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Road Accidents

Volume 178: debated on Wednesday 15 October 1952

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2.38 p.m.

rose to call attention to the continuing tragedy of Road Accidents; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, after I put down this Motion, some time before we rose for the Recess, I was exercised in my mind as to whether, possibly, I had not over-dramatised the title, but after reading several reports, police and otherwise, on the subject of road accidents I came to the conclusion that I had not; and I hope that your Lordships agree with me. The last occasion upon which we discussed road accidents in this House was at the end of December of last year on the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Howe. I return to the subject to-day, not because I have anything original to say about it, nor because I can claim to be in any way an expert on the subject of road accidents—indeed, I am speaking, if I may say so, as a man in the street, or, put more properly, perhaps, as an ordinary man behind the wheel, with, I hope, average powers of watching and making up his mind from what he sees. I put down the Motion because I felt that your Lordships might welcome once more an opportunity of discussing a matter of great concern to all of us, and probably to the majority of the nation, a matter which, I feel, if it is not brought fairly constantly to the public notice, is in some danger of being relegated to the background of the national conscience as one of those phases of national life, very regrettable, of course, but unavoidable, and perhaps even beyond repair. Unavoidable I am afraid it is to a certain degree, but I do not believe that it is beyond considerable improvement if only we can set in motion those ideas on the part of road users which will make them improve the present state of affairs, as I believe it can be improved.

The Road Safety Week which we had at the end of the summer was, in my view, a move in the right direction. I have not heard that this is to be an annual feature, but I feel that it would be a good thing if it were. The results may not have been outstanding, but I believe that they did bring home to the public the dangers of the roads. The problem will need the united efforts of all road users, and all others who have in any way to do with transport on the roads, if we are to get the permanent improvement which we all so much desire. My impression in driving about the countryside—I do not know if it is in line with the impression of others of your Lordships—is that the standard of driving in the country is not too bad, and that cases of really reckless and dangerous driving are very rare—personally, I cannot remember when I last saw one. I have sometimes thought that it would be interesting if it were possible to compute the number of miles covered in this country in any one period of twenty-four hours by every type of motor vehicle, and to set against that the number of accidents during the same period. Of course, the ratio would be infinitesimal, and would, if anything, redound to the credit of road users, rather than otherwise.

Admittedly, this type of reasoning does not get us very far, but to my mind it does point to one fact—namely, that although there are many contributory causes to road accidents (one has only to read the admirable and detailed reports on the subject to realise how many they are)—the real heart of the matter lies in three factors. These are: first, the immense volume of traffic which our inadequate roads have to bear; secondly, the congestion of our population; and thirdly, the unfortunate fact that, not being blessed with the acute instinct for self-preservation of most animals, human beings are subject to periods of what may be called small blackouts—thoughtlessness, inattention, and lack of concentration, often when concentration is most necessary.

This fact is rather borne out by a statement in one of the more recently published reports, that 85 per cent. of accidents on the road are due to human, as against mechanical error. I am afraid that it is equally obvious, therefore, that at least for some time to come we have to look forward to the fact that accidents on our roads will continue to occur in distressing numbers. That they happen to such an alarming extent to-day is, I suppose, part of the price we have to pay for speed, for trying to do in a day what our forefathers took a week or more to accomplish. This may sound rather like a counsel of despair. In a way it is, but that is not to say that much cannot be done, I believe now and certainly in the future, as more money becomes available for those improvements which we all want to see on our roads to make them more suitable for the traffic they have to bear, and by education and continually stressing the fact that road users should become more sensible of their own personal responsibilities in accident avoidance.

I do not propose to inflict a mass of statistics upon your Lordships this afternoon. As we know, the bare details are published regularly in the Press and broadcast, and there are, of course, the many excellent reports available for those who wish to see them. Sometimes these announcements induce in one a ray of hope. Sometimes they seem to make the problem more incapable of solution than ever. But taken by and large, I am afraid that they do not show a very great improvement, at least during the post-war years—I say the post-war period because it is interesting to note that there was a rather remarkable improvement as between 1938 and 1951. These are the only statistics I propose to give. In 1938 the population exposed to risk was 46,208,000. This rose by 6 per cent. to nearly 49,000,000 in 1951. In 1938 the number of vehicles licensed was 3,052,000, which rose by no less than 41 per cent. to 4,296,000 in 1951. During the same period, the quantity of motor fuel consumed rose by 27 per cent.* This makes the latest report of the Metropolitan Police District all the more disappointing.

A great deal of the decrease between those two years is put down to the three Es—education, engineering and enforcement. Education, as we all know, has gone on, and is going on, in our schools, and I should like to pay a tribute to the work of the teachers, and particularly the police, in that work. They have done a magnificent job, and I think we see it in the reduced number of child casualties. Engineering, of course, is another matter altogether. As I said just now, we can only hope that as more money becomes available we shall get that improvement in our roads which will, I believe, make a very considerable difference, as it has already during the years between 1938 and 1951. Enforcement is now more difficult, owing to the fact that the police force is still far below strength, though it is good to know that

* See Col. 715

more road patrols will be on the road shortly.

