§ 11.5 a.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Richard Nugent)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Paper entitled the Highway Code, a copy of which was laid before this House on 30th June, and approves the revised Highway Code contained in pages 3 to 25 thereof.The power to approve the new version of the Highway Code comes from the Road Traffic Act, 1930, which authorises my right hon. Friend to issue the Highway Code. The existing version was issued in 1954. The need for a new version arises principally from the need for a supplement to cover the use of the new motorways. We have taken the opportunity, at the same time, to make a few revisions which experience over the last five years has shown to be necessary.
The motorway supplement was originally issued in pamphlet form last autumn, before the opening of the Preston by-pass. At that time, it gave rise to a good deal of comment both in the Press and elsewhere but, in the main, I think that the supplement was commended and it has now been incorporated in the Code itself. There are one or two small changes from the draft in the pamphlet, but experience has shown that the original rules we laid down were, in the main, about right.
We have made only two major changes in the main body of the Code. The first is the dropping of the signal, "I am ready to be overtaken", and the second is the addition of the rule that turning traffic at road junctions must give way to pedestrians. As my right hon. Friend said in the House in answer to a Question on Wednesday, the main objection to the rule concerning the signal "I am ready to be overtaken" is that it advises 734 drivers to make a signal not required for any maneouvre which they themselves intend to make, but, on the other hand, it may involve them in legal difficulties arising out of the action of other drivers.
I expect that right hon. and hon. Members will have in mind the decision of the court of appeal in the case of White v. Broadbent and British Road Services. The signal can still be given at the option of a driver, but it no longer has the authority of the code. There is a secondary reason. With the great improvement there has been in mechanical signals and their almost universal use on road vehicles, hand signals are becoming less important and, unfortunately, many of the hand signals which are given are far from clear in their object. It may be that what we have done is an indication of the way things are going.
The addition to the Code of the rule about turning traffic giving way to pedestrians will not, I think, arouse controversy. It is, obviously, sensible; it follows practice in other countries, and I think it should be for the general safety of pedestrians.
Public comment has referred not only to additions to the Code but also to what some people consider to be omissions from the Code, such as a rule that there should be a system of priorities at roundabouts, and one or two other matters. I will not deal with those now, but if they are raised in the debate, and if the House gives me permission to reply, I will deal with them. I feel that in expounding the merit of this Code, which is to advocate greater consideration on the road, I must not overlook the unwritten code that the person standing at this Box should have some consideration for others in the House. Therefore, for that reason, I shall refrain from going seriatim through the 94 rules in the Code, but will confine my remarks to a few general points in connection with it.
First, let me deal with the production of the Code. About a year ago, we produced a preliminary draft and circulated it to seventy organisations which are interested in or connected with the use of the roads. We had an admirable response. We received about 900 comments, about 300 of which concerned the motorway section. We were greatly 735 helped by the constructive and co-operative response which we had from all these people. We charged the Departmental Road Safety Committee with the task of considering this mass of comment and the very considerable body of comment that had collected in the Department over the last five years, and we asked the Departmental Committee to produce a revised draft. A sub-committee was set up to do this, and it had much detailed work to do, but the main Committee went individually through every rule in the Code and spent many hours in considering it.
Some right hon. and hon. Members will be familiar with the Road Safety Committee. It is a quite impressive body. There are thirty-four members on it drawn from almost every organisation connected with or interested in the use of the road—our own Ministry, local authorities, police, the Road Research Laboratory, motor organisations, road haulage concerns, passenger transport employers, trade unions, Ro.S.P.A., cyclists, pedestrians, and so on.
I would say that differences of opinion on this body, of which I have the honour to be Chairman, were few, and that the Code in its present form had the unanimous approval of the Committee on almost all points. I feel that that is of interest to the House because the work of this comprehensive expert body ensures that I can bring before the House what I believe is a sound practical document.
There were two major considerations in composing the Code. On the one hand, it must be brief enough to be concise and readable, but on the other hand it must be long enough to be comprehensive and to cover every important point—like the lady's skirt, long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting. It was not at all an easy task. We set out with the intention of cutting it down by one-third, but we were defeated in the end. The new Code is made up of 94 rules, including those in the motorway pamphlet, and this compares with 71 in the existing Code. Allowing for the new motorway rules, we have therefore managed to achieve some shortening, I think without reducing the substance, and I hope that the House will think that we have struck about the right balance. The structure 736 of the Code is the same as before, with the Code first, the signals in the middle, and the law at the end. The addition is the section dealing with the motorways, added as Part 4.
We have also tried to brighten up the appearance of the Code. It has more illustrations in it and more colours. I hope that it has a new look which will commend itself to the House. I must confess that our approach has been the old-fashioned approach of dwelling on the proprieties of the use of the motor car rather than the improprieties, and, although there is some scope for it, we have forborne the use of the modern gimmick of hoping that our publication will be banned, which is the best way to increase the circulation, I hope, nevertheless, that the document will commend itself to the House.
As the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) will know from his previous experience, this is a long and arduous task, and I should like to acknowledge my thanks to the many who have contributed to it. However, the composition of the Code is child's play compared with the problem of putting it over to the road users. That is the 64,000 dollar problem—to put it over to the millions who drive and walk on the roads. The fact is that if everyone observed all the rules in the Code the 300,000 people who were maimed and killed last year would now be walking about unscathed. It is a tantalising thought, and if only we could get everybody to read and observe the rules what a wonderful result we should achieve. But in fact there is no quick means of doing this. It is mainly a matter of soldiering on.
The driving licence renewal form which up to now we have signed annually but will now sign triennially asks whether we have studied the Highway Code. In reply, we all say "Yes". I hope that everybody has, but I rather doubt it. As a matter of interest, I inquired from the Vote Office how many copies of the Highway Code had been issued. I found that 500 had been issued, which I think is a commendable figure, but it does not quite equal the total number of Members in the House of Commons, and I hope that the remaining 130 will obtain their copies.
737 Every driver who wishes to take a driving test must learn the Highway Code and answer questions on it, so that when he actually takes his test one can be sure that when he removes his "L" plates he has a fair knowledge of the Code. The problem is to persuade the driver to go on studying the art of driving so that the knowledge which has been absorbed into his head gradually sinks into his blood; so that when he goes on to the road it is then second nature to him to act on these simple rules when driving his car.
This applies just as much to pedestrians walking on the road. The trouble is that when most of us get behind the wheel of a motor car, 5,000 or 10,000 years slip off our shoulders and we almost go back to the Stone Age again—no quarter given, the weakest to the wall, every man for himself. The fact is that a fairly large number of us would never dream of observing in our everyday lives the standards of behaviour which we observe on the road. We have yet to civilise the use of the motor car generally. Exceptionally this has been achieved, but generally it has not. I am sure that we shall do it eventually. We have managed to civilise most other aspects of our national life, and I am sure that we shall do the same here eventually, but it sometimes is an act of faith in humanity to take part in a campaign when it seems a fairly long shot that there will be a response.
We find that children learn better than adults in this matter. In most schools, head teachers encourage teaching of the use of the road. The police are a great help here. Copies of the Code are given by education authorities to older children, usually at the age of 10 or so. In connection with this, I was interested to hear from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) that a constituent of his wanted copies of the new Code in order to make toys in connection with it. That is admirable. We should get the children to talk about the Code in order to get it into their heads. There are quizzes held in some schools, and the children who take part in them go home and try out the questions on their parents. Usually, it is found that the children know a good deal more about it than the parents. The fact is that as the children grow up, most of them will 738 have a better knowledge of the Code and of the road than the adults do. That is a promise of better things to come.
For the adult community, our plans are to have a campaign in the coming autumn to sell the Code. There will be a free issue, as now, to provisional licence holders and visitors to the country. That amounts to about 1 million copies per annum. We shall continue to sell the Code at 6d. a copy, as now, although its cost is rather more. We wondered whether we should attempt another free issue, but on balance we decided that it was better to continue to sell the Code. Free literature is seldom read and we really want the Code to be read and looked at. At present, we are selling about 400,000 copies of the current Code every year and we shall strive for a big increase.
Our plan is to print sufficient copies for general publication by the autumn, before the London-Birmingham motorway is opened, always subject to the printing strike allowing us to do so. We then intend to follow this initial campaign with a further campaign in 1960, which will be our main road safety campaign for the year, with the broad objective of getting people to read the Code and observe it.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents will be in on this, playing a leading part. I do not doubt that we shall get the help of television. Indeed, we might consider making a new series of our television "shorts" to put over some of the salient points in the Code. As the House knows, we have had great help from television in using our television "shorts," which are put in often at peak viewing times and which are continually showing in attractive cartoon form some of the main lessons of the Code. That will be a great help to us in putting over the new one.
I hope and believe that by these measures, we shall make an effective impact to put over the new Code, I ask right hon. and hon. Members to use their great personal influence wherever they can to support the campaign, and not just this one, but continually to try to get people to have a copy of the Code and to read it. Complete success is unlikely, whatever we do, but we can hope gradually for increasing 739 partial success. The task is a continuing one.
I do not doubt that in five or ten years' time, some successor of mine as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport will be standing here asking the House to approve the next version of the Code. He will be saying many of the same things that I am saying now. I would hope that the accident figures might be a bit better by then than they are now. If they are, it will be due to the work that we are all doing today. There is no party division on this matter. We are all equally concerned in it. It is a matter of continuing to attack the problem by every possible means. The broad field of education and propaganda is only one of them. In the Ministry of Transport, by the building of new roads which are safer, the improvement of old ones, traffic engineering which will bring better movement of traffic and reduce conflicts and enforcement to deal with bad drivers, we are continually striving to make road travel safe and to reduce the terrible toll of accidents that is now with us.
The fact is that although the universal motor car which is with us today has such great potential blessings for every member of the community, there is still doubt as to whether those blessings will mature. So long as 300,000 people are being maimed and injured annually on our roads, we cannot feel satisfied that the blessings of the motor car are maturing. If, however, we could get every one to read the Code and observe it continually, I have no doubt that the great blessings of the motor car can mature for the whole community.
It is in that spirit that I ask the House to approve this new version of the Code, in the hope that it may help to make our roads a safer place and to reduce the present distressing volume of accidents.
§ 11.26 a.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
All sections of the House will commend the way in which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation has put the new Highway Code before it this morning. He has chosen to give us a few general remarks about it and to reserve until later comments about details which hon. Members 740 may put forward in the course of discussion. He was probably wise in doing so. It is, no doubt, a great relief to the hon. Gentleman that on this occasion his Ministry is involved in a matter which is not acutely politically controversial, as recently it has been subject to a great deal of attack and criticism—I think justifiably so—on a number of matters. On this occasion, however, although the Ministry is submitting to the House something on which there may be strong differences of opinion, these are certainly not on a political basis.
No Minister of Transport can hope to put forward a Highway Code without being criticised by a large number of people on a large number of matters on the ground that something should have been included or something else omitted. On this occasion, as before, there have been suggestions and comments in the Press and elsewhere about the inadequacy of the Code.
I can bear testimony myself that the most perfect Highway Code, the one which I put before the House many years ago when I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, can be subjected to the most unreasonable criticism, even in this House. On that occasion, the criticism was not so much about the contents or the provisions of the Code but because hon. Members seemed to think that the wording was not as clear and precise as it ought to be. Indeed, such was the opposition to it on those grounds that at one moment it seemed inevitable that the Code must be withdrawn and submitted again. On this occasion, however, speaking solely for myself, I think that with some exceptions and one or two qualifications, the new Highway Code is a great improvement on the last one. It is a good one, it is clear, precise and readable. I congratulate all those responsible for its preparation, including the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who, I know, is the person mainly responsible.
The hon. Gentleman told us that he had consulted a large number of bodies before the Code was finally drafted and submitted to the House. It is one of the difficulties of the Highway Code that once it comes to the House it cannot be amended in any way. However strong the feeling of Members may be concerning certain points, there is nothing we can do about it. It therefore, is all the 741 more important that in its preliminary form, before it comes to the House, the Code should have the consideration of all those who are interested and who have expert knowledge on the subject.
I do not know who were the 90 people or groups who were consulted. I expect and hope that the trade unions primarily concerned—the Transport and General Workers' Union for example—were consulted. I assume so, but I should like to know. I very much regret, however, that those Members of the House who are specially interested in this matter were not consulted. One of his predecessors, the present Colonial Secretary, before he submitted his draft to the House put a preliminary draft before those of us on both sides of the House who take a special interest in these matters, the transport group on the Conservative, the Government side, of the House and the transport group on the Opposition side of the House. We had certain views which were submitted to him and considered, and some of them were accepted and some were not. It was, surely a wise course to take and my colleagues very much regret, and they have asked me to express their regret on this occasion—it is a regret which I share—that we were not given an opportunity at a preliminary stage to consider the Highway Code so that we could submit our suggestions and criticisms at a time when action could have been taken about them. I think the Minister made a great mistake in not doing this.
As to its form, certainly the Highway Code is more attractive, more legible than in its last edition. It has a number of illustration which do not really add much to clarification. In fact, I do not think they add anything at all, but they certainly enliven the document and make it more pleasant to read.
The one thing which I am rather puzzled about is the cover. This is a personal opinion, but I myself think it is an awful mess. I much prefer the simpler and much more striking cover of the Highway Code which was issued on the last occasion. When one looks at the picture at the top of the cover one asks oneself—at least I immediately asked myself—about the oil tanker whose back wheels appear to have collapsed for no special reason, with no 742 one seeming to take any notice. It is a small detail, but it is something I thought was just worth mentioning. I am sorry that the cover of this document is not more striking or attractive than it is.
I should like to say a word or two about some of the comments which have been made in various quarters about the contents of the Code. There is paragraph 45 about roundabouts. It has been suggested and strongly urged by some authorities that this is wrong. The paragraph says:There are no rights of way in general at roundabouts.I am not prepared to express any opinion about that myself, but I should like to ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary what research has been undertaken into this difficult problem. I do not know, I do not think the layman can know, whether there should be any right of way and whether, as is suggested, the cars which are in the roundabout should have some priority, but there is a vast amount of experience on this subject in other countries and would like to ask whether any study was made of the experience gained in other countries about giving priority in a roundabout before this paragraph 45 was inserted in the Highway Code. If it was not, if no study was made of the available experience, then obviously there should have been. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to answer this question.
Then there has also been a great deal of comment on the omission of the signal, "Come on. Pass me." It has been suggested that it is wrong to omit that signal. My own view is that it is right to omit it and that it really was an anomaly having that signal in the Code, but I very much hope that motorists will not assume from that that they should refrain from giving that signal on proper occasions.
This signal seems to me one of the valuable courtesies of the road which drivers give one another and which can be very helpful. It would be a great pity if we were no longer to have that signal given by a driver to the people in the car behind that the road is clear and that he can pass in safety. However, I must also express the hope that if drivers do continue to give this signal they will do it far mare cautiously than 743 at the moment. If I had accepted all the invitations to pass lorries in front of me during the last ten years I think I would have been killed once a month. These signals are often exceedingly misleading, although given with the best intentions. But it is, of course, the responsibility of the driver of the car behind to decide whether it is safe to pass or not.
As I say, this is one of the courtesies of the road, and I rather disagreed with the Parliamentary Secretary when he suggested that motorists act in uncivilised way in their normal behaviour on the roads. Well, it is a question of degree, but it seems to me that on the whole the behaviour of motorists to one another on the roads nowadays—there are, of course, very many exceptions—is not too bad. I think the little signal "Thank you" when one driver gives way to another, or by pedestrians when they are crossing at a zebra crossing and they say "Thank you" to a driver who has pulled up to enable them to get across, are little courtesies which are common, valuable and welcome and should be kept. My own experience shows that the road courtesy is higher here than in any other country where motoring is on the same scale. I hope it will continue and expand.
There are other provisions which have been subjected to comment. There is the question of the dipped headlights in built-up areas when the lighting is not good. I think that is right, but one is a little frightened at the prospect of having cars at a road junction on a wet night with their headlights on but possibly not properly dipped. It is only the minority of cars whose dipping is really effective. One rather fears there may be quite a bit of dazzle and confusion if all the cars in such condition have their headlights on but "nominally" dipped. I am doubtful about it, but perhaps experience will show whether this provision is a wise one or not.
Obviously very sensible is paragraph 28 in which motorists are told they must not switch from lane to lane except in special circumstances.
