I beg to move,
That this House
has considered road safety.
This debate is, in its own way, of no less importance than the one that preceded it, and to many people around this country it is of still greater importance. I welcome the opportunity to speak on the issue of road safety. With 500 people killed or seriously injured on our roads every week, there is no Member of this House whose constituency and whose person is not affected by the impact that road collisions have on their constituents. Road safety touches all of us, whether rural or urban, pedestrian, cyclist, horse rider or driver.
On the horse riders, may I bring to my hon. Friend’s attention the B3058 as it travels through Bashley where I have witnessed the most shocking and thoughtless behaviour? The principal victims are horse riders, as they are throughout the New Forest often enough. Was not an opportunity missed in the revision of the Highway Code in not specifically dealing with the problems faced by riders and appropriate measures that motorists should take?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the concern in his own constituency. He may not be aware that, actually, horse riders are mentioned in the Highway Code. Measures are taken in the Highway Code to ensure the protection of horse riders alongside other users of the road.
On the issue of horse riding, I took up the challenge to get back on a horse this summer after many years of not riding and to experience for myself how dangerous it is on the road. It is very clear that drivers need greater awareness. Will the Minister possibly champion the work of the British Horse Society and its “Dead? Or Dead Slow?” campaign in this area?
The British Horse Society has shown itself to be a formidable campaigning engine in the way that it has managed to lobby my colleagues across the House, and I take my hat off to it. The very first debate in which I took part in my present job was a Westminster Hall debate on the safety of horse riders on roads. Ever since then I have had a very careful concern for the matter.
Indeed, road safety comes up regularly in this House. Only two weeks ago, I was debating the matter in Westminster Hall. Many colleagues then wished to speak, and I see that many have put their names down for speeches today. I am very grateful to them for the continued interest that they take in this important topic.
On this night, bonfire night, our thoughts may turn to those who have been involved in one of the most serious traffic incidents in recent times. Thirty-four vehicles were involved in a crash on the M50 motorway in heavy fog, with 51 people injured and seven people killed on
The latest road safety statistics, covering 2017, were published last month. The country can be proud of the record over time. That is to say that there were 39% fewer fatalities in 2017 compared with 10 years earlier in 2007. However, as in many other countries, our road safety figures have generally plateaued since 2012. An ageing population comes with higher injury risks, and there continues to be those groups, such as young drivers, that are disproportionately represented in our casualty statistics. We know that technologies such as smartphones are distracting to drivers and present challenges, but new technology also presents opportunities for the future with a new era of automated vehicles.
The Government are taking a very active and wide-ranging approach to tackling issues of road safety in relation to matters such as infrastructure, training and enforcement. Of course, the roads themselves are a key part of ensuring an adequately safe system.
Over the last 12 to 18 months, there has been a number of accidents in Coventry as a result of criminal behaviour, and they have led to deaths, including among young children.
I absolutely recognise what the hon. Gentleman says and the deaths that he describes and it is the constant challenge of the Government to seek to address them. There can be no doubt about that at all. I am regularly approached by colleagues who know of grieving families with children. Whenever I can, I meet those families and talk to them about their experience. I have visited around the country with them to experience the trauma that they have suffered and to talk to them about what can be done to improve things, so I absolutely recognise the point that he makes.
My hon. Friend was coming on to the point about infrastructure improvements. In Basingstoke, we are grateful to the Government for the amount of money that we have had on infrastructure improvement, but my constituents were really keen when the Government announced that all of these improvements should be cycle-proofed. Will he give us an update on how that cycle-proofing programme is going?
As my right hon. Friend will know, we are in the middle of a safety review of cycling and walking and of vulnerable road users generally, including horse riders and others. We have not yet reported on that. I expect that we will do so by the end of this year, and we will cover a very wide range of potential interventions that improve cycling safety and that go towards better infrastructure.
I know of my hon. Friend’s commitment to cycling, which is very welcome, but is he aware that New York City has recently introduced, very cost-effectively, cycle tracks on resurfaced carriageway? Does he think that that is something that the United Kingdom could learn from as a cost-effective way of making cycling safer?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I lived in New York City myself for a couple of years and I can tell him that I used to cycle there as well as in London. I am not sure whether it has changed much, but it was a lot less safe then there than it is now in London. We as a Department very much wish to learn from all best practice in this area, and we also encourage local authorities and cities to do so. Part of the function of the money that we have given as a Government to supporting city transformation, which, as he will know, reaches not merely the largest five cities, but now 10 and potentially 12 equally substantial cities across the country is very much designed to enable them to think about the kinds of innovative and imaginative interventions in cycling and walking that might include that approach.
I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. An area of particular concern in my constituency is road safety in the immediate vicinity of schools and the way in which parents and carers bring their children to school by car, stop pretty well immediately outside the school gate with little regard for the fact that other children are crossing and going in and out of the school premises and then drive off without any concern for the road safety of the children around. What can the Minister say about how we can incentivise and encourage best practice across local authorities to ensure that the highest standards of road safety are in place outside all of our schools?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention. Of course it is a matter not just of specific behaviour around schools, but of speed and the effects not merely of congestion, but on air quality. I will be touching on some of that later in the speech.
The roads we use are only one part of the overall picture of road safety. Earlier this year, we granted £100 million to improve 50 of the most dangerous stretches of A road in England through the Safer Roads fund. We have already seen all of the 50 road schemes receive funding, and we expect the work to be completed by 2020. I was very pleased to note that, in the Road Safety Foundation’s latest publication, “Getting Back on Track”, the most improved road is the A161 in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The improvements to this road were joint funded between the Safer Roads fund and the East Riding of Yorkshire Council.
The Budget last week highlighted the importance of our local road network. The local highway network is one of the most valuable national assets and an essential component of our economy. A good, well-maintained and safe local highway network has never been more important. The House will know that I think we need a substantial approach, and I will outline what that approach is.
Local authorities have an existing legal duty to maintain the highway under section 41 of the Highways Act 1980, as amended. [Interruption.] If Andy McDonald wishes to make an intervention, he is very welcome to do so. If he does not, perhaps he would care to stop chuntering from a sedentary position. Good transport and roads are essential to this country’s economic growth.
Order. I must say to the Minister that on this occasion I myself was inexcusably chuntering from a sedentary position, for which I apologise. I am normally consumed by the Minister’s speeches, but I was chatting to a colleague so I did not witness the offending behaviour. If there was other chuntering beyond my own inexcusable chuntering, it is not excused.
Mr Speaker, it is kind of you to acknowledge your own temporary distraction, but I am afraid that the one to which I was referring was rather more intentional.
Having roads in an acceptable and safe condition is vital to us all, whether we are car drivers, lorry drivers, bus passengers, cyclists, pedestrians or horse riders. In fact, most of us are more than one of those.
I am very interested in what the Secretary of State has to say about the about the state of our local roads. If that is such an important issue, why do we have a £9 billion backlog and why did the Budget only address 5% of it?
As hon. Members know, there are many widespread and varying estimates of the backlog. The Government are putting in place a comprehensive programme. We have already seen the largest investment in strategic roads for, I think—in real terms, certainly—the last generation or more. I would like to think that the excellent investments that we have made in pothole fixing will continue in the years to come, but the hon. Gentleman will know that these things are ultimately dependent on the spending review to be announced next year.
Ministers and Members of Parliament receive plenty of correspondence on the matter of potholes. The condition of the road also regularly appears among the top concerns in public opinion surveys, and this was a major issue raised by respondents to our recent cycling and walking safety review call for evidence. That is why a further £420 million was made available to highways authorities in England outside London for highway maintenance—to support authorities to keep bridges and other structures safe and open, to help repair potholes or stop them forming, and to undertake further minor highway works where necessary. We will be announcing individual allocations to highways authorities shortly, but I am sure that Members across the House will welcome this funding, which comes in addition to over £6 billion that we are providing to local highway authorities in England outside London between 2015 and 2021, including £296 million for a pothole action fund, which is being allocated to local highway authorities between 2016 and 2021 to help repair potholes.
The Chancellor also announced a further £150 million in the Budget to improve local traffic hotspots such as roundabouts. It is our intention that this funding will help to improve existing local road junctions, to ease congestion bottlenecks and to improve reliability—not only to improve access, but to make sure that these junctions are safer for all road users. Further details will be announced in due course.
Infrastructure is one thing but effective education is another. We are improving training for new drivers to familiarise them with the conditions that they will encounter on the roads. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency is developing new materials to improve learners’ awareness of hazards in different weather and lighting conditions. As the House will be aware, new legislation is in force allowing learners on motorways when accompanied by an approved driving instructor. Learner drivers are already gaining experience and we will have a new generation of drivers who are confident in using our motorways.
We are also taking action against the most dangerous kinds of behaviour. Evidence repeatedly shows that the use of mobile phones, and drink and drug driving, give cause for concern. Tackling these dangerous forms of behaviour has long been an element of our road safety strategy.
The Minister rightly draws attention to some of the dangerous behaviours that people display when driving. May I return to the issue of horses? Would he consider asking for the Highway Code to be amended to incorporate the British Horse Society’s “Dead Slow” advice?
