It is usual in Adjournment debates to congratulate the person who has been successful in securing the debate. As the debate was initiated by the Government, however, it would be inappropriate to congratulate myself.
I particularly welcome such an early opportunity to speak about the Government's record on road safety and our plans for the future. I also welcome to the debate the hon. Members for Poole (Mr. Syms) and for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) who are to speak for the Opposition parties. They may know more about this subject than I do--or, at least, they may be more familiar with some of the topics. However, I assure the hon. Member for Poole, who is shaking his head, that I have grasped some of the issues, in particular the considerable importance of this subject to all hon. Members.
The Government consider road safety to be a priority. The issue affects everyone and plays a fundamental role in our society in terms of health, environment and education. In the previous Parliament, we published a road safety strategy to underpin our goal for 2010 to reduce road deaths and serious injuries by 40 per cent. and by 50 per cent. for children. It is a sad fact that, although our record on road safety generally is very good, our record on road safety for children is not good at all--in fact, it is one of the worst in Europe.
The road safety strategy will help to meet a number of Government targets. The strategy will help to meet the Government's overall targets to cut accidents from all causes; to improve our child road safety record; to help wider environmental objectives, particularly the reduction of CO2 and other emissions, such as nitrous oxide, and of course the reduction of noise; to build stronger communities and form part of measures to regenerate urban areas and marginalised communities; and to tackle road crime, such as dangerous driving, thus playing a key role in the wider crime reduction agenda.
It is a sobering thought that far more people die on the roads in this country than die using any other mode of transport. Last year, there were more than 3,400 deaths on our roads and 38,000 serious injuries. The long-term misery caused by these accidents--both to those who are injured and to their families--cannot and should not be underestimated. Some people never recover properly from their injuries, which may result in lifelong impairment. I am keen to make a difference and to promote policies that are proven to make a difference. The foundations for that were laid in March 2000 in our road safety strategy "Tomorrow's roads: safer for everyone" by my predecessor, Lord Whitty. We have set ourselves some challenging targets for reducing deaths and serious injuries and it is essential that we meet those targets.
Such targets cannot be met, however, without the active co-operation of other people. In many respects, road safety is a local matter. Local authorities and police forces have the biggest role to play, but schools, health visitors and the voluntary sector all have their place too. I visited Gloucester last week to look at the safer city project, with which my hon. Friend Mr. Drew may be familiar. It underlines the importance of co-operation among all those involved in safety in that area. I was impressed with their record on that scheme.
We should not forget that some of the most recent advances have come about through safer car design. We must, therefore, involve the motor industry. One year on from the start of the 10-year plan, it may be time to pause and ask ourselves some searching questions. Last year, we set a target that, in our opinion, was tough but achievable, if certain measures were adopted.
We must decide what is the acceptable level of casualties on our roads. In Bristol last week, at a road safety seminar that was organised by my Department, Dutch and Swedish speakers said that, given the money and the will, they could design their road system so that death and serious injury on the road would become a thing of the past. They were talking about sizeable sums of money and, it must be said, some inconvenience for motorists which some would call an attack on freedom. It is wrong to characterise road safety measures as anti-motorist, not least because drivers and their passengers make up the greatest number of casualties. Road safety measures are pro-motorist, at least in relation to the majority of responsible motorists. We must decide what we want. I do not intend to answer all those questions today, but I want this Chamber to reflect on some of the measures. We must decide what we are prepared to put up with, if that means less death and serious injury.
This debate is timely. We have just published the road casualty figures for 2000. They make fairly encouraging reading in most respects. For most road users, deaths and serious injuries are down. There were 9 per cent. fewer child deaths and serious injuries than in 1999. Alas, motor cycle casualties are moving in the opposite direction. Last year, there were 605 deaths and nearly 6,800 serious injuries. We are, however, on track to meet the targets that we set last year.
I cannot list everything that we have done since the strategy was published, but I will mention a few of the actions that we have taken. Our priority is to reduce child accidents, particularly pedestrian accidents where our record is not as good as that of some of our European counterparts. Our record is improving, but last year 107 child pedestrians were killed. In total, 191 children were killed in road accidents last year. That means that there were about two pedestrian accidents a day. We have only to imagine those numbers. The equivalent of a small primary school is being wiped out each year as a result of deaths through road injuries.
