My Lords, there is an up-to-date overview in the second three-year review of our Road Safety Strategy, published in February. Examples of forthcoming initiatives include a fundamental review of driver training and testing, a safety-rating scheme for motorcycle helmets and a consultation on how we can help to improve drink-drive enforcement. The strategy review contains all these initiatives and much more.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for what he said. I declare an interest as I have just become chair of the Road Safety Foundation. Does my noble friend agree that in 2000 Britain had the best record in Europe for low-death rates on our roads? Since then we have slipped to sixth place in the European league. Does he agree that in addition to tackling driver behaviour and vehicle safety, a small expenditure on the infrastructure of our roads has been shown to lead to significant drops in death and serious injury? Would he look further at the potential for improving our infrastructure in low-cost schemes to achieve that end?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on his appointment. If today is anything to go by, he will be assiduous in following up these issues. It is more a case of the other countries catching us up. My information is that only Sweden, the Netherlands and Malta have safer roads than us. Certainly, over the last 10 years deaths and serious injuries are down by 33 per cent, over headline figures going back to 1994-98. The noble Lord is right to say that making small improvements to road schemes—the engineering, as it were—can bring big rewards. We have a very good record on road safety; we need to continue to build on our earlier successes.
My Lords, I would like the noble Lord to comment on the particular statistic that must concern us most of all: over 20 per cent of accidents and 25 per cent of deaths involve males under 25. Should the Government not do more and look more closely at that category of young people?
My Lords, we do, and have been doing, much more. The noble Lord is right to highlight the deaths of young people on the roads. Young people and, of course, the elderly, are most vulnerable. But child deaths and serious injuries are down by 52 per cent over the last decade, which is testament to the hard work that has been put in through enforcement. We have increased fixed-penalty fines for seatbelt offences by some 20 per cent. There has been a 70 per cent increase in fixed penalties for the use of mobile phones, and a 5 per cent increase in breath tests over the period from 2004 to 2005. We continue to bear down on these issues, but there is always more that we can do.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the grave concern expressed by visually impaired and other disabled people about the creation of so-called shared-space schemes in town centres and other public spaces. These schemes create a free-for-all in which motorists, cyclists and pedestrians are expected to share the same space and negotiate priority and right of way by eye contact. Will the Government take steps to halt all further development of such schemes and have existing schemes dismantled until reliable means can be found of ensuring that blind, disabled, elderly and other vulnerable pedestrians can negotiate such areas in safety? If not, what steps will the Government take to ensure that shared space initiatives do not have a deleterious effect on the road safety and independence of disabled and other vulnerable pedestrians?
My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important intervention. I know that shared-space schemes are controversial. The notion has been imported into our own thinking. Motorists seem rather keener on it than pedestrians. For understandable reasons, pedestrians should be very concerned. We must rightly keep these issues under review, but the noble Lord's strong words of caution are absolutely right.
My Lords, to return to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, there is increasing death and lack of safety among drivers under 25. This is attributed to the fact that the wearing of seat belts is very lax among that group. Will the Minister consider making the non-wearing of a seat belt an endorsable offence, as it is in Northern Ireland, as a means of reducing this needless waste of life?
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a good point; it is something we actively review. I certainly understand and share his concern.
My Lords, I wonder whether I should—no, I will be careful on this. I am a great admirer of the noble Baroness, and I think she probably did the right thing.
My Lords, while recognising that the best bicyclists on our roads—I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn—are very good, will my noble friend accept that there is an increasing hazard on our roads caused by cyclists who do not believe that the existing laws apply to them? Can he ensure that serious attention is given to the necessity of wearing front lights, having rear reflectors and regarding traffic lights as something more than decorative as far as our two-wheeled road users are concerned?
My Lords, I live in a city where cycling is a popular pastime. Over the years in which I have been involved in public life in Brighton, I have had many complaints of a similar nature to those which the noble Lord has brought to the attention of your Lordships' House this morning. I entirely understand what he is saying, and his words are well meant. Of course I will reflect this back to the department.
My Lords, will the Minister's review also look at the deaths sadly caused to motorcyclists, particularly on rural roads? There are more deaths on rural roads than on the big urban roadways. Also, will the review take into account the use of sat-navs these days which, instead of sending drivers down the main roads, send them down a lot of country roads, causing a lot of damage to some and adding to the likelihood of accidents?
My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an important issue. Sat-navs can send out the wrong signals. We see problems, particularly with motorcyclists, on the more minor roads. Of course, we keep these things carefully under review. Perhaps that is something for us to work on more with those who provide the sat-nav intelligence and a further discussion that we should have.