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Road Safety

Department for Transport – in the House of Commons at 4:05 pm on 2nd July 2009.

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[Relevant Documents: The Eleventh Report from the Transport Committee, HC 460, Session 2007-08, on Ending the scandal of complacency: road safety beyond 2010, and the Government responses, HC 136 and HC 422, Session 2008-09. ]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the year ending with 31 March 2010, for expenditure by the Department for Transport—

(1) further resources, not exceeding £8,812,695,000 be authorised for use as set out in HC 514,

(2) a further sum, not exceeding £7,734,837,000 be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to meet the costs as so set out, and

(3) limits as so set out be set on appropriations in aid.— (Mrs. Hodgson.)

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Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee 4:25 pm, 2nd July 2009

I am pleased to have the opportunity today to debate the important topic of road safety. This debate is taking place on estimates day, and it is very important indeed that essential spending on road safety measures be maintained.

Road safety is about the lives of individuals and their families, but it is even more than that: it is a major issue that affects all our society. The Transport Committee's report "Ending the Scandal of Complacency: Road Safety Beyond 2010" sees road safety as a public health issue, looks at a way forward and how the situation can be improved and makes important recommendations to the Government.

The road safety debate is ongoing. The Government produced an interim response followed by a fuller response, and that was linked to the Government's road safety strategy consultation called "A Safer Way: Consultation on Making Britain's Roads the Safest in the World". The Committee's report commends the Government on reaching their targets on road safety, and the most recent figures record, for 2008, the lowest number of road casualties yet. However, if we look at the cold facts, we find that 2,538 people still died on our roads in 2008; that 26,029 were recorded as having been seriously injured; and that there were total casualties of 230,884. That means thousands of blighted lives, and it is worth noting that road accidents are the largest single cause of death in people aged between five and 35 years old. They are tragedies for the individuals and their families, but it is a national scandal that so many people die.

It is self-evident—indeed, it should make us think a little—that the scale of the carnage on our roads is not acceptable in any other mode of transport. We are talking about 2,500 people dead and more than 230,000 casualties, and, if those figures related to rail, sea or aviation, there would be national uproar. However, there is no uproar about them.

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Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

I remind my hon. Friend that last year or perhaps the year before, there was a rail crash in Cumbria at Grayrigg, and unfortunately an elderly lady was killed. There were then cries from many people for a public inquiry, but I suspect that on the motorway running parallel to the west coast main line, up to 10 people are killed every year, and nobody calls for a public inquiry.

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Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and agree with his sentiments. I hope that the Transport Committee's report will help focus public attention on what is indeed a national scandal.

I should like to highlight some of the key issues in our report and the Government's response. The report links road safety with wider policies to do with improving the environment and health. It also focuses on a stark fact that has little recognition: the close link between death on the roads and deprivation. Every death or injury on the roads is a great blow for anybody, whatever their background. However, child pedestrians from the lowest socio-economic group are 21 times more likely to be killed in traffic accidents than those in the higher groups. That chilling fact is not known widely enough and does not arouse as much consternation and uproar as it should.

The report also looks at road safety as part of a system. It does not prescribe one single measure for dealing with the issue; it considers the design of roads and vehicles, enforcement, training and attitudes. It is pleasing to note that the Government are also starting to adopt that systems approach, in which it is recognised that there are many aspects to consider in addressing the critical issue of road safety and that a lot of different Departments need to be involved.

The Committee was extremely concerned about the lack of reliability in the data on road injuries, particularly those in relation to serious injuries. Deaths on the roads declined by 18 per cent. during the period that we were considering; serious injuries declined by twice as much. We questioned the accuracy of the recording of serious injuries on the road, and specifically that of the STATS19 system. We were disappointed that although the Government's response acknowledged that there might be a problem, they did not propose any steps that we thought would deal with it. I am thinking particularly of the discrepancies between some of the reporting of serious accidents and data received by hospitals. We want the Government to do more on that issue, as we are not satisfied that the information that we are getting is accurate.

The Committee was particularly concerned about the increase in deaths among certain groups of people. Although the overall number of casualties is coming down, there are areas of great concern; there has been, for example, an increase in deaths among motorcyclists and there is the situation in rural areas. The Committee focused on an aspect that it has considered before: that of novice drivers—young, male novice drivers in particular. Some 27 per cent. of 17 to 19-year-old male drivers have accidents during their first year of driving. One in every eight licence holders is under 25, yet one in three who die in collisions on the roads is in that age bracket.

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I have seen some of those figures myself. Does the hon. Lady believe that they are a reflection of the age of the drivers involved, and that there is therefore a case for raising the age at which a full licence can be obtained? Alternatively, does she think it inevitable that there will be such figures for males who are in their first year of holding a licence? In other words, would the 17-to-19 problem that she identified be the same if the driving age were raised to 18?

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Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee

Owing to the way in which statistics are collected, we were focusing on novice young drivers; there are no comparable data on novice older drivers. However, it appears that the tragic facts that I am reporting relate to young people. The Committee feels that the issue is indeed related to age; it could be to do with attitude and experience of driving. Another chilling statistic is that one in two of those who die in accidents at night are under 25. Our recommendations on how to address this issue are wide-ranging.

The Government acknowledged the severity of this problem, but we were disappointed that they did not feel able to accept some of our recommendations. We thought there should be tougher drinking and driving rules, particularly in relation to young drivers, although that is an issue for all drivers. We also advocated graduated licensing and a wider experience of driving before a test could be passed.

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I am genuinely interested in what the Committee has concluded given the evidence that the hon. Lady has collated from witnesses. Perhaps I can put my question in this way: does she believe that the problem of deaths involving novice drivers would be lessened if the age at which a full licence could be obtained were 18 rather than 17?

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Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. The key aspect is having sufficient experience of different types of driving before a licence can be obtained. Looking again at attitudes, people sometimes associate driving with bravado. In taking a decision about raising the age at which a licence can be granted, we would have to consider other aspects to do with young people's mobility: their need to be able to move around for work and leisure purposes. I acknowledge that a balance is needed, but saving life has to be an integral part of this.

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Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

Was not one of our other concerns that if we raised the age to 18, young people would drive without a licence—they would not bother going through the training system but simply get frustrated with not being able to drive, which could itself create some problems?

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Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee

I thank my hon. Friend for his observation. Yes, indeed, that was one of the reasons the Committee did not make a recommendation in relation to age, although we did so in relation to experience required to pass the test. We also found a close relationship between uninsured, unlicensed driving and accidents, which was another matter of great concern.

I wish to refer to a few of our recommendations. We thought it very important to make it easier for local authorities to have 20 mph zones in areas where they thought that appropriate. We are pleased that the Government seem to support that and hope that that will be followed up with guidance and help with the financial aspects of designating those zones. We wanted to have a separate target for reducing deaths rather than deaths aligned with serious injury, and that too has been accepted.

We wanted a road accident investigation board to be set up, in the same way as there are such boards for other modes of transport—rail, aviation and in the maritime sector. As I said earlier, the scale of carnage on our roads would not be tolerated or accepted on any other mode of transport. There should be a road accident investigation board to emphasise that point and to try to improve the situation. We also thought that there should be an independent road safety commission that would continually assess what was happening and make recommendations.