The topic has already been raised. As I have pointed out, there is already guidance relating to horse riders in The Highway Code. I am always delighted to take further suggestions from colleagues and will look further at the question that my hon. Friend raises in light of this debate.
I associate myself with the remarks of Robert Courts. This matter becomes ever more pressing. Across the whole country, rights of way are being salami-sliced, piece by piece; and, piece by piece, horse riders are being forced on to the highway. That is why this matter is important, and its importance will only continue to grow.
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It is very interesting that he makes the point about not only the danger to horse riders, but the reason for that danger. It is therefore rather important that all the unregistered roads and byways are properly acknowledged, notified and recognised in order to make sure that spaces are available for people to be able to ride happily and safely without having to go on to the highway.
Order. May I just say that everybody thinks that he or she is an exception? The trouble is that if we keep having interventions, we simply will not get through the list; sorry.
Thank you very much indeed, Mr Speaker.
We have already taken a tougher stance on drivers who use a handheld mobile phone at the wheel. The penalty doubled to six points and a £200 fine last year, which means that drivers face having their licence revoked if they are caught using a mobile phone while driving. Since 2015, repeat drink-drivers have to prove they are not alcohol dependent medically before getting their licence back. We have also removed the right to a blood test for drivers who narrowly fail a breathalyser test. That has had the effect of denying people the chance to sober up while waiting to take the test. We are also making progress in providing police forces with the next generation of mobile breathalyser equipment, with bids currently being assessed in the £350,000 innovation competition run by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety.
To help the police with drug recognition and impairment testing, we have granted £1 million to police forces in England and Wales for equipment, enforcement and training of officers. Alongside that, we announced in June this year a refreshed road safety statement and a two-year action plan. Rather than take an entirely generalised approach, we are specifically focusing on four priority groups: motorcyclists; rural road users; older, vulnerable users; and young road users. At least three of these groups—young people, rural road users and motorcyclists—are continually over-represented in our road casualty statistics, and we have data to confirm that the safety of older road users is a growing concern. Of course, this too will be informed by work from the new road collision investigation project that we have launched, and I am delighted that that will be bringing us more in-depth qualitative analysis so that we can better understand the underlying causes of crashes and road safety incidents.
We are very focused on the wellbeing of the most vulnerable road users. Last year, the Government published our cycling and walking investment strategy, setting out an ambition that walking or cycling should become the natural choices for shorter journeys. But people will only walk and cycle more if they feel safe to do so, which is why earlier this year we launched a cycling and walking investment strategy safety review call for evidence, seeking views on how best to achieve that. We received 14,000 or so responses from people from every imaginable road-user walk of life, including children, parents, local authorities, police forces and more.
Last month, we published a summary of those responses. We are still carefully analysing all contributions, but some trends have already emerged. One of those—this bears very much on the concerns of those who have spoken about horse-riders—is the fear of being close-passed, which is extremely scary. It should be noted that this is not merely being passed from behind—overtaking—but passed from the front. Working to tackle that dangerous behaviour is one of the themes in our response. I have had the chance to visit and see in action the excellent work of the West Midlands police, and to talk to police constables Mark Hodson and Steve Hudson about the great initiative they have taken with their colleagues there. My colleagues and I are working to enable other police forces to follow the West Midlands lead with some additional support.
We are piloting safety training for driving instructors so that they can pass the important knowledge of cycle safety on to their pupils. As I said, we will be reviewing parts of the Highway Code. That review will not only highlight how to avoid the dangers of close passing but encourage people to adopt the Dutch reach—a method of opening a car door with the hand furthest from the handle to force drivers to look over their shoulder for passing traffic. We recognise, as I mentioned, that these issues are equally applicable, in many ways, to horse-riders. We should be clear that the cycling and walking strategy may have that name but is absolutely targeted at vulnerable road users, including horse-riders.
I am really glad to hear the Minister talk about close passing, but it is also about the speed of passing, which he has not mentioned. Will he also look closely at 20-mph limits and how they can be enforced?
I am happy to let my hon. Friend know—or she may know—that we already have a consultation out on this, and we expect to report on that later this year.
Many factors go into making our roads safer, including the road environment, the vehicles we drive and behaviour, but so does enforcement. Last October, the Ministry of Justice published its response to a consultation on the penalties for the most dangerous drivers, and Ministers announced that they will introduce life sentences for killer drivers—an increase on the current 14 years. The Government have said that they will create a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving, and that Ministers will introduce new legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.
I welcome this debate. As the House will see, the Government remain energetic, focused and determined in their efforts to improve road safety.
The Opposition welcome this general debate on road safety. It is a chance to discuss the Government’s record. It is also well timed, as last month the Department for Transport published the 2017 road safety statistics. In recent months, there has been a healthy level of debate in Westminster Hall regarding road safety. We have spoken on the fine work of the Bobby Colleran Trust and the effectiveness of “Bobby zones” around schools; about global road safety; and about the launch of influential reports recommending that the Government change tack with regard to road safety. We therefore welcome today’s debate in the Chamber.
This country has a proud record on road safety and some of the safest roads in the world. In fact, we have the fourth lowest number of road deaths per million inhabitants, behind only Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. We should rightly be proud of this record. Although it is proper to say that Britain has one of the strongest road safety records in the world, we must also recognise that in recent years our record has stagnated. Ministers have said that the picture is mixed and generally heading in the right direction. We cannot be clearer: it is not. It has stalled since 2010. The number of deaths on the road has remained at about the same level since 2011. One road death is an unacceptable tragedy, never mind almost 1,800 in 2017.
As I mentioned, the Government recently published their 2017 figures for reported road casualties in Great Britain. While there are some positives in this latest statistical release, there is also cause for concern—and Ministers are, I believe, well aware of this. In 2017, 1,793 people were killed on our roads, an average of five people every day—five people a day—and just under 25,000 people were seriously injured. As the road safety charity, Brake, points out, that equates to 73 people a day either being killed or seriously injured just going about their daily business. Last year’s annual total was the highest since 2011. I am sure we can all agree that that is completely unacceptable. There has been a sharp decline, over decades, in the number of people being killed or seriously injured on our roads. I reiterate, however, that the figures have not really changed since 2010.
The Government talk a good game about road safety being a top priority, but I am very sorry to say that their legacy so far is one of disappointment and, indeed, failure. The latest figures from the Department for Transport only reaffirm this. Since 2010, progress has well and truly stalled. Another year of statistics has been published, and we are no further forward.
The Government scrapped road targets that successfully reduced the number of people killed or seriously injured by a third under the last Labour Government. The Government tell the shadow Transport team that targets do not achieve anything. We disagree. The Opposition believe that targets focus awareness and attention and, ultimately, help hold the Government to account. All the evidence points to targets being a proven facilitator of achieving road safety improvements, and yet there are no targets to assess progress. The Government set themselves targets to meet in pretty much every other area of policy, but not for reducing road deaths and injuries. Why is that the case? Ministers will be well aware that the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety concluded in a recent report that the Government should look into introducing key performance indicators for road safety in order to improve safety—in other words, it would like targets to be reintroduced.
I want to return to the 2017 figures and seek answers from the Minister on a number of points. Worryingly, an estimated 9,040 people were killed or injured in drink-drive incidents in 2016. That represents a rise of 7% from 2015 and is the highest number since 2012. The number of accidents where at least one driver or rider was over the alcohol limit rose by 6% in 2016. I would like to know what plans the Government have to address that.
Would the hon. Gentleman support measures to reduce the allowable drink-drive limit, such as those that the Scottish National party Government have introduced in Scotland?
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. That should be looked at and reviewed across the UK as a whole.
I would like to move on to another aspect of this very important area. The 2017 release stated:
“The population of older people (aged 70 and older) has increased relatively rapidly over recent years. This carries implications for higher levels of casualties in this age group in the future.”
What do Ministers propose to do to address that issue? The Minister touched on it, but much more detail is needed. With an ageing population, older road users could become much more vulnerable.
At the other end of the age scale, it is encouraging to hear that the overall number of child casualties of all severities decreased by 2% to 15,721, which is one of the lowest years on record. However, I am sure we can all agree that this figure remains far too high and that the Government must strive to make our roads safer still, especially for vulnerable road users.
Between 2010 and 2016, the number of deaths from road accidents remained broadly consistent, as we have heard. However, the number of pedestrians killed on our roads increased.
Does my hon. Friend agree that far too many drivers of motor vehicles still seem to assume they always take precedence and that we need a fundamental change in attitude towards pedestrians and cyclists, so that car and lorry drivers start treating non-drivers with respect?
I agree with my hon. Friend’s suggestion. He makes an interesting point.
I return to the wider point about vulnerable road users. Although the number of cyclists killed on the roads in 2017 was slightly lower than in 2016, the 101 deaths was very similar to the levels seen since 2010. If we look at where those fatal accidents occurred, of the 1,793 road deaths in 2017, just over 1,000—or 60%—took place on country roads, 626 occurred on urban roads and 99 took place on motorways. That is a 2% increase since 2016. While the number of people injured on motorways has decreased, there was a 6% increase in the number of deaths on motorways. How does the Minister plan to address that important and worrying statistic?
Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that car advertisements often make people—and particularly younger drivers—feel as if they are invincible to any form of injury, so safe have cars become, according to the ads, which can encourage them to drive in a less focused way?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about younger drivers. They are vulnerable, and we arguably need a better education programme.
