HL Deb 13 January 2000 vol 608 cc745-7
Lord Davies of Oldham

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What policies are being developed to reduce the number of child deaths caused by road accidents.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, we are preparing a new road safety strategy and casualty reduction targets for a 10-year period to 2010. We expect to publish the strategy early this year, and clearly the improvement of child safety will be a central component within it.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I declare an interest as President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. On behalf of the society, I am pleased to hear the Minister's response, but does he recognise the distress of so many fellow citizens to learn that we kill and maim more children on our roads per head of population than most other countries in Europe? Therefore, is it not essential that in the forthcoming review of strategy the Government look very carefully at the question of traffic-calming measures and the reduction of speed limits on our residential roads, particularly those on which schools are sited?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, clearly child road deaths are a serious and tragic aspect of our society. It must, however, be put into perspective. Britain's road safety record is the best in Europe and probably the world in general. Although it is correct that we have a relatively bad record in relation to child pedestrians—it is an area of road safety policy that we must specifically address—it is not true of children in cars where the safety record is greatly improved, in part as a result of the better application of seat belts and vehicle design; nor is it the case in relation to cycling. Child pedestrians are at risk and traffic-calming and other such measures to curb speed will make a great difference.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, is any advice given by teachers to children about running across the road? Yesterday I drove down Lupus Street and two children ran within a very short distance of my vehicle. One of them ran in front of me and caused me to brake very sharply. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Davies, on assuming the position which I held and which my noble friend Lord Astor also held.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I pay respect both to the noble Lord and my noble friend in that capacity. The work done by RoSPA in this area is very important, as is the education provided in schools. Clearly, some of the problem is related to children's behaviour. It is important that road safety features in our schools, and we are making a particular effort in that regard. That forms part of the education of children, not only when they are very young but at the point when they transfer between junior and secondary schools, where the level of accidents is particularly high. We are addressing that problem.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the scale of this problem? For example, in County Durham, 120 young people between the ages of 10 and 18 are either killed or seriously injured every year, and that has been the case for some time. Does my noble friend agree that more emphasis should be placed on road safety education in schools? I am concerned that once road safety was a very significant part of school curricula but that is not now the case. Does my noble friend agree that it would be advantageous if the Government did something about that?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, there is already substantial support to teachers and others within schools, including visits by police, but we are paying attention to the need to improve the educational aspect of road safety. Although my noble friend is right to say that there is still a problem in this area, I remember that when I was at school—which was a few years ago and traffic was not at anything like its present level—road safety teaching used the slogan "Three Like Me Killed Every Day". It is much, much fewer than that now; indeed, even in the past 10 years we have cut casualties among child pedestrians, which is the worst area, by 63 per cent. We are making progress but there is still some way to go.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the first supplementary of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, asked whether the Government were aware that other European countries killed fewer children on the roads than we do. What steps are the Government taking to find out what others are doing that we are not?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, in this respect last year the department carried out specific research commissioned from the University of Leeds. One of the factors is the social aspect. Children in lower socio-economic groups are the most vulnerable. Children in Britain are more likely to be unaccompanied and need to cross busy roads. Therefore, we need to address that in terms of the total traffic management system, and that we shall do in our road safety strategy.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, in a recent letter to me the Minister said that motorists hated speed cameras. Are not the Government being somewhat swayed towards motorists? Is the noble Lord aware that every recent poll conducted by MORI, and the crime and disorder audits carried out in counties, showed that speeding often gives rise to people's greatest fear, particularly for their children?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, a few weeks ago we had a debate in which the noble Lord made a very effective maiden speech. Speed, particularly in residential districts, is a major cause of injuries to children and other pedestrians. We have recently received a technical report on speed which will be taken into account in our road safety strategy.

Lord Randall of St Budeaux

My Lords, how can we be confident that the measures referred to by my noble friend will work, bearing in mind that we have projections of huge increases in the number of car journeys in this country? What are the Government doing to help Surrey County Council, which has the highest death rate of any council in Britain?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, Surrey has proposed a number of traffic calming measures. It is true that the projections of traffic indicate a more severe danger. However, reductions in road casualties over the past few years have been achieved in the face of a substantial increase in road traffic.

On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, although motorists who are caught hate speed cameras, by and large motorists are themselves parents and therefore recognise the need for restrictions on speed particularly in areas where children are likely to be present.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, child casualties are distressing. However, can the Minister say what wider road safety improvements will be implemented by the Transport Bill being considered by another place?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, road safety is not covered specifically by the Transport Bill in any great detail because most of the improvements in relation to road transport can be undertaken without new primary legislation. Some secondary legislation will stem from our road safety strategy. If the noble Earl will be patient for a week or two, or perhaps slightly longer, he will see the full range of what I believe to be a comprehensive and welcome contribution to road safety improvement.

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