We wanted to establish a British road safety survey to produce more accurate statistics and perhaps to measure changes in attitude to different aspects of driving. Although the Government agreed that more questions could be incorporated into existing surveys such as the national travel survey, they did not accept our recommendation. They accepted that there should be a commission of experts to look at driving, but it was not entirely clear how it would be designated or what remit it would have; that seemed to fall rather short of our proposal for an independent road safety commission. We emphasised that there should be strong cross-departmental working, involving the Department for Transport, fire and rescue services, the Home Office and education and health services. That approach is extremely important.

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Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

Does the hon. Lady agree that one problem may be that when the police arrive at the scene of an accident, they are more interested in finding somebody to prosecute than necessarily determining the cause of the accident?

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Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee

There are certainly difficulties with assessing the causes of accidents, and perhaps decisions are taken very quickly when a rather longer period of assessment is required.

It is pleasing that the Government have reiterated their wish to become a world leader in road safety again. I was pleased to participate recently in the launch here in the House of a report on global road safety aimed at saving 5 million lives and preventing 50 million serious injuries worldwide. It was encouraging for the people promoting the report to have both Lewis Hamilton and Rory Bremner on the platform.

The Government have taken steps to improve road safety in the UK, and they have to be commended for their achievements. At the same time, we have to accept that it is never right, acceptable or tolerable for there to be more than 2,500 people dying on our roads every year and more than 230,000 injured. That is carnage, and it is why we called our report "Ending the Scandal of Complacency".

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Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle 4:41 pm, 2nd July 2009

If I wanted to be glib, I would say that it is slightly ironic that we are talking about ending the scandal of complacency to an almost empty Chamber. The reality is that since the day we were born, we have got used to the idea that people get killed in road accidents. Also, we accept that things are getting better. I believe that in 1958, 6,000 people were killed on the roads, with a fraction of the traffic that we have today. At the end of last month it was announced that about 2,500 people had died on the roads in the previous year, so there has been a massive reduction.

People are complacent, and they believe—this is not a party political matter—that the Government are doing a good job and that accident and death figures are going in the right direction. I suspect that if we were having a debate about knife crime, there would be many more Members in the Chamber, even though the number of people killed by knife crime is fraction of the number killed on the roads.

There are some disturbing points in the report, however, and one that I want to touch on is the deaths of motorcyclists. I know that the number went down slightly in 2008, but there was a large increase before that. I suspect that the Transport Committee and the Government do not really know what is happening; we know that there is a problem, but we do not know what the solution is.

Over the years, I think that two people have come to see me about deaths of motorcyclists. Both mentioned cases that were not the fault of the motorcyclist but that of a motorist or somebody driving a farm vehicle. The Government should aim their measures at drivers of other vehicles—people such as myself—who somehow do not seem to notice motorcyclists. I suspect that another problem is the middle-aged man who used to drive a bike when he was 21, who comes down from Alston moor on a beautiful day such as today and perhaps does not have the experience that he used to have when he was riding every day as a necessity rather than just at the weekend. We need to consider carefully how we can reduce deaths among motorcyclists, because motorcycling is an environmentally friendly way to travel and we should encourage people to do it. When statistics show that a person is 40 times more likely to be killed on a motorcycle than in a car, it is off-putting.

The number of child deaths has fallen tremendously over the past 10 years, but every single death of a child is a tragedy, and I believe that the number increased slightly in the past year, from 121 to 124. We should be looking into how we can reduce that. Indeed, I know that the Government have a target to reduce child deaths by 50 per cent.; I will return to Government targets later.

However, one thing that worries me is that although we are achieving a reduction in the number of children killed, we are also preventing youngsters from going out. One of the reasons for the fall in deaths is not that the traffic has got better; it is that parents do not like children to go out. In a way, the motor vehicle is turning youngsters into captives. We also need to compare the statistics for children from deprived backgrounds with those for children from affluent backgrounds. The number of children from deprived backgrounds who are killed is considerably out of proportion to the number from affluent backgrounds killed. We have to find out how we can make the streets safe—but not by keeping our children indoors. The 20 mph speed limit is an excellent example. Indeed, some whole towns have a 20 mph limit. We should consider that idea.

There has been talk of international comparisons. I do not think that it matters whether we are top of the league or third or fourth, but we must continue to improve. We will be very near the top for 2008. Some countries, such as France and Spain, have improved greatly, but their numbers of deaths were much higher than ours. We have lessons to learn from the Netherlands and other areas. One part of the United Kingdom whose record bothers me is Northern Ireland, where people are three times more likely to die in a road accident than people on the mainland, and twice as likely to die in a road accident as people in the Republic. Perhaps the many years of the troubles made people in Northern Ireland concentrate on other priorities, but perhaps the new devolved Administration will try to find ways of putting that right.

Another issue that concerns me is deaths on rural roads. Mine is a mostly urban constituency, although it is surrounded by a rural area and parts of it are rural. All too often, my constituents or people from a neighbouring constituency have been killed on the roads outside the city, and we can all see why. We have single carriageways. People go on those roads, get frustrated—perhaps by a farm vehicle, a learner driver or an elderly driver—and there is dangerous overtaking. Most of the time people get away with it, but if they do not, they end up in a head-on collision. That is how most fatalities happen.

There is also a problem with the speed limit. Local authorities have some leeway on that, and the Government are encouraging them to do more. I am schizophrenic about the issue, in the sense that I like to be able to go quite fast—up to 60 mph—but if we reduce the limit to 50 mph, we will reduce deaths considerably, so our freedom in that respect should be curtailed. However, one of my concerns about the Government's proposals is that if we create more and more 50 mph zones, we will have to put up more and more signs. Do we really want to clutter up the roads in the countryside—especially the Cumbrian countryside—with a sign every 100 yards saying that the speed limit is 50 mph? The Government should consider that.

I am pleased that the Government have taken on board a lot of our work in their draft consultation report. People say, "Select Committees don't count," but that is nonsense, because the Government have been able to pick our brains. Mr. Goodwill was a member of our Committee, and a valued one too. I accept that the Government have other responsibilities and that we are only there to make suggestions, but a lot of work has been done.

I am disappointed, however, by the Government's response to the problem of novice drivers. My hon. Friend Mrs. Ellman has covered most of the points on that subject. I am worried about novice drivers going out late at night in their small Peugeots or Fords. There are often two lads and two girls in the car, and they fly around at 11 o'clock at night without having had any experience of driving in the dark. I am not suggesting that they have had too much to drink. The car comes off the road, hits a tree and young lives are destroyed. Some of the young people might not die but they will be badly injured. The Government copped out over the question of a curfew. I know that that would be difficult to enforce, but I believe that the parents would have enforced it. They would have said, "You know that this is your first year of driving. You have to be back by 11 o'clock." I hope that the Government will look at that matter again.

I shall make my final point now. We had plenty of time for these debates, but the first one ran for quite a while. The Government have set a target of achieving a 50 per cent. reduction in child road deaths by 2020, and a 33 per cent. target for reducing adult deaths. That is welcome, but the Minister will be aware that we are starting from a level of 3,000 deaths a year, which means that our target is 2,000 by 2020. That is quite an easy target to reach. I think that 2,500 people died in the past year, so we are halfway towards achieving it already. We could easily get the figure down to 2,000 by 2010 if the advances of the past two years are repeated in the next two.