I come now to the various hand signals which motorists are told to give. I am 744 really not clear about this. I do not think anybody is. Are these hand signals obligatory or are they not? We are not told. Does it mean that if one gives a hand signal this is how one should give it? Or does it mean—I am referring to page 20—that if one is turning to the right or to the left one must give this hand signal? This should be clarified.
Very few people nowadays give hand signals when they have proper and effective trafficators, especially during the winter or at night, when they do not want to open a window to put their hand out. According to the Highway Code they ought to do so, and if they do not do so they can get into trouble if there is some accident. I suggest that there should be some clarification of this point so that motorists can know whether or not, these hand signals are obligatory.
The sensible thing to my mind is to say that these hand signals must be given by every driver turning to the right or to the left or stopping if he has not got effective trafficators at the side of the car and at the rear; if he has such effective trafficators, I do not think there is any point in these signals at all.
I cannot complain too much about it because it was probably in the Highway Code which I presented to the House many years ago, but a very peculiar signal is the indication to the policeman that the driver wants to turn to the left, in which case he has to use his right hand and hold it across his body. I do not believe any driver ever does or has done that. Has any hon. Member ever seen a driver do it, or has any hon. Member done it himself? If there must be a signal of this sort to give to the policeman to show that one is turning to the left, the obvious thing to do is to put out one's left hand and indicate one's intentions to the policeman in that way.
Paragraph 54 (h) deals with the parking of cars close to a school. There has been considerable controversy on this matter in connection with a certain area in London, about which I have been in correspondence with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, where cars are parked very close to a school and no one seems to have any power to take any effective action to stop this obviously dangerous practice. There is something wrong here, 745 not with the Highway Code, but with the powers which the police and the Ministry have in being unable to stop this most undesirable practice.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary has told us about the distribution of the Code. The plans which he has in mind are wise. If he distributes one million copies a year, with the methods at present prevailing, that is all he can be expected to do. The suggestion has been made that every holder of a driving licence should be given one of these pamphlets. I doubt whether that is desirable or wise. If he is given it he will probably not read it. I would be quite satisfied with the distribution as suggested.
I warn the Joint Parliamentary Secretary again, speaking from personal experience, that one criticism which he will have raised against him will be about the desirability of publishing the Highway Code in Welsh. That arises every time a new Code is printed, and I think that it has been firmly resisted by every Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Mr. Nugent
May I relieve the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety? We have arranged to publish the Code in Welsh this time.
§ Mr. Strauss
I certainly do not complain, but I must say that I resisted the pressure, it may be wrongly. The hon. Gentleman is making an innovation which I am sure all subsequent Parliamentary Secretaries will have to follow.
I want to draw the attention of the House to one provision of the Code and suggest that here the Government are really letting down the motorists and Parliament and doing something by omission which is most serious. I refer to the statement on page 1 of the Code thatLights, brakes, steering and tyres should be frequently checked. Lack of maintenance may lead to an accident.Nothing can bring about more effectively the constant checking by the owner of the car of lights, steering and brakes and so on than the imposition by the Government of the testing scheme which Parliament has authorised under the Road Traffic Act, 1956, and which everyone in the House who was responsible for the passage of that Act, particularly those who were members of the Committee, believed 746 would come into operation within a year or so.
I have raised this matter before, and I want to press the Government again on this point. It is now over three years since the Act was passed. During that time we have had a number of statements by Ministers that they are anxious to implement the Act as quickly as possible. We have been told that there has been some legal hold-up and that there are difficulties. I do not think that there is a Member in the House today who believes that whatever difficulties there may be justify a delay of over three years in imposing a scheme which is likely to save hundreds of lives every year.
We were told last year that the scheme would be in operation by the end of 1958. There was some delay, and in March of this year the Joint Parliamentary Secretary told us that he was confident that the scheme would be in operation by the middle of this summer, and he hoped that it would be earlier. Now we read in the papers that there will be a further delay. A spokesman for the Motor Agents' Association, who may or may not be right—and I should be delighted to hear he is wrong—has said that it seems almost certain that the scheme will not be in operation until the end of the year, if as early as that. He addedEvery day for six weeks we have been promised the regulations and there is still no sign of them.I assume that there is a further delay and that we shall not have the scheme in operation until towards the end of the year at the earliest.
I press this point because it is directly related to the injunction to motorists to keep their cars in good condition. Nothing is more likely to make them keep their cars in good condition than the knowledge that the cars would have to be tested from time to time. But the Government are doing nothing in that direction, and we know that the scheme when in full operation is likely to save between five and ten lives a week and at least prevent serious injury to six or seven times that number of people. The Government have fallen down badly on this and deserve the severest censure. That is the view of many of my colleagues and, I believe, of many hon. Members in all parts of the House.
747 As I have said, the Highway Code itself, with some minor reservations and no doubt criticisms which my hon. Friends and some hon. Members opposite will want to put forward, is a good document which I think will commend itself to the House. I congratulate the Ministry on producing it, but I condemn the Ministry very strongly for refraining from taking action which it could take and which Parliament has asked it to take, which by itself could save hundreds of lives a year and prevent tens of thousands of serious injuries. I hope that when the House has approved the Code, as no doubt it will, the Government will take such action as lies within their power, and which the House wants them to take, to deal with this serious matter. Such action, by itself, will reduce substantially the number of accidents on the roads.
§ 11.48 a.m.
§ Mr. John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington)
I venture to intrude on the debate only because I come from a constituency which is almost wholly concerned with the manufacture of motor cars or of parts that go to their making. It is for that reason that all my con stituents are vitally interested in the traffic on the roads and what is happening today.
I am happy to say that at present and for the last year the motor car industry is and has been having a prosperous time. Output is at a maximum and one-seventh of the country's exports depend upon the motor industry. Home sales are also high. This, however, has led to the number of cars on the roads in this country steadily increasing over the last ten years.
In September, 1949, there were about 3 million cars and goods vehicles on the roads of the United Kingdom. In September, 1958, that figure had doubled. There were then 6 million cars, motor lorries and vans on the roads. This illustrates how important it is that the users of the roads should make the best use of them, and that they should be assisted to do that by an effective Highway Code. The Government are spending between £30 million and £40 million a year on improving the roads. Nevertheless an ever-increasing number of road users are getting on to 748 the roads at the same time. Many people frequently express their anxiety that, with the amount of traffic becoming so excessive, all movement will eventually cease. For that reason, I welcome the new Highway Code as making a contribution towards the better use of the roads by all the people who want to get on them simultaneously.
I should like to add my congratulations with those of the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) to the Minister, to his Committee, to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and to all the persons who have been concerned in drawing up this edition of the Highway Code. I am bound to say that I think it is an excellent, clear and unambiguous document that will give great assistance to all the people who have the responsibility of using or driving upon the roads.
Some of the illustrations I find a little confusing, though by and large they are excellent. I do not see why a tanker should not break down as shown in the illustration on the front, but what I cannot understand is why pedestrians should be crossing a zebra crossing with a red light against them which is superimposed on the illustration. The illustration on page 10 I find very confusing. It looks like a street scene from Chicago, with a sub-machine gun pointing obliquely at an angle from the side of the car. I am not sure whether it is meant to illustrate where the car should pull up, but if so, it does not seem to be the right spot. It may be intended, by the white patch in the centre of the road, to emphasise that if one has a trafficator one should use it. It does not seem to be a very helpful illustration, though I realise the difficulties which the illustrator had in trying to drive home the point he was making.
As for the illustration on page 16, it is, at first glance, difficult to say whether the car shown in the centre is coming towards one or going away from one, but that is not the fault of the illustrator. It only demonstrates the fact that it is now impossible to tell the front side from the back side of a motor vehicle, but that is perhaps by the way.
I welcome very strongly the emphasis which the Code places upon the necessity for keeping a distance between vehicles when people are driving on very 749 crowded roads. I think that, by and large, the lorry drivers of this country are very good in keeping a distance which allows overtaking traffic to infiltrate between them and the lorry in front. I think the private car driver does not give sufficient consideration to the problem in such circumstances when others may be able and willing to over-cake but cannot get into the space in front of the private car. There are two places where that point is made in this Code, but I could wish that in future editions it would be a little more strongly emphasised.
I also welcome very much the emphasis which is placed in the Code upon lane discipline. I think that is very important indeed. The more fast roads, the more wide roads and the more use of motorways which we have the more important it will become for all drivers to realise the vital importance of lane discipline. I also congratulate the Minister on the re-hash and republication of the motorway section, about which the right hon. Member for Vauxhall had no criticisms to make, and which, as far as I can see, is very good indeed. I have no criticism to make of that.
I should, however, like to put forward three matters to which, although no doubt there is no chance of having them put into the Code now, consideration may be given in regard to future editions. I realise that there is always pressure for more and more to be put into the Code, whereas, as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary so righly said, it ought to become shorter and shorter. I regard these points, however, as of considerable importance.
The first point I wish to mention is that there is quite insufficient emphasis laid anywhere in the Code on the real danger of driving by people who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. There are over 4,000 prosecutions in this country each year for such offences, and that means that every day ten people are actually caught by the police and brought to prosecution. We all know that there are thousands of people in addition whom the police never find but who drive their motor cars at times when they are quite unfit to do so. We also know that there are hundreds of accidents in which charges of another nature may be made but in which it is 750 considered that there is insufficient evidence to bring a charge of driving under the influence of drink so as be incapable of having proper control of the motor car. Therefore, while the accident is due to the absorption of alcohol, the charge is one of careless or dangerous driving and the question of alcohol is not investigated.
No one has ever tried to catalogue either the time of day or the day of the week upon which accidents happen.
§ Mr. Hobson
Apart from such figures, I am sure that those who have experience in the courts of motor accidents will realise that alcohol does play a very substantial part indeed in causing accidents and great danger to users of the roads. I hope that nobody will think that I am a teetotaller or a Puritan or that I think that people ought not to drink. I think that the old song is not far wrong:He who drinks small beer and goes to bed sober, lives as he ought to live and dies a damned dull fellow.Nevertheless, however much we may welcome the landlord filling the flowing bowl, I think that people have to realise that one cannot both drink and drive, and that nobody on any occasion needs to do the two.
Personally, I think that this subject is dealt with wholly inadequately in this booklet. All I can find are some rather colourless, anaemic and somewhat ambiguous phrases setting out the mere fact that this is an offence. It states:Alcohol and also certain drugs even in quite small amounts make you less safe on the roads. Be sure you are fit to use them.That sounds as if one should be sure that one is fit to use the drugs or alcohol, which is not, I suppose, the intention.
I should have liked to have seen written in letters of blood into this Highway Code some such phrase as "If you must drink, do not drive. Get someone else to drive, or stay at home or go to the local on your feet." And again, "If you must drive, do not drink until you have got safely home." It is only if public opinion and all drivers of vehicles realise the risks of taking alcohol that this danger can be avoided. The public must realise that the man, however jolly 751 a fellow he may be, who, when under the influence of drink, puts himself behind the steering wheel of a motor car, is committing a wicked, criminal and dangerous piece of folly against all his fellow men.
I am staggered, when I look at the convictions by magistrates in the course of the last year for these offences, to find that 75 per cent. of those persons convicted before magistrates' courts of such offences were subjected to disqualification for a period of only one year or less. I am sure that if the Highway Code emphasises, and if we all emphasise, the importance of stamping out these offences, magistrates may perhaps decide that people who drive when under the influence of drink ought to be struck off the roads for a substantial period. It is only if they do that and if the public generally begin to realise that they must not do the two things together, drinking and driving—either one or the other, but not both—that we shall get rid of the very real dangers that are created by the use of alcohol by people who are about to drive.
My other points I can make quite shortly, because they are not of such importance. I think that one of the great faults of drivers—not so much of lorry drivers as drivers of private cars—is their failure to keep in to the left-hand side of the road as far as they possibly can. We have all too often seen a string of vehicles proceeding down the centre of a road, with nobody able to pass, because the driver of the one in front, immediately behind a lorry, was making no effort to pass or allowing anybody else to overtake him. That procedure takes up road space unnecessarily, it impedes the flow of traffic, it stops overtaking, whereas one frequently finds that by moving into the left of the road one gets a completely clear view of the traffic ahead which one can get from no other position, and could easily get to the head of the queue to the left of the queue except that it is dangerous to do so.
I should like to see at the foot of page 8 of the Code, after paragraph 35, something not only about turning into the appropriate lane but about not staying out in the centre of the road. I should like to see a paragraph to this effect: 752Do not hang about in the centre of the road when making no attempt to overtake. The best place for you and for others is as far to the left of the road as you can get, except when actually overtaking or when about to turn right.My only other point is that nowhere in the Highway Code that I can see is there any warning to road users to make allowances for the errors of others. Of course, it is a matter of experience. I dare say the majority of experienced drivers always do that. Still, it is a great temptation for many drivers to consider that all other users of the road are as efficient as themselves, and to make little allowance for either the difficulties or the errors of others. I should like to see somewhere in the Code an injunction to make allowance for the mistakes of others and to give others an opportunity to correct their mistakes, so that one does not get involved in an accident if an error is made by some other person.
Page 13 contains the only general injunction as a kind of motto for driving. It states:Be patient—Never zigzag.I should like to see:Be sober, never drive when drunk, keep into the left and make full allowance for the errors of others.I know there are many other hon. Members who wish to speak. There are many other minor points that could be made on the Code, but I will not take up any more of the time of the House. I wanted to make these three points and to end by repeating my congratulations to those responsible for producing what is in general terms a very good and a very satisfactory Highway Code.
§ 12.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
The whole House will have listened to the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. John Hobson) with great appreciation. Practically everything he said should find an echo in the hearts of most of us with the exception, perhaps, of the Minister himself. He, very properly in my view, came in for criticism about some things which are in the Code and others which should be in it.
I share with the hon. and learned Gentleman and with my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) their expressions of appreciation 753 to those responsible for the compilation of this document. It is a pity, however, that the debate comes in a way which prevents any amendment of the Code. Although I realise that many minds have gone to the compilation of the document, it would have been well if a debate had been held in this House in public, as are all our debates, so that we might have brought a collective mind to bear on what is therein.
I gather that the answer to my right hon. Friend, who asked the Minister whether the Code was obligatory, is to be found inside its cover, where there is an extract from the Road Traffic Act, 1930, which indicates that, whilst it is not obligatory on users of the road to comply with the Code, nevertheless, if they do not and an accident happens, it can be used in evidence against them. That is a pity. The Code should have more force than that. It may be that future generations, watching the rising toll on the roads, will insist on something more being done in this direction than is at present thought desirable.
It has occurred to one or two of us on this side of the House that it might be a good thing if an obligation were laid upon every motor dealer, when he sells a new or second-hand car, to present a copy of the document to the new owner. It would not cost the dealers very much, 6d. at the most, and it would ensure that a copy went into the hands of everybody who either began to drive a motor car or changed over to another. I throw out that idea to the Minister for consideration, because it would be much cheaper to the State than presenting every motorist with a copy each time a new edition came out, and would fulfil the same purpose.
Much thought and considerable cost has gone into the compilation of this document and we ask ourselves whether it has been worth while. Considering the terrific toll on the roads year by year, one wonders whether the thought that has gone into the Code has had much effect. When we sign the form for our driving licence, if I remember rightly, we have to answer a question as to whether we have studied the Highway Code. All of us say "Yes" to that, because we are never put on oath, but I imagine that many people reply to that effect without really having read the Code, or without 754 remembering what was in it if they have looked at it.
We can do nothing about that, but it makes one wonder what would have been the toll on the roads if the Code had not been issued. I imagine that the toll would have been much in excess of what it is now. Yet it is obvious that the majority of us ignore its provisions: at least so it seems to me, and I gather that it is so from what the Minister said. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall thought that lorry drivers gave signals which they should not. I must say that of all users of the road the lorry driver seems to me to be the most courteous. Almost without exception we find drivers of heavy vehicles well aware of what is around them and what is behind them, and they do everything they can to help other motorists using the road.
The Minister did not mention—I do not know why—the fact that the Code has references to noise and to fumes. The fumes given off by some vehicles and the noise of others are two of the most shocking menaces on the roads today. One often gets behind a heavy vehicle which is emitting vast clouds of dense black smoke that are a danger to everybody as well as a nuisance to pedestrians and motorists alike. There are regulations in existence and I do not know why the police, instead of standing in couples by a motorist who has parked his car for a few minutes in the wrong place, should not pay more attention to this practice.
