Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts) (Amendment) Regulations 2005

– in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 15th December 2004.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 6:45 pm, 15th December 2004

rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 8 November be approved [34th Report from the Joint Committee, Session 2003–04].

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the regulations amend existing regulations. They provide a revised exemption from compulsory seat-belt wearing for goods vehicle users while delivering or collecting anything. They clarify when the exemption applies to make it more understandable and to make it easier for the police to enforce. The regulations are about improving road safety, and therefore about saving lives and reducing casualties. They also make two minor changes to bring the current regulations up to date.

In accordance with Section 14 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts) (Amendment) Regulations 1993 provide an exemption for those using goods vehicles while,

"engaged in making local rounds of deliveries or collections".

It was recognised when compulsory seat-belt wearing was first introduced that those making house-to-house deliveries or collections would be inconvenienced by having to unbuckle and buckle seat belts at very frequent intervals. However, there is no definition of,

"local rounds of deliveries or collections".

As a result, many of those who use vans and goods vehicles—and possibly their employers as well—wrongly believe that there is a general exemption for anyone making a delivery or collection, whatever the distance they travel. Consequently, too many of them fail to use their seat belts when they are at work.

The Government are concerned that regular surveys of seat-belt wearing carried out for the Department for Transport show that seat-belt use by van drivers is much lower than for car drivers. The last survey was carried out in October this year and shows that only 70 per cent of van drivers and 57 per cent of their passengers wear seat belts, compared to more than 93 per cent seen in the front seats of cars. We estimate that if seat-belt wearing rates by drivers and passengers in vans increased to the levels seen in cars, some 20 deaths, 240 serious casualties and 1,000 slight injuries could be prevented each year.

In order to reduce casualties, we need to increase seat-belt use by goods vehicle users. The House debated changing the current law when the then Railways and Transport Safety Bill came before it in June 2003, when it was agreed that the existing exemption should be changed. Therefore, in accordance with Section 110 of that Act, new regulations must now express the exemption as a maximum distance that may be travelled before a seat belt has to be worn.

As explained to the House last year, the department undertook public consultation on what that prescribed distance should be, suggesting that it should be either 10 metres or 20 metres. However, we invited views on other distances. There were 64 responses from businesses, trade associations, the police and members of the public. Inevitably there were many different views. Some people wanted no exemption at all, while others wanted a significantly greater distance than we had proposed in the consultation document.

All the views received were carefully considered, and we decided that the distance to be specified in the regulations should be 50 metres. That was announced in a letter from the Department of Transport dated 30 September 2004 and sent to everyone who responded to the consultation. A summary of the responses to the consultation, a list of those who had responded and a regulatory impact assessment have also been made available.

The distance of 50 metres provides sufficient flexibility for the majority of vehicle users to undertake their tasks without serious inconvenience. Seat belts today are much better than they were when seat-belt wearing first became compulsory. They are easier to use, more comfortable to wear and we believe that it will not be difficult or unreasonable for users to comply with the new requirement. However, we recognise that some vehicle users who do not currently wear seat belts will have to do so in future. The time spent undoing and doing up seat belts will increase journey times and this may have cost implications for those making frequent stops to deliver or to collect. In some cases this may be because the existing exemption has been interpreted too widely. The requirement of the new regulations better reflects Parliament's original intention and will not seriously inconvenience those who are genuinely making door-to-door deliveries or collections.

This change is now incorporated in Regulation 2(2) of the draft order. It replaces the equivalent exemption provided for in the 1993 seat belt wearing regulations. We have also taken this opportunity to make two minor technical amendments to the 1993 regulations to replace references to the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) Regulations 1987, which have been revoked, with references to the current Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) Regulations 1999. Regulations 2(3) and 2(4) of the draft make these minor changes.

These regulations will apply throughout Great Britain and implement the new provision in the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003, while maintaining the spirit of the original legislation. I commend them to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 8 November be approved [34th Report from the Joint Committee, Session 2003–04].—(Lord Davies of Oldham.]

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the Minister's full and detailed explanation and I am quite content with the order and its contents. I am confident that the police will sensibly implement them.

In 1998 one of my sergeants in the TA unit that I commanded at the time was driving his civilian truck on the M25 motorway. He had an accident and was thrown out of the cab, presumably because he was not wearing a seat belt. Unfortunately, he was travelling over a flyover and did not survive the impact with the ground below. But even without such a problem, if you are not wearing a seat belt and you have a bad accident you will lose control of the vehicle when you do not need to.

So I fully support all regulations on seat belts and I always wear one. As the Minister mentioned, seat belt compliance is only 93 per cent for front seat drivers. That is despite hard-hitting government adverts that are welcome. But it is so disappointing that we cannot move nearer to 100 per cent compliance.

Could we do more? Could we have more road safety advertising—perhaps more advertising in prime time television, not just for seat belts, but for other road safety issues, too? I sometimes see such adverts very late at night. After all, one of the few ways that young people come to grief and a tragic, unexpected end is through a road traffic accident. I am very happy with the order.