We do not really know why the reduction is taking place. It probably has something to do with the fact that new cars have better safety features, including air bags. It might also have something to do with Ministers in the OPEC countries putting up the price of fuel, which results in people reducing their speed. If we are to reduce the number of people being killed—and the number of lives devastated as a result—we have to reduce our speed. I know that some people do not like that idea, although as I get older I do not mind it so much. I would probably have objected to it more when I was 30 years younger.

The Government have done a good job, although they have missed some of the opportunities suggested in our report. I hope that they will look again at the proposal for a curfew, and I believe that their targets will be too easily achieved and should be revised downwards. Perhaps it is a bit daft to say that we are aiming for a target of only 2,000 people being killed, but targets work—and really, we should be aiming for a figure of 1,500, or even 1,000, by 2020. That would be better for everyone.

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Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Defence) 4:53 pm, 2nd July 2009

It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Martlew, who has clearly given a lot of thought to these matters. I congratulate the Select Committee and Mrs. Ellman on the presentation of their report. I declare an interest, in that I am chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on road safety, and of the associate parliamentary group for justice for road traffic victims, with which the charity RoadPeace is connected. I first became interested in road safety issues a good 40 years ago when, as a young reporter on the local newspaper, the Essex County Standard, I had the unfortunate duty of reporting on road crashes and attending inquests.

My understanding is that the number of road deaths last year—2,500—was the lowest since records began, and that it was on a par with the figure for 1926, when there was considerably less traffic on the roads. I also understand that we reached a peak of about 8,000 road deaths in 1966. That is an horrendous statistic, bearing in mind the number of cars that were on the road then, compared with today. Much credit must be given to the successive Governments and road safety Ministers who have achieved this progress, but there is more to be done. My view is that there should be no target other than a zero target, because one road death is one too many. I do not find much cause for rejoicing in saying, "Only 120 children got killed last year, whereas it was 130 the previous year." We need to drive down—literally drive down—the number of road deaths.

I pay special tribute to the new road safety Minister, who yesterday graciously spent nearly an hour with me and two constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Bell, whose only child Jordan, aged 14, was killed in a road crash in my constituency by someone driving at more than 30 mph in a 30 limit; his alcohol content was marginally below the legal maximum of 80 mg per 100 ml. The petition that my constituents presented is intended to get that limit down to 50 mg, which I believe is not an unreasonable target. Even that would be higher than it is in Sweden, which shares with Britain the best record in the world for reducing road deaths. If we must have targets, these are targets that we can be proud of, as we have done more than any country in the world apart from Sweden to reduce road deaths, and Sweden has a much lower drink-drive limit than us. If we could get it down to 50 mg, we could all be proud of it, and my constituents Mr. and Mrs. Bell would certainly feel that some good had come of their tragedy.

There are other important issues. We need to invest in road safety in order to prevent road deaths and serious injuries, which—never mind the human tragedy—are a considerable cost to the economy. I have visited hospitals and seen people who have been involved in road crashes on life-support machines, so I know about the trauma and tragedy that goes with that. We need to persuade the Treasury that having traffic-calming measures outside schools and carrying out road safety measures will actually save the public purse in the long run.

I drew to the attention of the road safety Minister only yesterday—I do so again to the House this afternoon—that on a side road by a school in Westminster there is a school safety sign the like of which I have not seen anywhere else in the country. The school sign is painted on the highway itself, so a motorist who cannot see a sign on a post will be able to see it on the road surface—unless we have snow, of course, which is unlikely at this time of year. For most of the year, that road sign is there in paint on the highway. A few weeks ago, when I was in glorious Derbyshire, I found another type of school safety sign in Chesterfield that I would like the Department for Transport to introduce elsewhere. It flashes at school arrival and departure times, not only to indicate the school but to introduce a 20 mph speed limit during those periods. Those two measures alone would be very useful, especially if we could join them together.

I am one of only a few people who are fans of speed cameras. I remember discussing speed cameras in connection with an earlier transport Bill. Mr. Clarke, then a Home Office Minister, was the nice guy and the other Minister, Mr. Paul Boateng, was the not-so-nice guy. The right hon. Member for Norwich, South assured me that speed cameras were a road safety device, not a revenue generator—and I hope that remains the case. Since then, other cameras have been introduced that flash up the relevant speed limit—30 mph, 40 mph or whatever. I suggest that what we need is a hybrid camera—one that states whatever the speed limit is, but also imposes a fine if a driver exceeds that limit. The technology is there; it is just a question of putting the two cameras on the same pole.

The hon. Member for Carlisle drew attention to the need for better design of our country roads. I should like the Minister to discuss with his colleagues the A140 north of Ipswich, which extends through Suffolk into Norfolk and up to Norwich—a place that I may visit more frequently in the next few weeks, but which I already visit on a regular basis.

The A140 features regularly on regional television. We frequently learn that there has been another crash, that the road is closed, that people have been killed. The road itself is not unsafe. We know that crashes are caused by drivers, not by roads. However, if roads were better engineered, and if the various hazards were engineered out, there would be fewer road crashes—Members will note that I never use the word "accident"—fewer injuries on the roads, and fewer fatalities. Obviously the A140 is not the only road to which that applies; it applies to roads all over the country. I have cited it because it is the main road link between Ipswich and Norwich, and the road that my constituents in north Essex use to travel to Norfolk.

Let me say something about traffic calming and reducing speed limits. Until I had a taster session with the Colchester branch of the Institute of Advanced Motorists I was the world's best driver, but I quickly realised that there was a lot to learn. I took the full course, and finally passed the IAM test. I learnt two things: that, as the hon. Member for Carlisle suggested, the speed limit should be dropped by 10 mph; and that a driver should keep space between his car and the vehicle in front of it. Those two simple measures alone would result in a huge reduction in the number of road crashes, deaths and injuries.

There is a pressing case in our urban areas for 20 mph zones—not just on new estates, where that is often already the case, but in established areas. I am pleased to say that many years ago, when I was a local councillor, my badgering led to the introduction of the first 20 mph speed limit in Essex, in a Victorian-Edwardian high-density residential area. Twenty miles per hour is more than fast enough in most of our residential suburbs. We need more of those speed limits, and I urge the Government to press on. We have a proud record in forcing down the number of road deaths, but more can be achieved. I believe that with all-party support it can be achieved, but the Treasury must realise that, although investment costs money, saving lives saves the public purse a lot of money as well.

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 5:02 pm, 2nd July 2009

We are debating an important subject, and although this is the fag end of a Thursday afternoon, it is disappointing that only 10 Members are present—including the umpire and two linesmen, if I may use a Wimbledon analogy this week. However, that has allowed the House to experience the undoubted pleasure of hearing two successive Liberal Democrat speakers.

I agree with what was said by both the Chairman of the Transport Committee, Mrs. Ellman, and Mr. Martlew about the way in which the press and other media portray accidents on the road, as opposed to the railways or, indeed, any other mode of transport. The hon. Member for Carlisle mentioned Grayrigg; he could have also referred to Hatfield. I gather that, notwithstanding the significant loss of life in that terrible railway accident, more people in the United Kingdom died on the roads that weekend.

