§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Baroness Scott of Needham Market
rose to call attention to the trends in the number of road deaths and casualties; and to move for Papers.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am pleased to be able to bring forward a debate in your Lordships' House today on road deaths and casualties. I look forward to the contributions of various noble Lords with great interests because I know that they have a wealth of experience to bring to bear on the subject.
First, I want to declare some interests. I am a Suffolk county councillor, chair of the Local Government Association Transport Executive and a member of the Commission for Integrated Transport.
God willing, few of us will ever be involved in a rail or air crash. That is the statistical reality. However, with some 3,500 deaths each year on our roads and a staggering 35,000 injuries caused by road crashes, the chances are that each one of us will, during our lifetime, be involved in some way or other in such a tragedy.
As is so often the case, it is sad that regular repetition of those figures has the effect of blunting their meaning. But anyone who has ever been involved in a serious road crash, or who has observed at close quarters the after-effects of one, will know that the outcomes can be truly devastating. In that rather hard-hearted way that accountants have, the cost of a death on our roads has been estimated at £1 million, but the personal cost is beyond measure.
So why is it that we as a society are prepared to tolerate levels of death and injury on our roads which we would never accept on the rail network or within the aviation sector? It is easy to speculate, but my guess is that it has something to do with the development in our society of the culture which creates blame but does not accept responsibility. It is always very easy to blame other individuals or organisations for their 1213 failings when things go wrong, rather than to accept our own responsibility for fault and to adjust our behaviour where necessary. And so we have created a world in which some people believe that their right to arrive at their destination in the shortest possible time is a goal which overrides the personal safety of others on the road.
It is of course true to say that in this country we have among the lowest rates of death and injury on the road in the world. That is to be welcomed, but nevertheless there is no room for complacency. We know, for example, that we do not perform well in international league tables when it comes to child pedestrian casualties. That is particularly telling in disadvantaged areas, where a child is 15 times more likely to suffer from an accident on the road than in a more well-heeled area.
Between 1983 and 1993 there was a sharp reduction in the number of road deaths. Since then, the rate of reduction has, sadly, slowed up considerably. But perhaps that is not too surprising given that traffic growth is up; the number of police officers dedicated to traffic enforcement is down; worryingly, we see signs that seatbelt wearing is declining; and the mobile phone has become a new menace on the road. In this time also, drink-driving and driving under the influence of drugs has increased. And so between 2001 and 2002 road deaths fell by just 19 and serious injuries by 153.
Clearly, something has to be done. The Government have, in their 10-year plan, set some ambitious targets for accident rates, so I first want to ask the Minister whether, in the context of the factors I have just outlined, he is still confident that those targets will be met. In 1999, the Government's road safety document, Tomorrow's Roads—Safer for Everyone, was widely welcomed. It gave a clear list of actions which the Government were going to take. Four years later, where are we?
The Government have changed the law with regard to school crossing patrols; introduced mandatory logbooks for learner drivers; tightened seatbelt exemptions for local delivery drivers; and strengthened police powers for roadside testing. That is pretty much it. We are still awaiting proposals for improved driver training and testing, evidential roadside breath testing and the changes to road traffic penalties which were recommended by the Home Office some years ago.
The Government have considered and rejected a strategy to introduce a new hierarchy of roads, a national speed management strategy and additional police powers to undertake targeted breath testing. They have also ruled out lowering the legal blood alcohol limit. I do not believe that that is a satisfactory state of affairs for a Government who say they are committed to road safety. I am afraid it suggests to me that they have been well and truly nobbled by the motoring lobby and the sensationalist journalists who serve it.
1214 I want to concentrate today on the issue of speed. All respectable road safety literature and evidence from all around the world supports the relationship between speed and both the frequency and severity of crashes. Excessive or inappropriate speed is the single highest contributory factor in road accidents. In America, for example, those states where the limit was increased substantially in 1996 have seen a 35 per cent rise in death rates, far outstripping the rise in other states where the limits were left the same.
There is a growing body of support for a national speed limit strategy within which local authorities can develop a hierarchy of roads. It would be based on their type, the level of risk and the desired function and usage, rather than the current system of historic factors and average current speed. This is of particular importance on rural roads. Sixty per cent of all fatalities are on rural roads—they are far more dangerous than motorways. The concept of a rural road hierarchy is supported by, among others, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, Transport 2000, the road safety campaigners Brake, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and the Royal National Institute for the Blind. In the light of that, I want to ask the Minister why the Government have decided not to proceed with it.
The other significant area of concern, as I have said, is that of child pedestrians in urban areas, where we fare far worse than other European countries. The home zones initiative is to be welcomed, as is the Government's funding for pilot areas, but only 24 in the whole country were funded last year. At that rate of progress, it would probably take 100 years before the country could be said to be calmed.
To make matters worse, the statutory guidance promised when the Transport Act 2000 was enacted has still not been issued. That is now a matter of urgency. The Health Development Agency has demonstrated that a national extension of the home zones initiative would reduce child pedestrian injuries by many thousands every year.
While on the subject of traffic calming, I noticed with interest the growing backlash against measures such as road humps and chicanes, which has led in parts of London to a proposal to use speed cameras to enforce the speed limit in 20 mph zones. Lo and behold, that, too, has led to moaning in certain parts of the motoring lobby. They want neither traffic calming nor speed cameras, so perhaps I could offer a radical suggestion: why do they not try sticking to the speed limit?
Some five years ago, a very close friend of mine received the call that every parent dreads: his teenage daughter had been knocked down by a speeding vehicle close to her home. For weeks her life hung in the balance, and, as she recovered, the extent of her injuries was revealed as massive. Due to the intensive care that she received in Addenbrooke's, the superb long-term treatment that she received at the specialist head injury unit at Tadworth, in Surrey, and, above all, her own indomitable spirit, she has made an amazing recovery and today is studying for a degree. I 1215 challenge those journalists who write stories about speed cameras and traffic-calming to go to Tadworth and talk to Adele or young people like her. When they listen to her story, they should remember that she is the lucky one because she is still here to tell the story.
The recent spate of speed-camera stories has given rise to an entire new mythology, so it is about time we put some facts straight. First, research consistently shows that speed cameras reduce casualties. A Department for Transport study has shown a reduction in the number of people killed and seriously injured at camera sites. Those findings have been backed up by work carried out by the West London Camera Partnership and evidence from other countries. A recent study in Cambridgeshire by Imperial College has concluded that cameras at certain sites can reduce collisions by 45 per cent, with beneficial effects recorded up to two kilometres away from the camera.
Until the Transport Act 2000, the police were constrained from using cameras by the fact that their administration was costly to the police authority. Under the netting-off provisions of the Act, the police have been able to retain enough of the proceeds of the fines to cover costs, and the remainder goes to the Treasury. Police authorities are not lining their own pockets by introducing speed cameras, and I find it very difficult to imagine that any police authority would introduce cameras simply so that it could send money to Gordon Brown.
I have always taken the view that the proceeds of speed camera fines, estimated currently at £20 million, should be retained by the police and local authorities for investment in road safety. Ironically, the Government rejected that proposal on the grounds that the public would regard it as a revenue-raising exercise—but, of course, they are doing that anyway. However, I still believe that that would be the best way forward. More than enforcement, engineering and education are key, but they cost money. It would be a nice fit if the money raised from enforcement could be used for engineering and education.
For the netting-off procedure to apply, there must be a local safety camera partnership, led by the Highways Agency and the police. A camera can be sited only where there have been at least four crashes involving deaths or serious injuries on a given 1.5-kilometre stretch of road in the past three years, and where at least 20 per cent of drivers exceed the speed limit. Cameras are not sited for the generation of income.
There has been a fall in the number of dedicated traffic police and, with it, the number of successful prosecutions for offences such as dangerous driving and speeding. Critics of speed cameras point to the fact that they only catch speeding drivers and do not deal with other dangerous manoeuvres such as tail-gating. That is true, but without cameras we would not have more police, and the situation would simply worsen. With police authorities hard-pressed and road traffic enforcement not a priority in national policing plans, cameras are essential, although no substitute for traffic police.
1216 Given the lateness of the hour and the business still to be transacted, I shall make three final, brief points. First, since we have debated the matter at length during the passage of the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003, I will simply express my concern that the Government have still not chosen to reduce the legal blood alcohol limit, despite the fact that we have one of the highest permitted levels in Europe, and given that a reduction would be supported by PACTS, the RoSPA and the RNIB, among others.
Secondly, will the Minister comment on why the recent consultation carried out by the Health and Safety Executive, A Strategy for Workplace Health and Safety in Great Britain to 2010 and beyond, does not propose to cover work-related driving? Given that the Government's own Road Safety Strategy has identified business drivers as particularly at risk on the road, that is a glaring omission.
Thirdly, perhaps the Minister might comment on the road safety benefits of a move to Central European Time and the extra hour of evening daylight that it would bring. Perhaps I ought not to have mentioned that in the presence of my noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness.
In concluding, I shall quote from a recent publication by the AA, which, I am sure, sees itself as the voice of the responsible motorist:preventing death on the road need be neither expensive nor complex. It does need financial investment but it also requires discipline from authorities in engaging people with the right skills to measure where people are being routinely killed and maimed, to apply systematically the known remedies, and to maintain roads properly".None of us would disagree with that; but is it not telling that nowhere in that little homily does it mention the responsibility of motorists to obey the speed limit? Coming from the AA, that is a disgrace, and it is our problem. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Lord Faulkner of Worcester
My Lords, 1 warmly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, on securing this important debate, and on her brilliant speech. The debate comes just one week after the national day of action on road traffic speed, organised by Transport 2000 last Wednesday.
