I am delighted to be able to introduce a debate on a very important matter. I am also delighted that so many of my parliamentary colleagues are in the House, and that Oppositon Members are here, too. In particular, I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) is in the Chamber. During his distinguished tenure of the office that I am now privileged to hold as Minister for Roads and Traffic he staked out a distinctive line on road safety policy. He campaigned for and promoted vigorously his passionate belief in road safety. I hope that he will contribute to the debate.
We shall shortly be introducing road traffic legislation to implement the proposal set out in the White Paper "The Road User and the Law' that we published last year. By updating the framework within which drivers use roads, it will make a significant contribution to road safety. This morning, however, we are to consider the wider approach to road safety or, as one might more precisely describe it, casualty reduction.
Casualty reduction is what road safety is about: safety on the move. All human endeavour involves some risk. That applies particularly to transport which, in some way or another, involves us all. The potential for accidents and injuries is immense, but the fact that large numbers of people move vast distances each day in safety shows the extent to which the risks involved have been minimised. However, accidents happen, sometimes with tragic consequences.
Safety in transport is a key priority of my Department. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport launched earlier this year the Safety-on-the-Move campaign which is aimed at every user of all forms of transport. Every day millions of transport users take unnecessary risks and are involved in accidents which could so easily be avoided simply by the greater application of care and common sense. Absolute safety can never be guaranteed, but we must work hard to learn from past mistakes and encourage each individual to think about what he or she can do to protect their own safety and that of others.
In no area of transport is the concept of personal responsibility more important than in road transport, where nine out of every 10 accidents involve human error. Any air, sea or rail transport disaster involving substantial loss of life makes the headlines, and rightly so. Fortunately, that does not happen very often. Indeed, it is the rarity of such events, as well as the loss of life, that makes them newsworthy. Occasionally, because of the number of people and vehicles involved, a road accident will make the headlines, but day after day tragedies are happening on a smaller scale throughout the country. On average, 14 people are killed and 165 seriously injured on our roads every day of the year. That is 100 people killed every week. That is the price, in wasted and ruined lives, that we pay for the convenience and flexibility of road transport on which we all depend. The financial price is equally daunting—some £6 billion each year.
Distressing as the casualty figures are, our present road safety record represents a considerable improvement on the mid-1960s, when there were nearly 400,000 casualties each year, including almost 8,000 fatalities. Since then, the number of fatalities has fallen by one third despite a 250 per cent. increase in traffic. Our record is one of the best in Europe. We have a casualty rate of 9·2 deaths per 100,000 population, compared with 33·2 deaths per 100,000 in Portugal, 22·7 in Luxembourg, 21–1 in Spain, 20·6 in France and 13·4 in what was the Federal Republic of Germany.
Despite our record position compared with other European countries, we should not be and we are not, complacent. That is why in 1987 we set the target of a reduction in casualties by one third of their 1981–85 average annual level by the end of the century. That target was based on a fundamental and far-reaching interdepartmental review of road safety policy, which reported in 1986.
Before reviewing the general progress towards this demanding target, I wish to tell the House what I consider to be the single most important measure which can be taken by the Government further to reduce deaths and injuries to car occupants. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that I am issuing a consultation paper this morning inviting comments on a proposal to extend the law on seat belt wearing in cars and taxis to apply to adults as well as children in rear seats of vehicles where seat belts are fitted. I have arranged for copies of the consultation document to be placed in the Library.
Compulsory wearing of front seat belts was introduced in 1983. That simple requirement has yielded a tremendous return in human and economic terms. At least 200 deaths and 7,000 serious injuries have been avoided each year, and, as a result, significant resources have been released in the health service. Compulsory restraint of child rear seat passengers was introduced just over a year ago and is having similar benefits.
Existing seat belt legislation has shown that people will respond to laws which they perceive to be sensible and beneficial. This country has one of the highest front seat belt wearing rates in the world, with about 92 per cent. compliance. We believe that public opinion now favours the extension of legislation to cover adults in rear seats.
A Gallup poll commissioned earlier this year by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety shows that 82 per cent. of people favour compulsory wearing of seat belts. All the major organisations involved in transport and safety—the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the British Medical Association, the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club and the police—support the introduction of this requirement. There has been a legal requirement for all new vehicles produced since 1987 to be fitted with rear seat belts. Many older cars also have them, so the new laws will affect at least six out of every 10 cars.
Extension of the law on wearing seat belts is the single most important and cost effective way to reduce casualties among car occupants, who make up more than half of all those killed on our roads. Wearing rear seat belts will also reduce casualties among front seat passengers in the event of a crash. It is estimated that this will save 100 lives each year and prevent 1,000 serious injuries. With such huge benefits available, we must not delay.
The casualty savings will be even greater as the proportion of cars fitted with rear seat belts rises each year. The new law can be introduced by regulation made under existing powers in the Road Traffic Act 1988.
We are inviting comments on the consultation paper to be sent to us by the end of January 1991. Subject to those, and to the approval of the House, it is my intention to bring the regulations into force by the middle of next year.
People in cars which already have rear seat belts fitted need not, and should not, wait for this additional legislation. Indeed, it is common sense that belts should be worn now. We have always made it clear that reducing the number of casualties is a shared responsibility. The Government cannot achieve the target alone. A feature of the past two or three years has been the development of an alliance of interests, involving the public and private sectors. Reflecting this growing concern, and to some degree fostering it, is the responsible attitude of the media, which now report road safety as news, discuss the issues involved, and campaign for change and improvements.
I also acknowledge the support of the many interests involved, especially those in the private sector which have helped us to bring the road safety message alive by associating it with products and services in daily use. The brewing industry has been particularly supportive of our campaign against drinking and driving and, with the National Licensed Victuallers Association has launched a number of major initiatives and has put great effort into the development and marketing of low-alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks. The insurance industry has helped, both collectively and individually. I pay particular tribute to General Accident, which has made a major contribution. Household names sucnh as Kwik-fit, Autoglass, Halfords and, most recently, Texaco, have provided valuable sponsorship for departmental road safety initiatives and have developed ideas of their own.
Motoring associations continue to play their part on behalf of responsible road users, and throughout the police have proved steadfast in their support. They are usually the first on the scene of an accident and they have to break the terrible news to families waiting at home. They know at first hand the importance of reducing the number of casualties, and of minimising the injuries which occur when accidents happen.
In paying tribute to those who have taken up the road safety issue, it has to be said that, with a few notable exceptions. vehicle manufacturers have not normally provided the lead that we might have hoped for. Until recently, they have continued to give prominence to speed and performance rather than safety when developing and marketing their products. It is encouraging that, as the public perception of the motor car changes, manufacturers are increasingly developing safe and more environmentally acceptable vehicles which meet public demand. It used to be thought that safety did not sell vehicles. I am pleased to
say that that no longer appears to be the case. In the past few days, yet another major car manufacturer has declared:
Our research indicates that our potential customers now place more weight on car safety than on any other issue … the old industry saying that safety does not sell will have to change in the 1990s. In the coming decade it is safety that will sell cars.
If this is true, it is among the best bits of transport news of the year.
I shall now review progress towards developing measures to achieve the targeted reduction in road casualties of one third by the year 2000. The Government's strategy is to concentrate on three areas: first, to raise the level of public awareness and response so that road safety is seen as an issue for society; secondly, to focus on the most vulnerable road users—children, the elderly, pedestrians, cyclists and motor cyclists; thirdly, to concentrate on proven cost-effective casualty reduction measures, principally in vehicle and road engineering.
My hon. Friend mentioned cycling. Great progress has been made in our major cities to provide for cyclists. I think that about 90,000 cyclists come into London every day, and the number is increasing. Are the Government going to make progress, so that cars are cleared off the principal routes and cycle tracks are provided throughout the capital, so that we can get about much better on two wheels than on four?
I shall deal with cycling in more detail later in my speech. Last week, I was pleased to be able to attend a seminar and give extra backing to the campaign for a 1,000-mile cycle route in London. I also spoke at the rally in Trafalgar square on the previous Sunday, along with the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and other hon. Members. I think that my hon. Friend underestimates the number of people cycling in London. It is estimated that more than 1 million people regularly use bicycles as their principal means of getting to and from work. I share my hon. Friend's interest in cycling.
In developing a structured approach, the task breaks naturally into three sections—the road, the vehicle and the road user. The building of roads should not be seen solely in terms of increasing mobility, reducing congestion and shortening journey times. Although those are important objectives, new roads are also safer roads for vehicles and their occupants. Equally important, there are safety and environmental benefits from moving traffic out of town centres and reducing conflict with other road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists. All major road building developments are subject to a cost-benefit analysis. To ensure that that analysis gives full weight to casualty savings, the monetary value to be placed on preventing a fatality has been increased to £600,000 and work is in progress on reassessing the full costs of serious injuries.
I want to maximise the safety benefits from our expanded roads programme. From next April, all new road schemes prepared by the Department will be audited for road safety during their design and before their opening. Road safety audits are formal checks during the road planning and construction process, carried out by staff with safety expertise, independent of the design team. The same process can be applied to local highway schemes. Guidance for local authorities has recently been published by the Institution of Highways and Transportation.
Large-scale road building is not the only way in which highway engineers can improve road safety. Local road safety schemes providing remedial measures at problem sites can make a substantial contribution to reducing accidents and are extremely cost effective. Last year, we announced that we will be significantly increasing our spending on such schemes on trunk roads. We are anxious that local authorities, too, should increase the number of schemes on local roads, where most accidents occur.
The Minister spoke about a road safety audit on new road schemes, which, of course, is to be welcomed. Will he also introduce a scheme of road safety audit on existing trunk roads? For example, in rural areas, many trunk roads through villages still do not have footpaths for pedestrians.
The Department is always looking at road safety issues on the trunk roads for which we are responsible, and our agents are normally in close touch with the details of any particular location. I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that substantial resources are put into road safety schemes where there will be some proven benefit from them. Obviously I cannot guarantee that the whole trunk road network will have pedestrian sidewalks incorporated in it. Each case will be looked at on its merits.
I thank the Minister for his reference to cycling. On pedestrians and trunk roads, is not the hon. Gentleman's performance not concomitant with his words? Is he aware that the Minister with responsibility for docklands transport has declined to put a footbridge across the heavily used A13 trunk road in my constituency for use by pedestrians, on the grounds that there are four closely spaced existing subways and public money cannot be used, despite millions of pounds of expenditure on new roads in the area? Should not pedestrians be given the choice? Everyone knows that subways have hazards. The refusal to spend a few thousand pounds on that work surely shows contempt for my constituents and for pedestrians who wish to cross that road.
The hon. Gentleman overstates the general case. I am not familiar with the details of the matter, but I shall do my utmost to make myself familiar with them.
The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) made a valid point about subways. Rapes have occurred in the subway at the Target roundabout on the A40. My hon. Friend the Minister uses that road often. Elderly people in particular never use the subway, so they run across the A40, taking their chance against traffic racing along, sometimes illegally at 90 mph. We must do something about that.
I share my hon. Friend's anxiety, but subways are a much safer means by which to cross a road than crossing at the same level as that used by ordinary traffic. Sometimes the subways are controversial and people are afraid of using them. It is important, as far as possible, to separate pedestrians from traffic.
In January this year, we announced our decision to extend eligibility for transport supplementary grant to schemes on all local authority roads rather than limiting it to roads of more than local importance, as has been done in the past. This decision follows the recommendation by a joint Department of Transport local authority working group, which reported last year. By encouraging more authorities to eliminate known accident blackspots, this financial incentive will help considerably in achieving our national target.
The bids which we have received have shown that many local highway authorities have responded enthusiastically to this new opportunity. I hope that those authorities will continue this important work and that, with the prospect of more financial assistance, more authorities will feel encouraged to implement these practical road safety measures. We shall announce details of the TSG settlement next month.
Local authorities have a crucial role to perform in road safety. I particularly welcome the constructive way in which they have adopted the targeted approach as recommended in the excellent road safety code of good practice, which the local authority associations published just over a year ago. I am now reviewing with local authorities, in the current round of regional annual consultative meetings, their progress in setting local targets and drawing up road safety plans for achieving them.
Road engineering can be used also to control vehicle access and limit speed. The road hump regulations made last March give much more freedom to local authorities about installing humps. Guidance on the regulations has been issued this week. Much interest and support has been expressed following the consultation exercise on our proposals to facilitate the introduction of 20 mph limit zones in residential areas. The guidelines to local highway authorities on circumstances where these may be suitable will be issued before Christmas.
I know that many councils are keen to start introducing these new limits—indeed, four have already applied. If introduced as part of a comprehensive programme of safety management and targeted on the areas with the worst problems, they can have a major impact, particularly in improving our child road accident record.
On vehicle safety, improvements in vehicle construction standards offer the most potential of significant reductions in road casualties but require agreement in the European Community. I believe that the European Community as a whole should see this as a much higher priority than it does at present, given the benefits for all member states. We estimate that proven improvements in vehicle design would prevent 200,000 lives and serious injuries each year in the European Community.
I should like to mention two particular issues. The first is the need to make cars safer, especially for the occupants. We know that there is much scope for making all cars better able to withstand impacts. I should particularly like to see early agreement in the European Community on a side impact standard. The United States Government have already announced their intention to introduce such standards. It is sad that we were not able to introduce them as quickly in Europe. So far, there has been no agreement between member states on this vital point.
The second issue is the need to reduce the extremely high level of motor cycle casualties. Motor cyclists' heads and legs are most at risk. We are pressing strongly that there should be no dilution in existing United Kingdom standards for motor cycle helmets because of the need to agree a standard within the European Community. Sometimes there is a danger that we may end up in European Community regulations with the lowest common denominator. It would be sad if that meant that we were not able to have the higher standards which we think are necessary. On my recent visit to the transport and road research laboratory, it was clear that even our British standard for motor cycle helmets has scope for further improvement and enhancement.
We are also anxious that manufacturers should voluntarily introduce improved leg protection on motor cycles, at least on some machines, so that those motor cyclists who want greater safety can obtain a suitable machine. Leg injuries account for as much as 60 per cent. of all serious injuries to motor cyclists. The transport and road research laboratory has demonstrated that it is possible to design a motor cycle with leg protection that does not detract from its styling. The big motor cycle manufacturers have used specious arguments in opposing such protectors, and their arguments have often been based on special pleading.
Am I right in saying that if the parents of a person involved in a motor bike crash in the United States—or the person himself—wanted to make a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the bike because it has not made leg protectors available even as an option, the public information from the transport and road research laboratory would be available to the lawyers?
The research published by the transport and road research laboratory is public and is available to all countries. I am sure that those who represent people in such cases in the United States would be well advised to take note of the laboratory's valuable research in this area. The whole House will agree that it is extraordinary that leg protection is not available as an option on all machines.
The safety of road users is the most important area in terms of the potential for casualty reduction as in more than 90 per cent. of accidents human error is a crucial factor. Yet it is the most difficult area in which to make progress as one relies on influencing human behaviour. Our approach has been to divide road users into two broad groups: vehicle occupants and vulnerable road users—those without the protection of a vehicle and the secondary safety features that it possesses. The vulnerable road users are pedestrians, cyclists, and especially child pedestrians and child cyclists.
We are seeking to improve the safety of vulnerable road users. Young motor cyclists are five times more likely than young car drivers to be involved in an accident and they are 18 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured. For a 17-year-old motor cyclist without any experience, the chance of having an accident in his first year is, on average, 100 per cent. Not all 17-year-old motor cyclist have an accident in their first year, so that means that many of them have more than one accident. That emphasises how dangerous it is for young motor cyclists on our roads.
We have tightened up the training and testing requirements for motor cyclists. Last year, we introduced a stiffer on-road test in which the examiner follows the candidate around the test course with radio communications. Since then, we have been developing with the motor cycle industry arrangements for compulsory basic training for new motor cyclists, which will come into effect at the beginning of next month. Holders of provisional licences issued on or after 1 December will not be permitted to ride on the roads on their own until the basic training courses have been completed and the instructors are satisfied that they are safe.
Once on the road, learner motor cyclists are now no longer allowed to carry pillion passengers. The presence of a pillion passenger significantly alters the handling characteristics of motor cycles and has a marked adverse effect on the light-weight machines on which learners ride.
We have also tightened up the law on learner drivers by introducing minimum qualifications for those who accompany them. They must now be at least 21 years old and have held a full licence for at least three years.
Children are an especially vulnerable group of road users. Road accidents are the greatest cause of accidental child deaths. Last year, almost 9,000 children up to the age of 15 were killed or seriously injured in road accidents, which is the equivalent of 25 each day of the year. In May this year, we launched a major initiative to improve our child road safety record. The initiative has been given tremendous support by local authorities and their road safety officers, by school teachers, by voluntary organisations, by the police and by the private sector.
That is right. The Government's objective is to improve the record of schools in teaching road safety. It is fair and reasonable that each school should go about it in its own way, but the need for all schools to teach road safety is paramount. The statistics show that too many pupils are taught far too little at school about road safety.
Our programme for child safety is extensive. It is set out in our policy statement, "Children and Roads—a Safe Way", which is available in the Library of the House. Our strategy has three main elements. We are seeking to slow traffic in residential areas where children are at greatest risk, to improve road safety education and to encourage parents and motorists to take greater responsibility for child road safety.
I am delighted that the public expenditure plans for the next three years, set out by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, include the provision of up to £10 million for a sustained campaign on child road safety. The first phase of the campaign was launched last month under the banner of our Safety-on-the-move campaign and focused on child pedestrians. Its main elements were a television commercial which was designed to bring home to parents and to motorists the scale of the problem and 13 million leaflets for parents and drivers giving advice on what they can do to ensure that children are safe on our roads. The leaflets were distributed by local authority road safety officers and they are still available. Copies are also available from various major high street outlets.
Our campaign was immediately followed by one of equal scale which was launched by Texaco with the catchy slogan,
Children should be seen and not hurt.
I want to emphasise again how much we appreciate the tremendous effort that the private sector has put into our child safety initiative.
Next spring, the next phase of the campaign will focus on child cyclists. For all cyclists—not only child cyclists —cycling is a healthy, socially acceptable and environmentally friendly form of transport. There is a resurgence of activity in it and I am keen to assist that, but I am very concerned about the safety risks involved. Cyclist fatalities last year were 30 per cent. higher than in 1988 and almost 300 cyclists were killed. Serious and slight casualties were up by 4 per cent. and 21 per cent. respectively, and just over half of cyclist casualties suffer head injuries.
All such injuries would be made less serious if helmets were used and, in many cases, the only damage would be to the helmet. Research carried out in the United States shows that cycle helmets prevent 80 per cent. of all serious head injuries. The transport and road research laboratory has calculated that if all cyclists wore helmets, 4,000 casualties a year would be saved and 3,000 serious head injuries would be reduced to slight injuries. We should be negligent if we did not make those facts known.
As a car driver, I am aware of the role of cyclists in moving about our cities. Many courier companies in London are now using cyclists and they do not always allocate head gear to the riders. The problem for vehicle drivers is that they cannot see cyclists as they weave in and out of the traffic at Hyde Park corner, at Marble Arch, in Trafalgar square or in any city centre. Please will cyclists be encouraged at the very least to wear dayglo vests so that we can see them? Motorists are not unsympathetic to cyclists, but cyclists are very difficult to spot.
My hon. Friend is right; conspicuity is vital for any cyclist who is concerned about his or her safety. Parents should ensure that when their children go out on bicycles, they can be seen by other road users.
