The safety record of commercial vehicles has improved dramatically over the last 20 years. But accident rates are still too high. We shall continue to seek improvements by setting better standards for vehicle construction, regular vehicle checks and controls over vehicle operators and drivers.
Is the Minister aware that heavy goods vehicles make up 3·1 per cent. of all vehicles, 7·7 per cent. of total kilometres travelled, but 10·8 per cent. of accidents involving fatalities? Are not those figures disturbing? What are the Government doing to bring us into line with European recommendations on side underruns and in terms of improving the general safety of the design of lorries?
Heavy lorries are involved in fewer accidents than cars, comparing mileages. They do 16 per cent. of the mileage but are involved in only 10 per cent. of the accidents. However, when they are involved in accidents the accidents are more serious, hence the worrying number of fatalities quoted by the hon. Gentleman. We are already consulting on regulations about rear underruns on lorries. We propose next year to go over to EEC standards on better braking for lorries, and we are looking very seriously at the case for side guards on lorries, together with a number of the other safety recommendations in the Armitage report.
Is my hon. and learned Friend still worried about the problem discussed in the House last year of heavy lorries on motorways travelling in the middle lane at too high a speed and almost driving the motor cars in front of them off the track? This is a serious problem. Will my hon. and learned Friend look at it again and see what measures can be taken to deter reckless lorry drivers?
We always do our best to try to improve driver behaviour in all kinds of vehicles on motorways. Lorries do a high proportion of their mileage on motorways, and to the extent that they can be kept on suitable roads a beneficial effect on accident rates is achieved. I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend says and take every opportunity to bring home to people the need to drive safely and courteously on motorways.
Is the Minister aware of the alarming number of fatal accidents, including a recent one in my constituency, involving foreign commercial vehicles inadvertently driving on the wrong side of the road? Will he look into the problem and consider issuing stickers or notices at ports of entry to remind foreign drivers that, from their point of view, we drive on the wrong side of the road?
Problems about driving on different sides of the road cut both ways. I have no doubt that there is a little concern on the other side of the Channel about some of our drivers when they go there. We put up warning signs near the ports to remind drivers, when they come off ships, on which side we drive. We also have safety checks on foreign lorries coming off the ferries to make sure that they are not overloaded, are in a safe condition, and are complying with our regulations.