The noise, of course, is getting worse. Anyone who lives in a residential suburb near where there is a slight rise in the road which causes drivers to change gear, must sometimes be driven almost demented at the constant roar of passing traffic. Motor cyclists in particular are very bad in this respect and the police have powers which they do not seem to use. I suggest to the Minister that something should be done. I know that he can do nothing, but the Home Office, or whoever is responsible, should instruct the police to use the powers they have to gather effect in the interests of the people at large.
I was glad that the hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington spoke about driving under the influence of drink. Looking through the Highway 755 Code, I see that a pedestrian must not be drunk on the highway—that is a provision of the Licensing Act, 1872—but a pedal cyclist must not ride under the influence of drink or drugs, and that applies to the motorist also. Being under the influence of drink is something less than being drunk. This is a very proper provision, because very often the pedestrian is a danger only to himself, whereas anyone in charge of a motor vehicle is a danger not only to himself and any passengers he has but also to other people using the highway.
I hope I am in order in making my next observation, because of some of these regulations or admonitions—I do not know what to call them, because they have not the force of law—deal with the new motorways. I am very sorry indeed that the Minister has allowed table licenses to restaurants on the motorways. The people using restaurants will be travelling at fairly high speeds, and one does not have to be a teetotaler or a Puritan, as the hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington remarked, to realise the great danger involved if people using vehicles on these highways have not their full faculties because they have indulged in strong drink. If they want it, they can have it at home, but if they have it when they are in charge of a motor car they are a danger, both to themselves, and, much more important, to innocent people using the highway. It seems to me to be very wrong of the Minister to allow table licences to restaurants on the new motorways.
Friends sometimes say to me—they mean it with the utmost good will—"Have one for the road?" I believe—and I try to impress this on my family and my friends—that the one thing one ought not to have when driving is "one for the road." It may not be "one for the road"; it may be "one for the road to the cemetery." I wish that in some ways the Minister could bring home to the public at large the obligation which they have to other users of the road and how important it is that when they are driving they should not be in the slightest degree under the influence of drink.
Having said that, I would once more congratulate the Minister on the new Code and express the hope that when another document of the kind is called for 756 he may take into consideration some of the very valid criticisms that have been made so far and which, I have no doubt, will be made before this debate closes.
§ 12.14 p.m.
§ Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)
I should hate to step out of line and not offer my congratulations to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary upon the new Highway Code, for I think he fully deserves them. Having said that, I must agree with what has been said by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall), and express my regrets that the House has had no opportunity to make constructive suggestions which could be put into the final version of the pamphlet.
I consider—I agree with the right hon. Member for Vauxhall—that the drawings in the documents are very dull, dreary and confusing. They have added nothing to the clarity or the gaiety of it, and they certainly have not added what is badly needed—pungency. If there is a general criticism that I should like to make, it is that the document is not at all incisive and has very little bite about it. The subject of road safety badly needs more incisiveness in our approach to it.
I agree profoundly with what my hon. Friend said about good manners on the road. This is particularly so in the holiday season. I have on many occasion discussed the state of the A.30 and the A.303 roads down which seem to travel such a very large percentage of our holiday makers in a desperate and long, dreary, painful pilgrimage to Cornwall. It takes them a long time to get there, and on the way their tempers, not unnaturally, become frayed.
Pending the time when our roads can be made adequate to the volume of traffic, it is important to stress that manners are more at the root of the safety problem on the roads than any other single factor. I have no doubt that if people behaved when they are walking on the pavements with the same bad manners as do persons on the roads there would be a great many breaches of the peace, for people would stop, have a row and hit back. Fortunately, people usually pass each other more quickly in a motor car, and the possibility of reprisals is remote and 757 Limited. Any campaign which fails to stress the need for good manners on the road is not worth the paper on which it is written or the words with which it is spoken.
Here I would except, as has been done on both sides of the House, the longdistance lorry driver, who is surely subject to greater strains than most of the rest of us who use the roads. Yet his manners on the road, by and large, are an example to us all. If lorry drivers were to drive with the same lack of consideration as many private motorists do, the slaughter on our roads would be multiplied many times. Not only do we owe these men a debt of gratitude, but we should set them up as a very good example which many of us could follow with advantage.
I have one or two short, detailed points to make about the Highway Code. I feel rather relieved—I am sure the right hon. Member for Vauxhall will agree with me—that the note inside the cover suggests that Parliament is not responsible for the Code. That is something which we can all welcome.
Paragraph 18 gives this rather laconic instruction:Do not exceed the speed limits.This brings me to a point which I have previously raised and which should be raised again and again, that it is useless to sprinkle our roads with restrictive notices about speed limits if we do not have an honest intention to enforce them and the means to do so. Unless I have entirely misunderstood the position, the speed limit signs are not meant as advice to the motorist. They are mandatory. They are instructions for the driver to keep within the limits laid down. Yet again and again one feels that limits are imposed in unnecessary places and that inadequate measures are taken to enforce them. The result is that the ordinary motorist feels that he has had a thundering bad day and has been very unlucky indeed if he should be caught, because he sees the vast majority of road users getting away with it. day by day.
I want particularly to bring to the notice of my hon. Friend paragraph 22, which says:When following a vehicle on the open road, leave enough space in front of you for an overtaking vehicle.758 That ought to have a page to itself and should not be buried away in the mist of a number of other things. There are few more maddening experiences on the road than to find oneself behind a gloomy little cortege of about a dozen cars which appear to be coupled bumper to bumper or glued together with some magic adhesive. They never part, they go at exactly the same speed, and their loyalty to the crown of the road is something which one can only admire. These little corteges are almost invariably led by the most cautious drivers in the world—people who regard either side of the road as containing hidden perils to be kept away from, and those behind them, in so far as they conscious of their presence, as very great menaces who should be kept there. By any means we like, we have to encourage people who do not wish to drive fast and do not wish to pass others at least not to impede the progress which others can legitimately and safely make so long as the obstacle which they have to pass is not an unduly extended one.
The next point to which I want to refer is the dipping of headlights, which I have always been very surprised has received so little attention. It is a very dangerous practice to drive behind another vehicle at night without dipping the headlights. I hope that my hon. Friend, who has many opportunities of giving these matters a little added publicity, will call the attention of the public to this on every possible occasion.
I am sorry to refer again to the drawings in a rather unfriendly way. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall about his comments on page 21, and this extraordinary use of the right hand going almost but not quite across the line of vision. I am puzzled by the little picture, which appears to be the ghost of a cyclist close to the nearside front wing. Either that is very macabre or the drawing means nothing.
The last point of detail which I make is that we are now going in for a road programme which we hope will produce safer and bigger roads and make speeds possible and compatible with safety.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I looked at that drawing. I think the reason is that a motorist cannot use his left hand—there 759 is no other explanation for it—but a cyclist can.
§ Mr. Peyton
I was not making a deeply serious point. I was rather struck by the ghostly appearance of the cyclist and a little surprised not to see a skull and crossbones there.
My final point is that if we are producing larger roads and making speeds safer it is important that the signs should be large and conspicuous, particularly the direction signs. On page 24 of the Code there is a reproduction of one of the advance direction signs with which we are all familiar. I am certain that it is highly dangerous to have signs which are too small. It would be a substantial contribution to road safety if these signs could be very considerably enlarged.
The problem of road safety and road transport in general is one that is shared by many other countries. I have recently, as have other hon. Members, been on the Continent. I was impressed there by the willingness, indeed the anxiety, of the Germans and Belgians particularly to make use of the experience of others. I do not always feel happy that we in this country are prepared to pocket our pride and make use of this very valuable experience which other countries have. I say this particularly in connection with the motorways and motorway code. The Germans have a very much greater and longer experience of this matter than we have. We should be anxious to avail ourselves of all the experience which they have had and which could so easily be made available to us.
I have nothing more to say about this small document, except to repeat my congratulations to my hon. Friend and to say to him that I hope it will make a substantial and effective contribution to the aim which we all have in mind. I beg him, when he is presenting this Code to the public, to take every opportunity to add, by his own words, the incisiveness which, in my opinion, this document lacks.
§ 12.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)
I am sure the House will agree with the concluding remarks of the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) about the need to learn from the experience of other countries in trying to reduce casualties and to obtain the 760 best possible conditions of safety on our roads. I am sure he realises that the police methods of other countries are often more severe than ours and that the police are given penal powers which can be enforced on the spot when offences are committed. It has been argued that the same principle should apply in this country, but that has not been popularly accepted. I sometimes wonder whether we could not reduce accidents if we were more ruthless in dealing with offenders. Obviously, there are great dangers to the individual in such a course of conduct, and I doubt whether the House would agree to the Government embarking on that line without very considerable thought.
Certainly, discussion of the Highway Code is a matter of supreme importance to everyone, because what happens to us on the overcrowded roads of our country today is one of the gravest domestic problems confronting the country. We have now at least on average thirty vehicles for every road mile. The problem is the very obvious one of how much longer we shall be able to keep moving on many of our roads, certainly those in the cities. As a concomitant to this congestion we are faced with frightful casualties, both deaths and injuries, every day of the year.
It is a sobering thought that the great climacterics in our history which have been decided on the battlefield have resulted in casualties far smaller than occur on our roads every year. The casualties at Poitieres and Cressy represent only two or three months of road casualties. In the Crimea, some 4,000 soldiers were killed or died of wounds, but that is only two-thirds of the annual number of deaths from road casualties. It is true that some 17,000 soldiers died in the Crimea as a result of disease, but that is only three years of road deaths which we have come to accept as almost inevitable and hardly noticed. At the time of the Crimean War the conscience of the whole nation was roused,
One of the astonising features about this problem is that because road casualties are so widespread over the country they have come to be accepted as almost inevitable. Indeed, some people think of them as a hallmark of progress. The Highway Code will be regarded as a useful and good document only in the contribution which it makes 761 to a solution of this problem of the quite appalling carnage on the roads.
I am continually baffled to find that when there is an explosion or when there are deaths on the railways or when we get the kind of air disaster which unfortunately occurred on the borders of my constituency a few months ago, there is widespread concern in the House and in the Press and among the public, and yet day after day we seem to be bemused about the road problem and incapable of making any real effort to deal with it. I do not want to say more on this, except that if one takes the years between 1926 and 1957—leaving out the war years when figures were not recorded or were not recorded with sufficient precision to justify their inclusion—we have now reached a total of 195,000 people killed on the roads of Britain and more than 5½ million injured, a far greater number of casualties than were suffered by Army and civilians in two world wars.
That is the magnitude of the problem which we have to face and to a solution to which we hope the Highway Code will make some contribution. It is a frightening and frightful problem when one considers that the number of motor vehicles has already grown not to 6 million, as was said by an hon. Member opposite, but to more than 7 million. In recent years there has been an annual expansion of about 8 per cent. The forecast is that within the next ten years we may have anything up to 14 million vehicles on the roads. I do not think that forecast is fantastic. Three experts writing in the Westminster Bank Review in May, 1953, said that by 1965 we should have more than 6 million vehicles. That forecast was passed within two years, and it is the possibility of 14 million vehicles on the roads in the next ten years which provides the context in which we have to think of this document and the road problem and the policy of the Ministry of Transport.
The most graphic and useful part of the Highway Code appears on the back. In a dramatic way attention is drawn to the speed element which, I believe, to be a major factor in road accidents. Indeed, one has only to state that to realise that it must be the case. If vehicles were not going so fast they could stop, the pedestrian could jump out of the way, or 762 the cyclist could swerve, thus avoiding a collision. The distance it takes while thinking and braking as recorded on the back of the booklet are of vital information and should have all the emphasis which the Ministry can give via the radio, the Press and in other ways. It would bring home to many people who do not have an idea about it that excessive speed of a vehicle can so easily turn it into a lethal instrument.
Even at 20 m.p.h. one travels 20 ft. before one's foot is able to operate the brake and then, if one's brakes are absolutely perfect and it is a fine day, it will take one another 20 ft. to pull up. Thus there is a stopping distance of 40 ft. at 20 m.p.h. At 40 m.p.h. the stopping time is not doubled but trebled. The distance becomes 120 ft. Therefore, the motorist at the slower speed has time to manoeuvre himself and also gives time to people to get out of his way. The times given are 40 ft. overall stopping distance at 20 m.p.h., 75 ft. at 30 m.p.h., 120 ft. at 40 m.p.h., 175 ft. at 50 m.p.h. and 180 ft. at 60 m.p.h., which is now a far more common speed than it used to be on derestricted and sometimes even on restricted roads. Thus one runs very great risks when one is travelling at 60 m.p.h. on roads where there is likely to be any other traffic.
All these times and distances presuppose a good driver, a dry day and brakes in perfect conditions. There is a salutary note at the bottom of this page to say that vehicles other than private cars or small vans may need twice the distance and that all other vehicles should allow twice the margin for speed on wet roads. From that one can begin to appreciate the importance of speed in accidents. I strongly commend these diagrams and figures. I hope that everyone with a sense of responsibility about accidents will use them to ensure that more and more people become conscious of the significance of speed.
If anything, the figures are slightly misleading in that one has to assume factors which will not operate in almost all cases. We know that not all drivers are good drivers, and we certainly cannot assume that all brakes are good brakes. After very little wear, braking systems begin to lose some efficiency.
763 The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) wrote an interesting article in the Pedestrian on this subject some years ago. I am grateful to him for the research which he undertook in connection with that article. He pointed out that police tests showed that, of 1,000 cars picked at random, at 30 m.p.h. the average car took 105 ft. to stop, not 75 ft., and some took 130 ft. The police and the Road Research Laboratory showed that at 30 m.p.h. the average driver should allow a stopping distance of 87 ft. for private cars, 116 ft. for unloaded commercial vehicles and 138 ft. for loaded vehicles. The figures which appear on the back of the booklet are misleading in the degree to which they assume the very best factors and conditions. From that and much other evidence, it is clear that additional times and additional distances should be allowed.
I hope that every possible means will be used to drive these figures home. I have spoken about driving and road problems to many people, and it is clear that few have any idea of how long it takes them to stop. With these figures, they would be able to appreciate the importance of speed in accidents.
I hope that the Ministry's own programme and attitude in connection with roads will keep that factor very much to the fore. In my constituency, there is the problem of the Bath Road running by London Airport. Near to the borders of my constituency there is a 40 m.p.h. speed limit, but as soon as vehicles pass out of that limit into Hayes and Harlington the road is derestricted.
I know the Parliamentary Secretary is not unsympathetic to the case I have put about the Bath Road. There is considerable danger on this road due to fast speeds. The bollards have been knocked down on a number of occasions and have had to be repaired or replaced. In addition, motorists going along part of the Bath Road pass London Airport and there is considerable attraction when one hears the noise of an aeroplane to take one's eyes off the road and see what is happening. If a jet is landing and making a tremendous noise one almost automatically takes one's eyes off the road. If the speed were kept to 40 miles per hour on that sector of the road it would make a considerable contribution to road safety.
764 I have made this case before, and I take the opportunity again to point out that it is not much use calling attention to the number of deaths caused by speeding if there is no restriction on speed on a portion of the road which has hazards.
There are only two other specific matters. One is parking near schools. It seems to me to make complete nonsense of all that children are taught in schools about kerb-side drill if when they come out of school they cannot see the kerb or the traffic. There has been a great deal of difficulty in Westminster in this connection. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will take such steps as are open to him, or get additional powers, to see that the entrances to schools are kept clear.
The other matter which seems to be an omission is the question of the young driver. Young boys, and I suppose girls, can get a road licence to drive vehicles and motorcycles which are manufactured to go at fantastic speeds. From time to time it is my unfortunate duty to attend inquests where young people have been involved, sometimes the son of a trade unionist.
Not long ago I went to an inquest on an accident that occurred on the Farningham Road. The evidence from independent witnesses was that even at the roundabout the speed of the rider was nearly 80 miles per hour. There happened to be police witnesses and their evidence was that on the straight the speed was over 100 miles per hour. The coroner remarked how extraordinary it was that manufacturers allowed vehicles of this kind which have speeds of 140 miles per hour to be made.
Even if one were a skilled and trained racing driver it would be highly dangerous for anyone to ride on the roads in the condition that they are today; yet young people under 20 years of age can buy these machines and ride them. If one is on this road one sees these motor-cyclists riding at very dangerous speeds and going towards Maidstone. If the Minister does not think that some prohibition should be put on the speeds of the machines that young people can buy and ride, surely some warning should have been included in the Highway Code. We have to assume that the older driver knows what 765 he is doing, but we know that the younger driver has had no experience. In an emergency he either panics, or, because of the speed, can do nothing to save his life and the lives of others. I hope that in future editions something will be said about this grave matter. We ought to warn the young.