Some cyclists consider that we should not be encouraging the wearing of cycle helmets. The Cyclists Touring Club has written to road safety officers discouraging them from promoting cycle helmets, and the club says that helmets will not reduce accidents. It is obviously correct in that, but helmets will reduce injuries and save lives.
The Minister is making a helpful suggestion, but perhaps he should consider making it compulsory for tiny children who ride on the back of their mother's bikes and who are incredibly vulnerable to wear helmets. Does my hon. Friend have any suggestions to make on that subject?
I do not have a specific answer to that, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to it. I am sure that some of those who carry children on the back of their bikes are not fully aware of the dangers.
I want not to follow the argument advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) but to refer to the Cyclists Touring Club advice. It should be clearly stated that that advice is wrong and in some cases lethal. The New England Journal of Medicine shows that 80 per cent. of cyclists who die in accidents have sustained head injuries and that such injuries can be reduced by 80 per cent. if a cycle helmet is used. I do not want to consider the question of compulsion, but any responsible cyclist should advise others to wear helmets. I saw the representative of the Cyclists Touring Club who gave the advice while he was supervising his child in a swimming pool. Perhaps I may draw an analogy: sending a child out without a cycle helmet is equivalent to sending him into a swimming pool without making provision to save him from drowning.
That is a telling and helpful analogy. When I spoke at the rally in Trafalgar square, I was horrified to find myself being heckled when I said that it was important that people should wear helmets. A vocal group of cyclists opposes cycle helmets, but I think that many cyclists realise how important they are. We must make it more socially acceptable for school children to wear cycle helmets, and we are anxiously considering how we can make the wearing of helmets trendy, just as it has become trendy to wear a skateboard helmet. Improvements in the design of cycle helmets have helped considerably, but there is still a long way to go.
As chairman of the Parliamentary Friends of Cycling, I warmly support what my hon. Friend is saying. What is his Department doing to develop a policy on the wearing of safety helmets for cyclists, for horse riders under the age of 18—under the Greenway Act—and for skateboarders? That would be a good policy. If an all-purpose helmet for children can be produced, we shall no doubt have them for older people in due course. That will be to everyone's advantage and will help to save lives.
I assure the House that one of the most important messages in our next publicity campaign will be that no child should be allowed by a parent to cycle on the road without training and without a helmet. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) and thank him once more for his efforts in connection with the Horses (Protective Headgear for Young Riders) Act 1990. As my hon. Friend knows, I was pleased to issue a consultation document earlier this week on the regulations that are needed to implement that important legislation.
We are seeking to persuade drivers to use the road more safely. The most direct way of influencing driver behaviour is through legislation. The road traffic Bill to be introduced shortly is designed to improve the contribution that the law makes to road safety through its influence on driver behaviour. We aim to establish a closer link between the law's demands and safety on the roads. We intend to simplify and clarify the law so that it is better understood, and to encourage the use of warnings and education. Where persuasion fails, more effective enforcement and tougher penalties are needed. Our reforms will ensure that enforcement measures and penalties are better designed to deter and punish the bad driver and the drink-driver.
Drinking and driving is driver behaviour at its worst. It is the largest single cause of road accidents in Britatin, accounting for an estimated 840 deaths in 1988—the last year for which figures are available. That is why we attach particular importance to tackling the problem and why our anti-drink driving campaign continues to be given such high priority. That sustained campaign has been successful in changing attitudes. Drinking and driving is now seen as thoroughly anti-social behaviour, and we shall be developing that theme further in our Christmas campaign.
Legislation has been an important factor in influencing attitudes to drinking and driving, as have the actions of the police in enforcing the law. Last year, there was a steady increase in the number of screening breath tests, which exceeded 540,000–22 per cent. more than in 1988. I know that some think that we should have random breath tests. But the fact that there are already half a million breath tests a year shows that the police are very active in this matter. At present, they concentrate on those whom they suspect of driving under the influence of alcohol and on those who have been involved in road accidents. The chances of people being able to drink and drive without getting caught have been significantly reduced by the number of breath tests.
There may have been a dramatic increase in the number of tests carried out, but it is important that drivers who drink should perceive that they will get caught. Does not the Government's own research, carried out by the transport and road research laboratory, show that the majority of drivers who drink think that the chances of getting caught are very small? New punishments will not be a deterrent if drivers do not think that they will get caught.
I think that perceptions are changing. Drivers think not only of their chances of getting caught but of what will happen if they are caught. A few years ago, some people's attitude to drink-driving was that one should not breach the 11th commandment—"Thou shalt not get caught"—but these days drink-driving is regarded as very anti-social. One does not get much sympathy from one's peer group if one is caught drinking and driving—a fact which recent examples have brought home to us.
I do not think that random breath testing is necessary. The police have tremendous discretion and, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said earlier this year, it is appropriate to leave the law as it is. I emphasise that there were 22 per cent. more breath tests last year than there were the year before. If the police continue at that rate, it will not be long before we have 1 million breath tests a year. It would be wrong, however, if so many people were stopped by the police and asked to take breath tests—only to be sent on their way because the tests were negative—that people began to view breath testing as they did the use of the stop-and-search laws on the streets of London. One can always make a case for increasing police powers, but we should be cautious about giving greater discretion to the police in this matter.
No doubt we can debate the matter further when the road traffic Bill is introduced. The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) raised a point about perceptions which ought to be dealt with straight away.
Even in New South Wales, where random testing is carried out on a scale that would lead in this country to 24 million tests a year, three out of four people caught are caught in targeted testing.
Am I right in saying that it would not be appropriate for a transport Minister to draw attention to the fact that, on Merseyside, half those tested are charged, which suggests that there, there is not enough testing?
I do not think that I need comment on my hon. Friend's pertinent point, although I hope that when we debate the issue further people will heed his comments.
Could not we be a little more positive about the question? Will my hon. Friend consider further the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) that we should install breath kits in places of entertainment so that people may make their own assessment of their condition and of their fitness to drive? Some people are not aware of their condition and they do not know whether they should be driving. It is easy to be doubtful, but some people do not know whether they are in the doubtful state. We should be encouraging people to take more care of themselves instead of placing additional burdens on the police, who already have considerable difficulty with the public's attitude towards them. Instead of always depending on the police to take action, should we not be encouraging more people to act for themselves?
I was in the Chamber when my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) raised that issue in a ten-minute Bill. He received much support on that occasion. However, it is a controversial subject. At the moment there is no restriction on public houses purchasing such machines if they so wish. There is not much evidence that many have been installed, but I do not want to deprive people of the freedom to purchase them. However, I am not minded to make that compulsory.
Does not the Minister accept that it would be extremely dangerous to follow that line? It would encourage people to drink up to the limit, but the full alcohol effect may not occur for some time after they have done that. People may leave the public house believing that they are fit to drive when they are not. It is extremely dangerous to suggest that we should move down that path. The simple message should be, "If you drink, don't drive."
I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman's final comment, and his earlier point is an argument against the proposal from my hon. Friend the Member for Havant. I would not want to ban those devices, but there is precious little evidence that people want to buy them.
This Christmas we will once again receive a great deal of support from the police for our Christmas drink-driving campaign. No doubt hon. Members will have seen the Metropolitan police announcement about that yesterday. I am grateful for the support of the police. We will be launching our official campaign on 4 December.
To reinforce our fight against drinking and driving, we announced earlier this year an extension of the scope of the high risk offenders scheme under which the most serious drink-drive offenders are required to satisfy the Secretary of State on the basis of a medical examination that they do not have a drink problem and are otherwise fit to drive before their licences are returned after a period of disqualification. The measure has been widely welcomed.
Even when the driver is not under the influence of drink, accidents happen and most involve human error. We do not know enough about human behaviour to understand why people take risks, fail to see a pedestrian or misjudge distances and speeds. An increase in our knowledge in that respect could be of enormous benefit in reducing road accidents by enabling us to design roads and vehicles to minimise the chance of error and by helping us to improve the effectiveness of our publicity material.
We have therefore set up a programme of behavioural research which we hope will begin to find answers to those questions. That is long-term strategic research with potentially huge returns. Our roads and vehicle safety research programme exceeds £8 million a year and includes more than £700,000 for the behavioural aspect.
As drinking and driving declines, and as safer roads and cars are produced, any progress in casualty reduction will depend more on changing driver attitudes. The next target must be attitudes towards speed. Inappropriate speed is a contributory factor in 30 per cent. of all accidents in which as many as 1,500 people die each year.
A year ago my predecessor expressed concern at the extent to which speed featured in car advertisements. I met representatives of the Advertising Standards Authority at the Independent Broadcasting Authority and I was impressed by the seriousness with which they are approaching that difficult area. I am pleased that action has recently been taken against some of the more flagrant examples of advertising excessive speed.
As people will know, last year there was significant increase in deaths on our roads and particularly among car occupants on rural single carriageway roads and minor rural roads. Many of the accidents on those roads involve no other vehicle and are caused by drivers overestimating their ability to control their cars at speed. Such roads have an upper speed limit of 60 mph. Too many drivers have still not got the message that speed limits are the maximum permitted speed and not the desired or recommended speed. A speed of 60 mph is quite unsafe for many country roads, particularly when driving conditions are difficult.
Drivers of other vehicles have an equal responsibility to drive at an appropriate speed. The mandatory fitting of speed limiters to coaches will ensure that they cannot break the limit on motorways. Recent speed surveys show how effective limiters are. Many car drivers feel intimidated by heavy goods vehicles. Although they have a low accident involvement rate, the accidents involving those vehicles that occur can have horrific consequences. It is of particular concern that the drivers of the very heaviest of lorries are among those who break the speed limits most. They compound the offence by driving close to the vehicles in front of them.
My hon. Friend has outlined the problems, but why do we not consider the solutions and introduce speed limiters for heavy goods vehicles? Surely that is long overdue. The tachograph is not satisfactory: it simply monitors what has happened after the event. If speed limiters are applicable to coaches—and rightly so—why should they not be applicable to 38 and 40 tonne heavy goods vehicles?
My hon. Friend has made a fair point, and there is a healthy debate about that not just in this country but in Europe. Such limiters may come about eventually, but, as my hon. Friend said, the tachograph is important evidence of the speeds at which lorries have been travelling. We need to ensure that those who are responsible for lorry drivers have greater regard to the tachograph evidence of the speeds at which lorries are travelling. Nevertheless, I understand my hon. Friend's point.
Before my hon. Friend ends his comments on speed, will he refer to the Government's attitude toward speed cameras? Many of us believe that the introduction of speed cameras will cut the death toll quite dramatically. I understand that the Government intend to legalise the use of speed cameras at accident black spots. Will legislation be drafted to allow the use of speed cameras to be expanded without further primary legislation?
I cannot anticipate the details of the road traffic Bill which will be published shortly. However, I do not think that my hon. Friend will be disappointed by its contents.
The casualty saving potential of improvements to vehicle safety standards is obviously enormous. The 1987 road safety review report, on which our target is based, assumed that 40 per cent. of the one third reduction in casualties would come from vehicle safety measures. The delay in reaching agreement in Europe on the necessary changes has clear implications for the attainment of our target, particularly given the lead times involved in manufacture. Nevertheless, that target remains firmly our goal. By any standards it is a tough objective. If we are to achieve it with only a limited contribution on the vehicles front, we shall have to redouble our efforts on other fronts.
I have done my best to outline the Government's strategy for making road travel safer, but that cannot be achieved by the Government alone. Progress depends on the willingness and concern of society and ultimately on the response and responsibility of individuals. The Government's role is to provide a lead and a framework. That is why we have developed a targeted approach based on the structured implementation of cost-effective measures of which our intention to require the compulsory wearing of rear seat belts, where fitted, by adults as well as by children is the best example. Our aim is to save 1,700 lives and avoid 20,000 serious injuries a year by the end of the century. On road safety, I am proud to say that we lead the world, but that is a matter in which being the best is not good enough. We can, and must, do even better.
This is my first opportunity to debate with the Minister in his new post, to which I welcome him. This is probably not the day on which to begrudge the Government their few moments of self-congratulation. They surely have little enough on which to congratulate themselves at the moment.
This debate on road safety, which comes almost exactly a year after the last such debate, allows the Minister and his Back-Bench colleagues to bask in the comforting feeling that, despite the deepening recession and chaos all around them, something positive has been achieved in the past year. Opposition Members at least are happy to debate road safety again and we thank the Minister for the opportunity.
The Minister quite properly gave us a run-down of his Department's activities over the past year. Certainly, if we are to measure the success of the Minister's campaign by the number of press releases that it has generated, it has surely been a major achievement. Every few months one Minister or another launches a "major" or the "biggest-ever" campaign to cut road casualties. I am the first to acknowledge the usefulness of publicity campaigns to keep an issue high in public consciousness. I welcome the Government's announcement in the autumn statement of a further £10 million for publicity over the next three years. However, if publicity campaigns are to be truly effectively, they have to be supported by practical measures and assistance to organisations involved in road safety.
In that context, I am pleased that the Government took our advice and that of many other organisations and changed the transport supplementary grant to allow specific money to be earmarked for road safety. I welcome that change in the mechanism. However, as I shall point out later, I believe that the situation regarding local transport schemes is still far from satisfactory.
The Opposition are always willing to give credit where credit is due. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) said last Friday, one of the most pleasing aspects of the Queen's Speech is the commitment to reduce the number of accidents and deaths on our roads. I also welcome the long overdue appearance in the Queen's Speech of the proposals in the North report to tackle dangerous and drunken driving; they are to be brought into legislative form. I acknowledge also the implementation of the recommendations of the Home report, which will bring road safety improvements, in particular to pedestrians and to cyclists. We look forward eagerly to the opportunity to debate those measures in the House.
However, the Opposition would be failing in our duty if we were only to applaud and to go along with those measures without looking at the wider implications of transport as a whole. Small, piecemeal measures are a sign of a piecemeal transport policy—a policy which has little vision and little energy. It is what one would expect from a Government in their final term. It is what one would expect from a Government who are running out of steam and are in disarray. Even the welcome extra money, which was announced in the autumn statement, is unlikely to bring about the radical improvement in the number of road casualties or, indeed, the significant improvement in transport for which the Minister is obviously hoping.
The hon. Gentleman asks what our policies are. I shall refer to policies that will be a real and radical alternative to those of the Government and which are clearly ours and have been published in our policy documents. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has read them. They have been frequently reiterated in the House.
The test of a policy lies in its results. I regret very much that the results do not show the improvement for which Transport Ministers have been striving over the past few years. Figures for the whole of 1989 and for the first half of 1990 show a steady and regrettable rise in the number of road deaths. Perhaps it is too soon to judge and perhaps the true comparison of figures does not take account of the long-term effects of publicity, but I fear that the Minister's aim of cutting casualty rates by one third remains an elusive target. I hope that the Minister will agree that the disappointing figures demonstrate that more needs to be done and done more urgently.
I remind the Minister that every road death costs about £630,000, according to his Department's own figures. The British Medical Association estimates that in 1988 no less than £4,000 million was spent on medical and ambulance services treating the victims of road accidents. I do not want to appear churlish and I do not want to re-run last year's debate, but many of the demands that were made on both sides of the House at that time have not been met in the intervening months. I shall highlight two issues, to one of which I am delighted to say the Minister has responded positively.
The arguments for bringing in the measures that I shall highlight—random breath testing and compulsory rear seat belts—were made by me in the debate last year and by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East last Friday in the debate on the Loyal Address. The measures are supported by a wide range of safety organisations, including the British Medical Association and PACTS—the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety. Despite what the Minister said this morning, the case for random breath testing remains extremely strong. I was interested to see that, according to a recent report by the transport and road research laboratory on public attitudes towards various road safety measures, 77 per cent. of those interviewed supported random breath testing.
Drinking and driving, as the Minister acknowledges, is the single main cause of death and injury on our roads. The BMA estimates that more than 25,000 casualties each year are directly attributable to alcohol. Evidence shows that the deterrent effect of random breath testing would be significant in reducing the number of drink-drivers. We have made a firm policy commitment to introduce random breath testing when we are in government.
The hon. Lady talks about the evidence. Again, we shall debate this matter at great length when the Bill comes forward, but has she received from the BMA or from anybody else any evidence that any other country has a lower level of drink driving than Britain? Has she any evidence that any other country has reduced drink driving as fast as we have over the past 10 years? To list the people who believe something is no substitute for actually producing the evidence which I should like to consider.
No one would seek to understimate or undermine the enormous success in respect of drink driving in this country, but, as the Minister acknowledged today, being the best in certain matters is not sufficient. My argument and that of those who believe that random breath testing is a deterrent is that it would further improve on the good results that we have had to date. We are talking about how to make a further improvement. The evidence is that that measure would produce that further improvement.
No, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have dealt with the hon. Gentleman's question.
The Minister referred to this issue as though random breath testing were synonymous with the police stopping people at will. We do not support the unfettered right of the police to stop people at will, and the analogy of the sus law is not appropriate. We would introduce a policy under which there would be roadside check points, and a random sample of drivers would be stopped and tested. That is the way in which we can monitor that the tests are being done in a specific and random way without an infringement of civil liberties. I still hope that the Government will support that measure in due course. Again, we shall be able to debate that matter further.
The other measure to which I referred at length last year and turn again now is the introduction of the compulsory wearing of seat belts. The case for that remains convincing. The measure would reduce rear seat casualties, of which there were 23,000 in 1988, by 70 per cent. It would also reduce front seat casualties. As the Minister said, it is supported by 82 per cent. of those who were polled recently. I am therefore delighted with the Minister's announcement this morning. However, I wonder whether there is a need for a consultation process, because the evidence seems clear that there is already a real consensus. I think that the Minister should go ahead without further ado, but let us not quibble on that point because he has made that commitment and I welcome it.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for what she said, but does she accept that the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety has recognised the need and the desirability of consulting on this matter before implementing any new regulations?
I am more than happy to welcome that
In last year's debate, I called for road safety to become part of the national curriculum. As has been said, there is a tremendous difference in the attitudes taken by different schools. Some schools place high emphasis on teaching children about road safety, but others do not. We believe that road safety should be part of the national curriculum. I am sad to learn that the Department of Transport-Department of Education and Science working party that has been considering this issue has still failed to come up with any recommendations. Given the increase in child casualty rates in 1989, this matter is now a pressing priority.
However, I welcome the measures that the Minister has announced in relation to children and young people. I welcome especially his attitude towards the measures relating to motor cyclists, whom we acknowledge are one of the most vulnerable groups of road users. Sadly, however, none of that excuses the Government's failure to develop a coherent and co-ordinated transport policy. It is not for lack of being asked to do so, because organisations as disparate as the Confederation of British Industry, the City of London, the local authorities associations, the English tourist board and many others have called for that, as have many of the Minister's hon. Friends. We all want a strategic plan to try to solve some of the country's appalling problems.
Another year has passed without effective action being taken. Congestion continue to increase, especially in London and the south-east. Our rail, bus and tube networks continue to buckle under the strain. Passengers continue to face delays, cancellations and high fares on public transport while motorists face traffic jams and long delays. We all suffer the environmental consequences of that chaos.
