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Orders of the Day — ROAD TRAFFIC BILL [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th April 1955.

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Photo of Mr Douglas Houghton Mr Douglas Houghton , Sowerby 12:00 am, 5th April 1955

It is the worst time of day upon the roads, yet it is just about that time that, so frequently, more dogs are let loose.

I was astonished to learn recently that while an owner of animals must fence them in so as to prevent damage to the property of neighbours, no such legal obligation is placed upon him to prevent them straying upon the highway. I do not know whether I am right or wrong about this, but it was stated to me to be one of the legal antiquities of this country that an owner of land is not bound to fence his animals in so as to prevent them from getting on to the road, that being based upon the ancient right of animals to have the free use of the Queen's highway.

I am not suggesting that we should enforce the erection of fences right across the moors in my constituency, or right through the New Forest, because plain warnings are erected in those places about the risk of animals being upon the road. In areas where motorists may not expect to meet any danger of that kind, and yet where animals may be left to graze, however, it seems strange that no obligation is placed upon the owner of such animals to keep them from straying on to the roads, where they can be a danger to pedestrians and motorists. That point may be worth considering.

I now turn to the distractions to motorists which were mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, East. If there were as many distractions to the drivers of railway engines as there are to motorists, our railways would not be as safe as they are. There seem to be even more and more winking lights, neon signs and brilliantly lit shop windows and the lighting of such windows—is often more distracting than the dazzle of an approaching car. As one approaches our larger towns and cities today one encounters myriads of lights of various kinds, which make it extremely difficult to pick out traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, and so on.

I do not know whether any statutory power is placed in anybody's hands to prevent shop windows from acting as searchlights, as some of them literally do. It is extremely difficult for the motorist to drive along such roads, especially at night, when he may encounter a patch of road which is dark and then another stretch which is brilliantly lighted by shop windows, the owners of which naturally want passers-by to look in after shopping hours.