§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Viscount Tenby
rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what long-term plans they have to deal with the problems of speeding by drivers.
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to have a brief debate on speeding. No doubt some of the far-reaching views expressed today will not, for various reasons, find favour, but I wish to extend our horizons in considering this most intractable of problems.
422 I begin by declaring an interest. Like perhaps 90 per cent of all noble Lords I have been guilty of speeding, and it would perhaps be ungenerous of me to suggest that the remaining 10 per cent of us who deny it are being economical with the truth. So we have a problem, but one which is more insidious and difficult to resolve than, say, drink driving which, through the goodwill of the public and their gut feeling that the practice was generally unacceptable, has, in the relatively short period of about 30 years, effected a complete change in the attitude of society.
Speeding is not regarded in the same light. So much so indeed that any attempt to enforce limits is somehow regarded as unfair and an underhand method of raising tax. What a load of—I am trying to think of a suitably serious parliamentary word—tosh. I wish all tax were like that— payable only through one's own choice. I can think of no other area where the law is ignored to such an extent, either through defiance, carelessness or ignorance.
That inevitably leads one to the conclusion that either the law is wrong or that people's perceptions are wrong and must be changed round. Hand in hand with enforcement there must be what Mr Edmund King, the director of the RAC Foundation, has called,an intelligent and flexible approach to speed limits".I do not have the time to refer to statistics, although I am sure that others will do so today. But it may be worth reminding the House that speeding contributed to more than 1,000 deaths and 12,500 serious injuries last year. Were either the railways or the domestic airlines to produce even a quarter of those figures there would rightly be an outcry, and, in the case of the former, almost certainly the virtual closing-down of the system once again.
Before dealing with specific suggestions for discussion and evaluation, perhaps I may refer in passing to the role of the car manufacturers and the advertising industry. To put it candidly, sex and speed sell cars. Leaving aside the first, about which, alas, I am not qualified to speak, I find it hard to accept the social responsibility of car makers who produce models capable of going at twice the legal limit on any road outside a German autobahn, and advertisers who aid and abet them in their promotion, sometimes with the weasel provision—I take a phrase at random—"where, of course, such speed is permitted". Ha, ha! Perhaps manufacturers could make a start by emphasising the illegal zones on a car's speedometer—and the cynics among us may add, "and perhaps pigs may fly".
I am a firm believer in the use of speed cameras nay, in their proliferation. I congratulate the Government warmly on getting the Treasury to agree to hypothecation in this respect. It was a notable triumph which had eluded most governments previously. Of course, the value of speed cameras lies not only in the primary objective of deterring speeding, but strategically placed—that is, at road junctions, roundabouts or crossings—they can deter other forms of anti-social driving behaviour as well.
423 Some 50 per cent of police forces have now signed up to the "netting-off" scheme, which has already produced considerable results in accident reduction. On average, 47 per cent fewer people are killed or seriously injured at the camera sites, and there has been an average decrease from 55 per cent to 16 per cent in the number of drivers speeding there. Can the Minister and his colleagues persuade the remaining forces to follow suit? The greater the number of fines imposed, the greater the number of cameras coming on stream.
Let us not have too much huffing and puffing about either resources or finding appropriate sites. In the first instance, I should have thought that the use of speed cameras is the one area of police activity that does not require the use of front-line personnel. Surely, administrative staff or retired officers could be used to load and unload cameras correctly. As to the positioning of such cameras, while I commend the Government's initiative in reducing accident figures by urging local forces to identify black-spots and to target them, the whole point about hypothecation is that it enables forces to be proactive rather than reactive. Why should a community have to wait for a death before a camera is installed?
It is, of course, essential that cameras should be clearly visible in every case, but let us please do away once and for all with siting them on the same old patches which were simply convenient for the police in helping them to get a conviction under the old measuring methods and which often bear little relation to real danger areas.
Police resources are often referred to as "stretched", and not having seen a speed trap for over 10 years I can believe that. So perhaps we can take down and brush the dust off the daring plan of floating off a separate traffic force, leaving the police to deal with crime. A useful spin-off would no doubt be the removal of any residual bitterness towards the police as a result of prosecution for a motoring offence and, in consequence, a greater willingness to co-operate with them over criminal matters. It would also mean that whenever there was a manning crisis—in the wake, for example, of an event such as took place on 11th September—our roads would not be stripped of officers.
On the same note, if the use of cameras on a large scale becomes a reality in the years ahead, there will justifiably be concern about the alienation of drivers. I understand that. That is why I ask the noble Lord and his colleagues to consider very carefully the following: the re-evaluation and reassessment of all existing limits on a national basis, bearing in mind that many were established when the biggest threat to safety was from Mr. Toad; the speeding up of the process by which limits may be changed, which, of course, might be up as well as down; simplification in the presentation of signs, coupled with, wherever possible, a commitment to dispense with a multiplicity of different limits within a comparatively small area; and a review governing the restriction on repeater signs. Lastly, before leaving the topic of enforcement, 424 have the Government any observations to make on the development and use of so-called "smart" cameras—ones that could, say, film and record during a sensitive time, such as 7 a.m. to midnight, but not be activated in the early hours when excessive speeding is less likely to have adverse social repercussions?
It may well be that the law, too, has a part to play if more rigorous enforcement of the speeding laws results, as it surely will, in a steep rise in speeding tickets. Already, there is a welcome development in that some of the hypothecated funds are being diverted to magistrates' courts' committees in order to enable courts to engage extra staff to deal with the increased workload. But I should like to make two further points. First, zero tolerance, as police forces throughout the country have sensibly and quietly concluded, is simply self-defeating, no matter what pressure there may be from various interest groups, and indeed from Europe. Secondly, the present elasticity given to Benches in the award of penalty points for speeding offences may have to be reexamined if we are not to have half the population in danger of disqualification as "totters".
Clearly, excessive and deliberate speeding must be dealt with severely, but what I would call routine, almost absent-minded speeding should be dealt with by using common sense as to disposal in local courts. I say this even though I am aware that the end product of an unwelcome accident will often be the same whatever the state of mind of the driver causing it. I believe that the best way to bring about acceptance of limits is through the pocket and not by wholesale disqualification through the totting-up of penalty points, because that will only lead to far-reaching consequences in enforcement and the possibility of far more serious motoring offences being committed as a result.