We have started a new national pilot programme of child pedestrian training using the Kerbcraft approach, which research showed worked well in Drumchapel, a suburb of Glasgow. The key feature of the scheme is that volunteers are trained to instruct the children by paid local organisers. Bids for the first three tranches of local posts are due to be submitted by
We have published various road safety education materials, and, not least, the lesson plans that go with them. As a former teacher, I know how useful lesson plans can be. Many of our actions will benefit children, as well as others. Some of the materials available at the road safety conference last week, especially those for use with young children, do not necessarily supplant other parts of the curriculum. The sort of materials that could be used in the literacy hour--the big book approach, as I think that it is called in the early years--were shown and used successfully with younger children.
We must improve the way in which we train our drivers. We may never produce experienced drivers just by instructing them and putting them through a test. In 1998, 13 per cent. of drivers involved in injury accidents were aged 17 to 21, which is disproportionate to the overall number of drivers. That age group accounts for only 7 per cent. of licence holders. The accident propensity falls by 35 to 40 per cent. among 17 to 18-year-olds as a result of them gaining experience in the first year. We hope to improve on that figure. In the autumn, we hope to consult about a new way of structuring training for learner drivers. Our plans to add a visual test to the driver theory test are well advanced. That test will assess how quickly drivers see hazards. For more experienced drivers, we expect a report to be published in the autumn on work-related driving from an independent taskforce studying work-related accidents and what employers and employees alike can do about them.
It is extremely useful to hear the Minister present this report one year into the Government's 10-year road safety strategy and 10-year plan for casualty reduction. He raises many issues that will be resolved in the next 12 months. Can he give a commitment that the Government will issue an annual report of this sort to parliamentarians, so that we can continue to monitor their progress and contribute ideas, as we shall today?
My hon. Friend has raised an important point. The figures that I have announced are reported annually. It would be timely to have an annual debate because there is so much interest in the issue in the House. Back Benchers may seek an Adjournment debate themselves or the Government may initiate a further debate on the subject. I shall take that idea to my Department and reflect on how best to produce on-going figures. We need to see how those figures change to assess whether our policies are successfully achieving their targets.
We still have a drink-drive problem. Surveys illustrate that about 1 per cent. of drivers are above the legal limit at any given moment. There are more than 400 deaths a year as a result of accidents in which at least one driver is over the legal limit. Many of those people are impervious to persuasion and must be caught. We are currently drafting a safety Bill and are considering whether to take the opportunity to improve police powers for that purpose and to introduce better ways to combat drink-driving, and drug-driving, which we now know a lot more about. We also need to tackle the problem of tired drivers. It would be difficult to legislate for that, but our research has provided more information, which we have passed on to the public as advice. We need to do more about that, and we will.
As I said earlier, last week I was in Bristol at my Department's annual conference on road safety. At that conference, we launched the first edition of a good practice guide on road safety, aimed mainly at people new to the area of road safety. We need more of them to deliver our expanded programme of integrated local transport. Last December's allocations gave scope for 8,000 local safety schemes to be completed in the next five years. We may not get it right first time. I am sure that experienced professionals will spot ways of improving the guide, but we will revise it from time to time. However, it is the first time that we have published a guide that gives so much detailed guidance to those involved with road safety.
In Bristol, we also launched a report on the Gloucester safer city project. The objective of that programme was to find out what would happen if a strategic approach that involved everybody--including local politicians--were taken in one city. It was successful. Early results indicate that, although the number of deaths and serious injuries is not sufficiently high for reductions to be statistically significant, since the programme began 38 per cent. fewer people have been killed or seriously injured--that is about 19 people a year. That demonstrates that a concentrated, driven effort can achieve results. Both these projects underline the importance of local safety initiatives. Local people, not central Government, know where the problems lie.
It is the job of Government to promote best practice and organise demonstration projects, and we will continue to do that. We have sought, and are evaluating, bids from many authorities to demonstrate measures on how to prevent the many accidents that happen on high streets, as we said that we would in the strategy. Those that we select will work with us to implement about five demonstration schemes on mixed-priority urban roads next year. We must tackle the matter of road safety on our high streets--which are also through routes--if we want towns to grow, regenerate, and be safe and pleasant places in which to live.
We have started to examine how to control traffic speeds. We are considering the first year's results of the pilot schemes to meet the costs of operating speed and red light cameras systematically. We will announce our conclusions as soon as possible. We are also well advanced with the report on rural road hierarchies that we owe to Parliament by the end of November. The aim of the report is to classify roads by use, in order to decide on and review speed limits. My hon. Friend Mr. McWalter, who sponsored the Adjournment debate held in the House on Tuesday night, may take an interest in that scheme.
We have taken to heart the point--made by the Automobile Association and others--that motorists need to feel that speed limits are right. That is a huge job and it marks a departure from a provider-driven approach to a user-driven one. We continue to press in Brussels and Geneva for higher vehicle standards, which are important factors in reducing the effects of accidents, as well as in preventing them. We support the safety ratings that are published on new cars across Europe. They are a British invention and, in the next leap forward, we would like to see the introduction of pedestrian-friendly car fronts.
