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Speed Limits: Enforcement

Volume 489: debated on Monday 9 November 1987

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2.46 p.m.

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 whether they are satisfied with the enforcement of speed limits on motorways and other roads and, if not, what steps they intend to take to see that the law is obeyed.

My Lords, the responsibility for enforcing speed limits rests with individual chief officers of police, and we are satisfied that the police give a proper degree of attention to the performance of this duty. Nevertheless, the Government and the police arc at all times looking for ways of improving enforcement.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Perhaps I may ask him whether he saw a programme on, I think, Channel 4 last week, where a police officer said that when he travelled in a police car on a motorway he was travelling in a small bubble of law observance. Will my noble friend consider the suggestion that more police cars should travel on the motorways and fewer lurk on bridges and in lay-bys? Although they may catch one or two offenders by doing that, by actually driving on the motorways they may prevent far more offences taking place, because they are happening all the time.

My Lords, I have to tell my noble friend that I did not see that programme on television last week. However police cars are deployed, whether it be on bridges, on motorways themselves or on certain roads, their purpose is the same— to apprehend any culprit and indeed to try to deter any would-be culprit.

My Lords, have the Government received certain police representations that the speed limits should be raised? If so, what is their attitude, and what is their attitude in general to the present speed limits?

My Lords, there are currently no plans to alter the motorway speed limit. Reviews of the speed limit in 1984–85 concluded that the present limit gives the correct balance between the need for safe travel and convenient travel.

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that a speed limit of 55 mph is enforced beneficially in the United States of America; and would it not be a good idea to introduce a similar limit in this country with a view to reducing accidents? Is the noble Earl aware that if the police in this country are unenthusiastic about enforcing even the present limit, it would probably be a good idea to create a special national traffic police authority?

My Lords, I am not aware of the methods adopted in America. I think it really is up to each individual chief constable in his particular area to decide how to go about enforcing the law.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that on the basis of accidents per car mile British motorways have the best record of any roads anywhere in the world?

My Lords, while I am delighted to know that that may possibly be true, I cannot actually confirm that. I can tell the noble Lord however that motorways are seven times safer than urban roads.

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that because the speed limit in the United States is so low it is unenforceable? If one tries to drive at 55 miles an hour there trucks and every other kind of vehicle race past.

My Lords, I am glad to hear that that is true. Obviously the reason why we keep to the present speed limits in this country is so that the law can be enforceable.

My Lords, I appreciate that the Question deals with other roads as well as motorways. However, does the Minister recall that on 22nd October the Minister sitting on his left promised to look into whether or not there had been a survey into the cause of accidents on motorways? Has that survey been put into operation? I understand that in January 1985 a road traffic law review was set up under Dr. Peter North. That was two and a half years ago. Will the Minister tell us how that is progressing and whether it will deal with the question of enforcement as well as other aspects of road traffic law?

My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord is that the road traffic law review's report is expected to be published in the early part of next year. It is expected that it will take account of all the forms that the noble Lord has mentioned.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the 55 miles an hour speed limit introduced in the 1950s in America was not introduced in order to lower speeds, but because of the petrol shortage at that time? It was introduced as a method of saving fuel. Therefore it is not relevant in today's circumstances. But is my noble friend not of the opinion that if people drive at 70 miles an hour today on the motorways of this country they are passed by virtually everybody? Would it not be more practical to impose a speed limit of 80 miles an hour and then enforce it rigorously?

My Lords, I was under the impression that I had just answered my noble friend on that very point.

My Lords, first will the Minister say what the speed limit is for lorries on motorways? Secondly, will the Minister say whether there is any speed limit within London at all? Does the 30 miles an hour speed limit apply in London? It seems that the traffic in London is either crawling at about two miles an hour because of intolerable congestion or, when it is freed on to roads out of London, it is travelling at around 60 miles an hour. What steps are the Government taking to deal with the general problem of congestion in the capital city?

My Lords, in reply to the first question of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition on speed limits, for cars and light vehicles the limit is 60 miles an hour on single lane carriageways unless otherwise marked or lined with street lamps. The speed limit is 70 miles an hour on dual carriageways and motorways. If the noble Lord wishes to have more data on those vehicles which exceed 7.5 tonnes I can continue.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the American experience on motorways, which is far greater than anyone else's, shows clearly that traffic police is the only way to control speed on motorways? Is my noble friend prepared to take a real, long and critical look at that point to see what it costs and whether we could afford it?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that. I am very aware that obviously the more police cars there can be on motorways, or indeed on ordinary roads, the better. As I said originally, as much as possible is being done to find ways and means of improving safety on roads. It is regrettable but nevertheless a fact that many of the accidents that occur on our roads are due to either foolishness or selfishness. Both show scant regard for the safety of fellow motorists and can often result in tragic circumstances.

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether the Government are giving any thought to introducing the kind of equipment which the police in Holland use? There photographs which show both the speed, the time and the number plate of the car are taken. That makes enforcement far easier than in this country.

My Lords, the Government are always looking at improvements, and particularly at the moment at technological improvements.

My Lords, the House may feel that we are moving slowly on this Question. We have had it before and perhaps we can return to it again on another occasion.