Clause 22 - Breach of requirements as to control of vehicle, mobile telephones etc.

Part of Road Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 27th January 2005.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 11:00 am, 27th January 2005

What the Minister said contains, as one would expect, a lot of common sense. One expects that from people who used to serve on Wandsworth council, as she did. However, I am not sure that the common sense she has articulated is shared by all the cycling fraternity. There seems to be a feeling—reflected in some of the press comment when we let it be known that we would be tabling the amendment—that they are not doing anything wrong when cycling and using a mobile phone. The point that the hon. Lady makes is that by that sort of behaviour they are more likely to cause injury to themselves than to other road users, but surely the same argument applies to seatbelt laws. Adults who fail to put on seatbelts are normally jeopardising their own safety, rather than the safety of others. We have a responsibility as a legislature to ensure that there are laws that result in a reduction in the number of injuries and fatalities on our roads.

The Minister has not explained why she believes that there should be a specific offence of driving while using a mobile phone that carries a mandatory endorsement for motorists, but no specific offence of cycling while using a mobile phone. I do not understand the comparison. Driving while using a mobile phone is a serious issue, and the Government are addressing that with a specific penalty, although one could say that it is only one of a type of behaviour that incorporates not taking proper care of one's own safety while travelling on the road. However, exactly the same principles surely apply to cyclists. Either it is wrong that both cyclists and drivers should have that particular offence specified as an example and used against them, or it is right that we should single out that offence as an example because it is so widespread; probably more widespread than eating apples at the wheel. One can see that there may be an argument for a specific offence, but surely that argument applies just as much to cyclists as it does to drivers.

I am not convinced by the Minister's argument that, because the consequence of that behaviour is likely to result only in damage to the cyclist, rather than other road users, it is less unacceptable. She said that there is no evidence that cyclists cause accidents while using mobile phones. I have anecdotal evidence from my constituency that people feel intimidated by cyclists who are using pavements and mobile phones at the same time. If the police were going to give cyclists a fixed penalty, it would be much easier if they had a specific offence with which they could charge the cyclist, rather than having to go to enormous expense, perhaps using helicopters, to establish that the cyclist was causing a danger to themselves or others.