To return to my speech, we welcome the targeted approach of the safer roads fund to enable local authorities to improve the most dangerous stretches of A roads in England. The fund initially totalled £175 million, of which £100 million is currently being invested. However, the other £75 million originally allocated has been described by the Minister as no longer required. Will the Minister explain why the Department believes this to be the case?
I found it interesting that the RAC Foundation and the Road Safety Foundation recently published a report on the possible benefits of the safer roads fund, which estimates that it could prevent almost 1,400 deaths and serious injuries over the next two decades on these very risky A roads in England. Given the need to save lives and the evidence that this fund makes a difference, surely it is important that we spend all the money in the fund. Hazardous A roads across England were denied funding to improve safety for not being dangerous enough. The Transport Network has also asked the Department for Transport what will happen to this money. Again, I urge the Minister to reply on this point later.
The Minister was asked about regulations for tyre safety by my hon. Friend Rachael Maskell during the passage of the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill in May. He replied that the Government had a process in mind. He has acknowledged that this is a serious issue. Tyres of up to 20 years old have been causing great concern in my area of the Thames valley; and there was a horrific accident in Hampshire a few years ago. I ask the Minister also to respond on this point, if he can, and say where the Government have got to on that important issue.
Opposition Members are also concerned about enforcement, particularly as there has been a 24% fall in the number of traffic officers since 2012. Sadly, that has been part of the Government’s austerity programme. There was no mention in the recent Budget of extra money for regular policing, and since the Conservatives came to power, 21,000 police officers have had their posts cut. In 2010, there were 3,500 police officers patrolling UK roads, but by 2017 that had fallen to just 2,600. It seems that Government cuts to our vital services are putting safety at risk. Austerity is not over, despite the repeated claims from the Government and the Prime Minister, and that is affecting all areas, including road safety.
Two years ago, the Transport Committee produced its “Road traffic law enforcement” review. It concluded:
“As the number of traffic police has fallen, so too has the number of road traffic offences detected. However, the number of ‘causing death’ offences…has not fallen. This…suggests that the reduction in overall offences that are recorded does not represent a reduction in offences actually being committed.”
As I have said, the latest road safety figures show there has been an increase in the number of deaths of pedestrians and motorcyclists. The number of cyclists killed has remained broadly constant since 2010. Will the Minister address that issue in his closing remarks?
As the Minister said, the Department for Transport is currently undertaking a cycling and walking investment strategy review. I believe the review is to be welcomed, especially the inclusion of pedestrians. I ask the Minister, who will know that my shadow ministerial brief covers cycling and walking, how he will ensure that this review achieves safer walking and cycling, in line with the cycling and walking strategy’s ambitions.
We welcome the Government’s recent announcement of plans to revise the Highway Code rules relating to pedestrians’ and cyclists’ safety, as campaigned for by many charities and cycling and walking groups. When the Government are carrying out this review, I hope that they will listen to the sector’s concerns, which include speed limits, the use of mobile phones, rules on how much space HGVs and other vehicles should leave when overtaking cyclists—the close passing that the Minister mentioned—and, indeed, how to open car doors safely.
In summary, in our 2017 manifesto Labour pledged to reset the UK’s road safety vision and ambitiously strive for a transport network with zero deaths, reintroducing road-safety targets and setting out bold measures to improve safety standards continuously. A future Labour Government would introduce a “target zero” approach to deaths on the roads—a new approach to road safety that does not accept that road deaths and injuries are inevitable. Beyond the obvious benefits to families and society, this policy brings significant financial benefits from avoiding NHS bills, care bills, the costs of transport delays, and costs of lost earnings and production. May I ask the Minister when the Government will commit to such a “target zero” approach?
Finally, I would like to close by saying that although we have one of the safest road networks in the world, which should be celebrated, we should never ever be complacent. More could be done, and a Labour Government would do more. We will continue to press the Government on this matter, and we welcome today’s debate.
Order. I apologise to the hon. Lady. The five-minute limit on speeches takes effect now. We will restart the clock for the speech of the hon. Lady, who can perhaps be given a second warm welcome. I call Tracey Crouch.
It is a pleasure to speak first in this important debate, thus cementing my status as a former Minister who has resumed their old place on the Back Benches.
I could speak about many issues, including the protection of horses, which others have mentioned, and the worrying growth in young drivers who use seatbelt alarm disablers, which my local fire and rescue service raised.
However, I want to use the brief time I have to raise two very different issues. One was brought to my attention by a local resident, but is of national importance, and the other is a local issue, but is no doubt occurring nationwide.
A month ago, I met my constituent, Sam Cockerill, in my office and heard how her partner, Steve Goldbold, was killed instantly in September 2017 after an HGV strayed on to the hard shoulder of the M25 and hit him while he recovered the vehicle of someone who had broken down. From talking to others in the industry, Sam heard about other recovery operators who had been killed while performing their duties. She also heard how recovery operators live in constant fear while working on the hard shoulder, but got a sense that their voice was not being heard by lawmakers. So in September, she, along with a number of industry figures, launched the Campaign for Safer Roadside Rescue and Recovery, and I want, through this debate, to add my support to it.
I am a confident driver, but I am petrified of breaking down on a motorway, particularly with the enormous increase in the amount of traffic, especially heavy traffic, on our roads and the continued roll-out of all-lane-running motorways to cope with it. However, if I were to break down, I know I can go and sit up on the bank away from the dangers of travelling vehicles—of course, that is not an option for recovery workers. I therefore think that the campaign’s asks to protect those workers are not unreasonable.
First, there is a request for roadside rescue and recovery operators to be able to use prominent red lights while attending accidents and breakdowns. At present, they are only permitted to be fitted with and use amber warning beacons while attending incidents. There are two reasons why using red lights makes sense. First, there is a scientific phenomenon called the Rayleigh effect, which means the red light can be seen further away. Secondly, the colour red elicits a more serious reaction, whether consciously or subconsciously, in the minds of road users approaching a hazard and drivers adjust accordingly.
The second ask is for the Department for Transport to collect data on the number of casualties specifically among recovery workers, as there is currently not a specific variable that captures the number of deaths and injuries of roadside operatives in accidents.
The third ask is to build on the important work done by the Slow Down, Move Over campaign, which seeks to improve awareness through the highway code of protocol for motorists when approaching the scene of an accident or a broken down vehicle. In the USA, the Slow Down, Move Over laws were implemented, and are now in place across all 50 states. Failure to abide by the law is punishable as a moving traffic offence, the same type of offence as drink-driving or speeding.
Finally, the campaign calls for the Government to halt the roll-out of all-lane- running motorways and to implement so-called smart motorways in a way that takes account of the rights of those who work on the hard shoulder, particularly recovery operators.
The campaign is for all those roadside and recovery workers who have experienced near misses or lost their lives, such as my constituent Sam’s partner, Steve. I would be grateful if the Minister in his response committed to meeting me, Sam and others to discuss the matter further so that we can make progress in protecting those who come to our rescue when we need it on our roads.
My next brief point is very different from the first, and is about safety on local roads, particularly roads affected by major housing developments. I have many local road safety issues, relating to junctions such as that at Bull Lane in Eccles or Walderslade Road, Chestnut Avenue or Luton Arches in Chatham, but I really want to emphasise the problems that the village of Wouldham faces as a consequence of poor traffic modelling relating to the new development of Peter’s Village.
In summary, as part of the planning agreement for the new village, a new bridge was built over the River Medway to provide a direct route on to the A228, which in itself provides a link to the M20, the M2 and the fast train to London from Snodland. The plans for that development were all agreed long before I was even the candidate, let alone the MP for Chatham and Aylesford, but it was clear that the fears of Wouldham village that it would become a victim of rat running to the bridge were dismissed and now the safety of residents is at risk.
Residents were reassured that the road modelling had been done and that it was believed that vehicles would go the long way round both in distance and time to get to the bridge, but the village is under siege. The volume and speed of vehicles travelling along the main road to get to the bridge creates a real fear, which I share, that it is only a matter of time until there is an accident. I have worked hard behind the scenes to try to alleviate the problem, and now are we beginning to make some small steps of progress, but the matter would not have got to this point if we had a better system of predictive modelling. Frankly, I think I could have done better modelling on my two-year-old’s car mat.
Thirteen more Back Benchers wish to speak, of which I know the hon. Gentleman will sensitively take account. I call Alan Brown.
It is a pleasure to follow Tracey Crouch. I commend her for her principled stand last week on fixed odds betting terminals. I wish her all the best for the future.
This debate, while quite clearly on a serious subject, is a big indicator of the moribund nature of the Government at present. We are having a general debate in the main Chamber, when it could truthfully have been held in Westminster Hall. Indeed, there was a Westminster Hall debate on this very topic just two weeks ago and there is a forthcoming Backbench Business debate.
The key issues raised two weeks ago are going to resurface tonight, so it would be good if the Minister summing up could actually address these matters properly and say what the Government are doing about them. For example, we still take an eye test by reading a number plate from 20 metres. That test was introduced in 1937. Surely we can modernise that? Drivers should have their eyesight tested more regularly. My eyesight has changed as I have got older. I now have to wear reading glasses, unfortunately. It is clear that that happens to many people, so why are drivers not required to get their eyesight tested more regularly? The Scottish Government still provide free eye tests, so that would not be an enormous burden on people. Perhaps the United Kingdom Government could look at doing that in terms of general health and wellbeing.