This is a serious problem and part of that seriousness lies in the refusal of people generally to accept it as serious. The all-pervading presence of the car, coach, van and lorry, to say nothing of today's equivalent of the light tank, the off-road vehicle, which is much more likely to be found in Chelsea than in the Grampians, poses a threat not just to sensitive urban, and particularly deprived urban, areas, but also to rural communities. It is essential that we begin to get to grips with the problem, and to do so as part of a deliverable and acceptable national policy in relation to excessive speed. I look forward to hearing tonight that the Government accept that challenge with imagination and resolve.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Viscount Simon
My Lords, I congratulate my good friend, the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, not only on introducing the debate, but on the fact that it has been extended to one and a half hours. That was a stroke of genius! But, to be very serious, I am not quite sure why we are having the debate in the first place. After all, no one exceeds the speed limit—it is always the other driver who exceeds the speed limit, not me!
425 I should advise those noble Lords who may not know, that, as a civilian, I obtained the Class 1 police driving certificate many years ago; that I examine advanced motorists; that I go on traffic patrol with many constabularies on a regular basis; and that my next police driving course is booked for early June.
In London, in the year 2000, there were 284 collisions which resulted in fatalities, and there were 14 collision investigators. In 2001, the number of fatalities had increased by 33.2 per cent and, in slightly in excess of that 12-month period, the number of traffic officers had been reduced by approximately 50 per cent. Currently, because of the Safer Streets initiative, there has been a further reduction in traffic officers and accident investigators. In contrast, in the year 2000, there were 171 murders in London, and approximately 1,200 detectives to conduct investigations. If my maths is correct, that equates to 11.69 detectives per murder and 20.38 road deaths per investigator. In each case, the individual is equally dead and, as a direct result, each accident investigator is working flat out because each crash resulting in either death or serious injury has to be investigated, whereas there is a team for each murder investigation.
It is also worth mentioning that there are slightly fewer than 400 police officers currently employed on traffic duties in London, whereas in 1983 there were about 1,200, and that is despite the number of vehicles on the roads increasing dramatically. It is ironic to recall the words of a friend who retired from the police as a traffic inspector many years ago. He always maintained that the easiest way to murder someone without much chance of detection was in a road crash.
So, is speed an issue? Consider this: which will cause more injury and damage, a car travelling at 30 miles per hour or the same car travelling at 60 miles per hour? The laws of physics dictate that the latter will do more damage than the former. How many people are killed or injured by a stationary vehicle? Not many, I can assure your Lordships, who might have overlooked people falling off buses.
The media seem to glorify speeding. I have been told that the presenter of a programme on BBC2 on Monday spent several minutes throwing two production cars around a racing circuit. Who in their right minds would contemplate that style of driving on our roads? But the media do! To inform us that a car has a top speed of 250 mph and can accelerate from 0 to 100 miles per hour in 1.8 seconds is of extreme importance to a racing driver but has no relevance to everyday driving, especially when one is stuck in a traffic jam.
I admit that television programmes are supposed to attract viewers and that newspapers and magazines are there to make a profit for their company, but when will they take road safety seriously? Probably never, or at least not until they are no longer allowed to worship the concept of speed. When will we legislators, the media and police officers realise that the egos of drivers are not worthy of consideration? We need to stop people from dying on our roads or from ending up in wheelchairs. For the gain of a few extra seconds, 426 saved by exceeding the speed limit, it is just not worth playing with someone's life, including that of the speeding driver.
Again, the media would have us believe that the police are interested only in raising revenue for the Treasury. That is not true. They are interested only in reducing casualties. One of the worst jobs that a police officer has is to deliver news of a road death to relatives. I have experienced that and assisted officers in the unpleasant but necessary duty.
It has been acknowledged that speed is a contributory—I stress the word "contributory"—factor in a third of traffic crashes. The Transport Research Laboratory has produced a paper that indicates that a reduction of only 2 miles per hour over all types of roads would result in 200 fewer road deaths.
There is much misunderstanding about camera enforcement. There are those who say that it is a tax on motorists, as the noble Viscount has said, but it is a voluntary tax. Obey the speed limit at all times and one does not have to pay that tax and one does not have to watch out for the cameras. There are drivers who say that they always drive at 80 miles per hour on motorways and that, if they had to drive at the legal limit of 70 mph, they would have to look at their speedometers all the time. If that is so, how do they know that they always drive at 80 mph? Exceeding the speed limit is a criminal offence, just like any other criminal offence. The sooner drivers acknowledge that the better.
Perhaps it is relevant to point out that camera enforcement is effective only against Mr Middle England who owns and uses his own car. Far too many people avoid prosecution because they use a company vehicle or because the registration details are incorrect. The courts still take the view that excess speed occurs by accident or by stealth. When will they learn that every turn of a wheel demands a positive action by the driver? Further, the cost of a fixed penalty ticket is equivalent to a tank of petrol for the average large car and that penalty is reduced when the tax or cost of fuel is increased.
Earlier this week I received a letter from a gentleman about all kinds of matters including speed cameras. Among other things, he noted that in one of the pilot areas for netting-off camera fines—Essex—the number of people killed had actually increased last year. He said that proved that cameras were of no use. However, perhaps he did not know that fewer people were killed on Essex roads where cameras were present but that there was a dramatic increase on other roads. Also, the number of motor cyclists killed in Essex was—this is from memory and may not be accurate—25 per cent more than in the previous year.
From time to time we have heard the term "joined-up government". In 2000 in London about 6,000 people were seriously injured in road crashes. Each road traffic casualty who is seriously injured takes up an average of 10 to 14 days of hospital bed space. Just 427 think of the number of hip replacements or heart by-pass operations that could be done. Those figures relate to London alone. Just think about the ramifications for the health service.
A study of people dealt with for minor traffic offences revealed that four out of 10 had significant criminal histories. Police officers stopping vehicles as part of their duty are more likely to come across criminality than in any other way and they tend to arrest more criminals than their detective colleagues. Most drivers are not criminals but most criminals are drivers. People committing criminal acts against the person or property more often than not travel by car and the sooner that is realised the sooner more traffic officers will be back doing what they do best.
A recent run of Australian and Irish television advertisements made much of asking drivers to think about their responsibilities and posed such questions as: "Before you start your car think about your responsibilities. Could you face up to the spectre of killing another human being? How would your family and friends cope without you?" The advertisements are shocking. Perhaps they should be shown in this country too. They might just make people think.
Until quite recently motorists reduced their speed when they saw a marked police vehicle, but not any more. Speed kills and the sooner the glorification and tolerance of inappropriate speed are curbed the better for everyone.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Viscount Allenby of Megiddo
My Lords, a number of noble Lords will remember the days after the Second World War when cars were in short supply, the Austin 7 and the Morris 8 were fashionable and how pleasant and quiet the countryside was. As we move into the 21st century every day of the week we put up with traffic congestion and late-running railways.
