Mr David Jamieson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions; Plymouth, Devonport, Labour)
It is usual in Adjournment debates to congratulate the person who has been successful in securing the debate. As the debate was initiated by the Government, however, it would be inappropriate to congratulate myself.
I particularly welcome such an early opportunity to speak about the Government's record on road safety and our plans for the future. I also welcome to the debate the hon. Members for Poole (Mr. Syms) and for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) who are to speak for the Opposition parties. They may know more about this subject than I do--or, at least, they may be more familiar with some of the topics. However, I assure the hon. Member for Poole, who is shaking his head, that I have grasped some of the issues, in particular the considerable importance of this subject to all hon. Members.
The Government consider road safety to be a priority. The issue affects everyone and plays a fundamental role in our society in terms of health, environment and education. In the previous Parliament, we published a road safety strategy to underpin our goal for 2010 to reduce road deaths and serious injuries by 40 per cent. and by 50 per cent. for children. It is a sad fact that, although our record on road safety generally is very good, our record on road safety for children is not good at all--in fact, it is one of the worst in Europe.
The road safety strategy will help to meet a number of Government targets. The strategy will help to meet the Government's overall targets to cut accidents from all causes; to improve our child road safety record; to help wider environmental objectives, particularly the reduction of CO2 and other emissions, such as nitrous oxide, and of course the reduction of noise; to build stronger communities and form part of measures to regenerate urban areas and marginalised communities; and to tackle road crime, such as dangerous driving, thus playing a key role in the wider crime reduction agenda.
It is a sobering thought that far more people die on the roads in this country than die using any other mode of transport. Last year, there were more than 3,400 deaths on our roads and 38,000 serious injuries. The long-term misery caused by these accidents--both to those who are injured and to their families--cannot and should not be underestimated. Some people never recover properly from their injuries, which may result in lifelong impairment. I am keen to make a difference and to promote policies that are proven to make a difference. The foundations for that were laid in March 2000 in our road safety strategy "Tomorrow's roads: safer for everyone" by my predecessor, Lord Whitty. We have set ourselves some challenging targets for reducing deaths and serious injuries and it is essential that we meet those targets.
Such targets cannot be met, however, without the active co-operation of other people. In many respects, road safety is a local matter. Local authorities and police forces have the biggest role to play, but schools, health visitors and the voluntary sector all have their place too. I visited Gloucester last week to look at the safer city project, with which my hon. Friend Mr. Drew may be familiar. It underlines the importance of co-operation among all those involved in safety in that area. I was impressed with their record on that scheme.
We should not forget that some of the most recent advances have come about through safer car design. We must, therefore, involve the motor industry. One year on from the start of the 10-year plan, it may be time to pause and ask ourselves some searching questions. Last year, we set a target that, in our opinion, was tough but achievable, if certain measures were adopted.
We must decide what is the acceptable level of casualties on our roads. In Bristol last week, at a road safety seminar that was organised by my Department, Dutch and Swedish speakers said that, given the money and the will, they could design their road system so that death and serious injury on the road would become a thing of the past. They were talking about sizeable sums of money and, it must be said, some inconvenience for motorists which some would call an attack on freedom. It is wrong to characterise road safety measures as anti-motorist, not least because drivers and their passengers make up the greatest number of casualties. Road safety measures are pro-motorist, at least in relation to the majority of responsible motorists. We must decide what we want. I do not intend to answer all those questions today, but I want this Chamber to reflect on some of the measures. We must decide what we are prepared to put up with, if that means less death and serious injury.
This debate is timely. We have just published the road casualty figures for 2000. They make fairly encouraging reading in most respects. For most road users, deaths and serious injuries are down. There were 9 per cent. fewer child deaths and serious injuries than in 1999. Alas, motor cycle casualties are moving in the opposite direction. Last year, there were 605 deaths and nearly 6,800 serious injuries. We are, however, on track to meet the targets that we set last year.
I cannot list everything that we have done since the strategy was published, but I will mention a few of the actions that we have taken. Our priority is to reduce child accidents, particularly pedestrian accidents where our record is not as good as that of some of our European counterparts. Our record is improving, but last year 107 child pedestrians were killed. In total, 191 children were killed in road accidents last year. That means that there were about two pedestrian accidents a day. We have only to imagine those numbers. The equivalent of a small primary school is being wiped out each year as a result of deaths through road injuries.
We have started a new national pilot programme of child pedestrian training using the Kerbcraft approach, which research showed worked well in Drumchapel, a suburb of Glasgow. The key feature of the scheme is that volunteers are trained to instruct the children by paid local organisers. Bids for the first three tranches of local posts are due to be submitted by
We have published various road safety education materials, and, not least, the lesson plans that go with them. As a former teacher, I know how useful lesson plans can be. Many of our actions will benefit children, as well as others. Some of the materials available at the road safety conference last week, especially those for use with young children, do not necessarily supplant other parts of the curriculum. The sort of materials that could be used in the literacy hour--the big book approach, as I think that it is called in the early years--were shown and used successfully with younger children.
We must improve the way in which we train our drivers. We may never produce experienced drivers just by instructing them and putting them through a test. In 1998, 13 per cent. of drivers involved in injury accidents were aged 17 to 21, which is disproportionate to the overall number of drivers. That age group accounts for only 7 per cent. of licence holders. The accident propensity falls by 35 to 40 per cent. among 17 to 18-year-olds as a result of them gaining experience in the first year. We hope to improve on that figure. In the autumn, we hope to consult about a new way of structuring training for learner drivers. Our plans to add a visual test to the driver theory test are well advanced. That test will assess how quickly drivers see hazards. For more experienced drivers, we expect a report to be published in the autumn on work-related driving from an independent taskforce studying work-related accidents and what employers and employees alike can do about them.