Excessive Speeding and Driving Bans

Part of Whitsun Adjournment – in the House of Commons at 5:09 pm on 23 May 2019.

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Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Assistant Whip (HM Treasury) 5:09, 23 May 2019

The hon. Lady, true to form, shares the praise with all those who have worked behind the scenes, which has been noted.

The hon. Lady was probably expecting my hon. Friend Jesse Norman, who has been promoted, but I hope she will be pleased with my response. I do not want Hansard or any journalists to be confused: I have not been promoted for long, just for the next 15 minutes.

Road safety is a top priority for the Government. Road deaths are a tragedy for all affected, and injuries can cause suffering and life-changing misfortune. Much of that harm is avoidable, and it is not an inevitable consequence of road transport. As the hon. Member for Clwyd South mentioned, all available research shows a link between excessive speed and the risk of collisions. Increased compliance with speed limits, as part of a wider package of road safety measures, will play a significant role in reducing the number of collisions on our roads.

I share the hon. Lady’s concern that people who drive at appalling speeds, risking the lives of others as well as their own, are too often back behind the wheel too soon. However, sentencing is a matter for our independent courts and is based on the facts of each case. A driving ban, the length of which is at the discretion of the judge, is already an option, and guidance is issued by the Sentencing Council. This is not something on which the Department can intervene. The judiciary are constitutionally independent of the Government, and it is important that no action is taken that may undermine this fundamental principle.

It may help if I say something about the totting up of points. If an offender amasses 12 penalty points or more within a three-year period, a minimum six-month disqualification must be ordered. An offender disqualified in this way may also be ordered to take an extended driving test. Offenders who are disqualified for 56 days or more have to apply for a new licence.

However, courts have the discretion not to disqualify, or to impose a reduced disqualification, if there are mitigating circumstances or exceptional hardship—the hon. Lady raised that issue. This is wholly up to the courts and, again, is not something that the Department can influence, but the Department always notes what is raised in the Chamber. We know the media have reported cases where drivers with many points are still behind the wheel.

At this point I ought to say something about the relative responsibilities of the Department for Transport and the Welsh Assembly. Much road safety legislation and policy is devolved to Wales and Scotland. As well as being responsible for their own trunk road networks, they set policy on safety cameras and issue guidance on setting speed limits. They have legislative competence on all the substantial provisions of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 concerning speed limits and traffic signs.

The enforcement of speed limits is an operational matter for the police. Policing in England and Wales is divided into territorial forces, with the Westminster Government setting policing policy. It is for chief police officers to decide how to prioritise enforcement in accordance with their local priorities and demand. Their police and crime commissioner’s police and crime plan can also be used to address this issue. Individual police forces may also work with local communities and local volunteers to tackle speeding, taking specific local needs into account.

The penalties for excessive speed start with informal advice—the hon. Lady has campaigned on this—because, of course, the more that people are aware, the more they will hopefully monitor their speed. Where such advice is not appropriate, drivers are prosecuted by means of a fixed penalty notice or, in the most serious cases, a postal charge bringing them before the court.

Current guidelines issued by the National Police Chiefs’ Council allow police the discretion to take account of the individual circumstances of each speeding offence, and to take the action they consider appropriate. This ensures that the focus of attention is on the most serious offending and those individuals who clearly and deliberately break the law. The guidelines also seek to provide consistency of treatment from forces in different parts of the country and to set out the principles that underline the police’s approach to enforcement of the law on speeding. However, these are only guidelines, and there are no plans to change this or advise the police how to enforce speed limits.

The hon. Lady mentioned Operation Snap, and I agree with her on the outcomes of that programme. The police have introduced Operation Snap, which has used media such as dashcam evidence, helmet cameras or personal video for the detection of road traffic offences that do not involve a collision. I agree that this is an example of innovation that tackles those driving offences that the public want the police to deal with. It also significantly reduces the time for the police to make a decision on an offence. The aim of Operation Snap is to improve driver behaviour. This is important to note, because she spoke about the anti-drink-driving campaigns back in the day, which changed people’s attitudes completely. If drivers perceive that they could be prosecuted for driving poorly, we hope that they will not drive poorly to begin with, thus reducing the likelihood of a collision.

The hon. lady also talked about sentencing and penalties. After a full consultation, in October 2017 the Ministry of Justice confirmed Government plans to introduce life sentences for drivers responsible for the deaths of other road users. The proposals that were confirmed include: increasing the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving from 14 years to life; increasing the maximum penalty for causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs from 14 years to life; and creating a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving. Sentencing remains a matter for the courts, but raising the maximum penalty will give the courts the tools to deal with the most serious cases. The legislation will be brought forward as soon as parliamentary time allows.

The hon. Lady also made powerful points about drink-driving, and I wish to confirm that the Government currently have no immediate plans to lower the drink-drive limit in England and Wales. Our approach to tackling drink-driving is through rigorous enforcement, penalties and changing the social acceptability of drink-driving in the first place.

The hon. Lady made some good comments about the Brake report, which we welcome as it highlights the important aspects of road safety. Last June, the Government announced their intention to publish the refreshed road safety statement and the two-year road safety action plan later this year, to address four priority user groups: young people, rural road users, motorcyclists and older vulnerable users.

The hon. Lady made some important points about technology. We are currently engaged in negotiations as part of the EU’s third mobility package, which will introduce intelligent speed-adaptation devices in vehicles in the future. She made a powerful point about telematics. I do not want to stray into another Minister’s area of responsibility at the Dispatch Box, so I will offer the hon. Lady the opportunity to meet the relevant Minister once they have settled into their post.

I emphasise that we are determined to improve safety on our roads for all road users, and to see to it that offenders receive the justice that they deserve. I do not doubt that, just like the previous Minister, the new Minister will take this issue incredibly seriously. If I have not covered all the hon. Lady’s points, I will ensure that any that are outstanding are covered in a written response. I congratulate the hon. Lady on being a strong campaigner on this issue and on bringing this important debate to the House.

I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for all your work, and I thank the Clerks, the Doorkeepers, and everyone who works in the Tea Room and the Library and keep us going, as well as the wonderful team from the Department for Transport, who keep the Ministers going. I hope that everybody has a wonderful recess, although I am a little nervous because I am being joined by my parents-in-law, Tim and Wendy Wheeldon. They will be spending time with their daughter-in-law in the constituency of Wealden. I am pleased to be spending the recess with my husband, David, but my daughter, Farah, is going to become a teenager, as she turns 13 on 1 June, so this might not be a quiet recess and I may wish to get back to work sooner than my colleagues.