The Minister made much today—and has done so in a number of speeches—of the need to encourage cyclists. We very much endorse that strategy. Encouraging cyclists and encouraging people to walk as much as possible are essential parts of any future transport policy. However, it is impossible to make the position amenable to cyclists and pedestrians without a comprehensive transport policy. We cannot simply tell cyclists—although I would do this also—that they should wear helmets and that they should take as much responsibility as possible for their own safety, arid then tell them that local authorities cannot afford to institute cycle routes and will not do so. We need to ensure that there is a safe space in which cyclists can travel. That requires an integrated and comprehensive transport policy.
It is dangerous to speak like that to suggest that simply because we do not have an integrated policy for cyclists—I, too, would welcome that—a helmet is less important for cyclists. If that is what the hon. Lady is implying, she is wrong and I hope that she will recognise that.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not think that that is what I meant. I said that I support the Minister and all other hon. Members who have called for personal responsibility and for the wearing of cycle helmets. I endorse that absolutely and enthusiastically. However, if one is wearing a cycle helmet but does not have a safe space in which to cycle, one is just as likely to have an accident as if a helmet was not worn. Although a cyclist may save his head, he may still be injured. Every cycling organisation in the country believes that there should be a safe road space devoted to cyclists. The hon. Gentleman, like myself, represents a London constituency and I am sure that he understands the need for a strategic network throughout the city, but that can be devised only if we have a strategic authority to oversee it.
I turn now to some of the wider aspects of road transport. The Minister defined road safety as "casualty reduction". However, we are bound to take account of the wider impact of road traffic on our communities. The environment and people's health are now directly jeopardised by the increase in traffic on our roads. I recently visited Norwich, which is a fine city in which one would imagine that things are still operating reasonably well and that the environment is still acceptable, and even there an air survey taken on the morning I arrived found a dangerous level of air pollution which was jeopardising people's health. In London, we are well used to that. We are constantly told that the levels of air pollution exceed the limits of the World Health Organisation and that they arise directly from road traffic. Although there are regular reports and studies, the Government fail to act. We know—the Minister knows—that traffic is continuing to grow in London and that the number of vehicles coming into the city is constantly increasing.
I must take the Minister to task for a measure that he did not mention this morning. It is an example of the Government demonstrating their schizophrenia on this issue. I am referring to the forthcoming legislation on red routes. The Government say that their purpose is to increase the traffic flow in central London. In fact, the measure is more likely to increase the volume of traffic arid to cause greater congestion and greater air pollution. It is hard to believe that the Government still refuse to acknowledge that we need restraint not encouragement of road traffic. London's traffic problems will never be solved by encouraging private and company motorists to make greater use of our roads.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not only a question of air, but of road accidents? Is she aware that the east London river crossing, which is to have a six-lane motorway route into parts of east London, is being built without any extension being provided to the docklands light railway, which would carry large numbers of people by public transport? Although I am not opposed to that crossing—it was in the Abercrombie plan of 1943—I am opposed to it without the inclusion of public transport across the link because without that it will encourage the generation of traffic in London rather than providing the proper balance to which the Government are now notionally committed.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point and demonstrates that there is no rationale for building more road space unless the Government are also committed to making that road space usable primarily by public transport and, as my hon. Friend suggests, to providing a link between any road network and the public transport system or an extension of the public transport system.
The Minister correctly drew attention to the vital role of local authorities in reducing road casualties and improving road safety. I commended him earlier on changing the transport supplementary grant mechanism, but, if local authorities are to make a real contribution to the Minister's target, more resources must be provided. Some local safety schemes are relatively inexpensive to implement and show a quick rate of return. Sometimes simply changing a junction or improving road markings can make a great difference.
However, local authorities are increasingly having to look at whole areas if they are to avoid displacing road traffic from one street into another. Area studies are needed and we also need traffic-calming and other measures to protect residential streets and our children and pedestrians, and to direct through traffic along the most acceptable routes. Such schemes were commended by the Minister and they are not cheap. My borough of Lewisham is a case in point. Partly because of the success of Government publicity and partly because of people's growing concern about the environment, more and more residents are asking councils to do something about the danger on our roads.
Last year I spoke about Gellatley road in my constituency. That is a residential road used by 16,000 vehicles a day. That presents immense danger and the road has a proven accident rate. The local authority wishes to undertake another study in the Ladywell area. The implementation of measures for that tiny area of four or five roads in my constituency would cost about £70,000. That is a small sum, but it is the entire budget for all the traffic management schemes allowed in the borough. That is nonsense. Clearly, there is a shortage of funds for local authorities to deal with essential safety work. The local authority associations, in conjunction with PACTS, underlined that message when they estimated that a further £30 million would be needed this year to enable local authorities to play their part in reducing casualties.
There is another problem. I understand that cycling and safety schemes on non-designated roads will attract Government grant from next year, but that traffic-calming schemes will not necessarily do so. Councils are, therefore, hindered in implementing traffic-calming schemes on non-designated roads which, in the main, are the ones for which they seek aid and cannot get it. The Minister should look again at the conditions of grant to see whether it can be extended to cover all roads and all types of traffic calming. I am sure he will agree that traffic-calming measures have a positive effect on road safety. Councils need more money to enable them to introduce more schemes and Lewisham council is an example.
I draw the Minister's attention to a major obstacle to road safety which I know that he acknowledges. The question of reducing speed limits has been raised in the House before and I was delighted at the support given to a suggestion to reduce the limit to 20 mph in some urban areas. The evidence shows that we should look more widely at the issue. There is definite correlation between speed and accidents. Of course, emissions from vehicles travelling at high speed are now known to have environmental consequences. I endorse what the Minister said, but I should like to know more about what he intends to do other than merely meeting advertising associations. Advertisers continue to promote their products according to speed and vie with each other using such slogans as, "It doesn't take a test pilot's licence to take this car flying." and "It is capable of 150 mph so why did it take six years to get here?"
Given such slogans, how can we believe that the motor industry is serious about promoting notions of road safety? The industry encourages people to break the law. At the recent British international motor show, cars that could reach 170 mph were on display. Why are such cars being produced and promoted as being able to reach that speed if manufacturers are not tempting people to try them out and drive them at that speed. We applaud the efforts of car manufacturers to improve vehicle design, but safety still takes second place to speed in the message to sell cars.
I have attempted to range fairly widely, because it is clear that we cannot separate road safety from the fundamental debate about how to plan the nation's overall need to transport people and goods. The Department of Transport continues to predict that by 2025 there will be an increase of 100 per cent. or more in the number of vehicles on our roads. However, implementing the whole roads programme which Ministers constantly applaud would increase capacity by only 2 per cent.
The consequence of the Government's laissez-faire attitude will be a massive increase in congestion. Tragically, it will be impossible to reach the target of reductions in casualty rates that the Government have set. We support and welcome much of what the Government are doing to reduce casualties and improve road safety. However, that is no substitute for a strategic plan for an integrated transport policy that gives priority to an efficient, environmentally friendly and affordable public transport system. Public transport remains and has the potential to be the safest form of movement available to our people, and it is the best way to safeguard our environment and our neighbourhoods.
In spite of her customary great charm, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) did not contribute enormously to the debate. Apart from the ritual party political mumbo-jumbo and vague waffle about coordination and planning of public transport, she agreed with almost everything said by my hon. Friend the Minister. We should be thankful for that. I strongly agree with my hon. Friend the Minister and praise what he and his Department are doing. I should declare an interest because I have the honour to be the president of the Guild of Experienced Motorists which represents about 50,000 of Britain's private motorists.
Not long ago I was talking to our late and much lamented friend Ian Gow. I said, "Looking back on your political life what is it that gives you cause for the most shame?" He said, "It is the fact that we now have double figure inflation." I told him that my greatest shame was that in 25 years in Parliament under successive Governments each year we still see on our roads the slaughter of more than 5,000 people and the injury of 300,000. That is a national shame. The 300,000 people who are injured have not all just had a bump or a knock, because the figure includes people who are ruined for life. Many families are also ruined. Many people are reduced to cabbages and others lose limbs. It is a serious matter. It works out at 500 people in an average constituency each year. People stand 10 times as much chance of being killed on the roads as they do of being killed through murder or manslaughter. The figures are disgraceful and the nation should be ashamed of them.
I am pleased that the Minister and his Department have succeeded in giving a much higher profile to this immensely important and tragic subject. The equivalent of a Lockerbie disaster happens every three weeks on our roads and the equivalent of a football stadium disaster happens every fortnight. If the media would give to our roads the attention that they give to other matters there would be much greater public awareness. In that sense I am entirely in favour of the policies announced by the Minister to raise public awareness.
In May I drew attention to the fact that I think that the roads in Cambridgeshire have the worst safety record in Britain. Certainly, East Anglia as a whole has the worst record. That is a disgrace. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister has announced that the region is to receive 20 per cent. of the £3 billion budget that has been earmarked for road improvement. I am sure that everyone in my constituency will be grateful for that.
The North report is an important and detailed document on road safety. I am delighted that the Government have embarked—not before time—on the task of implementing some of the recommendations that are set out in it. I am sure that we all look forward to the introduction of the implementing Bill.
I was glad to hear the Minister's announcement on seat belts. I have always advocated their use. I think that events have proved that those of us who supported their introduction and use were right. I am concerned that my hon. Friend did not refer to lorries and heavy goods vehicles generally in this context. I am appalled when I see a heavy goods vehicle in which young children are sitting beside the driver, possibly with a lady with a small baby, and there is no sign of anyone wearing seat belts.
Indeed. It is disgraceful that there is no requirement that seat belts should be worn in heavy goods vehicles. I hope that the Department of Transport will consider the use of seat belts by children and others who ride in heavy goods vehicles.
I tiptoe delicately into the subject of drinking and driving. I know that the beady eyes of my hon. Friend the Member for Elham (Mr. Bottomley) are just behind me. I am sure that we all pay tribute to the remarkable contribution that he made on this and other issues when he was in office.
I am not wholly convinced by the opposition to random breath tests. When such tests were introduced in New South Wales, Australia, there was a 35 per cent. reduction in prosecutions. The Guild of Experienced Motorists conducted a poll among its members and, as I recall the outcome, 80 per cent. were in favour of something of the nature of random breath tests. The 80 per cent. may have been right or wrong, but I do not think that we can dismiss the concept lightly.
Drinking and driving is immensely dangerous—so much so that many people, perhaps, should give up driving and stick to drinking. It is gratifying that there has been a reduction in the incidence of drinking and driving, thanks to the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham.
We must note however, that four out of five accidents are not caused by drinking. Let us not be obsessed with the issue. Why are so many accidents unrelated to drinking? Undoubtedly, speed is a vital issue. Speed may not necessarily cause an accident, but when one takes place it will be infinitely worse and more damaging if excessive speed is involved. There is unanimity between the two Front Benches that it is ludicrous that motor car manufacturers should be advertising cars that have maximum speeds of 140, 150 and 170 mph. Some of these products are cheap cars that can be purchased by those who are incapable of driving them safely. These are cars which require the skill of Nigel Mansell to operate them safely. In an earlier age, we would have expected only Stirling Moss or Fangio, or others of that nature, to operate them. It is absurd that such cars should be made available on a large scale because there is no place where they can be driven at the speeds of which they are capable. It is absurd also that they should be positively advertised as being a good thing. I shall support wholeheartedly anything that my hon. Friend the Minister does in this respect. I am glad that the Opposition take the same view.
Will the hon. Gentleman join me in condemning especially the heavy publicity that has been given recently to a Vauxhall Carlton which is capable, apparently, of achieving 170 mph? It should not be available for public purchase, even at the outrageous price of, I think, £45,000.
I entirely agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. I would not, however, confine my criticism to the Vauxhall company. I could mention many other motor car manufacturers, but I shall not do so.
I understand that General Motors and Vauxhall are not selling the 470 high-speed Carltons that will be available—they have been subjected to intense development by the General Motors Lotus subsidiary in this country, and will reap some export rewards as a result—without the purchasers and future users having gone through a test. If my memory serves me right, that is the position.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has led me to standards of driving. I am glad to know that some motor car manufacturers are taking the issue seriously. The standard of our driving tests is entirely inadequate for our modern roads and modern vehicles. I have always said that it is ridiculous that motorists can tootle around suburbs in a Mini, or whatever, at 30 mph, and then step into a Porsche, or what have you—they usually opt not for a Porsche or something of that sort but for a relatively cheap car—and belt down the motorway like maniacs. There is a need to raise the standard of driving so that we can ensure that motorists are qualified to drive the vehicles that they are able to purchase.
The Swiss and the Austrians, for example, are used to appalling weather conditions. They are appalled at the way in which British drivers operate in adverse road and weather conditions. They are accustomed to the difficulties that ensue, whereas we in Britain assume that the weather will always be mild and pleasant and the roads in a superb condition. The fact is that the weather and the roads are not always pleasant and superb and that most motorists are unqualified to drive on dangerous roads.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that irrespective of how good a driver one may be, it is questionable whether anyone can drive well at 170 mph. Even if anyone can, the fact is that there is a speed limit which means that any car that is driven at such a speed will be driven illegally. It is important to stress that no one can drive legally on our roads at that speed.
That is right. That is why I question the purpose of advertising vehicles that are capable of such a high speed. It would seem that such advertising has the effect of inviting people to exceed the speed limit.
There is a problem, because some high-speed cars are geared so highly and go so fast that it is jolly difficult to drive them slowly. I shall make a confession. many years ago I was cruising in my car and found that I was travelling at a speed which was disgracefully above the speed limit. I did not know that I was travelling so fast. That was a long time ago when I was younger and very foolish.
The hon. Gentleman is extremely honest. Does he agree with me that it was irresponsible that an article that appeared recently in the Sunday Correspondent—it was written, of course, by that newspaper's transport correspondent—argued in favour of the motor car concerned because it could outpace a police car?
I absolutely and utterly agree. I hope that the manufacturers are taking note of these remarks.
I have been led neatly and conveniently to the fact that an enormous number of road accidents are caused by those who are driving stolen cars. Those who steal cars nearly always end up in some sort of crash. They are irresponsible and they take the view that the vehicle does not belong to them anyway. Much more attention should be given to fitting in vehicles devices that prevent them from being stolen. Manufacturers should be encouraged to ensure that vehicles cannot be stolen as easily as at present. I hope that the courts will regard the stealing of vehicles as a much more serious matter. The courts tend to think, "This is the peccadillo of a young juvenile." It is not only an intolerable offence, but it can lead to serious accidents and death.
Many other hon. Members wish to speak, so I come to my two final points. I am pleased that the Minister mentioned the accursed business of people driving too close behind the vehicle in front. It is the cause not necessarily of major accidents, but of many minor accidents, particularly on our motorways. It is the wretched business of driving on the assumption that the car will stop as soon as the brakes are applied. It will not. Cars go on for a long distance. That is the cause of pile-ups.
The problem can be overcome easily by electronic means. It is perfectly possible to fit vehicles with devices that show that they are too close to the vehicle in front. I hope that the Minister will study the research and see whether it is possible to introduce some regulation to ensure that vehicles are fitted with such a device. It would save an enormous number of accidents and an enormous amount of nervousness and terror on our roads. I cannot count the number of times I have driven up the M11 followed by a vehicle within inches of me which could not possibly stop in time. Many elderly people in small cars must use that road, too. The heavy goods vehicles are the worst of all. It is a disgrace and a scandal how closely they drive behind other vehicles. That should be said loudly and clearly and I am glad that the Minister has taken it on board.
I should like the courts to make much greater use of disqualification. Disqualification for serious driving offences is not nearly sufficiently used. I should like the courts also to exercise powers, if they have them—the Minister will tell me whether they do—to confiscate vehicles. Nothing would be a greater deterrent than if a vehicle involved in a road traffic offence were confiscated. I do not care whether vehicles belong to companies and firms, as so many do. It would deter companies that supply vehicles from having irresponsible employees driving their vehicles. All too often, companies say, "Here is your company car. Here are the keys. Get on with it." Greater responsibility is called for from many companies in that respect.
After decades of pumping more and more cars on to the roads and of more and more deaths, with successive Governments little appreciating the consequences, I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has raised the profile of this issue in the Queen's Speech. I and, more importantly, the Guild of Experienced Motorists wish him every success.
I am grateful for being invited to join this important debate. I am a northern Member of Parliament and often we hoof it back to our constituencies on Fridays, but this is a special day for me. My local vicar, the Rev. Keith Butterworth, was invited this morning to open our proceedings with Prayers. Therefore, it is a special day for him, the House and me. I shall not miss this opportunity of making one or two worthwhile points about this important matter. Unlike the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant), I do not have to declare any interest in representing any guilds. I am simply attempting to represent my constituents who are extremely worried about these serious problems.
I am a motorist, so I am aware, as are all other hon. Members, of the many dangers that we encounter on our travels in towns and cities. Street lighting, which is one of the most important aspects of safety, has not yet been touched on. Any motorist will notice the variations between high-quality lighting, poor lighting and, in some cases, no lighting. Great improvements have been made in the standards of street lighting but, unfortunately, in some towns it is still at the standard as it was 50 years ago. It should be greatly improved.
I am not trying to introduce a sour note, but, often, local authorities would like to improve street lighting but are prevented from doing so by cash limitations. If there are problems of poor and inadequate lighting, it is no good the Government occasionally exhorting local authorities to spend less. I have a little story to tell about that.
A few days ago, I was walking home from this House late at night with a colleague. He noticed that the main street by the side of the river was in darkness and remarked that it had been so for weeks. He mentioned it to the policeman who said that he would make inquiries. A day or two later, the policeman reported to my hon. Friend that the lighting had not been maintained because the local authority had run out of funds. That meant that a major road was in absolute darkness.
Street lighting affects not only vehicle safety, but personal physical safety vis à vis violence. I put down that marker not because I am whingeing, but because it is an important point that the Minister must face when he considers safety. A family who loses a husband or a dear child carries that tragedy with it for the rest of its life. Whether to maintain street lighting cannot be determined on money alone.
I applaud and commend the Minister for making a further reference to seat belts. Four or five years ago I stayed behind on a Friday when a Member attempted to introduce a Bill on seat belts. I was amazed at the hostility from the various organisations that resisted the Bill. The legislation has now been vindicated. Ministers tell us how greatly seat belts have benefited society. Even if we have never been involved in an accident, we have benefited because of the great savings to the National Health Service. We recall the many horrendous accidents resulting in people going through windscreens and spending many months in hospital sometimes never to return to work. Further measures on the introduction of seat belts would be applauded, as they are acknowledged to be financially beneficial to society as well as to health through the prevention of accidents.
I am extremely uncomfortable when I drive across a level crossing. One may talk about demanning and reductions in manpower, but I am sure that we have all seen photographs of the most horrendous accidents when cars are smashed into by trains at unmanned level crossings. I do not believe that it would be a wise policy to increase the number of self-controlled level crossings at junctions where motorists may be caught unawares, with horrendous consequences.
I emphasise to the Minister that there should be extensive determination throughout the country to introduce improved street lighting of a proper standard. Never mind about cost controls and limits, street lighting is one expense we cannot afford to cut.
I applaud the Minister on his further proposals about seat belts. My final rider is my concern about unmanned level crossings. For goodness sake, let us think carefully before we increase the number of such crossings.
I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham), who emphasised that street lighting is an important contribution to improved safety, even though it is unpopular in some suburban and rural areas on account of the disturbance it may cause.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in this important debate although, as a cyclist, the suggestion that I might be inconspicuous struck me as rather odd. Obviously I shall have to pay greater attention to the need to make myself more conspicuous and I welcome the opportunity to do so this morning.
