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The Bill might better have been entitled the" Road Safety Bill "instead of the" Road Traffic Bill. "We could have confined ourselves precisely to questions of road safety. How far will the present Bill achieve that objective?
Many Clauses are far too sketchy for us to say whether they will be effective or not. The fact that the Bill contains an element of compulsion for all road users, including cyclists and pedestrians, is good. Every person using the roads must do so with a sense of responsibility. For far too long the motorist has had to accept responsibility while others were not expected to do so. Not infrequently, accidents are caused by the carelessness not of motorists but of other road users. The Bill will seek to bring some measure of compulsion upon them all, not unreasonably but in a reasonable way, which is a good thing to do.
I have every sympathy with the proposal for inspection of motor vehicles. I speak as an engineer in saying I am somewhat concerned how effect will be given to that proposal. What is the test for an efficient brake? Motor manufacturers have been asking the Ministry that question for years, and all they can get is the answer that a vehicle must stop in a reasonable distance on a given road surface. That is all we get, something that is "reasonable." When we ask what is meant by "reasonable" we get no answer. We must deal sooner or later with this question of the efficiency of vehicles.
The main element that will be tested will be the efficiency of the braking system. Next will be steering, to a less extent. Let me relate a little story, which the Parliamentary Secretary will recollect. He and I underwent a voluntary road test in my constituency. He had a Ministerial car, and the result in his case was good. I went on immediately afterwards, and the result of the test showed that my motor car was much better than his. That car had every appearance of having efficient brakes. What follows is a little technical, but I hope the House will forgive me because it is very important and I have to pinpoint the difficulties in the testing of the efficiency of brakes.
I had been concerned for some time because my brake linings seemed to be wearing for a very long time indeed. As a matter of interest very soon after the test I told the garage people to remove the brake drums to discover how good the linings really were. They found that there were no brake linings on the shoes at all; just the bare shoe rubbing on the inside of the drum—something which the motor manufacturers said was not possible. There was an apparently good brake, which had given better results than the brakes of the Ministerial car, yet anyone examining it would say that it was hopelessly inefficient.
That means that in order to test the efficiency of a braking system the examiner will need to test not only the pulling-up distance and so on, but the condition of the brakes themselves. He will have to remove the wheels, examine the brake drums and look at the condition of the linings on the shoes. It will take him quite a long time. I am not at all deprecating the idea of tests. I merely want to show what is involved.
Quite apart from motor-cycles, we shall shortly have five million motor vehicles on the roads. They will all have to be examined each year. Nothing less than a yearly inspection would be worth the trouble—I am not sure that even a yearly inspection is necessarily the answer. Each vehicle will occupy the examiner for from two to four hours if it is to be examined properly. That will involve the employment of between 10,000 and 15,000 persons. Those figures can be worked out mathematically; a 40-hour week, 50 weeks in a year—by taking the number of vehicles the Minister can easily work out how many people he will need for that job.
Where are they to come from? The examiners we now have for public service vehicles are relatively limited in number. They are very highly skilled, highly qualified and highly responsible people. From my experience in the industry I cannot speak too highly of their work. But the demands of the engineering industry cannot at present be supplied from the labour market, and where we shall find 10,000 to 15,000 qualified people to do this work I do not know.
Further, if the job is to be done efficiently it will involve a division and an allocation of labour—and unless the job is done efficiently it had better be left alone. It must not be left to chance. That is the sort of thing which I hope the Minister will be able to say he has in mind when bringing this testing into operation. I would welcome it. I believe that those who really look after their cars deserve to have the fact stated; those who do not look after them should not be on the road.
Testing of vehicles will not be the only thing. It is probably a good thing to establish a 30-m.p.h. speed limit in built-up areas, but even there I am not sure that the French system is not better. In France there is a speed limit which varies according to the conditions of the areas through which one travels. In Britain there are some areas where the limit should be 30 m.p.h.—in some built-up areas it could even be 40 m.p.h. In others it should come down to 15 or 20 m.p.h., and it should be an offence in that area to drive above that speed.
A vital point is that in an area there should be a universal speed limit. What is the greatest cause of accidents in a built-up area? It is the driver of a vehicle entitled to travel at 30 m.p.h. trying to pass one entitled to travel at only 20 m.p.h. He is legally entitled to do so, but he has to have regard to oncoming traffic, and he does not always have sufficient regard to that.
There should be a universal speed limit in built-up areas so that the traffic is all travelling at the same speed—when the road is clear—and there is not the invitation to the faster-travelling vehicle to overtake the slower one. Such a universal road speed would considerably lessen the accident rates in built-up areas.