On the whole, this is a well-produced and attractive booklet. I am sure that there are some paragraphs that might have been altered and I think that the figures to which I have referred should have been put in the front and not the back of the booklet because they might be missed by some people. I think the booklet is a good one and I hope that it will have some effect in reducing the appalling casualties which somehow or other we have come to accept.
§ 12.45 p.m.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)
I know that many hon. Members wish to take part in this debate, so perhaps I may be forgiven if I keep my remarks brief.
I should like to begin by congratulating my hon. Friend and his Department on what I think is generally agreed to be an improvement on the last edition of the Highway Code. Having said that, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) who regretted that Parliament was not given an opportunity, either in informal Committees or in some other way, of discussing what should or should not be in the new Code, or seeing the draft. I do not know whether it will be possible to have two debates before the next edition of the Highway Code is published. I am no expert in Parliamentary procedure, but would it not be possible to have a debate on a Motion that it is expedient to issue a new Highway Code? In such a debate Members could give their ideas, and there could subsequently be a debate, such as we are now having, on the printed version.
My feeling is that there might with advantage have been greater deviations from the old edition than there have been. The first point is the extract from the Road Traffic Act, 1930, which appears on the inside cover. It opens with the words:A failure on the part of any person to observe any provision of the highway code"—766 and I emphasise the word "any"shall not of itself render that person liable to criminal proceedings of any kind…Surely that is incorrect. As I understand it, there are a number of extracts from Acts of Parliament interspersed in these rules. If I drive on the right-hand side of the road instead of the left I am sure I shall be prosecuted, and I do not believe that it will be accepted as a defence that although rule 17 of the Code tells one to keep to the left there is this statement at the beginning that one is not liable to criminal proceedings if one deviates.
A number of these rules are taken from Acts of Parliament. If it can be done lawfully, it may be permissible when the next impression of this Code comes out to put an asterisk against those rules which are laws as well. I do not know whether we should be going outside the approval that this House gives in making that small modification, but it is misleading to have rules which are advisory and rules which are mandatory mixed up without any indication of which is which.
The next point has already been mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. John Hobson). I agree with the warning about alcohol in the list of "Remembers" on the inside of the front cover, but if it is to come there at all it should go in front of the others and be printed in red, in capitals, and be couched in far more threatening and mandatory terms.
Some mention of smoking when driving should be made in the list of "Remembers". I do not for a moment suggest that smoking should be made unlawful, but I think it is a matter of common knowledge that some people, especially when they are not experienced drivers, find smoking, particularly pipe smoking with all the paraphernalia of reaching for matches, very distracting.
I have said this before in the House. As a motorcyclist one has to be very careful before one overtakes a man driving a car while smoking a pipe because if the driver has his matches in his left-hand pocket he nearly always wanders to the centre of the road each time he reaches into his pocket to get them. The dreadful thing is that after 767 wards he tells the coroner that the motorcyclist misjudged the traffic gap. That is not the reason at all. I should like to see a "Remember" added to the list of "Remembers" that people should not smoke while driving unless they are sufficiently experienced to be able to control a car almost by second nature, like the drivers of taxicabs or lorries.
Rule 17 tells drivers to keep to the left. To my mind, it is a mistake to assume that all these rules are of equal importance. My view is that Rule 17 is of dominating importance on our roads. People should not only keep to the left, but should keep well to the left and close to the left the whole time. It is not sufficient to say, "Do not hug the crown of the road." Many roads are so wide that it is safe for three or even four cars to pass simultaneously, provided the slow driver keeps well to the left. The point has already been made and I shall not labour it, except to say that we might well have Rule 17 printed at the top of each page, because to my mind it is the basic law of the whole of our road traffic legislation.
Rules 28 and 30, dealing with lane discipline, are admirable, as everybody knows. They are particularly important nowadays in big cities, where drivers should get into particular lanes if they intend, for example, to turn left or keep straight on. One of the biggest causes of congestion is when people get into the wrong lane and still persist in going the way they originally intended. A corollary to these rules, however, is that the lanes should be adequately marked and should be observed by all.
In London, a lot of these lanes are rendered nugatory by the fact that buses are obliged by the location of bus stops to get into the wrong lane. I believe that the amount of congestion, particularly on the roads around Hyde Park, caused by this one factor is far greater than is commonly realised. I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will take the opportunity of the issue of the new Code to consider the possibility of making it absolutely clear, first, that the lanes are properly marked and, secondly, that there is no important category of road user who for one reason or another is unable to comply.
768 Rule 29, which tells people not to "jump the queue" when traffic starts to move, is admirable. Here again, a corollary which might be worth including in future versions of the Code is that people in big traffic blocks must keep on the alert and be ready to move off promptly when the traffic moves forward. The main reason for jumping the queue is because the driver in front appears to be asleep. When the light changes to green, the driver behind sees the possibility of its turning red again before he can move off unless he gets round the car in front. These two aspects should be considered in conjunction.
Rule 36, which is an extremely important one, gives cautions about what not to do when overtaking. If properly drawn up and observed, it would eliminate a large number of accidents. It is, however, drawn up in too sweeping terms. It is a mistake to have rules which obviously will not be literally observed. We are told, for example, that a driver should not overtake when approaching a pedestrian crossing. There are, however, places where, to take an extreme and ludicrous example—Putney High Street—a driver is always approaching a pedestrian crossing, because there is one every few yards the whole way. Is it seriously intended that the motorist who gets behind, say, a horse-drawn vehicle should not overtake for the entire length of that section of road? Of course not. Some slight qualifying term should have been included. By being too precise, the force of the order is destroyed. The same observations apply to not overtaking when approaching road junctions. Is this rule, too, intended to apply to great cities? If so, it would be simpler to say that there should be no overtaking whatever in cities, because one is always approaching a road junction.
Rules 41 and 43 are admirable. They are, I understand, an innovation, but I doubt whether they will be understood by a large number of people who use the roads. Possibly, however, I am wrong. I hope that my hon. Friend will ensure that his examiners make certain that people who are tested understand the significance of these rules. I am not sure that everybody will understand them fully.
769 I share the mixed feelings of one or two hon. Members who have spoken concerning the advice that motorists should drive with their headlights on if the lighting in the city is not good. As has been pointed out, many headlights do not dip properly. Even if they do, they can be dazzling in wet weather. I have no positive suggestion to make for eliminating this rule, except by improving the lighting. This is an inevitable corollary of allowing people to drive at night who have no night vision. I hope that my hon. Friend will look into this. The man who drives without night vision is just as dangerous in the dark with his headlights on as he is with them off. I do not believe that we shall ever eliminate a certain category of accident which occurs at night until we adopt the Air Force procedure of making pilots have a special check before they were allowed to fly in the dark.
I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend indicate that he was beginning to doubt the necessity of hand signals, or, at least, that he accepted that they were diminishing in importance. My feeling is that hand signals are to be deprecated. There are few people who, like the severe young man in the illustrations, give them clearly and precisely. The majority of people gesticulate at other drivers and can be irritating. Indeed, one feels an almost overwhelming temptation to lean out and hit the hand that is waving the whole time and to ask such a driver to drive his own car and leave others alone.
There was a Question in the House only two days ago on the possibility of making properly-designed traffic indicators mandatory and standardising them. I hope that this will be done. Hand signals should disappear. Instead, we should have properly-designed traffic indicators, as most cars already have, which should be required by law to be fitted. They should be reasonably standard. We need more than the simple brake lights and the turn-left and turn-right lights. I will not waste time now, because other hon. Members wish to speak, but I could give my hon. Friend a list of the additional signals which could be made quite easily in some automatic device to indicate all the various things that a driver needs to indicate concerning his intentions.
770 My last point relates to the use of the horn or hooter. There is no reference to it—as far as I know, there never has been—in the Code. I regard it as a regrettable omission. Indeed reading through the Code, one might think that it was no longer necessary to have a horn or hooter. At the end of the Code, among the list of legal requirements, we find in small print that it is still the law that the horn must be in proper working order.
There is, it seems, a great tendency nowadays among driving instructors and examiners to discourage people from the use of the horn to an extent that is dangerous. This is by no means new. When I was serving in the Navy, official drivers appeared to have been told that the horn made a rather rude noise and must never be used. The result of that was two-fold. First of all, the driver often ran appalling risks in overtaking, because of his reluctance to make sure that the driver or the pedestrian or the cyclist ahead was aware of his presence. Secondly, it produces in the mind of those people who do not like using a horn a childish resentment when someone else hoots at them.
I suggest that there ought to be some advice in the Highway Code on the subject. I cannot understand why it has never contained any advice on the use of hooters and horns. If one reads the proceedings at an inquest on a police court, following an accident, one sees that the first question often put to the driver is, "Did you give audible warning of your approach?"
I suggest that the rule is simple. You should always sound the horn if you are in the slightest doubt whether the person who cannot see you, or whom you are about to overtake, knows that you are there. It is better to be sure than sorry. When driving along a main road and seeing a vehicle coming fast along a side, minor road, I always sound my horn. There is a tendency among the more dashing drivers to roar up to the stop line on the road and to stop suddenly. One is not quite certain that he will, in fact, stop. It seems to me that this is a case for sounding the horn. The fact that the other driver looks at me with an aggrieved expression, like that of a wounded dog, as I pass, does not worry me in the slightest. I am sure that it is safer to sound the hooter.
771 Equally, I think that we should lay down in the next edition of the Highway Code that the horn should never be sounded as an indication of irritation. That is often done at the moment. A man may not like it when the man who is better driver passes when he himself has missed the opportunity to do so, but nothing is gained by hooting as he goes by to indicate displeasure.
In spite of these criticisms, I recognise, and I am sure that the whole House recognises, that this edition of the Highway Code is a considerable improvement on the last.
§ 1.2 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)
I agree with much which was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett), although I disagree with what he said about headlights. I think that it is wrong for drivers, when they enter what is supposed to be a lighted area, immediately to switch off their headlights and to drive through what are tiny pools of light, under bad lighting, with large areas of blackness in between. Often we see drivers switch off their lights in those circumstances. I am sure that it is not possible for them to pick out a man crossing the road. Men are much more difficult to pick out than women in these circumstances. Women are very much easier to pick out for the simple reason that they wear white or flesh-coloured stockings, which show up in the dark, whereas men are spots of blackness in black surroundings.
I believe that it is a good idea that the Highway Code should advise drivers to keep their dipped headlights on. It is a very great improvement. Although I have my headlights checked for alignment, I often find in these supposedly lighted areas that when I have my dipped headlights on, approaching vehicles flash their headlights at me in some annoyance at the fact that I am showing consideration for the man or woman who may be crossing the road in the areas of blackness which are inevitable in bad street lighting. I support the Code in this respect and disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and others who have suggested that this is a new and wrong departure. In my opinion it is the right thing to do in the circumstances.
772 On the other hand, I entirely agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East, in his remarks about alcohol. Nothing worries me more than driving, as I often have to do, at a time of night when people are coming out of public houses. Everywhere in these days outside public houses we find car parks full of cars from about 6 p.m. until throwing-out time. I am positive that very many of those who have been in a public house for this length of time are unfit, when they come out, to drive a vehicle which, as we all say, is a lethal weapon.
What has particularly worried me is that I have never yet seen police officers standing outside public houses at closing time watching those who leave the public houses and climb into their vehicles. I believe that if they did so it would be a deterrent. I am a member of a bench, and I have never known anyone brought before the bench on a charge of being under the influence of drink while driving who had not committed a driving error as a result of being under the influence of drink. It is only when he has done something wrong that he is found to be under the influence of drink. That has never been discovered as a result of a check when the driver was entering the vehicle on leaving the public house.
I recognise that this is a matter not for the Highway Code but for the police authorities, but I think that it would be a deterrent if occasionally the police stood outside these public houses, where cars are massed, checked on people getting into the cars and warned them of some of the consequences of driving when under the influence of drink.
I support my right hon. Friend in what he said about the maintenance of cars and particularly the maintenance of brakes. We know that it is intended that there shall be a check on these things after a vehicle has been on the road for a number of years. I had an experience of this which I must admit frightened me. Last year I took delivery of a brand new car from one of the big motor firms in this country. After driving this car for a considerable distance I became aware of the fact that it was not braking very well; it tended to be a little out of control when I had to brake a little harshly. On jacking it up and trying the wheels I found that on one of the wheels 773 of this vehicle, which had very recently left the manufacturer, the brakes were binding severely. Not only had I been wasting petrol in driving against the brakes but my brakes had been in a shockingly bad condition and had not enabled me to brake on the road with a reasonable degree of safety. That was a result of failure by the manufacturer.
None of the suggestions which we are considering for checking cars and their maintenance would have met that difficulty. As an owner, perhaps I ought to have been a little more careful in taking delivery of the vehicle to ascertain that the manufacturer had ensured that his vehicle was put on the road in good condition. The manufacturer himself was remiss in permitting the vehicle to leave his factory in the condition in which it was delivered to me.
I am not sure whether the Highway Code is the right place to deal with the next point which I wish to make. I am becoming more and more frightened of the amateur teacher of the learner driver, particularly having regard to the fact that when a person decides to teach his friend to drive he does it in a vehicle quite un-suited for the purpose. The vehicle lacks dual control. Often it is a case of a bad amateur teaching another amateur. The latter might manage to pass his test, but he has not had a proper grounding in the art of driving. This is a difficult problem. I know that we all want to retain the right to teach our friends to drive, but it is a question of teaching a man to handle something which is always a potential source of danger.
I have learned to drive within the last ten years, and I am grateful for the fact that I was taught by a man who thoroughly understood his job, as a result of which the groundwork of his teaching was absolutely right. The car had dual control in case I made a mistake, and that would not be the case if I attempted to teach someone in my car today. There would be no dual control. The handbrake would be so placed that it would be extremely difficult for me to operate it, and if I attempted it I should be a danger to other road users. I should not be teaching the learner driver as he ought to be taught.
My final point concerns the Code itself. There has been a lot of praise of the illustrations, but I must say that I find 774 the illustration on page 20 with the words, "I intend to pull in or turn to my left", shockingly bad. Looking at the hand that is sticking out, I cannot tell whether the driver is going to bowl an underhand or an overhand. I cannot tell what his movement is going to be. When I first saw the illustration I thought "This is surely a reversal of the old method of signalling." It looked as though it might be mistaken for a "calling on" signal. It is, in fact, a very bad illustration, especially when one compares it with the illustration in the old Code which could not possibly be misunderstood. It is clear. One could make no mistake at all about that illustration, but one could make all the mistakes in the world about the illustration on page 20 of the present Code. I appeal to the Minister that in any further impressions of the present Code this illustration should be changed back to the one that is in the old Highway Code.
These are simple points, and I am bound to end, as most other hon. Members have ended, by welcoming in general this Code and by expressing the hope that it will have the desired effect on road users.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Rawlinson (Epsom)
I listened with great interest to the comments of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), and I am glad to gather from what he has said that he is a constant motor car driver.
I must confess that, reading in the correspondence columns of The Times or reading the debates in another place, I get the impression that most of those persons who raise the subject of driving and bad driving are gentlemen who enjoy the luxury of being driven by chauffeurs or who are back-seat drivers and do not, like so many of us, have to spend a great deal of their time driving motor cars. Having a constituency near London, and practising in the courts in London, I spend a great deal of my time driving a motor car.
As the House well knows, the courts have held that momentary inattention can amount to dangerous driving, and there, but for the grace of God, go all of us. The toll of death and injury on the roads is a matter which concerns 775 every member of this State and, of course, of this House. No one can but feel desperately anxious about the number of people who suffer death and injury daily. Nevertheless, I do not think it is surprising, and I think it is certain to continue. I believe it is certain to continue, because there has been a misapplication of the criminal law and a totally wrong approach to the whole problem of driving and dangerous driving.
I was glad to see the other day that Mr. Justice Stable said that all drivers are not bad men. Of course, they can be, but in general they are not. But we are all liable daily to commit criminal offences which can result in severe consequences—much more severe consequences in certain circumstances than many other criminal offences. There is, however, in the vast majority of them, that absence of what is called in law mens rea, or the intent, which puts this category of technical criminal offence into an entirely different class.
