be seen round about London and in other parts of the country. I have no objection to them; I think the idea of the better "pub" is an excellent one, leading to a more rational attitude to the question of drink and making people more temperate, but when I note the enormous number of cars parked outside those places, especially at week-ends, I cannot help feeling that here is something which ought to be looked into and which may be responsible, to a considerable extent, for some of the selfishness and some of the slaughter.
With regard to the jay walker, the pedestrian, I recall that in my youth I read a book called "The Right to be Lazy," which was a set-off against the idea of the right to work. I am inclined to agree that there is a right to be a jay walker. Of course there is a certain element of exaggeration in this, I know that the problem is a difficult one, that it is one which has two sides, but the other side ought to be stated in face of the calm assumption of some people that pedestrians must use torches, if you please. Because other people are able to buy motor cars, expensive bits of machinery with great destructive power if not used properly, the poor pedestrian must always be on the look out against being knocked over and having his life taken away.
The hon. Member is saying that my suggestion that pedestrians should carry a torch is a hardship, but we must remember that the cyclist and the motorist are compelled to carry lights to indicate the position they are in on the roads. Why is the pedestrian in a different position?
The answer is obvious. The motorist has something to put lights upon and the pedestrian has not. The point is that the motorist is something more than a single person because he has this machine, with all the responsibility attached to it. The idea that pedestrians have got to wear white clothes—that suggestion has been mooted—and all that sort of thing is not quite good enough. I do not say there ought to be speed limits out in the country—I am expressing my personal views only—but there ought to be some method of preventing the misuse of the motor car by that minority of motorists whose only idea is speed. There are two fetishes in the world to-day: one is speed, and the other is knocking balls about. The idea that we must get from one place to another as fast as we can does not strike me as at all progressive, because it does not go with the right attitude to human life and to social amenities, and I do not think it goes with the right attitude to one's surroundings and to Nature. But that is a matter of philosophy,
The point, shortly, is that we ought to be able to have—I do not say through the Ministry of Transport, because, as the Minister has said, it is a Home Office question—some way of controlling the bad motorists, and the best way I can think of is that those who are proved in a court of law to be misusing the power they possess as drivers of motor cars should be punished, and should be punished consistently, and to a degree that has some definite reference to the danger they are to society. I am afraid that the lack of consistency and the fact that there are upon the bench too many people with the motoring point of view has a great deal to do with the present state of affairs. Personally, I do not think the speed limit idea is the right one, but I would say that in every case where accidents occur, due to drink, for instance, there ought to be penalties which would include prison, penalties which would be to a reasonable extent in accord with the character of the offence.
The statement made by the Minister about the experiment in Lancashire was a very interesting one, and I suppose that it does prove, as he suggested, that it is possible to reduce this slaughter upon the road if measures are taken to alter the attitude of mind and the habits of people who use the road; but there is just this point about it. The experiment was concerned with the use of mobile police. The presence of mobile police may have a psychological effect upon a motorist and everybody else concerned. We have to wait to know what happens when the mobile police are withdrawn, because we cannot always have them operating upon dangerous roads, or main roads, in order to prevent slaughter. I shall be very much interested, as I am sure will every other Member, to read the report upon that experiment and to hear the further explanation of the Minister of Transport with reference to that experiment and the other which he mentioned. On the whole I think the Debate has been a useful one, and I hope that the point of view of the pedestrian and the cyclist will be treated with more consideration by some people than has been the case in the past. That will be so only if they recognise that the pedestrian has a right not only to the use of the road but to the reasonable use of the road, and that he has a right to look at the countryside without having always at the back of his mind the thought that over the brow of the hill or round the next corner may come a big engine of destruction, and that he must get out of its way or perish. There must be some compromise between the two interests involved, and because I am not a practical motorist I am afraid that the balance of my interest is upon the side of the pedestrian.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we have had a very interesting discussion, and the conclusion that we must all arrive at is one of sympathy with the Minister of Transport in his difficulty of trying to get accidents down further than at present. Knowing him as we all do we can be assured of his active appreciation of the seriousness of the problem. It cannot be solved by just passing one piece of legislation or by effecting one alteration. Even a speed limit will not necessarily affect the great acceleration of the toll of the roads, although it will go that way. Another point on which we shall all agree is that deaths and accidents would be materially less if the highways were adequate to our requirements. For that, again, we cannot blame the Minister. That is the situation as we find it, and we can only use our own efforts to give him the urge and the authority to get on and endeavour to make our highway system adequate to the growing demands of the users of the roads. It has been proved by figures that the main cause of road accidents is the absence of road sense of all users of the roads, and to a large extent to the absence of road manners on the part of motorists. I am an old motorist. I have been owning and driving a car for 35 years. I find no pleasure at all now in doing it. I do not drive if I can possibly help it, largely because I am afraid my patience is not what it used to be, and my sense of toleration is not the same as it was many years ago. The pleasure derived from driving, owing to the lack of manners on the road, is not what it was many years ago. I was very interested to hear of the results obtained by the chief constable of Lancashire, and I should have liked to have heard more about the steps that it is intended to take.
