Orders of the Day — Road Traffic (Speed Limits)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th December 1976.

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Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton 12:00 am, 15th December 1976

Now that the fuel crisis is over, there could be only one justification for these restrictive laws—that they improve road safety. As so many of my hon. Friends have shown, that is the question to which we should be devoting our minds, and so far an affirmative answer to it has not come from the Government. Indeed the contrary is true, since in their consultative letter they say that apart from the first three months, there has been "no further reduction" in the accident rate.

That is an absolutely damning sentence for anyone who seeks to prove the case which ought to be proved on this order, namely, that it will contribute to road safety. But, quite apart from the Government's own statistical view, it must be recognised that all my hon. Friends here are drivers. Most of us drive many thousands of miles a year. Therefore, we are particularly representative of the people in the country at large on this occasion.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) said, when one asks whether the maintenance of these limits contributes to road safety, the one test of preeminent importance is whether they contribute to irritation and resentment. One thing that orders of this nature have done is to stimulate resentment and irritation.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) said, it is bad enough for the ordinary motorist to have to drive on cluttered-up roads which are subject to five different speed limits. That is confusing enough, but aggravation and resentment enter into it when it is remembered that the ordinary motorist receives very little guidance. Sometimes there are no signs indicating what the maximum speed is, with the result that there is a large number of accidental infringements and convictions.

There is a damning point in the consultative letter, where it is said: In 1976 there was a lower degree of compliance with the law than in 1975. It is remarkable that it should be sought to perpetuate this system of limits, when the original justification for them has gone and when such resentment occurs when a motorist is confused about whether he is driving lawfully or unlawfully and he is then stopped, charged and fined for something as to the truth of which he was utterly unaware.

Since the original order was introduced at least 25,000 people have been "done" under it. Being caught for an offence under the order must aggravate and infuriate drivers, just as the police must become aggravated and infuriated by having, at a time when they are hard pressed and short of men, vehicles and equipment, to patrol these limits.

I understand from the Government's figures that 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. of drivers do not observe the law. I have forgotten how many drivers there are in this country, but it must be well over 10 million. Any law which makes 3 million or 4 million decent citizens liable to infringe the law and, therefore, to become criminals, however petty, is not worthy of the name.

As it has no sufficient consent from the people, as it has no commonsense justification, as it causes resentment and irritation, as the Government's own figures cannot prove that it contributes to road safety and as road safety is the only factor that we should consider tonight, there is every reason for voting against the order, and that is what I propose to do.