I speak as an everyday motorist who suffers the everyday problems on the roads and occasionally on the railways. In reply to the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, I believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, initiated this debate because he spent many hours as my passenger trying to keep down my blood pressure as I became frustrated in the traffic. I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for raising the issue.
A fact of life is that there is more and more traffic. Nowadays, instead of families having just one car and being grateful for that, they have two or sometimes three and they have 4x4 cross-country vehicles that never go across country. I can claim only to be a tank driver, of a Centurian, a Chieftan and a Challenger, and as the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, knows, not a very good one, so I do not have much good reason for speaking in the debate.
Technically, vehicles are now capable of greater speeds. ABS brakes are standard on most cars; diesel engines are much more efficient; there is better acceleration; and everyone likes to drive fast and to show off more than they ever did in the past. Unfortunately, apart from motorways, our roads, 428 byways and lanes have not become straighter; they are very twisty and on approaching a T-junction one has less time to react to avoid the man who is about to chop off the nose of one's car. Recently I had the back of my car sliced off by a horsebox driven by a young man who was late for an event. I knew him well so I was able to give him a good dressing down and send him on his way. But he did a lot of damage to my car.
Nowadays one's speed of reaction has to be reduced to an absolute minimum. It is very difficult to join a main road at a T-junction unless one is extremely careful. One almost has to ask one's wife to get out of the car and stand in the middle of the road. Habits are rapidly changing and speeding is of great concern to many. Tailgating on motorways drives me absolutely up the wall. One has to put up with drivers of transit vans, carrying possibly one letter or one package, travelling at 80 miles per hour, hooting their horns and flashing their lights. Lane switching, cutting in and the use of mobile telephones bore your Lordships rigid. There are repeated cases of untaxed and uninsured vehicles and it is time that a hard line was taken. There must be a clamp-down on driving without due care and attention and using an untaxed vehicle. There is no easy solution but the time is rapidly approaching when one will have to be found.
Cameras are effective but everyone knows where they are—and now that they are to be painted a light colour, motorists will slow down, then speed up—causing a ripple effect. There is a plethora of signs on all our roads. A village near where I live has no fewer than four changes of speed-limit signs—starting at 40 mph, dropping down to 30 mph, falling again to 20 mph when the road passes a school, then back up to 30 mph past the school, and up again to 40 mph before reaching the derestriction sign.
In another village in the same area, there is a mass of speed bumps, sleeping policemen, rumple bars, choke points and chicanes. People thought those restrictions were wonderful when they were first introduced, particularly old ladies, who were not disturbed when they went shopping, until the local farmer took out his combine harvester and realised that he would have to try to make hay with oak posts instead of straw.
Another problem rearing its head is the theft of traffic signs. Some people seem to think that they are good for resale—perhaps because of their aluminium content. I am not technically minded but perhaps there is a way to stop such thefts. It is off-putting when one knows that there should be a restriction but all that one sees is naked posts. It is high time something was done to solve the problem of stolen road signs.
Any measures that the Government introduce must be effective and enforceable. I suggest some limitation on speed restrictions. On the motorway one gets flashed for driving at 70 mph even in the slow lane. On minor roads and side roads perhaps there should be a speed limit of 50 mph—30 mph in built-up areas.
Electric signs could be erected to inform the motorist that he is going too fast or driving too close to other vehicles. Some months ago I was driving up from Dover. After passing out of the fog I forgot to 429 turn off my fog lights. A police car passed me with an illuminated sign in the back saying, "Turn off fog lights". When I did so, another sign was displayed, "Thank you". I thought that was most innovative and could be developed.
If motorists knew that they could be fined on the spot by two policemen in a patrol car, they would not be quite so likely to break speed limits. Perhaps there could be confiscation of the vehicle in the case of people who fail to pay road tax, and maybe there is a case for number plates that incorporate an electronic tax disc, rather than the paper version that is currently used.
Perhaps the Minister will answer this question. Is the use of unmarked police cars still extant? One used to see them regularly. Up to about a year ago, one was able to identify them and avoid them. I have not seen one for a long time and wonder whether they are still in fashion.
Not all complaints should be laid at the door of the motorist. Often, road construction contractors leave behind their signs long after the work has been finished for the day or altogether. That all too often leads to congestion and the occasional shunt. Firms should be required by contract or regulation to indicate the true position of any motorway works—including speed restrictions currently in place. If that is not done, they should be fined.
Much has been said about road congestion, which is nearing gridlock. The Government need a bold approach—possibly a road supremo within the department. The problem will not go away but get worse. I hope that as a result of this debate the Government will make fresh efforts to relieve the congestion on our roads.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Faulkner of Worcester
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, on putting an important Question this evening. He is adopting a rather more robust approach than his distinguished grandfather. In 1908, the Member of Parliament for Orkney and Shetland asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer:whether in view of the fact that the Legislature only passed the Motor Act 1903, under the express provision that in no case should the speed exceed 20 miles an hour, and that provision is entirely ignored by owners, drivers, and manufacturers, and cars are built to travel up to 100 miles an hour on the public roads, he will consider the advisability of taxing such cars at a prohibitive rate".Mr. Lloyd-George replied:the policy of His Majesty's Government is not to impose taxes for purposes other than that of raising revenue, and this object is not conveniently attained by imposing taxes which are prohibitory".—[Parliamentary Debates, 19/5/1908; cols. 57–58.]I declare an unpaid interest as president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. It has been around for more than 80 years—back to the time of Lloyd-George as Prime Minister if not as Chancellor—campaigning for better roads and safer driving.
430 Speed is a contributory factor in about one third of all road collisions. In the year 2000, about 72,000 reported road accidents were due at least in part to someone driving or riding too fast. Those accidents caused the deaths of about 1,100 people, serious injuries to about 12,700 people and slight injuries to about 900,000 people. Underlying those statistics are stories of pain, heartbreak, loss of earnings and misery. The matter needs to be taken seriously, which is why the noble Viscount is right to have initiated tonight's debate.
If average speeds were reduced by one mile per hour, the accident rate would fall 5 per cent. Drivers who speed are more likely to be involved in collisions and to commit other driving violations such as ignoring red traffic lights and driving too close to the vehicle in front. The effect of impacts at higher speeds are more severe than at lower speeds, so lead to more serious injuries. At 35 mph a driver is twice as likely to kill someone as they are at 30 mph.