If the Tory Government are really serious about road safety, surely they will follow the lead of the Scottish National party Government and reduce the drink-driving limit. In Scotland, it has been reduced from allowable limits of 80 mg per 100 ml of blood to just 50 mg per 100 ml. That measure was initially met with scepticism by Opposition politicians. At the time, Tory MSPs were telling us that it would result in the police hounding wee old women and grannies who were just having a couple of gin and tonics, while real hardcore criminals would be getting off scot-free. But that is not what has happened. Since it was introduced, there has actually been a reduction in the number of drink-driving convictions. It is helping to bring about a change in culture, with people not wanting to risk drink-driving. It is time for the UK Government to have a rethink and to move away from having the joint highest drink-driving limits in Europe.
As the shadow Minister said, if the UK Government were serious about road safety they would have a target for reducing roadside fatalities. The Scottish Government have a target of a 40% reduction in road deaths between 2010 and 2020. The UK Government need to sign up to the UN target to halve the number of road deaths. The UN target came about partly because, according to the World Health Organisation, road accidents are the tenth leading cause of death globally. The number of people killed in road accidents across the world is just under that for deaths from tuberculosis, which is in ninth place, but it is predicted that road deaths will become the seventh highest killer of people across the world. Given that politicians sign up to causes for the eradication of various diseases, it follows that they need to work better and be stronger about this global issue.
In 2017, there were 170,993 accident casualties recorded on Britain’s roads, of which 1,793 were fatal. The long-term trend, especially in the past few decades, is a reduction in the numbers killed and injured from road accidents. The reality, however, is that each fatality is a tragedy for the families involved. Each fatality will also involve the emergency services, who have to deal with road traffic collisions. I pay tribute to their work, which is often overlooked. It can be very emotional and traumatic for them. The long-term decline in fatalities coincided with the introduction of drink-driving laws in 1966. There has been a general downward trend, except for a recent plateau. The obvious impact of the 1966 measure underlines the need to reconsider the current levels, especially as we now have better evidence of the impact of alcohol in the blood system.
Another way to tackle road safety is road upgrades to tackle accident blackspots and/or ways to reduce congestion and keep traffic moving more freely. I remind the House that another Union dividend that we in Scotland suffered for years was the lack of investment in Scotland’s road systems. It has taken the Scottish National party coming to power to really push this agenda. We now have the new M74 link from Glasgow, the M80 motorway, the £500 million M8, M74 and M73 upgrades, and, of course, the new Queensferry Crossing. Imagine—until recently, there was not even a continuous motorway connecting Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Is it not the case that before these Scottish Government investments, the last time that significant investment happened in the road infrastructure in Scotland, particularly in the highlands where I grew up, was as a result of European Union funding? Perhaps that is one reason why people have seen the benefits of the European Union in Scotland and why we voted so heavily to remain.
I completely agree, and I am going to touch on that. Funding for the recent upgrades has been provided from the European Investment Bank, so we want to know what will replace that source because we have heard nothing from the Government about that. My hon. Friend mentioned the highlands, where many roads are still single-track with passing places, and these are sometimes lifeline roads. The trunk road from Fort William to Mallaig, the road to the isles, was only upgraded to a continuous two-lane carriageway in 2009; it was the last remaining single-track trunk road in the UK. Again, that was thanks in part to £3 million of European regional development fund money and European transitional fund assistance, so he is right. It is proof that if Scotland had not been able to access that money from the EU and had been reliant just on the Westminster purse strings, we would not have been getting the money for these vital road upgrades.
Going forward, at the Budget we heard about Barnett consequentials—well, living off Barnett scraps is not the way it should be. It is not how we can do long-term planning. It is a reactive measure to decisions that are made in England, for England, and we should not have to rely on these scraps from the table.
Other measures that can be introduced for road safety include such things as average speed cameras in a bid to change driver behaviour. The introduction of those on the A9 in Scotland was not popular and was cynically hijacked by Opposition politicians, yet since the cameras were introduced, the number of fatalities has been reduced by 40%. They have also been successfully introduced on the A77 and the A90, but the success of those on the A9 demonstrates not only how important these measures can be, but that politicians should act responsibly and not oppose for opposition’s sake.
When analysing accident statistics, it is clear which three groups of road users are most vulnerable: pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. Too many short journeys are made by car. Statistically, these should be safer for the occupants of the car, so if we want to get more people walking and cycling, we need to make sure that people feel reassured that that can be done safely. The Scottish Government have announced a community links fund that will make £36 million available over the current financial year to develop walking and cycling paths, and this is certainly a welcome step forward. When we look at motorcyclists, we see that that group has around 6,000 casualties per 1 billion miles travelled and a fatality rate of just under 117 per 1 billion miles travelled. Pedal cyclists have similar statistics, yet car occupants have a casualty rate of 238 per 1 billion miles travelled and a fatality rate of 1.9 per 1 billion miles travelled. There is a huge disparity, which needs to be addressed.
Turning to targets, the Scottish Government have committed through “Scotland’s Road Safety Framework to 2020” to achieving safer road travel. This maps out intermediate targets, and I am pleased to say that we are well on our way to achieving these. In 2016, the Scottish Government’s road safety framework was awarded a prestigious Prince Michael international road safety award for outstanding achievements and strong collaboration with partners. I suggest that the UK considers the work that has been done.
Clearly, it is illegal to drive while impaired by drugs. Scottish Government plans to introduce new drug-driving limits will allow prosecutions when different drug types are detected above specified limits. This is simply intended to make it easier to hold drug-drivers to account, as there will be no requirement to prove that someone was driving in an impaired manner. The introduction of roadside testing means that this can be done without needing to look at whether somebody was driving in an impaired manner.
As other hon. Members have mentioned in interventions, another vulnerable cohort is horse riders. I live in a rural constituency with lots of minor country roads that are great for walkers, cyclists and horse riders, providing, of course, that vehicle drivers pay attention. I know myself to give respect and plenty of room to horse riders, but unfortunately not all car users do. Several of my constituents, including the chair of north Ayrshire riding club, have contacted me to express their concern that horse riders and carriages have not been included in the Department for Transport’s review of the highway code. I share their concern and that of the British Horse Society, which has highlighted the fact that, over a seven-year period, 40 horse riders and 237 horses have been killed as a consequence of road injuries. Why not include them in the review?
I also echo the call for the Minister to consider strengthening section 215 of the highway code to include the British Horse Society’s “dead slow” advice to drivers.
My hon. Friend is making some good points on horses. Mine is an urban constituency, but we often get police horses going about the city, so it is important that different road users—
Order. I am extremely grateful, but I think the hon. Gentleman is approaching his peroration.
I finish with one reminder to the Minister about community transport and the proposed changes to section 19 and 22 permits. I have written to him on this subject. I have a local transport group still concerned that measures the Government are introducing will cost a lot of money. It provides a vital service transporting people and keeping them safe, and I urge him to consider that as well.
Road safety deserves the close attention of the House and was the subject of a debate I was pleased to secure only last month in Westminster Hall. My debate made it clear that colleagues from across the House shared my view, and I was pleased to see lots of them turning out. I am delighted that the Government have recognised this point in dedicating time in the Chamber today. I was also very flattered that, following my efforts to raise the profile of road safety, Brake made me its road safety parliamentarian of the month for October.
As I stated in my debate, 1,793 people were killed in road crashes in Great Britain last year, which is 1,793 too many, while the Government estimate that road traffic collisions cost the UK economy in excess of £16.3 billion a year. In Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire alone, all accidents involving speed cost the economy on average £32.5 million annually—costs that could be reduced if we made our roads safer. In September, PACTS released its report, “Developing safe system road safety indicators for the UK”, produced in association with Ageas, one of our largest motor insurance companies, with a number of its people based in my constituency. The report focuses on a more systemic approach to road safety, with better indicators and data to assess the dangers.
Next week, on Wednesday
It is also important that we take local action. As the Government’s road safety statement notes, 98% of the road network in England comprises local roads, and local action needs to be encouraged and respected, but there is also an essential duty on the Department to get on with initiatives that spread good practice between local authorities. It is not just about speed either; there are a range of other road safety concerns. Across the country, partnerships like ours in Staffordshire are increasingly delivering a step change in the approach of local service providers. They are focusing on much more holistic and preventive methods, and communities are taking the lead.
Last Friday, The Sentinel—the local and proud newspaper of Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire—ran a front-page headline reporting that the shocking number of 877 drivers had been caught speeding by the police in just four months on the A500, the main arterial route through Stoke-on-Trent. The central motorway police group took over the policing of the road in the summer, following 26 fatal crashes in the preceding 10 years. The group is not picking on motorists who are just a mile or two per hour over the limit, as we might expect. Some motorists are travelling at between 60 mph and, on occasion, up to 90 mph on a road with a 50-mph limit. I am sure many Members agree that that is a shocking amount over the speed limit and that we need to get on top of the problem.
