§ LORD LAMINGTON rose to ask His Majesty's Government—
- 1. What effect "one-way thorough-fares" have had on the number of accidents to pedestrians in the Metropolitan Police area;
- 2. What has been the number of accidents to pedestrians for the twelve months preceding the date of the last return;
- 3. Whether the speed limit of 20 miles per hour should not be enforced in the Metropolitan area;
- 4. Whether they have any proposals for making the thoroughfares less dangerous for pedestrians;
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Questions which I have put down on the Paper are Questions which I have raised on previous occasions in 1924 and 1925. They are very simple. Everyone who tries to walk about the streets of London is aware of the perils caused by congestion. To quote actual figures of the 902 mortality that takes place, in 1923 there were 668 fatal accidents and 485 of the victims were pedestrians. In 1924 the 668 had increased to 884. The number of accidents to pedestrians I do not know. Last year the 884 had increased to 1,058. That was so far satisfactory in that the ratio of increase was less than it had been in preceding years. The Questions that I have put down deal chiefly with one-way thoroughfares and how far they have been responsible for any increase in the number of fatal accidents. I have no knowledge myself. I ask the Questions purely in order to obtain information as to whether the changes have led to an increase in the number of accidents. Judging by my own experience of trying to get across thoroughfares where one-way traffic is in force, I imagine they must have added to the number of deaths.
§ It must be remembered that very often there are three streams of traffic coming along through the one thoroughfare. These three streams approach at three different angles. That makes it far more difficult for pedestrians to exercise proper caution. I had an experience the other day at Hyde Park Corner. In these one-way thoroughfares a policeman holds up the traffic presumably in the whole thoroughfare, but that is not actually the case. One crosses with security half way to a refuge, but that security does not extend to the second half of the crossing. Quite recently I was very nearly run over by a taxicab which did not obey the policeman's signal in the other half of the thoroughfare. The driver did not seem to care. He went on laughing. I think if any of your Lordships attempt to cross from Constitution Hill to St. George's Hospital or from Victoria Underground Station to Grosvenor Gardens between the hours of five and seven in the evening—I take those hours because that is the time when I have experienced the greatest difficulty in crossing—you will find it almost impossible 903 to get across without either great risk or considerable delay in waiting for a moment when the road is reasonably clear.
§ It is quite possible that these one-way crossings have reduced the number of deaths or accidents simply because people absolutely do not try to cross. I have met several friends lately who have told me that they do not think of going across a one-way thoroughfare because the danger is so great. That means that they are debarred from certain of our streets in their attempt to get through London. It seems to me that if one-way crossings have been responsible for the greater number of accidents there ought to be greater security given to pedestrians by increasing the number of police. I have seen it stated lately that the Metropolitan Police Force ought to be increased by 1,000 or 1,200 men. It seems to me ridiculous to have highly trained men, men trained for high responsibilities and delicate duties, employed in this way. Why not have a subordinate force like that to which Lord Montagu of Beaulieu referred recently, to carry out duties of this nature?
§ Another Question I have put down has reference to speed. People who have motor cars seem to think that they are entitled to go at the fastest speed the motor can attain. That will be denied no doubt by the authorities, but I know by my own experience that it is often those streets which are most empty of traffic which are really most dangerous. I might cite Grosvenor Crescent. You do not see a motor in sight and you think it safe to cross, but one comes along at thirty or forty miles an hour and you find yourself in great danger when you have taken every reasonable precaution to see that the thoroughfare is clear. The majority of accidents, I believe, occur not in very crowded areas but in suburban areas where high rates of speed are more likely. It is very striking to find that whereas last year the number of fatal accidents in the Metropolitan area had gone up to 1,058, the fatal accidents in the City of London numbered only 15, a lower number, I think, than ever before. It shows strikingly that the probability is that it is the speed of motor cars that is the great cause of danger. These high speeds obtain not only in suburban areas but in other streets which are at all clear. Take a thoroughfare like 904 Knightsbridge. I have seen omnibuses go down there at thirty or forty miles an hour. I do not refer to London General omnibuses, but pirate omnibuses go at any speed they like and so, of course, do other motor vehicles.
§ I cannot doubt for a moment that it is the undue speed at which motor traffic is conducted that is chiefly liable for these accidents. I should say that of those who own motor cars it would be a very moderate estimate to say that nine-tenths of them are not going on very special or urgent business. They are out simply for their own pleasure, or to satisfy their own particular activities, but they go at these high rates of speed to the great danger of the general public. That is why I think you ought to have a very strict limitation of speed in the Metropolis. It is not sufficient to say that a driver has a clear view. All kinds of unexpected occurrences may take place. These high speeds upset the nerves of pedestrians. Lately there has been some discussion in the Press about the noise caused by traffic and suggestions have been made that noise ought to be reduced because of its effect on the nerves. I think the speed at which motor traffic is conducted equally upsets the nerves of the people and frightens some people, particularly ladies, unnecessarily, so that now they do not venture to go into certain areas of London. I should like to know what proposals the authorities have to make. I do not know whether the London Traffic Advisory Board is still in existence.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
Then I should like to know whether they have been able to formulate any proposal to make the streets safer for pedestrians. I should like to repeat what I have said on previous occasions, that I think it would be very useful if they would issue every year with their Report a chart showing where accidents have occurred. I do not mean all accidents, or the map of London would be one big blot, but, just as wreck charts are published by the Government, so there should be a chart of London showing where fatal accidents have taken place. I think this would be very informing and would give 905 warning to the public and drivers generally of the most dangerous points. It is adding insult to injury when the latest report that I saw printed in the Press tells us that these accidents are chiefly caused by the carelessness of the public. That is too monstrous. There may be isolated cases, but it is a fact that it is very difficult to get across the street. In Knightsbridge, the street with which I am most familiar, it is really a great undertaking to cross the street anywhere between Hyde Park Corner and the Albert Gate. You may take every reasonable precaution, but when you are halfway across a cycle appears from behind an omnibus and in dodging it you are likely to be thrust under some other vehicle. I quote this to show that if you want to cross the street in London you have to incur very great risks, and it is quite unfair to give currency to the idea that these accidents are chiefly due to the carelessness of pedestrians. I beg to move.