I want to restore some balance to our discussion, which has revealed that there is a clear difference in approach between those on the Labour and Conservative Benches. The Opposition Front Bench spokesman has enticed me to make a challenge. The hon. Lady seems to regret the fact that, because of much increased economic activity, we are now suffering congestion on our roads. I hope that she is not suggesting that we should return to Labour policies to reduce our economic activity in order to enable our transport system to cope adequately. That appeared to be the implication behind some of her remarks about returning people to public transport as a preferred means of travel. She appears to ignore the 30 million people who have driving licences and the 22 million cars on our roads, 20 million of which are licensed.
I am sorry to have enticed the hon. Gentleman into this debate. Does he acknowledge that there is even greater economic activity in some of our competitor countries, including, for example, Germany, where the level of car ownership is much higher than in Britain? None the less, the German Government have pursued policies to create a better public transport system and the people use their cars less and public transport more as a result.
Yes, but in Germany better preparations were made earlier to build the roads to provide the increased mobility that increased economic activity requires.
The hon. Lady viewed with disquiet, if not distaste, the idea that there might be a further increase in car ownership in this country. The hon. Lady should note that it is still the ambition of many people to take advantage of the increased personal mobility and the opportunities for education, vacations and undertaking family responsibilities that car ownership presents.
I want to tackle the Minister—
But the hon. Gentleman is tackling me and I want to put the record straight. We do not object to an increase in car ownership. I gave the Department of Transport figures for the increase in the number of vehicles on our roads, which anticipate that car use will increase by 100 per cent. at least, but the Government's road building programme puts the increase in road capacity at 2 per cent.. There is no way in which one can sustain that increase in car use without further disastrous problems, including, for example, an increase in accidents.
We are not talking about Dinky cars that we want to own and put in a show case. Of course people want to use their cars—95 per cent. of all personal movement takes place on the roads and 77 per cent. of that movement is by passenger car.
In the unfortunate temporary absence of my hon. Friend the Minister I should like to tackle him on the difference in the number of cars and the number of cars that are licensed. One of the best ways to improve safety as well as the environment—my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) also mentioned this—would be to get rid of unlicensed cars or those whose licences are not up to date. Many of those cars may have been stolen and they are a hazard to cyclists and pedestrians in particular, as some are left on pavements. If we could get rid of such cars it would be a major contribution to improved safety and it would also mean that tax revenue would no longer be lost. We should have a much more effective blitz on unlicensed cars.
The tenor of this debate, in which the Lotus Carlton has been taken as the reductio ad absurdum, has ignored the fact that modern cars are built to a much higher safety standard than before. The brakes, the engine management, the shock absorbers, the lights and seat belts have all led to such improvements in safety. I agree with the hon. Member for Blackley that there is a gap in our safety precautions because rear seat belts are compulsory only in cars built after a certain date, which means that the occupants of older cars are left unprotected. We would do much better to offer an inducement to people to get rid of their older cars so that better safety and better protection for car occupants is achieved. If we got rid of such cars we should also be able to reach far higher standards on vehicle emissions.
I do not go along with the Labour party approach of increased regulation and increased police activity. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) gave me cause to wonder as she talked about random breath tests and greater police activity. Usually she decries increased police activity and opposes their attempts to preserve public order on the streets. There is a real philosophical divide between us. My hon. Friends and I much prefer to use education, in which the Opposition have suddenly discovered an interest, and training, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West rightly referred, due to his experience as a member of the Guild of Experienced Motorists. We prefer to use technology and the market system. I suggest that the market ought to be given the signal that safer as well as environmentally preferable vehicles should be manufactured. The market mechanism could be used, in particular by the manipulation or adjustment of the special car tax for certain categories of vehicles.
I follow up the market side of the argument by referring to the role that insurance companies could play by introducing premiums for different classes of drivers—those with different experience and qualifications—and for differently equipped vehicles. Some of the newer vehicles, with anti-lock braking or traction control systems and, in the case of commercial vehicles, no balancing braking systems, are much safer and much more advanced. There is no direct correlation between sheer speed and braking capacity. Many older cars that are capable only of reaching comparatively minor speed levels are more unsafe. I listened with great care and much admiration to the Minister's speech because of the target that he has set for himself. It was set originally by the former Minister for Roads and Traffic, my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), as I think he now describes it, although I believe that I canvassed for him in Welling.
All of us owe my hon. Friend a great debt. I am happy to associate my friends in the motor industry with the tributes that deservedly have been paid to him. I recall with great pleasure the fact that he received the Castrol gold award for his contribution to road safety.
One has to remind oneself that life is full of paradox. When the Minister served in local government in Wandsworth he was the apostle of the market and free enterprise. Now that he has assumed the heavy burdens of office, on which I congratulate him most warmly, he talks about more regulation and more legislation. He seems to have forgotten some of the market signals and education proposals to which I am trying to draw him back.
I wish also to draw my hon. Friend's attention to the use of technology. I remind him that I had the pleasure of accompanying my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) and for Meriden (Mr. Mills) earlier this week to see the Secretary of State for Transport, when we discussed the tragic accident on the M42. We suggested to him that more could have been done to prevent that accident if automatic cameras had been installed and linked to warning signals back down the M42. A similar installation is already in use on the A1-M1 at the Hatfield tunnel interchange. We do not see why they could not be introduced at interchanges such as that between the M42 and the A45 where the problems have been considerable over a long period because of the increasing use—the hon. Member for Deptford will be pleased to hear—being made of Birmingham international railway station and the national exhibition centre.
Technology should also be applied to road lighting and prevention systems. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West that it should be applied both to speed and to the spacing of vehicles. I want the police to be freed from confrontation with the public and from their arduous duties. As we open more miles of road, we impose greater burdens upon the police, which some of them are having a hard time, because of manpower and finance constraints, to meet. They are put in a difficult position visa vis the public. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Northfield is to speak later about the police presence at the scene of the M42 accident. We should be able to rely much more on automated methods of control. Speed is only one aspect of the problem. The speed limit ought to be more flexible so that it can cater for different conditions at different times. Automatic monitoring would provide us with the opportunity, which at the moment is denied to us, to bring that about. Moreover, the important question of spacing needs to be tackled.
Finally, I wish to redress slightly the balance of the debate. There has been much criticism today of motor manufacturers. My hon. Friends may not realise that great improvements have been made in the construction of vehicles and the standard of components. I am happy to be able to assure the Minister and the House that the motor industry, the manufacturers and the component makers fully recognise their responsibilities in improving the environment, including exhaust emissions, noise and safety.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate, particularly as we heard a broad speech from the Minister for Roads and Traffic, who opened the debate. He showed plainly that he is interested in and wishes to listen to the views expressed on many issues.
I begin with a plea from the heart. As I was driving my car through the Members' Entrance this morning, I was involved in a minor accident with a cyclist. Fortunately, the cyclist was wearing a helmet and he was not injured. I do not believe that the accident was the fault of either of us. However, it highlighted the difficulties that are faced both by cyclists and motorists in busy parts of our great cities where inadequate provision is made for cycle lanes. That cyclist could quite easily have been seriously hurt in the accident. I support the calls that have been made by those hon. Members who cycle. I confess that I cycle only in the countryside, where my home is. I am not enthusiastic about cycling in London because of the dangers involved. I join those hon. Member in their call for better provision to be made for cycling routes.
I welcome what the Minister said about rear seat belts. It is so much easier to persuade people to wear seat belts in motor cars if it is made compulsory. I encourage those who travel in the back of my car to wear seat belts. My children were very reluctant and put up great resistance to wearing seat belts until they had to do so. Thereafter, there was no question about it; they quickly became accustomed to putting them on and keeping them on—and continuing to wriggle, even with their seat belts on.
I share the Minister's misgivings—this is a personal view, not the view of my party—about random breath tests. I believe that the police have all the powers that they need to breathalyse people. They have wide powers to stop motorists. If the police stop a motorist, using their powers, and find that they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that the motorist may have alcohol in his body, they can breathalyse him. There is no difficulty about that. The statistics show that the police have had considerable success.
The use of random breath tests seems to identify the wrong issue. I am concerned that 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood is still high for motorists. The message that we are trying to convey to motorists from all quarters in the House is that one should not drink and drive. In my view it would be far better if the level were pitched significantly lower, so that motorists knew that anything but the smallest drink would render them liable to disqualification from driving, and that the real message is, "If you are driving, drink soft drinks." I should like the blood alcohol level to be reduced to a maximum of 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood.
The hon. and learned Gentleman makes a sensible point about safety, but I wonder whether he thinks that this is the right time to change the law. In practice, one is permitted to have up to the legal limit of alcohol in the blood. Above that limit there is nearly always an automatic conviction for a crime. Lowering the blood alcohol limit could discourage people from taking the sensible advice never to mix alcohol with driving. If we keep the limit at 80 mg per 100 ml, at least for the foreseeable future, people will thionk that that is the legal limit, rather than the safe limit, and will be more likely to take the advice not to have even one drink before driving.
I am not sure that that is entirely logical. What is more, the likelihood of being acquitted of a breathalyser offence is now small. In my early days at the Bar, I frequently prosecuted and defended breathalyser cases—they were usually Friday cases—in the Crown court. It was common for sympathetic acquittals to be obtained. However, juries' views changed. Breathalyser cases have sensibly been taken out of the Crown court and put into the magistrates courts. I cannot imagine that there would be sympathetic acquittals in the magistrates courts, even if the level were reduced to 50 mg per 100 ml of blood. I expect that a reduction to 50 mg would reinforce the view put so forcefully by the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley).
It is a matter of regret to me that no Welsh Office Minister is present on the Government Front Bench today. No doubt Welsh Office Ministers will read the report of this debate with great care. I wish that I could speak with enthusiasm about the attention paid by the Welsh Office highways department—I do not criticise Ministers—to representations made to it about certain aspects of road safety on trunk roads which are distant from Cardiff. The Welsh Office highways department suffers from what I call the Wales-near-Cardiff syndrome. Sometimes it fails to recognise the problems on trunk roads in parts of Wales, some distance from Cardiff.
In rural Montgomeryshire, and in all rural areas of Wales, we have a high proportion of elderly people. Elderly road users, especially those living in villages with trunk roads that pass through them, face special problems.
I recently made representations to the Minister of State, Welsh Office, the hon. Member for Conwy (Sir. W. Roberts) that speed limits should be introduced on the trunk road which passes through the villages of Llanerfyl, Llangadfan and Foel. I know that road well. I have stood beside it for long periods with elderly constituents who have complained to me. Heavy goods vehicles have been mentioned. I have seen articulated lorries thundering through those villages at speeds far in excess of 60 mph.
I have been driving for 25 years. I drive great distances, and I can recognise a car travelling at 90 mph when I see one. I have seen cars travelling through those villages at speeds of up to and over 90 mph.
I received a most extraordinary reply to my letter from the Minister of State. He suggested that the introduction of a speed limit in those villages might put drivers' speeds up. I simply do not understand the logic of that.
I understand that the police are reluctant about having yet more speed limits in vast rural police areas, which they have difficulty policing to the full. That is understandable, but public safety surely demands that, in villages with an increasing proportion of elderly people, in which there have been accidents and where there is evidence of danger, it makes sense to introduce speed limits of 30 or 40 mph even if all it achieves is to slow down the odd articulated lorry.
The same could be said of the Welsh Office's attitude to pedestrian crossings. In Newtown, there has long been a campaign for a pedestrian crossing across the trunk road, known locally as the Llanidloes road. A week or so ago, there was a serious accident on that road, and yet we still face resistence to the introduction of a pedestrian crossing near to a point where many schoolchildren cross the road on their way to and from the local high school from large housing estates.
I should like the Welsh Office highways department to display more flexibility—under the influence of the Minister's Department—towards speed limits and pedestrian crossings. Lollipop or road crossing patrols are an associated subject. Largely because of local government expenditure levels—I do not wish to talk about that, as it is too political for today's debate—lollipop controls have been withdrawn in rural mid-Wales. Some still exist because they are funded by community councils, but such councils have limited funding. If they pay a lollipop man or lady, that bleeds them of a considerable proportion of funds, which they cannot afford.
Part of the education budget, decided at Government level, should include a realistic allowance for school crossing patrols. Every week we hear of young children, or even teenagers, who are injured or killed as they cross the road to school. That would be obviated by the discipline that the school lollipop person brings. Lollipop men and ladies have made a contribution to young people's education, because they are often fairly strict disciplinarians, within their limited purview, and they teach children an element of road safety more cheaply than it can be taught in schools.
I am 100 per cent. in favour of the measures that are being introduced to compel all motor cyclists to have basic training. However, some considerable time ago a Government spokesman stated that those measures would not be introduced until they could be enforced universally. At the moment that cannot happen because rural areas are disadvantaged. I know that the Minister has received representations on this matter and I merely re-emphasise them. People who live in rural areas will find it extremely difficult and expensive to obtain basic training. Evidence shows that the Department of Transport is removing, rather than adding to, facilities in rural areas—an example in my constituency is the indefensible removal of the Machynlleth driving test centre.
I invite the Minister and his colleagues in the Welsh Office to consider carefully the provision of adequate basic motor cycle training facilities in rural areas, including rural Wales. It is a fact that a higher proportion of young people in rural areas use motor cycles, especially small ones. My 17-year-old daughter has a moped. It is almost necessary for her if she is to get around an area in which there is no public transport. The alternative is for parents, if they are there—unlike Members of Parliament—to act as taxi drivers at extraordinary hours of the day and night, young people being what they are. There is a particular need for training of young motor cyclists in rural areas. It is fair to say that most of the dealers are extremely careful about ensuring that those who buy mopeds can ride them reasonably safely, but many of these young people do not go to dealers to buy their first moped. They buy them for £50 or £75 from some other young person who is moving up to a 125 cc motor cycle and then they do not have the necessary training.
Debates such as this, carried out in as apolitical a spirit as possible, enable us to make progress on an important issue. I look forward to a favourable, or at least hopeful, response by the Ministerr on some of the issues that I have raised.
I, too, welcome this annual debate on road safety. I particularly welcome the measures announced in the Queen's Speech which will contribute to road safety. Implementation of the recommendations in the Horne report for the more efficient management and co-ordination of street works to keep obstacles and other restrictions to traffic flow to a minimum, for which my borough council has been calling, must be in the interests of road safety.
Private sector investment in the building and operation of new roads, including new motorways, will also be in the interests of road safety. Anyone who has driven across France will appreciate that. One has a choice there between existing national routes, usually highly congested, and the fast, safe péage autoroutes. That is a choice to which I look forward in this country, although I fully appreciate that the opportunities open to us here are more limited because Britain is just one third the size of France. A glance at the motorway map of England and Wales shows that our most heavily populated areas in the south of England are nowhere near as well served by inter-urban motorways in the north-east and north-west. I look forward to the private sector being allowed to put that right.
I also welcome the announcement earlier this year by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport that we will proceed with the missing link in the M3 to the south coast ports and resorts to replace the pre-war Winchester bypass, with its atrocious record of traffic jams and accidents. Now that the last public inquiry is over and the last appeal has been turned down, I hope that we can proceed with all possible speed. I look forward to my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic—the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope)—confirming that that will happen.
I wish to put two particular points on road safety to the House. They both arise from experience of the same road in my constituency—one with which many hon. Members will be familiar, especially my Conservative colleagues who attended our party conference in Bournemouth last month. They might recall that, in heading for the town centre of Bournemouth, they would have driven over the so-called Cooper Dene flyover as soon as they passed the borough boundary on the A338 Ringwood spur road. It is, in effect, the main gateway to Bournemouth and the rest of Dorset.
Tragically, on 20 July 1988, during the construction of this flyover, a worker was killed by a reversing truck. His death could have been avoided if that truck had had an automatic, audible, reversing alarm fitted—a bleeper; and so might the 140 other deaths, the 603 serious injuries and the 1,774 slight injuries, totalling no fewer than 2,517 accidents since 1980, involving reversing heavy goods vehicles. In 1980, there were eight such deaths; in 1989, there were 20. No one can ignore that trend. Unfortunately, those figures are not serious enough for the Department of Transport to consider making reversing bleepers compulsory, as they are for trucks in other EC countries. I strongly urge my hon. Friend the Minister to give new thought to this situation in the light of those statistics.
My second point concerns a cattle and farm crossing close to the same flyover in my constituency. I am sure that the House will agree that such crossings and dual carriageways carrying fast-moving traffic under virtual motorway conditions are utterly incompatible and can hardly be in the best interests of road safety; yet this is precisely the situation about a quarter of a mile from the very same flyover where traffic will undoubtedly be accelerating either to climb it or in coming off it. This traffic is then required to come to a halt when cattle or farm vehicles are crossing or if flashing red lights indicate that they are about to do so.
This is allowed for by the highways authority, Dorset county council, despite my objections before the flyover was constructed and those since by Bournemouth borough council in response to accidents that have occurred. On this occasion, I believe that the county council has acted, uncharacteristically, irresponsibly and with great short-sightedness in failing to build an appropriate overbridge or underpass at the same time as the flyover was constructed.
Indeed, the farmers concerned, my constituents at Holdenhurst farm and Manor farm, are obliged to cross from one to the other daily, as they have done for more than 20 years. Moreover, in May and June, when they commence silage making, they need to cross the dual carriageway up to 80 times a day with two teams of tractors and trailers. Obviously, they take their lives into their hands, as do the motorists who ignore the flashing red lights urging them to stop. Needless to say, the lights have been subject to frequent vandalism. I suspect that those of my constituents who run these farms act more responsibly than they want to in not taking cattle across as frequently as they would wish, in which case it is totally wrong for the county council to deny them their livelihood in this way. When they staged a French farmers' style demonstration last year—a photograph of which appeared on the back page of The Times—by blocking the road with tractors to make their point about the dangers of such a situation, traffic stretched back for miles. An additional factor is the nearby location of the new Royal Bournemouth hospital, the second phase of which will include a major accident unit. It can only be a matter of time before a fast-moving ambulance dealing with an emergency is required to halt for a tractor team.
I hope that I have said enough for my hon. Friend to share my concern for safety on one of the fastest roads in our county and I also hope that he will inquire into it. His predecessor but one was content to leave the matter to the county council, so I am glad to have had the opportunity today to raise this matter in the House.
I, too, am grateful for the opportunity to address the House on the important topic of road safety.
The road safety record of this country and of this Government is good compared with that of the rest of Europe, but if is still utterly unacceptable. In this country, more people die on the roads than in accidents in the home or in the workplace, through fires, through drowning or from acts of violence, including murder and terrorism. Five times as many people in this country die every year as a result of road accidents as died in the Falklands war. Many people are rightly concerned that if there were a military engagement in the middle east there would be considerable loss of life, but many of us find it hard to believe that similar consideration is not given to the 5,000 people who die and to the 300,000 people who are injured on our roads.
Road safety is a particular problem for children and for young people. The most common cause of death for children and for people up to the age of 30 is not, as one might think, one of the major diseases with which we still have to cope, but fatal accidents on the road. That is why it is important that today we have the opportunity to consider the topic.
The cost to the country has been estimated to be £6 billion. From the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) this morning about medical costs alone, that figure appears to be conservative, to say the least. If my hon. Friend's figures are accurate, the cost would be about £8 million per constituency, so hon. Members can consider the problem in terms of the loss to their own people.
One cannot, of course, calculate the human misery caused by death and disability from road accidents. Hon. Members may find it hard to believe, but every minute during this debate a person will be killed, maimed, disabled for life or otherwise injured on our roads. We should bear that in mind throughout the debate.