The Government are the first for a long time to have engaged motor cyclists--and the motor cycle industry--in constructive dialogue on safety and other matters. Just before the election, my hon. Friend Ms Blears, now the Under-Secretary for State for Health, initiated a short debate on the issue. The recent increase in motor cycle accidents seems to be due to commuters travelling on mopeds and scooters. We must improve training. Last January, we introduced a training requirement for those with a driving licence who want to ride a moped. That will affect only new licence holders. Motor cyclists and the motor cycle industry accept that that is a problem that requires urgent action.
There was a welcome drop in the year 2000 figures for pedestrian and cycling casualties. That may be due to our continued efforts to protect such vulnerable road users by traffic-calming measures in residential areas and by increasing cyclists' interest in training schemes. It is possible to encourage walking and cycling while keeping the number of casualties down. Some of the better local authorities have demonstrated that it can be done.
The UK has a long and distinguished record on road safety publicity--so much so that the French are borrowing some of our ideas. We discovered that new campaigns fortify old ones, so we launched the Think! brand for all of them. Yesterday, we launched our latest Think! campaign, which is about speeding in towns and the significance of the stopping distances that we all learned--and have probably forgotten--for our driving tests. The physics of stopping distances is simple. Our television advertisement shows the difference between travelling at 30 mph and 35 mph. One needs 21 ft or 6.4 m more stopping distance just for that extra 5 mph. The Government's Think! campaign asks that motorists think about excess speed, particularly in busy high streets where children are going to school or pensioners are going to collect their pensions from the post office. We also ask drivers in the 30 mph zones to reflect on whether 30 mph is an appropriate speed at which to travel. We ask motorists to think about children on the roads, to consider whether the roads are wet, to consider the prevailing conditions and to obey not just the speed limits but to use good sense when driving.
I hope that my introductory remarks have underlined both the Government's and my personal commitment to road safety. I look forward to listening to and learning from the contributions to this important debate.
I declare an interest. I am a director of a family business involved in building and road haulage. I do so in case I stray on to that subject and someone was to pick me up on that.
As I said privately to you earlier, Madam Deputy Speaker, I may have to leave before the end of the debate so that I can drive--safely--to Poole to attend a meeting early this evening. I apologise if I am not present to hear all the contributions, in particular the Minister's winding-up speech.
I welcome the Minister to his new post. I much enjoyed sparring with his predecessor, Keith Hill, who is now Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household. I have no doubt that that tradition will continue with the current Minister, whom I have always found to be a genial and straight individual. I welcome the fact that the first debate that he has brought to this Chamber is on road safety. From the research that I have done on the topic, I see that he has certainly hit the ground running with the campaigns in Bristol and Gloucester.
The issue is vital. We seem to have adopted a different attitude to modes of transport and to the number of people killed or injured on the roads. Bearing in mind the personal tragedies that the Minister pointed out and the cost, which is estimated at £11 billion to the nation, we should all do more to reduce to an absolute minimum the number of tragedies that occur on our roads.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr. Bottomley who, when he was a Minister, was the first to set targets. I congratulate the Government on setting stringent targets--40 per cent. and 50 per cent. for children--for the future. It is correct to say that we have a good safety record in this country except on children, who must become a real priority. As the Minister said, the most recent figures issued show that we have made progress. However, it is becoming more difficult to make progress and to keep the pressure on.
The issue involves not only drivers, but cyclists, motor cyclists and pedestrians. Years ago, I was always told that, when driving, I should watch out for footballs if kids were about. I now watch people in London with mobile phones attached to their ear. They step straight off the pavement before they look left and right. That may be a matter for public education in the Minister's television advertising campaign. Many people who are engrossed in a conversation with their hairdresser or whoever have stepped out in front of a vehicle. I have seen many embarrassed people step out in front of a car, but fortunately the driver has been able to stop.
I welcome the Government's overall strategy and the high priority given to road safety, and it is good news that there is a good practice guide. A new television advertising campaign is definitely the right way forward. I agree with the Minister that it is good to focus at local level, because local people and local councils know where the problems lie.
There is sometimes a problem with the collection of statistics. Police forces do not collect many statistics for accidents, particularly for injuries sustained in accidents. People often complain that they will have to wait until someone is killed before something is done about a dreadful stretch of road where there have been several accidents but no one has been seriously injured. More of these statistics need to be included, so that appropriate measures can be taken.
