Mr David Jamieson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions; Plymouth, Devonport, Labour)
My hon. Friend has raised an important point. The figures that I have announced are reported annually. It would be timely to have an annual debate because there is so much interest in the issue in the House. Back Benchers may seek an Adjournment debate themselves or the Government may initiate a further debate on the subject. I shall take that idea to my Department and reflect on how best to produce on-going figures. We need to see how those figures change to assess whether our policies are successfully achieving their targets.
We still have a drink-drive problem. Surveys illustrate that about 1 per cent. of drivers are above the legal limit at any given moment. There are more than 400 deaths a year as a result of accidents in which at least one driver is over the legal limit. Many of those people are impervious to persuasion and must be caught. We are currently drafting a safety Bill and are considering whether to take the opportunity to improve police powers for that purpose and to introduce better ways to combat drink-driving, and drug-driving, which we now know a lot more about. We also need to tackle the problem of tired drivers. It would be difficult to legislate for that, but our research has provided more information, which we have passed on to the public as advice. We need to do more about that, and we will.
As I said earlier, last week I was in Bristol at my Department's annual conference on road safety. At that conference, we launched the first edition of a good practice guide on road safety, aimed mainly at people new to the area of road safety. We need more of them to deliver our expanded programme of integrated local transport. Last December's allocations gave scope for 8,000 local safety schemes to be completed in the next five years. We may not get it right first time. I am sure that experienced professionals will spot ways of improving the guide, but we will revise it from time to time. However, it is the first time that we have published a guide that gives so much detailed guidance to those involved with road safety.
In Bristol, we also launched a report on the Gloucester safer city project. The objective of that programme was to find out what would happen if a strategic approach that involved everybody--including local politicians--were taken in one city. It was successful. Early results indicate that, although the number of deaths and serious injuries is not sufficiently high for reductions to be statistically significant, since the programme began 38 per cent. fewer people have been killed or seriously injured--that is about 19 people a year. That demonstrates that a concentrated, driven effort can achieve results. Both these projects underline the importance of local safety initiatives. Local people, not central Government, know where the problems lie.
It is the job of Government to promote best practice and organise demonstration projects, and we will continue to do that. We have sought, and are evaluating, bids from many authorities to demonstrate measures on how to prevent the many accidents that happen on high streets, as we said that we would in the strategy. Those that we select will work with us to implement about five demonstration schemes on mixed-priority urban roads next year. We must tackle the matter of road safety on our high streets--which are also through routes--if we want towns to grow, regenerate, and be safe and pleasant places in which to live.
We have started to examine how to control traffic speeds. We are considering the first year's results of the pilot schemes to meet the costs of operating speed and red light cameras systematically. We will announce our conclusions as soon as possible. We are also well advanced with the report on rural road hierarchies that we owe to Parliament by the end of November. The aim of the report is to classify roads by use, in order to decide on and review speed limits. My hon. Friend Mr. McWalter, who sponsored the Adjournment debate held in the House on Tuesday night, may take an interest in that scheme.
We have taken to heart the point--made by the Automobile Association and others--that motorists need to feel that speed limits are right. That is a huge job and it marks a departure from a provider-driven approach to a user-driven one. We continue to press in Brussels and Geneva for higher vehicle standards, which are important factors in reducing the effects of accidents, as well as in preventing them. We support the safety ratings that are published on new cars across Europe. They are a British invention and, in the next leap forward, we would like to see the introduction of pedestrian-friendly car fronts.
The Government are the first for a long time to have engaged motor cyclists--and the motor cycle industry--in constructive dialogue on safety and other matters. Just before the election, my hon. Friend Ms Blears, now the Under-Secretary for State for Health, initiated a short debate on the issue. The recent increase in motor cycle accidents seems to be due to commuters travelling on mopeds and scooters. We must improve training. Last January, we introduced a training requirement for those with a driving licence who want to ride a moped. That will affect only new licence holders. Motor cyclists and the motor cycle industry accept that that is a problem that requires urgent action.
There was a welcome drop in the year 2000 figures for pedestrian and cycling casualties. That may be due to our continued efforts to protect such vulnerable road users by traffic-calming measures in residential areas and by increasing cyclists' interest in training schemes. It is possible to encourage walking and cycling while keeping the number of casualties down. Some of the better local authorities have demonstrated that it can be done.
The UK has a long and distinguished record on road safety publicity--so much so that the French are borrowing some of our ideas. We discovered that new campaigns fortify old ones, so we launched the Think! brand for all of them. Yesterday, we launched our latest Think! campaign, which is about speeding in towns and the significance of the stopping distances that we all learned--and have probably forgotten--for our driving tests. The physics of stopping distances is simple. Our television advertisement shows the difference between travelling at 30 mph and 35 mph. One needs 21 ft or 6.4 m more stopping distance just for that extra 5 mph. The Government's Think! campaign asks that motorists think about excess speed, particularly in busy high streets where children are going to school or pensioners are going to collect their pensions from the post office. We also ask drivers in the 30 mph zones to reflect on whether 30 mph is an appropriate speed at which to travel. We ask motorists to think about children on the roads, to consider whether the roads are wet, to consider the prevailing conditions and to obey not just the speed limits but to use good sense when driving.
I hope that my introductory remarks have underlined both the Government's and my personal commitment to road safety. I look forward to listening to and learning from the contributions to this important debate.