I think it was during our last debate that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, brought up the question of plain clothes patrols. I realise that this is a method not very popular in many quarters, especially among the motoring associations, and one has heard the criticism—I think it was in this House—that it is not quite in keeping with our traditional way of doing things. I would, however, venture to ask those critics whether it is in keeping with our traditional way of doing things that we should hesitate to try out any expedient that may lead to an improvement in this vital problem. As a matter of fact, I have been in correspondence with the chief constable of Oxfordshire, asking him whether he had any definite data as regards the experiments in that county. He informed me that there had hardly been time as yet to form a considered judgment, but that he hopes to have more data ready by the end of the year. As he says, if we could flood the roads with uniformed police there would be far fewer accidents. He points out that these plain clothes patrols—of which, by the way, due warning is given at every entrance to his county—are not concerned with small breaches of the law but only with definitely dangerous driving. He adds that he believes that other chief constables are making experiments on the same lines, and he is generally satisfied that these patrols can serve a useful purpose.

It is, of course, obvious that an experiment of this kind must have a considerable period of time before one can come to a considered judgment on the matter. I personally hold no brief for the use of plain clothes patrols; I only suggest that they should be tried out thoroughly. Not long ago we had in your Lordships' House a debate on a Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, on road construction. I do not propose to say more about that subject except to make two small points. I hope, first, that when new roads are built and road improvements generally are made, more attention will be paid to the banking of bends and corners. I have an impression that they have a better idea of this matter on the Continent than we have in this country; many roads in France are magnificently banked, and it does give a feeling of con- fidence and of safety when one is turning a bend, especially in slippery weather, if the roads are properly banked at bends and corners. I think more attention should be paid to the lopping of hedges at corners and road junctions, particularly, perhaps, on secondary roads, which do not get the attention that the main roads get. Many of your Lordships will know in your own county really dangerous spots due to this cause. These roads are almost always narrower than the main roads. The improvement could be made for a comparatively small expenditure by just trimming the hedges or even, in some instances, taking them away and replacing them with fences.

There was recently a short debate on the question of whether the speed limit should be done away with. The debate was raised in your Lordships' House by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I am glad that the Government showed on that occasion no sign of giving way, because I feel that, although the speed limit is very much honoured in the breach these days, it has at any rate a definite, restraining influence in built-up areas, and is very valuable in small towns and villages upon which one may come unexpectedly. I believe that if it were taken away a valuable restraining influence on many drivers would be lost. I should like to mention one or two points regarding streets. Guard rails are excellent and I am glad to see that more are going up—though it has always puzzled me why so many of them are often so constructed that anybody, child or adult, can climb over or through them with the greatest of ease. A case in point is Trafalgar Square. Not long ago a man came under the railing right against my car. I pulled up; he stood up and apologised and said he had not seen me. I said, "Of course you could not see me, since you were bending over the guard rails." However we parted the best of friends and no harm was done. I suggest that the addition of stressed wire netting in all cases would make these guards more effective. Stressed wire netting is at present the exception and not the rule.

One other important matter will have been in the minds of many of your Lordships in these days; I refer to zebra crossings. Personally, I think the introduction of zebra crossings is a move in the right direction, if only to show some drivers that pedestrians have an equal right on the highway to their own and at the same time to provide an efficient test for brakes. But I am inclined to think that there are too many of these crossings. For instance, at the junction of Church Street and Kensington High Street, which is a very busy traffic centre, within a little over a hundred yards there are three such crossings. It is a question whether these are necessary, especially in a place where it is so important to get the traffic moving away as quickly as possible. This point is the junction of two important streets and the exit west from a bad bottleneck. I imagine the traffic authorities know more about this than I do and take this sort of thing into consideration, but it strikes me that this is a case where these crossings have been slightly overdone. When all these crossings display their flashing beacons—I do not know how bright these beacons will be—three beacons within one hundred yards, flashing on your windscreen, especially on a wet night may make confusion worse confounded.

Possibly "flashing beacons" as an expression is somewhat of an exaggeration of what may actually be in use; but I think it is important that the crossings should be marked better by day. These beacons are often dirty and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish them between the lights. As I drive through towns my attention is often caught by the scarlet letter boxes and telephone kiosks. I think that in planning our signs and warning marks and so forth it is important to rake into consideration the average colour background of our big towns. They are roughly ambers, whites (usually dirty whites), browns, blacks and occasional blocks of dull red. We want something that will stand out against that, and I suggest more experiments might be made in changes of colour in our streets. I do not know whether scarlet would not be as good a colour as any to paint the globes of the Belisha beacons. At any rate I feel that something should be done in this direction, in order to avoid the necessity of sudden pulling up which often arises at present when a pedestrian wishes to use a zebra crossing.

Perhaps I may be allowed one or two suggestions with regard to the, lighting of vehicles. Shortly before we rose before the Recess there was a brief debate or a question on the matter of the lighting of lorries, and I feel that this does call for attention. Surety it is not right that a lorry should have merely a single rear light which would hardly do justice to a pedal cycle; surely they should have twin lights of suitable power, showing the whole breadth of the vehicle, and all should be fitted with adequate warning stop lights. That is all the more necessary in view of these zebra crossings. I hope that that matter is being looked into and that regulations will be made.

Talking of pedal cycles, I have the greatest sympathy with pedal cyclists. They have the cheapest and most trouble-free form of transport yet devised, and yet they usually have a very precarious ride, especially at night. Too many ride at night either with no rear light or with one so dim as to be ineffective. I frequently find this as I drive home at night from your Lordships' House. It is not always the cyclist's fault: these battery lamps have a way of going out without warning. But it is still compulsory to have a white enamelled rear guard, and I suggest to cyclists that this is a very good safeguard if their lamps go out. A pot of enamel does not cost much, and it may mean a good deal of increased safety.

