HL Deb 28 February 2005 vol 670 cc1-4

2.35 p.m.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

asked Her Majesty's Government:

In the last year for which figures are available, how many and what percentage of people killed or injured in road traffic accidents involving passenger vehicles in the United Kingdom were not wearing seat belts.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, road collision reports produced by the police do not record seat-belt use. However, we estimate that some 4,900 people, about 28 per cent of those killed or seriously injured in cars or vans in Great Britain during 2003, were not wearing seat belts. Those estimates are calculated using observed seat-belt wearing rates and, therefore, are not available for larger vehicles.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, if we are to deal with deaths on roads, it is vital to have precise statistics? The Minister has just told the House that there are none. Surely we should know how many and what percentage of people on our roads do not wear seat belts, whether in the front or rear of vehicles, and how many and what percentage of drivers and front-seat passengers have been killed or injured in recent years by impact from unbelted rear-seat passengers. We should know the facts so that we can take the required action.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, as I indicated in my earlier Answer, there are some difficulties about acquiring such figures as the police are not necessarily the first on the scene of an accident, so there is no accurate evidence. The police do not record whether seat belts had been worn and one cannot always tell. My noble friend is absolutely right that the wearing of seat belts saves lives. As many as 15 front-seat occupants were killed last year by unbelted rear-seat passengers colliding with them. It is important that rear seat belts are worn, but, as I have mentioned to my noble friend, there is a difficulty about statistics.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many more people now suffer injuries, particularly facial and dental injuries. but that many of those people would have died if they had not been wearing seat belts? That rather distorts the injury figures.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, that is certainly the case. People now survive accidents in which they would have died had they not been wearing seat belts. We have police estimates of seat-belt usage and we know that there is a very high degree of compliance by front-seat passengers, but the problem is that only about two—thirds of rear-seat passengers wear seat belts, with the resulting consequence of injury and death.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Government give mixed messages as, on the one hand, they say that seat belts must be used and that mobile phones must not be used but, on the other hand, they somehow give the impression that the penalties for such offences will not be enforced too strongly? Will the Minister send out a message to chief constables that such offences are serious and that the penalties will be enforced? Will he pay attention to the fact that traffic police, who should enforce them, are consistently reduced in number and effectiveness?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the Government spend £1.5 million a year on publicising campaigns on the wearing of seat belts. Senior police officers are only too well aware of the Government's drive towards improving seat-belt usage. I do not believe that the Government send out mixed messages, but the House will recognise that compliance with certain aspects of motoring law—drink driving is the most obvious example—is bound to be taken much more seriously by the police than is seat-belt compliance. Nevertheless, quite clearly the Government want to encourage the use of seat belts as much as possible.

Lord Monson

My Lords, is the Minister aware that New Hampshire, the only American state without some form of compulsory seat-belt legislation, has a road traffic fatality rate that is 24 per cent below the national average?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, New Hampshire is an atypical American state in so many respects that I am not at all fazed by the fact that it is exceptional in that respect. We know from our own evidence that seat-belt wearing reduces injuries in accidents. For a number of years it has been the law of the land and we have seen the effect in the consequences of road accidents. That is the basis on which we seek as much compliance as possible.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that the wearing of seat belts is not recorded as it should be. Can he advise the House, and particularly me, of the number of accidents resulting in injury and death that occur involving public services' vehicles, such as buses, taxis, ambulances, fire engines and more importantly police cars?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I do not have that range of figures. But I think that my noble friend has lighted upon another important aspect of compliance, which is that it is not mandatory for coaches at present. Nevertheless, the use of seat belts in coaches helps to reduce accidents. We are eager to bring that to the attention of all people who use coaches.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, what is the betting that nine out of 10 noble Lords in this Chamber right this minute do not wear seat belts in taxis, although they are offered them?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the noble Baroness is probably offering fairly short odds. Taxies provide seat belts. As the distance from the passenger seat to the back of the driver's compartment is so extensive, accidents in taxies can be very serious indeed when they occur. The reason they are relatively low in overall statistics is because taxi drivers are professionals and, as the House will recognise, are excellent drivers.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I accept the difficulty of collecting statistics as regards the wearing of seat belts by people involved in fatal or serious accidents. Would it not be worth going to a little trouble and expense to try to get such information because it would underpin significantly the Government's efforts to encourage the wearing of seat belts? If people know the likelihood of surviving an accident with a seat belt compared to the consequences without one, surely that would help in furthering the Government's policy.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, we publish estimates and we are aware through surveys of the compliance with regard to seat-belt usage. So we can say with some degree of confidence that 94 per cent of drivers and front-seat passengers wear seat belts; 93 per cent of children are restrained when sitting in the back; but that only 65 per cent of adults sitting in the back wear them.

My noble friend is right. If we were able to establish fully accurate statistics in correlation with accidents, it would strengthen our case. Let me assure the House that it would not in any way emphasise more the Government's commitment to the wearing of seat belts because we are already involved in substantial publicity drives on these issues.

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