It is also true that railway accidents such as those are thankfully very unusual. However, they skew public perceptions, and they also skew Government policy. The Government of the day are under tremendous pressure to "make the railways safer", but the railways are terribly safe. We end up spending unnecessary amounts on improving an already safe record on the railways and not improving safety on the roads, where, by and large, the deaths occur. It is a case of complacency, not so much on the part of the Government or even the House as on the part of our friends in the media, who tend to report the unusual rather than the everyday. Health is an example: they are all very interested in swine flu but not particularly interested in heart disease or cancer, which are the big killers in our society. There is a need for perspective to be brought into the reporting of these matters and into the Government policy that ensues.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I apologise for not being here for the start of the debate. As a cyclist, one of the things that really bugs me is the continuing use of mobile phones by a small number of recidivist motorists. The media should show these people up, because the lack of attention shown by someone driving who is on a mobile phone will cause accidents. Does he agree that it is shameful that the media will not take up that issue?

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I agree, and my colleagues have collected some figures on the continuing breaking of the law. I hope that, as with drink driving over the last 20 or 30 years, such activity will become socially unacceptable and the number of people engaging in it will gradually diminish. The reports of what some people do while driving astonish me, whether it is drying their hair or engaging in something far more interesting but definitely unsafe on the roads. We need to get people to take their driving more seriously. [ Interruption. ] I was being very diplomatic there, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope you realise that; more details can be given subsequently if you need to know what I am referring to.

The Select Committee report is helpful in highlighting a number of key issues, and it is good news that the number of people killed on Britain's roads in 2007 was down; as my hon. Friend Bob Russell said, it fell below 3,000 for the first time since 1926. If one looks at the Government's road safety targets, from their 2000 paper "Tomorrow's roads: safer for everyone", one sees that, by and large, they are on track in terms of the reductions of deaths and serious accidents set out in that paper. To be fair to the Government, they have achieved a good deal in this area—credit where it is due. That is not to say that sufficient has been done. We all, including the Minister, want to see the figures reduced further.

The question is whether the figures are accurate, and the Chairman of the Select Committee referred to that in her opening comments. Recommendation 4 of the report referred to STATS19, and I note that the Government say in their reply that a review of that is being carried out now. It is important that we get the figures right, but there appears to be a lack of correlation between the official figures and what hospital data show, which suggests that the figures are not always accurate. We all know from our constituencies that what are called "minor accidents" nevertheless cause injury on many occasions but are not actually reported because people sort things out and deal with the insurance companies themselves, without the police being called.

The police are to some extent backing off road issues in a way that I do not always find entirely helpful. They backed off on parking; it has become decriminalised in many areas and, where it is not, the police are still backing off. To some extent the police are backing off on speed enforcement. They are relying on cameras at key locations to pick up those who are speeding. They assume that those cameras are covering the worst areas and many forces are not policing outside those areas. That is a worry.

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Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

Could another reason for that "backing off" be that we have had a 20 per cent. reduction in the number of traffic police over the last 10 years and that drink driving is no longer a key performance indicator for police forces?

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

There is undoubtedly a case as to how the police are asked to prioritise their time. I do not want to go too far down that track, Madam Deputy Speaker, as this is not a police debate, but any element of the public sector—whether it is the police or local councils—will respond to the target-driven culture that we now have. If those targets are accurately and sensibly chosen, that can be productive. Sometimes targets that are chosen end up with peculiar and distorting results. Some police forces have sought to increase the number of crimes detected in order to get their figures looking better, although the crimes they detect are sometimes very minor. They are not spending their time looking at more serious crimes about which the public are more worried. There can be that distortion, therefore.

Drink-driving has been mentioned by several Members, and it is undoubtedly a serious issue. My gut feeling is that while it has became socially unacceptable over the past 30 or 40 years—we have come a long way from "one for the road," which is how things were back then—that good work is beginning to be unpicked a bit. The old ways are creeping back again, and people are beginning to think, "Well, we'll just chance it." That might be because either the consequences are diminishing or the horror adverts are not on television as much as they used to be, or perhaps because the fear of being caught, which is always a main driver—no pun intended—in deterring people, has lessened because they do not think they will be stopped by the police. However, the fact is that 16 per cent. of all road deaths involve a drink-driver; that is a 2007 figure. To pick up on a point made by the Committee Chairman, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside, drivers aged between 17 and 19 are 10 times more likely to have a drink-drive crash than drivers of other ages. Just for clarity, let me say that earlier I was not necessarily advocating an increase in the driving age to 18; I was merely genuinely asking about the Committee's view on the matter, because there is a legitimate discussion to be had on it.

I believe there is a strong case for the drink-drive limit to be reduced from 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood to 50 mg. International comparisons reveal that our limit is shared by Ireland, Luxembourg and Malta, but the 0.5 mg per ml limit is much more common across Europe: it is the limit for Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain. That is where the centre of gravity lies across the European Union—and some countries even have a lower limit than 0.5.

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Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

I looked into this, too, and the hon. Gentleman is right, but does he realise that in a lot of the countries he mentioned there is no driving ban? Instead there is a fine, or perhaps a few points. Is it not better to have a higher level and a draconian punishment than to go the French way of reducing the level but only giving a fine?

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I do not advocate the view that people should face only a fine for what is a serious offence, but I think the 0.8 limit is too high, as some individuals can be within the limit yet their driving capacity is still impaired. I also do not think it is sensible policy that if someone is marginally above 0.8 they will face what the hon. Gentleman calls a draconian ban, whereas if they are just below that 0.8 limit they will not face any penalty whatever. That seems to me to be a rather extreme situation. I think there is a case for looking at this again, therefore, and I believe that 0.5 would be a sensible limit. That would allow someone who is going to drive to have one drink; after all, people who are driving should not have any more than that.

There is also an issue to do with drug-driving. As the Minister will know, a recent survey by Brake found that one in 10 young drivers has driven under the influence of drugs. The Government recently announced that they are creating a specification for a roadside drugs test, which is very welcome. However, as my hon. Friend Mark Hunter said last month, it was stated in a parliamentary answer to a question he asked in February 2008 that

"departmental advisers were continuing their work to produce such a specification and...hoped to reach a conclusion soon."—[ Hansard, 4 June 2009; Vol. 493, c. 147WH.]

That was said well over a year ago now, so it would be very welcome if the Minister could give us an update on the matter.

There is also the problem of uninsured drivers, as Members have mentioned. Uninsured drivers kill four people on our roads every week and were responsible in 2006 for 36,000 crashes and 27,000 injuries. However, the average fine for uninsured driving has fallen by 13 per cent. since 1997, from £224 to £194. That is much too low. As politicians, we cannot interfere with the courts, but I suggest to the Minister that either the minimum fine should be increased or some guidance should be issued by the relevant Law Officers to draw attention to this matter, because the cost of buying insurance is now often more than the fine for driving without insurance, and that is a nonsensical situation.