LORD DE CLIFFORD
My Lords, I think we are all very grateful to the noble Lord who has raised this question, because we are sadly aware that there has been a dreadful toll of injury in this City of ours. I am unable to ascribe it to one-way traffic. The most serious aspect appears to me to be the large number of children involved. I notice from the latest Report of the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis that, out of 1,058 people killed last year, 221 were children, and out of some 48,000 people injured over 10,000 were children. I think that is far too high a percentage to rest content with. It is very easy to criticise, but I would like to put forward the suggestion that, if it were possible, policemen should be posted outside all schools in main roads to assist the children across. I know that this is done now in certain places, but I cannot say whether it is a standing order or not. Another question that I should like to ask, although I do not suppose that the noble Viscount will be able to tell me the answer to-day, is why there should be such a large number of accidents in the district of Bow. I notice nearly 400 more children were injured in that district than in any other.
The Police Reports of the last few years have shown that there has been comparatively no great increase in the 906 accidents in which taxicab and omnibus drivers have been involved. On the other hand, if you look at the number of people injured by private cars, you will find that it is more than twelve and a quarter times as great as it was in 1918, while the number of those injured by omnibuses and cabs has only doubled. It seems obvious to me that this is because the drivers of omnibuses and cabs are picked men who have to undergo a strict test. This bears out the suggestion that strict tests should be instituted and applied before anybody is allowed to take out a driving licence. The present position is perfectly ludicrous. Anybody who cannot drive can pay 5s., take out a licence and go out and kill somebody with a car. Another point is that very great injury is caused by flying glass when vehicles come into collision. This is a very serious thing, for people who depend on their good looks for their livelihood, and it seems to me that it might be possible to provide that unsplinterable glass should be fitted in all vehicles licensed to ply for hire. I am not suggesting this with any desire to add fresh burdens to proprietors of ears, but in a spirit of helpfulness.
I cannot agree with the noble Lord that it is a monstrous thing that the Police Report should say that people are killed through their own carelessness. Strict investigation is made by a police constable on the spot when accidents of that kind occur, and the noble Lord would seem to suggest that the policemen do not take notes accurately. I have driven a lot, and I cannot say that it is a pleasure to drive in London. It is with the greatest difficulty that one gets about at all. But no driver wants to kill anybody, and nobody would say that drivers deliberately run people down. They would like to save these people, but in a large number of cases it is the victim's own fault. There was a complaint in the Press last evening that there are far too many signs intended to help the public to cross the road in Waterloo Place. I cannot subscribe to that complaint, for these signs show that the City Council of Westminster do take some interest in pedestrians. The only thing that I would like them to add is an indication of the direction in which the traffic is going so that people can keep an eye on it.
907 It is a very serious prospect to contemplate, but in two or three years' time we shall have twice as much traffic on the roads as there is now, and I would suggest that the whole subject of traffic control and one-way streets should be gone into. The noble Lord said that he would like to see the twenty-mile speed limit enforced in the Metropolis. I am afraid that is impossible. I do not see how you could enforce this limit in a street like Piccadilly or in the Strand, or even in the City. It might be done in the parks, but even there the police do not attempt to enforce a twenty-mile limit. I was watching the police in a control there the other day and they were allowing thirty miles an hour, and then they complained that the only time when they caught them was when the road was quite safe. I quite agree with the noble Lord regarding the need of a subordinate service of police, because at present police are taken off their beats during the middle of the day to help to deal with congested traffic. I trust that I have not taken up too much of your Lordships' time with these observations.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
My Lords, when I rose at the same time as the noble Lord who has just spoken I did not understand that I was standing between the House and the noble Lord and that there were special reasons, which have since been explained to me by a noble Lord opposite, why the House desired to hear him. I do not want to detain the House more than a moment or two. I should like to point out that we all sympathise with the noble Lord who raised this matter, because we are all pedestrians in London and have great difficulty in walking across the streets. I do not think, however, that very much can be done at present except by the extension of the very excellent system of putting up notices at points where crossings are safer and in inducing people not to cross at random but only at the places where these notices appear. I believe it is the confirmed opinion of the London and Home Counties Advisory Committee and of the Police that these notices have already done a good deal to increase the safety of the pedestrian. There are other ways in which principles of safety have been impressed upon the public by the Safety First League, which has done excellent work in that direction, 908 and by the Road Fellowship League, of which I have the honour to be President, and which has done much to moderate the desire of those people who wish to drive at speeds which are not suitable to the character of the road on which they are driving.