I declare two relevant unpaid interests: I am an honorary vice-president of Transport 2000 and president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, a position that I was honoured to take over from my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham. I am delighted that my noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, who will also speak in this debate, is my deputy president in RoSPA. I am proud to be associated with both organisations, because in their own ways they have played a huge part in campaigning to reduce the annual slaughter on our roads.
It will come as no surprise to noble Lords that I agreed with every word of the noble Baronesss speech. The number of people killed and injured on our roads each year—to say nothing of the lives of friends and relatives wrecked as a consequence—is a national disgrace, particularly because virtually every accident 1217 is avoidable. Almost all road crashes are caused by, or involve, human error, whether mistakes or deliberate violations of the law. The vast majority, therefore, of the 3,431 deaths and 300,000 injuries that occurred in road crashes in 2002 were due to people using the road in a dangerous or careless manner. Ultimately, the only way to reduce that appalling toll is to change how drivers, riders and walkers behave on the road. That requires a co-ordinated strategy based on the three Es—education, engineering and enforcement.
On education, training and publicity must be provided to road users so that, with appropriate knowledge, skills and attitudes, they can use the roads safely. Engineering of roads and vehicles physically affects how road users behave; for example, through speed reduction measures. Enforcement supports and complements the other two, and aims to deter irresponsible, dangerous and unlawful behaviour, through investigation and, if necessary, punishment of offenders. Drivers must be made aware that there is a strong chance of getting caught if they behave dangerously, and that they will receive sufficiently severe sanctions to act as a deterrent to such behaviour.
There is no doubt that the introduction of new laws has helped to change public attitudes and behaviour in ways that have reduced the rate of road casualties. We see very few people in the front seats of cars not wearing seat belts these days, although we have a long way to go in persuading passengers in the back to put them on, and there are still terrifyingly large numbers of parents who allow their children to be unrestrained on the back seats. I cannot remember when I last saw a motorcyclist or pillion rider in this country not wearing a safety helmet, which is a big change from a few years ago, although that is not true in other countries in Europe and elsewhere in the world.
The public attitude to drinking and driving has also changed. It is no longer socially acceptable to take a chance and "have one for the road", and we do not often hear the boast in the club or the pub, "I drive better after a few drinks" in the way that we did a few years ago. The introduction of blood alcohol testing had a profound effect on the casualty figures in the 1980s and early 1990s. Drink-drive deaths hit a peak in 1982, when they reached 1,550, with over 8,000 people seriously injured. By 1999, they were down to 460 and 2,470 respectively. Worryingly, however, they have been creeping up each year since, with the provisional figures for 2002 being 560 deaths and 2,820 seriously injured.
As the noble Baroness said, Her Majesty's Government have so far resisted pressure from a wide range of road safety organisations—including RoSPA, the UK Commission for Integrated Transport and Sub-Committee B of your Lordships' European Union Committee—to reduce the blood alcohol limit from 80 milligrams to 50 milligrams, which would put us in line with every other country in the European Union except Ireland, Italy and Luxembourg. It has been proven that any amount of alcohol impairs a driver and increases his or her 1218 accident risk. At levels between 50 milligrams and 80 milligrams, drivers are two to four times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than drivers with no alcohol in their blood.
In Britain, about 80 road users per year are killed in accidents in which at. least one driver or motorcyclist had blood alcohol between 50 and 80 milligrams. The Government's Road Safety Strategy estimates that reducing the limit to 50 milligrams would save 50 lives, and prevent 250 serious injuries and 1,200 slight injuries each year. Not only drivers with between 50 milligrams and 80 milligrams would be affected. Reviews of the effect of lowering the limit in other countries have shown that it can be accompanied by a reduction in drinking and driving at much higher levels of alcohol as well. A lower limit would send out a general education message and set the tone for no drinking and driving.
A lower limit should be introduced as part of a wider package of drink-driving measures, including new education and enforcement initiatives, one of which should be the introduction of random breath testing. To those who argue that this would erode civil liberties, I simply say that drink drivers erode the civil liberties of everyone else. Drink driving is such a serious offence that it justifies giving the police wider powers.
The police have a critical part to play in the enforcement of the newest and very welcome road safety initiative taken by the Government—banning the use of hand-held mobile phones by drivers. My noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham deserves considerable credit for helping to bring this about, because he successfully took a Private Member's Bill through your Lordships' House to do just that in 1999. There is no need tonight to rehearse the arguments that he and many other Members deployed during the passage of the Bill, especially at Second Reading on 9th July 1999.
However, two further aspects arise from the ban that need attention. First, all the available research shows that the use of a hands-free mobile by drivers is just as distracting as a hand-held. There is little point in having both hands connected to the steering wheel if the brain is not connected to the hands. I therefore hope that my noble friend will be able to assure me that this matter will be kept under review, and that if evidence is forthcoming to support a complete ban, the Government will not shrink from that, however great the shrieks of anguish from the mobile phone industry.
Secondly, does my noble friend agree that, should employers respond to this new law by supplying hands-free kits to their staff, they could fall foul of health and safety laws if an investigation determined that the use of a phone—whether hands-free or not— contributed to an accident? Does he further agree that, as part of the management of work-related road safety, employers should provide their staff with clear guidance on the use of mobile phones?
Finally, I turn to the more controversial road safety measure of speed cameras. On this issue, the general public show far greater common sense than certain 1219 hysterical pro-motorist writers in national newspapers and television commentators, or indeed, I am sorry to say, the former official transport spokesman for the Conservative Party in the other place. I commend to the House the poll of polls released by Transport 2000 on 29th November, which was based on six surveys. It shows that support for the use of speed cameras averages 74 per cent. The latest poll included in the calculation was carried out by ICM for the BBC in October and showed support for speed cameras running at 75 per cent with only 19 per cent against. According to the work done by the Transport Research Laboratory, around one third of fatal crashes are due to excessive speed. For every 1 mph reduction in a driver's speed, the chance of being involved in a crash drops by 5 per cent. Hitting a pedestrian at 35 mph is twice as likely to kill them as hitting them at 30 mph.
The noble Baroness referred to the experience in the United States, where there was an attempt to raise speed limits in 22 states. The consequence was that 1,880 more deaths took place on the road over a period of three years, compared with those states that did not raise limits. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration now advocates the adoption of speed-camera laws similar to ours in the United Kingdom, to help counteract the rising death toll on American roads. So we must not allow a vocal minority of motorists to distort this issue. Speed cameras are the motorist's friend because they make the roads safer for everyone. They, along with the other road safety measures which have been described by the noble Baroness and to which I have referred in my speech, are all essential players in achieving what the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and, I am sure, all the other speakers who will follow so rightly want—a permanent and continuing reduction in road casualty figures.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, it has been a good day for transport in your Lordships' House. I add my congratulations and thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, on securing the second short debate today.
The obvious place for me to start is to suggest to the noble Baroness that she read what I said about short sea shipping—to move a lot of goods from the roads to coastal and short sea vessels. To remind your Lordships, it is not the old fuddy-duddy industry of the past. Nowadays, there are modern vessels able to take 150 lorries and containers and travel around our coast at up to 40 knots. If we could move a considerable number of those containers—that travel up our motorways full and return empty—to the sea to get closer to our industries and retail areas, it would hugely reduce the number of accidents on our roads, especially our motorways. We could also move more containers on to the railways. Doubtless, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, will want to say something about that in due course.
1220 I now turn to two aspects which cause accidents that are rarely mentioned—sleep and eyesight. The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, both mentioned alcohol limits. However, it is considered that driver fatigue causes more accidents than alcohol, yet it is barely mentioned. If the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, contributed to the debate on driver fatigue and eyesight with the same energy and enthusiasm as he exhibited when speaking about speed cameras, mobile telephones and alcohol, we could raise the profile and get the message across.
What do the Government think of the research done by the Loughborough Sleep Research Centre? I was delighted to read that it had just won a Prince Michael of Kent international road safety award for excellence for its ground-breaking research. The centre has an extremely important message, which must be got across.
The research shows that one is considerably more vulnerable driving at times when one is normally asleep, especially from two to three o'clock in the morning. Sleep-related vehicle accidents are more common in the mid-afternoon than in the rest of the normal waking day. Male drivers under 30 years old are the main victims of such accidents. The risk of death or serious injury to the driver may well be greater than in the average accident. Sleep-related vehicle accidents comprise about 16 to 23 per cent of road accidents, the higher figures being relevant for motorways. Because of the profound influence of the circadian rhythm of sleepiness on sleep-related vehicle accidents, they can occur even after a short period of driving.
Given that evidence, what support are the Government giving to those good people who are trying to work out systems to alert lorry drivers in their cab? It is not that difficult. We can build in many factors—for instance, eye movement between mirrors or how the steering wheel operates. Systems are being invented and developed with all those factors built in. When the normal, safe driving pattern changes, alarms go off in the driver's cab. Surely, that is the sort of area that we should work in. We need prevention, rather than having to clear up the horrible mess afterwards.
All of us who have been involved in deaths on the roads know the misery and emotional trauma that such deaths cause. It is estimated that each death costs about £1 million. It is an area in which positive measures can be taken. I am sure that the Government will want to help.
I have raised before the subject of eyesight. The results of research done by Specsavers, who did eight "Drive Safe" roadshows last year in August and September, corroborated what they had discovered a year earlier. I raised the matter then in your Lordships' House. One in four motorists is driving with eyes that are not fit to pass an eyesight test. That must also contribute to accidents. If a motorist hits the kerb, the tyre bursts and there is an accident. The statistics will show that the tyre burst, not that the driver did not see where he was going or that he or she was sleepy and should not have been driving. None of us knows the full extent of the hazard.