There has to be in all common law offences mens rea, that is, the intent to commit the crime. There is the presumption in statutory offences that there should be this intent. But dangerous driving is in law the kind of driving which a bystander would see and would say "That is dangerous driving." It is very simple and very easy for anybody to be guilty of that offence. Nevertheless, public opinion will not accept that traffic criminals are the same as or similar to criminals who commit other types of offences.
I am irresistibly reminded of the debates on the Homicide Bill in 1957 when Members were clamouring to speak and the House was full of Members thronging through the doors and coming to the Bar in order to listen to the debates, all concerned with that other type of criminal offence involving the fate of perhaps six, seven or eight criminals a year. Here we are debating a matter where the lives of thousands of people are concerned. I need not comment on the fact that this debate is being held on a Friday when there is not a very large attendance of Members.
Generally it is accepted by citizens and Members of the House that there is that element of chance that may make 776 a person a traffic criminal, and we should divorce from a traffic offence the consequences of that offence, for except perhaps in the case of driving under the influence of drink, no traffic offence carries with it any real stigma. I do not believe in the haranguing of magistrates through the columns of the Press or elsewhere telling them to be more stern. I do not believe that fining and imprisonment are the right penalties. They are the wrong penalties and constitute a wrong approach to the problem.
The emphasis should be on education and training. That is why this present Code is so valuable. It is too easy to be permitted to drive. I personally took the test in 1936. Many people in this country have taken no test at all, and I believe that the test should be compulsory after driving for a number of years. If my right hon. Friend wants the Code to be read, he should bring in regulations concerning tests and re-tests which ensure that people must read it, and should ensure that it is issued with new licences and renewals. People should have to pay for it, so that they get a copy of it when they renew their licences.
There are, of course, various minor criticisms of the detail of the Code, but I do not think it is particularly profitable to mention them. But I am concerned to see that on page 30 it sets out what one should not do. It refers to those parts of the Road Traffic Act detailing the offences which are committed if one drives recklessly or without due care and attention. I believe there should be certain deterrents. I do not agree that prison, except for very deliberate and wanton cases, is ever the right penalty, but there should be a greater period of suspension. There should be a greater use of suspension, and after a period of suspension there should be a compulsory test and a compulsory examination based on the Code.
If we want the Code to be read and understood, not only should there be personal suspension but there ought to be disqualification of the vehicle itself in which the offence was committed. That would be perfectly practicable. The police could label and seal that vehicle. If a person were suspended from driving for three months, the 777 vehicle in which the offence was committed should be disqualified from being used on the road for three months, and before that person could regain his licence and drive again and before that vehicle could go on the road again there should be compulsory attendance at a centre where that person should be given compulsory instruction in driving.
§ Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
Would not my hon. and learned Friend agree that such a ban would be rather hard on some other member of the same family who had not committed any offence?
§ Mr. Rawlinson
It would be hard, but the whole object of punishment for these offences should be to make it harder to drive again. It should be harder for people who have committed offences to drive because they have shown themselves, not to be bad criminals, but to be unsafe on the roads. There should be a combination of consequences to prevent such people who are unsafe on the road from driving, including the real deterrent which such a ban would be. I accept that it would be a hardship, but I regard it as the only way to deal with this problem; people must understand that if they exceed the speed limit or drive dangerously, taking a calculated risk, they must suffer the consequences. Incidentally, I believe that the offence of dangerous driving should be dropped altogether and the offence should be reckless driving, to carry the penalties under Section 11 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930.
On page 29 of the Code, there are references to what should be done to ensure that a vehicle is safe, and it is saidthe condition of your vehicle and of any trailer it may be drawingmust be such thatno danger is likely to be caused.…If my hon. Friend wishes to make this effective, why does he not make regulations requiring that no insurance certificate shall be granted unless the insurance company has produced to it a certificate of inspection by some garage which has recently examined the vehicle? Unless these matters are taken very much further, these parts of the Highway Code will have very little use indeed.
778 I appreciate that what I suggest would cost money. We shall not reduce the toll of deaths unless we spend money. We shall not get anything on the cheap. There is no short cut. Anyone who has witnessed or who has taken part in trials of motoring offences realises that they are most unsatisfactory trials. At assizes, there is a constant stream of civil cases—so-called running-down actions—brought to discover liability and who is responsible for accidents, and there are the cases before magistrates involving careless driving.
Anyone who knows about these trials realises that the cases turn upon what is almost laughably called the evidence of the "independent witness" or bystander. The independent witnesses or bystanders give totally different versions of what actually happened. An accident usually takes place in a split second or two, and the witnesses usually give entirely contrary views about who was responsible for what, sometimes even saying that the vehicles were travelling at speeds which are utterly impossible. Generally, I take the view that the criminal law as applied to this kind of traffic offence is in a very unsatisfactory state.
To repeat what I said at the beginning, I believe that there should be more education and more training. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend speak about the training that is being given in schools. We are a bad race of drivers compared with most people overseas. The younger drivers are better than the older drivers, I think, and that is because the older drivers have never taken the test. There should be a different approach. If my hon. Friend wants to have the Highway Code read, appreciated and understood, he should make it much harder for a person to drive on the road unless he has had sufficient training and teaching to ensure that he is safe to do so.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
I would not openly accept the statement of he hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Mr. Rawlinson) that we are a race of bad drivers. Having driven in France and in the United States of America, I am willing to make the generalisation that the average British driver is as good as any I know in the world. I have driven on the French roads and on the 779 large American roads, sometimes, I thought, at my own peril, astonished at the way some of the gigantic cars there were being driven. Those enormous cars are too powerful by half. Moreover, they are too low down for anyone to get in comfortably unless he is a dwarf. They are, indeed, so powerful that no human being, unless he is an expert racing driver, can have proper control of them.
I have been driving for more years than I care to remember. I have had a licence since I was about 20 years of age. Much of the trouble today is caused by people having powerful cars put in their hands too soon after they have learned to drive. When a person is in a car with such vast power—after all, a beautiful car is a poem in machinery—there is a great temptation to "open up", which the best of us feel at times when we have the opportunity to sense that type of thrill. It needs a great deal of discipline even in the best of people to control that temptation. Nevertheless, I do not denigrate the general standard of British driving. It would, perhaps, be wrong for me to mention any more countries by name.
I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman when he says that this debate should not have been held on a Friday. We know why it is that, on a Friday, many hon. Members who have duties in their constituencies are not here to help to fill the Chamber. But this does not mean that each Member of the House, even those absent at this moment, is not just as concerned about the subject as we are. The whole House is very much concerned at the appalling toll of death on the roads. As many people are killed in a year as were killed in winning, let us say, the Crimean War, if one can call that a win. We must not shrug our shoulders about it.
I join in congratulating the Minister. It is easy for us to make criticisms of diagrams, and it is easy to make criticisms of some of the things which are in the new Code. An excellent point was made by one hon. Gentleman opposite when he said that if, in future, we have a reprint of the Code, the House should have the opportunity for a full debate first, so that the Minister and his officials will be able to go through 780 what is said and see whether, out of about five or six hours of discussion, some really constructive points to improve the standard of driving and lessen the chances of death on the road are made. The next time that the Minister of Transport, of any Government, intends to revise or re-issue the Code, this should be done.
I will not reiterate what has been said already, and there is no need for me to make a long speech. I will try to summarise the points I have in mind. There is a deterioration in driving all over the world. Recently, I was in the Philippines a place which one might be inclined to think is far-away country, perhaps even a backward country in the view of some people. In Manila there are probably more cars to every 500 yards of road than there are here, but the standard of driving, the vulgarity of sounding horns, the effort to overtake, and so forth, is really appalling. I cannot understand the modern urge to get quickly from place to place. It has lowered the gentlemanly standards of driving which were known in days of the horse and cart and horse cab. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Epsom that much more should be done. A lot is already done in our school, but somehow more attention should be paid to the matter in our schools.
The standard of road engineering is not uniform all over Britain. I am certain that there are Members of the House and members of the public who have driven all over Britain and who have heard it said—1 had better not give any names—"If you are going to such-and-such a county, the roads are terrible there," or, "In the name of heaven, avoid such-and-such a town because the roads are terrible there." There is today a responsibility on road engineers to see that the standard of road construction is high. In my constituency, some years ago, a taxi driver lost his life. It may have been—I must not say that it was—due to the fact that the road was being taken up at night and there was carelessness about the number of red lights put round an open ditch which was left in the road late on a winter's night. There should be much more clarity in night signs put around road works. This applies not so much to our main roads, where 781 conditions are fairly good, but to some of our country roads and class B roads.
Let me say a few words about children's crossings. I do not want to denigrate old age, but there is a tendency to believe that old-age pensioners should be put in charge of children's school pedestrian crossings. I often wonder whether it is wise, because of the speed of reaction of some of the older people who have control of children's crossings. I have in mind one dear old gentleman in control of traffic at a children's crossing who sometimes hesitates to move out into the road with his board, sometimes starts off and then goes back, and ultimately makes a dash to the centre. This upsets lines of traffic on both sides of the road. Consideration should be given to the question whether we are always wise to pick old-age pensioners to control traffic crossings which lead directly to school gates.
There is a tendency to say that if policemen would attend more to crimes of burglary and murder and not deal so much with motoring offences we should probably have less crime. I am not so sure about this. Each one of us in Great Britain has grown up to respect the uniform. Each one of us, whether a Member of Parliament or not, respects the uniform of the humblest police constable. We want that respect to grow. Much of it has been lost, not because of the police constable but because of the terrible problem all over Britain of lack of parking space when our wives are doing their shopping. There is a tendency for each person who owns a motor car to feel, without appearing in the courts, that he is a criminal because there is a lack of parking space. Heaven knows what will happen in the next generation, but it is obvious that in the next town and country planning legislation there must be more provision for parking space. I think that that would increase indirectly the courtesy of drivers.
I should like to mention another point. Not very long ago, in Bournemouth, I drove through a red traffic light. I think I am a very careful driver, but I went clean through the red light. Had a policeman seen me or had there been an accident, probably nobody would have believed me, but I went through it because the light was completely hidden by the leaves of a tree. In addition, 782 because of a mass of neon signs down the road I could not see the traffic signal as I was coming up to it. This is one of the problems of the advertising age. In addition to the road signs and traffic signals, all the time there are distracting the night or evening driver neon signs and shops signs in towns which often have caused minor and, perhaps, major accidents.
Pedestrians have a certain responsibility in this matter. Most pedestrians nowadays, in this affluent Galbraithian society, which is increasing throughout the world, thank Heaven, have a car or some kind of vehicle. I think that pedestrians must realise that they have as much responsibility as the motorists, especially in towns.
I should like to refer to the question of stopping speeds, about which one of my hon. Friends spoke. I do not know what it would cost, but if a campaign throughout Britain would save one life and bring home to the motorist, who may not have a mathematical mind, what braking distance means, I am sure that it would be of value. A person should realise that at 60 miles per hour the braking distance is 240 ft. before a person can stop his car, whereas at 20 miles per hour it is 40 ft. I think that it would be worth while to spend money on an advertising campaign about braking speeds and how long it takes for a vehicle to stop dead.
The last page of the Highway Code deals with the matter of first aid on the road. I have no desire to upset people, but it is necessary to have a bag of tools in a car and I therefore ask why, when a motor car is bought, a simple first-aid kit should not be provided. An Act of Parliament has been passed which lays down that farmhouses and other places should have first-aid kits, and there is much less likelihood of an accident occurring on a farm than in a car. A first-aid kit in a car, together with simple instructions, may save somebody's life. It may be worth while passing a small Act or introducing a regulation to the effect that every car sold should have a first-aid kit in it.
I should now like to turn to road engineering. When driving in the United States of America I saw a sign which read, "Beware; soft shoulders". I thought that I was approaching a film 783 star. I wondered what it meant, it was explained to me that, perhaps, through the asphalt on the road becoming hot, a car on what was called the shoulder of the road may skid or be redirected. This brings me to my point about road engineering. If the first rule of the Highway Code is "Keep to the left", then it behoves road engineers to ensure that the edges of the roads are hard and sound and can take the weight of a vehicle that pulls to the left in an emergency. There are too many soft shoulders on many of our B roads and on some of our A roads.
We all wish that we knew a magic formula to stop death on the road, but, whatever side of the House we sit on, we appreciate the fact that the Minister has brought out what I consider to be a spectacular little pamphlet which, I believe, should be carried in every car on the road.
§ 1.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Brian Batsford (Ealing, South)
I should like to join with the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on the production of this Highway Code. I had intended to make one or two comments on its layout and presentation, but at this late stage of the debate I shall refrain from doing so.
I wish to emphasise only one point which was made by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffing-ton), namely, the question of excessive speed. I am convinced that excessive speed is responsible for a very large number of accidents. I should therefore like to refer to paragraph 18 of the Code, which was also mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton). This states:Do not exceed the speed limitsI should have thought that it was just as easy for drivers to accept the speed limit in the same way as they accept the need to stop at the red light or to keep to the left of the road, but, unfortunately, it seems to be universally accepted that the speed limit can be entirely ignored. As hon. Members know, on many occasions when travelling at 30 m.p.h. in a built-up area one is hooted at because one is holding up the traffic.
784 The whole emphasis in motoring today seems to be not on safety but on speed and, in another sphere, not on silence but on noise. Cars are being put on the market with a top speed of 120 m.p.h. We read in articles on new models that "cars have a comfortable cruising speed of 80 m.p.h." On how many roads in this country can a person drive comfortably at a cruising speed of 80 m.p.h., either for one's own safety or for the safety of the other people on the road?
On page 24 of the Code there are illustrations of road signs, one of which is referred to as the "Speed Limit Ends" sign. I have always heard that sign referred to as the release sign, and in certain respects it can give an unnecessary encouragement to motorists to speed. This sign is repeated in miniature on many of the main roads, and on one road in North London it is reproduced in miniature on every concrete lamp-post, about 50 feet apart, for a distance of nearly two miles. It is a continual reminder to people that it does not matter at what speed they travel. But how often do we see, in built-up areas and other dangerous spots, a reminder that we should keep within the speed limit? It is only recently that small 30 m.p.h. signs have been erected at the entrances to villages to remind us that that is the speed at which we should travel.
§ Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)
If there is no black and white sign the motorist is automatically in a speed-limit area. In a derestricted area these black and white signs have to be placed on every lamp-post. If they were not there the motorist would automatically be in a speed-limit area.
§ Mr. Batsford
It may be that some of them are placed in an area which looks like a built-up area. In any case, once a motorist gets out of the speed-limit area and sees the black band across the white circle he knows that he can go flat out. In North London there are roads with a 40 m.p.h. sign at one stage and then a 30 m.p.h. sign, but on the derestricted stretch, when they see the black and white sign, motorists will put down their feet irrespective of the number of traffic lights in between.
Paragraph 94 of the Code states:When you leave the motorway, remember to adjust your driving to the different conditions of the ordinary road system.785 The trouble today is that far too many people treat the ordinary road system as a motorway. The great advantage of a motorway is that it segregates the faster and the heavy traffic from ordinary humanity. But drivers must realise that it is impossible to have safety on the roads while those roads are shared with cyclists and pedestrians, with people living in houses overlooking them.
A very good example of a residential road masquerading as a motorway runs through my constituency. Immediately outside it to the north, a fly-over is being built at the junction of the North Circular Road and Western Avenue, and immediately outside it to the south, another fly-over is being built at the entrance to the Great West Road. Between those two great junctions is a section of the North Circular Road which is not a dual carriageway, and which runs for a half-mile stretch under a dark archway of trees. The road is very narrow, and in one section of it there is a school. Every day parents and children risk their lives trying to cross that road to school. The hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) mentioned the point of the old-age pensioner acting as a traffic warden, and I would hesitate to ask any old-age pensioner to walk out in the middle of that traffic and hold up a "Stop, Children Crossing" sign. No man, young or old, would dare to do it. because all the drivers on the road are ignoring the Highway Code and travelling at 40 or 45 m.p.h. or even faster.
The Code was designed to ensure safety on the road, but it will be worthless unless the rules contained in it are more properly observed and far more strictly enforced.
§ 1.44 p.m.
§ Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)
I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Batsford) has said in some respects, and especially with his statement that there are occasions when people travel too fast on roads that ought not to be derestricted, but it should be pointed out that there are many of our roads where quite unnecessary speed limits are imposed, which encourage people to disobey those limits and go faster. The speed limit is flouted because 786 it is imposed far too generally on certain sectors of our roads.