There are some suggestions that I should like to throw out as to possible ways of educating the public with the object of lessening accidents. I think it would be a useful service if the Ministry could initiate short films, of not more than two minutes, to be attached to the usual news reels in all cinemas regularly every day, every week, all over the country—something useful, in the form of a strip cartoon if you like, but something which would bring home to everyone who saw the film the dangers of the road, purely educational, as to what might happen and whose child it might be. Recently I saw a short American film on the same lines in which the conclusion was drawn that "it might be your child who was killed." It was not the child's fault. It was not anyone's fault. It was a pure accident, largely due to lack of education and sense on everyone's part. Another suggestion—I think it is copied indirectly from an American idea—is that each city, borough or county should be segregated for the purpose of ascertaining the number of fatal accidents and injuries, with statistics published monthly, in order to establish a competitive record of each of these places as to how well they were doing in eliminating accidents in their areas. At the moment Lancashire stands supreme. It has made a great effort and it has got good results. If the idea could be spread and made competitive, with the monthly publication of figures, it could only assist the end that we all have in mind.
Another point is that we should inaugurate, through the Ministry of Transport or some other appropriate channel, a voluntary safety service, that is to say, that individuals of known integrity, whether motorists, pedestrians or cyclists, should have the facility of reporting every case they see of indiscretion, discourtesy and carelessness on the road, whether by a pedestrian, cyclist or motorist, and have an opportunity of reporting the case to a police station or some central headquarters where a note could be sent to the delinquent drawing his attention to the fact. It may be said that we do not want to have a lot of spies about the roads, but that would not be the object. The object would be to impress on all road users the absolute necessity of courtesy to all other road users. I am certain it would have nothing but a good effect if some movement of that kind could be inaugurated. Referring back to my suggestion about putting cities, boroughs and counties in competition in the way they deal with safety on the roads, the Minister might consider the possibility—I do not offer this as a firm suggestion—whether certain concessions could be made in speed limits in areas that show a certain standard of road sense and management—in other words, give them some reward for the service that they are doing to the community by reducing the terrible toll of the roads. I hope my remarks will be taken as constructive, but I do not want to lose sight, and I do not want the Minister—I know he does not—to lose sight of the fact that one of the main causes of accidents is the inadequate highway system. I do not blame him, but I hope the House will be able to bring pressure to bear on him and give him authority to get adequate finance in order to bring our highway system up to meet the existing and growing demands, and reduce accidents in consequence.
I am sure the House welcomes the sympathetic way in which the Minister has approached the Motion, and we on this side welcome the fact that he has apparently determined to advise the House to accept it. He seemed to be of the opinion that the speed-limit has little or nothing to do with the great increase of accidents, that the real cause is the human factor, and that with more consideration on the part of motor drivers, more observance of the courtesies of the road and a little less eagerness on the part of drivers to "eat up the miles," in which process they often eat up the pedestrians, accidents would be fewer. I agree that the whole of the responsibility does not rest upon the driver. I have no doubt that the House will not agree with the witness in a certain case who, asked what he thought was the reason for a collision between two cars, expressed the opinion that both drivers were chasing the same pedestrian. I do not think that hon. Members will resort to the extreme step of blaming the driver to that extent. But, if it is true that the human factor is responsible for a large percentage of accidents, surely, if the driver is driving at an excessive speed, and there is no limit to the speed to which he can put the car, it follows that the human factor is at a disadvantage as compared with the mechanical instrument in the hands of the motorist. It is a pity that in a Debate of this kind where two Departments are concerned the House should not have the advantage of the presence of a representative of the Home Office as well as of the Ministry of Transport, which would have made the discussion a little more complete.