1221 I know that research is being done into the eyesight problem and that the industry is working with the research units. Can the Minister tell me whether the peripheral visual field defects project is complete? Has a final report been presented? I also want to ask him about the central scotoma and driving contract that was recently tendered for. Has it been awarded? To whom? When will it be delivered?
Finally, I ask the Minister where we have got to in Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, speaking for the Government, told me in March that the Commission's proposed working group on eyesight standards for driver licensing had not yet met. Has that group now met? If so, what has been achieved so far? When will we hear the results? What attitude is being taken by the UK Government and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency?
All of us regret deaths and accidents on the roads, but it is not simply a matter of speed cameras, mobile phones and alcohol. There are deeper reasons, and it is those reasons that we ought to make a major effort to address. Prevention is far better than the result of a nasty accident.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord St John of Bletso
My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, for introducing this important debate. All too often, such debates do not get the attention of your Lordships' House. I concur with the strong concerns expressed about drink-related deaths and accidents, as well as those expressed about fatigue. I agree with the comments about speed-reduction measures.
Road safety is something that effects 99 per cent of people in this country every day of their lives. Yet, inexplicably, the issue receives not nearly enough public attention and scrutiny. Although we are, rightly, shocked when anyone loses their life in a homicide or a terrorist attack, news of equally precious lives lost on the roads is generally relegated to local television news and a couple of paragraphs in the local newspaper. We seem to have become almost inoculated against the shock of hearing about road accidents.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, has already said, 3,341 people died in road accidents in 2002. It is encouraging that that figure represents a significant reduction over the past decade, but no one should lose sight of the human suffering behind the sterile statistics. By my reckoning, on average, every day of the year, nine British families are devastated by the news that a father, mother, son or daughter has died on the road.
It goes without saying that the sustained fall in road-accident fatalities since 1992 is extremely good news. However, our general response should be tempered on two fronts. First, although the number of fatalities has been reduced, the overall number of road accidents remains essentially unchanged, hovering between 300,000 and 350,000 a year. Secondly, the fact that the number of fatalities has been reduced by 19 per cent in 1222 the past decade should be cause less for celebration than for a renewed determination to allocate more resources and introduce more measures to win this winnable war.
As the father of four young children—they are all under the age of eight—and as someone who travels by scooter, I shall confine my remarks today to the specific issues of child road safety and to measures affecting people perched on two, rather than four or more, wheels. I welcome the manner in which the Department for Transport has put a special focus on reducing the number of children who are killed or injured in road accidents each year. We pledge each newborn child education and healthcare, and I believe that our children are entitled to expect as a right the freedom to walk and cycle in safety and confidence. That is obviously not the situation today.
Road traffic accidents remain the leading cause of accidental injury among children and young people. In road accidents in 2002, 179 children died and 4,419 children were seriously injured. Of those casualties, roughly 60 per cent were pedestrians, 20 per cent were car passengers and 15 per cent were cyclists.
So what are our children entitled to expect? First, and probably foremost, they are entitled to effective road-traffic calming in the streets around their schools and recreational areas. Obviously, those schemes reduce the speed of traffic and make drivers aware of children nearby. Unquestionably, those measures save lives.
I am aware that the department has provided a small amount of funding—I note that it is a comparatively small amount of funding—to local authorities over the past couple of years for various child safety projects, including the introduction of 20-miles-per-hour zones. I am sure that the Minister will mention more in his winding-up speech. Other funds have been made available for the building of so-called home zones.
But how many of these potentially dangerous areas will be calmed unless a great deal more funding is provided? Surely it is not difficult for local authorities to identify those areas where children are most at risk. Perhaps they could use road accident statistics from recent years and then introduce the 20 miles-per-hour speed limit, speed humps and as much signage as possible. Purely and simply, traffic calming should become obligatory around every inner-city school and recreational area. I note the comment made earlier that, often, traffic-calming measures are taken in more well-off areas. There should not be any discrimination whatever.
Some people may ask, "Would this be cost effective"? In my research for today's debate, much mention was made of the words, "cost effective". In order to make that assessment, someone must put a price on a child's life. Who would dare do that? In your Lordships' House, we have a tendency to mention a great deal of statistics, but I would simply point out that the statistics indicate that road accidents cost the country more than £3.5 billion every year. That is scarcely cost effective.
1223 Secondly, children need to be properly educated in order to stay safe on the roads. Kerbcraft is one such practical child-pedestrian training scheme that is being implemented in 100 areas in England during the next five years, and there are other similar programmes. Perhaps the department could swiftly assess the merits of all the available options and then ensure that the most effective road-safety programme is taught in every school in Britain. It is important that road-traffic safety is taught in schools. Once again, there is no time for dithering and weakness. What can be more important than teaching our young children how to cross busy roads, use pavements, read signs, and so forth?
Thirdly, every child cyclist should undergo a training programme that is run either through their school or directly by their local authority. The department's own evaluation of several ongoing pilot schemes for children aged 10 reports that,those who have undertaken cycle training were significantly safer in on-road tests and road and safety quizzes than their untrained peers".Once again, "several" is not enough. Pilot schemes help a few, when everyone is entitled to have access to such knowledge.
Fourthly, it is just as important to have adult training schemes, which are required for our children to be saved from the carelessness of their parents. We now come to the importance of wearing seat belts. Overall, standards have improved in recent years, with more children seen safely buckled in their back seats. But, every now and again, it is possible to notice a child sitting in the middle of the back, leaning forward between the front seats.
A friend of mine who works in a children's hospital named this the "rocket launch" position; impact will immediately send the child through the windscreen. He deals with the tragic consequences of such crass parental stupidity day after day. Some progress has been made in parental training, with the development of One Step Ahead packs for parents of children up to the age of five. Evaluation has shown significant gains. But, again, a lack of resources seems to prevent a national rollout.
It is hard not to conclude that while much outstanding and innovative work is being done to improve road safety among children, a lack of funding inhibits progress. As I said before, "cost effective" seems to be a phrase that appears all too often in the department's literature. In this particular area, if something needs to be done, the funds must be found. As a father himself, I feel confident that the Chancellor would agree.
I now briefly turn to the issue of motorcyclists and cyclists. I am aware that this particular group is not popular among many road users. Indeed, motorists remind me of that every day. However, personal experience leads me to suggest that the single most effective means of improving road safety for those of us who choose to travel on two wheels would be to give motorcyclists and cyclists the right to drive in bus lanes. I know that I am barking up a tree, which we 1224 have done for many years with little success. But it would be encouraging to have some news from the Government on that issue. Most accidents tend to occur when motorcyclists or cyclists weave between cars. While that practice cannot be defended, it would be significantly reduced by opening bus lanes.
In general, few would disagree that the use of motorcycles, scooters and cycles ought to be encouraged, not only because they obviously promote better health and a cleaner environment, but also because they significantly ease traffic congestion in urban areas.
In conclusion, some people may study today's business in your Lordships' House and decide that this debate is a minor issue. I am absolutely appalled by such complacency. How can it be a minor issue when last year it cost almost 3,500 lives? As I mentioned earlier, the successful implementation of various initiatives during the past decade has reduced the number of road deaths by 19 per cent. We have the means to save more lives on the roads. We must have-the courage and will to seize the opportunity.
§ 7.27 p.m.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness on securing the debate. I also congratulate previous speakers on making some unique and positive contributions about this important subject. The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, spoke about road users. He probably meant car or lorry users. I am a cyclist and a pedestrian; I believe that the noble Lord uses a motor cycle or a scooter. We have as much right to use the roads as everyone else. On speaking about roads, does that include the pavement or footway? Pedestrians have rights too, which I should like to cover today.
We have heard a great deal of very difficult statistics today. One might compare the publicity that road accidents do not receive with that which rail accidents do receive, when one or two people may be killed in a year. On this issue, we are talking about 3,000, 3,500 or 4,000 people killed, and many more seriously injured. Pedestrians are the worst case because they are virtually always the victims. They are unprotected victims when compared with people in their padded cars. When people talk about roads and accidents, one must ask, "Are you talking about this as a car driver, nicely protected with your family in the back, all nicely belted up without their heads between the front seats? Or are you talking as a citizen who has the right to move around on a road or a pavement in a safe manner"?
Only last week during the debate on a Question one noble Lord described speed humps as "vicious". They may be vicious to someone driving a car over them too fast, but from the point of view of a pedestrian or cyclist, it is the car that is vicious. Roll on: for me, the more speed humps, the better, even if I do have to slow down on my bicycle.
Speed is very important and it matters. I shall cite another statistic from the Health Development Agency. If pedestrians are hit at 20 miles per hour, 1225 5 per cent are killed; if they are hit at 40 miles per hour, 85 per cent will die. As other noble Lords have pointed out, speed is a major factor in road deaths. A number of sources can be quoted to support that, but all noble Lords know the statistics and I think that we are all agreed that speed is a major factor in road accidents.
The question to be answered is how to stop drivers speeding. Given that police resources are as stretched as ever, it is clear that speed cameras must be a solution. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, quite rightly mentioned other solutions, but it is true that speed cameras have a major role to play.
I was astonished to read in The Times yesterday of death threats made against Mary Williams, the chief executive of Brake, a respectable organisation which campaigns for slower road speeds for cars and lorries. In line with that, threats have been made against Richard Brunstrom, the Chief Constable of North Wales. He is an enthusiastic and professional advocate of speed cameras who is seeking to reduce road accidents from the police point of view. It is quite extraordinary that people who want to break the law by speeding feel that the way to improve their lot is to make death threats against someone who is trying to encourage people to obey the law. I hope that the police will take those threats seriously and do something about it; I am sure they will.