In our recent very popular manifesto, we set out the Conservative party's policy. We are committed to setting up a road standards unit to collect statistics. One thing that we have not done well in this country is to produce performance indicators for roads. Australia and many other countries have gone further with that, so they can have better measurements for the flow of traffic, safety and design. Just as the rail industry has people to investigate problems, a road casualty investigation branch should be set up with the specific objective of looking at stretches of road, collecting statistics and making recommendations. As in the design of vehicles, the design of roads is an important factor in reducing casualties.
We have several concerns. We are slightly concerned that some of the home zone proposals will give a false sense of security to those who play on the roads. The Minister made a good point about speed: the lower the speed, the shorter the stopping distance. I was glad that he gave the distances in both feet and metres, which will please some of my constituents. If one is unfortunate enough to have an accident, the chances of getting away with a less serious injury are fairly substantial at a low speed.
One of the great successes of the past 25 years has been in relation to drink driving. The vast majority of people accept the drink-driving limit. Attitudes have changed and driving beyond the limit is frowned upon. I am concerned that we should not reduce a sensible limit that has worked well over the past 20 or 30 years. However, the evidence is that those who substantially break the limit are sometimes two or three times over it. There seems to be a hard core of drinkers. Penalties should focus on those who drink substantially over the limit and are the main cause of the problem.
Early in the last Parliament we heard from Canadians who had looked at the possibility of confiscating cars. In this country where we have company cars and cars bought on hire purchase that may not be such a workable proposal. But the focus must be on the hard core of heavy drinkers. If we reduce the present drink-driving limit, which has worked well, we will start to lose support from people who want to go out and have a glass of wine with a meal. They would never exceed the limit but they may feel that lowering the limit is setting an unfair agenda.
When I looked into this I found that offenders who exceed the legal limit for alcohol in their blood when driving break down into two equal groups: one group comprises the frequent heavy drinkers who, as the hon. Gentleman says, massively exceed the legal limit, and the other comprises those who are somewhere around the legal limit. Research shows that once the quantity of alcohol exceeds 50 mg per 100 ml of blood, a person's judgment is much more restricted. Would it not therefore make sense to have a two-pronged approach? The first would be to tackle the high-risk offenders and the second would be to consider the limit of 50 mg instead of 80 mg.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, but if one looks at the accident charts one can see that the arrow quickly shoots up into the air when people start to go beyond the limit. The main focus must be on the heavy drinkers--the people who do not know what day it is and whether they have hit three cars--rather than on changing a limit that is widely supported and works well.
It always amazes me that so many people on NHS-prescribed drugs continue to drive. I am concerned that people do not always read what is written on the packet. People are sometimes drugged up to the eyeballs on NHS prescriptions, yet drive because it is part of their everyday life. That needs to be examined. The Minister talked about tiredness--an important subject, which any hon. Member representing a Plymouth constituency could raise. It is good that there are more motorway service stations than previously and that road network provision has improved with places to pull in, although we do not provide as many toilets by the side of the road as we should.
The issue of road safety will not be a great political battleground. There is House-wide support for making improvements. It will be hard to do so, but if we follow the Minister's creative examples of a good practice guide and a television campaign, we should continue to make progress. I look forward to congratulating him at the end of his period in office. If he does nothing other than make good progress in road safety, he will deserve our congratulations.
Unfortunately, hon. Members are not as yet permitted in this Parliament to address me in that way. I regret it and hope that it will not be long before I get the distinction and honour that I richly deserve.
I am with you on that, Mr. Winterton.
I declare a non-pecuniary interest in the debate in that I co-chair the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety with Mr. Bottomley, who has already been mentioned in this debate. PACTS is a registered charity which provides research-based solutions to and impartial advice on all aspects of transport safety. Its main aim is to save lives. PACTS has established positions on several road safety issues--to which I will refer later--including wearing seat belts, the reduction in the maximum permitted blood-alcohol level for drivers, the deployment of safety cameras and the improvement in vehicle design. I shall make it clear when I am explaining the PACTS position. Otherwise, the content of my speech reflects my personal opinions.
In Great Britain in 1999, five people died in transport incidents at sea, six died in air transport-related incidents, 43 died on our railways--mainly in the Paddington rail crash--and 885 people were the victims of homicide. In comparison, 3,404 people lost their lives on the roads. In an Adjournment debate last Tuesday, the Minister gave the figure for road deaths in 2000: another 3,409 people. Why do we tolerate such a huge loss of life year after year? In fairness to the Labour Government since 1997 and the previous Conservative Government, the death toll fell by one third between 1990 and 1999. Being fairer still to them both, the previous Conservative Government set a target to drive down the number of road deaths, as did the Labour Government. The Government now aim to reduce deaths by 40 per cent.--50 per cent. in the case of children--by 2010. The same targets apply for reducing serious injuries.
