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Speed Limits

Volume 888: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will introduce greater flexibility into his Department's criteria for speed limits for principal roads, and in particular more discretion for local authorities concerned.

I see no reason at present to change the general criteria but I am always ready to take account of special factors in a particular case.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there are local areas, some in my constituency, which do not meet the criteria and, therefore, do not have limits but which, because of local changes in traffic conditions, present serious road safety hazards for the inhabitants? Is he further aware that it will be cold comfort for these inhabitants to know, if serious accidents occur, that it will be those accidents which produce the criteria? Will he let me know whether it would be correct to write to him about this situation or whether I should go through the normal processes? I welcome his assurance that he will give the subject sympathetic consideration. Above all, it is the local inhabitants who know how situations change.

I accept that local inhabitants know a great deal about local conditions. My principal concern is to safeguard the general value of speed limits throughout the country. If they are not safeguarded, their value can be debased. We should then be worse off than we were when we started. I shall be pleased to look at particular cases in which the hon. Member feels that there has been a considerable and noticeable change in traffic conditions.

Does not the whole question of road speed limits need overhauling? Are there not many instances where speed limits are too high and others where they are too low? Is this not a general situation, and is not the law flouted for that reason?

The basic reason why we have criteria is to try to get some sort of standard throughout the country. We find that the law is not flouted if the speed limit is realistic and motorists feel that it is reasonable for the area. We work on an 85 per cent. observance of limits. If a limit is unrealistic, motorists will take a chance no matter how great the penalties.

While I appreciate that the Minister has to change speed limits every now and then, would it not be possible to have a simple and more satisfactory arrangement whereby the voices of the people in the district, who were to be the victims of a change in the speed limit. could be heard?

There are opportunities for local people to make representations about speed limits. If the hon. Member looks back to the period before there was any question of speed limits and such things as pedestrian crossings being the responsibility of the Government, he will find that sometimes, while local people knew an area, they were not always able to assess the difficulties of the area. There was a general debasement of limits. Something had to be done nationally. Criteria had to be introduced. I hope that we make every effort to make them sensible.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in addition to the use of speed limits to reduce road hazards he ought to introduce guard rails on pedestrian refuges in the centre of roads? Is he further aware of a tragic fatal accident in my constituency in Bradford Road, Riddles-den, when a girl was killed even though she was acting perfectly properly and was on the central island reservation? Can my hon. Friend assure the House that he will investigate the possibility of providing protective diversionary guard rails on such central islands so that traffic is prevented from striking pedestrians seeking refuge there?

I am aware of the tragedy that took place in my hon. Friend's constituency. I have seen some of the newspaper reports on it. I shall look at the question of guard rails. It is important to realise that the rails on central islands or before pedestrian crossings are principally to make sure that pedestrians do not try to nip across the road at any place other than that area which is designed to give them maximum safety.