My next point relates to speeding. I believe that there is a case for a default 20 mph limit in concentrated urban areas. I use the word "default" because there may be cases—for example, on a bus route or a trunk road going through an urban area—where it is sensible to have a limit of 30 mph. A default 20 mph limit, especially on side roads, is a sensible safety measure. When I was a young lad we were able to go out playing in the streets. There used to be something called "safe streets". That is what we used to have. I do not see children playing in the streets so much these days, and that is partly because they are not safe any more. We ought to do rather more to ensure that we make our residential areas safer for children. Whether they are playing or simply crossing the road, they are not as safe as they could be at the moment. I am sure that we would all agree that there is nothing more tragic than a child being injured in a road accident.

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Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

I think that the hon. Gentleman might be looking at the past with rose-tinted glasses. As a child, I used to play out on the street but I was badly injured in a road accident. It was probably more dangerous then than it is now.

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I am sorry about that particular accident, but I do not think I am looking at this with rose-tinted spectacles; there were fewer vehicles then for one thing. Irrespective of whether the past was better, however, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that we need to do better in residential areas and a 20 mph limit may be one way forward.

My next point relates to shared streets and other measures that we can take to make our urban areas safer. I am very interested in the debate on shared streets and I have seen some of the examples, in the Netherlands and elsewhere, where road signs have been taken away altogether. Having too many road signs does not simply clutter up the country; it also switches drivers off, because if there are too many signs they do not notice any of them. We need to be rather cleverer about the use of signs. Taking away all indications from drivers as to where they are makes them slow down, because they consider whether they are in a pedestrian area or an area for cars, and what will happen around the corner. They drive more slowly and more safely as a result. A shared street is being introduced in Lewes. By the way, it has a little lip to help blind and visually-impaired people, for whom there is a genuine concern. It is not fully open yet, but I think it will be very effective in reducing traffic speeds along a busy road in Lewes.

My final point is that we need to have cycle tracks that are safe. This country has a high level of cycle ownership, but quite a low level of cycle usage. People often tell us that they do not feel that it is safe to cycle. On the continent there are far more dedicated cycleways and even in this country there is much heavier use of bicycles where towns and cities have identified dedicated cycle routes. This is good not only for people's health, but for the environment, and it is also an important safety issue. It is not safe on our roads for cyclists when they are competing with lorries, as often happens on narrow roads. People want to be able to cycle safely and they are entitled to do so, and I think that the Government should generally be making more effort to promote cycling and make it safer in our urban areas.

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C

Cycle tracks are NOT safe - research has shown that they are 2 - 3 times more dangerous than cycling along the road. They may make people feel safe, but that is a false impression. Most injuries to cyclists occur when a motor vehicle and cycle collide at a road junction (about 70%). Cycle tracks simply move cyclists away from roads but the cyclist has to rejoin the road somewhere later on his journey. That introduces a new junction - usually at a point where the motorist is not expecting it. Dedicated cycle tracks alongside roads are even worse. The cyclist has to be aware of motor vehicles approaching a junction from behind him as well as a vehicle emerging from the junction - in both cases the motorist doesn't notice the cyclist on the cycle track since the cyclist is not on the road. What is required is to get motorists to ride on main roads as part of their training for the driving test as well as the introduction of the EU directive which holds motor vehicle drivers automatically responsible for injuries to pedestrians and cyclists when involved in a collision.

Submitted by Chris Beazer

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport) 5:17 pm, 2nd July 2009

I congratulate Mrs. Ellman, the Chair of the Select Committee, on its report. As a former member of the Committee, I know what good work it does and I remember with great affection her predecessor, Gwyneth Dunwoody, who always treated its members kindly—that generosity of spirit was not always extended to those hapless witnesses who gave evidence before us.

I join everybody in the House in welcoming the very good figures on road casualties that came out last week; 408 people are alive in this country today who would not have been alive had it not been for the reduction. I hope that this country is clawing its way back to the top of the European safety record. I believe that only Holland remains ahead of us and I look forward to the years ahead, when we may well make further improvements. I think that tribute has been paid to a lot of different factors—among others, the actions of successive Governments and vehicle design. May I pay tribute to Britain's drivers, because these improvements are largely due to the sensible attitude of the majority of Britain's drivers?

I do not wish to rain on the Minister's parade, but there is one proviso in those figures. The whole of the European Union experienced, on average, a 15 per cent. reduction in casualties last year. That was caused by a number of factors, the first of which has been mentioned: the fact that there was a noticeable reduction in speed on our roads last year when the price of petrol and diesel reached the dizzy heights that it did. We also saw, for the first time since the 1970s, a reduction in traffic on our roads. Last year, there was a 0.8 per cent. reduction because of the recessionary pressures in the economy.

Although I have seen the figures on motorcycle casualties, which showed a slight increase, I wonder how much worse the figures would have been had we had a warm, decent summer. Many of those casualties are the born-again bikers—the people who passed their test on a Triumph Bonneville and now go out and buy a Ducati or a Fireblade and find that although the engine size is about the same the bike has tremendously more performance. Sadly, all too often on BBC Radio York on a Sunday afternoon I hear of yet another casualty on the rural roads of north Yorkshire. If we get more weather like this, I fear that we might well see more of that type of accident. Of course, although motorcycles make up only 1 per cent. of road traffic, they contribute to nearly a fifth of deaths on our roads.

There are a couple of areas where the Government could, perhaps, be doing a little better. In saying that, I would not want to detract from the real progress that has been made in a number of areas. My first area of concern, however, is the motorcycle driving test. As the Minister will know, when the new manoeuvres aspect of the test came in, Ministers or officials failed to notice that the swerve and stop test had to be carried out at 50 kph. As we know, that is 31 mph—more than the speed limit on urban roads, which meant that the Government had to institute a programme of setting up large multipurpose test centres around the country.

That has had two results. First, motorcyclists have to drive far greater distances to access a test. The nearest test centre to my constituency is Hull, which means more than an hour's journey. If it is winter and a young rider is on a moped or a small capacity motorcycle, it is rather a daunting journey. A number of people have been put off taking their test because of the larger distance involved. Secondly, and perhaps more worryingly, there have been a number of incidents, some of which have resulted in injury, during the controversial swerve and stop test, which must be carried out, as I mentioned, at 50 kph. In fact, in the first three weeks there were 14 incidents, I think, three of which resulted in injuries so serious that the person had to go to hospital.

Before today's debate, most of the reports of concerns about this matter have been largely hearsay. I have a couple of letters that I have received, however. One is from a constituent of my right hon. Friend Miss Widdecombe. She says:

"I am a teacher...We are desperately saving for a mortgage and to start a family, but needed transport to get to work...I am too scared to take the test. I have already heard of 2 accidents in the first few days, including a broken arm due to the new manoeuvres that you are required to take. Riding instructors have been speaking out against it, but the current government's agencies have been ignoring expert advice."

I have another e-mail that I received only last week from a lady called Jean Galvin, who says:

"I am an older female motorcyclist who is returning to motorcycling after a number of years. I attempted to take the new module 1 test on 28th May and failed. I have no issue with the majority of the test and applaud the testing of slow manoeuvring and clutch control, but I was horrified at the swerve test.