I join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on the production of this Highway Code, but although we would all agree that its production is generally very good, we must agree also that it is vital that the Code should become widely read, especially by the ordinary motorist. It has been said that it would be too expensive to give a copy to each motorist. Early this year it was announced that driving licences would be renewed for periods of three years instead of one year, but in spite of that the poor motorist would still be charged 15s. for the three years, although the work involved would be cut by two-thirds. If we are still to be made to pay 15s. every three years the Ministry might throw in a free copy of the Highway Code. I commend that suggestion to my hon. Friend.
There has been some criticism of the cover and of some of the drawings in the booklet. The drawing that strikes me as most extraordinary is the bottom one on the cover. It is the most nearly perfect example of low flying that I have ever seen, and if my hon. Friend thinks that that will be popular in Southend, near the airport, he will be very much mistaken.
I speak without the experience and authority of many hon. Members with legal experience who have dealt with motoring cases for many years, but I can speak as an ordinary motorist who does a fair amount of driving throughout the year. I agree with the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) that the average British driver is better than the average driver in other countries. But this country is slowly reaching the stage where to drive at all on the roads is becoming more and more difficult with the ever-increasing number of cars on the roads each year. I am thinking particularly of Sunday evening traffic when people are coming into the city from the seaside. They come in in this ever-flowing stream, which increases year by year, especially in the summer. As a result, the motorists become more and more angry because they cannot travel at a reasonable speed.
787 One of the problems we must try to solve is that of speeding up traffic where-ever possible. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South that it can be a great mistake to drive at 80 or 90 m.p.h., but nothing is more irritating than to be caught up in a slow-flowing stream of traffic proceeding at about 20 or 30 m.p.h. to the seaside of Sundays or Bank Holidays. This causes motorists to become more and more impatient. I agree with those who have suggested inserting in the Highway Code a provision encouraging drivers to allow other cars to overtake whenever possible. So often in this country people driving in front of other cars pull out to the centre of the road and do their utmost to stop anybody overtaking them although it may be quite safe to do so. There is a growing reluctance on the part of our motorists to be overtaken under any circumstances. This is something which should be discouraged as strongly as possible in the Highway Code.
My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has come under some criticism because of the provision relating to roundabouts. I entirely support his view about this in paragraph 45. The system of roundabouts works extremely satisfactory in this country. If we had some rigid rule whereby the traffic on main roads had automatic priority on roundabouts we should have longer queues and far longer delays of traffic waiting to get through and on to the main roads. I think the system works fairly satisfactorily.
There is one point which is not particularly emphasised, and that is in the provisions about zebra crossings. There is a great deal of confusion in the public mind about zebra crossings. There is a very good note in the Highway Code, at page 27, where pedestrians are told:You have no precedence when you are standing on the kerb or when you are standing on a street refuge or central reservation which is on a zebra crossing.That should be stated more prominently than it is, for that appears at the back of the Highway Code. There is a small paragraph of the Code, paragraph 9, which tells pedestrians:Although you have the right of way once you are on the crossing, keep a look-out to right and left as you cross …788 It does not actually state that the pedestrian has no precedence when standing on the pavement by a zebra crossing.
So often when driving one sees queues of patient pedestrians standing at the side of the road by a zebra crossing hoping that some kind driver will pull up to let them go across. There is nothing more irritating for pedestrians than when drivers do not pull up, but there is nothing more irritating for drivers than when a weakminded driver in front of them does pull up without any particular reason for doing so, and I think it ought to be more clearly stated that pedestrians do not have this right of way unless they are actually on the zebra crossing.
I come to the double white lines. The Highway Code encourages us to keep behind them and not to cross them where there are continuous double white lines. I think that unless we are very careful we shall get the position where double white lines will be flouted because there are so many places in the country where it is quite unnecessary that one should have to keep behind the white lines where there are continuous double white lines, and where one can see what is coming towards one. This is especially so at night. I think there should be some provision inserted somewhere to say that at night, when there are headlights to help, the double white lines lose a certain part of their validity, because at night in particular one can see whether there is traffic coming towards one or not.
I agree with my hon. Friend who spoke about the importance of horns. One of the strange things about our country as compared with others is that we do not use the horn nearly as much as it is used elsewhere. Discriminating use of the horn is to be encouraged. There is a paragraph at the back of the Code which says—it is only stating the law—that between the hours of 11.30 p.m. and 7 a.m. a horn should not be used in a built-up area. There is no mention of any exception. There is the rule about the use of horns in built-up areas and no qualification is made. I think the rule should be that the horn should not be used between 11.30 p.m. and 7 a.m. unless there is some definite 789 danger to life which can be avoided by the use of the horn, as there so often is.
My last word is about dipped lights. One of the most important things which many drivers overlook and which could be noted in the Code is not only the dipping of the headlights of oncoming vehicles but the dipping of headlights of following vehicles. If in one's car there is a lot of glass at the back one is often dazzled by the headlights of vehicles behind, and that is as dangerous as being dazzled by the headlights of oncoming vehicles. When I am driving and there is a car coming towards me I do not mind if the driver does not dip his lights until the last moment. I think that the dipping of lights of oncoming traffic is not nearly so important as the dipping of lights of following traffic, because one has to have lights on to see the cyclists along the side of the road, and so on.
Apart from these few small criticisms, I would add my tribute to the Minister on the production of this booklet.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) has raised a number of valuable and practical points to which I am sure the Minister will pay attention, and we shall look forward to having the pleasure of listening to him again. I should like to add my congratulations to the Minister on the production of what I think is a colourful, vivid, readable Highway Code, much more so than the last. If each of the 94 rules of this Code are observed by everyone, this country will be a safe place—and I say at once that that goes for myself as well: I do not exclude myself from that.
Unfortunately, there is a great need for this Highway Code. Who would have thought, for instance, four years ago at the beginning of this Parliament that no fewer than four of our colleagues, Dick Stokes, Richard Fort, Wilfred Fienburgh and Sidney Dye, would by now have been dead, killed in motor accidents? I think it is a sobering thought. Two of them were involved in head-on collisions.
This brings me to the point that I do not think we pay enough attention to the danger of head-on collisions. I have made a calculation, and I have had it checked by the Road Research Board, of the possibility of head-on collisions in 790 this country, and the possibility is 2,000 million a day. We reach that figure in this way. There are 8 million vehicles on the roads. Each runs an average of 20 miles a day. Each of those vehicles as it goes along passes about 500 other vehicles in that 20 miles. From that it will be seen that the possibility of head-on collisions is 2,000 million. The fact that there are only 30 head-on collisions a day is, I think, a tribute to the self-preservation of drivers and to the mechanical efficiency of cars.
Coming to the Highway Code itself, I drive a journey of about 65 miles nearly every other week, and I notice that there are about 10 infractions of the Code in each of those 65 miles. In other words there is one about every six miles, as far as one can judge. Being one of the founder members of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, I have taken a great interest in the second driving test the Institute operates voluntarily for those who want to come up for it. We expect in these days only an average good standard of driving. A sad thing at the moment is that only about 50 per cent. of the people who present themselves for this test are passing it.
I have had analysed the six chief reasons why people do not pass the test. I offer them for the record, as they may be of value to the Ministry and, perhaps, of interest to hon. Members. The six chief reasons why people do not pass this test are, first of all, lack of concentration. After all, if one is driving at 60 miles an hour one can go 172 ft. in two seconds, and in that two seconds there can be an accident from lack of concentration. The second is lack of anticipation of danger, the lack of observation of signs on the road, such as the 30 m.p.h. limit of which my hon. Friends were speaking. The third is lack of courtesy, impatient overtaking, which is very common. Fourthly, driving too close to the vehicle in front. Fifthly, there is the lack of skill, for instance, in car control, in the handling of brakes, and so on. The sixth—an extraordinary reason this—is that a great many people when giving a hand signal and changing gear at the same time, as they often do, find that they have no hand on the steering wheel at all.
In the light of that, I have a few observations to make on the details of the Highway Code which perhaps could 791 be taken into account if and when the Code comes to be revised. First, there is a reference on the inside cover to the health of drivers. We shall have to come to the day when an elderly driver must undergo a second driving test at 65 or 70 years of age before he is allowed to continue driving on the road. My observations are that there are a number of elderly drivers who are not really up to modern conditions.
Paragraph 22 of the Code says:When following a vehicle on the open road, leave enough space in front of you for an overtaking vehicle.This is excellent advice, but I should like to make it a little more practical and say, "Leave a vehicle's length in front of you for every 10 m.p.h. of speed that you are going." That pinpoints what is meant by the paragraph. If one drives on the North Circular Road one finds every vehicle batting along at 40 to 50 m.p.h. bumper to bumper when there should be a space of four vehicle lengths between them.
I should like to see inserted in paragraph 28 of the code the words "Look into your mirror before changing lanes." That is very important. On paragraph 45, relating to roundabouts, I cross swords with my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West about having no rule for roundabouts. It would be an advantage to clarify the situation and I would suggest for consideration that when roundabouts are busy there should be give and take and that vehicles in each direction should move alternately. In other words, vehicles in different streams should weave in and move alternately with one another. On a roundabout on a busy road, like the Southend Road, a driver who comes in from a side road has great difficulty in getting across the roundabout at all.
Paragraph 59 of the Code says:If there is an adequate cycle track, use it.I suggest that the time has come when mopeds should be encouraged to use cycle tracks. I mean, of course, the motor-assisted pedal cycles. They are not regarded as motor vehicles and are not permitted to go on the motorways. They are frequently seen in fast traffic on roads like the Great West Road. They should be encouraged to use the cycle track, I would ask my hon. Friend to take the 792 views of the police and the local authorities on this subject.
About 90 per cent. of signals given on the road today are mechanical signals. A few hand signals are given by lorry drivers and drivers of open cars but I think that the Code should make it clear whether motorists should use mechanical signals or not. Insufficient attention is given to this point in the Code. There is a small point of drafting which arises from the design of the back page of the Code. The figures of the number of feet of overall stopping distance should be moved slightly to the left so that it can be readily appreciated to what column indicating miles per hour they relate.
I am sorry to hear that the Ministry do not intend to circulate the Highway Code to drivers. I should have thought that it could have been possible to arrange for every driver to receive a copy every three years. If only 400,000 copies are being sold every year, it means that only new drivers or learner drivers are buying them. If it is too expensive for my hon. Friend to consider making a free issue he might pick out certain classes of persons and make a special issue to them.
I will stick my neck out and probably make myself extremely unpopular by suggesting a class of driver who might be given a copy. If hon. Members inquire at insurance offices they will find that certain classes of drivers have worse records than others. The top commercial travellers and salesmen have bad records. They cover a very big mileage and they are all in a hurry to get to the next place to see their customers. It might be worth while making a special issue of the Code to some of these rather more unfortunate class of drivers who cover a high mileage and have a number of accidents.
With these words, I warmly commend the Code to the attention of the House.
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Mr. John Howard (Southampton, Test)
Several hon. Members have mentioned the confusion which arises at roundabouts and the need to clarify the position of cars which are either on or are approaching them. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) and the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) 793 in suggesting that this matter should be looked at again. At present, it is left to the good sense of motorists either in or approaching roundabouts to decide who shall cross from one lane to another. Possibly, some general guidance on this problem would be helpful, particularly as there seems to be a tendency to build more and more roundabouts into our road system.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham referred to the Institute of Advanced Motorists. It is doing a very useful job in testing motorists who have already passed the ordinary driving test, or who have been driving for a number of years, and putting them through what amounts to a refresher course. I was tempted by the Institute to take their examination in my constituency in Southampton. I probably would not be mentioning it if I had not passed the test. In common with most people over their middle 40s. I did not have to take a driving test originally. I have been driving since I was 17 and began to drive before tests were necessary or even thought of. Therefore, until I took this test I had never submitted my competence to any impartial observer. I feel that the Institute of Advanced Motorists has a particularly valuable rôle to play, especially with the older motorist.
Hon. Members probably use the roads more than the average motorist. We are constantly driving to and from our constituencies or around London. Therefore, I am sure that what we have had to say today reflects the experience of people who cover a fairly substantial mileage each year. No one has yet referred to the salutary reminder in the foreword to the Highway Code by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. He states:… this Code is meant for you …and since the Code is meant for me, I trust that the House will bear with me while I make a few comments about it.
It is quite clear that the whole problem of road safety rests on better driving, that is, better handling of the motor vehicle, a better standard of conduct and a greater display of tolerance and so forth. Most of us have been surprised from time to time when a car which seemed particularly annoying to us has stopped and the driver has emerged and proved to be quite a normal 794 decent human being; not the devil with horns growing out of the back of his head which we had imagined to be crouched over the steering wheel. I wonder how many drivers can say that over a period of two or three hours' driving they have observed both the spirit and the letter of the Highway Code. I imagine there are very few indeed.
The most valuable contribution in the Code, and indeed, in the Ministry's road safety campaign, is the introduction of the double white line scheme. I am afraid that I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon). I feel that the marking has been carried out with great skill and care, and where there is a double white line, or where the unbroken white line is on one's own side of the road, it is positively unsafe to overtake. It is important that this standard of marking should be maintained, because it is quite clear that, as soon as there is any doubt about safety or otherwise, then the validity of the double white line marking will cease to have any effect on the driver.
This experiment has been operating on the Continent, and certainly in France, for some while. I remember putting a Question to my hon. Friend some years ago after I had been driving in France and had been struck by the value of this experiment. I believe that in France, if one crosses the double line and is spotted, one is immediately stopped by a gendarme and fined on the spot. The English motorist, in those days, was given slightly preferential treatment, and his fine was in fact discounted from lack of knowledge of this kind of road marking.
The double white line brings prominently before us the dangers that arise from overtaking in general and of the impatience from which we all suffer when stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle and being unable to overtake it. This is particularly noticeable on hills. One is in a stream of traffic and one is unable to get by, even though one's car has the power to overtake a somewhat slower vehicle on the hill.
I have noticed that in recent widening schemes carried out on roads over hills the upward section of the road has been double width so that overtaking can take 795 place whereas the traffic coming down the hill is restricted to a single line. This is a very wise provision indeed. I have in mind the particular case of the Bournemouth road just outside Romsey, where the road on a hill has been recently reconstructed. It is still not wide enough to enable cars travelling up the hill to overtake in safety. That is something which might well be watched in future.
It is also infuriating to find vehicles bunched together along the road. A number of tributes have been paid here to the drivers of heavy vehicles, and I think that they are certainly justified. The standard of driving and of courtesy shown by the drivers of heavy commercial vehicles is exceptionally high, and those of us who use the roads are grateful for it. None the less, I think it would be an admirable idea if additional emphasis could be placed on the need for all slow-moving vehicles to leave a gap between one another so that faster vehicles can overtake them without the drivers being frustrated.
I should like to join with every one else who has spoken in commending the Code and my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for his presentation of it to the House. Since I shall be driving to my constituency at the end of this debate, I hope I shall be able to put the Code into effect and learn from the observations that have been made here today.
§ 2.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
With other hon. Members, I should like to congratulate the Minister on producing this new Highway Code, which I hope will be very widely read. At the same time, I hope that he will also pay attention to the many suggestions made in the debate for use in later editions of the Code. I think the Code will play a part, if widely read, in helping to reduce the appalling toll of the road.
I should like to endorse what has been said about lorry drivers by various hon. Members. They are the real "Knights of the Road", and if every driver, particularly private motorists, followed their example, there would be many fewer accidents.
I particularly welcome some of the rules in this Code. One is in paragraph 796 37, which advises drivers to slow down gradually when approaching junctions. I think my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) said that many motorists approached junctions from side roads too fast, and I quite agree. There are far too many who rush at junctions from a side road, and when one sees them, one does not know whether they intend to stop or not.
There are one or two suggestions which I should like to put to my hon. Friend. Rule 43 says:Do not go forward when the light is green if it is clear that by doing so you will block the junction when the signals changed.So often that happens in the streets of London, particularly in Oxford Street, where there are many crossings, and where frustration and quite unnecessary delay, as well as increased congestion, are caused. I therefore hope that that paragraph will be widely read.