Thanks to the lobbying that we have been doing, Highways England traffic officers are regularly patrolling the busiest parts of the A500 and the A50 through Stoke-on-Trent. They are helping to ensure that, when incidents occur, they are managed as safely as possible and to reduce the number of further collisions and the knock-on disruption. I hope that the Minister will join me in commending the work that the police and highways officers are doing in Stoke-on-Trent and in commending The Sentinel for giving such prominence to this issue.
Many Members on both sides of the House have already commented on the plight of horses and horse riders, which, I think, shows the power of the British horse lobby.
This debate is particularly important in the light of a recent report by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, which states that since 2010, there has been no significant reduction in the number of people killed on UK roads. That shows that the Government need to do more to improve the safety of our road network.
“how road users should behave in relation to cyclists and pedestrians”.
I welcome the review and any steps that are taken to make our roads safer for all, particularly those who are vulnerable on the roads, but I believe that there is an omission in the definition of vulnerable road users in the review, which was commissioned by the Minister. It is extremely important for cyclists and pedestrians to be protected on our roads, but I believe that horse riders should be included and categorised as vulnerable road users.
According to the British Horse Society, there are 2.7 million horse riders in the UK. This year, the society reported that since 2010 there had been more than 2,914 reports of road incidents involving horses, in which, sadly, 237 horses had died and 40 riders had lost their lives. Those statistics speak for themselves, and the safety of horse riders and their vulnerability on the roads should be taken very seriously.
Rule 215 of The Highway Code provides guidance for drivers in relation to horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles. It states:
“Be particularly careful of horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles especially when overtaking. Always pass wide and slowly.
Horse riders are often children, so take extra care and remember riders may ride in double file when escorting a young or inexperienced horse or rider.”
The current rules for riding a horse on the road, rules 49 to 55, state, among other things, that riders should keep to the left, keep both hands on the reins unless they are signalling, and keep both feet in the stirrups. The Department for Transport’s THINK! campaign also provides guidance for horse riders on the roads.
It is the responsibility of local authorities to erect traffic signs to alert drivers to accompanied horses or ponies and to position them where there are stables or where riders cross roads from one bridleway to another. However, since the debate was announced, a number of my constituents, including many equestrians and members of communities with a large population of horse riders, have expressed concern that signs are not being erected or are not being replaced when they fall down. They feel that the Government should do more to tackle the problem.
The many keen horse riders in my constituency have expressed dismay that they have been left out of the review of The Highway Code. Furthermore, many of the roads in my constituency are narrow country roads, which are particularly dangerous when shared by horse riders and vehicles. That is why campaigns such as the British Horse Society’s Dead Slow campaign, which aims to educate drivers on driving at a maximum of 15 mph when passing horse riders, to be patient and not sound their horn, to pass widely—at least a car’s width if possible—and to drive away slowly, are so important. Some 85% of incidents between horse riders and vehicles occur because a car driver is driving too close to a horse and its rider.
I therefore have a simple request for the Minister: for these reasons, I am asking that he considers widening the review of The Highway Code and understands that horse riders are vulnerable on our roads as well, not just cyclists and pedestrians. This review should include a strengthening of rule 215 of The Highway Code to include the four messages of the Dead Slow campaign, so that our roads can be safer and there can be more awareness and education of how to safely pass horse riders on our roads.
It is a pleasure to follow Chris Elmore. I also warmly welcome the work the Minister has done to improve safety for all road users, especially cyclists and pedestrians, and will use my time to touch on two local issues that are very important to my constituents in Redditch.
First, I pay tribute to an impressive lady called Lucy Harrison, who is a local representative of a charity called RoadPeace. She has made considerable efforts in fundraising and raising awareness of the impact of speeding after her brother was, tragically, killed in a road accident. He was a pedestrian hit by a reckless driver travelling at double the speed limit and was killed instantly. The accident was investigated, and a post-mortem was performed on Lucy’s brother within 48 hours, but during the trial the defence counsel requested a second post-mortem, and this did not take place for three months. That was over the Christmas period, and we can only imagine the agony and distress of her and her family during this time. The burial process was severely delayed, denying Lucy and her family a chance to say goodbye to her brother until a long time after his death. The admirable charity RoadPeace is doing excellent work on this issue, and many second post-mortems take place as a result of road traffic accidents, so this is ultimately a matter of road safety.
There is widespread confusion regarding a defendant’s right to a second post-mortem. I recently met the excellent Justice Minister my hon. Friend Edward Argar to discuss this matter and he assures me that new guidance is currently being drafted by the Chief Coroner. However, through the Minister’s work in improving road safety, the incidence of even first post-mortems can be avoided, so the pain and anguish of many families who have to experience loss as a result of road traffic accident can be reduced.
I believe more can be done by local councils, which leads me on to the second issue I would like to briefly raise, and in doing so I pay tribute to another constituent, Katie Houghton. She runs a mental health awareness project called Midlands Messages of Hope, which simply seeks to reduce suicide. It is a superb local initiative, but I was saddened by Worcestershire County Council’s actions in tearing down more than 150 heartfelt messages of hope attached to the Muskett’s Way footbridge in Redditch. It is a place where people have been known to take their own lives, although the suicide rate is no higher in Redditch than elsewhere. The bridge spans a busy road, the Bromsgrove highway, and those messages are intended to make those who are on the edge think again, and they work alongside Samaritans signs that are also displayed. It is claimed that similar initiatives elsewhere save lives, so I implore the council to rethink its policy. Suicides can of course cause accidents, which makes that bridge and road in my constituency dangerous, and people perceive it as dangerous.
Road safety affects us all, both those who drive and those who do not. I am approached by constituents on a number of issues, but speeding is always at the top of the list, particularly in areas like Feckenham. People are always asking for more ways to tackle speeding. An Opposition Member mentioned speeding around schools and we all want children to be safe.
I must mention horses, because mine is a rural constituency. I support the very effective Dead Slow campaign to keep horses and their riders safe.
I should like to mention driving licences for dementia sufferers. I have written to the Minister about this before. I am the daughter of a dementia sufferer, and I had to go through the process of having my mother tested for driving and basically having to get her off the road because she was a danger to herself and others. That process was incredibly difficult and traumatic, especially as she lacked the awareness that she was an unsafe driver, which is itself the result of the disease of dementia. Please will the Minister look again at this policy area? Unfortunately, dementia is increasing, and I am sure that more and more of us will be touched by this sad state of affairs.
I am pleased that more investment has been made by the Minister, and I hope that this will help us to maintain our safe roads. We must keep the focus on that issue. We must decrease the amount of accidents that happen on our roads, reduce risks and protect vulnerable people, and we must always work to prevent the pain and grief that are caused by an unsafe road environment.
It is a pleasure to follow Rachel Maclean. Road safety is an issue that I repeatedly raise in the House, and I welcome the opportunity to debate it in the Chamber this evening. We all know what a vital issue it is, and it affects many of our constituents, often tragically. In West Yorkshire, 815 people were killed or seriously injured in road traffic incidents last year. In my constituency, more children are killed or seriously injured on our roads than almost anywhere else in the country. I know that it is ambitious, but we should aim to eliminate road deaths and serious injuries entirely in the UK. Vision Zero seeks to do exactly that, and I urge the Government to look into that approach.
Clearly we will need a wide variety of tools in order to achieve that, and one crucial part is a tougher criminal justice approach. It was for this reason that I warmly welcomed the Government’s announcement in October 2017 that they would bring in longer sentences for drivers who killed through dangerous or careless driving, as well as the announcement of a new offence of causing serious injury through careless driving. I pay tribute to all those who campaigned for this change, including the road safety charity Brake, but we are now over a year on, and the Government have still not delivered on their commitment. In fact, we are no closer to those changes being made.
Ministers are now claiming that the changes will be incorporated into a review of cycle safety, but I have to say that that is completely unacceptable. It is right, of course, that the Government should look at the laws around cycling in order to make it safer for all road users, but it is not good enough that already-announced changes on sentencing are being rolled into the open-ended process. I really hope the Minister will listen and set out exactly when parliamentary time will be available to bring these changes into effect. The delay is adding to the suffering that families face when they lose loved ones.
Turning to another criminal justice issue, we must ensure that the exceptional hardship rule, which allows drivers to keep their licence even when they have reached 12 points, is not abused. Data from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency show that more than 200 hundred people in Bradford alone successfully used that argument last year and escaped a ban. There are 11,000 drivers across Britain who still have their driving licences despite passing the 12-point limit. We are allowing unsafe drivers to remain on our roads, and ultimately we are putting people at risk. Anyone who reaches 12 points should expect to be banned. Anything less makes a mockery of our road laws.
Of course, our laws are an effective deterrent only if they are properly enforced. For this we need well-resourced police forces that are able to patrol our roads, proactively tackle dangerous driving and bring those who break the law to justice. It is for this reason that the cuts to frontline policing caused by a reduction in funding from this Government are extremely worrying. On top of the 30% cuts in West Yorkshire since 2010, police forces across the country are facing an additional £165 million unexpected pensions bill, which will lead to even fewer officers. Prior to the Budget, I raised the issue of police pensions with the Prime Minister, and I wrote to her about it on
Finally, I would like to mention graduated driving licences, which allow new drivers to build up their driving skills and experience gradually, in well-defined, structured stages. There is clear evidence that a graduated licence system would make our roads safer, by reducing the number of young people involved in car accidents. Drivers aged 17 to 24 currently make up only 7% of drivers, but they represent nearly 20% of the people killed or seriously injured in car crashes. To conclude, I would like to return to that Vision Zero ambition to eliminate road deaths and serious injuries in the UK entirely. Ambitious, yes, but we owe it to the families who have lost loved ones to do everything we can to reduce deaths and make our roads safer for all.