I took this on a 125 which I had to violently accelerate around a curve in order to reach the speed of 50 kph. I was required to do this despite approaching a hazard. On my first attempt, I reached a speed of 49 kph and felt sure that if I had attempted to swerve in the required manner I would crash (as have many others). I used my best judgment and avoided the hazard in a safe way i.e. without the swerve.

All of my instincts tell me not to accelerate toward a hazard—how can this be expected of any motorcyclist. It is now my intention to continue retaking my CBT"— that is, her compulsory basic training—

"and to ride my 125 until such a time as the"

Driving Standards Agency

"comes to its senses and changes this situation. My heart goes out to the family of the person who will become the first fatality."

Riders are being deterred from taking training and from taking the test. Having taken the compulsory basic training, which is basically like riding round cones in a car park—actually, it is better than that, but it is very basic initial training—riders realise that they can ride for two years without taking a test. I am concerned that many riders will continue to ride for two years, take the CBT and ride for two years again. That will result in less well trained motorcycle riders on our roads.

The second point that I want to raise is the issue of drink and drug-driving. The Opposition do not intend to reduce the drink-drive limit, for the very reasons that Mr. Martlew stated. Many other EU countries have lower limits, but they do not have the gold standard ban. As we have seen with speeding, giving people points on their licence and fines does not deter them.

We feel that retaining the ban is very important, and for that reason we will not follow the example of other EU countries. However, I applaud the campaigns carried out by Ministers during the summer and at Christmas to raise awareness of drink-driving. If we get directly elected police commissioners in this country, they might want to put prioritising the enforcement of drink-driving in their election manifestos.

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Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Defence)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the double approach of a lower drink-drive limit and the threat of disqualification is more likely to ensure that people are less inclined to drink-drive than what he is proposing?

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Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but feel that his proposal may be seen as too draconian. All too often when we read of an accident in the newspapers, it involves a person who is twice or three times over the limit. We need to make sure that we are policing the existing limit before we move further.

I turn now to the issue of drug-driving, in respect of which the UK is lagging behind many other countries in the world. We still rely on the field impairment test, which was used for drink-driving before Barbara Castle introduced the breathalyser. Drivers suspected of being under the influence of drugs are expected to walk down a white line at the side of the road.

It is 2009. Countries such as France, Germany, Belgium, Romania—for goodness' sake!—Croatia, Italy, Australia, Spain, Switzerland, Finland, Iceland, the Czech Republic and Luxembourg all have roadside drug-testing equipment that is deployed and used by police. Why is the UK lagging behind?

I have seen the tests demonstrated. Using a saliva test at the roadside, they test for up to two drugs, although a new generation of equipment will soon test simultaneously for six different drugs.

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I promise not to report the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the Romanian ambassador, but does he agree that the problem does not involve illegal drugs only and that it is important that any test should take account of prescribed drugs as well?

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Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

That is true, but GPs also have a responsibility. I tabled a parliamentary question recently to ask how many GPs, having prescribed a drug for which driving was forbidden after use, then reported to the driving licence authorities that the patient involved should not continue to drive while taking that drug. In many cases, GPs may be reluctant to put their relationship with patients at risk by grassing them up, so to speak, to Swansea.

We need a debate on how we should treat drug-driving in the courts if we had drug-testing equipment out in the field. It would be difficult to set a safe limit for the drugs that we are talking about because they are illegal, and that is not the case with alcohol. I have not discussed this matter at any length with my colleagues who shadow the Justice Department or the Home Office but, although we could make it an offence for a person to have any drug at all in his system, I suspect that the Crown Prosecution Service might have to issue guidelines about the level of intoxication at which a prosecution could be brought.

There is a precedent with speeding, for which the guidelines laid down by the Association of Chief Police Officers make it clear that a prosecution may be brought if a driver does 10 per cent. over the limit, plus 2 mph. Another example might involve theft: if, God forbid, I stole an orange from a stall in Pimlico market I may be let off with a warning, but if I hijacked a 38-tonner full of oranges I would be for the high jump. We need a genuine debate about how we police drug-driving, once the equipment is being used and deployed. I think that all parties would like to work constructively together to try to reach a solution to that vexing problem.

Young drivers have been mentioned, and we have certainly looked carefully at ideas such as raising the driving age to 18 and limiting the number of young people to two in a car. We are giving conflicting advice: we are saying that, if young people go out together, they should nominate a driver; but surely, in those circumstances, it is a good idea to have four or five people in the car if the driver has not been drinking. We have rejected the idea of a curfew, but we are very well aware of the risk to young drivers—it is the single biggest killer of 15 to 24-year-olds in the OECD countries, and the death rate among under-25s is double the normal death rate.

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Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

To clarify, the Opposition's position is to do nothing. Is that correct?

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Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Opposition's position is to look at how the driving test can be made more appropriate and to make the driving test better but not necessarily harder. I have discussed with the Minister's predecessor the young men who pass their tests with flying colours, but the rather nervous drivers who perhaps scrape through the test are often the ones who are killed in accidents or incidents. So we need to make the test more appropriate to the conditions that young drivers face.

During the consultation that, I think, has recently closed, we suggested taking the manoeuvres out of the driving test—the three-point turn, parallel parking and reversing around a corner—to buy an additional 15 or 20 minutes during the test when other driving skills, such as perhaps driving at higher speeds, could be examined to try to determine which young drivers are likely to be at risk.

Rogue drivers have been mentioned. As Norman Baker said, the fines that have been levied for having no insurance policy are often much less than the premiums paid by 17-year-olds. I do not know whether many hon. Members saw the "Top Gear" programme a couple of weeks ago, when Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond posed as 17-year-olds when trying to insure their cars. I must add that, of course, they did so over the telephone. I am sure that Mr. Hammond might just have been able to carry it off, but the other two would have certainly failed miserably. They were quoted punitive premiums, so it is no wonder that many young people decide to become rogue drivers.

Sadly, these days, it is very easy to be a rogue driver, given the ease of cloning vehicles. Police around the country are deploying many more automatic number plate detection systems, which are very good at picking up cars that are not insured or MOT-ed, or those that have been flagged up on the police national computer as being of interest, but it is very easy to steal a number plate from another identical car or even to go on to the internet to buy a so-called show plate that can be placed on a car and used to clone another one.

Two years ago, I went on to one of those show plate sites on the internet and managed to buy number plates identical to those on the Prime Minister's Jaguar XJ6. Surely, if I can clone the Prime Minister's car, any car in the country could be cloned. I hasten to add that I did not put the plates on to my car, so congestion charge notices have not been arriving at No. 10 Downing street. However, the Government thought that they had ticked the box and come up with a solution because one had to show photographic proof of identity, along with the car's log book, when presenting oneself at a garage to buy number plates.

Sadly, one can go to a variety of internet sites that advertise show plates, and although there is a warning at the bottom of the website saying that the plate must not be used on vehicles on the road, the plates are identical to the ones provided legitimately and can be used very easily to clone vehicles. Similarly, when plates are attached to a car, they can be removed and placed on another car. I suggest that simple, basic technology—the word "technology" does not even describe it—such as tamper-proof number plates that are broken if removed, could prevent such cloning from going on and mean fewer rogue drivers on our roads. All too often, it is the rogue drivers, who are not insured, who may be disqualified and whose cars might not be roadworthy who are involved in accidents on our roads.

