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Motorway Accidents: Statistics

Volume 489: debated on Thursday 22 October 1987

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what are the figures for the last 12 months of fatal accidents which have occurred on the motorway system, and whether these show an improvement or deterioration in the situation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport
(Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, in 1986 there were 5,160 injury accidents on motorways. This was an increase of 11 per cent. on 1985, in line with the increase of 11 per cent. In motorway traffic. The motorway accident rate—that is, the risk which a motorist runs of being involved in an accident while driving on a motorway—has fallen significantly in recent years. Since 1980, motorway traffic has increased by 54 per cent. and motorway accidents have increased by 26 per cent.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for that reply. As one who uses the M.62 and the M.1 regularly, I have observed that the M.1 in particular seems to have long stretches of contraflow systems. Does the extensive use of the contraflow systems make a contribution to the horrendous fatal accident figures which we have seen lately? If that is so, will the Government consider reviewing the situation to see whether it can be improved?

My Lords, there is an increased danger where motorway repairs are taking place. In fact, I understand that accidents are twice as likely to happen in such situations. We do our best with regard to contraflow systems to deal with the situation. For instance, we have plans to try moving cones for more minor repairs.

Nevertheless, where major repairs are necessary—and I fear a great many major repairs are necessary on motorways at the moment—it is essential to have contraflow systems. We must attempt to make them as safe as possible. But at the end of the day it is very much up to the individual motorist to be aware of such situations and to take as much care as possible.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some of us who use the motorways frequently believe that the biggest danger on the motorways are the juggernauts? The characters who drive their huge lorries in what is supposed to be the fast lane are an absolute menace and they terrify humble motorists. Is it not possible to stop such lorries from travelling in the fast lane?

My Lords, in the case of three-lane motorways, lorries are not supposed to travel in the fast lane.

My Lords, the police must do their best to make sure that they do not.

My Lords, is it not a fact that although the majority of motor accidents take place on roads which are not motorways, those taking place on motorways are more horrendous? Is any research being undertaken by the department or by the TRRL into the cause of accidents, whether they are due to human error, to the motorways themselves, or to wrong use of lanes, and so on? It seems that such evidence is vital.

My Lords, it is true to say that accidents on motorways are more likely to be serious than those on ordinary roads because of the increased speeds. As regards the research which is being done, I shall have to look into the matter and find out what the TRRL is doing at the moment. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord on that point.

My Lords, arising out of my noble friend's answer to the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, is it not now necessary to take stronger measures to enforce the speed limits both for the juggernauts and for the ordinary motorist'? Is my noble friend aware that those who use the motorways regularly know that the speed limits are regularly exceeded by very large numbers of drivers?

My Lords, enforcement of speed limits is a matter for the police. It must be obvious that the law cannot be enforced 100 per cent. It is a matter for the police to do the best they can within the resources available to them.

My Lords, is it not also the case that the Magistrates' Association has a tariff of suitable penalties which it recommends to local benches? Is it not important that local benches should pay attention to those recommendations and ensure that excessive speeds are dealt with by suspension of licence?

My Lords, my noble and learned friend knows much more about that than I do. I am sure that he is right concerning the question of sentencing by magistrates' courts.

My Lords, returning to the coning off of parts of the motorways, perhaps I may ask my noble friend whether it would be possible to put the signs which appear on the motorways regarding the coning off very much higher on the road so that drivers travelling behind big lorries would see the signs, which at present are often not apparent.

My Lords, does the Minister have figures showing how many of the fatal accidents about which he has just told the House were caused by vehicles which were not only travelling too fast but were travelling too close to the vehicle in front?

My Lords, I hasten to assure the noble Earl that the figures which I have given are not those for fatal accidents. Fortunately, the number of fatal accidents has not been nearly as high as the figures I have mentioned. I do not have with me a better analysis of the figures, if that is available. However, the latest group of road accident figures will be published next week and a copy will be in the Library.

My Lords, perhaps I may finally ask the Minister, on the subject raised by my noble friend Lord Mellish and the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, whether he is aware of the distress caused by the fact that a number of people who pull onto the hard shoulder because of mechanical failure are subsequently killed or maimed. Great distress is caused to the relatives of such people. It appears that the number of such cases is increasing as people who pull off the road in an emergency are often smashed into by juggernauts. Such accidents are totally avoidable. I hope the Minister will say that the Government will keep this kind of accident under review to see whether any improvement can be made in the situation.

My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Lord that such accidents are appalling. We shall do all we possibly can to prevent such accidents from happening. However, at the end of the day I must point out that the risk of having an accident on an ordinary road is eight times greater than it is on a motorway. That must be taken into account.