I think the noble Lord who raised this matter rather threw cold water upon the statistics produced by the police. I have in my hand the Report of the Commissioner of Police for 1927, and after dissecting the number of fatalities in the London area it shows that out of 1,027 fatalities in all 528 are ascribed to the carelessness of pedestrians—pedestrians crossing our roads without due care, 281; hesitating or faltering, 110; playing in the middle of the road, 23; and so on. The driver may be everything wicked and inconsiderate at times, but there must be contributory causes, and in my opinion there is such a thing as walking, as well as driving, to the public danger. If a person chooses to step off the kerb without looking, into the middle of crowded traffic, it is a suicidal thing to do. Of course we all have moments of absent-mindedness, and there always will be danger where you have fast moving vehicles on the one side and careless people on the other. As regards the one-way thoroughfares, I entirely support the action of the Advisory Committee who advised on this question. Taking them as a whole the one-way thoroughfares have been successful, and it is impossible to conceive that it would be advisable to go back to the former system and do away with what are called round-abouts. Just outside this House at Westminster the system has been of the greatest possible assistance in ameliorating the running of the traffic, and I do not believe from the statistics that it has led to any increase in the number of accidents to pedestrians.
As regards the enforcing of the 20 mile limit everybody knows that it is impossible in London. You cannot have a police trap on every road in London. You want to increase the speed of London traffic if you are to get it to run through the streets smoothly. All kinds of remedies have been suggested for safeguarding the unfortunate pedestrian. My own idea is that before long, sooner rather than later, we should have in London escalators either under or over 909 our streets. Instead of having such subways as you have now at the Bank, Blackfriars Bridge and elsewhere, enabling pedestrians to cross from one side of the road to another without having to go through dense traffic, I think that these subways should be provided with moving platforms, because it is very unfair upon the infirm, and upon old people and young people, to ask them to go down ten or twelve steps, through a long passage, and up again ten or twelve steps, in order to avoid the traffic. You should enable the pedestrians to cross the road by a mechanical convenience which would not put them to extra trouble.
I do not wish to detain your Lordships any longer, but I would like to finish by saying that I hold in my hand the results of the findings of a very large number of coroners' inquests, which have been held all over the country, inquiring into the causes of accidents. It seems to me that these are very interesting figures. They are percentages, and are as follows:—Avoidable by motor drivers, 36 per cent.; unavoidable by motor drivers, 64 per cent.; excessive speed, 12.9 per cent.; inattention, 6.2 per cent. On the other hand we have: crossing carelessly, 6.7 per cent.; steeping off the footway without looking, 3.8 per cent. To sum up the results of coroners' inquests all over the country, 36 per cent. of the accidents were found to have been avoidable by motor drivers, whereas 64 per cent. were found to have been unavoidable by motor drivers. I think that that to a large extent shows that pedestrians as well as drivers must co-operate, for their own sake. I may remark that there are lessons now being given in the schools on the question of safety first. The Board of Education sent out an excellent little circular on the point, and children are being taught in the primary schools the proper way of crossing the road and the dangers arising from traffic. That seems to me to be the way we should start—namely, by training pedestrians, because we have to deal with new forms of traffic and with new dangers. I think we should carry on that good work and try to train the younger generation in such matters.
My Lords, whenever these matters of motor traffic come up there are certain things which it seems 910 to me ought to be said in the interests of accuracy. I have said them all to your Lordships before, and I only hope you will forgive me if I am tedious in repeating them. Let me deal first with the assertion that there is no such thing as a reckless pedestrian, or that that description should not be employed. Virtue is not confined to pedestrians. They suffer sometimes from the same vices of carelessness and inattention as motorists, and the results of inquests prove that pedestrians over and over again have behaved in such a way that even the most careful driver could not avoid an accident. Of course those considerations hardly apply to children, and one does feel that the mortality among children is a very regrettable feature, and one which ought to be stopped in every possible way. I think a great deal has been done by giving instruction to children in the schools. Of course it takes time, probably a generation, to get used to the fact that our roads are no longer roads as people used to understand them. They are not places where you can play, and wander about, but are in effect unfenced railway tracks, and school children have to learn that they must not cross a road without proper precautions.
Having said that, I go on to say that I am prepared to blame motorists in practically all cases where there is an accident. There are cases, I am sure, and a great many cases, in which the most careful driver could not avoid an accident, but prima facie he is the person responsible for driving the car safely, and he is the person who should be blamed prima facie when an accident occurs, unless he can shift the blame by showing that really he was driving safely. I have been surprised at the fact that in the comparatively few cases where a motorist has been committed for manslaughter, the jury almost invariably lets him off. One would not expect the sympathy of the jury to be with the motorist, and I can only suppose that the fact is that when the evidence is given the motorist does manage to show that he has not done anything he should not have done, or omitted to do anything that he should have done. If that is so, it would not be proper to convict him for manslaughter. I can only say for my own part that if I had 911 the misfortune to injure and, even more, to kill, a human being, I should have great difficulty in feeling that I was not to blame.
The noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, raised that old hare of a test for skill in driving. That matter has been considered for years and years by every sort of competent Committee, and they have all come to the conclusion, which is undoubtedly the correct conclusion, that skill in driving is not the same thing as care in driving, that you may pass an examination with flying colours, and yet be a driver quite unfit to go upon the public roads. That is a matter of caution and temperament, and not of skill. At the same time, I think it is true that, nowadays particularly, when the number of cars and the number of new drivers upon the road are growing by leaps and bounds, there are a good many drivers on the roads who have not got the first elements of road sense, who have not had any training in road manners or road care, and who certainly would be much the better for being put through a course of instruction. If any method could be devised which would effect that end, I dare say it would be a good thing. I see myself, and I am sure your Lordships see when you are driving on the crowded roads that we have now, many people who are driving in a way which suggests that they really do not know how a road should be used.