Another small point to which I wish to refer is that of the indicator that keeps on indicating when the driver has no intention whatsoever of turning. That is to my mind an indication of a lack of concentration on the driver's part. In modern cars these indicators are made self-returning and generally they do "self return"; but with older cars that is not so, and the driver is not as careful as he might be. It is very important to avoid anything which distracts other drivers from driving properly, and though this is a small distraction it can and should be avoided. While I am on this subject I should like to mention the matter of high trees in built up areas at road intersections. Near my house there is a row of fine chestnut trees, fifty to sixty feet high. Like all your Lordships, I am a lover of trees, but there are places in our streets where high trees can be a danger. In this instance the trees overhang an important road at an important road junction for half its width. During the last twelve months there have been at least six cases of dangerous skidding there. Fortunately, none of them caused a very bad accident. That was, of course, on wet blossom and wet leaves. We all know how difficult it is to counteract a skid on wet leaves. It is a small point and it is, of course, only a seasonal one. I just mention it, like all my points which I do not claim to be very important ones, because I feel that if we are to get a permanent reduction in these road accidents, it can be done only by the united efforts of all road users, coupled with the gradual and piecemeal elimination of every contributory cause, so far as this is possible, and however trivial that cause may appear to be.

In conclusion, I must confess to occasional spasms of wishful thinking—I suppose that we all have those, at times. I have sometimes thought what a blessing it would be if every driver of a motor vehicle, on opening his garage door in the morning, would think of himself as a rider about to compete over the jumps in a show ring and resolve, so far as in him lay, to complete a round without blemish; and if, when he closed his garage door in the evening, he could truly say that his mount was as well fitted for the job as he could make it, that he had taken no risk whatever, that he had judged pace and distance accurately, that he had shown consideration and courtesy to every other road user—that, in fact, he had completed a faultless round. While all have their contribution to make to the greater safety of our roads, the major responsibility must always rest surely with the driver of the heaviest and fastest vehicle—the bus, the lorry, the van, the private car and the motor-cycle. He must know, or should know, that he himself has these occasional lapses into lack of judgment and lack of concentration, and has to be constantly on his watch against this. He knows, too, or should know, that all other road users have the same failing, and he has to be prepared, if the need arises—as it so often does—to save them from themselves.

In the admirable material issued by the Metropolitan Police Driving School for training police motor-cyclists, these words are used:
"Concentrate all the time, and you will avoid accidents."
That word "concentrate" is surely the key word to all good driving and, for that matter, to all safe use of our roads. During the war this nation accomplished many wonderful things. One of the prime secrets of this accomplishment was determination to get the job done, co-operation and the sinking of all petty differences in a common cause. It is true that to-day we have not the urgency of war, but we still have, surely, the urgency of the dead on our roads, the maimed in our hospitals and the misery of bereaved homes. The toll of our roads is, indeed, a very heavy one. There are to-day, as your Lordships know, many societies and associations charged with the lightening of this burden, so far as they are able to do so—notably the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents with, I believe, its 1,000 branches throughout the country. All road users—and that comprises the entire active population—should be grateful for these efforts on their behalf. They can best show their gratitude by co-operating with them in every possible way. I beg to move for Papers.

3.6 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, has kept alive the tradition of your Lordships' House that at least once every Session we return to the subject of road accidents. He has added to the long line of eloquent and distinguished speeches that have been made upon this subject. Some were made with the object of arousing the Government of the day to a proper sense of their responsibilities; others were made to try, as the noble Lord has tried this afternoon, to awaken the public conscience. I hope that I am not too pessimistic in expressing the thought that the noble Lord is going to be doomed to the same failure as all those previous speakers have been. That, my Lords, is the crux of this matter, the very heart of it; because until the Government of the day will treat this matter seriously, and until the public conscience will demand action from the Government, long after the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, and myself are interested in this subject your Lordships' House will go on debating it.

In general terms, those who have to deal with this day-to-day problem have really nothing to learn as to the cause of accidents on the roads. It would be quite possible, without any working of miracles, for a very large degree of road safety to be gained in not too long a time. But, again, I repeat that we shall never get it until the Government of the day—and, thank goodness! this is no Party matter—accept the responsibility and until the British public have a conscience upon this matter. There is one ray of hope—to me it is more than a ray of hope, because, for the long time that I can think of, one of the chief handicaps that we have suffered in this matter is that we have never had in the Cabinet a Minister responsible for road safety. We have one now. If the noble Lord the Secretary of State will allow me to say so, it is very heartening to think that he should have troubled to come here this afternoon, to stand here and take his responsibility in this matter, and has not delegated it to a junior Minister. The noble Lord's plate is full, and over-full. Of course, I could suggest how to take some of it off—but that is the subject of a debate which will take place in the not too distant future.

I would refer your Lordships to this excellent Report of the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis. It is worth everybody's reading. At this juncture, I would pay a great tribute to the police. Their major concern is how to stop these deaths upon the roads. The Chief Commissioner uses some wise words on page 15 of this Report—I quote:
"What constantly surprises those dealing with the problem from the police angle is the apparently ready acceptance by so many people of the view that road accidents on their present scale are inevitable, that motor traffic has stolen a march on us and that we are incapable of devising measures to keep up with it. I do not subscribe to this view. Road safety can be bought, and if the necessary money and works priorities are forthcoming and sufficient drive and energy are applied to the problem, I see no reason why a much greater degree of safety should not come about within a measurable time."
My Lords, those words are perfectly true.