Brake states that casualties are reduced by 35 per cent at camera sites. I know that I have cited another statistic, but it has to be said. To make things even easier for motorists, I have read that a map is available on the Web showing the position of every speed camera in the country. Further, there is the ridiculous idea that speed cameras have to be painted yellow. Why should people know where they are? The argument is that it is a part of educating motorists, but all they have to do is to obey the law. That is perfectly clear. Would the same argument apply if potential burglars or muggers were given access to the location of every video camera and policeman so that they could assess the risk of being caught before they committed their crimes? Just because speeding is thought of as a middle-class crime because most people in that class drive cars does not mean that it is right.
We need to review the whole business of speed cameras. If you exceed the speed limit, you are breaking the law. Why should we wait for three people to be killed before a camera is put up on that site? Why should not the revenue from the fines paid by people stupid enough to break the law be used for things other than paying for the cameras, such as the engineering and other solutions suggested tonight? We need more cameras rather than fewer.
I also welcome the 20 miles per hour zones referred to by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso. However, they too need speed cameras because children can play with a relative degree of safety in those zones. Parents and other carers can take some comfort from the fact that their charges will not be mown down by cars speeding down narrow streets 1226 between parked cars. That is a serious problem. Again, such zones are reported to reduce child deaths and injuries by 67 per cent.
I turn to the question of rural roads, on which I spend quite some time cycling or walking along. If there is no footpath and if there are bends and high hedges, then that is when you should not do it: you must take a taxi, bus, train or use your own car because it is dangerous. Drivers speeding around corners cannot stop or move out of the way even if no one is coming in the other direction. Again, I believe the answer is to impose speed limits appropriate to the road, as already mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott.
We move on to the difficult question of who is to enforce all those extremely useful speed cameras. I, too, have read the useful guidance to employers on managing work-related road safety issued by the Health and Safety Executive. It is a good document, but it does not address the question of why the Health and Safety Executive does not put its guidance into practice. I have spoken many times in the House about what the HSE does on the railways and the roads—on the latter, it does very little. It says that it has no budget; perhaps it should transfer some of the budget available for inspecting level crossings and so forth which, to be frank, does not need to be done, to enforcing the law on people driving their cars and lorries on the roads for work-related purposes. Why does the executive not do that and when will it start?
Other noble Lords may have read in The Times today what I suspect is an anti-speed camera piece. Interestingly, it states that if you are caught speeding, your insurance increases by 20 per cent if you are caught once, 32.5 per cent on being caught twice and on the third speeding offence, an increase of 61 per cent: If you and a partner are caught and so amass five convictions, it is unlikely that you will be able to keep your insurance. That is quite a strong disincentive to speeding and the insurance industry deserves a little congratulation.
As my noble friend Lord Faulkner observed, lower road speeds are popular with pedestrians and cyclists. They are a vote winner. However, I was interested in the comments made by Professor David Begg, chair of the UK Commission for Integrated Transport, who sounds a note of caution by stating that,all profits should be invested in improvementsin order for the Government to avoid a "damaging public revolt". I think that he should have referred to a "damaging motorist revolt". As other noble Lords have said, it is not the public who object, it is the motorist. On the next occasion that I see him, I shall suggest that in future he use different wording. Speed cameras are a real vote winner with the public.
In conclusion, I urge the Government, in all sincerity, to ensure that vociferous car drivers who break the law should be dealt with by the law and not pandered to. The Government should also urge the representative groups of such motorists to provide more leadership in encouraging their members to obey the law.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ The Earl of Courtown
My Lords, first I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, for instigating this important debate. I also thank the charity RoadPeace, which does much for families affected by road deaths and casualties.
As noble Lords have said, the number of road deaths and casualties in this country is quite unacceptable. I am afraid that I shall repeat some of the statistics cited by other noble Lords, but they bear repetition because they accentuate the problem.
Ten people are killed on the roads every day, with 300 a year in London alone. In Europe, 40,000 a year are killed, and worldwide the figure is 1 million a year. Ten million people worldwide are permanently disabled. Road traffic injuries are the second largest cause of ill health and premature death after HIV/ AIDS. In the international arena, more emphasis is coming from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, which has designated a fourth road safety week for 5th to 11th April next year. With Her Majesty's Government aiming for a 40 per cent reduction in deaths and serious injuries, I join other noble Lords in looking forward to hearing the Minister's response to the debate.
There is much concern over how the national figures are calculated. Actual deaths and casualties seem to be far higher than the official figures suggest. There appear to be a number of loopholes in the methods of compiling these statistics. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but it does not appear mandatory for the police to be informed of an incident where people are injured. In addition, with one in 20 drivers being uninsured, it is unlikely that they will come forward to report an accident.
The Traffic Engineering and Control report of 1991—I know it is some years ago but it bears looking at—suggests that the official figures for serious cases should be increased by one third and those for lesser injuries by two thirds. The Transport Research Laboratory in 1977 stated that the number of serious injuries should be increased by a factor of 2.7 and lesser injuries by 1.7.
This all paints a very sorry picture. As to the cost to the country, various figures have been bandied about. We all know that it is totally excessive and unacceptable, but we must establish how many actual road deaths and serious casualties there are in the first place. Perhaps the Minister will expand on this figure.
I have always in the past believed that it is best not to bring personal issues into your Lordships' House, but on this occasion I will. It will help to illustrate the effect of road deaths on families. My rnother-in-law was killed in a car accident just over a year ago. She looked after her husband, my father-in-law, who was not in the best of health. When she died my wife had to look after him. I had to take unpaid leave and look after two teenage children and Poppy, who is now three. We had to take on a nanny. My father-in-law died six weeks after my mother-in-law's killing. My wife still feels the need for a nanny because of the trauma she has suffered.
1228 This illustrates two points. First, that the cost is not solely concerned with the accident itself; there are widespread ongoing costs which affect both the individual and the Treasury. It also shows that deaths occur outside the accident, whether of those who are being cared for when their carer is killed or those who cannot take it any longer and take their own lives. This issue has to be looked at and we have to find a way of reducing the effects of these dreadful incidents.
So how do we reduce these figures? Car safety has improved with the fitting of airbags, ABS, seat belts, crumple zones and side impact bars. I gather further measures are being introduced to regulate the design of 4x4s. Speed limits have to be examined and reduced where necessary. Perhaps more police should be allocated to traffic duties. We also have to consider the effect of drink on driving. Perhaps we should be looking at zero tolerance. I look forward to hearing the Minister on this issue. Advances have been made in relation to the detection of drug use, which must be a good thing.
The most important problem has been mentioned by other noble Lords, and that is the mindset of drivers when they get behind a wheel. From when they are learning to drive until they are drivers like us, everyone has to remember that when they get behind the wheel of a car they are getting behind the wheel of a lethal weapon. I look forward to what the Government have to say on this issue.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, for instigating this debate on a topic that is only too easy to shy away from. I have had an interest in this subject for a number of years. This interest is reflected in my membership of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety—better known as PACTS—and my position as deputy chair of RoSPA, working there with my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester.
I wish first to look at the subject of work-related road safety and to stress the importance of this being taken seriously by employers, employees and the Government. When I served on the Health and Safety Commission for six years prior to coming to your Lordships' House I was particularly interested in its work in this area. I am therefore pleased to note that the Health and Safety Executive, together with the Department of Transport, have recently published guidance for employers entitled Driving at Work. Additionally, health and safety commissioners are currently seeking views on the development of their overall safety strategy up until the year 2010.
However, as was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, the development of their overall safety strategy does not include any reference to work-related road safety, an omission highlighted by RoSPA. The safety management message of the Health and Safety Commission will be credible only if investigation and enforcement arrangements are developed to cope adequately with any failures to manage road risk by employers.
1229 Work-related road accidents are the biggest cause of work-related accidental deaths. Between 800 and 1,000 people are killed each year in work-related road traffic accidents. Occupational risks to workers who drive as part of their work—those who cover significant distances by car or van—are at the same level of accidental death as those working in the acknowledged high-risk sectors such as construction or agriculture. These drivers are 50 per cent more likely to be injured in accidents than other drivers. This fact is too often forgotten, even by the Health and Safety Commission, and should be emphasised to greater effect in the future.
But this statistic is not surprising. The pressure to get jobs done as quickly as possible is often paramount in the field of work, and representatives of companies, who are often on some form of commission, tend to work long hours at a fast pace and are therefore especially vulnerable. Many hundreds of thousands of working days are lost annually as a result of injury in work-related crashes.
It is obvious that employers can do much to exacerbate this—developing an excessive working/ driving hours culture for example—but it is also obvious that employers can greatly reduce risk, and the better ones do. Training drivers to a higher standard, making sure vehicles are safe and planning journeys in a sensible manner can all help to cut road accidents.
Business can only gain if safety measures are followed and built upon. Such measures affect levels of risk both faced by and created by employees at work on the roads. This has been considerably underestimated so far. Raising awareness about safety measures and working with both employers and trade unions to encourage them must be a key element of the Government's road safety strategy.
Recently I was privileged to attend the fourteenth Westminster lecture on transport organised by PACTS. The speaker this year was Professor David Begg, to whom my noble friend referred, who holds, among other positions, the chair of the Commission for Integrated Transport and Director of the Centre for Transport Policy at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen.
Professor Begg pointed out that, despite a number of horrendous crashes over the past few years, rail is one of the safest forms of passenger transport. The majority of casualties on rail are caused by trips or falls in stations. Aviation is an even bigger success story— six times safer than travelling by car and twice as safe as rail.
