Bid for 50 m.p.h. speed limit on motorways fails
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From our Parliamentary Correspondent
THE Road Safety Bill, which tightens the law against drunken drivers and dangerous lorries, has passed its major hurdle in the Commons. Last week the committee which has been examining every clause finished
Before this happened Mr. Roger Gresham-Cooke tried, without success, to introduce a clause setting a 50 m.p.h. speed limit on heavy goods vehicles on motorways where there was a general limit of 70 m.p.h.
Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Tory, Truro) drew attention to the dangers of jack-knifing when heavily loaded, fast artics were braked.
"An articulated vehicle, jack-knifing at speed on a motorway could be a very dangerous thing indeed. It can certainly be a much more dangerous missile than a light sports car travelling at the same speed."
Mr. Graham Page (Tory, Crosby) supported the new clause for three reasons—the brakes of most heavy goods vehicles were not yet efficient enough to pull them up within a short distance when travelling at high speeds; there was the frustration of those who wished to pass the heavy goods vehicle when it was travelling at very high speed; and the serious damage caused when a heavy vehicle was involved in a collision.
Mr. Stephen Swingler, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, promised that the comments would be brought to the attention of the Road Safety Advisory Council and of the Ministry's working party on speed limits.
He recalled that a general study of speed limitation was going on in the Ministry at the moment, and MPs' views would certainly be considered.
Mr. Cooke's new clause was not needed, said Mr. Swingler. The Minister already had ample powers under the 1960 Act to do what Mr. Cooke required, if it were thought desirable.
A differential speed limit on motorways seemed at first sight to carry the complication that there would be one level of speed limitation on roads other than motorways, for goods vehicles, another for goods vehicles on motorways, and another level of speed limits for other types of vehicles such as buses and coaches.
The Ministry was now studying very seriously differentials in all respects for motorways and other kinds of road, with the object of achieving a higher basis of lane discipline.
The department's approach to this problem was entirely sympathetic to the objectives outlined by Mr. Cooke, said Mr. Swingler, and on the basis of that assurance he hoped the MP would be prepared to withdraw the clause.
Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Labour, Bristol South) wondered whether there should not be a distinction in respect of the speed of public service vehicles as well as heavy lorries on motorways and ordinary roads.
Some coaches were a menace. It was far more important to protect their human cargo than a material cargo and yet they seemed to have unlimited licence to travel along motorways at any speed they wished.
Mr. Charles Mapp (Labour, Oldham East) urged the Minister not to confine the promised inquiry to heavy goods vehicles as defined by the 1960 Act. The committee particularly had in mind vehicles like 16and 17-ton examples carrying coal traffic, rigid vehicles with a high axle weight, long vehicles and those carrying heavy weights.
Mr. Cooke withdrew his clause—as did Mr. Daniel Awdry (Tory, Chippenham) who wanted a statutory defence to be available to people accused of offences relating to goods vehicles covered by the Bill.
As the Bill was drawn at the moment the offence created was absolute—there was no defence at all.
Mr. Awdry suggested that a defendant should not be convicted if he could prove that he used all due diligence to secure compliance with the regulations and that he did not know he was causing a vehicle to be used in contravention of the requirements.
Resisting this change, Mr. Swingler said it would weaken the law. An operator would be able to bring before the court evidence of the actions he took to endeavour to ensure that his vehicles were roadworthy.
It would be relevant for the magistrates and judges to consider the record of the operator and his maintenance staff and the actions they had taken.
It would be relevant for them to consider mitigating circumstances.