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Road Safety (No. 3)

Bill Presented — European Convention on Human Rights (Temporary Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:34 pm on 21st February 2012.

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of John Leech John Leech Liberal Democrat, Manchester, Withington 3:45 pm, 21st February 2012

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require drivers to undertake an eye test when renewing a driving licence;
to make provision to reduce the permitted blood alcohol level for drivers from 80 mg per 100 ml of blood to 50 mg;
to make the turning back of a vehicle milometer, except in specified circumstances, a criminal offence;
to promote safe walking, cycling and use of public transport by children to and from school;
and for connected purposes.

My Bill, which is appropriately but rather unimaginatively named the Road Safety (No. 3) Bill, has an overarching aim of improving safety on our roads for the benefit of all, through a reduction in the number of people drink-driving; through a reduction in the number of people driving with poor eyesight; by improving the roadworthiness of vehicles; and through the promotion of measures to encourage and prioritise walking, cycling and the use of public transport. In the short time that I have, I will briefly outline the plans for the Bill, and why it would be important in helping to improve road safety.

The North review of the drink-drive limit recommended a reduction in the limit from 80 mg to 50 mg, which would bring us into line with most of Europe. This was rejected by the Government, with the argument that we needed to concentrate our resources on tackling those drink-drivers over the 80 mg limit before focusing our attention on those who drink more than 50 mg but below the 80 mg level. The argument was that the Government were winning the battle, but there was still work to be done.

Unfortunately we are not winning the battle, which is why the Government need to look again at this issue. Recently published figures from the Christmas period show that despite the number of people being tested going down, the number of people over the drink-drive limit went up. In 2010, according to Department for Transport figures, 250 people were killed and 1,230 seriously injured by drink-drivers. Statistically, drivers with a blood alcohol level between 20 mg and 50 mg have a three times greater risk of dying in a vehicle crash, and are at least six times as likely to do so when their blood alcohol level is between 50 mg and 80 mg. When the drink-drive limit was reduced in Australia, there was a significant decrease in fatal accidents, including a massive 18% drop in Queensland. Assuming that a change in the UK would have similar results, we would see a reduction of 144 road deaths and 2,929 serious injuries. If we use the data from Europe, the evidence suggests that deaths could be reduced by a minimum of 77 a year to a maximum of 168, and injuries could be reduced by between 3,611 and 15,832 in England and Wales.

One of the major problems with the current alcohol limit is that people do not really know what the current limit is. According to confused.com in 2011, 51% of people admitted that they did not know what the legal alcohol limit was for driving. Even more worrying is that of the people who think they do know the limit, most do not actually know what amount of a particular drink will bring them to that limit. People are regularly found to be over the limit who genuinely believed that they were below it. By reducing the limit we would send a strong message to those people that they cannot even risk one drink without potentially breaking the law and losing their licence for a minimum of 12 months. Of course this is not going stop the serial offenders who will exceed the limit regardless—only enforcement will deal with those people who show no regard for their own or anyone else’s safety on the roads—but it would send the message that even a small amount of alcohol is simply not acceptable, and it would encourage far more drivers not to drink at all when they are driving.

It is frightening to hear that 10% of all drivers would fail their driving test if they retook, it simply because of poor eyesight. More than 50% of the population wear glasses, and the figure rises dramatically to more than 80% among the over-45s. According to the International Glaucoma Association in 2009, a person can lose 40% of their vision before they realise that they have a problem. According to the RAC, one in three Britons has such poor eyesight that they are unable to see properly when driving, and 20% have had an accident as a result of poor vision.

Evidence from the road safety charity Brake showed that 75% of drivers support compulsory eye tests for drivers every five years. My Bill would introduce a compulsory eye test on renewal of the 10-year photo licence, with a commitment to review its effectiveness. Evidence from medical checks in Spain and Holland shows that one driver in 10 aged 50, and one in six aged 70, drives with their eyesight not properly corrected.

We have all heard tragic individual stories. In 2010, two stories were prominent in the media. In one, an almost blind 78-year-old driver killed a pedestrian and in the other a driver of a heavy goods vehicle was charged with driving with poor eyesight after he killed a cyclist in London. A change in the law would help to reduce the instances of driving with poor eyesight and make drivers more sensitive to how serious a problem poor eyesight can be. Compulsory eye-testing has the support of a number of road safety organisations, and I am pleased to say that the cycling charity CTC strongly the supports this measure. It has said:

“the current legal framework around eye sight testing for drivers is utterly inadequate; ensuring a proper eyesight test at each licence renewal would certainly improve matters.”

Some people might argue that the third element of the Bill is less about road safety and more about tackling fraud, but I would argue that it is about both. It is estimated that car clocking costs British consumers a whopping £580 million each year. The actual scale of the problem is difficult to judge because many cars have their mileage reduced shortly before the first MOT at three years and therefore do not show up in Government figures, thus masking the true cost. According to the BBC, more than 681,000 cars recorded a lower mileage last year than they did in the previous year’s MOT, in 2010, and HPI estimates that one in eight vehicles that it checks has a mileage discrepancy. My Bill will make it a criminal offence to reduce the mileage on the clock and help to bring to an end the deliberate practice of making a car appear to be worth more than it actually is.

According to the insurance company General Accident, only 9% of people are confident that car clocking is not a problem and 92% of people thought it should be treated more seriously by the law. Not only would my Bill do that, but it would have a positive impact on road safety, because owners of vehicles would have confidence that the mileage on their vehicle was correct and that routine maintenance had been carried out at the appropriate mileage for the type of vehicle.

Lastly, but by no means least, my Bill seeks to make roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists, putting a particular emphasis on children travelling to school. I have unashamedly incorporated elements of the Sustrans “Free Range Kids” campaign and The Times “Cities fit for cycling” campaign. My Bill seeks to give extra priority to measures that promote walking and cycling, particularly encouraging children to get on their bikes. Nearly half of all kids want to cycle to school, but only 2% do so. The Bill would set a target of 2% of the Highways Agency budget being set aside for cycle infrastructure, putting cycle safety at the heart of the driving test and introducing additional safety measures to trucks and lorries.

In the previous Parliament, I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill to reduce the default speed limit on local roads to 20 mph, but unfortunately it did not become law. Although this Bill does not go that far, it would introduce a 20 mph limit on residential streets with no cycle lanes and around all schools. It would also introduce a duty in respect of all new residential streets to incorporate cycle lanes and 20 mph limits in the design of the new road.

Road accidents are the single biggest cause of accidental death among five to 14-year-olds, and traffic causes 50% of all accidental deaths of young people. About 5,000 children under the age of 16 are killed or injured on our streets every year, with about 20% of those accidents occurring on the way to and from school. People have only a 50% chance of surviving being hit at 35 mph, but that increases to 97% when speed is reduced to 20 mph. Despite claims to the contrary by the self-proclaimed road safety organisation the Association of British Drivers which, in my opinion, does not appear to have any interest in road safety, 71% of adults support 20 mph speed limits in residential areas and only 15% of people are against them.

It is time to put walking and cycling at the heart of our policy making. By putting walking and cycling first, by making our cars safer and by ensuring that all drivers are fit to drive, we can make our streets safer and a more welcoming environment to encourage people back on their feet and back on their bikes.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Mr John Leech, Dr Julian Huppert, Caroline Lucas, Sir Bob Russell, Tessa Munt, Andrew George and Julie Hilling present the Bill.

Mr John Leech accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 27 April and to be printed (Bill 307).