So, as has been stated, the biggest challenge facing the UK in the transport field is safety on the roads. The professor offered a number of proposals to assist. Professor Begg believes that one key to achieving improved road safety targets is the need for an increased and highly visible traffic policing presence in order to detect and deal effectively with the wide-ranging causes of accidents and road casualties. Many 1230 have been mentioned in this Chamber tonight. He chose, in particular, drink-driving and driving while under the influence of drugs.
The professor maintains that there is clear evidence linking those who have committed motoring offences with more serious criminal offences, and believes that an increase in traffic police would improve detection rates overall.
A further issue he examined is drink-driver offences, which, again, we have mentioned. Evidence from a new USA study shows that lives could be saved each year if the allowed blood alcohol level was reduced to approximately 40 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood. This, together with more targeted enforcement of the existing blood-alcohol level and legislation to enable the results of roadside breath testing to be admissible as evidence in court, would assist greatly, Professor Begg believes.
He made other suggestions, including intelligent speed adaptation—that is, in-vehicle speed control; improved crash protection through front-end vehicle design, which is mandatory in a European directive to become effective from 2005; and early research to assess the benefits of extending driver rehabilitation from drink-driving to cover other motoring offences as well. For, as Professor Begg said:We rightly expect airline pilots and our train, tube and bus drivers to be sober on duty. It is time to review the levels of blood alcohol acceptable in the drivers on our roads".Perhaps my noble friend will comment on some of these proposals when he replies.
Finally, like the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, my interest in road deaths and casualties is not academic. My father was killed by a learner driver in Market Rasen in 1967. I, too, know at first hand the devastation that such an accident can cause. Anything we can do to alleviate such deaths can only be welcome.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ The Earl of Erroll
My Lords, I suspect I will not be the most popular speaker tonight because I do not agree with everything that has been said so far. I want first to make it clear that every death is a tragedy for someone. I felt particularly for the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, and the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, because of their personal experience. We have had deaths in the family, but not from this cause. When someone's loved one has moved on to another world and one has not yet joined them, it can be very harrowing. If the death is accidental, the sense of senseless loss may be overwhelming. The feeling that something must be done becomes imperative; it becomes the major driving force in the life of those left behind, and for very good reason.
I remember a judge saying, a long time ago, that hard cases make bad law. We, as legislators, must retain a sense of balance and proportion. Yet again, we are being asked to tell people what to do for their own good. That can arouse strong feelings among many 1231 people who believe that the Government are not there to nanny them along but to enable things to happen in their lives.
I started looking at the relevant statistics. The first thing I realised is that the expression "saving lives" is difficult; you do not really save lives, you change the cause of premature death. The Government recently defined this, in the excellent report Securing Good Health for the Whole Population, as death before the age of 75. The major cause of such deaths, as I said in a debate the other day, is "others"—miscellaneous causes which are not even worth classifying. They make up 33 per cent of the causes of premature death. The next highest cause is coronary heart disease, at 18 per cent, followed by cancer at 17 per cent. So we work down till we reach road traffic accidents, at 2 per cent. So compared with all the other causes, I am afraid it is not the primary or even the main cause of premature death.
Out of the 500,000 to 600,000 deaths in this country every year, 3,500 are caused by road traffic accidents. The big proportion is elsewhere. The question is: how should we be applying our limited financial resources—because the Government are always under pressure about where to find the money—in order to reduce the number of premature deaths caused by road traffic accidents? I was not convinced that speed cameras and speeding were necessarily that major a cause.
Various statistics have been produced in this argument. Those quoted tonight have tended to come from PACTS, which says that, in recent tests, 47 per cent fewer people were killed. I think that information was from a study in Cambridgeshire, so it focused on certain accident sites in one part of England. I do not know whether that can be extrapolated elsewhere. As a scientist, I am always cautious about these things, but let us say that it can.
Then I read that a one mile per hour reduction results in 5 per cent fewer crashes. I got worried about that figure because although it sounds good, other studies show that accident rates rise with traffic density. Reducing speed increases traffic density. Other studies show that the crash rate rises with a reduction in speed. So some of the statistics do not quite match, which worries me. It means that I do not trust those statistics as much as I should, which is dangerous.
I found a report giving official police figures, although I do not know when these were; produced. It said that the highest figure published by any police force is that 9 per cent of accidents are caused by speed, with many reporting a much lower figure. I worry about that; should not people be concentrating on what causes nine out of 10 accidents rather than what causes one out of 10? That is where I would put resources if they were limited.
Prosecutions for dangerous driving and driving without due care have apparently gone down. That makes me think that policemen in cars, who can exercise discretion and sense, may well be better than mechanical traffic cameras which flash people on parts of the road.
1232 Another study by PACTS showed that according to self-reporting, 85 per cent of respondents admitted to exceeding the speed limit on occasion. There was general agreement that everyone did it. If it is so dangerous, there should be many more accidents. I suppose a speeding incident must be about the distance between speed cameras. If you go through four speed cameras, you lose your licence. Of those millions of speeding incidents every day, speeding may be a factor that contributes to a death in three of them. That makes you realise why drivers speed. Intuitively, they know that most of the time speeding does not result in an accident, let alone a death. Hammering drivers with statistics they know intuitively are not quite correct will lead to a loss of respect.
I thought about this a bit more, and the trouble happens when trunk roads are involved. Speeding inappropriately in heavily built-up areas, with children playing on the pavement, is extremely dangerous. But I think the Traffic Research Laboratory would agree with the evidence that people travelling at the 85th and 90th percentile speeds have the lowest accident rates of any group of drivers.
So we should be setting the speed limit for the design speed of the road. That, in some cases, means raising the speed limit of the road, particularly on motorways and trunk roads. There could well be a case for raising speed limits on certain trunk roads and motorways while keeping them rigidly enforced in built-up and urban areas and where pedestrians are not separated from the traffic, which is the important thing. On the fringes of towns a barrier may separate pedestrians from the road. The speed limits should be raised in those circumstances because people feel those speed limits are stupid and the traffic never gets out of town.
Apparently, I have statistics that conflict completely with others, which say that when the speed limit was raised in certain US states by 10 mph, the 85th percentile was 70 mph and the accident rate dropped by 30 per cent. People all have figures that they can use for their own purposes.
From my own experience, one of the big challenges is that if one lives in the country, one has to drive distances. If one is going to do business with other companies out in the country, one has to drive from A to B, and sometimes for quite a long way. If one drives very slowly—if, for example, I go at 60 mph on a long road that is straight and clear, I stop concentrating; the tiredness factor comes in, which is much more dangerous. If one is travelling a little bit faster, one starts being much more careful about one's distance to the next vehicle in front, one's sense of anticipation is keener, and one knows that one can observe speed limits within important speed-limit areas, because one can catch up in between, where the road is safe.
Very few accidents happen on motorways as a result of speeding. Normally, something else happens, as with those poor people who were killed by the tank 1233 transporter that came across the central barrier. That was nothing to do with the speed at which they were travelling.
My Lords, the noble Earl says that he loses concentration at 60 mph so would rather go at 80 mph. I believe that he was not referring to motorways. What about pedestrians and cyclists? Does he not accept that the faster the vehicle is going, the more likely the pedestrians and cyclists are to be killed? He seems to ignore the fact that they have a right to be on those roads.
§ The Earl of Erroll
My Lords, I absolutely and entirely agree. I was coming on to discuss what I would do about that, and I referred earlier to separating pedestrians from the road. I was talking about trunk roads, where the pedestrian is separated from the main road. One does not get cyclists going up motorways— and one should not get cyclists going up the Al, even when it is not a motorway. The noble Lord has made an important point.
Separating slow-moving from fast-moving traffic would contribute much more to avoiding accidents. With the 85th and 90th percentile speeds, one's objective is to get traffic moving at approximately the same speed. The danger occurs when one has slow-moving traffic, such as someone mucking around at 40 mph in the slow lane of a motorway, and people are going at 70 mph or 80 mph down the over-taking lane of the motorway. If everyone goes about the same speed, we will get fewer accidents. There is a lot of evidence for that.
People do have to travel around the countryside, so we should apply the money to eliminating accident blackspots. I have read somewhere that most accidents happen at some 250 blackspots around the country; if we applied the money to eliminating dangerous junctions and things like that, and separating pedestrian and cycling traffic on trunk roads, we would hit the problem much more. We should do that instead of trying to get at the people who are creating wealth for the country, trying to bring up a family and are otherwise law-abiding citizens, because they are trying to get businesses going.
The trouble is that there is no discretion with a camera. It does not take into account prevailing conditions or whether the speed was really inappropriate. I was speaking to a cab driver yesterday. He said—and it was the only time in 30 years of driving—that the other day he went through a speed camera near Walthamstow. He was driving between some reservoirs, on a clear road, with no pedestrians or cyclists around and clear footpaths either side, and he was caught at 40 in a 30 mph limit. Where is the humanity and discretion in that? If a policeman had stopped him, he would probably have said, "Look, just don't do that again—you ought to slow down here". He has only to do that three times more and he has lost his livelihood; he could lose his house and his family. There can be quite serious consequences from losing licences, and it is possible to 1234 lose one's licence in one journey now, because there is no warning about the first time when one has been caught. That is totally unfair, and it is not the right way to do things.
On the drinks side, I believe that lowering the limit below a realistic level will cause disrespect. A lot of research has been done into reaction times and limits, and a lot of it has shown that 80 milligrams is a perfectly sensible limit. We should be careful before we change that. We need to work out where our priorities really lie, rather than taking the easy route out.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Viscount Simon
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, for introducing this interesting debate. There has been a little overlapping, but not all that much, and when there has been the particular subject has been approached from different angles, which makes it even more interesting.