We come to the question of enforcing a speed limit in London. I do not hesitate to say that the greater part of the bad and reckless driving to-day is due to the enforcement of a speed limit from the beginning of the Motor Car Act. The attention of the public, the attention of the police, the attention of the magistrates has been fixed upon the entirely unimportant thing of absolute speed in numbers of miles per hour, and in looking at that they have lost sight of the really important thing, the question whether the driving is safe or dangerous. The result is that an entirely wrong focus has been given to the whole thing. Speed limit occupies the attention of the police, and it has very largely occupied the attention of the magistrates. It is now practically given up as an offence to be prosecuted, although it is still on the Statute Book, and motorists are in the unpleasant 912 position of breaking the law every time they go out. I have no doubt all of us do it. It is unfortunate, but it is not by concentrating upon absolute speed that you will prevent this.
There is an enormous number of cases of bad and reckless driving which, in my view, ought to be prosecuted, and could quite easily be prosecuted by the police. There is such a thing as taking corners on the wrong side. That is a perfectly easy thing for the police to give evidence of, and to see. A man who does that is exposing everybody to the chance of three cars being involved in an accident—his own and two others—and that is a thing which ought to be stopped and punished. There is, then, the very dangerous offence of "cutting in." Your Lordships, if you read the papers at this time of year, will see that quite a large number of motor cyclists are killed every week-end. It is a cruel thing to say, but in many of these cases it is practically suicide; the way in which motor cycles are driven on the road provokes accidents. They "cut in" in a most reckless way, simply because they are smaller vehicles than the others, and sooner or later there comes a horrible smash, generally with fatal results. The police could do a great deal in attending to these matters, both in London and in the country.
Let me give an example in London itself. Every night, from 11 o'clock to 11.15, there is a string of taxi-cabs racing as hard as they can race down Pall Mall to get back to the theatre centre of London for fares. They go at a tremendous speed, and if the roads are wet they very often cannot pull up without skidding. Those men might be checked and warned, and after warning one or two of them might be summoned. The driving is of such a kind that they cannot pull up if a legitimate obstruction appears in the way. Such reckless driving goes on, not only in London but in the country, and if only the attention of the police could be directed to these real examples, of which any expert motorist can tell them—and the Royal Automobile Club or the Automobile Association could put them on to them—than I am sure we should have an improvement in the general level of driving, and an improvement, I hope, in the number of fatal accidents. The number of fatal accidents ought to be reduced, 913 but it can only be reduced, not by speed limits, still less by traps about speed limits, nor even by setting driving examinations, but by enforcing upon those who do not realise their responsibility careful driving when they are on the roads.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, I only want to ask the noble Viscount, Lord Peel, three questions. Some years ago, when I was at the Board of Education I took great pains to try to arrange with the education committee of the. London County Council that schools should be placed in such situations that the children attending them should not have to cross dangerous streets. I should like to know whether, since we endeavoured to have the children instructed in these matters in the schools, there has been any increase in the number of accidents among children of school age in proportion to their numbers attending school. Those are cases in which I am sure the sympathy of everyone goes out to the poor children and the parents of the children. The second question is in connection with the very long period during which the middle of one of the busiest traffic centres in London, Piccadilly Circus, has been occupied by contractors. For months, almost for years, a central position has been occupied by those contractors, and it is a matter of vital importance to know when that site is going to be available for foot passengers. The time that has been occupied by the contractors amounts to a scandal. There is no capital in the world that I have ever visited that would allow a central position like that to be occupied for so many months, merely in building an underground escalator, even though we know that that may be a complicated matter. It would be interesting to know whether there have been many accidents in Piccadilly Circus, and whether they are partly due, not to round-about traffic, but to the occupation of that central site by contractors. My third question is whether, with a view to expediting traffic in the main streets of London, it would be possible so to arrange that slow-going horse traffic proceeding at a walking pace should occupy the road only when the more rapid traffic is not using it. If a regulation to that effect could be passed it would be to the advantage and convenience of the public.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I think we all owe a great debt of gratitude to my noble friend for raising this question again. I am not sure, after listening to the discussion which has taken place, whether, even yet, the immense seriousness of this question is fully appreciated. It is not only that a thousand individuals were killed in the London area alone last year, but very nearly 50,000 were injured, and if your Lordships by way of illustration take the returns from the whole country, all over these islands that is, you will find that no fewer than 4,000 people were killed and 160,000 injured. It is probable that 160,000 is an under-estimate, because the proportion between killed and injured in London is much larger than it is in the country. I only imagine, therefore, that the same care in reporting injuries is not taken in the country as is taken in London. I think your Lordships will be quite safe in assuming that not less than 200,000 people were injured last year by accidents with vehicles, practically motor accidents, and that 4,000 of those were killed.
That, I think, is a tremendously serious state of things. It is made all the more serious by the fact that every year there is an increase. Ten years ago there were only 600 killed in London (I go back to the London area because that is what we are discussing to-day): that, again, has been very nearly doubled because it is over 1,000 now. Only 15,000 were injured. That has been more than trebled in the ten years. It is perfectly true, as my noble friend Lord Gainford will see from looking at the statistics, that one of the few cheering parts of those statistics is that the fatal accidents to children have not increased in the last ten years. They are just about the same. They have always been about 220; though that is a terrible toll to take of child-life in this country. A good deal has been said—I shall have to come back to it in a moment—about the carelessness of pedestrians: that it has been their own fault. I do not deny that there are cases where the pedestrian acts in such a way that no care, however great, can save an accident, but they are rare; in my judgment, very rare. I believe that in the great majority of cases if the vehicle was not being driven too fast and if proper care had been shown the accident would not have occurred. That is my belief. 915 I do not say it is always so, but it is so in the great majority of cases.
