Excessive Speeding and Driving Bans

Part of Whitsun Adjournment – in the House of Commons at 4:48 pm on 23rd May 2019.

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Photo of Susan Elan Jones Susan Elan Jones Labour, Clwyd South 4:48 pm, 23rd May 2019

The subject of my Adjournment debate—excessive speeding and driving bans—is very serious. I do not like reading out speeches, but this is a pretty technical issue and there are many factual points that I want to raise, so I apologise in advance that I will be doing a little more reading than I would like. I emphasise that this is an immensely serious issue of great concern around the country. I will be asking three questions at the end of my speech. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer them directly, but if, for any reason, she cannot do so in the detail that we would all like, I would appreciate a written response from her.

I want to emphasise two key points about excessive speeding and driving bans: first, the need for tougher action to tackle speeding offences; and, secondly, the need to explore how technology can be used to improve road safety and reduce the number of unnecessary deaths that occur on our roads. According to the most recent official statistics from the Department for Transport, in 2017, in the UK, there were 24,831 serious injuries in road traffic accidents reported to the police, with 1,793 people killed in road traffic accidents—nearly five people a day. I am worried about the 9% increase in fatalities among motorcyclists and the 5% increase in pedestrian fatalities between 2016 and 2017. While I welcome the slight fall of 4% in fatalities among car drivers, we all know that the figure is still far too high. Any fatality on our roads is one fatality too many.

In 2017, the custody rate for motoring offences was 1%. When an offender was sentenced to immediate custody, the average length of a custodial sentence was only 8.2 months. In 2017, the number of offenders directly disqualified from driving actually decreased by 8%—from 63,000 in 2016 to 58,000 in 2017. This concerns me, and I know it concerns many others, too.

I do not think that any of us will be surprised by the fact that speeding is the most common driving offence on UK roads. It currently accounts for around one fifth of road fatalities. In 2017, across Wales as a whole, 500 drivers a day were caught speeding. I appreciate that velocities differ, and I am concentrating on the highest speeds, but that is still a worrying statistic. In 2017, according to House of Commons Library statistics, just under 20,200 speed limit motoring offences were recorded by North Wales police alone—a 73% increase on the number recorded in 2011. About 86% of the speed limit offences were recorded through cameras, such as fixed-place speed cameras. Of the 20,200 or so speeding limit offences recorded by North Wales police, most resulted in a fine, with fewer than 3,000 leading to the driver facing court action. The sentence for the vast majority of those who were subsequently convicted at court was just a fine.

It is my strongly held belief that collisions and road traffic accidents are not inevitable and that we should not accept them as such. Cycling UK has stated that whereas society expects high safety standards in various aspects of our lives in which there are inherent risks, there sometimes seems to be a different culture on the roads. I agree with its calls for greater use of lengthy driving bans, both as a penalty and in order to protect the public. Convicted drivers consistently avoid driving bans by resorting to claims that such a ban will cause them “exceptional hardship”. In January 2017, according to Cycling UK, almost 10,000 drivers were still allowed to drive even though they had amassed 12 points or more on their licence, and that is despite the fact that those who accumulate that many points should automatically face disqualification from driving.

Brake, the road safety charity, has echoed calls for those who have 12 points on their licence to be prevented from invoking the argument of “exceptional hardship” and instead face an automatic driving ban. This is something I strongly agree with. Drivers who have accumulated more than 12 points on their licence have, in my view and that of many others, been given ample opportunity to comply with the law. They have instead shown a repeated disregard for driving safely and legally. I believe that they should not be allowed to continually flout the law and face little more than a fine.

Guidance from the RAC states that if someone has been caught speeding and the offence is referred to court, they could face an instant driving ban. However, magistrates will generally consider imposing a ban only if someone has been caught driving at more than 45% over the speed limit. That means that they would need to be driving at more than 51 mph in a 30 mph limit, 85 mph in a 60 mph limit or—for heaven’s sake—100 mph in a 70 mph limit. There is little uniformity between the speeds offenders drive at or the offences they commit, and the punishment imposed.

Many examples could be cited, but let me set out a couple from north Wales. A motorcyclist who was caught driving at 138 mph in a 60 mph area on the A5 not far from Corwen got a fine of just over £600 and a 90-day driving ban, so he was back on the roads three months later. There was also the driver of what the press referred to as a “supercar”. He was banned from driving for 56 days for driving at 122 mph, again on a single carriageway road with a 60 mph limit.

Last year I submitted a written parliamentary question to ask the Ministry of Justice how many drivers who have been subject to a driving ban go on to commit further driving offences after their ban has expired. I am concerned that the Department’s response was that it does not hold such data.

In the road safety factsheet that it published last year, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents made a very important point:

“There is no doubt that inappropriate speed is one of the most serious road safety problems on Britain’s roads, and causes death and injury to thousands of people each year. Unfortunately, the public has not yet accepted the danger caused by speeding drivers in the same way as the danger caused by drink-drivers.”

Many of us will remember the 1970s and 1980s when there was quite a different culture surrounding drink-driving. None of us would ever want to return to that, but a real case can be made that we are in the same place today in terms of excessive speeds on our roads.

I think it is time for us to review and increase the length of driving bans. I also believe that we need more police monitoring of rural roads. According to the Institute of Advanced Motorists, those are roads on which most fatal crashes take place. We should also take note of a recent report by Brake, which was based on an extensive survey of drivers. The report questions whether the legal limit on single carriageway roads should be 60 mph. The Brake report noted that fewer than a quarter of drivers—23%—stated that 60 mph was a safe speed for a vehicle on a road on which there may be people on foot, bicycles and horses. The report also noted that drivers either wanted, or were ambivalent about, a reduction to the default 60 mph limit on rural roads, with fewer than one in five—19%—objecting to a reduction. That survey gives us food for thought.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mike Freer.)