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.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Arthur Champion Mr Arthur Champion , Derbyshire South East 12:00 am, 5th April 1955

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) for bringing to the attention of the House, in a very graphic illustration, the magnitude of this problem which is still facing us. The tremendous number of people killed and maimed on our roads is a continuous problem, and it is right that we should devote a fair amount of our time to the consideration of it.

As a railwayman, I cannot help thinking what would be the outcry if anything like this number of people were killed or maimed on the railways. There would be scores of Questions on the Order Paper. We should have to contend in this House with something entirely different from what is done in connection with this awful loss which we are experiencing on the roads of this country.

This is undoubtedly a hotchpotch of a Bill, but I can understand that from time to time it is necessary for a Government Department to produce such a Bill. So I am not going to criticise the Bill on the grounds of its being a hotchpotch of a Bill. If I have any criticism to make of the Minister it is that in having it presented in another place he did not think it out beforehand. He did not give sufficient time to considering some of the problems involved, and he has not presented to this House, or enabled another place to be presented, with facts and figures to justify some of the Clauses of the Bill. I support what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedfordshire, South said about its being the job of everyone in this House to do everything in his power to make this a better Bill, having regard to the necessity for a greater degree of road safety.

When the Minister was moving the Motion for Second Reading, I was particularly struck by the timing of his announcement of the abolition of the Road Fund. He made that announcement today. I wondered whether he waited until the time or about the time of the resignation of the Prime Minister before making it. Did the Prime Minister want to retain the Road Fund in case he might want to make another raid on it? Now the Prime Minister has gone, and apparently no such raid is now necessary. The Prime Minister has gone and the Road Fund looks like going. I am certain we all regret the fact that the Prime Minister has decided to resign. I do, at any rate. However, I do not regret the passing of the Road Fund. It is a fiction, and it is right that it should disappear.

I give general support to the idea of the examination of motor vehicles used on the roads, and I do so especially from the pedestrians' point of view. After all, each and every one of those vehicles is a dangerous man-killing weapon, and there is a considerable increase in the lethal power of that weapon if it is not in an efficient condition to be driven. There are drivers who do take the chance of taking on to the roads unfit vehicles. There is no doubt at all about that. Many of them, too many of them, as we all know, are taking that risk. They are doing what they would call "chancing their arm," but chancing their arm is chancing other people's lives, and that is what matters.

I agree with those who have said that the spot check is very valuable. I regard the spot check as a very valuable power for the authorities, but my experience as a magistrate shows that the risk of a spot check is not sufficient to cause people to keep their vehicles in a reasonable state of road worthiness. In far too many of the cases I have seen in the courts the bad conditions of vehicles were found not as the result of spot checks, but as the result of accidents in which the vehicles had been involved. There is far too little use made of the existing spot check. Nevertheless, whatever spot check we have we shall always have the crazy driver who will chance his arm and other people's lives at the same time. Therefore, I think that the spot check should be additional to and not in substitution of regular examination of vehicles.

It is necessary for some further light to be thrown upon the manpower and equipment necessary for the task of examination. There is a great body of experience of this type of checking in the United States of America and elsewhere from which we could learn. Two States of the United States, it is true, have dropped it, but there must be in America a good deal of information about this business of checking vehicles, about the problems involved in checking, about the kind of equipment necessary for the job, and so on.

I should have thought that before bringing the Bill to this House the Minister would have been able to obtain some information on this point from his own experts and that he certainly would have been able to obtain the valuable amount of information that exists abroad. I understand that there are testing stations in this country in private hands. If that is so, I should have thought that it would have been possible to have secured from those who have been running them some information about their experience.

I am particularly anxious that the Minister should do something about this before we come to the Committee stage. We have had a tremendous variety of suggestions about the number of men that would be involved in these tests. One estimate made in another place of the number of men required for examination of all vehicles was 100,000, but my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) has said that he thought the number would be between 10,000 and 15,000. There is a wide disparity between those two sets of figures. I should have thought that, by obtaining some idea of existing experience, it would have been possible to obtain a figure on which we could work and come to a decision in Committee.

As to what has been said about dazzle, I am quite a new car driver and owner and I find it very disconcerting when I have dipped my headlights that motor drivers approaching me dip their lights and then flash them up as though my lights were not dipped. It seems quite obvious that motor car headlights are not standardised in respect of dipping. My lights seem to me to be fairly good and are comfortable to me when they are dipped but there must be some element of dazzle in them which other people approaching me find very disconcerting. We should try to have some standard applied first to vehicles leaving the factory and subsequently to vehicles leaving an examination bench before they actually go on the roads.

We really must try to obtain data in connection with the provisions of Clause 1. I certainly do not agree with the statistics which have been produced to the effect that only about 2,500 accidents are caused through vehicles being in an unroadworthy condition. I have sat in court and have listened for hour after hour to evidence given in cases involving accidents on the road. One often finds tremendous difficulty in deciding what caused the accident. I wonder whether some of the doubtful decisions eventually given are used in the statistics which are produced on this subject. I have said before in this House that sometimes the only conclusion that I have come to after hearing all the evidence given in cases where two vehicles have been in collision has been that the collision must have taken place between stationary vehicles.

I support very strongly the proposed amendment of the law concerning provisional driving licences. In that connection I take the opportunity of saying a few words in praise of the examiners who conduct driving tests. I have listened on previous occasions in the House to a lot of nonsense talked about the tests and to stories of trick questions and trick driving manoeuvres. Outside this House I have usually found that to have been an explanation of failure to pass the test. It is harmless, I suppose, but it really is undermining the necessary part that these people play in producing high driving standards.

In regard to my own recent experience in passing the test—the first time I failed miserably, and the next time I passed—I must say that on both occasions I had questions put to me which I regarded as absolutely fair. I was put through driving manoeuvres which, in my opinion, tested my ability to handle that car on the road in a reasonable way. If I had passed the first time, I would have regarded the examiner as being a nincompoop who did not know his job, and, if I had failed the second time, I should have regarded myself as a nincompoop and incapable of learning. The tests were absolutely fair, and I should like to pay my tribute to these people, whom I regard as doing a first-class job of work.

I end in very much the same way as I started, in having some doubts about the Bill and many things connected with it, except the fact that we can improve it during the Committee stage, and I am sure that, on both sides of the House, hon. Members will devote their energies to that end.