On speed enforcement, in some ways the Government could be accused of being a one-club golfer, given their reliance on fixed-speed cameras. As we see from the large number of people who have been fined because of those cameras, they are not even effective at stopping people speeding in areas where there are cameras, never mind where there are no cameras. Bob Russell mentioned reactive signs. A reactive sign costs only £7,000, whereas a fixed-speed camera is £40,000. We look with interest at the experiment in Swindon, where the Conservative-controlled council has withdrawn from the safety partnership and is deploying the money in other ways to try to improve safety on its roads. My constituency is in north Yorkshire, where we do not have any fixed-speed cameras, and it is interesting that it has never been drawn to my attention that improvements in road safety are any lesser in north Yorkshire than anywhere else in the country.

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Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Defence)

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that it is the view of Her Majesty's official Opposition that breaking the law should not be condoned?

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Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

Certainly, we absolutely condemn anyone breaking the speed limits. I am talking about how we can effectively police those speed limits. I went to Bradford recently—I am not used to driving there—and saw a lot of cars slowing down to go past the cameras, but speeding up afterwards. Local people know where the cameras are. Hundreds of thousands of people have been caught by the cameras. We need a more intelligent approach to the issue, and we need to look carefully at where cameras are located.

I am a big fan of time-over-distance, or average, cameras. Where they have been used in Scotland, they have been very effective. I say that because they have caught so few people, and surely that is the test of whether a camera system is effective. It is effective if it does not catch people speeding because it deters them from speeding. When such cameras are used on contraflows where there are motorway roadworks, they have worked very well at keeping speed down. Interestingly, on motorways where there are no roadworks, where time-over-distance cameras have been deployed, journey times have improved. If a person speeds down the fast lane of a motorway, causing other people to pull in, it often increases the journey time for many other people on the road.

We have rejected the suggestions that Ministers made earlier in the year that there should be a blanket 50 mph speed limit on rural roads. Where lower speed limits are appropriate, they should be introduced. Similarly, 20 mph speed limits should be introduced where they are appropriate, but there should not necessarily be a blanket introduction over an area. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Colchester talk about the warning signs that he had seen in Derbyshire outside a school. That system is used widely in New Zealand; head teachers can deploy signs that light up at important times of day, such as when children are arriving or leaving.

We are looking closely at the system in Spain—I do not know whether the Minister has heard of it—where a reactive sign is placed just before a light-controlled pedestrian crossing. If a motorist triggers that sign, it deploys the red light on the pelican crossing, so that he has a "time out" there. Not only is he given the inconvenience of having to wait, but drivers in the cars behind him—and, more importantly, drivers coming in the other direction, who have eye contact with him—can show their disapproval.

I thank the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside, again for presenting her report. There is much in it that is worthy of further action. Although I have been a little critical of the Government in one or two areas, the vast majority of what they are doing takes us in the right direction. If it was not, the figures would not be so good. However, I would like the Minister to look closely at the issues of the motorcycle test, better roadside drug-testing equipment and how we can clamp down on rogue drivers by cutting out all the bogus, counterfeit number plates around the country. One police officer told me that it was estimated that there were 20,000 cloned vehicles on our road.

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C

Would Robert Goodwill explain what the "fast lane" is? There is no such thing - just inside, middle and outside lanes - the middle and outside are overtaking lanes.

Submitted by Chris Beazer

Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 5:38 pm, 2nd July 2009

We have had an interesting, if short, debate on a fundamentally important issue, and I am delighted to respond to it. At the outset, I thank my hon. Friend Mrs. Ellman for her work in chairing the Select Committee, and for presenting us with an important report on an issue that affects so many of us.

My hon. Friend Mr. Martlew, among others, has often said that the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads, compared to those involving other modes of transport, is appalling. Before I turn to the clearly heartening statistics that were released last week, let me say that I agree that even one death is one too many. Members from all parts of the House strive to reduce the numbers, and although there should never be any cosy relationship between the Government and the Select Committee—or, indeed, the Opposition—we share that goal of reducing road casualties. Collaborative work and ideas will help us to achieve what many of us want, which is zero deaths.

Last week's published statistics for 2008 showed excellent progress on reducing the toll of injury and, particularly, death on British roads. Several Members have referred to the 14 per cent. reduction in deaths since 2007, and that occurred across all transport modes: pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, and occupants of cars, buses, coaches and goods vehicles.

In addition, the total number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads fell by 7 per cent., and has fallen by 40 per cent. from our 1994 to 1998 average baseline, meaning that the target that we set for 2010 has now been met. I shall return to the question of whether the new targets are stretching enough. All parts of the House welcome the figures, but it is important not to get carried away. I said as much last Thursday at the Road Safety Foundation's launch of the European Road Assessment Programme's statistics, when I remarked that the figures were extremely welcome but that last year was economically extraordinary, combining the tail end of a spike in fuel prices with the beginnings of the global recession. That may have had some effect on transport levels, and therefore on casualty levels on our roads. Yet the trend is still downwards, and I want to put on the record my thanks to everyone in the transport industries who has helped us to achieve those results.

We should not get carried away with having only—only—2,538 dying on our roads in a year, because that is still a dreadful statistic. We need to work on it and to do much better, and as the Select Committee Chairman said at the beginning of our proceedings, there is an ongoing debate about how to continue to reduce those figures. At the end of April we responded to the Committee's report and launched a consultation on our new long-term road safety strategy, which will come into force in 2010. Although it draws on many important lessons that we have learned from the current strategy, it sets out a fresh approach to road safety, proposals for new targets and measures to help us meet them.

Despite recent successes, current casualty rates—death rates, in particular—are far too high, and although we have reduced serious injuries on our roads by 41 per cent. in the current strategy, deaths have come down by only 29 per cent. Therefore, we propose a bold strategy for the period beyond 2010, with a long-term vision not just to improve road safety, but to make Britain's roads the safest in the world.

Our primary national target for 2020, therefore, is to reduce deaths by one third. We recognise that that is ambitious, but we believe that the target is grounded in reality and achievable. We also propose that serious injuries be reduced by 33 per cent. by 2020, giving local authorities a combined benchmark for deaths and serious injuries against which to measure their progress.

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Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

I heard what the Minister said about the possibility that last year might have been exceptional. However, deaths are down to about 2,500 and he is talking about bringing them down to 2,000 in 12 years' time. That does not seem too ambitious to me.

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Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I said that I would talk later about whether the targets were stretching. When we compiled and presented the report and the strategy, we did not have the benefit of the 2008 casualty figures, which are recognised across the Chamber as an extremely welcome and substantial reduction. We are carrying out a consultation and we will reflect on the targets in the light of the figures that we published last week, and of the consultation and the responses to it. We will certainly take those issues on board.

Under the current strategy we are saying that road deaths and serious injuries to children should be reduced by at least half by 2020. Our progress on reducing child casualties has been better since 2000; we have reduced child deaths and serious injuries by 55 per cent. from our baseline. However, that progress is for the nought-to-16 age group, and progress has been much less marked for the slightly older age groups. We therefore propose to extend the target to cover 16 and 17-year-olds.