I welcome the Minister to his job and thank him wholeheartedly for this early opportunity to debate road safety. It allows us to express our horror at such continual loss of life, to call for action to achieve and exceed the Government's target for reducing road deaths, and to contribute our ideas for reducing the carnage.
I start by considering speed management. If a car travelling at 40 mph hits a child, there is a one in 20 chance of that child surviving; if the car travels at 20 mph, the survival rate is 19 in 20. However, that should not lead us to conclude that reducing vehicle speed across the board makes roads safer because, conversely, there are situations where slow speeds represent a danger. Nor is reducing the legal speed limit synonymous with reducing vehicle speed. About two thirds of drivers already break the 30 mph speed limit, which tells us that we face big challenges in both education and enforcement if we are to persuade drivers to mind their speed.
Education might begin with a reminder that drivers should match their speed with the prevailing road conditions. In many daily situations, that will mean that the appropriate speed is less than the posted maximum--an obvious example being when driving in fog or approaching a sharp bend. The Government and many organisations, including PACTS, accept the argument that excess speed, breaking the speed limit, and inappropriate speed, driving too fast for the conditions, contribute to as many as one in three road deaths. Some groups argue that that overstates the significance of speed in road deaths. Other factors are involved in many deaths on our roads, but nothing is wrong in recognising the risk that speed represents and in acting to curb excess and inappropriate speed.
Enforcement has an obvious role. Why do we put up with such a lack of respect for speed limits? How can anyone complain when the police and highway authorities enforce the law effectively? Safety cameras, which detect vehicles that go through red traffic lights or exceed the legal speed limit, have contributed to reducing road casualties. In Staffordshire, fatal and serious injuries at speed camera sites reduced on average by a massive 60 per cent. in the three years after installation. The Government have sponsored a pilot scheme in six authorities--Staffordshire is sadly not one--whereby the speeding fines received are recycled into meeting some of the costs of installing and maintaining safety cameras. Early signs are that such a systematic deployment of cameras saves lives. Towards the end of the previous Parliament, we enacted the Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001, which permits the national rollout of that scheme.
Concern caused by more safety cameras is illustrated by some opponents' portrayal of the scheme as a stealth tax. We must answer the accusation if we want to carry public approval for the scheme, and there are three elements. First, the only people who pay speeding fines are those who break the law. Secondly, the siting of cameras must be seen to be for casualty reduction, not revenue raising. The Government must ensure that camera siting accords with published criteria relating to identifying casualty hotspots, the visibility of cameras and related signage, and readily ascertainable speed limits. Thirdly, any recycled income should be additional to existing public spending on road safety.
It would also reassure the public if the Government kept the promise made by the then Minister of State at the Home Department, my hon. Friend Mr. Clarke, in Standing Committee during the passage of the 2001 Act to provide regular reports to Parliament on the scheme's progress. The Government have a good story to tell to date on 20 mph zones, home zones and, still to come, quiet lanes in rural areas. A report on speed limits on rural roads, to which my hon. Friend the Minister referred, will be published later this year, as required by the Transport Act 2000.
I cannot leave the subject of speed management without mentioning traffic calming. It is a curious thing, as I learned once again during the recent election campaign, that residents cry out for traffic calming in their streets whereas motorists abhor the obstacle to their journey. I have thought about the problem for some time and have concluded that when local authorities start to draw up their local transport plans, they should engage their public in identifying strategic routes that should remain clear of humps, chicanes and the like and residential areas where traffic calming may, in conjunction with other speed management and casualty reduction policies, be justified.
Is my hon. Friend's experience different from mine? I have found that residents often cry out for traffic calming before it arrives, but when it does, many want to get rid of it because of increased fumes, noise, gear changing and other inconveniences. There are no new traffic-calming schemes in my area because they attract the ire of both motorists and residents.
My experience is not quite the same. I receive grumbles from some residents in traffic-calming areas about additional noise, vibrations and fumes, but far more people are pleased about the schemes, which produce a visible reduction in speeds and a recordable reduction in casualties. In Staffordshire there remains a long list of requests, as yet unsatisfied, for new traffic-calming schemes.
Traffic calming is just one example of road engineering. We should not underestimate the contribution that attention to good design and road layout can make to reduce casualties on the roads. The AA Foundation produced an excellent policy document in 1999 entitled "What goes wrong in Highway Design...and how to put it right". I have a copy here. Its safety audit identified a series of commonly observed road safety problems for pedestrians, people with disabilities, cyclists, motor cyclists and vehicle users. As the title suggests, the document sets out some straightforward solutions.
