HC Deb 05 December 1983 vol 50 cc5-6
7. Mr. Hayes

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when Her Majesty's Government expect to be able to estimate the effect of seat belts legislation on the number of fatalities.

Mr s. Chalker

In the first five months of compulsory seat belt wearing, deaths and serious injuries to front seat occupants of cars and light vans were down 20 per cent. on the same period last year. The wearing rate was about 94 per cent. I would not expect the first full assessment of the legislation before the end of next year.

Mr. Hayes

I welcome those encouraging figures. Will my hon. Friend make an early statement on the full effect of the legislation? Will she also undertake to issue guidelines for the use of seat restraints for young children?

Mrs. Chalker

I agree that the figures are encouraging and I hope that they will get even better. We shall need a full report when the regulations come back for debate in about two years' time, and for that we must conduct a thorough monitoring exercise. I shall be giving reports about the monitoring exercise on a quarterly basis, but a full assessment cannot be given, as I said, until next year.

As for restraints for young children, I draw the attention of my hon. Friend to the leaflet "Child Safety and Cars". That has been available all this year and contains guidance about the best ways to keep children safe in cars.

Mr. Stephen Ross

In view of the undoubted success of the seat belt legislation, on which I congratulate the Government, is it not time to extend it to coach and lorry drivers?

Mrs. Chalker

I have seen a number of lorry and coach drivers and even some front-seat coach passengers wearing seat belts. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we are at present looking into the question of the strength of seats in coaches, an aspect which must be important in terms of restraining passengers in the event of an accident. I shall be looking at all these matters in the course of the whole review.

Dr. Mawhinney

Bearing in mind the good news that my hon. Friend has given the House, when does she expect to introduce legislation to require seat belts to be worn by passengers in the back seats of cars?

Mrs. Chalker

I believe that it is sensible for those who see benefit in wearing seat belts in the rear of motor cars always to do so. We have, since October 1981, required in new cars anchorage points for rear seat belts. However, there are people who need to travel by car who feel that they cannot wear a belt, and for those people I think that hon. Members would wish to retain the option that they should be able to travel unbelted, although in my view they would be safer if, in their own interest, they wore a belt.

Mr. Maxton

Is the Minister aware that the Scottish Office has published a document containing full statistics about what has happened in Scotland? Why cannot her Department produce similar statistics for England and Wales?

Mrs. Chalker

As I said, my Department produces notices on a quarterly basis. The figures in the Scottish notice are a comparison with the six months August 1982 to January 1983 and are not directly comparable with the statistics that I gave in my main answer.

Mr. Jessel

Is the figure that my hon. Friend gave of a reduction of 20 per cent. over a five-month period regarded by her Department as statistically significant? If so, does that not completely and utterly vindicate all those who fought over the years to bring about this measure?

Mrs. Chalker

There is no doubt that a 20 per cent. reduction in deaths and serious injuries is significant. Those who felt that this would be the right way to proceed have shown that it is important always to wear a seat belt in the front or rear of the car. However, we must not believe that the reduction is due only to the measure We must be careful about the conclusions that we draw from the statistics. I wish to wait until we have further data before I make any real judgment.

Mr. Prescott

It is good to hear the Minister reflecting a Government view in favour of seat belts and saying how many lives have been saved, but does she recall that in Committee the measure was proposed by a Labour Back Bencher, and opposed by the Government?

Mrs. Chalker

I think that the hon. Gentleman will know that the provisions on compulsory seat belt wearing were put into the 1981 Act in another place. When the Bill went into Committee in this House there were divided views, but the House has accepted the measure. We now have the regulations and they are doing good. It is right at least to encourage people to wear their seat belts at all times.

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