It is appropriate that I should advise or remind noble Lords that I regularly go on traffic patrol with a number of police forces, that I passed my most recent police driving course last year and that my next course is to take place next year. It is also relevant that I advise your Lordships that I have attended road deaths and casualties, been to the mortuary for identification purposes and assisted in investigating crashes.
Your Lordships will remember Jill Dando and the circumstances of her death. She was killed by a gunman as she approached her front door. Following this, the road in which she lived was closed for three weeks, thereby enabling the murder squad to examine the scene of the murder. Had she been run down intentionally by a motorist—in other words, murdered—the road would have been closed for a short while. It might have been closed for three hours for the accident investigators to do their job of determining what had happened. If she had been killed by a motorist, there would have been heaven knows how many complaints about the road being closed for three days, let alone three weeks.
The Road Death Investigation Manual, under which all fatal collisions are investigated, recognises the right of an individual who has been killed on the road to have the circumstances thoroughly investigated in the same way as a murder. Therefore, scenes of crashes are to be treated as crime scenes, with the inevitable need for whole or partial road closures. In some instances, total road closure can lead to strangulation of the local, and in some cases wider, economy. I would be surprised if an economic assessment of the implications of the adoption of the Road Death Investigation Manual had taken place.
It must be remembered that the police are duty bound by the manual and by Article 2 of the Human Rights Act 1998 to undertake such investigations. It is with some consternation that I have been led to believe that some forces are taking short cuts in how they use the manual and are not training their officers effectively. Therefore, it is possible, but I hope unlikely, that the murder weapon of choice—a motor 1235 vehicle—might not be detected as having been used intentionally. I understand, also, that senior investigation officer training will be stopped shortly because the National Centre for Policing Excellence is stopping training them in the short term. Due to retirements and promotions, that will effectively mean that the already overworked investigators will have additional pressures thrust upon them.
It is well documented that the number of traffic officers has fallen by about 50 per cent in the 10 years from 1990. In that time, findings of guilt for dangerous, careless or drunken driving have decreased by about 38 per cent, and those for neglect to comply with traffic signs, direction and pedestrian rights have fallen by 70 per cent—to mention but two. Yet speed limit offences have increased by 90 per cent.
So, where does that leave us? Safety cameras are useful, but limited. They catch those exceeding the speed limit and have been shown to reduce crashes within their vicinity—nothing more. But is that correct? Look at a camera positioned on a single carriageway and set at the speed limit of 60 miles an hour. It will not film the HGV that is not travelling at its correct speed of 40 miles an hour, will it? That, of course, means that it is impossible to audit each camera site in line with government policy when the speed limit for certain types of vehicle is less than the posted speed. Therefore, I wonder whether research is being conducted to make safety cameras more intelligent so that they can distinguish between types of vehicles and react accordingly.
It should, of course, be noted that mobile cameras can be set to film specific types of vehicle, but are we tending to rely on technology at the expense of human interaction? After all, the safety camera does not know if the vehicle it has just photographed has been stolen and is being driven by someone who has never taken a driving test and who is uninsured. It has been reported in the press that government Ministers are being pressed by the anti-camera groups to remove cameras. If that happened, I hope that the Minister concerned would take into account that that would be interpreted by many as condoning those motorists who are committing a criminal offence: exceeding the speed limit.
The traffic officer can stop any vehicle and deal with the errant motorist for all manner of things. That officer can also act with discretion in appropriate circumstances, as has been mentioned tonight. ANPR sites and those mounted in police vehicles are proving very worthwhile. I should like to add to this matter that digital cameras are a step forward from the films in those designed by Maurice Gatsonides. One more advance is STEPs where the average speed over a distance is monitored. Some years ago I mentioned that the camera which does not catch anyone is the most efficient—it has reduced the average speed, has monitored speed and has, at the same time, reduced death and injury.
Many people seem to voice their concerns about the amount of money generated by safety cameras. I assume that comes not only from those who are 1236 caught. How about the novel suggestion that the excess money generated by safety camera fines which goes to the Treasury be directed at providing more traffic officers and nothing else? It must be recognised that traffic officers do not just deal with errant motorists but have an enviable arrest record for non-traffic offences. After all, the burglar does not go to and from the scene of his crime on top of a number 12 bus or by taxi or train. No, that burglar will probably go by car.
Returning to drivers driving without insurance, did noble Lords know that the Government are underwriting those drivers? Why should a youngster bother to insure his or her vehicle when it would cost some thousands of pounds to do so when that driver knows that a police officer, in certain circumstances, can give them a fixed penalty for £200 and that magistrates' courts will fine them only an average of between £75 and £250? I have forgotten which Middle Eastern country ensures that all vehicles are insured to at least a minimum level simply by adding a small monetary amount to each litre of fuel. What a simple way of dealing with this problem. If the car has fuel in it, it is insured, and the more miles that are covered, the more the motorist pays for insurance. It makes sense. However, I can hear the cries of dismay from the insurance industry should such a measure be introduced.
As I have said, there are insufficient traffic officers on the roads to stop the potential fatal crash. Let us remember that research states that enforcement has to be, first, certain—an offender knows that there is a good chance of being caught—secondly, immediate— an offence is dealt with immediately rather than by receiving a notice of intended prosecution in the post a couple of weeks after the offence was committed— and, thirdly, severe—the punishment must fit the crime. Thinking about the third item, it is all very well fining drivers for offences committed, but one of the first things a driver may ask when stopped is, "Will I get points on my licence?". So, why not make the offence of not wearing a seat belt endorsable when injuries are caused by not wearing them, even if passengers fail to wear them? This works very well in Australia; why could we not do the same here? To introduce an emotive point, there should be no exemptions. If everyone had to wear seat belts, there would be no possible excuse for not being aware of this requirement. It takes only a couple of seconds to put on a seat belt, but it might take only a fraction of a second to be killed or seriously injured by not wearing one.
I was talking to a traffic officer only last week who said that when he stops someone for not wearing a seat belt he suggests that the driver runs as fast as possible into a brick wall if there is one close by. Of course, the driver says that he or she will not do so. The traffic officer then points out that if that person crashed while driving at 30 miles an hour, his forward momentum would be equivalent to 60 times his body weight. It has been estimated that if the back seat wearing rate could equal the front seat rate, 30 more adults would be saved every year.
1237 Let me introduce another novel thought. The KSI figures are reeled out regularly, but should there not be sufficient traffic officers on patrol who can concentrate on crashes and not on casualties? It must make sense that stopping a single crash could save many casualties when more than one vehicle is involved. And at what cost? The true social and economic impact must be from minor injuries sustained in minor crashes. Those may well not be serious enough for the injured person to seek attention and therefore become part of the statistics, but that person may be off work for a couple of days. Just think of the loss to the economy. The number of motorcycle injuries and deaths is increasing. Why? Is that due to lack of policing? I do not know.
In addition, and returning to the subject of injuries on the roads, more officers would inevitably lead to a reduction in the number of injured people and a reduction in crime. Therefore, if fewer people were injured, the health service would benefit, as would government departments. Why do they not talk to each other in this respect? Joined-up government must be joined up. The potential financial savings resulting from fewer road deaths and casualties are well worth investigating by various departments.
This afternoon, the Select Committee heard evidence from many people, including senior police officers. I have listened to many officers with excellent ideas, but those ideas are either not getting to ACPO or ACPO is choosing to ignore them. I am sure that my noble friend will acknowledge that senior police officers, who may have no first-hand knowledge of traffic enforcement, do not have the monopoly on good ideas. Those junior officers are frustrated and tired of seeing their best efforts and ideas ignored by the very people who are paying them to do the job. So why has the Select Committee not invited officers other than those in ACPO or of superintendent rank to give evidence? Aristotle once said:We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit".And that goes for the officers at the sharp end, day in, day out. I personally know a number of highly qualified, professional and knowledgeable officers who could give a true picture to government of what policing the roads is really about.
The police are very overworked. With the under-reporting by police of crashes, trends are difficult to see and the statistics, of course, are dated. Electronic systems which use hand-held devices to collect causation factors update the systems daily, thereby giving the police and others an early indication of collision trends. The Dutch VIA system has a proven track record, and I hope that that will be investigated by the Department for Transport as a matter of urgency.
My final thought today is that there are marine, aircraft and railway investigating bodies. Why could there not be a similar body for the roads to establish the patterns and see where they might lead? 1238 Suggestions could then be taken back to government on how improvements could be made to reduce the KSI figures even further.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, for introducing this important debate. It is important to remember that road traffic accidents are the principal cause of unnatural deaths, particularly among the young, as noted by the noble Baroness. It is extremely distressing. I suspect that few noble Lords have not been touched by a road traffic accident. Several of my personal friends have been taken in that way. Worse still, my own cousin and her boyfriend were killed instantly in a road traffic accident.
The noble Baroness asked why we accept higher risks on the roads than we do on the rails and in the air. I agree with her analysis, but I also believe that motorists are happier to take risks which they think they can control. The noble Baroness mentioned lower seat-belt wearing rates. It is a complete mystery to me why that should be the case.
I agree with practically everything that has been said today by noble Lords, and I believe that our differences are those of emphasis. As many noble Lords observed, we in the UK have a good record of improvement in casualty rates. However, the figure of 33,000 killed or seriously injured indicates that there is room for improvement.
I have one interest to declare. I am a qualified Army driving instructor. I am a little out of date but I could requalify if that became necessary for me under Mr Blair's plans.
There is good news and bad news. The bad news is that the statistics are now proving to be very stubborn, especially for the killed and seriously injured. We have seen little overall improvement in recent years. Perhaps the use of mobile phones has increased the accident rate. If so, we look forward to seeing a reduction with the new legislation.