This debate takes place at a time when we are all suffering from the dreadful shock of the tragedy at Harrow. We learned yesterday from the mouth of the noble Lord, the Secretary of State, that 110 lives had been lost; the total has since been added to by one. But that figure equals only one week's toll of the roads and on the roads it does not happen for one week in the year; it happens with monotonous and terrible regularity for all fifty-two weeks in the year. The other day the country was stunned by another tragedy, that at Lynmouth, where thirty people lost their lives. My Lords, that equals only two days' toll of the roads—that is all. The tragedy at Lynmouth brought Ministers of the Crown hurrying down to take an on-the-spot view of all the circumstances and, if the Press of the country is to be believed, hurrying back to London to report to the Cabinet. I would hazard the guess that never in the history of this country has the question of road accidents been thought of sufficient importance to appear upon a Cabinet agenda. Yet last year 5,250 people were killed on the roads, and 52,369 were seriously injured.

I have said some brutal things, but unfortunately they are true. I have said them to try to put before your Lordships the problem as I see it, because at the heart and root of this problem is the same thing which is at the heart and root of all our ills to-day—money. I hope the noble Lord will not think I am being too brutal, but what the Treasury or the Cabinet have really to decide is what priority money and the saving of human life have. At the present time and for a number of years, we in this country have relied far too much upon exhortation. So far as I can see, the only value of exhortation is that it is cheap; but it has not proved very effective.

I said earlier that those who have to deal with this day-to-day problem have little to learn. I ask your Lordships to consider the perspective of this. In any other form of transport—upon the railways, in the air, or upon the sea—if one person loses his life there is an immediate inquiry, and woe betide any Minister or official who does not immediately act upon the recommendations put forward by that inquiry for the prevention of a similar type of accident! I know that it is impossible to have an inquiry every time somebody is killed upon the roads, but in this country we have a sitting Committee of Inquiry set up by the Minister, the Ministerial Committee on Road Safety, which consists of all the experts of the country. It is always the duty of the Parliamentary Secretary of the day to preside over that Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, was once its chairman, and I have been its chairman. It changes its chairmen at frequent intervals, but only because Parliamentary Secretaries come and go with great rapidity. If, in all seriousness, I wanted to strengthen that Committee, I do not quite know in which direction I should do it. It is an admirable Committee. It has the best brains—the police, the technical experts, and Ministry experts. As the noble Lord, the Secretary of State, knows, within the Ministry itself there are men who have grappled with this problem for twenty years and know every facet of it.

Then we have the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, which I think is one of the best institutions of its kind in this country, and over which the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, presides with great distinction. Since he has been President, the Society has gone from strength to strength. There is also the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee. I doubt whether any Minister of the Crown is so well served with expert advice, and I doubt whether any Minister of the Crown is so ready to take it, as the Minister in charge of transport. But he is so often baulked in taking it by other and more oppressive and powerful Departments of Her Majesty's Government. I am going to say, quite frankly, that all my sympathies are with the noble Lord the Secretary of State. Upon his shoulders, and upon those of his junior, the Minister of Transport, rests the entire responsibility for the safety of the roads of this country; yet he has not one fraction of authority to carry out anything. On the one hand, he has to look to the Home Office and the police, and on the other to the Treasury for the money. Until that state of affairs is put right I have no hope at all that we shall make any spectacular move in the direction of preventing accidents. As the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, quite rightly said, with a foresight which I commend, we have to nibble, nibble, nibble at this problem; we have to try to effect a little improvement here and a little improvement there, until such day as the Government wake up to a responsibility which must rest very firmly upon their shoulders.

Since over 80 per cent. of the accidents happen to-day in built-up areas, let us take that as the starting-off point. I would say that the chief cause is congestion. Congestion is the greatest factor in accidents in built-up areas—not speed, because in some of these areas the traffic has slowed itself down to about ten miles per hour. On page 17 of the Report to which I have referred, the Chief Commissioner, in dealing with Central London, says:
"At peak periods such movement as there is can only be maintained by lavish use of police who can ill be spared from other pressing duties."
He goes on to say:
"But if nothing is done, it is only a question of time before the central area is strangled by the traffic it generates."
So the police have a very difficult task, in the absence of any structural alterations to some of the streets as recommended by the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee, who took full cognisance of the financial state of the country, and whose report was accepted by the then Minister. While, on the one hand, you may be saving money by not having some of these improvements carried out, you are wasting it in another direction by—as the Commissioner puts it—a "lavish use of police."

I want to ask the Secretary of State what action is being taken to relieve this congestion by the adoption of the recommendations for off-street parking, underground car parks, and unilateral parking. Some progress, I understand, is being made. What we have to do in the centre of London is to take thousands of cars bodily off the roads for parking and put them underground. We shall have to do that one day. I know that fanciful suggestions have been made as to ways of solving the congestion problem in the centre of London. One such suggestion is not to allow cars to come within a range of ten miles of the area. To adopt that would result in strangling the commerce of London. Local authorities, by and large, in the provincial cities and towns throughout this country, have neglected and shirked their responsibility in this direction. They have not provided tile parking places which the amount of traffic in their towns and cities has warranted. If they had spent as much money providing parking places as some of them have spent bespattering their street with obelisks, that, I suggest, would have done a great deal of good. Frequently, on these obelisks one reads the injunction "Keep left." That is a very sensible direction to advertise, I grant them that. But that is about the only useful purpose some of these things serve.