Photo of The Earl of Mar and Kellie The Earl of Mar and Kellie Liberal Democrat

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Earl. I should declare that two members of my family drive lorries for their living, so I know who will have to comply with it. I have also consulted my stepson and was interested to hear that he and his colleagues thought that the order would specify 100 metres. Perhaps they were involved in the consultation and are awaiting our views.

Those on these Benches have no difficulty in accepting the order as a piece of road traffic and, ultimately, criminal justice legislation—but I have a small reservation about the precise distance mentioned in the new sub-paragraph; that is, 50 metres.

The existing definition is much too imprecise and appears to condone the non-wearing of seat belts by van drivers and second men in almost any journey where deliveries are made. Just to compound the legal myth, W-registration lorries and older do not require seat belts to be fitted. So the new order will give a much better description of the type of activity which will attract the exemption for seat belt wearing. It will mean that the driver and second man will be required to wear a seat belt at all times, except when actually making deliveries to virtually adjacent properties. This regulation will be easier to keep in spirit than in the letter of the regulation, I fear.

When I was preparing for this short debate, I was also concerned that there seemed to be no definition available about the other substantive matter within the order; that is, the new definition of a "qualified driver", described in sub-paragraph (b), when instructing a learner in reversing manoeuvres. Will the Minister clarify what the new definition will be?

The order will impact on many road users, many of whom will be at work. What will be the Government's approach to informing the public about these changes, or will that just be left to firms to inform their employees? Presumably those employers will have to pay for some of the vans and lorries to be fitted with seat belts—or will they?

Finally, I also hope that the Minister will commit himself to keeping the 50 metre regulation under review. I suspect that we will be asked to amend this to 100 metres in the future. However, I am mindful that our neighbours in Norway are experimenting with the main roads, such as the E18 down to Kristiansand, having a speed limit at 70 kilometres per hour—that is 42.5 miles per hour. That experience has brought road deaths in head-on collisions down to zero.

So, in the spirit of such experimentation from the other side of the North Sea, I am content with the order and its definition of 50 metres. I hope that the Minister will enlighten me regarding people who are teaching reversing.

Photo of Viscount Simon Viscount Simon Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I am delighted that the 50-metre regulation has come into existence. I was one of the consultees who wanted a zero distance, so that people would not be exempted, purely on the basis that there could then be no misunderstanding whatever whether they were wearing seat belts or not. However, 50 metres is a good start.

At the moment, Hackney carriage drivers and drivers of private hire vehicles when carrying a passenger are also exempt, but they are not exempt from being killed in a traffic accident. It is a great shame that, despite the pressure applied on that point when the issue was debated before the legislation was enacted, that issue could not be addressed. Perhaps some thought could be given to removing the exemption for such drivers, so that every driver has to wear a seat belt at all times except for those who are medically exempted. But these regulations represent a good start.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who spoke in the debate and gave broad support to the changes. I hear what the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, said about the fact that we should keep our minds open on whether we have got the figure right. The figure of 100 metres was, of course, the subject of a representation as part of the consultation—it may have surfaced there. As we said, we were going for a much lower figure in our original proposal. We settled on 50 metres as an effective compromise, which we believe will meet the necessary requirements to improve accident records, while giving some recognition that points were made during consultation.

To the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, let me say that, apparently, the department spends £14 million on road safety publicity a year. I am mindful of the fact that, given television rates of advertising, that probably means that those adverts must be restricted to rather less popular slots than some adverts are. Some £1.5 million of that sum is spent on seat belt advertising but, of course, we could always spend a lot more. There is always the question of how one gets publicity across, and from time to time there are significant publicity campaigns on specific issues of road safety. Those are the figures, however, which show that the Government are in earnest and take the question of wearing seat belts seriously.

I understand the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. None of us should be satisfied if there is less than 100 per cent compliance. Nevertheless, 93 per cent compliance with regard to car drivers and their passengers is probably a figure in which we would all have delighted when seat belts were first introduced, when our ambition was fixed a little lower than that, given the inevitable resistance to changing habits.

Therefore, we might draw some solace from the fact that each generation of new drivers cannot be trained by driving instructors unless they are wearing seat belts, and diehard resistance may reduce in time. Certainly, I agree with the noble Earl that there are enough risks involved in driving a motor car without adding to them, as he instanced in his description of one particular tragic accident, by which he showed how much more danger occurs if one is not suitably secured.

The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, asked me about the definition of a qualified driver. The 1999 regulations define qualified driver; these regulations do not change the definition in any way but ensure that the current definition of qualified driver applies—namely, that he is over the age of 21 and has been driving for at least three years.

I hear what my noble friend Lord Simon says. He is always articulate and forceful on road safety issues, and his views need to be treated with the greatest care. Of course, I sympathise entirely with what he says, but he will recognise that there is a degree of recalcitrance. It is making the obvious point to say that compliance by van drivers would be at the same level as that of car drivers and their passengers if the will was there. However, the fact that it is significantly low and gives rise to the additional casualty figures is a measure of the difficulties and problems that we have to overcome.

We are making some progress. I recognise that it is very unlikely that any Minister standing at this Box will ever satisfy the House that we have done everything that we can on road safety. Nevertheless, this is a step in the right direction.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at thirteen minutes past eight o'clock.