Another possible reason for an increase in the accident rate is that a significant proportion of the remaining accidents are caused by rogue drivers who operate without any regard to the law. The noble Lord. Lord Faulkner, talked about the need for severe sanctions to deter driving offences. But, of course, the problem is that rogue drivers simply do not care. It may be very difficult to encourage them to address their responsibilities. However, we must do so if we are to make progress in reducing the accident rate. The Minister may draw comfort from the fall in the number of accidents per vehicle-kilometre covered, but that has always been the case.
There is some good news. There have been significant falls in the numbers of pedestrian and cycle casualties. That is all the more welcome because, often, innocent victims are involved, as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. However, I listened with care to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso. I found his comments very interesting and I shall study them carefully tomorrow. 1239 However, 1 wish I could understand why the child casualty rate is relatively poor compared with that of our continental friends.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned The Times report about threats to Mary Williams of the pressure group Brake. We on these Benches deplore and condemn any such attack, irrespective of the views of the organisation concerned. The noble Lord underestimates Brake's contribution to road safety. Brake seems to me to be different from other groups in that it recognises the need for road transport, but wants to see it undertaken safely and properly. That may account for Brake being so well supported by the transport industry. Unfortunately, since I joined the Conservative Party it has practically ignored me. Even when I was Opposition spokesman for transport and even when I introduced the Road Traffic (Enforcement Powers) Bill it ignored me. However, recently Brake has written to me, but it now seems to think that I am the son of a duke.
The previous Government trimmed their bypass and road building programme, but this Government have cut it further still. Many of those schemes were designed to save lives. Now fewer schemes are being completed and we are also seeing smaller reductions in accidents. I cannot say whether the two are connected as I have no firm evidence. We all know that motorways are very safe in absolute terms and that accidents per kilometre are fewer on motorways. Fewer than 1,500 people were killed or seriously injured in 2002. Most noble Lords recognise that.
Many noble Lords covered the evil of drink and driving. The problem is with those who are way over the limit, but of course any alcohol will have an effect. Bad driving may be just as significant. Alternatively, a significant improvement in driving skills will have an even more beneficial effect than a zero or lower alcohol rate. I believe that drink-driving is yet another symptom of rogue drivers. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and others suggested lowering the blood alcohol level to the continental levels. It is important to remember that on the Continent there are graduated penalties. They start at a low blood-alcohol level with, initially, a slap on the wrist. The UK policy is to give a strong message, "Do not drink or drive". If one does, one faces severe penalties and adverse social consequences.
My noble friend Lord Caithness talked about drowsy or tired drivers. He suggested that the problem may be as great as alcohol. He also talked about some of the technologies being developed to detect drowsiness. That may be a matter for the EU. Nearly all noble Lords talked about speeding and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, concentrated on that. I recall that last time we debated road safety I had a pop at the noble Earl, Lord Erroll. This time I shall resist the temptation.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I am very lucky. I was very well trained by the Army at government expense. I know full well that speeding and hard driving will have little effect on my journey time, but both drastically increase the chance of an accident and a serious one at that. I agree with the conclusions of the TRL report about speeding and accidents. Speeding is symptomatic of poor driving skills that need to be improved. I shall say more on that later.
Closely linked to speeding is the sin of driving so fast that the driver cannot stop within the distance that he can see to be clear. However, this is not so easy to detect or to prosecute. The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, talked about adaptive speed control. What is the Minister's view on that? All modern cars have sophisticated engine management systems, so technically it would not be too difficult to achieve. It would enable high-risk areas, such as around schools, to be protected automatically from speeding drivers.
Many noble Lords have talked about cameras. I do not have a problem with them. As I have already explained, I do not speed. Many motorists hate cameras. They need convincing of their merits. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, touched on that aspect. There is a weakness in the system, a matter about which the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, spoke. There is no opportunity to have a chat with a traffic policeman about motoring matters. That makes it impossible to detect other motoring offences more serious than speeding, especially drinking and driving. Many noble Lords touched on that.
The noble Viscount mentioned ANPR. 1 believe that it has a vital role to play. It allows the police to be alerted to the presence of an illegal driver while leaving lawful motorists alone. Currently it works on vehicles with no vehicle excise duty, as per DVLA data, not what is shown on the windscreen, which of course could be completely fraudulent. My understanding is that unfortunately the MoT system is not yet linked to the DVLA.
My noble friend Lord Courtown and the noble Viscount touched on insurance problems. Some noble Lords have recently suggested an insurance disc similar to the tax disc. The difficulty for the DVLA is that often the driver is insured or the whole fleet is covered. Does the Minister have any plans to change insurance requirements so that an insurance company notifies the DVLA that either a particular vehicle—a VRN—is insured, or any vehicle kept by a certain person, ie a fleet, is insured. That would of course make it much easier for the authorities to detect an uninsured vehicle.
I raised this next point with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, several years ago. Can the Minister say when the ANPR system will flag up that there is no valid MoT for a vehicle? I understand that the police get so 1241 many hits by the ANPR system that they cannot actually stop all the vehicles detected, so they have to prioritise. Hopefully, when they are fully successful they will be able to move to zero tolerance.
My final ANPR point is this. The police issue tickets and fines which are not paid. Does the Minister have any plans to introduce impounding when a vehicle has either no MoT, no tax or no insurance? If he does, he could do much to curb rogue drivers.
There is no such thing as a perfect driver. There are novices, experienced drivers and experts. We should all aspire to become expert as there would be less chance of an accident, and if there is one it should be less serious. I believe that all the evils we have talked about this evening derive from poor driving skills. I am told that fleet driver training schemes can reduce the accident rate of a fleet by 20 per cent. It is important to remember that the driving standards of all drivers can be improved. None of us is perfect.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, talked about work-related traffic accidents. She covered the need for training of drivers in a work environment. Not only will that reduce the accident rate, but it would also reduce the cost of operation of that fleet and therefore be self-financing.
We religiously test our vehicles every year. Few accidents are caused by vehicle faults. But it would be political suicide to suggest compulsory retraining for every driver, even every five years, let alone every year. I am pleased to hear that the noble Viscount's driving continues to be reassessed every year.
We already have a driver improvement scheme whereby an errant motorist can avoid points by agreeing to retraining. My personal belief is that we need to introduce compulsory retraining for drivers who commit moving traffic offences. I think that that should be in addition to any penalty points or fines. So: "This is your penalty and this is what we are going to do to stop you having further accidents".
If the errant motorist cannot show that he has been retrained, say within six months, his licence should be revoked. Of course the system would need more trainers, but their cost would be small compared to the benefits. There may be different tests for young and novice drivers compared to an experienced driver. In conclusion, I do not think that it would be wise to wait until a poor driver kills or seriously injures an innocent party in an avoidable accident. We should do something about the situation.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for introducing a debate that has proved fruitful, containing constructive ideas on road safety issues, which, I assure the House, the Government will take seriously. We will consider several extremely interesting perspectives. I also congratulate the noble Baroness on the force and passion with which she introduced the debate on issues about which she clearly cares a great deal. Her contribution set the tone 1242 for the whole debate, in which a range of contributions have reflected the fact that we need to take road safety seriously.
There are areas in which we can draw some solace from the figures, but we must not be complacent. We must recognise that our country has an outstanding road safety record. It is one of the best in the world and is widely envied, but there are areas in which we could do a great deal better. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for emphasising children's issues—a point to which I shall return later. Our statistics for children's injuries and fatalities are disappointingly high. We must examine the reasons for that and recognise that we need proper measures to protect our children as best we can.
Noble Lords have used a wide variety of statistics, all of which I agree with from their different perspectives, for injuries and deaths. The noble Earl, Lord Courtown, referred to international figures. I am pleased to tell him that on 7th April next year, World Health Day will make road safety its subject, so we will be able to gain a more international perspective from that. I hope that we will learn from other countries that do better than us; but I have no doubt that they will pay tribute to the effectiveness of much of our work on road safety.
On the more general issue of statistics, I heard what the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, had to say. I did not recognise some of the figures that he mentioned. On speed, I would say only that of course some people can drive well at high speeds, but we all know that excessive or inappropriate speed is a contributory factor to about one-third of all accidents. That is why we recognise that careful adherence to speed limits is an important road safety provision, and why we place great store on methods to control speed.
§ The Earl of Erroll
My Lords, excess speed is exceeding the speed limit; inappropriate speed is driving dangerously fast for the road conditions or the type of road. I maintain that excess speed on a motorway may not be dangerous. In fact, because many people exceed the speed limit, it may be safer if everyone is travelling at the same or similar speed.
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
My Lords, I hear what the noble Earl says. There are experiments in this country for regulated speeds on motorways below the existing maximum level, because we recognise that regulated speed can reduce traffic accidents. One thing that we may admire about the United States is that on its freeways it operates a road regulation system, which in many cases imposes a much lower maximum speed limit than ours, with considerable safety. I merely reflect that when accidents occur, people have been going too fast: that is an important contributory factor in one-third of accidents. That cannot be denied.
However, to put things in perspective, we should recognise that the number of vehicles on British roads has trebled since 1960 from 9.4 million to 30.6 million and that total mileage has nearly quadrupled. Despite those increases, fewer people are now injured on the 1243 roads than in 1960 and the number killed has been halved. Those are figures in which we can rightly take pride, while at the same time recognising that we need to do more, particularly in certain areas.
The noble Lord, Lord St John, referred to motorcycle accidents. Motorcycle casualties are disproportionately high, with riders being around 30 times more likely to be killed than car users. Motorcycling deaths rose by 4 per cent last year, continuing a trend that began in the mid-1990s. The volume of motorcycling is growing much faster than car usage. That means that the actual death rate of those using motorcycles is going down, but, again, that is not a matter for complacency.