I think that the time has come when we ought to take this matter very seriously indeed. Your Lordships can easily imagine if figures of this kind arose from an industrial disease, or something of that kind, what an outcry there would be, and very rightly. There would be an outcry all over the country and a demand that something should be done to put it right. If you will look carefully at the statistics for London you will see one very interesting fact. It is interesting in reference to a remark that fell from my noble friend Lord Russell. Taxicabs are responsible for very few accidents, very few indeed; about 3 per cent. That is a very interesting fact, and I will come back to it in a moment. Private motor cars are responsible, roughly speaking, apparently, for about one-third of the fatal accidents, and for a very large number, 15,000, about one-third also, of the non-fatal accidents. Commercial vehicles are responsible for about one-third of the fatal accidents, and for not so many, apparently, of the non-fatal accidents.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Viscount, but I should like to say one word. Private motor cars include, of course, all kinds of vehicles which are not actually private motor cars. They comprise 64 per cent. of the traffic of London as shown by a traffic census. Therefore, their average is rather large.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I am much obliged to my noble friend. I was not aware of that. I was only taking the figures as they are given to us in the Return. I am not making an attack in respect of private motor cars, but I mention the figures because I think when we come to examine what can be done to stop accidents, it may be interesting to see what kind of vehicle is responsible for a large proportion of the accidents.
Just to make sure of these statistics, I assume that the commercial motor car includes the omnibus.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
No, I think not; the omnibus is separate. Apparently, the omnibus does not cause a very large number. I am not sure as 916 to the proportion in regard to the number of omnibuses; that may be high, I do not know; but the actual number caused by omnibus traffic does not seem to be very large. The omnibus appears to be included in a separate column in the Metropolitan Police statistics. What can be done? A good deal has been said about measures which might be taken to increase the care of pedestrians. I am all for doing that as far as it can be done; but I venture very respectfully to associate myself with what fell from the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I do think it is quite a wrong way of looking at this thing to say that because the pedestrian is careless he may be killed. That is wrong, and it is a very dangerous doctrine to allow any currency to. The motor car driver must assume at the present time that pedestrians are going to be careless, because they will be careless, and he must drive accordingly. That, as it seems to me, is his duty to the public.
Now I come back to the figures as to taxicabs because they seem to be interesting. How do taxicabs differ from the other motor vehicles that are on the streets? They seem to me to differ in several respects. To begin with, their engine power is not very high and they usually do not go very fast. They are very light. They are very easily stopped—they have very powerful brakes—and they are very easily turned. They are very handy vehicles. I believe the fact that they can be stopped with extraordinary rapidity, as any of your Lordships who use taxicabs will often have noticed to your discomfort, is a very important fact. They can be stopped almost within their own length when they are going at their normal pace.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I have said that they can turn easily; but that is less useful in avoiding an accident than stopping. I found from experience of such cases at the Bar, that the only really safe thing for a motor car driver to do when there was danger of an accident was to stop; that any attempt to drive with great skill, or to get round, or to manœuvre was a very hazardous proceeding. The next thing is that taxi-cab drivers are very sternly 917 controlled. Their licences are capable of being revoked at any moment, and that is a very severe penalty which is always impending over their heads. It seems to me if you take those facts, that it is at any rate a possible conclusion that the real line of reform is to try to approximate the conditions of ordinary motor cars to the conditions which prevail with taxi-cabs. In spite of my noble friend opposite, I think that nowadays it would be well to have an examination before drivers are allowed to go on the streets of London or, indeed, to be licensed so drive motor cars at all. I am not talking so much of private motor cars only. Your Lordships no doubt have seen commercial motor cars being driven in the most reckless way down streets by people who have very little control or knowledge as to how to drive a motor car.
I venture to suggest to the Government that an examination would be a useful thing if it can be done, and, if there is any means of persuading the tribunals of this country, I think they ought to be much more ready to suspend the licences of drivers who have been guilty of carelessness in driving. The noble Earl called attention to the great difficulty of getting a jury to convict in eases of accusations of manslaughter. But he must remember that you have to prove against the motor car driver not only ordinary negligence but criminal negligence, and that is not so easy, as I am sure my noble friend would agree if he had come across these cases in practice. You have to show not that the man just for a moment did the wrong thing; that will not do for a manslaughter case. You have to show something which amounts to criminal negligence. That is a very difficult thing to define. I do not think it has ever been defined; but it is more than ordinary negligence. That is one of the reasons, I am convinced, why it is very difficult to get a conviction from a jury.
Another reason is this. You see the actual individual before the Court. The jury put themselves in his place. They see that he made a mistake, that he was perhaps careless, but that to send him to prison would be a very harsh measure in reference to that individual. I do not believe you will get convictions. I do 918 not believe you will get any number of motorists sent to prison. I think you might induce the tribunals to suspend their licences much more frequently, and in my judgment that would be a more effective penalty than sending them to prison. I confess I should be very glad to see some inquiry as to whether you cannot have a mechanical limit to speed—something in the engine. I do not know whether that could be done, but engineering friends have told me it is not impracticable to have something which will prevent a car being driven beyond a certain speed. I think that is worth investigation.
