Courses offered as alternative to prosecution: fees etc

Part of Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 21 March 2017.

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Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:45, 21 March 2017

I beg to move amendment 28, in clause 23, page 18, line 22, at end insert—

“(6A) The Secretary of State must collect and publish quarterly statistics relating to fixed penalty notices and diversionary courses, including—

(a) the number of persons issued with a fixed penalty notice after attending a diversionary course,

(b) a breakdown of the number of persons under subsection 6A(a) by police and crime commissioner geographical area.

(6B) The Secretary of State must publish a review into the diversionary courses in place of the issuance of fixed penalty notices, which includes—

(a) effectiveness in improving driver education,

(b) impact on road safety and incidents.”

This amendment requires the Government to collect and publish statistics about reoffending rates for persons issued with fixed penalty notices after a diversionary course and to review the impact and effectiveness of diversionary courses in place of fixed penalty notices.

We now come to yet another subject area in the Bill, which is that of courses offered as an alternative to prosecution. The clause makes a change to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 that would provide the legal basis for policing bodies to charge a fee to a person who enrols on a course offered in England and Wales in relation to a fixed penalty notice.

The amendment seeks to achieve two reasonable things. First, it would require the Government to collect and publish statistics about reoffending rates for persons issued with fixed penalty notices after a diversionary course. The second purpose is to review the impact and effectiveness of diversionary courses in place of fixed penalty notices.

I start from the premise that all members of the Committee, the Government, the police, the crime commissioners and all chief constables want our roads to be as safe as possible. We have some of the safest roads in the world, but as the Transport Committee and road safety campaigners—unanimously—and the Labour party will recognise, progress has stalled rather worryingly since 2010. The latest rolling figures show that there has been no reduction in total road deaths and a 2% increase in serious casualties in the past 12 months alone.

Clause 23 is simply a technical change that will clarify existing practices of policing bodies charging a fee to a person who enrols on a course offered in England and Wales as an alternative to a fixed penalty notice. The amendment does not waste the opportunity critically to consider the effectiveness of diversionary courses and fixed penalty notices within the context of our stalled progress on road safety. By publishing reoffending rates statistics by police and crime commissioner area, we will be able to see for ourselves the effectiveness of different practices across different regions. That would in no way encroach on the operational independence of any police force but would allow a route to finding best practice. It would also go some way to help the second aspect of our amendment, which would require the Government to review the effectiveness of diversionary courses.

It is imperative that there is some founded basis on which to establish whether these courses are worth while and, if so, how much. I recall that at a recent Westminster Hall debate on road traffic law enforcement, the Minister’s transport colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Andrew Jones assured us that fixed penalty notices are

“an effective way to proceed.”—[Official Report, 23 February 2017; Vol. 621, c. 493WH.]

However, a subsequent written answer, which I received from the same hon. Gentleman, made two very interesting points. First, he clarified that the Department for Transport has

“no record of how many participants have since reoffended”.

That is, since taking such a course. Secondly, the answer went on to say that the Department is commissioning research with the Road Safety Trust to

“look at a number of aspects of the speed awareness course, including the impact of the courses on reoffending rates”.

Can we assume from that written answer that collection of such statistics will start promptly? Does the Minister know whether the collection of that data has started? Otherwise, what is the value for taxpayers of commissioning research when we simply do not know the reoffending rates for people who have been on diversionary courses, nor whether that rate at which drivers involved in serious road incidents attended a course?

I will end my argument by accepting that collecting such data would by no means be a silver bullet to kick-start the stalled progress that has been made towards safer roads. The Government could take on board our call to reinstate national road safety targets, which coincidentally were scrapped at the same time as road safety stagnation. Perhaps that could be considered at a later stage of the Bill.

The Government might also want to heed the warnings about the capacity we have these days to enforce our laws effectively. According to the response to my written question on 1 February, official figures show that since 2010 the number of police officers outside the Met who have road policing functions has fallen from 5,337 to 3,436. That is a cut of around a third. If forces do not have the resources to do their job effectively, all too often it is the road traffic policing that falls off the end of the list of priorities. As the Institute of Advanced Motorists has summarised perfectly, falling levels of enforcement risk developing a culture in which being caught is seen as a matter of bad luck rather than of bad driving.

If we want to return year-on-year falls in road casualties, it would be worth while approving the amendment today, so that we can have a clearer evidence base on which to make decisions about how far fixed penalty notices or diversionary courses should be used. We also need to consider what more can be done on the enforcement of our existing laws, so that we can ensure that the Bill exploits the opportunities it has to improve the situation, rather than waste them.