On 18th January the noble Viscount asked a pertinent question about self-financing roadside speed cameras—which revealed that while many more cameras are being installed they will he concentrated on so-called accident hotspots and be painted yellow. My noble friend Lord Rooker, in response to a suggestion that motorists were being persecuted, said:No surreptitious photography takes place. The cameras will be highly visible and they will be well signposted in advance so that motorists can slow down. That is part of the issue. If they do not slow down, they will be photographed and subsequently prosecuted".The Minister said also:Cameras will not be placed on certain roads, such as motorways, which are the safest roads in the country".—[Official Report, 17/1/2002; cols. 1180–81.]I am puzzled by that approach. Road safety campaigners and the Government are at one in believing that speed kills and that to exceed the speed limit should be an offence punishable by a fine and, in extreme circumstances, imprisonment—plus the imposition of licence penalty points. However, many people believe that it is acceptable to break the speed limit on roads not covered by cameras and that on roads where there are cameras it is sufficient to slow down when they are seen. For many motorists, the observing of speed limits is seen as entirely voluntary: they are aware where the cameras are, and know to slow down when they approach the white dashes painted across the road, and then accelerate away afterwards.
On motorways, which we are told are so safe that they do not need cameras, motorists who observe the 70 mile-an-hour limit are now in a tiny minority, as the noble Viscount Lord Allenby observed a short while ago. I was driving back from Oxford this lunch-time. Because of today's debate, I stuck rigidly to the 70 mile-an-hour limit. In a 23-mile stretch, I was passed by 70 other vehicles—I counted each one of them—and no private car, bar one and myself, was observing the 70 mile-an-hour limit.
Vehicle manufacturers also have a much more prominent role to play in reducing the number of people killed and injured in speed-related road 431 accidents. National governments and the motor industry must work together to develop restrictions on the top speed and power of new cars and motorcycles. As modern cars are so comfortable and powerful, drivers are often insulated from any real sensation of the speed at which they are travelling. Manufacturers should consider how they can design cars so that drivers have more awareness and receive better information about their actual speed. As the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, said earlier, they should also abandon any advertising campaign that promotes speeding, because a number of them continue to do so. I checked with the Advertising Standards Authority, which confirmed that it still adjudicates on complaints in cases where members of the public complain about advertisements that encourage or condone speeding by motor cars.
There are a number of other initiatives that should be taken to tackle the problem of speeding. For example, it is worth looking at the development of intelligent speed adaptation (ISA), as this offers very significant opportunities for influencing drivers' choice of speed. We need to know whether taking some vehicle control away from drivers would have any adverse effects, but, in principle, we should encourage the development and implementation of this technology.
Then there is the issue of safer car fronts, which can be summed up in the phrase "bull bars". As I have said previously, I regret that the Government have supported a negotiated agreement proposed by the motor industry rather than the much more stringent mandatory European directive based on the four crash tests developed by the European Enhanced Vehicle Safety Committee Working Group. Outlawing unsafe car fronts would save about 2,000 lives and 18,000 serious injuries annually on EU roads. It could also reduce serious and fatal pedestrian injuries in Britain by 20 per cent.
However, at the heart of this issue is driver training and driver education. Education is vital in trying to change attitudes towards speeding. Those who drink and drive are seen as behaving in a dangerous, anti-social and selfish manner with little regard for the safety of other people. But those who speed are not regarded by the public or by the media in that way. Therefore, it is essential that the dangers caused by driving at inappropriate speeds are clearly explained and demonstrated—in the way that has been adopted for drink-driving—so that we can work towards a general public acceptance of the problem of illegal speed, as well as an acceptance that something must be done about the situation.
Speeding is a symptom of a more general poor attitude towards driving. One of the weaknesses of the United Kingdom's driver licensing system is that the driver is licensed, virtually for life, with no requirement and very little incentive to develop his or her driving skills any further. Drivers can voluntarily take further training, such as Pass Plus or courses offered by driver training providers, but there is little incentive to do so. Indeed, only three per cent of drivers take further 432 driving instruction after their test. Everyone is indebted to my noble friend Lord Simon for his work in promoting further driver education.
There is clearly a need to develop new ways of encouraging drivers to continue to develop their driving skills after they have passed their test. Graduated licensing systems offer opportunities to provide phased driving experience for new drivers during the period when they are most at risk of being involved in an accident, which is very soon after they have passed the test. They can also reduce their exposure to the factors that are most dangerous to them, including speed, alcohol, night driving, and when carrying passengers.
Systems vary across the world. It is not yet clear what form would be the most feasible and effective in this country. Research is certainly needed to assess the benefits of graduated licensing in Britain, and in its best form. The Government's recent consultation paper, Introducing a More Structured Approach to Learning to Drive, is a good step in the right direction.
So what conclusion can we reach? Certainly our death and injury statistics are better than those of many other countries, but clearly more needs to be done. For example, instead of reducing the number of traffic officers, police forces should be set casualty reduction targets, which could be included in their performance indicators. Although it is obviously sensible to work with the manufacturers on as many agreed approaches as possible, there will be occasions when their interests and those of the public do not precisely coincide. I believe that stronger action is required. When he replies, I hope that my noble friend the Minister will say that the Government agree with that view. I should add that we are most grateful to the noble Viscount for raising tonight's debate.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I, too, am most grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for introducing tonight's Unstarred Question. Road traffic accidents are the most common cause of premature death for youngsters. The noble Viscount talked about speed cameras. I fully support the introduction of such cameras, with the one proviso that they are only installed in order to reduce accidents and not to raise revenue. They certainly work; indeed, the statistics are incontrovertible.
The noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, and the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, referred to the problem of tailgating. I believe that they underestimate the significance. An expert or advanced driver never drives so fast that he cannot stop within the distance that he can see to be clear. Clearly, tailgating does not comply with that. It is particularly prevalent among HGV drivers; indeed, as far as I am aware, it is the only thing that they always do wrong. They always tailgate. I am not sure about the solution to the problem.
The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, referred to motorways. He will be aware that 190 people are killed on the motorways each year. Many of those are hard-shoulder accidents, or those caused by 433 someone falling asleep while driving. The emphasis on speeding should not only apply to motorways; it should apply also to built-up areas and other high-risk locations.
The noble Viscount's Question asks what we are doing in the "long-term" to solve the problem of speeding. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, touched on ISA. Can the Minister tell us something about those possibilities? In this system, road-side transmitters are installed at high-risk locations, like schools and junctions, which compel the engine management system of a car to reduce the speed of the vehicle to the legal limit, or perhaps even lower. Some might argue that there is a requirement to be able to give a small burst of acceleration and, therefore, temporarily exceed the speed limit. But that can be provided by way of an over-ride system in a similar way to the kick-down provision on an automatic car. Of course, it is easy to record the use of an over-ride in the electronic system.