Good road engineering solutions also featured in the PACTS-sponsored 11th Westminster lecture on transport safety last December. The lecturer was Dr. Rod Kimber, the director of science and engineering at the Transport Research Foundation. Some startlingly straightforward suggestions for road improvement were advanced, though Dr. Kimber's main message was that we must develop a coherent combination of approaches to tackle all three of the main challenges, which he listed as behaviour, roads and vehicles.
That brings me to the need to adopt a strategic approach to casualty reduction and to involve the local populace in the strategies. In Staffordshire the county council, as highway authority, approaches the challenge of reducing road casualties in partnership with other agencies, especially the police and the district councils. My hon. Friend the Minister provided a similar example of a partnership approach when he referred to Hertfordshire county council in the Adjournment debate on Tuesday. In Staffordshire the practical effect of the partnership is that everyone shares a clear commitment to reduce casualties.
I also happily support the PACTS' recommendations, not least because I had a hand in shaping them. The Government should ensure that road safety and road crimes are included in crime and disorder audits. Again, the value of doing so is that local communities can sign up to their commitment to casualty reduction.
In 1999 there were 870 pedestrian deaths and 172 cyclist deaths on the roads. I feel strongly that we should do more to keep walkers and cyclists safe. It is fair to say that they were here first, but during the 20th century, the explosion of powered vehicles has left the needs of those vulnerable groups overlooked. The promotion of safe routes to schools is a start and I commend authorities, such as Staffordshire county council, on their enthusiastic push. Come to Staffordshire, Mr. Winterton, and you will see that detailed attention has been paid to improving pedestrian facilities in the vicinity of schools, dedicated cycle ways to and from schools, and walking buses, which are organised, supervised group walks to and from school. It is worth making the point that creating safe routes to schools for walking and cycling benefits not only the environment but the health of those who participate.
The big, yellow school buses are already in use in Staffordshire. Parents like the feeling of safety that the journey to school by dedicated school bus gives. We have been at the forefront in pushing the Government to relax the two and three-mile walking distances laid down in the Education Act 1944. We want to offer more pupils the opportunity to travel to school safely aboard yellow school buses. Again, there is a double benefit: not only do pupils get to school safely but the school run of parents in cars is reduced and road congestion is eased.
The insurer Direct Line has been in touch with me about the usage of rear seat belts in cars. Apparently, this weekend will mark the 10th anniversary of the law that made such usage compulsory. The latest figures for compliance show that in December last year, only 59 per cent. of those travelling in the rear of cars wore seat belts. That contrasts with 94 per cent. usage of front seat belts. Direct Line is campaigning for the Government to narrow the gap between front and rear seat belt usage to less than 10 per cent. in the next five years and to eliminate it completely by 2011. I wish the campaign well. Anyone who has seen the latest hard-hitting television advertisements sponsored by the Government on the subject will have learned that 40 front seat passengers die each year as a result of being hit by an unrestrained rear seat passenger.
While dealing with other road users, I want to mention also the riders of powered two-wheel vehicles. They, too, are vulnerable road users. In 1999, 547 deaths were attributed to motor cycle use. It is instructive to listen to motor cyclists; they are acutely aware of the antics of other motorists. They see thoroughly reprehensible behaviour, including driving while eating, while using a mobile phone and while reading. Like other vulnerable road users, motor cyclists are at risk of death and serious injury because of the momentary inattention of other motorists.
That brings me to the tricky subject of driver quality. I passed my driving test when I was 18 years old. I do not think that I am unusual in having thrown away the highway code shortly afterwards. I have so far avoided the attention of the courts--touch wood--which can order that the test should be retaken as part of the sentence for some offences, and I have not made an insurance claim for some years. No one has suggested that I need refresher training. However, I undertook one training session with an advanced motorist, and I thoroughly approve of schemes such as Pass Plus and driver improvement for minor road traffic offending. Could we not do more to ensure that drivers and other road users are aware of their responsibilities as road users?
I remember the brief public information films on television in earlier years, particularly the one from more than 20 years ago about using the outside lane on motorways for overtaking only. With our crowded motorways today, that might be a slightly inappropriate message. Nevertheless, for 20 years the images from that advertisement have remained with me. Today, we see advertising campaigns from the Government on specific problems such as drinking and driving and wearing seat belts in the rear seats of cars, but we need a systematic campaign that is supported by all the relevant agencies: Government, local authorities, police, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Driving Standards Agency, driving instructors and insurers. The purpose of the campaign would be to win over road users to behaviour that demonstrates appreciation of risk, consideration of other road users and respect for the laws of the road.
