Clause 26 - Breach of requirements as to control of vehicle, mobile telephones etc.

Part of Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:15 pm on 28th March 2006.

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Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:15 pm, 28th March 2006

The amendments are probing in nature. They try to address the world as it is rather than as some people might prefer it to be. We contend that in some circumstances, it could be a major safety gain to allow drivers to use a hand-held mobile phone when their vehicles are guaranteed to be stationary. If the car has a manual gearbox, it should be in neutral with the handbrake on, and if it is automatic, the gear lever should be placed firmly in “park”. We are thinking of circumstances such as a young mother caught in a large traffic jam who needs to get a message to her baby-sitter, someone who is collecting a child from school or someone with an elderly relative who needs to warn a carer that they are completely stuck on the M1 and might be stuck for hours. There is a clear case that the mobile phone is a useful safety tool under such circumstances. People have suggested the   possibility of pulling into the nearside lane. When stuck on the M1, as I was the other day, it is not really possible to move lanes.

Ours is a reasonable, common-sense amendment. It is supported by an interesting piece of research that I dug out from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts. It was published by Graham, Cohen, Park and Lissy at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. I shall not go into too much detail—it is a lengthy report at 100 pages long—but, in brief, the report says that the scientific evidence to date on cellular phone use while driving is weighted toward the risk to the driver and passengers as well as other road users. Incredibly little research has been done into the benefits to the users of mobile phones—benefits not just to households, social networks and businesses but to whole communities. Many of those benefits, including public health and safety benefits, have not yet been recognised or quantified.

One of the main topics of the report is improved knowledge of emergencies. The authors have evidence from emergency personnel that because motorists use cellular phones from their cars to report emergencies, emergency personnel are better able to anticipate the emergency situation and what type of equipment might be needed. Emergency workers report that they receive information from multiple callers with different views of the same scene and are better able to distribute their vehicles and manpower.

The other important element is the golden hour, a concept originally described by Dr. R. Adams Cowley. The golden hour is the one-hour period following severe injuries during which getting a patient to accident and emergency has an enormous impact. The likelihood of getting that golden hour is increased enormously by the use of mobile phones. A survey in Australia sounded out 700 cellular phone users on the issue. The report’s conclusion is simple. Enormous benefits are gained from being able to use cellular phones at the appropriate moment, but they have not yet been assessed. Very little research has been done.

Our amendment would allow mobile phone use under clear circumstances: in a traffic jam with no prospect of getting to a phone, or in emergency circumstances when it would be sensible to be allowed to use a hand-held phone. We totally endorse the Government’s view that hand-held phones should not under any circumstances be used when a vehicle is moving.

I turn to our new clause on bicycles. I might get myself into trouble with people who are frequently seen in the popular press on their bicycles, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson). Even my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has frequently been seen using his bike. I do not like to conjecture whether he uses his phone; perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Henley does. The issue is simple: a bicycle is under better control with two hands on the handlebars, not one hand on the handlebars and the other on a hand-held phone. I do not need to elaborate further.