If the Minister and I are in agreement that more consideration should be shown by drivers, can we not agree upon some method whereby we can put a check upon those drivers? There is one suggestion that I would put forward, though I recognise it does not, possibly, come within the purview of the Ministry of Transport. It is that, instead of allowing drivers or owners to insure to the extent of 100 per cent, of their potential liability, they should be prohibited from insuring to a higher percentage than, say, 75 or 80. The effect of that would be to meet the objection raised by the Minister. I have felt myself in driving, and I daresay others have, that there is a sense of irresponsibility to the extent of saying to oneself, "If anything happens that costs financial damage as the result of my action, I shall not suffer as far as my pocket is concerned." If the motorist were confined to an insurance of 80 per cent. it would make a great difference to the conduct of drivers. Though this may not be a matter for the Ministry of Transport, I hope the suggestion will not be overlooked.
There is another matter that does come within the purview of the Ministry—the footpaths along the motor roads. The Ministry has great influence with local authorities in this matter. I have been walking through Kent recently, and I was astonished to find how many miles of roads there are without any footpath at all. I remember walking from Herne Bay to Canterbury, on a secondary road it is true, but for five miles there was no footpath at all. The Minister will know the percentage of accidents on motor roads without footpaths. There are many accidents for that reason which ought never to take place. I hope the Minister's influence will be brought to bear upon local authorities to make regulations and that wherever there is a road without a footpath the local authority will be pressed to provide that measure of protection for the pedestrian. Although the Minister may have no power to deal with the insurance suggestion, I hope that it will not be overlooked. I am certain that if the motorist had to pay a matter of 20 per cent. of the sum insured in the case of damage or injury, he would drive more carefully and that in the end the number of accidents would be reduced.
I think that we were all interested in the Minister's remarks, particularly when he divided the subject into two parts, one part for which he held responsibility, and the other part which he said was the human part. With regard to the first part, the Minister obviously admits that he is responsible for road surfaces. Many road surfaces in built-up areas are not non-skid. I have in mind the road immediately outside my house in Holland Park Avenue, from Notting Hill Gate to Shepherds Bush. After the slightest shower of rain one is not surprised that there should be accidents but surprised rather that there are not more accidents at this place. Cars are skidding all over the road like little boys with scooters. People from the local authority throw down sand occasionally. If the Minister wants to go over a dangerous road, I suggest that he should inspect this one. It ought to be compulsory upon highway authorities to ensure that all roads have non-skid surfaces. That would certainly help the motorist better to control his car.
With regard to lorry drivers, of whom we have heard so much, I should like as an old motorist to pay my tribute to lorry drivers and bus drivers. They are good drivers and courteous and, unless they are passing other traffic, they always run on the near side of the road. In regard to taxi cabs, when they have a fare, they think that everybody is in their way. When they have not a fare they crawl about, and they are in everybody else's way. They contribute largely to accidents for which they ought to be held responsible, although they may not themselves be involved.
The cause of accidents can be summed up in one word—"impatience." The pedestrian is impatient, because he is in such a hurry to cross the road, the cyclist is impatient and the motorist is impatient. In contrast to bus and lorry drivers, the ordinary private motorist appears to make a hobby of holding the centre of the road instead of driving on the near side and drawing out only when passing. A number of the new roads are built with two lines of traffic, and the centre line becomes nothing but a battleground for passing motorists. This contributes to many deaths. I suggest to the Minister that he ought to insist that new roads are made wide enough so that there are two lines of traffic on each side of the centre, similar to the road towards Epping and on the Southend Road. I am sure they are the best kind of road.
