HL Deb 21 May 1985 vol 464 cc238-42

7.58 p.m.

Lord Strathcarron

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill is of a non-political nature, and I hope that your Lordships will agree that it is also non-controversial. The Bill relieves from criminal liability the rider or passenger on a motor-cycle for the failure of the other to wear a crash-helmet. It will mean that the rider of a motor-cycle cannot be charged or convicted of aiding and abetting his passenger if the passenger is not wearing a crash-helmet. This would bring motor-cycling into line with the car seat-belt legislation which was passed in 1981.

This legislation stipulates that drivers of cars, although liable to themselves, are not liable if their passengers do not wear a belt. It is fair and just that motor-cyclists should be treated in the same manner. If the Bill is enacted it will still be an offence for anyone to ride on a motor-cycle without a helmet, though passengers in a sidecar are not required by law to wear a helmet. It would be quite feasible for a pillion passenger to remove his or her helmet when the motor-cycle is at rest, or even when it is on the move, without the knowledge of the rider, and to attach it over an arm. So it would be wrong for the rider to be blamed should that happen.

I am very much aware of the dangers affecting very young people who may not understand the helmet regulations. It is right and proper that the rider should be responsible for the safety of such people and be liable in law should they not be wearing a helmet. The Bill puts at 16 the age at which the pillion passenger becomes responsible for his own liability. This is the age when it becomes legal to ride a moped. The rider would certainly know that the helmet must be worn. Sixteen is also the age at common law when parental rights come to an end.

The front seat passenger in a car has a seat belt provided and it could be argued that a motor-cyclist should carry a spare helmet. Some motor-cycles have provision for carrying a helmet, but many do not; and in any case it is almost as dangerous to wear an ill-fitting helmet as it would be not to wear a helmet at all. If the crash-helmet fits well and the strap is done up correctly, it should not be possible to dislodge the helmet forwards, even applying considerable force.

Everyone is concerned at the high accident rate among motor-cyclists. I have always supported motor-cycle training, although I do not agree with all aspects of the present legislation concerning the two-part test. Training teaches the skills of riding motor-cycles safely, but once the test has been passed human nature takes over and most casualties occur in the 16 to 19 age bracket. Those young people are tempted to show how much faster they can ride than their friends or how superior their bike is compared with others, before they have had time to understand road surfaces and to gain general motoring experience.

I have been riding motor-cycles for 45 years and have learned to ride defensively, while still enjoying the freedom from traffic and parking problems which only motor-cycling brings. Experienced motor-cyclists will never ride close to the edge of the road but will ride nearer the centre where they can be seen by drivers emerging from side roads; also, they will never ride in the blind rear quarter of a car, because the driver will not see them. I could continue, but that would not be relevant to the Bill.

However, it is relevant that although the majority of accidents occur to solo motor-cyclists, in 1983, 75 pillion passengers died. Should this Bill pass through your Lordships' House, I hope that publicity may be given in motor-cycle training schools to the laws relating to the wearing of crash-helmets, and in particular to the fact that the rider will be legally required to see that a pillion passenger under 16 years of age wears a helmet.

This Bill makes the position of motor-cycle riders the same as that of car drivers under the seat belt law, which seems to me to be sensible. I therefore commend this Bill to your Lordships and I beg to move that it be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Strathcarron.)

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I think this is a Bill that we are all anxious to have on the statute book and I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, for agreeing to aid his honourable friend in another place by introducing this Bill into your Lordships' House and moving its Second Reading today. From my knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, and from what he has said, few people are better qualified to give an opinion on the desirability of the wearing of crash-helmets by motor-cyclists and pillion riders. In fact, the noble Lord was quite specific about the importance of the riders themselves, as well as their pillion passengers, wearing a properly fitting helmet.

I am sure that the noble Lord's wide experience will be appreciated by those who drive motor-cycles and that they will appreciate his insistence on his recommendation that helmets should be well fitting and properly fitted. There is no doubt that the injury rate in respect of motor-cyclists is extremely high, with roughly 1,000 killed and 20,000 seriously injured every year. Those are fearsome figures, but I am afraid there is no way of stopping people from riding motor-cycles, even if we wanted to do so. As the noble Lord says, it gives a great sense of freedom to ride a motor-cycle and certainly it is something that most young persons would like to do—and particularly young men, if it is permissible to say that these days. They like the idea of owning a motor-cycle and the thrill they get from it.