At some stage, this system could be fitted to all new cars. There would be a problem with older cars, but differing rates of insurance premium tax could be introduced for vehicles that are not fitted with ISA. Most modern vehicles have electronic engine management systems. The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, referred to the manufacture of very fast cars. Can the Minister tell the House why we do not have speed limiters in all cars? To be both realistic and practical, perhaps a limit in the car's design of 80 miles an hour might give some flexibility.
About 50 per cent of candidates fail their initial driving test. However, none of the top 10 reasons for failure features in the top 10 causes of serious accidents. For example, one common cause of failure in a driving test is failure to make normal progress. This evening we are talking about people doing precisely the opposite by speeding.
The Government have published a paper on the issue. I confess that I have not been able to study it yet, but I suspect that it may contain some welcome original thinking and I look forward to studying it in detail.
What are we to do with speeding drivers? How are we to deter them? There is a hang 'em and flog 'em brigade, but that is not constructive or practical. Like the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, I believe that speeding offences are symptomatic of poor driving skills. I know that speeding saves a negligible amount of time on a journey, but I am a well trained driver, thanks to the wonderful instruction I have had in the Territorial Army. If I were asked how I would make further substantive reductions in the accident rate, I would go for compulsory retraining for all drivers every five years. The only problem is that that would be political suicide. It would also be expensive and, in the short term, there would be insufficient trainers to do the work.
However, we could make a start with errant drivers, by which I mean those convicted of speeding or careless driving offences. In the case of youngsters, 434 who are at the highest risk of being involved in a serious accident, perhaps only one conviction for speeding or careless driving should get them locked into continuation training. Your Lordships should note carefully that I am talking about retraining, not retesting. I am suggesting a requirement for an errant driver to be retrained within six months, otherwise he loses his licence.
Some non-statutory pilot schemes have been very successful. The students have approached the training with the right attitude. I am not suggesting a soft option. This is not an alternative to the existing range of punishments; it is in addition to those punishments. I want to take steps to prevent further poor driving, which would result in more accidents. I hope that the Minister can respond to my points.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ The Earl of Erroll
My Lords, I shall speak briefly in the gap, because I felt that someone had to speak up for the motorist who drives long distances from time to time. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for the chance to speak. The object of a journey is to get there and do something at the end of it. If we all slowed down to a snail's pace, perhaps there would be fewer accidents, or fewer deaths from accidents, but the country would grind to a standstill because public transport will not get people to their final destination—certainly not since Dr Beeching. I am afraid that I have to drive to go the last 100 miles at the other end.
Nearly all people speed occasionally. Even the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, tacitly admitted—
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, perhaps the noble Earl should get out of bed 10 minutes earlier and then he would not need to speed.
§ The Earl of Erroll
My Lords, with all due respect to the noble Earl, if someone is driving 300 or 400 miles, we are not talking about 10 minutes. Averaging an extra 10 miles an hour over that distance can make a significant difference. I shall deal with that quickly because I am speaking in the gap and I want to be brief.
I was interested that even the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, tacitly admitted to speeding when he said that this time he had kept his speed to 70 miles an hour because of the debate. We all know perfectly well that speed does not kill; inappropriate speed at an inappropriate moment kills. I was interested to see some figures the other day that showed that most accidents happen at a not very large number of known accident blackspots around the country. Sorting out 150 or 200 of those would almost halve the death figures. That is why I think that the statistics are very dangerous. If we added up all the figures for how many are killed by alcohol, how many are killed by speed, how many are killed by tiredness and how many are killed by blackspots, we would end up with a death toll at least two or three times higher than the real figure. Some statistics have to be looked at carefully.
435 That brings me to my main point, which is about long-distance driving. Tiredness kills. As the noble Earl said, there are only 190 fatal accidents a year on motorways. Slowing down long-distance drivers will not reduce the number of deaths—it will probably put it up. There is a good case for increasing the speed limit on motorways, particularly at times when they are not crowded. Of course we should hit dangerous driving, but that is another matter.
I have one more issue to raise about totting up penalty points. If someone is caught on camera speeding three times on one journey, they could lose their licence at the end of that journey. For some people, that would destroy their life—it could destroy their job; losing the job may destroy the family because of loss of income; and that could destroy a life. We have to think about these things. It is not as simple as saying that speed can kill someone else. Someone might lose their life indirectly, in another way, as a result of not inappropriate speeding.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Lord Bradshaw
My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for introducing the debate. I shall bring in a few other elements. I do not drive a great deal, so I cannot recount my stories of being passed on the motorway or not being passed on the motorway.
The Government lost a huge opportunity presented by all the protests over fuel. They should have pointed out to people the link between speed and fuel consumption. It is very important to bring home to people how much more fuel they use when they go fast. The Government could publicise that a great deal more than they do. People could do five or six more miles to the gallon not by driving slowly, but by driving at a reasonable speed rather than very fast and by using the accelerator more gently.
It is also wrong that in 30 miles an hour areas where there are street lights, the safe speed is not indicated repeatedly. A 30 miles an hour limit is signposted when you enter it, but you can then go for miles and not see another speed limit sign. That would simply require an amendment to the regulations. In a 40 or 50 miles an hour limit, the signs can be repeated, but that is not allowed in a 30 miles an hour area.
Several noble Lords have mentioned speed as the subject of advertisements. I tore an advertisement out of a magazine that I found on the train last night. It is headlined "Driving by numbers" and its main feature is that the car has a top speed of 135 miles an hour and can go from 0 to 60 in only 5.6 seconds. That speed is certainly not legal anywhere that I know. The Advertising Standards Authority has a duty to intervene with car manufacturers who make high speed the subject of advertisements.
I should also like the Government to have a rebuttal unit. I am not talking about a spin unit or an anti-spin unit. Most of the information about speeding in the newspapers and the media comes from the AA, the 436 RAC, the Association of British Drivers and others. Nobody prominently argues a case in the opposite direction. That case needs to be argued.
The Government should think seriously about the national policing plan, which the Home Secretary is about to unveil. There should be an acknowledged expert on road safety on the board that sets the plan. I was talking to the chief constable last night. He said that he has to concentrate on four main areas, one of which is road safety. As the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, and the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, said, far fewer people are murdered than are killed in road accidents. The police are the managers of the road and they have to target resources at the problem.