Regarding bus lanes, I am not sure that I am pushing at an open door. We are looking at those questions and shall examine the issue closely. But I had the misfortune to introduce the first Greater London Bill to bring bus lanes to London way back in 1975. At that time we intended to keep black taxi cabs out of bus lanes. The reaction was ferocious and we conceded overnight. I am not too sure that we want to allow any other vehicles to drive in bus lanes apart from taxi cabs. However, I heard the comments of the noble Lord on their potential contribution to the safety of motorcycling. As has been raised in the debate, we are delighted that motorcyclists have accepted a culture of compulsory helmet wearing. That is an important factor in protecting motorcyclists when accidents occur.
We are concerned about drink-drive accidents, which have increased in the last few years. The breathalyser is a striking example of how to change attitudes. There is no doubt that 35 years ago, as several noble Lords have indicated, it was thought that motorists had the right to drink almost any amount of alcohol and then drive safely. Thankfully, those days are long gone. The majority of us recognise that alcohol and driving do not go together. The vast majority of us have also accepted the culture of wearing seat belts, although again I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord St John, that rear seat belts are not used as effectively as they ought to be. That leads to accidents for children, who are often back seat passengers. He was right to call attention to that.
Of course the Government are committed to continued efforts on road safety. A sign of that is that the road safety strategy launched in March 2000 was introduced by the Prime Minister himself. That document Tomorrow's Roads—Safer for Everyone set challenging but achievable targets for reducing casualties by 2010. The target for death and serious injuries is a 40 per cent reduction compared with the average for 1994 to 1998. The number in 2002 has already fallen by 17 per cent, perhaps more through the benefits of existing, rather than new, policies, although noble Lords have recognised the benefit of some new policies, not least over mobile phones—to which my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester referred. He mentioned me in passing. I emphasise that it is far too early for us to begin to judge the effect of 1244 that legislation, but we recognise that there have been serious accidents associated with the use of mobile phones by drivers.
When the strategy was launched, three-yearly reviews over delivering and achieving the targets were promised. The first of those reviews is being carried out now and will report in spring 2004. Last week the Government also had the benefit of fresh advice on a number of key issues from the independent Commission for Integrated Transport, to which reference has been made, not least by one. of its members, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. Its views will be carefully considered in the Government's review.
Road safety is a big subject with many factors and influences. Sometimes the issues have been divided into what is known in the trade as the four E's. My noble friend Lord Faulkner mentioned three. They are enforcement, engineering, education; we also add evaluation, which is important in looking at the effectiveness of policies. In picking up the main points raised in the debate, I shall try to group the issues under the main themes that have been explored: safer drivers; safer roads; and safer cars.
My noble friend Lady Gibson quoted the recent lecture by Professor Begg, from which we all derived insights and useful knowledge. He commented on the importance that should be attached to the drink-driving problem. In some respects, Britain is out of step with other countries. We are rightly concerned that 560 deaths—the department's original estimate of the number of road deaths in 2002 in accidents where at least one driver or rider was over the limit—was 6 per cent higher than the figure in the two previous years and 20 per cent higher than the figure for the two years before that. That is indeed a worrying trend and one that we do not want to continue.
At the same time, it is good to know that even at this higher level the number of drink-drive deaths is still half what it was in 1984 and only one-third of what it was in 1979. That should be two decades of effective action and publicity, and we need to examine the area again.
It is clear from the public opinion surveys which the Government carry out in association with their road safety publicity campaigns that most people accept that it is socially unacceptable to drink and drive. But when it comes to the level of the drink-drive limit, which in this country is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, we have also to consider other factors, including the severity of the associated powers. And here I am at one with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, in his analysis of the position.
While it is true that other European countries have reduced their limit to 50 milligrams—in Sweden it is down to 20 milligrams—they have graduated penalties. The issue, in all fairness, is to argue that one could reduce the level but also the penalty. We have looked at that matter seriously because we take on board that our drink-driving position needs to be examined most carefully. The Government were minded to reduce the blood-alcohol limit to bring it to 1245 the European norm, but after a long and careful look at the issues, it was decided that the limit should remain unchanged. Taken together with our much more stringent penalties, we believe that the current level acts as an effective deterrent and that to lower the limit and the penalties would make little or no difference, or might make the situation even worse.
It is important that we get across to our people the seriousness of drinking and driving. That is why we feel justified in having our present stringent penalties. Cutting the limit would not necessarily reduce road deaths. It is important to recognise that the method of enforcement is vital because that impacts on the mind of the motorists. A recent paper from the European Commission suggested that enforcement and other factors were more important in reducing deaths than lowering the limit. It also pointed out that Britain's road death rate by population is six per 100,000, but in Portugal and Greece where the 50 milligram limit obtains the death rate is three times higher.
We have also seen the results of research carried out in Canada, which was thinking of reducing the limit. It looked at the issues and decided that there was no conclusive case for a 50 milligram limit because of the many other factors that come into play. I assure the House that in view of the figures, the Government are looking at this issue with a great deal of seriousness.
Furthermore, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, was right in saying that tiredness is an important factor in road deaths. We are aware of the Loughborough report partly because the Government funded a great deal of it and the Government tend to know where their money has gone. He will have seen notices on motorways and so forth which emphasise to drivers at fairly regular intervals that tiredness can kill. It is an important point, and I assure him that we are considering seriously that research.
I have emphasised that it is now illegal to use hand-held mobile phones while driving. I appreciate the point made by my noble friend Lord Faulkner that it is a distraction and danger to take a telephone call, not just to take one's hands off the steering wheel. The reason why the use of hand-held mobile phones has been tackled first is that it is the activity most readily detectable by police. They are concerned that they should be able to enforce the law, and there is a problem with enforcing a ban on using hands-free mobile phones while driving.
My noble friend Lady Gibson asked why we did not get at employers. We have done so: the Health and Safety Executive and the Government have written to the top 100 employers to say that they should not encourage their drivers to take calls while driving. I shall give noble Lords a word of encouragement: the Law Society has removed from its cars all mobile phones, including hands-free sets, because it regards them as a potential hazard to drivers. That is one clear illustration that the message is getting home. I hope that it will encourage others.
One could have predicted that safety cameras would feature significantly in the debate. Several noble Lords paid due regard to the issue. Contrary to the 1246 impression given by much of the popular press, the partnerships are allowed to install cameras only where there is a history of speed-related accidents and casualties. Most importantly, the partnerships recover from the Treasury only the cost of operating cameras and installing new ones, from the income generated by fines. The idea that the measure is an insidious new form of stealth tax on the nation is false. Cameras are a clear warning to drivers that speed limits must be obeyed, a point that my noble friend Lord Simon emphasised. The noble Viscount is right that police officers often see speeding vehicles as potentially engaged in other criminal pursuits. That is why the police are concerned about excessive speed, which is often associated with other crime.
In due course, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, speed cameras will potentially lead to the detection of other traffic crimes, such as driving without insurance and driving without an MoT certificate. We are examining ways to enforce other traffic laws properly through sophisticated cameras. The DVLA is interested, for obvious reasons, in that possibility.
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
My Lords, I am a little pressed for time, so I hope that the noble, Earl will forgive me. If I give way, I may not be able to answer the whole debate.
The other aspect of using seatbelts is to seek to reduce speed where children are most vulnerable. That is why traffic-calming measures are needed in urban areas and home zones. We seek to emphasise that our child safety problem is not that British drivers are poorer than those on the Continent, but we have problems separating traffic from pedestrians. The vulnerable pedestrians are often children. That is why we must have very low speed limits wherever children are present—near schools and in residential areas.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, referred to speed in rural areas, which is another area of special concern being given much thought. A new speed hierarchy for rural areas is being considered that takes account of the nature and quality of particular roads as well as the nature of the traffic that uses them. Any new proposals that are developed would need to be piloted before wider introduction, as well as given wide publicity to ensure that all drivers fully understood the changes. However, I wanted to reassure the noble Baroness that we are looking at the matter.
The last point that I want to emphasise is safer cars, to which several noble Lords referred. Vehicle safety is important not just for car passengers. We all salute the achievements of the motor industry in making cars safer for passengers, but it is also important that car design takes account of the risks to other road users, especially pedestrians. I am therefore pleased that, following earlier negotiations with car manufacturers, an EU directive has now been ratified which sets the pedestrian protection requirements that have to be met for all new car models introduced from October 2005 onwards. Several noble Lords referred to that point and we are seeing improvements.
1247 This has been a long and wide-ranging debate. I could not hope to cover every single issue: that has been raised. I am only too pleased to write to noble Lords if it has been detected that I have been inadequate in my reply. I am grateful to every noble Lord who has contributed to the debate and for their interest and concern. This is a very important issue. We heard testimony about the price that is paid when road accidents occur to immediate family, carers and wider society. We all recognise that there is almost no greater risk than when one entrusts oneself to the road. That is why it is an obligation on any responsible government to make road safety a major priority.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Baroness Scott of Needham Market
My Lords, it is late and the fisheries debate is waiting in the wings, so I shall do little more than thank noble Lords who have participated in a debate that has been wide-ranging. It has come from a variety of perspectives and will, I am sure, prove very useful to the Government and officials. I am particularly grateful to noble Lords who shared often painful and personal perspectives with the House.
I would also like to say how much 1 enjoyed the contribution by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll. I agreed with very few of his statistics and none of his conclusions. Nevertheless, he serves to remind us that we should treat statistics, their sources and the conclusions that we draw from them with some caution because, at the end of the day, we all want the same thing —safer roads. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.