Then there is the question of getting into the appropriate line of traffic, which is very important. This is dealt with in paragraphs 30 and 42, and the latter paragraph refers to filter lanes. If this instruction is to be carried out, it is also essential that the lane should be marked with a robot. A particular place of which I can think, and which I used as an example in a Question to my right hon. Friend the other day, is in Buckingham Gate or Buckingham Palace Road, going towards Birdcage Walk, where there is no lane marking, but there is a filter arrow allowing traffic to go along the front of Buckingham Palace.
It sometimes happens that people do not realise that there is an arrow there until the light is switched on. When a driver realises he is in the wrong lane, he has to wait for the light to change to green again if he wants to go to Birdcage Walk. This causes vehicles to block the traffic, stops people filtering to the left, and is a waste of time. When these arrows are provided, the lane should be kept clear, and the road should be marked so that people know which lane they should be in.
There are similar places in Hyde Park. In the case of Buckingham Gate, my right hon. Friend said he would refer the matter to the Westminster City Council, which is the traffic authority. I am sorry that, in reply to a similar Question which 797 I put down about Hyde Park, which comes under the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works, he said he did not think it was necessary to mark the lanes at all. I hope this matter will be reconsidered, because it seems to me quite silly to have a filter arrow if drivers do not keep to the proper lane of traffic.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) about roundabouts. I am not sure whether something should be laid down about this, but there are regulations abroad, and I hope that some consideration may be given to what has been done abroad in this connection, and that there will be some research into the matter. I would draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend one place where there is an instruction on a roundabout. It is a comparatively small roundabout in the centre of Hertford and it is not a very busy one. When I passed it the other day, I saw a notice stating "Give way to traffic coming from the right." I do not know with what authority that instruction has been put there. It looks as if it has been done by the police, but it seems to be a suggestion that might well be taken into consideration.
I am very glad indeed to see paragraph 54, which lays down rules where one should not park a car. How much congestion, or, at any rate, confusion, is caused by cars parking almost opposite to each other, whereas if they were parked on the same side of the street much more carriage way would be left free. I hope that the police will pay attention to this regulation, and do their utmost to see that it is enforced.
I am a little bit worried about paragraph 58, which refers to the Continental type of level crossings. I have many times suggested that the practice abroad should be adopted in our own reglations, but I am a little diffident about criticising this regulation because I see a danger if we are to have many of these Continental type level crossings, which are operated by no human agency, but merely as the result of machinery. I take it that they will not be used on our important main lines or important main roads, where the Flying Scotsman might possibly cross Al or something like it.
I take it that they will be used only on minor branch lines and on minor 798 roads. There is a danger in the system. I remember once approaching a level crossing in Sweden many years ago at twilight, the time when it is most difficult to drive. I heard the bell and saw the flash of light and so stopped just before an express train passed at 60 m.p.h. I take it that there will be no danger of that happening here. I wonder what machinery exists if, for example, a lorry baulked at one of the bad British Railways crossings, with the engine stalling in the middle of it. I take it that there would be something to arrest a passing train?
In conclusion, I hope the Code will succeed in helping to reduce the toll on the roads. I interrupted my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. Rawlinson) when he suggested that there should be a ban on a car which was involved in a serious accident as well as a ban on the driver. I do not want anyone to think I am out of sympathy with my hon. and learned Friend, but I think it is rather drastic to ban the car as well as the driver. I believe that it is only by education and by getting the Code well read and well understood that we shall succeed in reducing the toll on the roads, which is what we all wish.
§ 2.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I join with other hon. Members in congratulating the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, but not on the Highway Code. I congratulate him on the powerful speech he made in introducing it and on the sincerity of his words. I only wish that those words were better implemented in the Code, despite the introduction of the welcome new paragraph 26, which asks drivers to give way to pedestrians when traffic is turning.
My hon. Friend would expect me to criticise the Code, and I shall not disappoint him. My criticism starts with the front cover, which states "Price 6d. net." What is the circulation expected to be of a document which costs 6d. as compared with the previous edition which cost only 1d., and what is being done to ensure the circulation? I should like to see a copy in every household, not merely one for every motorist. One in every 50 households suffers a personal injury accident to a member of that household every year, and during the period the Code will be in operation, 799 some five years, it means that one in every 10 households will suffer a personal injury accident to one of its members. Surely the accidents at that rate are high enough for the Treasury to be not quite so niggardly over the cost of the Code and a free distribution could have been made.
My hon. Friend has said that there will be a campaign to try to sell the Code. If that campaign is carried on by the normal method of small posters produced by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and stuck up here and there, it will have no success. If it were a national advertising campaign, such as the National Savings Movement uses, we might produce something from it. After all, saving money in National Savings and saving life by the Code are rather akin. I have no doubt which is the more important, and I think we should spend money on such a campaign.
My next criticisms refer 10 the inside of the cover and has already been mentioned. A number of hon. Members have quoted the phrase under the heading "Remember"—Alcohol and also certain drugs even in quite small amounts make you less safe on the roads.When the last Road Traffic Act was being debated in the House and in Committee there was a discussion on the question of drinking and driving. There can be no doubt that if we want to reduce accidents we must make it an offence to drive a car when there is a certain amount of alcohol in the body of the driver. It is clear that a great proportion of accidents are caused by those who drive when they have been drinking—I do not mean driving by drunken drivers, but by those who have been drinking to the extent that their reaction is not sufficient to give complete control of the car.
During the debates on the last Road Traffic Act we were put off by the Minister and by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary with the statement that there was a committee under Professor Drewe sitting and investigating the matter, and we were told to wait until that committee had reported and then perhaps the subject would be considered. That was 3½ years ago, and still all we get is the little phrase under the heading "Remember". What has happend to the Drewe Report? 800 It has been published in the British Medical Journal in technical language which no one really grasps; that is all. Yet we were fobbed off at the time with the statement that the Drewe Report was an essential thing before consideration of this subject.
Again, we were fobbed off on the question of testing vehicles. I do not think I am using these phrases too strongly. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) has drawn attention to the fact that 3½ years after the last Act we are still waiting for the testing of a certain number of old vehicles on the road, and all we get is the statement in the Highway Code that we are to look after the lights, brakes, steering and tyres of our cars. I hope my hon. Friend will be able to tell us something more satisfactory about the introduction of testing.
Now I want to follow some remarks made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) about the mixture in the Highway Code of rules of conduct with statements on the criminal law. Section 45 (1) of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, which introduced the Highway Code, stated:The Minister shall… prepare a code… comprising such directions as appear to him to be proper for the guidance of persons using roads.…Then there is subsection (4) of Section 45, which is quoted on the inside cover of the Code:A failure on the part of any person to observe any provision of the highway code shall not of itself render that person liable to criminal proceedings.…Those subsections imply that the Highway Code embodies rules of conduct, the non-observance of which should not be criminal. In other words, the Highway Code should be an addition to the criminal law and not merely an exhortation to obey the criminal law. Yet in the Code there is included a statement of many criminal law offences, not merely at the back of the booklet but in the Code itself. Quite enough damage has been done, in my opinion, by mealy-minded magistrates and courtesy-cops to downgrade motoring offences to something less than a crime. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. Rawlinson) made the point in his speech that motoring offences do not 801 now carry any stigma, that the public do not recognise them as crimes in the same sense as we think of other offences against the criminal law, but puts them in an entirely different category. I agree with him to a certain extent on that. I do not know whether I join issue with him or not on the course which he suggested should be taken as a result of that I think that that attitude of mind has been encouraged by authority rather than that authority is reflecting the public attitude in such documents as the Highway Code. It seems to me that if authority encourages the public to think that there is no distinction between what in law is a crime and what according to the Highway Code is a rule of conduct, then we are adopting entirely the wrong attitude.
I will give some examples of what I mean. I will be entirely impartial about it and pick out paragraphs which refer to pedestrians as well as paragraphs which refer to motorists. Paragraph 4 says:Do not loiter in the roadway or walk along cycle tracks.It is, of course, a criminal offence to loiter in the roadway. Paragraph 14 says:Do not cross the road, either at a zebra crossing or elsewhere, against a signal to stop by a police officer controlling traffic.That is also an offence. Yet these two paragraphs are mixed up among rules of conduct. Coming now to the motorist, paragraph 18 says:Do not exceed the speed limits.That is a criminal offence. Paragraph 20 says:Where there is a double white line along the middle of the road…and so on. That is, again, a statement of the criminal law. Paragraph 36 says:Do not overtake… where the road is marked with double white lines.…Paragraph 37 says:Where there is a 'Halt' sign, halt at the major road.Part of paragraph 54 is again a statement of the criminal law.
Furthermore, if the exhortations in many of the paragraphs relating to motorists were broken, it would be the offence of dangerous driving. The word "danger" is, in fact, used in no fewer than three of the paragraphs. For 802 example, paragraph 28, which deals with switching from lane to lane, says:… do so only when you… will not cause inconvenience or danger to other vehicles.…If one does it so as to cause danger to other vehicles, then it is dangerous driving. The word "danger" is also used in paragraphs 33 and 55. In three paragraphs one is directed not to do something unless it is safe to do it. If it is not safe to do it, then it is dangerous to do it, and that is dangerous driving.
Consequently, within the Code are statements of the criminal law all mixed up with rules of conduct. I believe it is a positive danger to encourage the belief that to disregard what is said in the Code is not necessarily a criminal offence. The effect is to down-grade these offences to something which is less than a crime. I wish we could raise a moral indignation about road offences equal to that which we have raised about street offences—and the latter do not cause nearly as many casualties as road offences. Somehow or other, if we are to save life and limb on the road we must make the public realise that there is moral disgrace in committing a road offence. Whether one can guide public opinion in that way I do not know, but I should hope one could. In any event, we seem to be guiding it in the wrong way by the layout of the Highway Code as it is.
The criminal law itself is set out in the last one-sixth of the Highway Code document. It is headed, weakly, "The law's demands". It does not even say "It is a crime if you do this" or "It is the criminal law's demands." These pages are set out in small print, and there is no mention whatever of the penalties. I should have liked to see this section, setting out the statement of the criminal law, at the beginning of the booklet and in bold type and with a statement of the maximum penalties for the offences. If it is to be set out at the end in small print and in this derisory fashion, it would be better to leave it out altogether.
I hope that the view expressed by some hon. Members that the Code will have some good effect is right. I believe it could have far better effect if, by means of it, we could impress upon the public, first what they have to obey in law and how they will be punished if they do not obey it, and secondly, by the Code, go 803 on to give the rules of conduct which ought voluntarily to be observed on the road.
§ 2.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
I am always glad to have the opportunity of following my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) in these debates, because I have always disagreed with his point of view upon the subject. I had the pleasure of opposing most of his Amendments during the proceedings on the Road Traffic Bill. I am sure that the approach to motoring which he most sincerely and most ably puts forward, which is perhaps shared by some other hon. Members, is wrong and does not help to reduce accidents. It is no good attacking the problem from the point of view of bludgeoning the motorist.
I have repeatedly said, and I take this opportunity to say it again, that the criminal law has only a minor part to play in reducing road accidents, and there has been a great deal of self-important inflation of the rôle of certain very distinguished dignitaries or ex-dignitaries of the law. I believe that Section 12 of the Road Traffic Act could be abolished without harming the cause of road safety at all, and that we should concentrate upon the Highway Code and highway improvements.
There are bad drivers on the roads, and we are right to blame them and, in bad cases, to prosecute and punish them, but the great majority of road accidents are caused not by mad dogs—I mean "human mad dogs"—but by ordinary decent people driving rather foolishly and carelessly at the time the accident happens, and carelessness, though it is a very bad thing indeed and its consequences can be serious, is nevertheless in the general estimation of the community a different thing from fraud and malice, and no amount of bullying of the public or juries will ever change that attitude, because it is a correct one.
A number of requests have been made to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to alter the emphasis of this, that and the other in the Highway Code. I hope he will not accede to those requests. I hope that it will be a calm, balanced document, as it has been drafted and presented to the House. Drunkenness is 804 a dreadful thing on the roads, and it is right that blame should be apportioned for it, but let us remember that, according to the statistics, it is more dangerous to let one's dog wander on the road. Far more accidents are caused by dogs than by drunken drivers. However, we shall never get a great wave of public indignation against people who let their dogs wander about the highways.
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
Is the hon. Gentleman now talking about the same kind of dog or a different kind?
§ Mr. Bell
I made it plain that my earlier reference to mad dogs—it was really a quotation, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not recognise it—was to the human variety, and I am now talking about the four-legged variety. I am glad to find that they are mentioned in the Highway Code. I agree with what has been said about the desirability of having a very wide distribution of the Highway Code, because if it goes only to motorists it will miss many people who could benefit from its injunctions. I think that this, apart from road improvements, is the greatest contribution that we can make to road safety.
As I see the position on the roads at the present time, motoring has ceased to be a relaxed occupation where we can enjoy ourselves. It is an operation to be undertaken on the basis of a drill, and knowing the drill is a duty when one goes on the roads.
People ought to think about motoring now almost in the way that a pilot thinks about flying, and have their drill clearly in mind. They should know it and carry it out. If we can get that attitude, we shall have a real reduction in road accidents; far more than we shall get by doubling the monetary penalties for a lot of offences under the Road Traffic Act.
There are a few comments that I want to make on the Code itself. My hon. Friend's attention has been drawn to the ambiguity of the reference to alcohol on the inside of the cover, and I think that we shall see that corrected in the final version.
§ Mr. Bell
I hope that minor amendments can be made. I think that this is a provisional book. If the right hon. 805 Gentleman looks at paragraph 57, he will see that it is written in red ink and, therefore, I think that there must be a later printing to come. No doubt the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will tell us about that.
On the question of lane drill, on pages 7 and 8, I feel that there is ambiguity, for example, in rule 28, which says:
Do not switch from lane to lane".
On the other hand, I think that what my hon. Friend wants is that people who are not overtaking should keep to the left-hand lane. I am afraid that this will be misinterpreted and that some people will keep to the outside lane and stay there and others will stay on the inside lane, whereas, in fact, what my lion. Friend wants is that people should move out to overtake and come back again when they have overtaken as indicated in rule 35. I very much prefer the motorway rules on pages 16 and 17, where it is said, more appropriately:
Do not wander from lane to lane.
On a two-lane carriageway, keep to the left-hand lane except when overtaking.
On a three lane carriageway, you may keep to the centre lane when the left-hand lane is occupied by slower moving vehicles. The outer (right hand) lane is for overtaking only; do not stay in it longer than is necessary.…
§ I think that these are very sensible rules which should in general apply to the ordinary two-way road if there is a multiplicity of lanes on both sides, even though it is not a motor road.
§ I am one of those who disagree with the paragraph on headlamps in built-up areas. I know that the advice which the police give to my hon. Friend on this is that motorists should use dipped headlamps where there is street lighting, but, in fact, driving at night would be impossible if everyone did that, and nineteen people out of twenty do not do it. It is because they do not that driving in towns is possible at all. I have always noticed on the roads that what I judge to be the best and most experienced motorists, such as lorry drivers, never use their headlamps, even dipped, inside a street lighting area.
§ There is a surprising omission from the Code of something which, I think, was in the previous one. That is the warning to drivers not to accelerate when being overtaken. To my mind that is almost the worst offence on the road 806 —wildly dangerous—and should never be done by anyone at any time. If I am right in thinking that it is not in the Code—and I have checked it through—I cannot but feel that it is an inadvertent omission and cannot really represent the intention of the Ministry.
§ I venture to differ from some of the opinions given about the pages on hand signals. I think that it is correct that a driver is under an obligation in the Code to give signals indicating his intention. It is left to him to decide whether they shall be mechanical or by hand. If he wants to give hand signals, then these are the ones he should give. I think that is right and it should be left that way because, about mechanical signals, which one of my hon. Friends suggested should be compulsory and hand signals also, in my experience in the middle of a bright summer day it is quite difficult to see many mechanical signals. Certainly when the sun is shining in summer, I always prefer to give a hand signal as well, because I think that the flashing indicator can easily be overlooked.
§ I do not agree with my hon. Friend that we should leave out the "I am ready to be overtaken" signal. This does in a way indicate the intention of the driver not to stay in the middle of the road and stop one overtaking him, so it could be brought inside his own definition. I think also that it is a pity that there is no hand signal included for "It is dangerous to overtake". In the list of hand signals indicated on pages 20 and 21, if the driver wants to say to someone behind him, "Do not overtake; it is dangerous", there is no indicated way in which he can say so.