I have referred to the position of the Ministry of Transport. When I was at the Ministry, and had responsibility in this matter, I was convinced that one of the greatest things we could do was to increase the strength of the mobile traffic police—not from the angle of punitive action, but from the educative angle. I am certain that if we could bring the traffic police and the mobile police patrols up to higher strength there would be a diminution of accidents, because of the inherent respect of the average Britisher for a police uniform. I understand that after a struggle, after twelve months of blood, sweat, toil and tears, at last that is going to happen. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has already said that he deemed it one of his first duties to bring his mobile traffic police up to strength and that he would like to increase it above that figure. I would ask the Secretary of State to try to break down the prejudice which many of the forces in this country have against motorcycles. Cars are expensive as compared with motor-cycles. I believe that, by and large, a motor-cycle patrol is just as effective for the prevention of accidents and the maintenance of orderly behaviour traffic as a motor-car with two officers in it. I believe that that is a phase with which we could go ahead.

An innovation which I am certain has saved a great many lives, and will save more, is the school crossing patrol. I should like to see these patrols extended, and also to see something more done in the matter of pedestrian crossings. Some of us were rather sceptical as to whether the "zebra" crossing would be a success. I am prepared to say now that it has been a success, and I think it will be a greater success when it is lit at night, either by a flashing beacon or by some other method of illumination. It is an interesting point in the Report of the police that 30 per cent. of the accidents to pedestrians occur within 50 yards of a pedestrian crossing. I suggest that greater use of guard rails should be made compulsory upon local authorities. The pedestrian is the biggest menace on the roads to-day—I say that quite advisedly. He is an ignorant menace, not a wilful one; but he is a danger to himself and to every other road user, and lie must he disciplined. I hope the day will come when it will be an offence for a pedestrian to cross the road at any other place than a pedestrian crossing, where traffic congestion is heavy.

That is what he does at the present time, to the tune of 5,000 a year. But I say that in this respect the public have got to be conditioned. It is no good trying to force through such a reform, for the public would not have it to-day. They have to be gradually guided. So I would put guard rails for fifty yards on either side of pedestrian crossings and in highly congested thoroughfares I would increase the length of these rails to 75 or 100 yards. Indeed, I would have all the street guarded in especially dangerous places, such as Hammersmith Broadway, where it is done to-day. I believe that that is the only way in which we can stop people from doing what amounts virtually to committing suicide.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, raised again what I think is a very important point—the tragedy arising from the lack of co-operation which still exists between the various interests concerned, when road safety should be a common aim and a common interest. If I may be forgiven for again referring to it, may I say that when I was at the Ministry of Transport I set up a sub-committee of the Road Safety Committee to make a special inquiry into the problem of motor-cycle accidents. These are one of our biggest tragedies. The ratio of such accidents to other road accidents is high, and they take some of the best of the youth of the country. The highest proportion of those killed in motor-cycling accidents are boys of twenty-two or twenty-three years of age. The motorcycle is the most dangerous vehicle on the road, by far. I insisted that on this sub-committee there should be co-opted motor-cycle manufacturers, because I wanted them to accept a share of responsibility—Which all vehicle manufacturers rightly should accept—for the safety of the roads. If one reads their report one can only be aghast at what stands out blatantly—the non-co-operation of the manufacturers. The report says, in short: "Hands off the motor-cycle. The motor-cyclist shall not be obliged to do this or to do that." It does not show a very great spirit of co-operation. One of the most sensible statements in the report, although it merely draws attention to the point, is the effect of dogs on the number of motor-cycle accidents. I would prohibit any dog being allowed to stray in a built-up area. If people want to keep dogs in built-up areas they should be compelled to keep them on leads. I would go further and say that it is cruelty to a dog to keep it in a built-up area—but perhaps dog-lovers will not agree with me there. But loose dogs running about in a built-up area are a menace.

I should like to give your Lordships another case of lack of co-operation. During the time I was chairman of the Road Safety Committee I held a Press conference one day on the question of motor-cycle accidents. The editor of a well-known motor-cycling journal was present and impressed upon me how he had written a column in his paper for years impressing on the young motorcyclist the great necessity for safety. When I went back to my room, I sent for the latest copy of the journal and saw, as the editor had said, that a splendid article on safety appeared; but on the other page was a double-spread advertisement of a motor-cycle guaranteed to do 100 miles an hour. Fancy putting a lethal weapon like that in the hands of the youth of this country, and then saying, "But, of course, you must not drive it fast: that is dangerous!"

I should like to commend to your Lordships the latest Report of the Committee on Road Safety to the Minister of Transport on the Highway Code. I do not intend to raise the whole subject, because it is a big subject in itself, but I should like to say that I thoroughly agree with the recommendations of that Committee and with their view that it would defeat the whole object of the Highway Code if we gave it the force of law. I would draw your Lordships' attention to one item in the Report—and I am sure the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, will be interested in this. In one part of the Report, dealing with the application of the Highway Code to all classes of road users, I was struck by these words:
"Any steps in this direction should, we suggest, be the subject of experiments, which we understand are under consideration by the Departments concerned, in the light of the recommendations made by the earlier Committee on Road Safety in paragraphs 185 and 186 of their Final Report."
The Report to which that refers was published in 1944, about the same time as they were still considering similar recommendations of the Alness Committee. Surely that is a long time.