With regard to speed, I have always held that the 30-mile limit in built-up areas is of no value and that in fact, you create accidents. To prevent accidents you should stop dangerous driving. As an old motorist I say that you can drive dangerously at 10 miles an hour and perfectly safely at 50 miles an hour, and certainly at 30 miles an hour. To tell a person that he is all right as long as he goes at 30 miles an hour through any town is asking for trouble. I put it to the Minister that there are a good many roads now restricted that ought not to be restricted. One can approach such large towns as Birmingham and find the 30-mile limit well outside any built-up area. You can go long distances on roads between fields, where there is not a house, and yet the road is restricted. Such municipalities place their 30-mile limit sign at their boundary line irrespective of whether the area is built up or not. This annoys the motorist. In these times one has to get about more quickly than formerly, and to do as much in one day as many years ago people did in two. To the hon. Member opposite who referred to the use of high-powered cars in order to obtain speed I say with great respect that that is not the angle taken by the majority of big car owners, who look upon the bigger car as more comfortable riding and more capable of control. It does not necessarily follow that you want to go at a greater speed. I think he is quite wrong. I hope the Minister will insist that all highway authorities put down non-skid road surfaces where these do not exist at the present time.
I am a pedestrian of 50 years' experience, a cyclist of 40 years' experience and a motorist of 30 years' experience. We are all made of the same stuff. I would refer to the report on road accidents in Great Britain, issued by the Minister of Transport, and in which he said:
The most frequent cause of accidents attributed to drivers was lack of care when emerging or turning from one road into another.
That being so, I cannot understand why it is that more use is not made of the "Halt" sign. Accidents have been considerably reduced in many instances where the "Halt" sign has been erected, and I cannot see why that precaution cannot be taken on every occasion when a minor road crosses a major road. The fact that improvement has taken place where they have been erected is sufficient reason why they should be made compulsory on all occasions. I do not know whether local authorities have the right to erect these signs without permission from the Minister of Transport, but I think he should give instructions for them to be erected on all possible occasions.
The report to which I have referred says that the most frequent cause of accidents is speed. The suggestion has already been made that automatic governors should be fitted on vehicles that should not proceed beyond 30 miles an hour. I cannot see any reason why that suggestion should not be carried out. Why cannot a connection from the speed indicator be fixed to the rear of all cars? We have heard of the improvement that has taken place in Lancashire as a result of extra special precautions over a period of six months, but we have not yet heard the details, and we have, of course, to take into consideration the cost. It has been stated several times in this House to-day that to enforce the law a policeman would have to drive on every car, particularly in regard to the speed limit. That is not necessary. A device for indicating speed and to go at the rear of the car could be made for probably 5s. or less. It could be illuminated by a red light when the speed exceeds 30 miles an hour and it ought to have a dial of sufficient size to be read as easily as can the number plate. I feel convinced that there would be considerable gain in preventing motorists from exceeding the speed limit by the employment of such a device. It would not cost more than number plates and a rear light. I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to some sort of device for that purpose.
We have heard about pedestrian crossings. I see in this report that only 5 per cent. of the accidents occurred on pedestrian crossings. If no one used the pedestrian crossings there would be no accidents there. I very much doubt their value, as used at the present moment. The right of the pedestrian is not enforced. There seems to be no care taken to ensure that he should have that right. You can go across streets in London but you have to wait for the traffic. If the accidents at pedestrian crossings have been reduced it is due to the care of the pedestrians waiting for drivers rather than to drivers waiting for pedestrians. These wretched beacons were erected throughout the country on roads where there is hardly any traffic, I believe at a cost of £16 or £17 each. They are not worth 16s. or 17s., when it comes to considering what lives they have saved.
That is not what I said. I said that unless the right of the pedestrian were enforced on pedestrian crossings, the crossings were useless. This terrible toll of 6,000 or 7,000 deaths goes on. A railway, aeroplane or mining accident receives great publicity, but because hundreds of thousands of people are killed individually each year we say little or nothing about the matter. This terrible toll does not take place in a collective manner. The Minister told us that 70 per cent. of the accidents take place in the daylight, 4 per cent. in the dusk and the rest in the dark. I would remind the House that dusk exists for probably 4 per cent. of our time and that considerably more motoring takes place during the daylight than in the dark. Therefore, I do not think, with all due respect to the Minister, that there was much point in making that statement. I hope that he will take notice of what has been said about rear indicators on cars. I think it would contribute considerably to a reduction of excessive speed where that speed was not permitted. I am sure we have all appreciated the action of hon. Members opposite in bringing forward this important matter. This is one of the days on which private Members' time has been very well spent.