The Minister rightly pointed out this morning that 95 per cent. of road accidents, unlike accidents at work, are caused through human error, such as lack of judgment, carelessness, drink-driving and speeding. He seemed to conclude that that made it far more difficult to resolve the problems and to reduce the casualty rate on our roads. I beg to differ. A body of knowledge has been built up over the past 15 or 20 years by our own research establishments, by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, by the World Health Organisation and by others which tells us that we can tackle the problems. The fact that the Government have set themselves the laudable target of reducing the road casualty rate by one third by the year 2000 emphasises that point. Despite the fact that the primary cause of road accidents is human error, we can do a lot to effect a further great reduction in the toll of deaths and carnage on our roads.
I am one co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary advisory council for transport safety and the other is the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) who unfortunately, is unable to attend today because of a long-standing prior constituency engagement. We should like to put on record our thanks to the Government and to local authorities for their actions on road safety over the years. However, we are bold enough to suggest that there are some important further steps that the Government should contemplate so that they can achieve the standard that they have set themselves for 2000.
One important step is education in our schools. The provision of road safety education varies dramatically, there are no set guidelines and there is no universal provision, although I recognise that there may be different needs in different areas and that variation is needed. However, as I said earlier, in some schools, there is no safety education and, as our children are the most likely victims of road accidents, that is unacceptable.
Our second proposal to help to achieve the Government's own standard is new measures to control drinking and driving, and excessive speed. I am pleased to see that some proposals on that were covered—at least in part—in the Gracious Speech. We also want more resources to be allocated to the implementation of small highway engineering and traffic management schemes to contribute to accident reduction, improvements in vehicle safety standards and in the use of protective equipment and, last but not least, improvements in enforcement and the introduction of technological aids to assist traffic law enforcement. Again, those matters have been laudably covered—in part—in the Gracious Speech.
I had intended to cover three areas which I had chosen because they are the most cost effective, some of the easiest to implement and will have the most dramatic effects. However, I am delighted to say that I have had to reconsider one of the proposals because the Minister announced this morning his intention to go out to consultation on the introduction of regulations for the compulsory wearing of rear seat belts by adults. My organisation, the House and the country will have been grateful to hear that because we know that such a move will have an immediate and dramatic effect. Within the first year, it would save 80 lives and up to 4,000 injuries. The introduction of the compulsory wearing of front seat belts has been a great success. It has saved about 20,000 lives, and that is an achievement of which any Government could be proud. The measure introduced by the hon. Member for Cheadle to make seat belts compulsory for children under 14 has already saved the lives of and prevented serious injuries to at least 200 children. The new proposal is definitely a step in the right direction.
Some 23,000 people have been either killed or injured because they were adults who were unrestrained in the rear seat of a car, and it is good to attack that record. We sometimes forget the horrific injuries that can result from the failure to use rear seat belts—and some adults still do not use them even though they have been fitted in their cars. I must urge those who have rear seat belts to wear them now and not to wait for regulations. In a crash, an adult in a car travelling at average speed can be projected from the back seat with the force of a three and a half tonne truck. Often, the only obstacle in front of the passenger in the rear seat is the head of the passenger in the front seat. One can imagine the multiple head injuries that can be sustained in such an accident. The sooner the consultation is completed and the sooner regulations are brought before the House, the sooner we shall be able to start to prevent such accidents.
Random breath testing has been referred to today. We are disappointed that it was not covered in the Gracious Speech and that the Minister does not support it because it would be cost effective and easy to introduce. We know from the experiences of other countries that random breath testing works. It has been suggested today that there is no evidence to support the view that the introduction of random breath tests would greatly reduce casualties that occur as a result of drink-driving. That is simply not true. The vast majority of national and international expert opinion believes that random breath testing will work, and the experience of New South Wales proves that it will. As the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) said, it has resulted in a 35 per cent. reduction in the number of casualties caused by drink-driving in that state. It is highly cost effective—so much so that savings have amounted to 20 times the cost to the police of introducing it. Sweden, which already had a good record, introduced severe penalties as a deterrent, but there was no dramatic effect until the introduction of random breath testing increased people's expectations of being caught. Punishment alone will not achieve our objective, although I welcome the proposals in the Gracious Speech for harsher penalties and new offences. We must make these wrongdoers—these criminals—realise that they will be caught.
We have the support of the police in this matter. Chief Constable Peter Joslin, the chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers traffic committee, addressed a conference at Copenhagen this summer. He traced developments following the change of public attitude which has resulted in a welcome reduction in drink-driving and accidents due to it but said:
The attitude of Chief Constables has also changed and as a result of information gleaned from colleagues in the Australian State of New South Wales, it became clear … that not only could the public's attitude to this be changed and harnessed for the good, but a deterrent-based enforcement system was far more effective in reducing drink drive fatalities than was the traditional enforcement model.
We know that the police would like their rights to conduct breath tests to be unfettered, but there is a civil liberty argument and that is why random breath testing should be given a high profile and strictly controlled as it is elsewhere. It will be no less effective for that.
I shall not go into the other arguments about the success of random breath testing. Everyone except the Government seems to support it and, in the Government, the Secretary of State for Transport is a notable exception. Earlier in the year, it was widely reported in the press that he appeared to be very much in favour of random breath testing. I hope that he will use his considerable influence to make his Ministers and the Government support that view. Many of us are frankly astonished that the Government are not considering the introduction of random breath tests given that, in the first year, it could reduce the number of deaths by 300 and the number of serious injuries by 2,000. Apparently,77 per cent. of the public support the measure and 70 per cent. believe that it would be effective. I urge the Minister to reconsider his position and put right the omission in the road traffic Bill.
The third measure that we think could be very effective in reducing injuries at a relatively low cost is the introduction of local safety engineering schemes by local authority highway departments. We appreciate the fact that the Government have now earmarked a proportion of the transport supplementary grant for allocation to local safety schemes, which may involve, for instance, a mini roundabout or road markings at a black spot. Such improvements may even be provided on an area-wide basis, and that can be most effective in reducing accidents, as can traffic-calming measures and the provision of refuge for pedestrians trying to cross the road. We know that such small common sense schemes can do the trick, but our local authority highway officers and safety experts do not have the resources at their disposal. The Government have said that 15 per cent. of their target reduction could be achieved by this method. I am glad that an element of grant is to be set aside but we recommend—along with all the motoring organisations, local authorities and professional institutions—that £30 million should be allocated in the first year, or £120 million in the first three years. If the Government do not provide the necessary resources, they will not be able to achieve their target.
We have suggested a number of measures, one of which the Government have taken on board. I wrote to the Minister last week to say that I am delighted at the positive response that we have had. The introduction of those measures alone would prevent 4,000 deaths and serious injuries in the first year. It would save the country £250,000. If the Government take road safety seriously, they should seriously consider our proposals.
I calculate that, since I started my speech, about 22 people have been killed, maimed for life or otherwise injured on the roads. If for no other reason than that, the Government should consider our request.
This is a most important debate. Hon. Members from both sides of the House have stated clearly the quite appalling statistics. When I recall those great days of battle when we fought to introduce the law on seat belts, it seems like a bad dream or a fantasy that people should have resisted so strongly a measure which has clearly been of great benefit.
I have always worn a seat belt because I thought it was sensible to do that. I suspect many motorists would agree with me when I say that I feel almost naked and very vulnerable without my seat belt on. Part of that is psychological and part of it is a result of my being involved in the campaign and having seen the statistics.
During my rallying and racing career I had many accidents and I can remember one that would certainly have prevented me entering this House had I not been wearing a full harness seat belt. Competition driving is one thing, but the dangers on our roads continue. Therefore, I take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his move on rear seat belts. Most sensible people use them and we are urging people today to use them before regulations are completed. However, the proposal is an excellent step forward and most hon. Members would congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on that.
I wish to refer to the design of cars and of motorways. Car design is very important. Having been involved for 20 years in engineering and marketing in the car industry, I have always found it difficult to sell safety. I understand that attitudes are changing. The raft of different perceptions of the environment and personal safety have meant that there are more opportunities for safety products. Over the years, technology has produced things like run-flat tyres and toughened glass. There is even a way of monitoring tyre pressure. However, all those things cost money. Most high-safety products involve complex technology, new materials or extra money.
The argument has always been that the decision-making process in buying a new car involves looking at its colour, the texture of the materials and the quality of the in-car stereo. In fact, at last year's motor show I heard a man who was intending to buy a car say, "But it's got only two on-board computers." I should have asked him whether he had looked at the tyres, the brakes and the other safety aspects. He was not basing his purchase decision on those aspects.
Many people decide to buy a car in response to advertising. To most people, whether one can do 170 mph in a car that is capable of that speed—although obviously not on public roads—is irrelevant. What matters is being able to boast to colleagues and friends that one has parked such a car outside. For some people, such a car is an extension of their macho image. They will never drive it a t 170 mph; the important point is that their car is faster and more capable. That is extremely dangerous. Advertising can influence people whose ability to control those fast cars might be less than desirable.
I am not just talking about cars capable of 170 mph—
That may be so. However, the emphasis on many models lies with the potency of the car's performance. Variants of quite humble cars such as the efi or turbo have achieved extraordinary marketing success. Modest cars are garnished to produce better performance, better styling and better looks. That is a reaction to market demand. I recognise the difficulty in persuading car manufacturers in a highly competitive market about safety features. Until people go into car show rooms and say, "Right, I know it's got a video, stereo and a radio, but what are the safety features? I want this, this and this", safety features will not be so important. There must be a role for Government publicity to encourage people to make the car industry market led instead of supply led.
Car theft is a serious problem. There is a car park in my constituency which serves Birmingham international airport, the railway station and the national exhibition centre. The thousands of cars there are a target for the organised teams who want to remove the in-car entertainment equipment and for the lads who want to steal a business man's BMW while he is away in London or in the NEC and then go burning up the A45 or the M42.
As an ex-engineer, I am appalled by the simplicity of car locking systems. It would be wrong of me to reveal the technique for breaking into cars, but it is well known that one can do in a couple of minutes all that one has to do to get into a car. It is not impossible once inside the car to bypass the steering lock and start the engine. Until manufacturers improve the design, cars will be stolen and driven badly and that will add to our road safety problems. However, I understand that there is pressure to have British standards for car locks with higher security standards.
Recently, there was a tragedy on the M42 in which a number of people died. My hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King), for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) and I went to see the Secretary of State for Transport about it and he confirmed that the matter was important and that he would let us have a response as soon as possible. We hope that that response might appear today.
The M42 runs right through my constituency. I often enter the road at the top near where I live, I have access to the A45 and the areas around the NEC and I can then approach the Solihull turn-off and the A41 with access to the villages of Knowle and Dorridge and then to Hockley Heath. I know that motorway extremely well. I have seen it develop over the years from a little-travelled short stretch into its present state—absolutely burgeoning.
Four Ashes has a riding club. It has become an extremely unhappy experience to take one's horse box or trailer on the motorway even on a Saturday or Sunday, because of crowded traffic conditions. In a slow-moving vehicle, one gets trapped. Even travelling at the legal speed on the M42, I am rarely able to use the right-hand lane—the fast lane—because I am holding everybody up. I have to move into the centre lane where I am passed by everything except cars towing caravans. The bigger lorries are, the faster they go. The traffic is solid at peak times. The exits on the A45, north and south, and at the island further on at Dunton, are serviced by essential part-time lights. They mean that people stop. Cars build up at the exit and eventually come to the motorway. Even at peak times, there is not a crowd of cars actually on the slow lane of the motorway.
When there are large exhibitions at the NEC, road conditions become crazy and dangerous. People either see the queue and suddenly swerve to avoid it—sometimes they do not—or are in the queue and get fed up when they suddenly realise that they still have half a mile to go, and pull out from the left-hand lane into the middle lane. With everybody in the middle lane doing 70 mph or even more, that is extremely hazardous.
It would be wrong of me to draw conclusions, because I understand that an inquest is considering these matters, but the three hon. Members who saw the Secretary of State felt that we should put forward some strong views about actions that might help to prevent any further incidents.
Certainly, a permanent 24-hour video surveillance system is essential to assess the problem. Indeally, that would be connected to a form of automatic warning signalling, but even a huge painted signal board at the key spot would be better than nothing. Warning motorists is essential. The other part of the solution is to increase the hard shoulder or the run-off area so that cars can stack up further back without getting into the slow lane of the motorway. There will be changes from the M42 to the M6 going south when the extra lane is added at some stage, but, as I learnt from discussions with officials and the Minister, that will not resolve the problem within the next couple of years.
The NEC is doubling in size and it will double its capacity to entertain and educate people. How are they to get there? A fair number come by train but most come by cars. Therefore, the NEC will need more car parks. Will cars be stacked up at the A45 island? If so, there will be cars in the slow lane down to Solihull unless something is done. Some form of dedicated exit both from the north and the south, directly into the NEC, with suitable traffic systems in the NEC to ensure the swift dispersal of cars will be essential.
I shall not detain the House much longer, as many of my colleagues wish to speak. However, I declare an interest as a long-time tyre and car man and adviser to the National Tyre Distributors Association. We are pleased that the law will be harmonised on a European basis and greatly improved. However, that will lead to confusion about what are legal and illegal tyres. Tyres are important to road safety. A car is supported by four tyres and four contact patches about the size of size 9 shoes. If a tyre does not have tread and it is raining heavily, that adds to the hazard. Some form of publicity and communications programme will be essential when the law is changed. My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) is smiling and no doubt recalling having this conversation some time ago.
For the avoidance of doubt, I thought that tread is what is cut into the rubber—I may be wrong—and that, unless it is wet, it may be better to have no cut in it at all. The law is somewhat different. I do not think that we should propose to re-run arguments that I lost before.
I thank my hon. Friend for being so decent. Having been a tyre designer, I inform him that it is common to call the part that touches the road the tread. If it is raining, one will want more.
It is important that people understand the changes when they take place. The industry and the association will play a part in that. A form of Government education and communication will be most important.
This has been an interesting debate covering many road safety issues. All hon. Members, whatever party or part of the country they represent, know that we shall get letters about the poll tax, our future in Europe, and the Gulf crisis. Such matters come and go. But week after week, from January to December, we receive letters from our constituents expressing their deep concern about road safety in their areas.
As hon. Members have already said, we hear far too often about tragic accidents on our motorways, which are often attributed to the speed of the car, the driver's lack of awareness about what he or she is doing, or to the weather conditions. Those are the accidents that get the publicity. However, all hon. Members—whether we represent an inner-city constituency here in London, other large cities or even smaller towns—know what concerns our constituents. I am sure that the area that I represent is similar to many parts of the country. I can remember when there were very few motor cars. Local residents often had motor cycles or scooters, and many had bicycles, but not many had a car. There were certainly no two-car families. As we all know, that position has completely changed, but we do not pay much attention to the key question of parking. Indeed, not much attention has been paid to it this morning. As we often hear, there is an increase in the number of cars and that is what people want. I do not dispute that, but we do not hear about where those people are supposed to park their cars, although that is a key question facing the Government and one that will face the next Labour Government who will shortly take over control of the country.
I know that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, do not represent a London constituency, but you live in London so I am sure that you will understand my next point. In many parts of London, including in my constituency and in the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, motor vehicles are double parked at night in road after road. They remain there throughout the night, with no lights on. This is not an isolated occurrence—it happens in road after road—yet I do not believe that anything is ever done about it. I have taken up this matter with my local police, whose response is, "Well, it is difficult, sir, isn't it? Where are they supposed to park? Do you really expect us to hound these people, because, if we do that, where can we tell them to move their motor vehicles to?" Nothing is being done about that dangerous problem.
Linked to that is another problem which we all see and which has been referred to this morning—cars that park with two or more wheels on the pavement. I have also noticed repeatedly cars which have been parked across the corners of roads. That causes problems for pedestrians, especially for mums with pushchairs, and for disabled and elderly people who can get about but who are not as mobile as they once were. They find that they have to walk into the road because a car has obstructed the corner on which they would normally wait before crossing the road. It also presents problems for other motorists who want to come out of the road into another road and who are forced to edge into the centre of the road because the parked car has obstructed their vision of the oncoming traffic. Again, I do not believe that much is ever done to curb that clear offence.
That leads me to question the Government's general policy towards ordinary men and women and their safety provisions. As I have said, when I have raised the problems of cars without lights being parked overnight and of double parking, the police say, "Yes, it is a problem, but we do not have the staff, sir, so we do not intend to do anything about it." Who has responsibility for it? I received in this morning's post a leaflet published by the London Boroughs Association. The Minister may have seen it. I should like to quote one or two of the comments that highlight the point I am trying to make. The leaflet says:
Consider these facts. Every day 350,000 parking offences are committed in central London alone. 149 out of 150 offenders go free. A recent Government study showed that the increased enforcement activity reduced illegal parking by 45 per cent. A House of Commons Transport Committee said in 1982 that London needed 4,000 traffic wardens. The Government's current budget is for 1,800 and 500 of those posts are unfilled.
The debate has not touched on the role of traffic wardens. We know that they are not popular with motorists, but their job is essential. If a driver runs foul of a traffic warden, it is obvious that he is breaking the traffic regulations that apply in the area where his car or lorry is parked. What is the Government's policy on traffic wardens? Are they encouraging the appointment of more, and, if not, why not? Surely the appointment of more wardens is essential.
I am sure that all hon. Members have experienced complaints about motorists who drive through residential areas. The Minister was once a councillor in Wandsworth and I expect that he will know the roads that I intend to mention, even though they are in my constituency and not in the area for which he was a councillor. I and the residents of three major roads in my constituency are trying to get some safety provision. The routes are Ellerton road, Southcroft road and Longley road. During the morning and evening rush hours, dozens of motorists drive along those residential roads in an effort to avoid potential bottlenecks or hazards.
An hon. Member has asked today why people do not do more for themselves. Two weeks ago, a Mr. Gillis, who is well over 70 years of age, and who lives in Longley link road, visited my advice centre. He said, "Mr. Cox, I am absolutely fed up." I asked what was wrong. He said, "It is the sheer volume of traffic that goes through the road in which I live." He had knocked on the door of everyone who lives in that road and had drawn up a petition containing well over 200 signatures. The petition called for road humps in Longley road. Such humps undoubtedly slow down traffic, and in the other roads that I have mentioned that is what local residents want.
The problem—and I am sure other hon. Members have encountered it—is that, although we are left in no doubt about what residents want, we do not know when the road humps will be installed. In the case of Ellerton road, I have had about two years of continuing consultation, letter writing and discussion with Wandsworth council and I have given clear evidence about what people want. I am told that it is in the pipeline and that one day it will be done. People get fed up with that because they see clearly what they want and exert efforts to get a clear consensus of what people are saying. Then the authority says, "Oh yes, we will get round to it." As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) said, if there is no money to do the jobs, then, sadly, progress on improving safety in many of our residential areas does not take place.
There are consultations between the authority and the police. I accept that that must happen, but the time that some of the consultations take is almost unbelievable. Even if we live in a different area from that which we represent, we can quickly identify the problem and the views of local people. Unless the police or the council say that there are genuine reasons why something cannot be done, quicker action should be taken to put in place what is wanted. In this instance I am talking about humps, but there is concern about the lack of pedestrian crossings. We know that road humps reduce the speed of traffic, but in Southcroft road, for example, which no doubt the Minister will be familiar with, there is a lack of adequate pedestrian crossings. I have a letter dated 12 November from a lady who lives in Southcroft road. Part of it reads:
One sometimes has to stand for 5 minutes or more to cross Southcroft road from one side of the road to the other.