I was pleased that the Minister and the Committee in another place gave the assurance that the Bill will in no way impede the enforcement of safety helmets legislation. This Bill represents an addition to that legislation. As the noble Lord says, it is asking that the owner or driver of a motor-cycle takes the responsibility for anyone under 16 years of age who takes a pillion ride from him. This can be a defence of young people, in the atmosphere of a group of motor-cyclists themselves, because the motor-cyclist can say, "I would love to take you, but in the absence of your having a proper helmet I am not able to take you". I think that the wheedling way of 14- and 15-year-olds with their slightly older brothers or friends can be very difficult to resist, and for that reason alone I think this Bill is very worthwhile.

It is also worthwhile for many other reasons, particularly the fact that there is no question that wearing a helmet is a great help to safety and may avert injuries. In the Committee in another place there were suggestions that injuries could be avoided if a helmet was worn. Because of the extra safety provided by the helmet, many head injuries were avoided, including head injuries that could have been consequential upon other injuries—even a broken neck. There is no doubt that a properly fitted helmet is a great help.

I should like to make one further point on the general question of motor-cyclists in traffic. That was also referred to in the Committee in another place. I am sure that all of us who have recently been driving in London, especially in the last couple of years, have frequently been given rather a start by seeing motor-cyclists weaving in and out of the traffic. I am sure that the motor-cyclists who do this are very capable people but in some cases—and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, when he speaks again, will make some comment on this—the weaving in and out by the motor-cyclists causes distraction to car drivers, particularly in traffic which is moving intermittently; and it could cause drivers to be involved in accidents.

I think this is something that could be included in the training of motor-cyclists. It should be stressed that they as well as the car driver have a responsibility, though I agree that the car driver is in a much more stable position and has the greater responsibility. He should be encouraged to look out for the motor-cycle and the motor-cyclist should be encouraged to be careful. However, I welcome the Bill. I think we all welcome anything that will give additional safety to anyone on the road and particularly to young people using motor-cycles. I commend the Bill to the House and hope that it gets an uninterrupted passage.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, my name is not on the list of speakers, but I should like to take a couple of moments of your Lordships' time. I congratulate my noble friend on introducing this measure into the House. It had a fairly easy passage in another place. I am glad to see that they got the age group right, thanks to our friends the RAC. I think that in some of the proposals the age of 21 or 14 was wrong. I think 16 is right.

I think this is a very good measure and if we can protect the head, so much the better, because the head is the most vulnerable part.

8.12 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Strathcarron on introducing this Bill. We are fortunate in this House in having his long experience of riding motor-cycles. I do not know whether he came to your Lordships' House this evening on his motor-cycle; he certainly came to my office on it the other morning.

I can say that the Bill has the full support of the Government. Successive Governments have considered that wearing a safety helmet must be required as a matter of law as an essential aid to road safety—a view which the Government wholeheartedly endorse. Nevertheless I fully support my noble friend's argument that there is no good reason why the helmet law should include a facility for bringing aiding and abetting charges against a rider whose pillion passenger fails to wear a helmet. As my noble friend has explained, the only exception is where the offender is a child under 16 years of age—a situation which the Bill takes into account. Otherwise, I consider it entirely right that only the person actually committing the helmet offence should be prosecuted for it. This is broadly the position of drivers under the seat belt law and there is no reason why motor-cyclists should be in any different position in respect of safety helmets. I therefore welcome this Bill. It will remove an unnecessary and anomalous feature of the law which is in no way essential to the effective enforcement of the law or to the promotion of road safety, and it will be welcomed by motor-cyclists.

Lord Strathcarron

My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, mentioned motor-cycles weaving in and out and frightening everybody. I do so agree with him. I think they are mostly despatch riders and, what is worse, they have blaring radios as well, and often they ride worn out motor cycles emitting clouds of blue smoke. They are rather anti-social, and, though I have been a supporter of motor cyclists all my life, there are ways and means of getting to the front of the traffic quite quietly, without frightening everybody.

My noble friend Lord Brougham mentioned the age of 16 being suitable. I am very pleased that he believes that to be the correct age. I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara for his support for the Bill and the help he has given me.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until half past eight.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The sitting was suspended from 8.13 to 8.30 p.m.]