Finally, I do suggest—and here I entirely agree with what my noble friend said—that you want to lay down rules as to what ought to be done and what ought not to be done on the road, similar to the regulations for preventing collisions at sea. You want to say: "You are not to drive on the wrong side; you are not to pass another vehicle going round a corner; you are not to stop at a corner." There are a number of things of that kind which ought to be laid down in the regulations for careful driving, and if those regulations are broken that would be conclusive proof of negligence on the part of the driver unless he could say positively that it was the only possible thing, the only wise thing he could do in the circumstances. I am sorry to have kept your Lordships so long, but I think the matter so serious that I have ventured to do so, and in conclusion I do ask the Government to appoint a small Departmental Committee to go into this question of what can be done to increase the safety of our roads. I dare say they have done it, but we have never seen a report. I think it ought to be carefully examined. The thing has become a really crying scandal, and it is impossible, it seems to me, for Parliament any longer to submit to the state of things existing without making some determined attempt to cure it.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, when this discussion takes place we generally get the case of the pedestrian stated from two aspects. The general view of the case has been stated more or less fully by my noble friend Lord Lamington and by my noble friend who has just sat down. The other view, which is confined to a much smaller section is, if I 919 may say so, the view that the pedestrian is an aggressive and a dangerous person who is a sort of menace to the inoffensive motorist or the innocent scorcher. That may be a little exaggeration, but that is mare or less what they complain about. At any rate there cannot be any disagreement as to the perils of the streets at the present moment. I would remind the House that Mr. Sidney Webb, who, I think, was President of the Board of Trade in the last Socialist Government, expressed the astonishing opinion that the streets of London were more dangerous than working in a coal-mine. That astonishing assertion as far as I know has never been contradicted, and therefore, presumably, can be proved to be true.
My noble friend Lord Lamington asked His Majesty's Government whether they have any proposals for making thoroughfares less dangerous to pedestrians. I should very much doubt if they have any proposal to make. I have a proposal myself to make, which I hope will not be disregarded. I have frequently urged it here and in other places without any success. I maintain that it is a much more practical proposal than I have heard made by anybody this afternoon. The great majority of accidents to pedestrians are caused by the fact that we have two rules of the road, one for vehicles and another for pedestrians. Vehicles proceed on the left, pedestrians on the right. The result is that the pedestrian steps into the road with the traffic behind him. Not only that, but he crosses the road inadvertently and innumerable accidents occur. If the Ordinary commonsense principle was adopted of having only one rule, if, in other words, pedestrians moved along to the left instead of to the right, an enormous number of accidents would be avoided. If anybody doubts my statement I would ask them to try the experiment on their way home to-night. This particular remedy which, as I say, I frequently urge unsuccessfully, has been considered by numerous bodies. It has been considered by House of Commons Committees, by Ministry of Transport Committees, by county councils, by urban district councils, by chief constables, by the Metropolitan Police, and by many other bodies, and in every single case 920 they have expressed approval of the principle.
I may add, in addition to those authorities, that I know from statements made to me by themselves that the late Minister of Transport, the present Home Secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, and Colonel Moore-Brabazon are personally strongly in favour of this change, and the only objection that has ever proceeded against this commonsense alteration comes from people who say that it is contrary to their religious belief or to some principle of Magna Charta. Nobody ever produces any intelligible reason against this perfectly simple change. I contend that as long as we tolerate this ridiculous system of having two rules for regulating road traffic we have very little right to complain if a large proportion of the population is destroyed. The matter really goes rather further than that. I would suggest, more especially to my noble friend Lord Cecil, that here is a great opportunity. What is really required is uniformity with regard to traffic control. Let the League of Nations take it up. Let us try to get uniformity everywhere. Let him advocate the principle that every nation should act in the same way. So far as I know there is uniformity of regulation as regards the air, there is uniformity of regulation as regards the sea, why on earth should we not have it in regard to the land? All sorts of international congresses and conferences perpetually meet for very little reason whatever merely to employ people's time. Here is a sensible and practical object which I think might be achieved.
§ LORD NEWTON
I beg the noble Viscount's pardon. We are the only people with two rules so far as I am aware.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I think my noble friend will find, though there may be others, there are very very few who have our rules of the road. I am talking of European States.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
There are several countries who have the same rules as ourselves. I brought this before the League of Nations seven or 921 eight years ago, but it was turned down. I wanted uniform rules to apply all over the world.
§ LORD NEWTON
My complaint is that we have two rules. We may be just as right as anybody else. What I want to see is one rule. However, we are not discussing the future of the world, we are discussing the question of safety in our streets. I would urge that we proceed carefully, and the first step to be taken is that this whole question of walking on the left should be again considered. My noble friend Lord Peel promised me when we last discussed this question that it should receive earnest consideration—a, reply which I have always received when I have brought any matter forward. I imagine they are still earnestly considering it. I would appeal to him to pay some attention to the suggestion, which was made by my noble friend Lord Cecil, that this question really should be tackled in earnest and without further delay.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, at this late hour I shall only say a few words upon this matter. I do not think that the suggestion just made by my noble friend below me (Lord Newton) is going to have any effect, or very little effect, upon the fatal accidents which really are very serious and demand the attention of everybody who desires to see the traffic of our roads conducted properly. At the present moment the traffic on our roads is conducted in the same way in which the railway traffic used to be conducted many years ago in America. Railways in America were unfenced. The engine rang a bell and if anybody got in the way it was said: "Oh well, he ought not to have been in the way, the engine rang the bell." That is very much the idea which is prevalent among motorists to-day. They blow their horn and they think that is sufficient, and if you do not get out of the way you are run over.
The Question to-day—and I think we ought to be grateful to my noble friend for raising it—relates chiefly to London. One of the things in London which causes these accidents is one-way traffic. If any of your Lordships attempt to cross Parliament Square, unless the police are 922 there to help you, you may wait four or five minutes and then cross only with great difficulty. If you go to Constitution Hill and try to cross to St. George's Hospital, you may stand five or six minutes at each of two places and then you are very likely to get run over. Over and over again I have stood there and seen motor cars or taxicabs or commercial vehicles come round. The drivers have seen me standing there but they do not stop. They do not even reduce speed. I have for fifty years or more driven in London—with horses not with motor cars—and I have always found that when people were driving horses the majority, if they saw someone trying to pass, would give that person an opportunity to do so. But it is not done now, and in one-way traffic it is almost impossible to get across with safety even by waiting.
