Clause 16 - Retro-reflective markings

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 23rd March 2006.

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Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East 2:45 pm, 23rd March 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 95, in clause 16, page 21, line 14, leave out ‘may’ and insert ‘shall, by 2007,’.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

With this it will be convenient to consider amendment No. 77, in clause 62, page 59, line 7, at end insert—

‘()Section 16 shall come into force on 1st January 2007’.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

I am aware that the clause, which deals with retro-reflective markings for heavy goods vehicles above 7.5 tonne in weight, was inserted as an amendment to the Bill in the other place. I will not detain the Committee by reading out the full description of the vehicles that it covers. I am also aware that my hon. Friend the Minister has tabled an amendment to remove the clause, and I look forward to hearing his reasoning on that.

The issue has been debated for more than two years now and the Government have given various excuses as to why no action can be taken at present, at least by Britain unilaterally. Currently, under both the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 and United Nations Economic Commission for Europe regulation 48, which regulates installation of lighting and reflective devices on vehicles, retro-reflective tape can be fitted to HGVs but it is not mandatory. Installation is at the discretion of the manufacturer or user. A technical specification—UNECE regulation 104 for high quality retro-reflective tape—is available for the manufacture of such tape and the tape is commercially available. It can be used to emphasise the contours of large vehicles, especially their length and width.

I use the motorways quite a lot, as I guess many hon. Members do, mainly to travel between my constituency and London. Most HGVs are now extremely well lit— some are over-lit and look like Christmas trees as they approach—but others are extremely poorly lit and are not clearly conspicuous at night and in conditions of poor visibility. They are obviously more conspicuous on lit roads, but on country lanes without lighting they can be very dangerous. The Transport Research Laboratory, whose work I admire, has estimated that 30 to 34 occupants of cars are killed every year in collisions with the tail end of HGVs and that another 40 to 44 people are killed in collisions with the side of HGVs.   Those are not insignificant numbers, and we have to remember that serious injuries also result from such collisions.

Large vehicles represent a traffic hazard, especially when they are moving slowly relative to the other vehicles on the road or are stationary. When slowly crossing a stream of traffic at a crossroads, for example, they are especially hazardous if they are not properly lit. Accident data suggest that larger vehicles are over-represented in fatal accidents. In 2003, HGVs represented only 1.7 per cent. of all vehicles on the road, yet they were involved in 15 per cent. of accidents that resulted in a fatality. They travelled six times the average distance travelled by a car per year, so those figures are not surprising.

I feel that my hon. Friend the Minister will tell us that we can make progress on this issue without the need for the clause, but my worry is that he said on Second Reading that

“it may be 2010 before the provision comes in, and that is the issue on which we need to agree.”—[Official Report, 8 March 2006; Vol. 443, c. 912.]

The EU regulations to which I understand he may refer are not expected to come into force until 2011 at the earliest. By then, hundreds more people will have collided with the tail ends and sides of HGVs and been killed or injured, sometimes seriously. The families that will be traumatised will not forgive the Government if we delay implementing this life-saving measure much longer. As my noble Friend Lord Berkeley said—this is a no-brainer—in the debate that inserted the clause into the Bill:

“Apparently, the powers exist. Let us get on and do it.”—[Official Report, House of Lords; 22 November 2005; Vol. 675, c. 1529.]

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Gentleman, with whom I am in total agreement. The intention of our amendment No. 77, to which I would like to speak, is identical to that of amendment No. 95, which he tabled.

We have a unique chance now. The proposals have all-party support, and we have pushed the Government to a tantalising point. I will shut up soon, as I want to hear what the Minister has to say on the matter. The case is overwhelming. The hon. Member for Bolton, South-East made the key point that the preponderance of accidents involving heavy goods vehicles could be avoided if they could be seen better. Some 45 per cent. of all fatalities caused by road accidents occur in darkness, and the university of Darmstadt found that 37 per cent. of all side collisions with trucks at night occurred because the trucks were seen too late. The same study found that adding retro-reflective contour markings reduced accidents involving trucks and passenger cars in poor visibility conditions by 95 per cent. That is an astonishing figure. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the extra number of collisions. At a rate of 385 a year, by my arithmetic—perhaps the Minister is quicker than me—there will be 1,540 more collisions if we do not introduce this measure until 2011.

It seems to me that we have an overwhelming case. On Second Reading, the Minister mentioned the cost. We stress that the proposal would cost about £100 for each new vehicle. Such vehicles cost about £100,000 each. I have a figure of £17,760 million as the total cost to the UK of road accidents in 2001. That includes all the costs of health care, police, emergency services and so on. We would be asking the freight industry to spend £100 on every new heavy goods vehicle, and many of those vehicles will be worth more than £100,000. The measure could result in a saving for the industry, as the average cost of having a 7.5 tonne lorry off the road is £212 per day, according to my figures. The freight industry would be quids in as well.

In 2005, the Government commissioned a report by Loughborough university, which concluded that there is a cost benefit for fitting line or contour markings to newly registered HGVs of more than 7.5 tonne in weight. The Government then launched a consultation, and of the responses, only 71 opposed mandatory retro-reflective markings. The Government spent the money on the report and conducted a consultation, and both were strongly in favour of mandatory markings. We now hope this afternoon that the Minister will act. We have crept from a situation in which his predecessors in this place and Ministers in the other place saying that new powers had to be introduced. His predecessor in March 2004 said that we had to wait for information from the European Commission. The Commission came out strongly in favour of markings. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins), then an Under-Secretary of State for Transport, said that there had to be a review and consultation. Baroness Crawley confirmed that if there was

“a more favourable cost/benefit ratio ... My department will now consider how best ... to take this forward.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4 July 2005; Vol. 673, c. 439.]