It is a pleasure to follow Judith Cummins, and I want to make four points in this important debate on road safety. First, on vehicle safety standards, it is great news that the past decade has seen a 39% drop in road fatalities, but that is not just down to luck. Some of that reduction is due to the fact that our vehicles are better designed for safety, which is partly thanks to decades of work between the UK and other EU countries on EU safety standards. As we leave the EU, we will be encouraged by other parts of the world, such as America, to adopt other standards, but there are reasons why standards sometimes diverge. For example, Europe has narrower roads, with more pedestrians, so we build bigger bumpers on our cars, but cars in America flip over more often due to how the highways are designed. We do not need their standards, and they would not want ours, so let us continue to work with Europe on the car safety standards that have introduced, for example, airbags, ABS systems and other more advanced safety measures.
Secondly, many Chelmsford cyclists have written to me asking me to raise awareness. Chelmsford is a high-growth area, and we need to encourage people to get out of their cars and on to alternative transport. East Anglia is quite flat, so people are happy to use cycles, but they need to feel safe. We are investing more in cycle paths, but Cycling UK also has important proposals to ensure that there is more in The Highway Code to prohibit pavement parking and to encourage more cycle training and the use of the “Dutch reach” whereby drivers have to look over their shoulder when opening the door.
Thirdly, we need to raise awareness of what to do when a police siren goes off when someone is driving. I spent a day and a night on call with the police over the summer, crossing my constituency six times at top speed with the blue lights flashing, which clearly scared many drivers. We need an awareness campaign about how to get off the road safely to allow emergency vehicles to pass.
My last point is about horse riders. I am told that Essex has the highest level of horse ownership in the country, but my constituency is almost entirely urban. If one goes on that amazing source of data that is Facebook, one can see that 960 people in my constituency like tennis—like you, Mr Speaker—1,800 like hockey, but 3,800 like horse riding, and they are mostly women. Women are nine times more likely to ride horses—it is the top outdoor pursuit for women. People on horses have a right to be on the road, and riders often have to use a road, even if only for a short time, to get to a bridleway or another safe place.
I admit to having been an experienced rider in the past, but I got back on a horse this summer and found it absolutely terrifying. It was not just about the amount of traffic, but the lack of driver awareness of what they need to do if they see a horse. Drivers need to pass wide and pass slow, and they must remember that if two horses are riding side by side, that could be because there is an inexperienced rider or a young horse. Finally, please do not beep the horn—that really is spooky for horses. I have been concerned by stories of some drivers finding it fun to be unsafe when a horse is nearby. It is not fun; it is deeply dangerous, and 40 people and over 200 horses have lost their lives.
We need more driver awareness, and one solution could be to use the bit of time between a learner taking their multiple-choice theory test at the test centre and getting the results. All those new learner drivers need to wait for their results, and the British Horse Society has some fantastic virtual reality headsets that will give those new learners a quick experience of what it is like to be on a horse when a car goes past too fast. Maybe we could use that little bit of time to do just a little more driver awareness.
It is a pleasure to follow Vicky Ford. I am grateful to various organisations for their briefings on this evening’s debate, including PACTS, Brake, Cycling UK, the Road Safety Foundation, Guide Dogs, Ageas and the Towards Zero Foundation. I have two main comments, one about language and one about why road safety is a constituency issue, as well as a national and international one.
First, we as politicians know that language is crucial, which is why we should, and the emergency services do, now speak of “road traffic crashes” and not “road traffic accidents.” We should know now, if we did not know before, that most incidents, and the consequent statistics of people killed or seriously injured, could have been avoided if humans had made positive decisions. They are not accidents; they are avoidable tragedies. If drivers had only observed the rules on speed, drink, drugs, mobile phone usage, seatbelts and the rest, those lives could have been spared.
I am also struck that Brake describes the failure to cut the number of deaths and serious injuries in recent years as figures that have “stagnated”. Many commentators, including me and the Minister, have used the word “plateau” but, on reflection, that suggests high ground and achievement. “Stagnated”, however, suggests something entirely different, negative and certainly not nice.
On the question of targets, as raised by a number of colleagues, in May the Department for Transport published an independent capacity review on road safety by Systra. Among its recommendations were:
“Set interim quantitative targets to 2030 to reduce the numbers of deaths and serious injuries”.
“Set measurable interim targets to 2030 to reduce the numbers of deaths and serious injuries with supporting road safety performance objectives, as proposed for the national framework.”
As well as this independent review, deaths and serious injuries as a result of road traffic crashes have been recognised by the United Nations and the World Health Organisation as an international crisis—1.25 million dead and 20 million seriously injured every year—and they are now subject to two sustainable development goals. SDGs 3.6 and 11.2 recommend a target of halving the number of people killed or seriously injured by 2030. The Government signed up to those goals and published the Systra recommendations, so why will they not formally endorse targets as part of the weaponry to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries?
The UK fire service has a proud record in international aid, including providing second-hand fire engines and other equipment, unused kit from brigades and supply chains, and training and advice. That has been happening for decades, and not just following disasters. The charity Fire Aid, which I chair, especially provides pillar 5 post-crash response. It is hugely frustrating that UK aid from the Department for International Development has billions of taxpayers’ pounds to distribute but cannot support small charities like Fire Aid, which is saving lives in 40 countries around the world and delivering soft diplomacy for UK plc.
I said at the beginning of my contribution that this is as much a local issue as a national or international one. In Poplar and Limehouse 190 people were killed or seriously injured between 2011 and 2016. Twenty-two were under the age of 16, and 78 were between 16 and 29. RTCs are the biggest killer of our young people nationally.
Investment in road safety not only saves lives but makes economic sense. Each year road crashes cost UK plc £35 billion, or 2% of our GDP. For every £1 invested, £4.40 of monetary value is created. This not only makes economic sense; it makes human sense, too.
Road safety should not be a party political issue. The Minister is held in high regard as a man of integrity. There is an opportunity here for him to reset our efforts, to give leadership and provide ambition and to reduce our KSI—killed or seriously injured—statistics. I look forward to him delivering, but I think he needs targets in his campaign.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick in what has been a powerful debate.
Cars can kill, and I start by telling the story of two Sarahs. Sarah Childs, 22 years old, crossed Walsall Road with her 20-year-old sister and was mown down by a driver doing 64 miles per hour. Sarah died instantly. Bizarrely, the driver got four years in prison and a four-year driving ban, and he started serving the ban on his first day in prison. We campaigned together with Avril, the grieving mother, to get the law changed, and I pay tribute to Sir Mike Penning, who agreed to the law changes so that, in future, the prison sentence and the driving ban are served consecutively.
Sarah Giles, a 20-year-old much loved by her family, was killed by a speeding car fleeing a police chase. A car flew through the air, as her car was rammed at high speed. John and Sharon Giles, her loving parents, are absolutely distraught over what has happened. Avril has come together with John and Sharon to say, “Why is it that the Government 13 months ago agreed that tougher penalties should in future apply for drivers who kill with a car and there has been no action yet taken?” Nothing will ever bring back their daughters, but they want at least to contribute towards ensuring that never again should anyone suffer as they have suffered.
I come then to the story of Poppy-Arabella Clarke, a wonderful little three-year-old girl who was crossing the Chester Road with her mother. She was on a pedestrian crossing when she was hit by a 72-year-old driver and killed instantly. The driver had been told twice in the previous three weeks, by a doctor and an optometrist, never to drive again, but he got behind the wheel of the car and as a consequence Poppy is dead. This raises fundamental issues that have not yet featured in this debate and which relate to drivers who can longer see safely behind the wheel. When people pass their driving test they take a 20-metre test. It is an 80-year-old test that was invented before the second world war, and it is completely out of kilter with the rest of Europe; we are one of only five countries that has this kind of test. We are also one of the very few countries that allows an instructor, as opposed to a doctor or an optometrist, to carry out the test before somebody gets their licence.
What is clear beyond any doubt is that action needs to be taken. There is an argument as to how we should proceed: should we have regular tests throughout people’s driving life, as they do in many continental countries in Europe; or should we have a test for those who renew their licence at 70? At the moment, people self-declare that their eyesight is sound when they renew their licence; there is no obligation for someone to have an independent third party carry out a test that says that they are safe to drive in future. Whether the test is staged throughout the driving life or at the age of 70 or beyond, there is a powerful case for the Government now to embrace changing the law so that we can ensure that people on the road are fit to be on the road and that they can drive safely. That is right in itself in order to avoid terrible accidents, the kind of which befell Poppy-Arabella Clarke, but it is also right because eye tests pick up a range of other problems that an individual may have, such as glaucoma.
