Reflective Number Plates

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th April 1967.

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10.25 a.m.

Photo of Mr Ken Lomas Mr Ken Lomas , Huddersfield West

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to allow the use of reflective number plates on all road vehicles as an aid to road safety. In 1966, 8,000 people were killed on the roads of this country, a further 100,000 were seriously injured and almost 300,000 were slightly injured. A total of 468,000 vehicles was involved in those accidents, and of the people killed or seriously injured almost 50 per cent. were either drivers or passengers in cars, taxis, vans and lorries. In 1966, fatal and serious casualties among drivers increased by 8·8 per cent. and in respect of their passengers by 9·3 per cent.

Apart from the personal tragedies and the grief those accidents caused, it has been calculated by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents that their cost in monetary terms in 1966 was no less than £267 million. Therefore, any measure designed to reduce the total number of accidents and keep death off our roads should receive the full and wholehearted support of all hon. Members, especially when the measure proposed in my Bill is as simple and cheap as a reflective registration or number plate.

Over one-third of all road accidents involving fatal or serious injuries happen in the hours of darkness, but as travel is much less during that period the accident rate in relation to vehicle-miles travelled is at least twice as great as during the hours of daylight. It is interesting to note that 47·2 per cent. of all road deaths occur at night.

A recent survey undertaken by the Automobile Association showed that over one-third of the vehicles in this country are inadequately lit at night. As we already have 14 million vehicles in Britain this must mean that close on 5 million vehicles constitute a potential source of a road accident. The need for a full-proof warning of a vehicle with faulty lighting, or one that has been abandoned or badly parked becomes obvious.

In January this year the Road Research Laboratory issued Report No. 44 under the heading: A road trial with reflectorised registration plates for motor vehicles". In paragraph 2, on page 2, the Report states: This Report describes a trial started early in 1964 with registration plates reflectorised with the material generally used for road traffic signs in the U.K. This material consists of spherical glass beads embedded within a transparent plastic having a smooth flat outer surface, and complies with the relevant requirements of B.S. 873–1959. It was accepted that at the outset such reflectorised plates are easier to read at night in the light of headlights and no more difficult to read by day than non-reflectorised plates. The results of the trial are shown in Section 6 of the Report, where it is stated that, after two years and 80,000 miles of use on the roads, the average reduction in reflective power was 42 per cent., but that this was still 60 times brighter than white paint and that the reflective power of the plates could be restored to 80 to 90 per cent. of the original by polishing with car polish. I remind the House that 80,000 miles of motoring represents six to seven years' motoring for the average driver. In its conclusions, the Report states that evidence was obtained that the use of reflectorised registration plates might be expected to increase safety at night.

I would point out that since April, 1964, when the trial was first begun, over 22,000 people have been killed, over 250,000 seriously injured and in excess of three quarters of a million slightly injured on our roads. This is no time for delay or procrastination; it is time for action—now. The evidence is already known, and I can see no reason at all for further delay.

The advantages of the reflective plates are obvious, but I shall list them. They are:

  1. (1) They are not dependent on their own lighting system. No battery, bulb, or wiring is required.
  2. (2) They require little or no maintenance, except for an occasional wipe over for they are washed clean by the rain.
  3. (3) Statistics can be produced to show that in the United States of America, where tests have been carried out in Minnesota, Maine, Illinois and Iowa, night-time accidents, especially rear end collisions, have been greatly reduced.
  4. (4) If the plates were centrally positioned, they would give full warning of the approach of the "one-eyed monster", the vehicle with one front or one rear light out.
  5. (5) They reflect at all angles, regardless of the position of the vehicle.
  6. (6) They increase by five or six times the visibility distance of vehicles whose lights are switched off, or are not functioning and the legibility distance is increased by two or three times in the full beam of headlights.
  7. (7) They are no dearer than the present type of plates and would cost about £2 per pair, which, according to the Road Research Laboratory report, in Section 7, is the cost of ordinary registration plates at present in use.
  8. (8) None of the materials which would be used for the manufacture of the plates would have to be imported. They are available in this country, and would not cost either the Government or the motorist any more money than at present.
  9. (9) They would be of a uniform size and shape and virtually indestructible.
  10. (10) They would be a positive aid to police and to law enforcement. Mobile patrols would be able to read with much greater ease the number of an oncoming vehicle and similarly one that was going away from them.
Over 40 million vehicles in the world—25 per cent. of the total number will be equipped with these reflective plates by the end of 1967. This includes vehicles in 30 States in the United States of America, and in countries as far apart as Libya and Brazil. In France, permissive legislation was introduced in 1963 and the use of the plates is now compulsory for heavy goods vehicles. In a letter that I have had from the Minister of the Interior for Australia, it was stated that approval has been granted for their use in the Australian Capital Territory. The Tasmanian Government have also recommended their use.

I hope that we shall not delay any longer in Britain. All that is needed is a slight amendment to the lighting regulations now in operation to allow the use of a white or yellow reflecting plate on which the letters and numbers would appear in black. This again would be in line with the Road Research Laboratory Report No. 44, which, in its conclusions, states: The use of yellow at the rear and white at the front might help to decide whether he vehicle is moving in the same or the opposite direction as oneself. In support of my proposed Bill I call in aid the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club, the International Federation of Senior Police officers and over 100 police forces in Britain, not to mention the 60 hon. Members representing all three parties in the House, who have signed Motion No. 460.

If the Bill receives the support that it should, and obtains a speedy passage through both Houses of Parliament, its provisions could be saving lives before the main holiday season commences, and certainly before the dark nights come again, when death on the roads of Britain, once more, unfortunately, will take its toll of men, women and children who might have lived if they had been in vehicles equipped with these reflective safety plates envisaged in my Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Lomas, Mr. Oakes, Mr. Mawby, Mr. Ogden. Mr. Binns, Mr. Bessell, and Mr. Manuel.