I hope that the Department of Transport will give urgent consideration to the consultations that take place between boroughs and the police. I am sure that that problem extends beyond London and is to be found throughout the country.
When we talk about road safety and the general movement of traffic, an important consideration is bus lanes. What is the Government's policy on bus lanes? There is a bus lane outside the House, and if at 5 o'clock the Minister were to stand alongside it he would see the actions of motorists who have complete disregard for the regulations which are supposed to apply to the use of the lane. There are constant infringements.
Bus lanes are provided for the use of buses, taxis and cyclists. Many motorists, however, will drive along a bus lane to try to get a few yards ahead of law-abiding motorists, who say, "There is a bit of a jam and I shall have to wait." I am told that the fine for driving a motor car along a bus lane during the period of enforcement of the regulations governing its use is £400. It would be interesting to know how many motorists charged with the offence of driving in a bus lane have been fined £400. That applies to the bus lane outside the House and to bus lanes everywhere.
I believe that we do not have enough bus lanes. It was to the credit of the Greater London council that its policy was to introduce complete bus lane systems, not bus lanes that continued for a mile or so and then disappeared, only to start again somewhere else. It wanted an overall London policy for bus lanes.
I received recently a letter from a constituent who had written to a Westminster city councillor. The issue was the removal of the bus lane outside the House. The councillor claimed that problems were caused when Members of this place or the other place had to come to either House for Divisions in the afternoon. I sent on the letter to the Secretary of State for Transport and wrote something like this: "What nonsense is this person talking about?" We all know that bus lanes do not affect the rights of Members in either House. when a Division is called and they have to vote. Yet that was a reason given for their removal. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister when he replies or, if he cannot do so then, in writing later, what the policy is on bus lanes. Are they being encouraged by his Department? Are there ongoing discussions with the police about repeated infringements by motorists who have no right whatever to use bus lanes during certain periods?
Hon. Members have spoken about cycle lanes, so I shall not spend too much time on them but they tie up with bus lanes. When the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) was at the Department of Transport, I wrote to him about cycle lanes, tabled questions and received replies. As my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford asked, are we making progress on the overall development of our cycle lane systems, whether in London or in other major cities? This morning we have heard about all the Members who are so healthy because they ride their bicycles and about others who encourage cycling. Cycling is wonderful. I have a bicycle here which I sometimes use because I know that I can get somewhere quicker on it than by car or because parking will be difficult. The hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), who is a keen cyclist, will agree about the need for an overall policy on cycle lanes so that a cyclist knows that after the next roundabout there will be another cycle lane. Sadly, we do not have such a system.
The boroughs must get together, but it is not good enough for the Minister to say that this must be for the boroughs to decide. A variety of decisions affect their policies. They may say, "We do not have the money this year to develop cycle lanes, so we shall postpone it for a year or two", or, "This is where a cycle lane should be." Unless the various boroughs follow an overall policy, development will be piecemeal, which causes enormous dangers for cyclists. Moreover, it stops many others who would start cycling from doing so. They fear that, although there are cycle lanes in one borough, they may not continue in another borough, so it is not worth the risk.
The next issue that I wish to raise has not been touched on. [Interruption.] I do not know what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) said, but I have listened to the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford and all the other hon. Members who have spoken. I have not left the Chamber and I have a right to make all the comments that I wish to make.
No one has referred to defective lighting on motor vehicles. Every day we see many cars on our roads which have only one working light. I have often driven along the road, especially on these dark evenings, and wondered whether in the distance I am seeing a cyclist'. It is not until I come closer that I realise that it is a motor car with only one working light.
We all know about the regulations on MOT testing. If my car passed its MOT test and a month later something went wrong with the lighting, what checks would be made about that? How often do the police stop a motorist driving such a car? I am not suggesting that they should immediately prosecute, but some system should be in place. When a police officer stops a motorist to say that only one light is working, the motorist should be given some form which within the next 48 hours must be produced at his local police station, following which an officer will come and see that the defective light has been repaired. I do not believe that that is asking too much, especially if we are to believe that driving a motor car is so crucial. At 4 pm it is dusk, and by 6 pm it is dark, but far too often motorists drive at such times without proper lights. In my area, some people do that for weeks and weeks and when I ask when they intend to do something about their lights they say that they are far too busy, but that they will get round to it one day. They should be required to get something done immediately.
We have heard a lot about cyclists and the need to wear crash helmets and reflective clothing. However, we all know that some cyclists of all ages, but especially younger ones, ride without any lights. They ride not only on pavements without lights, which causes great annoyance to many people, but on the roads. We should pay much closer attention to that problem because it is for their benefit that cyclists should be properly equipped with lights as their chances of having an accident are then much reduced.
The Minister has spoken of vehicle safety, seat belts, leg protection and training. My hon. Friend the Member for Deptford was challenged when she spoke about the need for better public transport, but there is absolutely no doubt that that is crucial. However, there will always be people who, for a variety of reasons, will need a motor car. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) said that in his area the motor car is the only means of travel because there is a lack of public transport facilities, and I can understand that.
When the hon. Member for Eltham was responsible for road transport, he and I had a number of clashes in this House because, 18 months ago, many parts of London were threatened by the western environmental improvement route—WEIR. I do not know whether the Minister lives in Wandsworth, but he knows a bit about that area. There was an ongoing protest in Wandsworth about the potential development of that road system and public meetings were called by the local council, by me and by others who stood to be greatly affected by it. At meeting after meeting people were asked for their views of the public transport system. The overwhelming response was. that people chose to use their cars, but that if the public transport system was better they would leave their cars at home.
The Minister will be aware that the Northern line of the underground runs through the Tooting and Battersea constituencies. It is an utter disgrace. A few months ago, the Minister for Public Transport inspected the line. I wrote a letter to thank him for his courtesy and the time he spent on the visit. He showed an interest and he saw at first hand some of the problems. After that visit he said that he well understood the complaints and that he too would complain if he used the line. The passengers repeatedly say that they have had enough and that they will use their cars. If that line and public transport services in general in London were better, more people would use public transport.
The hon. Member for Eltham was in charge of road development schemes in London. They were dropped overnight by the Government. Both the Government and I know why they were dropped, but I do not intend to pursue that point. The meetings were attended by hundreds of people, not just by a handful of people who regularly attend meetings. They said that they would use better public transport, if it were provided, and leave their cars at home. In a debate such as this, we must stress that a commitment must be made urgently to improve public transport.
This excellent debate has given hon. Members in all parts of the House the opportunity to raise a number of issues that cause them concern. I hope that the Minister has taken note of what has been said and that he arid his departmental and ministerial colleagues will act speedily to deal with issues that cause real concern to the people we represent.
I am delighted to be able to contribute to this debate on road safety. It takes place after a bad road accident in the west midlands a short time ago. My hon. Friends the Members for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) and for Meriden (Mr. Mills) have already referred to it. Before I deal with that accident and make what I hope will be relevant points about it, which I hope the Minister for Roads and Traffic will consider, I wish to deal with a number of other points that have been made in the debate about cyclists.
Until recently, I had not ridden a bicycle on a busy road for about 30 years. However, after having repaired one of my son's bikes on a fine Sunday morning I decided to venture out on the highway. I must admit that it was a pretty traumatic experience. I felt utterly vulnerable. As I cycled along I could hear the traffic coming up behind me, but I could not gauge whether the drivers could see me. It was a salutary experience, which I shall remember. The vulnerability of cyclists is appreciated by car drivers only when car drivers are also cyclists. They are more aware of the vulnerability of cyclists and will endeavour to take them more into account while they are at the car wheel.
As for the M42 road accident, it is a strange fact of life that had it been a rail disaster in which six people had been killed and seven injured, or an air disaster in which a similar number of people has been killed and injured, a statement would almost certainly have been made about it in the House. If there is a rail accident, an inquiry is conducted, either by the railways inspectorate or, if it is an extraordinarily bad accident, by a Queen's counsel who is appointed to conduct a full public inquiry. That does not happen, however, after a road accident. I presume that somebody conducts an investigation into what happened. The insurance companies must do so. The police will make a report. If people have died, there will be an inquest 'which will try to establish the cause of death. It is open to debate, however, whether we learn anything from such tragedies. Unless someone co-ordinates all the evidence, analyses the causes of the accident and prepares a report, who learns from that type of accident? Is it just dismissed as one of those things that happen and is likely to happen again?
We could learn many lessons from the recent M42 accident if only someone took the time and the trouble to analyse what happened. My hon. Friends the Members for Bromsgrove and for Meriden have already described the location of the accident. It took place on a very busy part of the motorway system where the M42 crosses underneath, by means of a flyover-slip road arrangement, the extremely busy A45 Birmingham to Coventry road that connects with Birmingham's national exhibition centre, the international airport and the international railway station. Those are all areas that experience dramatic increases in passenger throughput, which are further increased by showgoers. Everyone knows that when the national exhibition centre is busy there are problems at that junction.
On Tuesday 6 November, there were six exhibitions at the NEC. The weather was fine—there was no question of there being any fog or bad weather—and when the accident occurred, at 11.45 am, conditions were almost ideal.
Tailbacks were assumed to be expected. Comments after the accident, which were well reported in all the newspapers, made it clear that traffic had been monitored by the police earlier that morning and that there were no problems. However, it gradually emerged from other comments that there had been a major problem at the junction earlier in the morning.
Passing motorists reported that traffic was especially confused. A temporary marker board indicated to traffic travelling in a northerly direction that one of the lanes of the slip road at the junction had been closed off. There were no warning lights, but drivers anxious to join the slip road were obviously hesitant about which lane to take. The hard shoulder just before the junction was coned off as work was taking place, but both lanes on the slip road were open. Traffic had formed a single lane by the road works. Drivers then had to move out of that lane to the other lane. We must remember that the roundabout at the junction was controlled by traffic lights and that, by the time of the accident, the tailback stretched back on to the motorway.
A heavy goods vehicle ran into the traffic. It may have been travelling too fast or have been driven erratically—we must wait to see what action the police take with regard to the drivers involved.
Speed is always a factor in accidents. If there is an impact, speed is part of the problem but it is not the whole problem. Comments made after the accident were interesting. An officer was reported in a newspaper as saying:
Officers monitored the junction earlier because six NEC shows were being held. When checked there were no tailbacks and so warning lights on the motorway were not switched on.
There was no indication of when the motorway had been checked.
Chief Superintendent Tony Warren said:
Warning lights were operating at the approach to the NEC on the opposite"—
carriageway, but we had no reports of any tailbacks on the northbound section.
Chief Inspector John Hayward of the central motorway traffic unit commented:
It came down to motorists not driving at the speed at which they could brake safely"—
a fairly reasonable comment.
Meanwhile, Mike Stevens, a member of the public who was involved in the accident but managed to walk away unharmed—a resident of Barston—stated that after the accident the police said, "We've told them again and again that this sort of accident would happen."
Of course, speed is a factor, but many other questions are left unanswered, and an inquest would be hard put to probe all the questions that need to be answered. I do not think that we could expect a satisfactory outcome.
I make no allegations about what I think happened because I do not know. Inded, it is because I do not know that I am anxious to find out. I have received a wide divergence of opinion since I expressed my concern that this motorway accident would be labelled as another accident which was due to motorists' failure to anticipate traffic conditions which should have been abundantly obvious to them, that therefore nothing further would happen, that the accident would be dismissed as a tragedy and that it was almost to be expected. There are questions and evidence that should be considered much more carefully.
At 11.15 am, half an hour before the accident, Joy Morgan, my constituent, was travelling with her husband on their way to Leicester. They experienced, in her words, "confused traffic", "confused signposting", "but no warning". She expressed grave concern about the confusion caused by coning off the hard shoulder and motorists' expectation that the slip road was at least restricted, causing traffic to mill about. No warning sign was shown on the motorway. Mrs. Morgan telephoned the police that evening to give them her evidence, but apparently they were not particularly interested. We can establish that at 11.15 am the tailback on to the motorway at the northbound junction was substantial. Tailbacks do not just happen—they take a while to build up. I submit that that junction was experiencing problems nearly 50 minutes before the accident—50 minutes in which, knowing of the exhibitions and knowing the pressures on that junction, the motorway police had obviously not given that road any attention, as the signs had not been lit up to warn traffic.
I can do not better than repeat the words of a letter by Mr. R. J. Hughes of Solihull. I cannot comment on his integrity, but people do not normally write letters if they do not stand by their evidence. Mr. Hughes began:
Further to your articles in Evening Mail of Wednesday 7th November",
which described the accident. He continued:
My purpose in writing is to set out the situation as I saw it at around l0am sometime before the event—one-and-three-quarter hours before the accident.
Mr. Hughes continued:
I have not written to the Police as no doubt my comments of what I saw some 2 hours before the accident would be considered irrelevant.
I confirm the statements of the driver who passed the scene 'moments' before the crash re confusion created by a sign a mile before the junction indicating that only one lane of the slip road was open and also his comments re the queue and the fact that drivers were pulling out into the second lane (this was also true at 10am).
I feel the police comment on Page 3 that 'we had no reports of any tailbacks on the northbound section' is hard to believe.
At 10am tailbacks were building up on both carriageways and were already a danger and causing confusion. I confirm that I saw a police car and police on the bridge over the Motorway and a police Range Rover on the hard shoulder of the opposite carriageway.
Whilst not condoning or accusing the irresponsibility of so many drivers today, it appeared to me some considerable time before the event, that such a result was inevitable and for experienced traffic police who appeared to have a considerable presence on the scene so long before not to have taken action to minimise the dangers is difficult to understand and in view of the deaths so hard to accept.
At the coroner's inquest earlier this week, Chief Inspector John Hayward of the central motorway police, said:
I firmly believe that if the tailback had been monitored then a signal could have been exhibited.
According to eye-witness accounts, the tailback was monitored by the police, so why were the lights not triggered at 10 o'clock at least, well before the accident? Can an inquest sort out this confusion? Is an inquest into such a grave issue capable of seeking and calling witnesses to establish what went wrong? There may be sensible and reasonable answers to these questions. The writer of that letter may have been confused and may not have fully appreciated what the police were looking at, if they were there, or what conclusions they reached. I have visited that roundabout and seen for myself that, from the place where the police were reported to be, they could adequately have seen the junction and the traffic build-up without having to move.
There are many questions about the accident and I believe that we owe those who died, those who were injured and all the members of the travelling public answers to them. It is not enough to conduct inquiries in the traumatic atmosphere of a coroner's court. Inquiries need to be conducted by experts who can call witnesses, as is the case with rail and air disasters, so that we can find out what happened. We could then learn from such accidents and not merely dismiss them into the hands of insurance companies which will fight about who was responsible.
We must ask ourselves for example, if the police were saying to somebody, "We've told them that junction's no good", whom they were telling and why no action was taken. We knew that the junction was no good in its construction and in its monitoring by electronic instruments, as my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden has already pointed out. Why were no cameras installed at the junction? For years, the dangers of the junction have been known. I have experienced the danger of having to queue on the motorway to get on to the junction. I and my hon. Friends the Members for Bromsgrove and for Meriden went to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State earlier this week on another matter. We asked him whether priority could be given to installing cameras at the junction immediately—not in six months' time—to avoid any repetition of such an accident at a known danger spot.
We need to establish the speed and conduct of heavy goods vehicles on the approach to the junction and whether they would have benefited from speed limiters. These questions will be examined by the police, but they should also be examined in a public court of inquiry. We need to consider the crash barriers, especially those at the side of the motorway. From the photographs, it seems that cars caught between the heavy goods vehicle and the crash barriers received enormous pressure which may have been a contributory factor to the injuries received. Are the barriers too strong for the work that they are supposed to do?
It is not sufficient to dismiss such major accidents as an act of God and it is not enough to say that with about 80 million individual road journeys each day, there are bound to be accidents. It is true that independently driven vehicles are likely to collide, but we shall never develop a better and safer system unless we learn publicly from mistakes. All too often, we never hear of the causes of such accidents. It is high time to pull away the cloud of controversy and to analyse the accident moment by moment. I am not making allegations about what went wrong. Ultimately, the accident was caused by bad driving, but that was not the only factor. For many years, other things had gone wrong at that junction, although those faults may have been compounded by individual mistakes. We owe it to those who died to try to find out what those mistakes were.
Our debate today is on an extremely important subject. I have listened to the Minister in many debates but I never thought that I could listen to him speaking for as long as he has today—I do not criticise him for it—without disagreeing violently with almost everything that he said. Normally, he could not speak for two minutes without my disagreeing strongly with his argument. It was very different this morning. I agreed with almost everything that he said, which was a welcome change.
I am no newcomer to the subject and I can claim a long pedigree in having raised issues of road safety. When I first stood for the local council in 1960, the local press dubbed me a campaigner for greater road safety and especially for greater pedestrian safety. At that time, I argued that the then Ministry of Transport seemed to be concerned mainly about the movement of traffic and that pedestrians came far lower down the scale. I argued that more emphasis might be placed on pedestrian safety if we had a Minister responsible for it. We have come a long way since then but, in considering pedestrians, we must always remember that all of us—whether motorists, cyclists or motorcyclists—are pedestrians at times, so we all have a vested interest in pedestrian safety.
I wish to refer to two points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox). As he said, parking on pavements causes great difficulties to pedestrians and we need to do something about it. Linked with that is the question of parking at corners and at junctions, which makes access difficult and means that other drivers have to swing their cars cars further out into the road, manoeuvring with difficulty, to turn the corner or cross the junction. Moreover, most pedestrians cross at or near junctions and it is extremely difficult for them to do so if a car is parked there. We must work to improve matters in that respect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting also referred to pedestrian crossings in his area. I have had similar difficulties in making the case for crossings in my constituency. We all accept that we must have a reasonable number of pedestrian crossings: we cannot place crossings at 100-yard intervals because that will defeat the object and cause more problems than it solves. But the criteria for determining the approval of crossings are wholly unrealistic. We must examine local circumstances more closely in determining whether approval should be granted, as well as continuing to take into account traffic flows and patterns and national figures. There may only be a problem at certain times of day but at those times the lack of a crossing is not just a problem for people wishing to cross the road but a road safety problem. I am not saying that we should allow masses of pedestrian crossings, but we should examine local circumstances more realistically in determining whether they are needed and whether they will be in the interests of safety. If we decide that they are, we should allow them to be provided.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) referred to hazard signs—the flashing or standing signs on the motorways. I referred to that subject last Friday during our debate on the Gracious Speech and I have raised it on numerous occasions. As I have said repeatedly, we must ensure not only that we have more and better illuminated signs and hazard warning systems on all our major motorways and trunk roads but that they give the correct information. If they do not, they will be disregarded, and that will be more of a problem than if we had not put them there in the first place. I drive on motorways every week. I have to go to Herefordshire this afternoon and on to Burnley in the middle of the night and I know that I am bound to see signs giving speed limits where there is in fact no problem at all. No doubt I will then reach a sign giving the all-clear and saying that the speed limit is back up to 70 mph and, within 100 yards or so, I shall have to brake solidly because traffic on the carriageway ahead will be at a standstill. That does not occur on odd occasions, it happens week after week. It occurs all over the country. Until we get this right, we shall have problems. This problem is serious, and everyone who drives on our motorways and major roads will be aware of it.
