Observance is not as good as it should be, but raising the limit could lead to even higher speeds than at present and cause an increase in the number and severity of accidents.
The Government therefore concluded that the limit should stay at 70 mph.
Since the Department's figures show that more than 40 per cent. of cars on motorways are travelling above the speed limit, will my hon. Friend agree that the law has been brought into disrepute? If the limit is unrealistic, will she consider raising it? If not, will she discuss with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary ways of enforcing the present limit?
I understand my hon. Friend's anxiety. I have already said on many occasions that there should be far better observance of speed limits. Of the 40 per cent. of cars quoted by my hon. Friend, some were only briefly over the 70 mph limit as a result of overtaking. I note the consternation. Despite the fact that motorways are our safest roads, having only 1·5 per cent. of all accidents, there is no excuse for not obeying speed limits. There is a great need for a better standard of motorway driving, particularly in regard to lane discipline and signalling. I praise the police forces on the MI, who have been conducting a campaign to get better observance. In that way we shall get not only law-abiding drivers on the motorways, but greater safety.
I fear that that answer is not good enough, because too many people are speeding and something has to be done at once. Throughout the week, travelling on the M1, whatever lane I am driving in at 70 mph, I am bound to be forced to pull over because everything is overtaking me. If speed limits are to be retained, will my hon. Friend ensure that offenders are prosecuted, especially lorries, as they are the most dangerous in causing accidents?
I must put my hon. Friend right. The improvement in the record for lorry safety over the years, especially on motorways, does not bear out my hon. Friend's last comment. I should also make it clear to all motorists as well as to my hon. Friend that if there is room in the inside lane that is where they should be driving, at whatever speed. They should not be hogging either the centre or the overtaking lane, which is not to be regarded as a "fast" lane.
May I congratulate the Minister on refusing to increase the speed limit beyond 70 mph? Does she agree that the figures show that when the speed limit is reduced in periods of fuel shortage and subsequently raised again there is a substantial effect on the accident rate? Although the percentage of accidents on motorways is smaller, due to the absence of traffic lights and other hazards, does the hon. Lady agree that when accidents occur they are severe and that important people are killed who are often not responsible for the dangers which exist? [HON. MEMBERS: "What about ordinary people?"]
In countries such as the United States, which have lower speed limits on interstate rural roads, there is even less compliance than there is here. On motorways and other roads we need greater consideration and thoughtfulness on the part of each driver for every other road user. I commend to the House the use at all times of the skills of defensive driving, which help motorists to anticipate the actions of others and thus to avoid accidents.