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Mr. Pound: I am following my hon. Friend's logic, as is most of the House, with considerable admiration. Is he aware that there is a degree factor, and that road gritting and road salting are not in themselves the solution? I draw my hon. Friend's attention to motor-cyclists and riders of other powered two-wheelers, who even on a gritted or salted road may still be in danger. Does my hon. Friend agree that when the clause comes to be re-examined, the quantity and quality of surface preparation should be taken into account, with particular reference to the needs of motor-cyclists and other riders of powered two-wheelers, who seldom survive crashes in such circumstances?
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend makes an important point. In terms of how snow and ice should be dealt with, current legislation refers to reasonable steps or an absolute duty. It does not refer specifically to grit or salt.
Perhaps I can reassure my hon. Friend to some extent. The residual Highways Act 1980 places a statutory duty on a local authority that is absolute, and that is to ensure that a road surface is safe, irrespective of ice and grit. The judgment in the Goodes case was that there is no duty to clear ice and grit, but there is a residual absolute duty on the highway authority to ensure that the road is safe in normal circumstances.
When I was practising, I took cases on behalf of motor-cyclists in relation to bad potholes, and won. Perhaps there is some comfort for my hon. Friend left in the existing law, despite the Goodes decision.
May I move on to the issue of speed limits, which is close to my heart and those of my constituents? Hendon has some of the busiest and most important roads in London. The north circular road goes through my constituency, as well as the A1, the A5, the A41 and the M1, to name just a few, which are all busy roads. May I tell the hon. Member for Poole that we have our share of serious accidents on those trunk roads? I was a little disconcerted by his rather dismissive attitude to what can happen on those major roads, which go through areas where people live.
People coming from the north may zoom down the M1, which goes through my constituency, get off at the end and then zoom down the A41 or the A5. However, when doing so, they ought to recognise that they are going through areas where people live. Those major roads have intersections with residential roads, and some of the most serious accidents occur at such intersections. Drivers have not got used to the lower speeds of the urban area, having coming off the fast roads, and run into people who are driving, quite rightly, at a speed suited to that area. That is a main cause of bad accidents at some of those intersections.
I am pleased that the Highways Agency and Transport for London are tackling major black spots. However, some road schemes to reconfigure major roads are phenomenally expensive, running into millions of pounds. If I may put in a plug, my hon. Friend the Minister will know that I have raised the matter of Sterling corner with him on several occasions, and I should be grateful if he dealt with it when he replies to the debate. However, I am pleased that Apex corner is to be attended to--hopefully, in the next financial year.
One major problem is that speed limits are seen not as limits but as the norm. People regard speed limits as targets to be achieved, not as limits which should not be exceeded. People need to be reminded that a 30 mph speed limit does not mean "Thou shalt drive at 30 mph". The law says that one should drive at a safe speed, and no faster than 30 mph.
Mr. Syms: There is also a problem, especially on motorways, when people drive too slowly. Doing 35 mph when the prevailing speed is faster can be a danger in itself. There may also be a case for a minimum speed limit in one or two instances.
Mr. Dismore: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Personally, I am more concerned about trunk roads in my own constituency. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a fair point in relation to the M1. When I travel from Hendon into central London, I go along the A41 at 40 mph, and someone will inevitably be behind me, flashing at me to get out of the way, then zooming past at 70 mph. I am driving safely at 40 mph, and the person behind me is driving incredibly foolishly. The hon. Gentleman may say that trunk roads are safe, but part of the problem is that people are trying to drive too fast and force others to drive too fast through their aggressive driving tactics.
Mr. Syms: A big advantage of motorways and dual carriageways is that, generally, people are not coming the other way, which is why, in many respects, they are safer. Moreover, there are not as many people coming on to such roads. That was the point that I was making earlier in our debate.
Mr. Dismore: I disagree. If the hon. Gentleman follows the A41, he will see that it goes through a series of major traffic light-controlled junctions. Problems occur at traffic lights when people are travelling too fast and are unable to stop at a red light which they had not anticipated. As a result, collisions occur.
A couple of years ago, as part of its duties under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, Barnet council, which was ahead of the game, conducted as part of its crime reduction strategy a survey of local residents on issues that they considered important. Believe it or not, very high on that list--second, I believe--was the question of bad driving and driving offences, with particular reference to speeding. That shows that residents in my constituency view the problem extremely seriously not just in relation to trunk roads but in relation to rat-running.
As we have been talking about the A41, may I give the example of Audley road in Hendon? One can get on to the Audley road at the A41, just after Brent Cross. People zoom up Audley road and try to get back on to the A41 at Hendon Central in an effort to beat the traffic jam
What the hon. Gentleman is trying to do is laudable, but there is no point in changing the speed limits if we do not enforce them. We cannot seriously expect a police officer or local warden to be on every street corner all the time. There is no point in proposing a speed limit that does not find favour with local people. Also, we should propose speed limits about which people have no choice using, for example, traffic-calming measures.
I have had a huge petition from the residents of Audley road, asking me to advance the cause of traffic calming. They think it is important because there are lots of children in the street. Frankly, the local authority does not have the resources to meet all the traffic-calming schemes that we would like to see. In the last nine months, I have proposed something like 40 traffic-calming measures on behalf of constituents. However, the authority only has the resources to do a handful each year. Rightly, residents ask whether the authority is waiting for an accident to happen before it does something.
I hope that, in looking at local authority budgets, standard spending assessments and transport settlements, Ministers will see whether we can make more resources available to local authorities for traffic calming. The hon. Member for North Wiltshire may be putting the cart before the horse in relation to allowing local adjustment of speed limits if we do not put in place mechanisms such as traffic calming to make sure that people comply with those limits.
Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman is right that enforceability and traffic calming are important in some circumstances. However, the AA says that speed limits only work if motorists buy into them. If they understand the speed limit and feel it to be reasonable, they tend to obey it.
We must also look at car design. I have raised the question of bull bars in the past and hon. Members may consider tabling amendments on that subject in Committee. I first raised the issue more than two years ago with my noble Friend Lord Whitty, who told me that the UK had supported a European proposal to tackle aggressive bull bars; sometimes known as "pedestrian chip-slicers". He added that the Government had been consulting on a range of possible options since 1997. Not a great deal seems to have happened since then.
The European Safety Council has claimed that 2,000 lives could be saved and 18,000 serious injuries prevented annually by more pedestrian-friendly car fronts. Why people need giant four-wheel-drive tractors with bull bars in the back streets of Hendon eludes me.
The hon. Member for Poole asked about speed cameras, and said that they should be seen not as a way of raising revenue but as a way of tackling accident black spots. I agree, to an extent. However, we have traffic cameras on the A41. Sometimes they have film in; sometimes they do not. But I know that when the camera goes off, everybody slows down. Although I do not think that many people
Radar detectors are also relevant to the issue of enforcement. There is no point in changing speed limits if they cannot be enforced. I took up with the Home Office recently the activities of a company called Roadnet, which is marketing radar detectors that would allow motorists to anticipate where radars are and thus avoid them. The company quotes in its publicity blurb Mr. Andrew English, the motoring correspondent of The Daily Telegraph who