And what is the good of one-way traffic? As a Scottish member in another place said, the only result is to add sixpence to the taxi-fare. I believe that is true. I do not believe you gain anything by it. You see a constant succession of moving vehicles, but when you have been all round the town before you get where you want to go I think you will find you would have got there as quickly if there had been no roundabout traffic. Then there is the danger to the pedestrian. You cross to a refuge, look round and see all the traffic coming one side of the refuge. You start to cross and some impatient motorist, seeing that the traffic on one side of the refuge is a little thick, turns to the right, blows his horn, and comes straight at you and you have to get out of the way or be killed. With all due deference to my noble friend below me, I believe that if one-way traffic were done away with you would have far fewer accidents. I quite agree that there are pedestrians who are careless and who step off the pavement without looking, but I do not believe they form the majority.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
The person who is unfortunate enough to have to walk has to be put upon in order that my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu may not be impeded in his beautiful motor-car, which is bound to go at not less than sixty miles an hour.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
My Lords, a number of very valuable suggestions have been made on this subject as to the way of meeting the difficulties caused by motorists and pedestrians. My noble friend Viscount Cecil said he did not think the risks and dangers were sufficiently realised. Possibly they are not by everybody, but they are realised by His Majesty's Government, who have given a very great deal of consideration both at the Home Office and the Ministry of Transport to these very difficult problems. Your Lordships will realise that the suggestions made are not all of them congruous and that makes them difficult to deal with. Perhaps at this late hour I may be excused from dealing with all the suggestions made by noble Lords, but I may say that of course they will all be considered by the two Departments concerned, the Home Office and the Ministry of Transport. As regards the proposal made by Lord Newton, I can only reiterate in even more forcible language the usual formula. Not only will I take it into my most serious but into my gravest consideration.
I do not think I can be expected now to apportion the exact degree of culpability as between pedestrians and motorists, but I was very much struck by one observation made by Earl Russell as regards "cutting in." Perhaps I might be allowed to give an experience I had the other day. Unlike many of your Lordships, I was coming up from the region near Ascot during Ascot Week and I was passing the course about 10 o'clock in the morning. As I came on to the broad roads near Staines I was met, even at that early hour, by great squadrons of motors of all kinds, light and heavy, and including those tremendous char-a-bancs, bearing down upon me. "Cutting in" was going on continually until not only did these motor cars not keep to their own half of the road, but they covered the whole road and presently there was an almost impenetrable forest of cars. I had to draw up to the near side kerb, and even drawing up in that way and remaining completely still I hardly escaped complete destruction. I did complain to the police but of course, as your Lordships will imagine, though a complaint made to a policeman at that time was treated with politeness, it was impossible 924 to deal with the problem unless there was a policeman every few yards. I will only say a word about the question raised by a noble Lord, about two kinds of policemen. That has been considered, but it is extremely difficult to separate the duty of looking after traffic from other police duties, and establishing a class of men who would not have ordinary police duties but would be solely concerned with the management and control of traffic.
The next point I ought to mention is the Question raised by Lord Lamington about one-way thoroughfares. On that my noble friend Lord Banbury, whom I do not see in his place at the moment, spoke with great emphasis. He said a great deal of the trouble had been caused by these roundabouts and one-way traffic systems. That certainly is not the experience, so far, of the Ministry of Transport. I should like to give what figures I have been able to obtain, although they are not very satisfactory and are only tentative. The general view of the Ministry is that not sufficient time has elapsed to pronounce with any certainty on the point, but they hope that as the system becomes more familiar to pedestrians and others the number of accidents will be considerably reduced. As regards the question of traffic, there is not the slightest doubt at the Ministry of Transport that this roundabout system is far better than the old system. Figures are not available for making a comparison between traffic accidents to pedestrians at roundabouts and in one-way traffic with the similar accidents before these systems were introduced.
The figures I have show that, taking all accidents including those to pedestrians, there have been fewer fatal accidents and rather more non-fatal ones involving personal injuries. There have been sixteen of these systems in force for varying times from 3½ years to one year, and from the inception of the various systems to the end of March last there were six fatal, seventy-two serious, and 842 slight accidents. In the corresponding period just prior to the installing of these different systems the figures were seventeen fatal, fifty-three serious, and 617 slight accidents. Your Lordships must draw what deductions you can from those figures. They are a little puzzling. You will see that the number of fatal 925 accidents has obviously been reduced considerably, whereas the serious accidents seem to have increased. I confess that the only conclusion that I can draw is that experience is still too short to allow us to pronounce very distinctly upon these matters. I hope that very soon, as experience increases, the Ministry of Transport will be able to draw more definite deductions from a comparison between the two systems.