I have given your Lordships my views on this subject, but there are so many details which could be mentioned. Perhaps I could make this final point, which shows the need for individual precautions every day. There is a growing number of heavy vehicles on the roads; they carry heavy loads and are powered by diesel engines which spew out a smokescreen of oily fumes which obscure the vision of, and nearly suffocate, the drivers of the queue of cars behind. The greater the load and the slower the speed, the greater is the offence. It is not necessary for any diesel engine to emit such a cloud of smoke. If it does, it is a badly adjusted engine. As the emission of exhaust smoke which could be avoided by taking reasonable care or which endangers the safety of other users is an infringement of the Construction and Users Regulations, I sincerely hope that the Minister of Transport will ask the police to take action against offenders, because making one or two examples, I am convinced, will soon cure what is becoming one of our biggest nuisances on the roads to-day. I hope that my desire to see the Secretary of State inspire his Cabinet colleagues with a sense of urgency in this matter will not be entirely vain.

3.36 p.m.

My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, for raising this matter to-day and for the way in which he has done it. For myself, I liked his idea that every road traveller ought to go out of his own garage determined to do a faultless run. I am certain that if more people did that every day accidents would greatly decrease. I should like to thank both him and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for their kind references to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. It is not the President but the staff there who do all the good work, and it is they who deserve the thanks of us all. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that Governments can solve this problem. I know that he was not being Party political when he said it, but I do not think that Governments can solve this problem. Of course they can help to get better grants for roads, and it was a step in the right direction when £3,000,000 was granted this year to get rid of danger spots—the "black spots" on the roads. I should like to see that sum increased, and I hope that next year more money will be available.

The Government cannot do everything, It is the individual responsibility of all road users. Do not let anything said in this House relieve the road users of that personal and individual responsibility. We cannot do it by having a mass of police. That would be a lavish use of police, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said. I should like to see road users of all sorts copying this House. Often in another place there has to be a lavish use of the Speaker to keep order. Here, as we all are responsible for keeping order, we all try—I think successfully—to keep ourselves in order. If all road users would follow our example and keep themselves in order, believe me, the road casualties would decrease enormously.

It is a solemn thought that in the last fifty years there have been no fewer than 7,000,000 road casualties—not necessarily fatal accidents, but accidents which involve injury or death to persons. And now, on an average, 5,000 people are killed on our roads every year. How are we going to get over that problem or improve matters? I think we have brought it home to people much more than was ever done before. There are a large number of organisations trying to do that, of which I am proud to think that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents is perhaps in the forefront.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, gave a few figures when he moved this Motion, but perhaps I may give one or two more. Let me take three particular years, say, 1935, which was the year when the Road Traffic Act was passed, 1938, which was the full year immediately before the war, and 1951, which is the last year for which figures are available. As regards the total population, the deaths per million of the population in 1935 were 143, in 1938 they had gone up to 144, and last year they were down to 107. If you take the numbers of children killed, per million of the population, the figures were 27 in 1935, 24 in 1938, and 19 in 1951. Taking another test, based on the number of motor vehicles licensed, there the deaths per 10,000 motor vehicles licensed were 25 in 1935, 22 in 1938, and 11 in 1951. Perhaps an even more accurate test—and it is the last figure with which I will burden your Lordships in this connection—is the road casualty trend based on motor fuel consumption. There, for every 10,000,000 gallons of motor fuel used 49 people lost their lives in 1935, 42 in 1938, and 26 in 1951. Therefore, the tendency is in the right direction.

At the present moment there are two factors which may tend to put up the road accident rate. Noble Lords who, like myself, are over fifty years of age will possibly realise that they are getting into one of the danger areas The main danger area is from about the age of five or six up to fifteen. From fifteen to fifty-four or fifty-five you are in a comparatively safe age group; but when one gets above fifty-five—this is according to the figures, at any rate—you begin to get into another vulnerable area. In 1901 there were only 4,000,000 persons over fifty-five in this country, and now there are 10,500,000. The percentage of the population over that age is now 21 per cent., compared with 17 per cent, twenty years ago. So there is a greater proportion of the population, including some of us in this House, who are getting into the more vulnerable age group. Because of the number of additional births just after the war there are at the moment 1,000,000 extra children under fifteen years of age, and a large number in the vital five-to-six years age group where the most accidents occur. I believe that to a certain extent education and exhortation have helped to bring these figures down, and I should like to pay my tribute to the teachers and the police who are carrying on such excellent work in our schools, teaching the younger generation. Even if we fully educated every person, above say, the age of seven years in road safety—and of course we have done no such thing—there would still be need for education, because another 200,000 people come into the field every year to be educated for the first time.

Although it is a good thing to congratulate ourselves a little on the fact that road accidents are tending to decrease compared with the number of motor vehicles on the roads, this is not a time for complacency. The figure I gave for the number of fatal accidents every year is one that we must all endeavour to get decreased. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas—as indeed did the Minister of Transport this morning, at a meeting at which I presided, and about which I will say a word in a moment—used the instance of the accident at Harrow which caused so much concern. Yet every week of the year there are on our roads the equivalent number of deaths to those which occurred in the Harrow accident. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred to the fact that a number of organisations concerned were rather looking after their own interests and pulling in their own different ways. Your Lordships may remember that last July His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh suggested that these organisations should not work in water-tight compartments, but should tackle the matter as a joint operation. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and I as its President, thought that something ought to be done to follow up the suggestion made by His Royal Highness. This morning I had the honour to preside over a meeting of representatives of thirty-eight different organisations. Their names make a formidable list, and I believe that it covers everybody concerned in this matter. Every one of those organisations accepted the invitation to come, and sixty-three delegates were there this morning. Let me, in passing, say that it was a great help to our meeting that the Minister of Transport, my right honourable friend Mr. Lennox-Boyd, came down to give us an encouraging word, supported also by the right honourable gentleman, Mr. Alfred Barnes, his immediate predecessor as Minister of Transport.