In conclusion, for all that progress has been made over the years on a number of fronts, there is a simple, sad reality: too many innocent people still die on our roads. That is why I hope that the Minister says in responding to this debate that the Government will act on tougher penalties for those who kill with a car and that they are prepared seriously to examine in future having such an eyesight test, so that never again is a precious little three-year-old girl taken from her grieving parents.
Tonight I will talk about Bobby Colleran and Livia Galli-Atkinson. Bobby Colleran was a bright, fun-loving boy. As his mum Joanne put it, he was “cheeky but charming”. The middle child, he adored his brothers. On
“when a six year old dies in these circumstances, it affects the whole city”.
In the aftermath of that tragedy, the Bobby Colleran Trust was created to encourage and promote better road safety awareness for children, parents and schools. One of the ways they have done that is by encouraging schools to introduce “Bobby zones”, which are designed to slow down traffic, prevent the unnecessary build-up of vehicles and ensure a maximum speed of 20 mph. If people drive around Liverpool, they will see a “Slow down for Bobby” banner outside pretty much every primary school. I want to keep that legacy going by making sure that the challenge is taken up not only across Merseyside but throughout the country. I urge the Minister to make that happen.
When I was the MP for Enfield, Southgate, a similar incident happened in my then constituency. Livia Galli-Atkinson was just 16 when she was killed on her way to ballet on
Let us learn the lessons from the families of Bobby and Livia. I pay tribute to my good friends, Bobby’s parents Joanne and David, and Livia’s parents Guilietta and George, who have gone above and beyond to ensure that no other child is hurt or dies on our roads. I pay tribute to them as I pay tribute to the fantastic campaigning organisations such as Brake and RoadPeace, which have made such a big difference. As we have heard, though, in recent years the decline in the numbers of deaths on our roads has stagnated. Indeed, last year the number of deaths on our roads was at its highest since 2011. We must do better. Targets are not a panacea, but they demonstrate a determination. I urge the Minister to look into the reintroduction of national casualty targets as part of the Government’s strategy.
Let me finish by saying something about the global challenge. Road casualties are a major killer, particularly in some of the world’s poorest countries. The death or injury of a family member can further entrench poverty, leaving a family without a breadwinner or without the capacity to work. That is part of the reason why, as my hon. Friend Matt Rodda said, the sustainable development goals include targets to cut the numbers killed and seriously injured on the roads. The 2015 United Nations global goals include SDG 3.6, which is to halve the number of deaths and serious injuries on the world’s roads by 2020. That is in two years’ time. This has been declared the decade of action for road safety.
As part of our inquiry into the global goals, the International Development Committee found
“a worrying lack of engagement in the SDGs across Government.”
Next year, the United Kingdom will submit itself to the United Nations for a voluntary national review of progress on the goals. Will the Minister tell us how the Department for Transport will take part in that review? I urge the Department to make road safety a priority for its participation in the national voluntary national review, and I urge the Minister to work on road safety with his colleagues in the Department for International Development, because if we are to achieve the goals, Departments working together will have the biggest impact.
Around the world, 3,500 people die on the roads every day. Every single death or injury is one too many. Let us reaffirm our responsibility to do all we can to achieve the vision of zero deaths and serious injuries on our roads.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby. Like him and my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) and for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), I wish to talk about deaths and serious injuries caused by dangerous drivers.
Last year, 191 people were convicted of causing death by dangerous driving, yet the average prison sentence given to the perpetrators of those crimes was just 29 months, with a similar period of time to be spent released on licence. We are all aware that, in response to pressure and campaigning from bereaved families and the road safety charity Brake and its “Roads to Justice” campaign, the Government finally agreed back in December 2016 to hold a consultation on sentencing for those who cause death by dangerous driving. That consultation ran until February 2017 and received more than 9,000 responses.
Last October, the Government finally announced that, as a result of the consultation, they were introducing tougher sentences, including the possibility of life sentences to replace the current maximum sentence of 14 years. When that was announced more than a year ago, there was much relief among campaigners and bereaved families that, at last, the Government were taking action to ensure that other families would not have to suffer the same injustices. Not only were they sentenced to a lifetime of grief at the loss of a loved one, but they suffered the injustice of seeing their loved one’s killer receive a prison sentence of just a few years.
Ian and Dawn Brown-Lartey in my constituency of Heywood and Middleton had a 25-year-old son, Joseph, who was killed by a 19-year-old driving an uninsured unlicensed hired Audi at 80 miles an hour in a 30-mile an hour zone, running through a red light and smashing into Joseph’s car, killing him outright. The impact was so great that Joseph’s car was split in two. His grieving parents were determined that no other family should have to suffer as they had done and they, supported by award-winning campaigning journalist Michelle Livesey, launched their campaign “Justice for Joseph”, handing in a petition at 10 Downing Street signed by thousands of people.
The day before the horrific crash, Joseph’s killer posted a photo of his dashboard on social media, showing the speedometer at 142 miles an hour on the M62 motorway, and boasted of driving from Leeds to Rochdale in just 11 minutes. That is a distance of 33 miles, which means that he must have been travelling at an average speed of a staggering 180 miles an hour. He was imprisoned for six years in May 2015, but has since been released on licence after serving half his sentence. Joseph’s father said:
“It is absolutely frustrating, especially when you’re driving on the streets every day and you can see what’s going on. There is simply no deterrent. If the Government are not putting in place a deterrent, they are saying to people it’s OK to get behind the wheel and kill somebody.”
Sadly, as we have heard, the Brown-Larteys are not the only family to suffer in this way. Because of my work with the Justice for Joseph campaign I have met so many bereaved families. They include the family of Bryony Hollands, who was killed while walking with her boyfriend by a driver who was three times over the drink-driving limit. Her boyfriend was injured and has been left with permanent deafness in one ear. Both were talented music students.
Bryony’s family lives in the Prime Minister’s constituency of Maidenhead, where the Conservative-controlled Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council wrote to the Justice Secretary in June this year to urge him to bring forward the promised legislation. Bryony’s father, Mark, is deeply disappointed by the Government’s inaction. He said that the slow progress in implementing changes to the law
“sends out the message that it is not that important.”
Bryony’s killer was sentenced to just eight years in 2015 and is expected to be released on licence next year, while her family serve a life sentence of grief for their daughter, killed at just 19 years old.
After the horrific deaths of two-year-old Caspar and six-year-old Corey Platt-May at the hands of a driver high on cocaine in February of this year, I and more than 70 other MPs wrote to the Justice Secretary asking again when the Government’s decision to introduce life sentences for death by dangerous driving was to be brought into legislation. Again the response we received was, “When parliamentary time allows”. Well, when will that time be? This should be an easy change to implement. Why do this Government continue to drag their feet over this issue, which is so important to safety on our roads?
There are two issues that I wish to raise in this debate. The first one relates to an issue that I have previously raised with the Minister, which is that of road poles. This is about how we can minimise the casualties in the collisions on our roads. The second one is about how we can make roads in the far south-west, particularly in Devon, safer. The Road Safety Foundation has declared that half of all Britain’s road deaths take place on just 10% of the road network. One of those roads runs through the constituency that I represent. The stretch of the A38 that goes through Devon is one of the most dangerous roads in our county. Members who have spoken in road safety debates in Westminster Hall will know that this issue is close to my heart, because I have spoken particularly about a constituent of mine called Trevor Gorman, whose son—also called Trevor—was killed in a road collision on the A38 last June, along with his friends Marshall and Zachary. Their van collided with a road traffic signpost and all three men were killed instantly. The post that they collided with was made of steel that was not designed to crumple, collapse on impact or absorb shock. Hard steel posts are common on nearly all major roads, from smaller B roads through to the motorway network. Experts at the inquest stated that the pole met requirements when it was erected in the 1990s, but it has not been replaced or upgraded since.
The accident that took the lives of those three men could have been avoided if the steel signpost in an accident blackspot had been upgraded to a frangible pole. Members will have seen frangible poles on the road network. They are lattice-shaped poles that are designed to absorb impact, so they do not have a hard surface against the impact. Ever since his son’s death, Mr Gorman has been campaigning tirelessly to improve road safety standards, swapping hard steel poles for frangible ones. This may sound like a small technical detail, but it can save lives. Mr Gorman wants to ensure that no family has to suffer the grief that he and his family have been through after the loss of his son and his son’s two friends, and to ensure that they have not died in vain; his strength really is inspiring.
Plymouth City Council, particularly Councillor Mark Coker, has been galvanising support for replacing hard steel poles with frangible poles in the accident blackspots in our city, but this is an initiative that every single local authority could be doing. I would like the Minister to look at whether support can be given to local authorities where accident blackspots exist in order to replace hard steel poles with frangible poles. This will save some lives. We will not be able to affect the stagnation in the number of road deaths with one silver bullet, as we will need lots of different measures, such as those mentioned in this debate, but replacing hard steel poles would be one small effort. The work that Councillor Coker has been doing in Plymouth has the support of Public Health England, and Devon and Somerset fire and rescue service.