In Oxfordshire we had our own system for locating speed cameras. The primary location would be a place where, over one year, there had been five speed-related accidents over a distance of one kilometre. Cameras could also be placed where there had been three speed-related accidents or—this is the marginal category—where there had been one such accident. The Government, however, have commissioned an investigation into the issue by PA Management Consultants. I do not know why that firm was chosen; it would not have been my choice to do this type of work. Nevertheless, the firm has identified new criteria for siting speed cameras, recommending sites at which, over a three-year period, four or more people have been killed or seriously injured in a speed-related accident over a distance of one kilometre. Those criteria are much more stringent than Oxfordshire's criteria of three perhaps relatively minor speed-related accidents. My worry is that cameras will be placed at sites only if there is a trail of blood leading to them. Will people have to be killed or seriously injured before a camera is installed?
Cameras in Oxfordshire, in accordance with the instructions, are being fitted with bright yellow covers that almost shout at the driver. However, what happens to the money raised from the fines? Some money goes to cover police enforcement costs, although almost no policemen are used to operate the system. In Oxfordshire, almost everything is done by civilians with the exception of one officer located in the Banbury ticket office. When a camera shows a very serious incident in which the driver will be prosecuted for dangerous driving, that officer must produce the picture that will be used in evidence. He has nothing to do with speeding incidents.
As has been said, some of the money goes to the magistrates courts committee and some goes to the Crown Prosecution Service. However, the rest of it—and it is a lot of money—goes to the Treasury from where it will disappear. I believe, however, that cameras would be much more acceptable to motorists and local authorities if some of the money were spent on traffic engineering. There is a huge list of engineering schemes to implement, such as straightening out bends, staggering junctions and installing pedestrian crossings—a long list of small schemes that are always the first cut when money is 437 short. I do not think that anyone would doubt that implementing those schemes is a good use of the money.
I also underline the need not to think of traffic policing as an extra that can be cut or raided when there are competing priorities. Our traffic police detect more criminals than any other specialist branch. They are the most productive policemen. Some people think that they spend all their time waiting for speeding motorists, but that is not true. They are policemen first and traffic policemen second. As the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, said, much of their time is spent investigating accidents for the coroner's court. The fewer traffic policemen there are, the more time they will have to spend working for the coroner rather than performing useful services for others.
Logistics firms and hard-pressed local authorities are prone—although the food industry is particularly guilty of this—to offering tenders with terms that can be met only if the driver speeds. As the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, said, congestion in towns and on the roads is so great, and schedules are so tight, that some parties assume that, to meet delivery schedules, speed limits can be routinely exceeded. Unfortunately, in Oxfordshire, that applies also to published bus schedules. The other day, I saw a bus schedule showing 57 minutes driving time in each hour. It is simply not physically possible to maintain such a schedule. Buses will be held up somewhere, after which time can be made up only by speeding. It is a major cause of speeding on our motorways. I am out of time and must stop there.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Viscount Astor
My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for giving us this opportunity to discuss speeding. I shall start with the issue of speed cameras as that seems to be the topic of the evening.
We on this side of the House have always been concerned that speed cameras are being used as revenue raisers rather than to improve road safety. Since the Government came to power, the money raised from speed camera fines has doubled, as has the number of motorists caught, whereas road safety has deteriorated and the number of driver casualties from road accidents has increased. There are lessons to be learned. Speed cameras have an important role to play, such as at accident black spots and near schools, but are they being used to the best advantage? Should there be more cameras, and should they be better placed and more obvious?
Does the Minister agree that the ultimate objective of speed cameras is to ensure that motorists keep within the speed limit, rather than to catch speeding motorists or raise revenue? Moreover, many people accused of speeding say that it is difficult to obtain information on the alleged offence, and the police seem unable to send them a copy of the photograph detailing time and place. What information can be given to those unsure of their whereabouts on the given day and about whether to plead guilty?
438 When I looked into the subject of speed cameras, I discovered—as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said—that there are plans to paint all of them yellow. It seemed to be a good idea at first sight, until I discovered that it has been a particular problem in Scotland. It seems that some Labour Members of the Scottish Parliament have suggested that the Day-Glo yellow being used for the purpose is the colour of the Scottish National Party., and Scottish Ministers have demanded that the cameras be repainted. Can the Minister tell us, without betraying too much of a confidence, what colour he would recommend to his compatriots north of the Border?
§ Viscount Simon
My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that, in one constabulary, the colour of the cameras is blue? In the hours of darkness, they are totally invisible.
§ Viscount Astor
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for those comments. Should the cameras be red or would that be regarded as promoting the Labour Party? I always thought that yellow was the colour of the Liberal Party. The cameras clearly could not be green as that would promote the Green Party.
§ The Earl of Mar and Kellie
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Viscount for giving way. He will be amused to know that in the Edinburgh area the cameras are now yellow and red. I suppose that that symbolises the coalition.
§ Viscount Astor
My Lords, I am grateful for those enlightening remarks. Perhaps we have solved the Minister's problems in that regard. Fortunately, no right reverend Prelates are present or I might suggest that cameras should be painted purple to represent their Benches. Will the Minister confirm that there are no plans to change the colour in England from yellow or, if there are, will he tell the House what colour is proposed?
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, mentioned 30 miles an hour limits and repeating signs. I do not know whether the noble Lord is aware that my honourable friend in another place, the Member for Epsom, introduced a Private Member's Bill which will shortly be debated on Second Reading. I hope that the noble Lord's party will support it. As he said, the repeater signs mounted on lampposts can be used to remind drivers of 40 and 50 miles an hour speed limits and, indeed, national speed limits but cannot be used in areas with 30 miles an hour speed limits. My honourable friend's Bill seeks to rectify that. As I say, I hope that the noble Lord's party will support that Bill. I should be interested to hear the Minister comment on the Government's view of that Bill and whether they will support it.
The Government have introduced various measures to control speed. I believe that my party first introduced speed humps. I should be interested to know whether the Government still think that they are a good idea. Should speed humps be round, sharp or narrow or should they comprise posts such as the 439 traffic calming posts that invariably catch one's wing mirror when one goes through them even when one is travelling at a rather slow speed? It is clear that such measures work only as part of a local plan.
We are concerned that spending on roads has fallen since the Government have been in power. Less money has been spent on relief roads and bypasses and the road building programme has been curtailed. However, in spite of the increase in fuel duty, the number of road users has gone up. I believe that the number of road users has increased by 11 per cent in the past few years. More motorists are on the roads and the situation is becoming more difficult. However, as I say, the Government have reduced spending on roads. They are not spending money on relief roads and congestion is getting worse. It is getting worse in rural areas where heavy costs are involved in this matter.
