I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to regulate the renting of high performance road vehicles;
and for connected purposes.
Residents have for years been raising with me and fellow west Yorkshire MPs the issue of high-powered vehicles being driven recklessly in and around neighbourhoods. Various attempts have been made to combat the issue; communities have come together with and worked alongside authorities such as West Yorkshire police and the local council in the attempt to find solutions to the problem. This Bill is about recognising that such partnership initiatives can go only so far, and are too often reactive. Police efforts to keep the roads safe, such as Operation Hawmill in Calderdale, will not prevent a bad driver from getting behind the wheel of a supercar. The changes that I propose would go some way towards doing that.
More often than not, in the examples that I see, and the cases reported to me, of road traffic offences being committed in high-powered vehicles—supercars, prestige cars or whatever we want to call them—the driver is not the owner of the vehicle, but has hired it. In recent years, there has been a rise in people hiring cars such as Lamborghinis and Ferraris and passing the keys to someone else, if not several other people. The vehicles are then driven at dangerously high speeds, which puts other road users, pedestrians and the drivers themselves at risk.
Often, the driver will not have the appropriate insurance; they will argue that they believed they were somehow covered by the rental agreement, by their own insurance, or simply by the fact that the person who hired the car had given them consent to take it around the block— and they had not intended to crash, so did not need it. In a majority of cases, they will not have experience of handling a 300-plus-horsepower vehicle, which can be deadly in the wrong hands. One roads policing officer tells me that he stopped two high-performance vehicles, both of which were rented, within a week on the same 40-mph road in Halifax. One was going at 76 mph and the other at 86 mph.
Although many companies that hire out vehicles operate responsibly and with transparency, there are some much darker elements in the industry. The sliding scale of criminality ranges from drivers engaging in antisocial use of the roads in communities to dangerous and reckless driving, through to serious and organised crime. What can we do to ensure that all companies that rent performance vehicles act responsibly, and that drivers are accountable for their actions behind the wheel? I propose that all vehicles with more than 300 horsepower that are rented for use on public highways be fitted with a black box, which is typically the size of a matchbox and records information about how and when a car is driven. The information in the black box would have to be made available to the police on request.
The second, related change that I propose is that a person who hires a car must be insured as the named driver for that specific vehicle for the entire duration of the rental agreement, and must satisfy the hire-car company of that before being allowed to drive the vehicle away. This is incredibly basic, and we would hope that it already happens under the law, but as I have said, too often keys are swapped around among those who do not have the appropriate insurance, under a vague sense that the car came with a package that allows others to drive it, or that a driver’s existing insurance covers them to drive other vehicles, when that is just not the case.
I am sorry to say that companies plead ignorance, and too often do not do their due diligence to make sure that the hirer has the appropriate cover and understands their responsibilities. Inevitably, the police have to embark on a lengthy and opaque quest at the roadside to establish the insurance details. I am reliably informed that the difficulty of doing that has been exacerbated by the reduced operating hours of insurance companies during the pandemic.
When dealing with individuals from the young and irresponsible through to those involved in serious criminal enterprises, that leaves far too many loopholes in the law that allow for the abuse of our highways to the detriment of our community safety. I hear regular examples of the police having contacted hire car companies for details of the driver at the time an offence was committed, only for the companies then to fail to provide those details. Although that is already an offence in itself—I welcome cases where prosecutions have been secured against the owners of such companies—a black box and named driver vehicle insurance combination would significantly undermine someone’s ability to abuse the system.
In addition to the changes proposed in my Bill, I call on the Government to establish a taskforce to look at this issue holistically. Having spoken extensively to MPs and the Motor Insurers’ Bureau, I know that this problem extends right across the country and cannot be addressed by any one agency alone. I was approached by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council, which has deployed acoustic cameras—such is the effect of the prevalence of engines revving on its local residents. It is faced with organised car meets and races, and super-rich visitors to the UK who hire supercars and leave before enforcement action can be taken. It would like to be able to increase the fines it can issue to ensure there are consequences for driving irresponsibly. The dynamics of the problem are different in different areas, but it is widespread.
With that in mind, I urge the Government to form a taskforce and consider going further by, for example, introducing minimum licensing requirements for those seeking to hire a performance vehicle, which could include things such as being over a certain age to hire a car over 300 hp, or a requirement to have a clean licence or a minimum number of years’ experience as a driver. It could include restrictions on how much noise a vehicle can make, to get to the bottom of whether the noise generated by a supercar is an unavoidable consequence of its enhanced engine, or whether it has in fact been engineered for effect.
There is a cost not only to the communities that face disruption and noise from these types of vehicles being driven antisocially, and the associated risk, but to all responsible road users, who are penalised through their own insurance to cover the risk of a minority of reckless road users when a vehicle without insurance is involved in a crash. The Motor Insurers’ Bureau has shared with me some troubling examples of questionable insurance policies being used by some companies. Agencies agree that costs are passed on to law-abiding road users for these abuses of the system. In the worst cases, the abuses are driving huge sums of money into the pockets of organised crime.
I have seen the police and various partnerships deploy several attempts to address this issue over the years, some more successful than others. This Bill says that Westminster must play its role in calling time on reckless drivers and irresponsible hire companies, and in standing with the communities blighted by this issue.
I want to thank local neighbourhoods inspector Ben Doughty, who has led Operation Hawmill in Calderdale, for his ongoing commitment to community safety and his assistance with this Bill. I also thank Chief Inspector Gary Panther and PC Richard Brimelow of West Yorkshire Police’s roads policing unit for their insight in shaping the detail of this Bill, and Paul Farley and Craig Conlon of the Motor Insurers’ Bureau for their assistance. I hope the Government have listened carefully to the points that I have made and will look favourably on the proposals I have outlined.
Question put and agreed to.
That Holly Lynch, Lilian Greenwood, Tracy Brabin, Shabana Mahmood, Darren Jones, Dan Jarvis, Tonia Antoniazzi, Neil Coyle, Catherine McKinnell, Mr Barry Sheerman, Chris Bryant and Rushanara Ali present the Bill.
Holly Lynch accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 261).