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

Part of Road Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 27th January 2005.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 10:45 am, 27th January 2005

The amendment concerns the pedal cycle equivalence provision that I wish to incorporate into the Bill. From what the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins) said in Transport questions on 21 December, she is already wedded to the amendment.

If people are cycling and using mobile phones at the same time, they present a hazard, not only to themselves but to other road users. Indeed, only last Saturday I was driving through the village of Bransgore in the New Forest and I had to spend quite a long time following a cyclist who was negotiating the bends while using his mobile phone. He was completely oblivious to the traffic conditions surrounding him and was putting himself at danger. Had he not been in front of such a careful, considerate and patient driver, there might well have been an accident.

Ironically—and sadly—a fatality was caused in that same village last year as a result of a pedestrian using a mobile phone. She was so absorbed in the conversation that she stepped off the pavement into the path of another vehicle and was killed. We cannot legislate to require pedestrians not to use mobile phones. However, we can send out a strong message to all road users that the use of mobile phones can result in their not paying sufficient care and attention to what is happening and thereby putting themselves and others in danger.

''It is already an offence to be in charge of a cycle while not properly in control of it. I would argue that using a mobile phone while cycling demonstrates that the cyclist is not cycling safely. I understand that Conservative Members occasionally use mobile phones while cycling.''

Perhaps some do, but certainly not me. The Minister continued:

''I consulted my local community police officer, who informed me that he certainly considers cycling while using a mobile phone to be an unsafe practice.''—[Official Report, 21 December 2004; Vol. 428, c. 2048.]

If cycling while using a mobile phone is an unsafe and undesirable practice and the Minister thinks that it is already a breach of the law, why should there be a specific offence that applies to motorists but no specific offence that applies to cyclists? I would be grateful for any explanation to justify such a distinction.

The episode of the driver who was turning left while trying to catch up on her breakfast and eating an apple—following the Government's five-a-day principle, no doubt—was well reported in many newspapers, including the Daily Mail. The press response was one of surprise that the person concerned was committing an offence. The main outrage was that some £10,000 or more of public money was spent securing a conviction.

If driving while eating an apple and not paying attention is equivalent to driving while using a mobile phone, reading a newspaper or whatever, why are we singling out one particular example, rather than relying on the generality of the construction and use regulations, which are currently the law?

I fear that identifying a particular example as a specific offence might undermine the general message that people should have full control over their vehicles while they are driving and, indeed, full control over their bicycles while they are cycling. That is the import of the amendment, which would make it apparent that the Government accept that vulnerable road users, even though they do not happen to be at the wheel of a car, owe a duty to themselves and others.