There was consultation, which was overwhelmingly in favour, and the Minister said on Second Reading that we could make progress on the issue without legislation.

However, the Minister then stated that

“it may be 2010 before the provision comes in, and that is the issue on which we need to agree.”—[Official Report, 8 March 2006; Vol. 443, c. 912.]

This issue falls into the second category that I mentioned in discussing the programme motion on Tuesday. We would withdraw our proposal if the Minister gave a guarantee that, if he has the powers, he would get on with it. Markings would offer rapid benefits, as was clearly explained by the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East. I do not understand what is holding the Government back. They have consulted, they have the European information and they have categorical statistical certainty from the university of Darmstadt that the measure will work. If the Minister has the powers, will he tell us this afternoon that he will introduce the requirement by 2007, thereby enabling us to withdraw the amendment?

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

This measure is really why we are here. It is the sort of measure that is inexpensive to introduce. It does not require haulage owners to have a long lead-in time to implement it. When ordering any new trucks this year, they would know that from 1 January next year the trucks would have to bear the markings. That would not be an onerous task for them, and the markings save lives. I cannot understand why the Minister is prevaricating about such a simple life-saving issue and I believe that the Committee should support the proposal.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:00 pm, 23rd March 2006

I rise briefly to support the amendments. I declare an interest because, a long time ago, in 1978, my late stepfather was killed when travelling south on a dual carriageway section of the A1. He drove under a lorry that was squatting in the central reservation; it had left its trailer in the fast lane and it was on an unlit section. My stepfather was obviously using dipped headlights, and at the inquest it was proven that his reaction time was so limited that no one travelling at 70 mph could have stopped in time. My point is that a disproportionate number of accidents in which people hit the trailers of articulated lorries, or indeed fixed-chassis lorries, are either fatal or very serious.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East and Opposition Members have made a persuasive case, and were I going to recommend that clause 16 stand part of the Bill I would accept my hon. Friend’s amendment and allow it to come into force from 2007. However, I fear that I am not going to recommend that.

The simple situation is that we already have the powers to permit retro-reflective tape on lorries, so if, as the hon. Member for North Shropshire suggests, there is an economic benefit for the haulage industry in putting it on their new vehicles, the industry can do so now. However, we cannot make it a requirement, because of obligations under United Nations Economic Commission for Europe measures and EU directives, which mean that we are unable to make any unilateral requirement of vehicles in this country. Were we try to change the legislation in the way suggested, our partners in the European Union would certainly object and take infraction proceedings against us. Given that the European Union has indicated that it will bring its own lighting regulations into line with the UNECE measures—as soon as they have been clarified—and that we will then be able to require markings on all vehicles, the amendment and the clause are redundant and perhaps illegal.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

I would be prepared to withdraw my amendment if my hon. Friend can cite a date earlier than 2011. If he cannot, will he give a pledge to the Committee that we will try to bring that date forward? We cannot wait until 2011.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I cannot give my hon. Friend a precise date, because the EU directive cannot come into force until the UNECE regulations have been drafted. At the moment, we understand that that could be in 2010,   but it could be a little later. I can assure him that in so far as I can influence the date, I will do my best to make it as early as possible. Were we to pass clause 16 as it stands, we would certainly be breaking EU law and proceedings would be taken against us.

With the greatest regret, I have to advise the Committee not to accept my hon. Friend’s proposed amendment—although I suppose that the Whip may wish us to accept my hon. Friend’s amendment to give him a brief moment of success in a Committee before I advise the Committee not to allow the clause to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That was a disappointing statement, because the figures scream at us. Occupants of commercial goods vehicles account for only 8 per cent. of all casualties on trunk roads, yet accidents involving such vehicles account for 26 per cent. of the total. In essence, what the Minister has said is that he is not prepared to fight his case with the European Commission, so the present position will remain until 2011 and there will be 1,540 more collisions. That is unacceptable to the Opposition, so we shall press the amendment to the vote. It would have benefits that are simple to understand. If the material was placed on trucks it would reduce the number of collisions by 385 a year. We think that that is a good idea.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

There could be an opportunity to vote on amendment No. 77 later. We are now considering amendment No. 95.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

Reluctantly, I will ask leave to withdraw the amendment. I do not like breaking the law, although I am tempted to break certain European laws because they are barmy. It is a personal opinion, but I think it is barmy that we have to wait until 2011 to save   lives. States like Britain should be given the chance to go ahead on these sorts of issues unilaterally without having to wait for the rest of Europe to join us.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I remind my hon. Friend that we have the powers to permit the tape, but not to require it. We do not need new powers in order to permit it.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

I accept my hon. Friend’s point. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We are strongly in favour of the clause and think that it should stand part of the Bill.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 9.

Division number 4 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 16 - Retro-reflective markings

Aye: 4 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

NOES

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 16 disagreed to.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Roy.]

Adjourned accordingly at eight minutes past Three o’clock till Tuesday 28 March at half-past Ten o’clock.