Employers of workers whose job it is to drive have a particular responsibility to ensure that driving skills are honed and refreshed continually. Some employers have commendable driver training programmes, and some insurers and instructors offer excellent, cost-effective training packages. I urge the Government and the Health and Safety Commission not to lose sight of the potential benefits of a consistently high standard of driver training for workers who, because of the nature of their jobs, spend a great deal of time using the roads network.
On several occasions, the AA has raised the issue of the number of people who are driving without a licence. What the hon. Gentleman says about improving the standards of drivers with licences is perfectly appropriate, but many people out there should not be on the road.
I entirely accept that. Another purpose of the Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001 is to allow a greater exchange of information between insurers, courts, the police and the DVLA so that people who should not be on the road can be detected and identified. That is a good point, and a positive step has recently been taken to try to meet it.
As the hon. Gentleman said, driver quality can be impaired in many ways, including by the consumption of alcohol, the taking of both legal and illegal drugs, illness and drowsiness. I am grateful to the Loughborough sleep research centre for the information that driver sleepiness is believed to be a bigger killer on our roads than alcohol.
Some hon. Members will have seen a briefing paper prepared for this debate by PACTS, which raises issues that my hon. Friend the Minister should address. I shall pick out three for which I have some sympathy and ask him to comment on them. First, there have been news stories this week about the European Union caving in to the car manufacturing industry over standards of improvements to vehicle design. Reports allege that a proposed directive will be dropped in favour of a negotiated agreement that will bring at most 50 per cent. of the benefits of the directive. Where do the United Kingdom Government stand on that important issue?
Secondly, for some time the Government have been considering a proposal to reduce the maximum permitted blood alcohol level for drivers from 80 mg per 100 ml of blood to 50 mg. Does the Minister accept that that change would save lives and will the Government go ahead and make it?
Thirdly, following devolution, I asked the Government last year whether they would consider abandoning British summertime at least in respect of England and Wales. Sadly, they responded that that was a reserved matter, so the whole of the UK had to be considered, but no further answer came on the substantive point about British summertime. I know that factors beyond road safety would be involved in such a decision, but conclusions from the Transport Research Laboratory report show that more than 100 lives a year could be saved through acceptance of a new time regime. Will the Government at least consider making a change?
I believe that the Minister accepts that the trail of misery caused by road deaths is long and shameful and that he wants to contribute significantly to reducing the death toll. Likewise, I accept that the Government are intent on reducing the number of road casualties, with an especially determined effort to reduce child deaths and serious injuries. To that end, the Government must make full use of the levers at their disposal: education, enforcement and road engineering. In addition, they should never lose sight of the fourth "e": fully to evaluate the data to discern what works.
We all accept that the causes of such high levels of death and injury are many and complex and that the challenge of reducing road casualties is a mighty one. Let us resolve to work together to meet it and reach out to the many organisations and individuals outside this place who can help us. We must deliver a united, loud and clear message to all road users that we want them to complete their journeys in safety, for themselves and others. We cannot bring back to life those who have died, but we can assure their loved ones and our fellow citizens and road users that we mean to twist, turn, scrape and save to make our roads as free from death and injury as possible.
I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. He may find that debates here are less controversial than those in the main Chamber. I, too, declare a non-pecuniary interest in that I am a member of Brake, an organisation that campaigns on road safety--incidentally, it is no relation. I thank Brake and other organisations such as PACTS and RoadPeace for the information that they have provided for this debate and at other times.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Bob Russell, whose Adjournment debate on the subject was a mine of information, some of which I may recycle today. My hon. Friend stated that there had been no Government debate on road safety since 1994, so this debate is most welcome, albeit overdue. As PACTS stated this month--after the Government document "Tomorrow's roads--safer for everyone" was published--despite the effect of road accidents on citizens in every part of society, transport and transport safety did not achieve the high priority that it deserved under the previous Government.
The Royal Automobile Club, too, is calling for action. It wants greater emphasis to be placed on investigations to determine the causes of road accidents so that lessons can be learned, and on the introduction of improved safety education and campaigns for all road users, including motorists, pedestrians, motor cyclists and cyclists.
We should not underestimate the damage done by road crashes. Although this country's record is good, road crashes are the biggest cause of death in males aged from 15 to 44 throughout the world. Even in the United Kingdom, there are a significant number of road deaths, at a cost of £1 million per fatality; there are smaller, but still significant, costs as a result of serious and minor injuries in road accidents.