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

May I caution the Minister? I suspect that one of the reasons for the improvement in the nought-to-16 age group figure is that there has been an increase in the use of vehicles to take children to school—partly for social reasons and partly because many parents are concerned about whether it is safe for children to walk to school these days. There may be a false assumption that the figure represents progress, given that there may have been a reduction in the number of children walking.

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Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

According to the figures, the numbers of those walking and cycling have increased. If I remember correctly, about 49 per cent. of young people cycle or walk to school; obviously, we want to maintain and increase that level. I shall deal later with some of the other issues relating to cycling and walking to school that have been raised by Members in this debate.

Lastly, we propose a target to reduce the rate of death and serious injury among pedestrians and cyclists, per kilometre travelled, by half by 2020. That has been chosen in the light of the pressing need to increase the amount of walking and cycling, for environmental and public health reasons, and to make them safer at the same time. That raises the point made by the Select Committee, which said that road safety is not just an issue for the Department for Transport; it is a much wider issue that requires cross-Government, cross-agency and cross-country working if we are to achieve many of our targets.

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Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister will be aware that Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, has applied to the Department to allow cyclists to turn left on red, to reduce the hazard from large vehicles' back wheels as they turn left as well. Can the Minister give us any news on that application?

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Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I cannot at this stage. Although on the face of it that idea might seem to be straightforward and to achieve a given goal, we have to make sure that we are not opening up another area that gives cause for concern; that applies to some of the other issues that have been raised today as well.

All users of any mode of transport—walking on two legs, cycling on two wheels, riding a motorcycle or being behind the wheel of a car or van—have a responsibility to be safe, for their own sake and that of others. A point has been raised about the reliability of STATS19, the police road accident data. The way in which those are used feeds into local authority statistics. Equally, we are doing work on the accident and emergency results from the health survey and the national travel survey, which include data and questions relating to road safety. We do not dispute that there may be differences between those figures, but we do not accept that there is any great difference in the degree of under-reporting compared with previous years. Of course there will be incidents where the police are not involved but ultimately—24 hours later, say—someone feels a twinge and ends up going to the accident and emergency department; whiplash is a good example of that sort of injury. We are doing more work in this regard, but the reliability of the data has not changed to any great degree since yesteryear.

We propose to make our driver testing and training regimes better and to crack down further on the most dangerous behaviours. We believe that our regulatory regime is broadly fit for purpose. Our philosophy must therefore be to concentrate on improving the delivery of road safety—in particular, homing in on the roads, people and behaviours most associated with casualties on the network. We need to tackle the "hard cases" in road safety. Many of the steps that we are taking on data collection and so on are fundamental in getting the more detailed, homed-in data that we require to tackle the minority of people who cause many of the accidents, whether on categories of road such as rural single carriageways or on roads in residential areas.

To improve safety on rural roads, which see some 60 per cent. of all road deaths but only 42 per cent. of traffic, we propose to publish maps every year highlighting the main roads with the poorest safety records so that highway authorities can take action with their partners to tackle those routes. We will also encourage them to reduce speed limits on rural single carriageways, on a targeted basis, from the current 60 mph limit. The level of danger on these roads varies widely—indeed, hon. Members have referred to several examples in their own constituencies—and we want authorities to reduce speed limits on the roads that have the most crashes.

We will continue to encourage investment in improved highway engineering, as it is clear that such schemes are continuing to reduce casualties at relatively low cost. We want local authorities to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists by establishing 20 mph zones in streets of a primarily residential nature. Those will not be major through routes which happen to have a few houses on them, but streets whose clear primary purpose is access to homes. That is what must happen: the streets are for living in, not dying in.

Work and investment have been going on through programmes such as Kerbcraft, whereby youngsters learn about the importance of respecting roads; it is about having the freedom to go out on the roads but knowing how to use them well for walking, using buses and cycling. I particularly draw attention to the £140 million three-year programme for Bikeability training, where it looks as though we will be able to achieve a year early our target of some 500,000 youngsters getting the skills and confidence to use our roads safely, with mums and dads being confident that their sons or daughters have those skills.

I turn to issues of deprivation. The incidence of accidents in certain areas is a great cause for concern, and work is continuing on several projects. For example, there have been projects in Oldham, where we have put money into adults' road safety skills; in Hounslow—with the Somali community if I recall correctly, to help with a particular issue—and in other areas where we are considering how young people in particular are affected by advertising about speed and road use.

I can also draw attention to the manual for streets, a document to which Bob Russell referred. It is available to local authority planners, and relates to new developments as well as existing ones, It gives us the opportunity to take forward a number of the issues that hon. Members have raised.

We are not only looking to continue to work in partnership with the motor industry to boost vehicle safety, but seeking to raise awareness of driver and passenger safety. We expect crash protection improvements to focus on particular problems or types of accident, and we believe that advanced vehicle safety systems that help drivers and motorcyclists avoid crashes have significant potential to reduce casualties over the next decade.

We need to consider how we can influence behaviour, particularly on the matters included in our consultation last year on road safety compliance. It set out a number of proposals to crack down on motorists who endanger not only their own lives but those of others. The proposals include more penalty points for extreme speeding and strong measures to discourage the utterly irresponsible minority who drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

We have taken a number of other steps, including increasing the work of the successful Think! brand of road safety advertising and the messages that we send through it. We have also recently published the results of our learning to drive consultation, which was launched last year, and will now proceed with plans to strengthen the way in which people learn to drive and are tested, and subsequently to encourage a culture of continued and lifelong learning for drivers.

I turn to some of the many points that were raised in the debate. I wish the hon. Member for Colchester luck with the A140, which he believes he will be using a great deal on his way to Norwich. The work of the Road Safety Foundation, whose launch event he attended last Thursday, helps to identify the critical roads that have a high incidence of deaths or serious injuries, so that we can focus money and resources on improving them. That is a matter for local highways authorities.

The Chairman of the Transport Committee talked about learning to drive. We are making changes to the theory test from this October, and the practical driving test from October 2010. Competence while driving independently will be brought into the test. We seriously considered graduated licensing, but our conclusion was that although it would reduce the exposure of drivers, particularly young people, to certain risks, it would not provide proper experience. Equally—I believe that my hon. Friend touched on this point—it could reduce their ability to get to their jobs, let alone social events. Our belief is that we should ensure that education and awareness are beefed up.

Motorcyclists are a critical group of particular concern, and we need to do a great deal for them. One reason why the swerve test is in place is that a number of motorcyclists are injured on our roads because they have to swerve to miss opening car doors or other obstacles in the road.

Finally, I pay tribute to Mr. and Mrs. Bell, who came to see me yesterday, for their sterling work in light of the tragic death of their daughter Jordan. I recognise their hard work. We are studying drink-driving and gathering more data, and also studying drug-driving. There are, of course, already penalties for driving under the influence of drugs, but we are considering whether to create new offences to get a better message across. We want drug-driving to become socially unacceptable, just as drink-driving has done.

Let me say—

Debate interrupted, and Question deferred (Standing Order No. 54(4)).

The Deputy Speaker put the deferred Questions (Standing Order No. 54(5)).

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