The meeting felt that by combined action more could be done. The representatives present thought the reduced figures were very encouraging but should not give rise to complacency, and that the majority of road accidents should and could be eliminated. With no dissenting voice they decided to co-operate in trying to formulate a joint agreed programme. They also decided that they and their organisation would follow up such a programme, when it had been agreed, by action on their part. They are all going to think out the points that they should raise, send back their suggestions within a month, and in about two months' time, when the suggestions have been circulated, another meeting will be held. I hope that in that way all these organisations will work together to try to get rid of this evil from our midst. I hope that when they come back—this may be wishful thinking, but I hope it is not—all these organisations will not come with points that others can remedy in their sphere of action, but with points which, through their members, they themselves can remedy. I hope that it will be a case of taking the beam out of their own eye, rather than of seeing the mote in the other fellow's eye. If that is the way in which all these organisations look at this problem and come back with their suggestions, I believe that this getting together may do something to further the cause which we all have at heart. I am glad that we have had this discussion in this House. I think it is a matter to which this House should pay attention from time to time, because something always results from the deliberations of your Lordships' House. I trust that out of this debate may come an even greater lessening of the accidents on our roads.

3.52 p.m.

My Lords, in rising to address your Lordships this afternoon for the first time, I crave the indulgence which I know you are kind enough to give to speakers making their first speech in your Lordships' House. I speak this afternoon with no special qualifications. Like many other of your Lordships, I am a road user. Like many of your Lordships, I use the roads in several different capacities. I use them, and have used them, as a pedestrian, as a cyclist, as a driver of a car and of a motor-cycle. In each of those capacities, I consider that the roads of this country are very dangerous indeed. They are bound to be dangerous—they were not built for motor traffic.

I should like to raise my voice and add my plea to the plea of the noble Lords, Lord Hampton and Lord Lucas, in asking the Government to provide better and safer roads. We cannot put the clock back. Machines have been built which are capable of travelling at 100 miles an hour and more. Those machines can be bought in the shops; they can be taken on the roads, and they can be used with horse-drawn traffic and with bicycles travelling at a walking pace—every sort of traffic all mixed up together. There is little traffic segregation. Honestly, I am not astonished that there are so many road accidents in this country; I am amazed that there are not very many more. That sounds a terrible thing to say, and I know that everything which can be done must be done to reduce that number. It is everyone's responsibility to do something—as the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin has just said, everyone has some responsibility. But, human nature being what it is, I do not think that a great deal can be achieved in this direction. Somebody will always be in a hurry, and as a result an accident may be caused.

I believe that the Government know the answer to this problem. They at least know the answer which would produce the most effective results—for with every road accident there is more than one cause. The Government know that there is a direct connection between road accidents and bad roads. This theory has been proved time and again. It has been proved in two counties in this country, in Oxfordshire before the war and in Lancashire. It has been proved in Germany, and it has been proved in the United States of America. In those two counties, and in those two countries, safety features have been built into the roads, and the hazards which cause human errors to be made have been eliminated. As a result, accident figures have dropped to a very encouraging extent. I have not the figures for Oxfordshire with me this afternoon, but the county council there carried out experiments before the war. I think I am right in saying that in their county approximately 59 per cent. of all accidents were found to be due to ordinary road defects, and it was established that if a modernised road lay-out had been provided as many as 75 per cent. of accidents in Oxfordshire could have been avoided. Those are striking figures, and they have been proved in practice.

There is a strong case for the building of motor ways. I know that they will cost a great deal of money, but only one thousand miles of such roads—it is not a lot—are required in this country. With motor ways, as many as four out of five accidents which occur on ordinary main roads could be avoided. That, again, is rather striking. If the Government know the answer to the problem, if it is as simple as that, why do they not do something? Why do they not take decisive action? They have begun. They are to be most heartily congratulated on spending quite large sums of money on the elimination of black spots in different parts of the country. It is only a beginning, but it is a very welcome beginning. Of course, there are many thousands of dangerous places all over the country, and much more money is required. I believe there is a strong case for that money to be provided. County surveyors know only too well what safety features they would like to provide if only they had the funds. They know about the desirability of banked corners and they know about sunken or sloping kerbstones, dual carriageways and lay-bys, and the value of reflecting studs in the middle of the carriageway. If only they had the funds they could do very much more in that direction.

I am told that country councils are not allowed at the present lime to buy land for road-widening purposes. That, of course, is on economic grounds. Well, my Lords, if the Government cannot spend the money at the present time because of economic circumstances does that mean that nothing at all can be done? I am certain that it does not mean anything of the kind. Here I should like to make quite a simple suggestion. I am convinced that if every owner or occupier in any part of the country of land adjoining a main road or secondary road where there is a dangerous corner were asked to give just a few yards of land in order that that dangerous place may be made safe, that land owner or occupier would be only too willing to give it. The trouble at the moment is that these people are not even asked whether they would be willing, and therefore the question does not arise. After all, these very people would derive the most benefit from road improvement, because, living as they do in most cases close by, they use that road more often than does anybody else.

