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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 Arthur Molson Mr Arthur Molson , High Peak 12:00 am, 5th April 1955

I will try to explain the position about Clause 1. When Clause I was first published, it was interesting to see the reactions of the newspapers. The "Liverpool Daily Post," the "Star," the "Daily Telegraph," and the "Birmingham Post" all expressed the opinion that this provision for the compulsory testing of motor vehicles was very valuable. One paper, the "Sunday Express," took the contrary view. It is interesting to see that when the Bill was first introduced a very large majority of the newspapers felt that something ought to be done in this respect.

We took the matter up very largely for the reasons given by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall. We are quite convinced that a large number of accidents are either caused or at any rate partly caused by defects in vehicles. So far from a figure of 2 per cent. being a fair representation of the number of those accidents, on the advice of the Road Research Laboratory we believe that the figure is about 10 times that and amounts to about 20 per cent.

I want to say something about the way in which statistics are collected, especially in view of the very interesting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs). It is not possible to produce statistics speedily and at the same time to produce an accurate analysis of them. We have just produced the rough figures for the accidents of 1954, and we hope within the next fortnight or so to produce a detailed analysis of the accidents of 1953.

It arises out of the very nature of road accidents that when something unexpected happens a crowd collects and a policeman arrives, and it is quite impossible to arrive at any accurate explanation as to exactly how the accident occurred. The figure of 2 per cent. which is given is where, on a first impression, the sole, or main, or obvious, cause was a defect in the vehicle, and is very far from being the full story.

The Road Research Laboratory has conducted some tests. I think hon. Members, and certainly people outside, were surprised to find, when we published the Highway Code, that when a vehicle is travelling at 30 miles per hour on dry roads and the brakes are in good condition it takes 45 feet to draw up the vehicle. The Road Research Laboratory did not take that high standard, but took the standard for drawing up as 70 feet. Of the number of vehicles tested it was found that only 50 per cent. reached that lower standard, 10 per cent. could not stop within 100 feet, and 1 per cent. could not stop within 200 feet. We may take it that that is the general standard of the maintenance of brakes.

Several hon. Members, especially the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), spoke of the seriousness of dazzle as a contributory cause to accidents. Eighty per cent. of the vehicles tested had mis-aimed headlights. The hon. Member will forgive me asking a perhaps slightly playful question. He said that when driving his car he found oncoming vehicles flashed their lights at him. I suggest that perhaps he might be well advised to have his own headlights tested. That may be the explanation.