Sometimes the sign states that the nearside lane is closed, but when the hazard is reached one discovers that a different lane has been closed. Traffic has changed lane in preparation for the hazard as described on the sign but then has to change again suddenly when the reality becomes clear. I could give many other examples, but the point is already clear. The Minister understands that it is crucial that we correct that problem. In passing, I must state that the problem varies slightly in different parts of the country. I remember driving along the M65 in my constituency when a caravan became detached on the opposite carriageway and crashed into the central barrier. I stopped on the hard shoulder and used the emergency telephone. Before I got back into my car, the signs were flashing on the other carriageway indicating that there was a problem.
The Minister and his predecessor will be aware that I have had correspondence with them about directional signs. They made one or two concessions, but the standard of signposting in this country still needs to be improved. If people leave a main road and approach a junction or a roundabout, they frequently find that the place names that they have been following for some distance are no longer mentioned. That not only causes problems for people in terms of reaching their destination, it also creates a traffic hazard because the motorist hesitates, not knowing whether to go left, right or straight ahead. Signposting of that kind is all very well if people know precisely where they are going, but if people are in doubt such signs are not helpful.
So many signs are poorly painted and maintained. Frequently the lights do not work and the signs are not illuminated not just for the odd day but for weeks on end. There is an extremely poor standard of signposting on motorways and other roads. The same applies to local directional signs and through routes. I drive round the Blackburn ring road on my way home and I have noticed that one half of a sign has disappeared and the other half is so faint that it cannot be read. Another sign which used to give distances has completely disappeared. That problem exists throughout the country and it adds to safety hazards. I raise it as a safety issue because hesitancy and doubt in a driver's mind cause confusion as the driver has to think where he is going when he should be paying closer attention to traffic conditions.
I strongly agree with the Minister about speed limits. Heavy vehicles on motorways tend to get right on the tail of the car in front. They almost touch the bumper. A driver might be travelling at 70 mph, but the heavy goods vehicle behind will flash its lights and force a way through. That is extremely dangerous. When a maximum speed is signed, people are not necessarily expected to travel at that speed. The real speed limit depends on safety, road and weather conditions and other factors. If those conditions require people to drive at a speed lower than the signed limit, that is the speed at which people should be driving.
The Minister also referred to speeding in rural areas, where there is a theoretical 60 mph limit on many roads. There may be bends and turns on those roads, but the people who know them hurtle along in the centre of the road at 60 mph in the belief that if the limit is 60 mph they ought to drive at that speed, whether or not it is safe to do so. We must ensure that people drive at safe speeds. That should be the criterion for determining the speed at which we drive.
Road spray is an extremely hazardous problem on motorways in poor weather conditions. We need an improvement in vehicle flaps. I shall not pursue that point as it has been covered on many occasions in the past, but sometimes when one has to pass vehicles there is a period when one cannot see anything at all ahead. One has no idea whether there is stationary traffic ahead—one just has to take the gamble, albeit momentarily. That is extremely dangerous. In a country with a climate such as ours, when there are wide expanses of concrete, asphalt and tarmac and a lack of drainage, we are bound to get spray. I appreciate that putting drains alongside motorways would cause major problems and that there would be safety problems. I do not pretend to know the answer, but we must accept that weather conditions mean that there will be more water lying on our motorways than on those in countries where it does not rain so frequently. Therefore, road spray will be a bigger problem here.
We must bear in mind the width of some motorways now. Most have four lanes, and there may be five or six lanes if we include the hard shoulder. That is an extremely large area, and when it rains heavily water cannot escape other than to the edge of the motorway. Sometimes that is not sufficient. Those issues are extremely important.
I hope that what the Minister said is correct. I am glad that motor manufacturers are announcing that safety is an increasingly important factor which motorists take into account when they purchase a vehicle. When members of the Select Committee were at the Ford premises last year, we were told that people looking at expensive cars want better stereo systems and so on rather than anti-lock braking systems and other things that would improve safety. Obviously. I hope that motorists will start to demand safer and better vehicles, but if there is not to be a consumer-led demand, we as parliamentarians and the Minister as a representative of the Government have a responsibility to do everything possible to ensure that we force motor manufacturers to introduce sensible safety improvements in the concept and design of cars whenever possible.
I shall not repeat many of the other subjects that have been touched on, but they are important matters. I hope not only that we shall achieve the target of a one third reduction in casualty rates by the year 2000 but that we shall surpass that target before then. We have a responsibility to the nation to achieve safety standards on our roads as soon as possible.
Having served for about 130 hours with the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) on the Standing Committee which considered the bus legislation, I know that his interest in transport and transport matters was well known to the Committee and is becoming well known to the House. Just as he agreed with nearly everything that the Minister said, I agree with nearly everything that the hon. Gentleman said. A consensus is obviously developing in this debate.
The hon. Member for Burnley also mentioned rural matters. As most of the hon. Members who have participated in the debate represent primarily urban or suburban constituencies, I hope that the House would now like to hear from a Member representing a rural constituency. The trouble with rural England is that we have winding roads—that is the beauty of Britain. My constituency is in south Devon, where the county planners have assumed that if all the winding roads are straightened they will be made much safer. Tremendous mistakes are being made all over the country as planners and local politicians spend a lot of public money straightening our winding roads. Britain's countryside is beginning to change as the winding roads, which are part of the beauty of rural England, become straighter. It is as if we want to return to Roman times and to build narrow straight roads. I am totally opposed to that, because, far from making road travel safer, all the evidence suggests that straightening rural roads makes them more dangerous.
I should like to give an example of what has happened in a tiny village just outside Totnes, in Devon, called Berry Pomeroy. It has a very winding road, with hills that are 1: 6. As the road was so narrow, drivers acted with great caution because they were not sure whether they could pass each other. Everything was going fine—children going to the local school could cross the road because it was so narrow and cars went slowly through the village. What happened? The planners got the brilliant idea that they should widen and straighten the road, and that is just what they did, with public money. They widened the road with community chargepayers' money. So what happens now? The traffic goes through the village at three times its previous speed. The primary school parents are now all up in arms and want what they call "traffic-calming measures"—some sort of tranquilisers for cars. They want cars to be slowed down by humps. Not only have we straightened the road, which means that all the cars now go faster and make it unsafe, but we now want to spend more public money installing traffic-calming measures so that the cars will slow down again. The Minister should take a grip of the situation before more and more county authorities want more and more public money for those two transport measures.
In another part of my constituency, the so-called traffic-calming measures have been put on a fast road. What happens? The cars use the wrong side of the road so that they can avoid the humps because they are not comfortable to go over. That is not very clever either. Such terrible traffic-calming measures have been used at Paddington station that a car's suspension can be wrecked if one drives over them at more than 1 mph. I have tried to get over them, and even at 1 mph it cannot be done because one's car goes backwards and hits the car behind. All this is getting quite out of hand.
The whole business about safety and speed needs to be put into perspective. I hope that the Minister will stop county councils straightening rural England because it is more dangerous, expensive and leads to other expenses. In addtion, it leads to the destruction of the countryside. Whenever a road is widened in south Devon, the hedgerows are destroyed. On the one hand, the farmers are putting back the hedgerows with the help of Government grants, while, on the other hand, the county is taking the hedgerows away with other Government grants. I know that the Minister is not a magician, but he should be aware of the problem and of the fact that we are spending double the amount of community chargepayers' money on all these operations which are not making rural England better; they are making it look worse and become more dangerous.
Hon. Members who have been here for a few years may know that, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), I started the House of Commons and House of Lords Cycling Club. We used to have a lot of pedalling Members of Parliament who would cycle around London. Because cycling in London has become so dangerous and so difficult, our membership has taken a dramatic downturn—although we have not lost any of our colleagues as a result of cycling.
A few weeks ago, I spent a couple of days cycling in Copenhagen, where it is totally safe. Everybody is cycling because the entire city has been designed for cyclists. The same is true of Holland. There is no reason why this should not be done in London. The problem in London is too many cars: it is as simple as that. We must reduce the number of cars, but we will not do so simply by having many more traffic wardens; that just means more public expenditure. The way to reduce the number of cars is to have a good public transport system and a good taxi system which is not too expensive and to allow the possibility of cycling everywhere.
Cycling is not an accepted way of travelling in Britain. It seems slightly bizarre and eccentric. When I visit a Government Department other than the Department of Transport and try to park my bicycle, I am told to move it round the corner because it spoils the environmental beauty of the building. Cycling is not accepted as a bona fide way of travelling. When one goes to a club in Pall Mall and parks one's bicycle outside, one is asked to move it round the corner because club members would not like to see a cycle parked in front of the club.
First, the Minister should make cycling far more acceptable. That means that it must be made less dangerous, and that can be done by handing pots of yellow paint to all the traffic wardens. Instead of sticking tickets on cars, all the traffic wardens should set out on Monday and paint a yellow line 5 ft or 6 ft from the edge of the main roads. That would be the cycling lane, and it would be perfectly feasible as long as cars were not allowed to park there. The trouble with our arterial routes is that everybody parks. on them. Cycle lanes throughout the capital would not cost much, and cycling is a simple way to travel.
Secondly, we should consider whether to introduce legislation for helmets. Obviously, cycling is potentially dangerous, but only because of cars. I have never heard of a cyclist killing somebody, but people are killed by cars. The cyclist on his own is quite safe.
Surely my hon. Friend must see in London every day cyclists going the wrong way in one way streets and going through traffic lights. If a motorist hits such a cyclist and kills him, the motorist will get the blame. Does my hon. Friend agree that cyclists should begin to obey the law rather than blatantly flouting it, as they often do each day?
I am always glad of interventions from my hon. Friend because they are always highly relevant. He is right. Cyclists flout the law almost as often as motorists. We have heard that motorists are parking on pavements and breaking tens of thousands of regulations. The problems relate to traffic volume and to the fact that cyclists become frustrated. I am a cyclist and I know that we cannot get through all the cars that are stopped in jams by the side of the kerb or just parked. Cyclists do things they should not do, and it is congestion that is causing the problem. I am suggesting a way to reduce that congestion so that cyclists can get about and will therefore become perfectly lawful. I am sure that car drivers will become lawful as well because, as I say, it is the volume of traffic that is causing the problem. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) and I could discuss this matter at a later date.
Because of the number of cars on the motorway, it took me eight and a half hours to drive to the west country last Friday. Today I have to go by plane, which will get me there much quicker. I apologise in advance to the Minister because I shall not be here for his reply. I hope that he will speak about the straightening of rural roads and about cycling.
People occasionally ask me why I have been so enthusiastic about reducing casualties, I should again like to share with the House the first paragraph of an article that Auberon Waugh wrote on 15 February 1986. I read it two weeks after I took on the job of Under-Secretary at the Department of Transport. The article was entitled:
A Journey into the water that is under the Earth".
In that article Auberon Waugh wrote:
Others have lost sisters before. Every day people lose husbands, wives, parents, children and friends they have loved whose loss reduces every perspective to dullness, misery and pain. In many cases they carry the pain around with them for the rest of their lives. At moments like this, one realises that under the surface of polite society there is a great well of sadness and bereavement, an aspect of the human condition
which is as inescapable as it is seldom remarked, yet looming larger in many people's lives than any of the things they pretend to think important. The only excuse for allowing my own howl of anguish to be heard is to give those as yet unbereaved a glimps into the hellish blackness lying under the surface of their lives before they sensibly turn away and think of something else.
Auberon Waugh's sister, Margaret, was run over on a north London street. She was one of 1,700 pedestrians who were killed that year and every year on our roads. Mr. Waugh may be right in saying that he, his family and his friends had no interest in how or why it happened, but the rest of us do.
Those engaged in the reduction of road casualties include politicians, people at local authority level, who are responsible for looking after 96 per cent. of our roads, and many engineers and researchers, as well as a fair number of people in the media.
I say to the media that covering the causes and consequences of road crashes is neither so easy that it is not worth doing nor so difficult that it cannot be done frequently.
On Monday, there was a statement on the Piper Alpha disaster. Those who lost their lives in that disaster amounted to the same number who die every 10 weeks in drink-related road crashes alone. What happens when there is a rail crash in which six people are killed?
It should be remembered that 14 people died yesterday on our roads and not one of them seems to have been mentioned in the national press. I welcome the chance to participate once a year in a debate of this sort which is not tied specifically to one piece of proposed legislation, but we should be asking more than once a year why our national newspapers or motoring magazines are not represented in the House today and on other occasions.
People may want to ask why "Today", TV-am and all the other programmes that help to set a national agenda were not telephoning people yesterday to say, "Will you appear on our radio programme this morning or on television this evening?" I have been telephoned by representatives of the media on several occasions during the past week. Not one of the calls had anything to do with the killing of 14 people each day on our roads, 5,300 a year. They were all to do with the prospects of the leadership of a political party.
I must not be distracted.
If we want to continue the reduction in the rate at which we kill or injure one another on the roads, we shall not do it primarily by legislation, or by exhortation. We shall do it by changes in our roads, in our vehicles and in how we behave.
How we behave depends on our understanding and our attitude. It depends also on the information that we receive. That information comes through broadcasts and the printed word in newspapers and magazines.
Some of the most influential broadcasters are people such as Derek Jameson, who was talking this morning on Radio 2 about the importance of children wearing seat belts in the back of cars. We could have reports of road crashes, in which passengers sitting in the backs of cars and not wearing seat belts are killed, on the basis that the incidents were potential offences under health and safety at work legislation.
A major oil company lost a main board director and his wife when the car in which they were travelling was involved in a crash. The driver, who was obliged by law to wear a seat belt, survived. The passengers, who were sitting in the back, were killed. It will take some time for the regulations that my hon. Friend the Minister has proposed to take effect. Who could seriously regard himself to be fully suitable to be the director of a main company if he exposes himself and his wife unnecessarily to the doubled risk of injury or death in a crash by sitting in the back of a car without wearing a seat belt?
I no longer find myself so often being driven by members of the RUC in Northern Ireland or by members of the Government car service in Britain—I pay tribute to the regular drivers of both organisations—but sometimes I find myself riding in limousines that have been provided by an outside body. I am fed up with finding the seat belt and buckle in the back underneath the seat on which I am resting. It is crazy that so many people who make their money by hiring cars, whether owned by the driver or a firm, remove the small instrument that can cut the risk in a crash by half.
On page 55 of "Road Accidents: Great Britain, The Casualty Report" there is a graph which should be in everyone's hands. It should be reproduced far more often. It relates the rate of casualties to the number of vehicles and the distance travelled.
There is no problem in reducing the rate of injury related to distance travelled by 30 per cent. by the year 2000. We are already a long way towards that goal.
The problem is that, with prosperity, more and more people have cars. Soon we may have the same number of cars per head as there are in Spain. It will take us many years to have as many cars per head as there are in France, Germany, Australia or the United States. I hope that the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) will forgive me if I say in passing—I do not want to introduce partisanship into—this that developing and improving public transport is no substitute for dealing with roads. It is not.
Plenty of people are not yet sufficiently well off to have a car, let alone past that stage and so well off that they can do without a car. We must face the consequences of extra cars and extra distance travelled.
The target of reducing the number of casualties, which is different from the rate, by one third, will not be met for slight injuries. From now on, we should do what perhaps others and I should have done to begin with, which is to set a target for reducing the number of those who are killed and seriously injured because it is the consequences of those crashes which matter most to people.
We cannot know the names that will be on the gravestones or written in books of remembrance, but we do know the people who will be in that category.
There will be 600 motor cyclists. Motor cyclists are perhaps 20 times more likely to be killed in a motor accident if they are under 20 as if they are over 25. The crucial problem is with young, inexperienced motor cyclists.
There will be 300 dead cyclists. As we have heard, 80 per cent. of them will die as a result of a collision with another vehicle or with a lamp post, or because the front mud guard falls onto the wheel, having the effect of an emergency brake and sending the cyclist head over heels.
There will be 2,700 people in cars. About 800 of the deaths of people in vehicles will prove to be linked to drink. The driver will be above the legal limit which as has already been established, is well above the safety limit.
The only safe limit for driving is nil—no alcohol. Those who say that they need one or two drinks before they drive are as dependent on alcohol as those who take five pints or three double whiskies.
Several steps can be taken by people other than the Government, but there are steps that the Government should take. I fear that at a European level we are dealing with serious issues in an amateurish way. I occasionally fall out with my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) about his tyre tread groove depth. I accept his advice on which is the groove and which is the tread. There was absolutely no evidence for the European requirement to increase our tread groove depths, but it was done because it sounded right. It is a mild extra expense to motorists and does not matter that much. It was not a battle worth fighting to the end of the line.
Nevertheless, it was the wrong approach by Europe. If Europe were asked how many lives would be saved by imposing that increase in tyre tread groove depths, the answer should have been none, because it does not add to safety.
The other European issue in which I became involved—it was the only one on which I promised to resign if I was unsuccessful—was the proposal to require those who drive minibuses to have passed a public service vehicle test. That failed the test of saving lives. If the effect had been to move people from being transported in minibuses to being transported in ordinary cars, the risk of injury would have increased. We had the information. It is always sad when those who ask Governments at European or national level to take action on the grounds that it would improve road safety are then exposed to the criticism that they have not found the evidence.
I am not saying that everything should be strictly logical—I am not that much of a Powellite—but the reason why Britain has the safest roads in the world is that we tend to try things out. If they work we extend their use; if not, we move on to something else. That approach is not common in Europe, but it should be, because European co-operation, especially in vehicle design, is critical.
It is a European scandal that the consumer movement of Europe has not forced other European Governments to push as hard as our Government to get pedestrian-friendly vehicles. Most of the 1,700 pedestrians who will die in a crash will do so because they hit or are hit by a car. Some will die in crashes with motor cycles, bicycles or heavy goods vehicles, but most of them will die in a collision with cars. If a car hits a pedestrian at a speed of more than 20 or 30 mph, the pedestrian is not likely to survive, but most crashes do not occur at such a speed.
Ninety per cent. of motor cycle crashes occur at speeds of less than 40 mph and 75 per cent. at less than 30 mph. If I am hit by a car travelling at 15 mph I want the front of that car to be pedestrian-friendly—I want to have a chance to survive that collision. At the moment cyclists and pedestrians are less likely to survive such a crash.
I hope that the Consumers Association will start to raise the awareness of other European consumers. I pay tribute to Auto Express, which is the only motoring magazine that gives the time it takes for a car to stop at a certain speed, let alone how fast it takes to reach a certain speed. That magazine's European sisters should start to campaign for pedestrian-friendly vehicle design.
The front of vehicles should have a bit of give to provide the de-acceleration that makes it more likely that the pedestrian will survive. I hope that similar progress will be made on side impact protection. We have heard about Euro-sid, the European side-impact dummy, for long enough, but no requirements have been given to automobile engineers. They could do so much to build in the protection for people outside and inside vehicles when subject to a frontal impact. We already know what could be done as a result of clever engineering.
It is scandalous that there is no European standard requiring a steering wheel of a car to be face-friendly. If I am in a crash and I am held back by the safety strap, but my face comes forward, there are still too many cars, including new ones, whose steering wheels will cause me more facial injury than those designed to the standard developed at the Transport and Road Research Laboratory at Crowthorne. Those improvements could be made at no extra cost.
Mr. Eguchi of Yamaha, who led the Japanese automobile manufacturers association, provided me with an extremely interesting tour of Japan when I met the four major Japanese motor cycle manufacturers.