These same landlords and land occupiers would, I think, be willing to do much more than they do at present in the way of cutting back fences, bushes and boughs of trees which overhang the carriageway and obscure the sight-line on the road. The road could be made much safer if each of these people would do something in that direction. It would not cost much and would, I am sure, lead to a great reduction in accidents, because drivers and other would then be able to see that the road was clear. I should like to give your Lordships an example of what I mean. Near my own home in North Lancashire there is at the present moment a small road improvement scheme being carried out on what is called a main road. It is nothing more than a very narrow, winding country lane but it is classified as a main road. What is happening is that a thick hawthorn hedge has been removed and iron railings put up in its place. The hawthorn hedge stood on an extremely dangerous corner and in a bottleneck—and the railings are going up in exactly the same place. The railings may improve the sight line slightly; but I know that the tenant farmer of the field concerned was not asked if he would mind the road fence being put back a little. I also know that he would be very willing for this to be done if he were asked. I believe the landlord would be equally willing if he were approached in the right way.

Before leaving the subject of roads, may I say one word about the surface of the road itself? In many towns there are manhole covers for electricity, gas and water mains, and also stop taps, which are not sited flush with the level of the road surface. They are either sunk into the carriageway or raised above it, and I suggest that such a state of things is very dangerous to motor traffic and particularly to motor-cyclists.

I should now like to say a word about pedal cyclists. These cyclists, despite the provision requiring a compulsory rear lamp, are still not as visible at night as they should be. I should like to suggest that manufacturers should be asked to build reflecting studs into the pedals of bicycles, as is done in Sweden. In that country these studs are built into the pedals and as the pedals revolve the light from the lamps of motor vehicles is caught and reflected by them. I know that they are extremely effective. I do not think that the fitting of the studs would add much to the price of the bicycle.

Motorists are frequently urged to drive with more consideration for other road users—and it is very valuable that they should be so urged. But there will always be somebody in a hurry who will take a risk, and an accident may be caused. I would say to motorists that while the roads are in their present state, while the density of traffic on the roads in this country is so very great—greater than anywhere else in the world: about seventeen cars for every mile of road throughout the country, which is a very high figure—every motorist should drive on the assumption that a child or a dog will run out from every house he passes. I would say, further, that he should assume that every child and every dog he sees may run out into his path. That is not, of course, to say that such an untoward occurrence will necessarily come about; but if it does the motorist will be ready to cope with the situation and an accident may be averted. In the same way the motorist should, when approaching a dangerous corner or the brow of a hill, assume that someone is coming round that corner or over the brow of the hill, perhaps on the wrong side of the road. If he assumes these things there is much more chance of his being able to deal with the situation.

I think that accidents involving pedestrians are perhaps the most difficult problem of all to deal with. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has suggested that pedestrians should be confined entirely to the pavement or the footpath, where one exists, in the same manner as motor vehicles are confined to the carriageway. At the present time, that quite obviously is not possible. Pedestrians must cross the road, and I think that "zebra" crossings are a step in the right direction, even if they are something of a corn-promise. Until bridges or subways can be built at busy intersections, I do not think that much progress can be made. As a pedestrian I myself would take as many precautions in crossing the main road to-day as I would if I were crossing an unguarded and busy railway line. It is as dangerous as that. I think that pedestrians should conform to traffic lights, in the same manner as other road users do. I remember in Copenhagen trying to cross a road when the traffic lights showed green in favour of the traffic—I said "trying to cross." I received a tap on the shoulder from a tall policeman, and that one tap was enough to make me remember to watch those traffic lights in future when crossing the road. In America I believe it is an offence to cross the road in the wrong place.

In conclusion, may I say just a word about mobile police patrols and road safety education, both of which I think are extremely valuable? In my view, the mobile policeman, known as the "Courtesy cop," does good work, first, by his very presence on the road, and also by the warnings he gives when road regulations have been infringed. On the subject of education, I am certain that the lives of many children have been saved by teachers in the schools promoting road safety in that way. But I believe that much more could be done in the way of educating the adult population of this country. Very much more could be done by means of the wireless, television, the Press and the cinema. Take the wireless, to give one example. The sort of programme I have in mind is a short five minutes' programme, which would be given as regularly as the weather forecast in the morning. It would take the form of a series of questions addressed to all road users. It would say: "Are your tyres smooth? Do your brakes require adjusting? When you cross the road, do you look both ways? When you drive, do you use your driving mirror and wave on other people who wish to pass you? When you stop your car on the road, do you pull right off the carriageway and leave the roadway clear? On a dark winter's afternoon, in foggy weather or at dusk, do you turn on your side-lamps and give other vehicles a chance of seeing that you are coming?"

The programme, I suggest, should also include the giving of short casualty lists, in the following manner. A statement would be made that, say, in the last three years fifteen people had been killed in a certain street. The broadcast would then add, "Do not be the sixteenth." I believe that if propaganda of that nature and publicity of that kind were used, there would be such a public outcry in this country for the elimination of those dangerous places that the money required would, in fact, be spent. The Government have a splendid road construction programme. They have a wonderful programme for the improvement of existing roads. They have the help of the Road Research Laboratory. They have the help of many experts in the British Road Federation, who know about road matters. I beseech the Government to spend the necessary money on the roads, and so reduce the terrible number of road casualties which take place to-day.