The Government published a road safety strategy in March 2000. They aimed to create more 20 miles an hour limits near schools, for example. Does the Minister think that has been a success? Have sufficient 20 miles an hour limits been created? Is that purely a matter for local authorities? What advice does his department give on the matter? Does he believe that there should be more such limits?
The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, referred to magistrates' courts and fines. We know of his experience in that area. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, referred to the evil of speeding and, if I understood him correctly, the dangers of watching "Top Gear" on television when one sees expensive cars that no one I know can afford. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, gave us a useful history lesson. I am not sure I entirely followed his logic when he said that the more one cuts speed limits, the more one reduces the number of accidents. Therefore, if we returned to the speed limit in force when the first car appeared on the road, there would be almost no accidents. However, I submit that congestion would be even worse.
The noble Viscount, Lord Allenby of Megiddo, mentioned road rage. I see the noble Viscount driving his car every Saturday in the winter as he follows my local hunt in Oxfordshire. I am usually on a horse when I see him. I am rather proud of the fact that I can still get from A to B across country on my horse faster than the noble Viscount can drive that distance.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, mentioned driving tests. He raised a serious point. What is the Government's attitude as regards drivers who have been fined or disqualified for a serious offence retaking tests? Will the Minister comment on that?
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, made some interesting points about road safety and policing. This is a serious subject. I look forward to hearing the Minister's comments bearing in mind that while the rest of us will go home this evening either on the train, the bus or the Tube—although some may drive—the Minister will sink into the back of his ministerial limousine.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, I wish that that were true but I shall follow my usual mode of transport and walk to Pimlico.
The Question tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, is timely given that the department recently gave evidence to the Select Committee inquiry on traffic speed. The department submitted both written and oral evidence. First, why does this issue matter? A number of noble Lords have already asked that question. It matters because 3,500 people die on our roads each year, 40,000 people are seriously injured and 300,000 casualties occur in total. As has been said by a number of noble Lords, if that situation were to arise due to other causes it would be considered a national scandal and would not be allowed to continue.
We are aware of the distress that that situation causes. However, we are probably less aware of the financial costs involved. The estimated cost of every single death is well over £1 million, as one would expect of a reasonable costing basis, not that costing is the issue. Noble Lords also raised a point that needs to be made—although the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, may have adopted a rather different tone—that is, that accident frequency rises with the unit of speed or, to put it another way, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, did, a 1 per cent reduction in average speed cuts accidents by 5 per cent. I believe that our financial colleagues would call that gearing, but it is a remarkably positive gearing ratio.
The seriousness of accidents also rises with speed. I believe that I said in answer to an earlier Question that if one is hit by a car travelling at 35 miles an hour one's chances of survival are about 30 per cent; that is, one has a 70 per cent chance of being killed. However, if one is hit by a car travelling at 25 miles an hour one's chances of survival are vastly higher. We may not yet have got that point across to the general public. We need to persuade drivers that they are not invulnerable and that we are not just concerned about their safety but also about the harm they may do to innocent people. If drivers reduced their speed by five miles an hour, the chances of their ruining someone else's life and perhaps their own would significantly reduce. However, that message has not yet got across to the general public.
As regards speed limits, drivers tend to drive at the speed that they judge is safe according to the road they are on. There is plenty of evidence to support that. The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, will be glad to know that the speed policy review concluded that speed limits should be set at levels that are suitable for the road function and at levels that are most likely to be respected. Officials in the department are now working on improving information and guidance to local authorities on setting local speed limits. Currently the advice includes the circumstances in which setting different speed limits on short stretches of road might be necessary. We believe that it remains by and large good and helpful advice but there is a need to build into it the additional experience and best practice that 441 have emerged over the past 10 years or so. I shall ensure that the department considers the points that have been made in the debate in that respect.
The use of repeater signs is a difficult issue. There is a Private Member's Bill on that matter, but an environmental issue is also involved. If the street is lit, most people know that there is a limit of 30 mph and that if t he street is not lit, the limit may be higher. If we allowed or even encouraged the use of repeater signs, one would have a more confused situation, unless one put repeater signs almost everywhere on the street scenery. We do not have time to debate those issues tonight but they will be considered in relation to the Private Member's Bill. Before consideration is given to changing that rule, we would need to be certain that that would result in a clear improvement on the present situation. I do not say that the department's mind is closed; I am simply marking the reality of some of the challenges.
§ Lord Bradshaw
My Lords, in the villages around where I live, where there is a limit of 30 mph and there are no street lights, we have repeater signs, and where there are a few street lights, there are no repeater signs. That is a matter for local judgment. We should allow local authorities to use either repeater signs or signs along the road. That is not a matter about which the Government know best. That is a matter for local authorities.
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, I note that point, which will be given consideration.
Introducing separate policing units was suggested in order to better enforce road traffic law. The short answer is that all police will and do enforce all traffic laws, including driving without due care and attention. London was mentioned earlier. In terms of the numbers of road traffic police, London has just been accepted on to the safety camera netting-off scheme, and police officers will be dedicated to it. We expect that to save many lives in London.
We must recognise that technology can make a major contribution to road safety in ways that 15 or so years ago we would have believed impossible. One should not understand by that that police action is limited. In 2000—the latest year for which statistics are available—official police action or penalty charge notices resulted in more than 10 million actions. That is the largest number of offences that have been recorded to date. There is plenty going on.
I underpin what the Government are doing with the commitment that was set out in the road safety strategy in March 2000. One of the characteristics of the Government's approach is the willingness to make clear statements about where they need to get to in relation to a number of issues so that success or failure can be assessed. There is a target of a 40 per cent reduction in the numbers killed or seriously injured and a higher target of a 50 per cent reduction in the number of children killed by 2010. If, as I hope, we achieve that, it will make a phenomenal difference to 442 the figures. The numbers are very significant if one adds them up, which, in view of the tightness of time, I cannot do.
As part of our strategy, we undertook and published a fundamental review of speed policy, which several noble Lords will have read—it makes interesting reading. The House will recognise that a range of tested road safety measures is available for local authorities to use. They include the very successful introduction of 20 mph speed zones, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, referred—they have been successful—and road bumps, to which the noble Viscount also referred. They have proved to be very effective at improving safety, particularly for children, pedestrians and cyclists. The key to their success is that they are self-enforcing and are activated all the time. They do not need highly skilled, high-cost police.
