Road Safety

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 12:33 pm on 16th November 1990.

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Photo of Mr Tom Cox Mr Tom Cox , Tooting 12:33 pm, 16th November 1990

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.