I am pleased to praise Mr. Eguchi and his other honourable colleagues for the work they have done in Japan to raise safety awareness among motor cyclists. As a result of my interest they started to extend to Britain the Japanese habit of putting safety information on advertisements designed to attract motor cyclists. I approved of that and I welcomed that initiative. The problem is that the size of print they now use is so small that it looks like a printer's blur rather than important information. That information cannot be communicated to people unless they have a microscope. I ask them to do it in a way that shows that they are proud of being interested in road safety rather than ashamed of it.
What Japanese manufacturers should be ashamed of—I apologise for saying this openly, but I have said it privately for many years and it is right to put it on record—is that although they are able to manufacture motor cars and motor bikes that are among the best in the world, they do not demonstrate—although they cannot claim that they do not have it—that they have the technical competence or the humanitarian interest to make available, at least as optional extras on motor bikes, particularly on those bikes that learner motor cyclists use up to the age of 20—years that are so critical—improved designs and then to manufacture what the Transport and Road Research Laboratory has already designed at Crowthorne.
The British approach—to see whether something works and, if it does not, to try again from a different angle—has been successful. We have designed impact guards to protect the legs of motor cyclists. If I were to buy a motor bike today, I could purchase anything I liked to go on it—all the kit that fills the pages of Motor Cycle News. However, if I bought any kind of Japanese motor bike, I could not purchase leg protectors for it.
When I went to Japan, I took with me the TRRL's leg protector, but the Japanese were modest about letting me have an exchange rate for the design of such a product. It was an unimpressive performence.
When I asked the Minister whether information that is publicly available could be used by an American litigation lawyer, I was making a serious point. At some stage, people will reach the conclusion that a reasonably competent engineer could look at the evidence and say that if any motor cycle manufacturer does not believe that serious leg injuries could be prevented by offering, at least as an option, leg protectors, he will expose himself to product liability risks that may have the same impact on motor cycles as the free-wheel, all-terrain vehicle product liability claim in the United States when, after the death of 1,000 young Americans, they were taken off the market. I hope that that message will get through to the corporate headquarters of every motor cycle manufacturer.
I turn to some of the consistent work that is carried out by the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety. It was formed to ensure that the wearing of seat belts became the law of the land. Many of those who opposed the compulsory wearing of seat belts in the front seats of cars now realise that it has had a good impact and that it is worth extending the wearing of seat belts to children who sit in the rear seats of cars. PACTS provides the continuity that Minister and officials are unable to provide.
I support nearly all the work that PACTS is doing. The only area of disagreement is not something that I wish to highlight today, but I ask again: where is the evidence that random breath testing, the purpose of which is to reduce the amount of drink driving, has been more successful than breath testing in a period when there was no random testing?
I am not arguing today against random breath testing, though one could say that there is no need for it. In my three and a half years as a Transport Minister, not a single motorist who was tested complained, for obvious reasons. The person who never drinks and drives regards himself as the innocent victim. Therefore, he is not interested in making a complaint. A person who is found to have consumed some alcohol, but who is below the legal limit says, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." The person who is above the legal limit says that he has been caught bang to rights. Almost by definition, it is unlikely that there will be any complaint about anyone having been tested. The only person who cannot legally be tested at the moment is the person whom the police believe has not been drinking, who has not committed a drink-driving offence and who has not been involved in a crash or collision. No extension of the law is needed.
To return to a question that I put to the British Medical Association, PACTS, James Dunbar and everyone else, because I am genuinely interested in obtaining the information: which country has reduced its drink driving faster, with random breath testing, than we have during an equivalent number of years? The hon. Member for Deptford may say that we have done very well up to now but that there is much more to do. There are still 840 deaths that have been proved to be related to drinking and driving. If that is what she wants to say, I accept it. I would try to carry out better surveys. That is what the Department of Transport and the Central Office of Information have been doing—I wish that the results had been better publicised by the media—by trying to monitor the amount of drink driving.
For 20 years, Ministers ducked requests from researchers for random surveys of drink driving—similar to random breath testing but without prosecution. The popular press always greet that as an amnesty for drink-driving killers, but it is nothing of the sort. Such surveys have now been carried out for two or three years and the information that they provide is helpful.
They show that at drink driving times—at pub closing time on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights—four out of five drivers have not been drinking, 49 out of 50 are below the legal limit, and 499 out of 500 are under twice the legal limit.
At the same time, the police are catching 1,000 people each week who have twice the legal limit or above and 1,000 people with between the legal limit and twice that amount. That shows that targeted testing is an effective way to catch serious offenders, and that near certain conviction and disqualification for those above the legal limit is an important part of our strategy.
We need to know how the figures change, and random surveys are an important means. We also need to know the number of occasions each week on which men drink and drive. In 1986, surveys showed that there were 2 million such occasions each week—that was probably a European low. However, 2 million occasions each week when people are between two and five times more likely to be involved in a crash, or to be injured, is far too many. The surveys show that within two and a half years that figure has come down to 600,000—we cut two thirds off remaining drink driving, and in the years up to 1986 probably two thirds of drink driving had already stopped.
Apparently our approach had been working well. Figures which show that our death rate has fallen fastest, demonstrate that the alliance which included brewers, publicans and clubs has been important. Success depends upon reinforcing social attitudes.
We should pay tribute to brewers who have voluntarily developed better low alcohol and non-alcoholic beers, and have kept away from any association with motor racing—they are not allowed to associate alcohol with motor racing in advertisements on television.
I must mention the brewers Courage, who did well to get the co-operation of so many car manufacturers to provide the advertisement, "Don't drink and drive" which is paid for. That is clear advice, it was brave of Courage, and it has not been done in other countries.
The first outside brewer to think that it had the good idea of associating alcohol with motor racing was Canadian. Shortly after sponsoring two cars in a series of races televised by the BBC, it decided to sponsor anti-drink driving, rather than its own name. I pay tribute to the way in which it realised where its long-term interests lay.
I deeply regret that the organisers of the British grand prix at Silverstone sold out to Foster's, and allowed it to put its name all over that grand prix—it was a mistake. Until now, it may not have been a commercial mistake, but I believe that it will become so apparent that it is wrong, that Foster's will withdraw. I ask it to do so.
If Foster's gets away with sponsoring motor racing, all the British brewers will abandon their voluntary agreement, and the Minister will rightly decide not to allow such sponsorship and to introduce regulations or law—that is the last thing that should be tried. There should be a common understanding of the separation between alcohol and driving.
I pay tribute to the people who are seldom recognised—local authority road safety officers. The Institute of Road Safety Officers, the County Surveyors Society and people in the metropolitan authorities and London boroughs deal every day with the consequences of the way in which people use the roads. They also deal with the consequences of inadequate sums of money being spent to ensure that through traffic is on through roads, and that local roads are preserved for residents, pedestrians and cyclists.
In my time at the Northern Ireland Office, we managed to reduce the casualty rate by raising awareness of what people can do—primarily, by dealing with drink driving, but also by considering other road users. We were not able to spend much quickly on traffic calming—the mogadons for the motorist, to pick up a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen).
We need to continue to talk about what can be done by road engineers, which depends on analysis, and by vehicle manufacturers, which depends on the engineers. We need to go on representing people's interests, whether pedestrians, cyclists, motor cyclists, car drivers or people on buses.
Most of all, we must provide opportunities for the media to continue to make sure that people realise what they can do—belt up their child in the back seat, make sure that anyone in the back of the car has a seat belt on, so that one does not have a "flying grannie", and be a host who provides only alcohol-free drinks to drivers.
We need that kind of social pressure so that people who intend to drive know that they are not expected to drink alcohol and possible passengers decline to get into a car when they know that the driver has been drinking. Drivers must decide in advance whether to drink or to drive.
The hon. Member for Deptford made an excellent speech. My hon. Friend the Minister put forward a good framework and strategy and made a speech which, I hope, will live on in the road casualty reduction debates in the House. We can tell how important this subject is when the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) says that the Government are not doing enough. Many people are fed up with the way in which the hon. Gentleman appears like an ambulance chaser at every kind of traffic disaster. His interests should be directed towards the 5,300 people a year who die on our roads, because their lives are important, their families matter and the subject is important.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) delivered a long speech, but one of the most informative that I have heard. My one regret is that it was delivered to the House on a rather quiet Friday afternoon at around 2 o'clock, rather than to a busier House at 9 o'clock in the evening because many hon. Members would have listened to his speech with great interest.
I hesitate to arbitrate between my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham and my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) about the depth of tyre grooves. If any of my constituents are hauled before the courts on a tyre charge, I will refer them to my hon. Friends for advice before they appear before the magistrates.
I was particularly interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham said about casualties among foot travellers. Seventeen years ago I had the misfortune to knock down a five-year-old with my car and I still vividly recall the sickening thud on the nearside as the child hit the vehicle. I wholeheartedly concur with all that my hon. Friend said about making vehicles more pedestrian friendly. Fortunately, that accident occurred at the quiet time of 5 pm on a housing estate. I was driving a new car. The child saw its mother coming across a field from a bus and ran out to meet her. I am relieved to say that the child survived. The accident was witnessed by about 20 people and obviously we were all distressed about it, not least the mother, who saw the accident take place. Fortunately, for the child and for me, the car was less than a month old, so its brakes and tyres were shipshape. Because the accident occurred at 5 clock in the afternoon, there was no question of drink driving being involved—nor, I hope, would there ever be. It brought home to me the fact that one must always be ready for the unexpected. Whatever regulations the House may make, whatever advertisements may appear on television, the fact is that that child ran out in to the road on seeing its mother. My father insisted that I get back into the car and drive it immediately, which was probably one of the more sensible things that he did as I doubt whether I would otherwise have driven again after such a hideous experience.
For many people in this place, this has been a week in which personal ambitions have been paraded at some depth. The question has been whether to hang on to change or to go. My personal ambition is not political; I should like to make sure that I do not outlive my wife and children, as there can be nothing worse than trying to come to terms with losing a child by whatever means.
I very much welcome the use of Government expenditure on television advertising, not necessarily for more partisan subjects such as shares and the denationalisation of companies, but for road safety and I hope that the Opposition will never criticise that expenditure. Many hon. Members will have seen the current advertisement showing an empty school room to point out how many children would have been there if accidents had not occurred. I hope to see many more such advertisements as we cannot promote that line often enough.
My hon. the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) successfully introduced a Bill making it compulsory for children to wear seat belts and that measure has achieved a great deal. However, as a father of three, I find that every time we get into the car there is an argument about the need to belt up. Fortunately, the eight-year-old is wholly convinced about it, but we have to watch the five-year-old like a hawk as he will always try to get away without wearing a seat belt. There is a place for regulation in these matters, but we also need more advertisements aimed not only at parents but at children, to help them understand the effect of the impact, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham referred, if they are in an accident and go through the windscreen of the car. Children must be encouraged to understand the facts so that we do not have perpetual arguments between parents and children about whether to belt up.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham talked in considerable detail about motor cycles. I have mixed feelings on the matter. We should try to make them as safe as possible, but I know what I will do with my three children when they reach an age when they may be tempted to ride on the back of a motor cycle. When I was so tempted once in my life, it was arranged that I visit a police pathology lab. I have taken up this idea with my local police to see whether they can extend the facility to any constituent who asks for it. I shall never forget seeing, at the age of 14, a helmet with a head in it. It was, thank God, a photograph, but the range of photographic evidence taken from the most horrifying road accidents involving motor cycles cured me from that age onwards. Not only did I never want a motor cycle, but I could never be persuaded to go on the back of one. Although it was a gruesome lesson I fully intend to make my own children go through it. One cannot merely lecture children about the dangers of motor cycles—one must show them the dangers in graphic and gruesome but no doubt memorable ways. The experience had an effect on me and I wish that more of my constituents could encourage their children to see the appalling effects of motor cycle accidents in particular.
I wish to nag my hon. Friend the Minister about some constituency points. He and his officials have been patient about these matters to date, but that does not mean that I intend to stop pursuing them. The M54 runs from the M6 to mid-Wales, through my constituency, and will eventually be extended from Telford. It has been a long campaign, although that has not been the fault of the Government or of the local authority, which is controlled by a Labour-Liberal alliance, so in that sense the delay has not been the fault of any political party. It was the fault of a couple of constituents who were unhappy with the compensation arrangements and who therefore fought the issue through the courts time and again. The extension is to go ahead now, and I welcome that because it will make a huge difference to road safety on the A5. As the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) will know, there have been unnecessarily appalling crashes there in the past.
The present interchange between the A5 and the A49, which will soon be crossed by the M54 extension near the village of Baystonhill, is not acceptable, it will not solve any problems and it will lead to greater frustration and, consequently, to appalling driving. In the interests of road safety, that interchange must be extended.
We can be proud of the Government's record on road safety, but we know that there is still much to be done. I urge my hon. Friend to ensure that road safety education is aimed not only at adults, but at children.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) suggested that cyclists break the law because the streets are congested. That does not explain why they go through red traffic lights or ride without front or rear lights. May I ask the Minister to do something about that? He puts out excellent press releases about cycle routes, which I support, but I should like him to say bluntly to cyclists that this behaviour will no longer do.
I should also like my hon. Friend to talk to the Deputy Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard and ask that, on a couple of days a week, the police do as they quite rightly do with bus lanes, which is to monitor the situation and pull people in. If they go through the streets of central London any day, they will find 50 pedal cyclists—many of them courier service cyclists—cycling the wrong way up one-way streets. That has nothing to do with traffic congestion. I hope that my hon. Friend will do something active about that because that will do far more to cut down road deaths than bringing in the nanny state and saying, "Not one drink before you drive."
Time is against us and I, too, must be brief. We have had a good debate and there is much common ground—notably on the question of speed. Everyone has deplored the advertising of cars capable of high speeds and the Minister has a clear mandate from the House to consider further the question of speed limits—especially for certain kinds of vehicles and in certain circumstances. I hope that he will come to the House with further proposals if he cannot respond this afternoon.
I regret that the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) ruined what would otherwise have been an excellent speech by making some unwarranted remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who is somewhere very important and who was present for our previous debate. We argue not that Britain would be in a better position if we had adopted random breath testing already but that it is possible—we believe that there is evidence to support this view—that if we now adopted it, we could achieve a further reduction in casualties due to drink-driving which could not be achieved by any other means.
We welcome the Minister's proposals on the compulsory wearing of rear seat belts. I do not think that anyone who has rear seat belts fitted in his car will any longer hesitate to use them having heard my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) give such a dramatic description of what happens to those sitting in the back of a vehicle if they are unsecured when a collision occurs.
There are many points to which I should have liked to refer, although many of them are simple questions on which the Minister can respond positively. There is, however, a matter on which I fear he may not respond so positively, so let me cover some of the ground again. I refer specifically to the question of small engineering works and traffic-calming methods, which many of us believe to be essential if we are to reach the Government's target for reducing road casualties. I cite in my defence the advice of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, which has been mentioned many times:
PACTS believes that the implementation of local safety engineering schemes at single sites or on an area-wide basis is one of the most important routes to securing the Government's casualty reduction targets.
I remind the Minister that 95 per cent. of pedestrian casualties occur in urban areas, and that it is pedestrian and child casualties that now give us the greatest cause for concern. Per 100,000 of the population, Britain has twice the pedestrian death rate of the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg and Sweden. The debate has highlighted the pressing need to prioritise work on that problem.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) on his description of the parking and congestion problems in his constituency. Perhaps my hon. Friend and his constituents are being denied a solution because of the intransigence of Wandsworth borough council. In my local authority in Lewisham, there is no doubt about the means and mechanisms by which we can deal with our local problems. We have been petitioned by hundreds of residents who have the expertise of the council to tell them precisely what kind of traffic-calming measures are required to improve local safety on the roads to which I referred earlier.
I cannot stress too much the importance that we attach to those measures to improve safety and the quality of life of our residents. The Department of Transport estimates that there is potential for at least 200 to 300 lives to be saved and around 15,000 injuries to be prevented if more local safety engineering schemes were implemented. That would be no small contribution to the targets that the Government have set themselves, and which we support. Such schemes are essential, and I urge the Minister to respond positively to our demands and assure us that Lewisham, Wandsworth and every other district that wishes to increase local safety through local engineering works will not be held back because of lack of Government support and finance.
Many of us have spent the best part of five hours in the Chamber during this debate and I cannot imagine five more worthwhile hours that I have spent here. We have had a high quality debate, and I pay tribute to all the participants.
I want to respond in particular to concerns expressed by three of my hon. Friends about the tragic accident on the M42. My hon. Friends the Members for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller), for Meriden (Mr. Mills) and for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) have taken a deep interest in that accident. They were right to do so and that is consistent with the conscientious way in which they look after their constituents.
I must express regret at the accident and offer my sympathy to the families of those who have been bereaved. Obviously, I cannot discuss the cause of the accident as that is still under investigation by the police. However, I can confirm that the Department of Transport at the time of the accident already had, and still has, substantial proposals in hand for short-term and long-term improvements to the M42, as well as for the MS and M6, around the west midlands conurbation and specifically at junction 6 of the M42.
Much comment has been made about the need for good communications. Contracts have already been let for fibre-optic cabling, improved monitors and additional cameras to provide comprehensive coverage of that part of the network by closed circuit television. The new cabling will also enable the matrix signalling and telephones to be upgraded and we are currently out to tender for the installation of new matrix signals and telephones and for the electronic equipment associated with those works.
We also have plans for sets of variable message signs at approaches to junction 6 of the M42 on both southbound and northbound carriageways to enable the central motorway police group to advise motorists of queues at the junction. Our agents have already been instructed to provide a dedicated left turn westbound on the A45 from the northbound off slip from the M42. Together with existing traffic signals at the top of that slip road activated by queue detectors, that should significantly reduce the problems of queueing on the northbound slip road at junction 6. Improved television surveillance of junction 6 will be in place within 12 months. I know that my hon. Friends would like that to happen even sooner, but it takes time to install.
The complete modernisation of the communications network for that stretch of the M42 and the M5 and the M6 around the conurbation and the dedicated slip road should be operational within two years. That is an example of the kind of investment that the Government are making in road safety. These processes were not prompted by the accident but were in hand already.
I cannot respond to all the speeches to this debate in the short time remaining to me, but I will deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock). I intend to announce later this month or early next month the allocation of transport supplementary grant for the coming year. The hon. Lady probably already knows that it will be 17 per cent. higher than in the current year. I can assure her that she and everyone who wants more investment in local road safety schemes will be pleased with the outcome. My former borough of Wandsworth is one of the leaders in implementing good local road safety schemes. I am sure that, with the extra money that it will get, it will be able to go some way to meeting the points made by the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox).
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) raised a couple of detailed points. As he is present, I shall do my best to respond to one of them, and I shall write to him about the other. He referred to the reversing of lorries and the need for them to sound in audible signal. The construction and use regulations permit such devices to be fitted to all heavy goods vehicles over two tonnes. The statistics to which my hon. Friend referred were on accidents on building sites. He may like to know that the Health and Safety Executive recommends the use of reversing bleepers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), in a superb speech, drew attention to the role of the media in our road safety campaigns. I hope that tomorrow many newspapers and television programmes will draw attention to a photograph which shows exactly what happens when a car is involved in a 30-mph collision and the way in which people sitting in the back of the vehicle are catapulted forward with tremendous adverse consequences for themselves and for the people sitting in the front.