The issue of cameras has rightly been debated at significant length. We are in the very early days of that revolution—I believe that it is a revolution. They were introduced initially as a pilot but the success of the first eight pilot sites was so significant that the Government decided to move fast and to open up their use to any police force that wanted to enter in to a partnership. We expect, within 18 months, that virtually all the police forces in the country will have taken up partnerships that basically allow netting-off to operate. There will be a substantial expansion in the number of speed cameras. They have already led to a reduction of nearly 50 per cent in the number of people killed or seriously injured in the areas in which they have been placed. That is a phenomenal impact. They have also led to an 18 per cent reduction in the wider area in the pilot sites. Their effect is not simply in the zones in which the cameras are used. They also produced evidence for 800,000 motoring offences in 2000.
The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, rightly said that the aim of speed cameras is to reduce speed, not to increase revenue. To put it baldly, the Government would be well pleased if we got no revenue al all from speed cameras because all were being observed and there was no need to fine motorists. They are part of a strategy to shift behaviour rather than to raise revenue per se.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, talked about netting off for road engineering safety measures. As he will know probably better than I do, Treasury rules currently govern that approach. We are at the early stages of quite a significant shift. The approach has been going for barely a year or two. It will go nationwide shortly and we shall study its impact and effectiveness. We shall review what lessons we learn from it in the wider scope in the coming year or two.
In that context, the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, asked what someone should do if they are unsure. In short, if any of us feels that we are not guilty, we should plead not guilty and take our chances of persuading the magistrate. If we think that we are guilty, it is usually efficient, in relation to fixed penalties, to pay up and, one hopes, shift one's behaviour.
443 The community more generally can benefit from a reduction in road accident casualties, which the increased use of cameras is bringing about. There is already some evidence to suggest that that is lightening the load on some accident and emergency departments.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, challenged us to think about where the technology appears to be moving. He referred to what I believe are called speed limiters or intelligence speed adaptation. This is rather complex stuff but, as I understand it, it basically fuses the technology that GPS devices use to let people know exactly where they are and how fast they are going, with speed limiting devices, which, as the noble Earl knows better than most in the House, are applied to coaches and commercial vehicles. It is theoretically possible to combine those technologies and to know whether a car should be going at 30 mph, whether it was going faster than that and to signal to the driver. Perhaps even bolder measures could be applied. That is what technology allows. These are major potential issues and the department at this stage is undertaking some live testing of how driver behaviour is affected by those issues. I should not want to delude the House into thinking for one second that these are immediate issues—they may well take decades to roll out. However, they are obviously worthy of serious test and intelligent debate.
These issues are not simply for government: local authorities play a significant role, together with the police in what is almost a tripartite arrangement—with health authorities, there would be a quartet of authorities. We hope that they recognise the continual support from the Government to address the problems of excessive and inappropriate speed. They are, through their local transport plans—I was asked about this—required to produce casualty reduction targets. They are therefore already a significant component of those actions.
The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, also asked about the 20 mph zone. Time does not allow me to go into much detail, except to say that there is much more discretion for local authorities to introduce such zones. The evidence is that when they are well applied, they produce significant benefits.
I should also mention speed humps. Yes, they were introduced by the previous government but they are not universally blessed. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and I frequently debate them. Next time that we do so, I should point out that they appear to produce significant benefits. I commend the initiative—they do reduce casualties and are worth it for that.
Vehicle-activated signs are another issue. I believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, gave a rather nice example of a police car activating a sign. The type of vehicle-activated sign that is also of interest technologically is one that can sense when a car is approaching a bend too fast and can signal to the driver. Such things are possible and I believe that they are seen as useful by drivers, in particular if they are viewed as providing advice and information rather 444 than signalling impending prosecution. Therefore, that is a further example of where we must make a sensible assessment of how technology can help to reduce deaths caused by speed.
I do not believe that there is time to talk about some of the demonstration projects for improving safety on mixed-priority urban roads. However, these are some of the most intractable problem areas and they contain a concentration of mix. As has already been said, we know that motorways are not totally safe but they are a great deal safer than most other roads. It is the mixed urban situations and some rural situations that cause the problems.
The issue at heart, as has been mentioned by almost everyone who has spoken in the debate, is the strange disassociation that most of us seem to go in for—myself included—when we get behind the wheel of a car. Because of air bags and seat belts, perhaps we tend to believe that the risks that we face are less great than they might have been in the past; and they are. However, the risks to others are not. Yet we still tend to believe that the possibility that we shall kill or injure someone is remote, and thus it is difficult to believe in the immediacy of such an occurrence. Therefore, we all carry on as though it will not happen.
I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, argued that case clearly. I did not agree with him for a second, but I considered it useful to have that input into the debate. He expressed the mindset that most of us have at some stage: we are rushed; we are late for an appointment; and we must push on.
I was—this is self-confession time, which is highly dangerous—stopped by the motorway police once and cautioned. I spent the rest of the journey calculating how much time I would have saved by going at the speed at which I had been travelling compared with the speed at which I travelled subsequently. That occurred on a drive from, I believe, Reading to London, and it was not worth the candle. I would have saved about five or six minutes. I thought, "I'm off my head". Yet we have not yet managed to understand that or, in particular, the damage that we would cause to other people by killing or injuring them.
I believe that retesting—voluntary or compulsory—and retraining are both—
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, indeed so, but I felt at liberty to mention the other word. They are issues which the Government are considering in a variety of contexts in their reviews of both speed policy and penalties. They are part of any sensible strategy of behaviour shift. It also appears that retraining or rehabilitation techniques can lead to behaviour shifts in relation to drink-driving. We must bring about a behaviour shift in the most flagrant speeders as well as in the general attitude. Clearly we should also give consideration to other issues, such as two-tier fixed penalties.
The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, said that one should recognise that the loss of one's licence can lead to the loss of one's livelihood. He is absolutely right. But it 445 can also mean that someone else loses his life. That is why we must try to get across to people that they are at serious risk. If they repeatedly exceed speed limits and get caught, they will not be able to drive on the roads. Most people would consider that to be only fair and reasonable rather than inappropriate.
However, behaviour shifts do not happen easily. It has taken us 30 years to bring about a general, if not a universal, consensus in the country that drinking and driving is unacceptable behaviour. I believe that, as a society, we must recognise that this is not an issue simply for government and that we must try to bring about a similar shift in behaviour in relation to speeding.
I note the point about the national policing plan. In a sense, we have already made that commitment as part of the national road safety strategy. We have already set a national commitment to reducing those levels. I believe that shifting attitudes and publicising the reality of the situation are among the most difficult and sensitive issues. I hear the point that was raised 446 about a rebuttal unit, and I shall give that consideration. But we must think about how we—not only in government but all of us—get the message across. Ultimately, that is what must be done, reinforced by technology, deterrents and a whole range of measures. But, basically, we must internalise the message in all of us.
I very much thank the noble Viscount for providing the opportunity to set out these issues.