As well as poles, we need to look at the other items on the roadsides that are not frangible. I am talking about trees in particular. The London plane tree may have been instrumental in saving air quality in the Victorian era and the silver birch may be a similar saviour for dealing with nanoparticles and microparticles in the 21st century, but the trees along our roadsides are not frangible, and many people die or are seriously injured in collisions with trees. We need a solution to address the hard surfaces that people can collide with, particularly on the roads where such accidents really happen, and the A38 in Devon is one of those roads. Extending the M5 from Exeter to the Tamar bridge will make a substantial difference to safety, because motorways are the safest roads on our network. The Minister has bids from Devon County Council and Plymouth City Council to look at that. I would be grateful if he lent his support not only to the frangible road pole campaign, but to the plans to extend the M5.
The Minister will be called to give a two-minute wind-up at no later than 9.58 pm. Members can do the arithmetic for themselves; I encourage them to be considerate of one another.
I am a cyclist myself. In fact, I am probably one of the few Members who cycle to this place on an almost daily basis, so I could talk about cyclists and road safety at length, but tonight I will quickly reiterate the points made by Jack Dromey, who is about to leave the Chamber. The beauty of being one of the last speakers is that one can reinforce a particular message.
I ask the Government further to improve road safety for pedestrians, cyclists, bikers and vehicle drivers with one critical measure: proper eye-testing. At the moment, there are no robust regulations to ensure that vehicle drivers can actually see. UK regulations for drivers’ eyesight are among the weakest in Europe, relying on self-regulation and self-reporting. UK drivers can pass their driving test without having a full examination to prove that their eyes are roadworthy, and can then drive for the rest of their lives unpoliced. All we have in the UK is a basic vision test by a non-medically qualified driving test centre. The test is to read a number plate at a distance of 20 metres.
It ignores other essentials such as peripheral vision, which is also essential for safety for cyclists. It means that there is no medical rigour to confirm that most drivers are visually fit to drive. It means that cyclists, pedestrians and motorists who have regular eye tests are sharing the road with people driving a tonne of metal who have never given their eyes an MOT. The campaign for proper eye-testing originated in my constituency. The Government require vehicles to pass an annual MOT test, and it is illegal to drive after drinking or taking drugs, but there is an obvious gap in the law that allows drivers to drive with poor eyesight.
This is not a technical question. The World Health Organisation says that poor eyesight is a key risk factor in road crashes. Approximately 3,000 casualties in the UK can be attributed to drivers having poor vision. Poor vision costs lives. It also costs money—an estimated £33 million a year. While some drivers have their driving licence revoked or refused because of poor vision, there is no structured approach, and lives are being lost as a result. People can lose 40% of their vision before they notice a problem. There is no requirement for good eyesight and acceptable peripheral vision. Good vision should be a requirement to drive: road safety demands it. Current procedures lack medical rigour, increasing the potential for injury or death.
The Driving Blind campaign calls for a change in legislation to require drivers to be tested by an optician before their driving test and at every subsequent licence renewal application. It also calls for new drivers to be vision-tested, including for peripheral vision, and certified by an optician, with follow-up tests every decade up to the age of 70 and then every three years thereafter. If we can reduce the number of people driving blind on our roads, we will improve road safety. I look forward to the Government’s response.
When I am contacted by my constituents about this subject, the section of road that comes up more than any other is the M56 motorway between junctions 12 and 14. It is an area blighted by collisions, causing serious delays in the whole area as well as significant impacts on those involved. After a concerted campaign for improvements alongside my hon. Friend Christian Matheson, we were pleased to hear that improvements will now be considered.
I appreciate that it is by no means certain that something will happen, and that includes the smart motorway that we want. However, I urge Ministers to look very closely at this, and then, if a decision is made to proceed, to consider very carefully how the improvements are delivered, because I have had a number of complaints about smart motorways, particularly regarding the works on the M6. Virtually the whole of the stretch of road from Cheshire to Birmingham is coned off, with speed limits, yet whenever I go on it, there appear to be few or no workmen there. This seems to be an incredibly inefficient way of improving the network. Is it reasonable to have 20 miles of motorway coned off for years at a time? Why cannot the work be done on a small section and then moved along? I am not harking back to the glory days of the cones hotline, but I do wonder if anyone is monitoring what is going on there. The suspicion is that the contracts—or conetracts—that were agreed are putting their cost above the long delays and economic impact caused. There is also concern about the safety of some of the night-time closures and diversions.
Closer to home, I am also regularly contacted about the A540 in Neston. It is a very busy road. The number of serious incidents each year is in double figures, and there are fatalities on the road in most years. I pay tribute to Pauline Fielding, who has been campaigning for improvements on the road for almost 25 years, after her son Andrew tragically lost his life. Thanks to the efforts of Pauline and other local campaigners, the speed limit was reduced to 40 mph. Some improvements were made to the junction with Raby Park Road, which—I have to declare an interest—I sometimes drive through when I take my children to school. However, it is clear that much more significant improvements are required not just on this part of the road but the whole length of it. Unfortunately, these improvements are beyond the means of the local authority. Mrs Fielding and many others believe that installing traffic lights is the only way to improve safety along there, but that will take up all the local authority’s capital budget, as well as having a knock-on effect on the rest of the road, including at the junction with Hinderton Road, the next one along, where there are also safety concerns.
Schemes like this fall into a category that deserves a far greater level of attention. They are too large for local authorities to act alone but too small to be considered under the remit of Highways England or the road investment strategy. Often, as with the A540, these sections of road can straddle the boundaries between local authorities and local enterprise partnerships, exacerbating the difficulty in bringing forward a viable scheme.
The safer roads fund is a welcome start in tackling these sorts of issues. However, I am concerned that only £100 million of the £175 million originally budgeted has so far been allocated. If the Minister still has any of that £75 million left, burning a hole in his pocket, and he wants to spend it on the A540, he will be welcomed with open arms if he comes to Neston.
This is a massive issue. With the Christmas season, Christmas parties and the rush of the season approaching, it is imperative that the message is reinforced that the holiday spirit is wonderful, but driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is never acceptable at any time of the year, and certainly not at Christmas time.
Two hundred people are still killed in drink-drive accidents every year. Even after 30 years of drink-drive education and enforcement, more than 70,000 people are still caught drink-driving annually. Often it is an innocent person who suffers, not the driver who is over the drink-drive limit. In 2016, 100 pedestrians were killed or injured by drink-drivers, as were 330 car passengers and 40 children. In 2016, almost half a million roadside breath tests took place, and some 60,000 drivers or riders failed or refused to take the test. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the maximum blood alcohol limit is 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood, but in Scotland that has been lowered to 50 mg.
I remind the Minister that the Government commissioned Sir Peter North to conduct a review of drink and drug driving law in 2010. In that review, evidence was heard that drivers with a blood alcohol level of between 50 mg and 80 mg are two to two and a half times more likely to be involved in an accident than drivers with no alcohol, and up to six times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash. We must be ever mindful of those figures.
In 2000, the Government’s road safety strategy estimated that reducing the limit to 50 mg would save 50 lives and prevent some 250 injuries each year. When that was reviewed, it was estimated that it could save 65 lives and prevent 230 injuries each year. I ask the Minister to give further consideration to the North review, which concluded that a reduction to 50 mg would
“undoubtedly save a significant number of lives.”
It estimated at the time that 168 lives could be saved and 16,000 injuries prevented annually, and after six years, some 303 lives annually could be saved.
Finally, I want to refer to The Highway Code as it pertains to the safety of horse riders. If my understanding of the figures is correct, my constituency has the largest number of people involved in the horse industry and sector in Northern Ireland. A review is to be undertaken into this issue, but could the Minister ensure that there is a mention of horses in that? I underline that case because of the 40 riders killed, 237 horses killed and almost 900 horses injured on our roads in the last seven years. Some 85% of road incidents involving horses are because drivers pass too close or too fast to them. In particular, I ask the Minister to look at strengthening section 215 of The Highway Code on horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles, to include the British Horse Society’s “dead slow” advice to drivers on how to pass horses safely. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments.
This has been an interesting and lively debate. Many colleagues from across the House have had a chance to comment, and I want to respond to as many of them as I can.
I have mentioned the dreadful crash that took place on the M5 in 2011, and we have heard many examples this evening of dreadful road incidents. To recap, in response, the Government are taking vigorous action. We are improving roads infrastructure, looking at the training of new and novice drivers, taking action against the most dangerous driving behaviour, investigating collisions and targeting future activity at the highest-risk groups. In doing so, we are reliant on and very grateful for all the constructive and expert support that we get from key partners, from traffic police to local authority road officials.
Let me touch quickly on some of the many questions raised. The issue of targets is constantly raised with the Government, and this evening has been no exception. I repeat that some countries with great safety records have targets, and some do not. There is no necessary correlation, and it would not be right to hide behind targets when there are so many specific measures that we can potentially take. I will touch on some of them.
Matt Rodda was right to mention older users, and they are included in our two-year plan. He mentioned the safer roads fund and asked why it has not been spread. We received 50 applications, and we funded 50 applications.
My hon. Friend Tracey Crouch correctly reflected on the importance of thinking of recovery operators. We very much bear them in mind, and I saw them recently at the RAC.
Horse riders are vulnerable road users—there is no doubt about that, and there never has been—and they have been included in the work we are doing. We are interested in the evidence coming from Scotland on lower alcohol limits. I salute my hon. Friend Jack Brereton for the work done by The Sentinel newspaper in his constituency.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered road safety.