§ The Code is a most useful one and I hope that it will be distributed much more widely. I hope that my hon. Friend will think about what has been said today about distribution and see if he can take some positive action about it, even if it means getting girls to sell it on the streets, rather like a flag day. He should do something really striking to get it out to people.
§ I beg my hon. Friend to resist some of the criticisms which have been made about it. I hope that he will not do, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby says, and leave out of the guide everything that is a criminal offence. I am sure that would be the wrong approach. 807 I should like to see in it another encouragement to the motorist urging him to drive at the speed of the road, because that is a conception to which we have to get used. There would be far less impatience on the road—people wanting to get in front of someone else— if the slow driver would realise that on main roads he should drive at not less than 20 to 25 miles per hour, and if it were put in the Highway Code that he should drive at approximately the speed of the road. The conception which we have all to get is that there is a particular drill and a particular rate of movement, and then we should all relax and drive along without bad temper at approximately that speed.
§ 2 50 p.m.
§ Mr. Nugent
We have had a very interesting debate, to which it has been a great pleasure to listen. I thank right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House for their interesting speeches and the evident trouble they have taken to bring forward constructive and helpful views. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) for his very helpful speech. His concluding remarks were most apposite. The conception of encouraging motorists to drive at the speed of the road is sound. One finds it on American roads, where there is a great deal more experience than we have of heavily trafficked roads, and this is undoubtedly a concept which we shall be encouraging more with differentiated speed limits of 40 m.p.h., possibly 50 m.p.h., and so on, according to the speed of the road.
I also have to concede to him that he was right in spotting that Rule 57 which was in the last Code has been dropped, that is the rule "Do not accelerate when being overtaken." I recollect that we had some lengthy discussions about this in the Road Safety Committee and we finally concluded that this was a decreasing offence and that we could with safety omit it this time. But I will certainly take note of this point and we will watch the matter to see whether this very troublesome and dangerous offence—discourtesy rather than offence—is on the increase. If it is, we may have to bring back the rule. However, one is constantly up against the problem 808 of trying to shorten the booklet and to get everything of importance in while keeping it long enough to make it comprehensive.
I thank the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) for his words of praise about the composition of the booklet. They will be very well received by the officials and others who have helped in the composition.
I take note of the point which he and other hon. Members made about finding some way of consulting right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House before composing the next Code. It is a limitation that when the Code appears before the House the House has no power to amend it. I made the point that the main change was the introduction of the motorway supplement and that it had had some nine months' airing. But I still accept the weight of comment that there would be an advantage in having the considered views of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have given much thought to the matter before we actually compose the next Code.
Whether that can be done on the lines suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) so that we have two debates, first a debate without an order before the House and then a debate on the order, when the Code had been drafted, I am not sure. I doubt whether that procedure would commend itself to the Lord Privy Seal and those responsible for arranging business. I see no objection to informal consultation of committees of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House who have studied these matters, and I will see that it is put on the record that some means should be found, one or other of the proposals, or something else, for next time.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall asked about consultation with the Transport and General Workers' Union. That body was consulted as a union, and we also had the benefit of the presence of one of its members on our Road Safety Committee, so we were quite sure to have the full benefit of the views of that union.
Majority opinion seems to confirm that what we have done about the difficult point of roundabouts was the right 809 thing, although there were doubts expressed in some places. The right hon. Gentleman asked me what research there was on this subject and whether we had considered experience in other countries. Both the last two Codes, the one in 1947 and that in 1954—and the right hon. Gentleman will probably remember the first—were passed after consulting opinion in other countries and after giving full weight to the Continental practice of priorité à droite. The concensus of opinion was that the balance was against having priority for vehicles on roundabouts or vehicles approaching from the left.
This time, we considered the matter at length again. I confess that my own predilection was to have priority for vehicles on roundabouts, but in the end I was convinced that although in theory it would be helpful to have priority for vehicles on the roundabouts so that those coming in would have to give them that priority, in practice, with so many congested roundabouts, it would mean that the vehicles coming in would stand indefinitely waiting to get in. Therefore, accepting the physical limitations of the world we live in, it seemed best to leave it open, which means that traffic coming into a roundabout must weave in as and when it can. One hopes that traffic on the roundabouts will give way where that is reasonable.
It may be of interest to the House if I say that our advisers, who are members of the E.C.E. Committee on road traffic regulations, have said that Continental countries and particularly France, are having second thoughts on the subject of priorité à droite and there are now doubts as to whether it gives more benefit than the harm it does. There is the question of at what distance one can ignore a vehicle coming from the right. Most of us have motored on the Continent and have seen two angry Frenchmen discussing this problem. It is usually a matter which has to be resolved in the courts. I believe it is more attractive in theory than it is in practice.
In any event, we decided that the balance was against it, but we have asked the Road Research Laboratory to carry out a special investigation for us of the practice in foreign countries so that it can produce a report in the course of the 810 next year or so, and that will be a valuable guide for the future.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I agree with my hon. Friend and I see the difficulties about the left giving way to the right. But will he consider my suggestion that it might be possible to find a form of words which would encourage people to weave in from all sides?
§ Mr. Nugent
Enforced weaving would be a very difficult rule to draft and even more difficult to enforce.
On the whole I am not sure that we can improve on the present position until we build more fly-overs to reduce the density of traffic at roundabouts. I think that the rule is probably best as it is now. On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell), the Hertford local authority has probably put up its sign as a piece of local initiative, but I doubt if it has any authority for being there. However, it may serve a useful purpose.
I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall gave me his support on hand signals. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South thought that we ought to give hand signals, but my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East thought that the time had come to drop them.
The pros and cons are evenly balanced, but the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) made the point that 90 per cent. of signals are made mechanically. Mechanical signals are becoming more standard, and, as I announced in the House a day or two ago in answer to a Question, we intend making regulations standardising them still further. With the variable kind of hand signal that is given and the frequency with which none is given, it may be that however much we like the courtesy of the hand signal the time has come to rely on the mechanical signal because it will be more definite.
We thought that we ought to drop the previous rule about hand signals because of the legal implications when a hand signal is given encouraging some other vehicle to do something. We will, however, continue to watch this carefully. I have taken note of the strictures that were passed on the sketches on the subject. I think these sketches have been 811 hallowed by time, although the ghost cyclist is certainly a new one. It may be that in the next version there will not be anything about hand signals, but we shall have to see how the situation develops.
§ Mr. Strauss
I put a question of some importance to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on that point. The Code says that these hand signals should be given by drivers, motorists and cyclists. Does that mean that they should be given in all circumstances, or that they should be given where there is no effective trafficator? Where there is an effective trafficator, is there any obligation under the Code to give hand signals?
§ Mr. Nugent
I think the answer is that it is optional. A cyclist normally has no alternative but to give a hand signal. Where a motorist has trafficators he can please himself. It is quite optional.
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East were both against the practice that we advocate of using dipped headlights in built-up areas. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) supported me. I accept that many expert drivers tend to drive on their sidelights in built up areas where the street lighting is bad. Where the street lighting is good no problem arises, but I believe that on the whole it is safer if drivers use dipped headlamps.
I agree that if headlights are not properly adjusted they create more danger that safety, but, assuming that they are properly adjusted, the driver will be able to see a pedestrian moving off the pavement or various other incidents that occur in urban areas. Many professional and heavy vehicle drivers tend to drive on their sidelights; it is almost a matter of professional pride amongst the experts not to put on their headlamps. It is safer to drive on dipped headlamps, and that practice conforms with American experience. I hope that it will go out from here that on the whole it is a safer practice to drive with dipped headlights where the street fighting is not absolutely top class.
§ Mr. Russell
Is the Joint Parliamentary Secretary aware that in many foreign cities it is obligatory to drive with dipped headlights?
§ Mr. Nugent
I am aware of that, and I thank my hon. Friend for supporting me.
Lane discipline has generally been commended on both sides of the House, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. John Hobson) supported the double white line as did the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. J. Howard). This is the first time that we have made lane marking mandatory, but my own feeling is that lane discipline makes such a valuable contribution to road safety that the tendency in future will be to make more regulations for lane discipline which will cover other road markings or similar lines to the double white line that we have put on bends and rises. Anything we can do to stop vehicles wandering about the road will help to reduce the number of accidents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) wanted me to authorise a free distribution of the Code to each household. I would not give place to him in wishing to see every householder reading it, but I was glad to have the support of the right hon. Member for Vauxhall and others, who have said that free literature is usually not read. We must try to show more initiative and imagination in other ways in order to get this document into the hands of people who will read it. I will consider the good point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) in his excellent speech, that since we are now getting 15s. for every three-year licence we should be able to afford a free issue of the Code with each licence. The monetary argument is good, but once again we are up against the problem that what is given free is usually not read. However, his suggestion is a good one to have as a long-stop, and if we find that distribution is not going as widely as we hope it will next year we will consider the point again.
The right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) suggested that we should provide for a free issue of the Code with every car sale. We will 813 also consider that point, although, bearing in mind some of the people who sell cars, it may be difficult to enforce. I think that the suggestion put up by my lion. Friend the Member for Southend, West is the better approach.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby also said that 6d. seemed much too much compared with the penny paid for the old Highway Code—but the old Code has been selling at 6d. for a number of years, at a rate of 400,000 a year. It is therefore evident that the price of 6d. is not a serious deterrent.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall, with some ingenuity, asked me about the vehicle testing scheme. Not only that; he expressed strong criticism of the fact that it had not already come into operation. I am sorry that it has not proceeded faster but it is a most complicated system to introduce and we have come up against innumerable legal difficulties. I shall not enumerate the further difficulties that we have run into; I shall merely indicate what progress has been made. The draft order which will authorise garages to function for vehicle testing has now been completed, and I expect that it will be going out next week, to be circulated to the representative interests for their final comments. We have every reason to believe, because of our verbal consultations with them, that this will be the final run, and it will then be possible, within a few months, for the order to be made for garages to begin to be authorised for testing. All that is subject to printing difficulties and to the task of getting millions of forms printed and sent out to garages which will do this work.
The actual authorisation of the garages to start testing, will be the major step, and there will then be further steps. There will first be an interval during which drivers of ten-year-old cars can have their cars tested voluntarily, after which it will be an offence for such a car not to be so tested. The next stage will be for the certificate to be linked to the licensing of the vehicle. We are now on the last lap in settling this most complicated matter, which has required endless discussion and legal decisions. I am sorry that it has taken so long, because I agree that it will be a most valuable road safety measure.
§ Mr. Strauss
May I ask two questions? I am not quite clear from what the hon. Member said when testing is likely to start. Will it start by October? He suggested that it might not be made a penal offence until a month or two after that. Is it not a fact that very few of these difficulties would have arisen, or there would have been much less difficulty, if the testing had been done by some form of public authority rather than by private garages?
§ Mr. Nugent
I think the right hon. Gentleman is very optimistic in his second question. About 13,000 garages have been inspected and in due course will be authorised for testing. If anything like that coverage had been set up on a public basis it would have been a gigantic job to establish the stations, to assemble the staff and to equip the stations. I do not think that it would have been practicable. This is the right and proper way of doing it, but inevitably the legal and technical difficulties have been very complicated. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept my assurance that we have not dragged our feet.
§ Mr. Nugent
I should not like to forecast at this moment any particular month for the beginning of testing. After the order has been made authorising the garages to start testing, there will be an interval during which they are being authorised and while the forms are being printed and sent to them, and they will be authorised to test on a voluntary basis. I think that there will then have to be an interval of three months or so before it becomes obligatory, after which time it would be an offence if a vehicle over ten years' old had not been tested. We are nearing the end. One of the tests will be to test the headlights, and that will ensure that the lights are properly adjusted.
There has been an interesting discussion from both sides of the House, with speeches by the right hon. Member for Colne Valley and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington, about the effect of drink on driving. While I accept the soundness of the advice that those who intend to drive should be extremely careful about drinking, it would be a counsel of perfection to say that no one should ever 815 have a drink if he intended to drive. We must take a reasonable view in these matters, and I think that we have the balance about right.
Nor would it be right—and here I was grateful for the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South to take this out of perspective. This concerns both drink and speed, the latter being dealt with at some length by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington). I thank him for his compliment about the charts or pictures, which have been roughly handled elsewhere. The fact is that neither speed, which is dangerous and is contributory to accidents, nor drink, which is also dangerous and contributory to accidents, is the main cause of accidents. The great majority of accidents take place in built-up areas. Indeed, three-quarters of them take place in built-up areas which, per se, are areas in which vehicles are moving relatively slowly.
The great majority of accidents occur through ordinary decent people being careless. If only we could get it into people's heads that accidents are not things which happen to the other fellow but which happen to them, to ordinary decent people who are just being careless, we should have made a very big stride forward. Certainly we want to have advice about drink on the roads, and I take the point that the comment about alcohol, under the heading "Remember", reads rather strangely. It has been hallowed by time. It was in the last Code. I do not know whether it was in the right hon. Gentleman's Code, but it certainly could be improved, and I will take the first opportunity to see that this is done.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
What worried the hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington and, indeed, what worries me is that the Report of the Medical Research Council makes it absolutely clear that the slightest amount of alcohol has this effect when one is driving. It is not that we want to prevent people drinking if they want to drink, but it is the fact that they might cause an accident and kill somebody who is quite innocent.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
Will my hon. Friend also bear in mind that the slightest degree of fatigue has that effect?
§ Mr. Nugent
I accept the gravity of the right hon. Gentleman's charge, but I think we have also to accept that we must not be too restrictive. We must try to keep a balance in this matter. I would not disagree with the comment of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington that we need a stronger climate of opinion here. He made a strong point in his reference to the result of prosecutions and the lightness of the penalties of a year or less for three-quarters of those who were convicted of this offence. I would certainly wish that the courts would deal with this offence severely, both to protect the other road users and to make it plain that as a community we are against this sort of offence. It is a thoroughly asocial thing to do and we should take strict measures against anyone who offends in that way.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
Would the Minister bear in mind that sometimes a small quantity of alcohol is a cure for fatigue?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
Is my hon. Friend sure of his ground when he says that drink is not one of the main causes of accidents? How do we know that? As I undertand it, there is some rule now that one may not refer to the fact that a driver has been drinking unless he is actually charged with being drunk. I should have said that the figures of prosecutions bear no reference whatsoever to the cases in which alcohol has played some part.
§ Mr. Nugent
My hon. and gallant Friend can argue that point as much as he likes, but he will not be able to adduce facts to support it. If he looks at the analysis of accidents, which I agree gives only a partial picture, it shows that relatively a very small percentage of accidents is directly due to drinking. I would accept that there may be more cases in which it has an influence, but so far as the facts go, they do not support my hon. and gallant Friend's contention.
817 Various comments were made on the Code, and my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) commented with favour on Rules 17 and 22, as did my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test. They wish to see an end to these processions of cars, making it impossible for anyone to overtake. We cannot do more than put it into the Code. One of the rules which refers to keeping to the side of the road brings out this point in capital letters, and this gives some extra emphasis to the point. Hon. Members naturally pick out the points that appeal particularly to them, but if Ave tried to give emphasis to each one we would soon find that the whole Code was printed in capitals, and then no greater emphasis would be given to anything.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East and my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby made the important point that there was some disadvantage in the present form of the Code which mixes what is advisory and what is mandatory. What we have tried to do is to produce an easily read, coherent document which is concise. It is perfectly true that what is mandatory and what is advisory are mixed. Next time there is a revision, we should consider whether there should be some separation, marking with an asterisk, and so forth. I have made a note of the point, and I shall see that attention is paid to it.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East referred to the use of horns. I agree that people ought to use the horn when it is needed, but I must say that I have always thought that one of the virtues of our countrymen is their restraint in using the horn. When one goes on the Continent and hears what happens in France and, even more, what happens in Italy, one just prays that people would have the horns on then-motor cars disconnected. On the whole, even though, sometimes, horns may not be used when they should be over here, I think that it is a virtue rather than a defect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham suggested that mopeds should use cycle tracks. This is within the law. I will consider whether we could 818 give any advice to chief constables in the matter. I will consider also the point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West about Rule 9 concerning pedestrian crossings, and whether, when there is a revision, we should state specifically in the rule that there is priority only when the pedestrian is actually on the crossing.
I thank the hon. Members for a very interesting and valuable debate. I ask the House to approve the Code and give it its full support, in the hope that we shall be able to put it over effectively to the country.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Paper entitled the Highway Code, a copy of which was laid before this House on 30th June, and approves the revised Highway Code contained in pages 3 to 25 thereof.