Driving Offences: Private Land

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 13th July 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport) 5:00 pm, 13th July 2017

Accidents in residential settings are just as tragic as those elsewhere, so when considering whether to formulate dangerous driving legislation for private land, we certainly need to think more widely than the health and safety legislation as it applies to work. Although we should recognise that the highway is a different environment from private land, we should not lose sight of the similarities. In seeking to address the toll of deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents, the World Bank has been advocating that all countries adopt what is known as a safe systems approach to reducing national road casualties.

In December 2015, my predecessor as a Minister in the Department, my hon. Friend Andrew Jones, published the “British Road Safety Statement”, which, among other policies, set out what we are doing in this country to support the safe systems approach. While this obviously related to the highway, the principles can be applied off the highway just as reasonably and effectively.

A safe systems approach recognises that

“We can never entirely eradicate road collisions because there will always be some degree of human error;
when collisions do occur the human body is inherently vulnerable to death or injury;
and because of this, we should manage our infrastructure, vehicles and speeds to reduce crash energies” to levels that do not lead to human injury or death.

In considering how to address the tragedy of off-road vehicle accidents, we would do well to adopt a safe systems approach. This is not to say that the solutions will be the same as those applied to the highway, but the aim of saving lives is the same. All this indicates that it is not straightforward to adjust the existing law to improve vehicle operational safety. Yet, the statistics tell us that we should, and must, aspire to do more to prevent future accidents. Legislation is not the only tool. For example, the Health and Safety Executive already works with trade bodies, including the National Farmers Union, to develop good practice relating to handling farm vehicles. This includes off-road specific factors such as working on uneven ground, steep gradients and using on-board machinery. Those things would not be covered by road traffic regulations, even if they were to apply.

I am conscious of how the law may appear, when the penalty for an illegal action depends on where it happens—that does not seem reasonable, does it?—particularly when it seems not to have regard to the equal severity of its effects. So, I am pleased to tell the House and my hon. Friend that I will consider how we might address the matter, including the possibility of future legislative reform. That may sound like a blithe, easy commitment to be delivered by a future Government. However, it is important that we get the reform right, and that we do not rush and make errors in how we frame that kind of legislation. It is more complicated than it first seems for some of the reasons that I have set out, but that is not a reason to do nothing. To that end, I invite my hon. Friend to come to my Department to meet me and my officials and talk through how we might proceed.