The next Question regarded the number of accidents to pedestrians for the Twelve months preceding the date of the last return. The figure that I have of fatal accidents to pedestrians within the Metropolitan area during the twelve months ending March 31, 1928, is 773. The next Question, with which I do not think I need deal at great length, is whether the twenty-mile speed limit should not be enforced in the Metropolitan area. I have the number of cases that have been taken into Court. In 1926 it was some 16,000; in 1927 it was 18,000 odd; and in the twelve months ending May 31, 1928, it was 18,905. I am afraid that I cannot give the number of convictions, although I understand that in the great majority of cases convictions were obtained. In London streets it is naturally difficult to measure rates of progress and it is generally better to prosecute for dangerous driving. Your Lordships will remember that this speed limit was fixed twenty-five years ago by the Act of 1903, and I think it is generally recognised that it is not very suitable for the present day. This, at any rate, appears to be the view taken by juries, because, except in very flagrant cases, they are unwilling to convict merely on the ground of excessive speed. As for the alteration of the speed limit and the question whether there should be a limit at all, I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Lamington, is aware that these points have been already embodied in a Bill, which, I think, has been circulated.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
It has not been circulated. I inquired at the Printed Paper Office. No Bill was presented this year or last year.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
It has not got so far us that, but the noble Lord knows the system of publishing a draft of a Bill. The Bill has not been introduced into 926 either House or laid upon the Table. That is the only answer that I can give upon that point—that the subject will be thrashed out in this Bill. The noble Lord's last Question was whether the Government have any proposals for making the thoroughfares less dangerous. There have been a good many proposals, but all the proposals put together have so far had little effect upon the number of fatal accidents. Certain things have been done. More refuges have been provided at dangerous crossings and more "Please Cross Here" notices have been put up at points where there are refuges or where there is a traffic policeman on duty to assist pedestrians in crossing. I think that Lord de Clifford suggested that these signs were rather confusing and added to the muddle. Perhaps he will be able to give us some suggestions as to how they should be placed. Questions of the improvement of street corners have been discussed with different local authorities, but your Lordships know that there are a great many street corners, and that matter has not proceeded very quickly. Special investigations are being made regarding streets where an abnormal number of accidents have taken place and it is hoped that some fruitful deductions will be drawn.
The only other point with which I think I need deal and in regard to which action is being taken at the moment, is in connection with the schools, which were referred to by Lord Gainford. I spoke on this subject a few months ago in this House and I told your Lordships that the Advisory Committee were specially considering the question of accidents to children. Those inquiries are still going on. No Report has yet been made, but very valuable assistance has been obtained from local authorities. There is one interesting point in connection with accidents to children, and that is raised by the question whether these accidents are more or fewer during the holidays. The figures that have been given to me seem to show that the percentage of accidents is very much the same in school time and out of school time. During the three years from 1925 to 1927 the London County schools were closed for 202 days, excluding Saturdays and Sundays, or for 18.45 per cent. of the whole period. During those days 134 fatalities occurred, or 19.9 per cent. of the total number. It will be seen that the percentage 927 of fatalities in school days and at other times is very nearly the same. This may be attributed, of course, to the fact that, owing to the teachers giving good instruction, the children take the same average amount of care in crossing the streets in the holidays as in school time.
Those are all the actual steps that are now being taken by the Ministry of Transport, but all these problems are under the consideration of the Traffic Advisory Committee and I hope that they will soon be able to submit a Report to the Minister. I do not know whether there are any Papers that I could usefully lay, but I will consider the question of the chart which the noble Lord suggested. He would, no doubt, desire colours to distinguish the streets in which there had been the largest number of accidents. I shall be very glad to ask the Minister of Transport whether that could be done.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
Before the noble Viscount resumes his seat I should like to ask whether he can consider asking the Advisory Committee or whatever is the proper body, or a Departmental Committee specially appointed, for a comprehensive report on the question of what could be done, what has been done and what are the causes of these accidents—something that will inform the public and let us know in this House that the matter is really being seriously and systematically considered. Perhaps he will consider that point if he cannot give me a reply now.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I was hesitating for a moment to answer the noble Viscount, because the Advisory Committee are now considering all kinds of methods by which they might be able to deal with the difficulty, and I was wondering whether a general inquiry into the causes of accidents with a view to finding out, for instance, how many are due to pedestrians and how many to drivers, could be undertaken at the same time, or whether it would cause any delay. Without giving a definite answer at the moment, I will certainly bring that point to the attention of the Minister of Transport in order to see what can be done in that way and whether such a step would be useful in the interests of the public and for the information of this 928 House. I shall be very glad to bring that point to his notice. I apologise for not having dealt with all the points that were raised, but they were so many that I think it was almost impossible to deal with all of them in the compass of a reply.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, the one outstanding fact that has been brought before us by the noble Viscount is that the total number of fatal accidents to pedestrians, which was 485 in 1923, has shown an enormous increase. That is one important point in connection with my Question, and I still maintain that it would be most desirable to know how much the speed of cars has contributed to this terrible holocaust. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, complained that the question of speed has too much engrossed the attention of the public all these years; but even he went on to say that in Pall Mall at a certain hour of the night the speed of the taxicabs was something terrific. I maintain that not only at eleven o'clock at night, but, if you go to Knightsbridge, after seven o'clock, you may see some of these pirate omnibuses and other vehicles travelling at thirty or forty miles an hour, and it does not require two policemen to calculate the speed of such vehicles. Even if no prosecution results they might take the driver's number and report it, and warn the man, and that will do something at least to diminish the risk to pedestrians.
Something has been said about pedestrians being careless, but whereas in 1909 there were 289 fatal accidents in London, this has now gone up to the awful number of over 1,000. The noble Viscount, Lord Peel, said something just now about the speed limit having continued for about twenty-five years, and implied that it might be necessary to increase the speed limit, but the wretched legs of pedestrians do not grow any longer, nor does their activity in getting across the streets increase. The whole point of my Question is that care of the pedestrian should be the first consideration. I am glad to think that on the whole the noble Viscount's reply has been fairly satisfactory, and I beg to withdraw the Motion which stands in my name.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past seven o'clock.