The total cost to the NHS and other services is between £13 billion and £18 billion, depending on which organisation's briefing one relies on, the latter figure being the equivalent of 60p on income tax. That is not a factor that we should disregard, although I am pleased that our record is significantly better than many in Europe. An article in The Guardian today states that last year, 7,643 people died on roads in France, where 63 per cent. of people admitted to having driven under the influence of alcohol, which is a problem.
Although we have a good record, more could be done. More speed cameras could be introduced, as they are very effective at reducing speed, as every driver knows, even though the effect, unfortunately, is often temporary. When approaching a speed camera, one often notices that the car in front has slammed on its brakes to drop below the speed limit in the vicinity of the camera. Speed cameras are not anti-motorist; they are anti the inconsiderate, or, worse, the reckless, driver. More traffic-calming measures could be introduced. I find it difficult to understand the attitude of those, including at least one Member of Parliament, who consider traffic-calming measures to be impediments. I do not see it like that; I have small children and we live on a busy road. I appreciate that it is difficult for drivers to drive much faster than 20 mph up and down my street.
More measures for safeguarding pedestrians could be introduced, but I add a word of caution: they should be appropriate. The Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs has been looking at walking in cities and towns, focusing on the use of cattle pens, which proliferate here but not on the continent. They do not always promote safe pedestrian use, and sometimes the opposite is true, as people avoid using them because it takes so much longer to cross a road when they cannot do so diagonally or in the direction that they want to go; they are forced to take a specific route if they go through the cattle pen. It is therefore important that only appropriate measures are introduced.
I support the introduction of safe cycle routes to schools and commend the work of my local authority, the London borough of Sutton, in that respect. I visited cycling proficiency schemes in the borough during the election campaign and saw hands-on training. The schemes involved going out on the roads, not just cycling in the safety of a school playground. Instructors highlighted the fact that there appeared to be no best practice guide that cycling proficiency instructors could draw on. They had to look at a number of different models adopted by authorities, and then produce their own. Perhaps the Minister will say that a best practice guide is, in fact, available to schools and local authorities.
We need to improve testing and training standards for drivers, but we must support standards that are meaningful and deliverable. I was lobbied by four or five motor cycle training organisations in my constituency about the recent introduction of the theory test. They are interested parties and not unbiased, but their view is that the theory test has added little to what is covered in the compulsory basic training test. We need to ensure that new measures are appropriate. If standards are improved--something that I support--the implications for organisations such as the Driving Standards Agency must be thought through. With the theory test, it was clear that the agency was unable to make the change, or that it was not prepared to do so, and that had a heavy impact on the motor cycle training companies in my area. They tried to book people for theory tests, but they were not available because the agency could not cope and had not thought through the implications of the change.
As part of the training process, we must improve standards for motor cyclists and cyclists. We must also improve the awareness of car drivers. I first got on a moped legally at the age of 14 when I lived in France--over there, mopeds can be driven from that age. Such experience enables people to develop a greater awareness of motor cyclists and cyclists so that when they become a car driver, they can appreciate how nerve-wracking it is when a car skims past one foot away. We need to do something to make car drivers understand the implications of their driving habits and to increase their awareness of cyclists and motor cyclists. That awareness needs to be introduced in schools, and I welcome the Minister's response to the Adjournment debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester. The Minister stated that the Government
"are also looking for ways to work issues of safety into other lessons such as maths, physics and geography, where it can provide a link to the world outside through examples taken from real life." --[Hansard, 19 December 2000; Vol. 360, c. 339.] Perhaps the Minister can give us a progress report on whether ideas for introducing safety into school lessons have been developed.
A key point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester is the need to change attitudes to practices such as belting up in the back seat. The Direct Line research has already been referred to. People accept that they must belt up in the front, but how can we make them accept that they must do so in the back? Direct Line estimates that in the period covered by its research 82 lives were lost as a result of failing to belt up in the back. Progress has been made and I welcome the "Tomorrow's roads: safer for everyone" report; as the Minister announced, there have been 9 per cent. fewer child deaths in the past year. I want to give him the opportunity to demonstrate that his fine words, and those of other Ministers, will be translated into a real reduction in the carnage on our roads.
I ask the Minister to break with what seems to be the tradition, in debates such as this, of Members asking questions that are never answered because time runs out. Often, even when questions are clearly and numerically set out, answers are still not forthcoming. With that in mind, I want to state on the record that I would like answers to each of the specific questions that I shall ask.
Mr. Kidney referred to the report on rural roads that is due to be published by November 2001. The Minister said that good progress is being made on that report. Does such progress guarantee that it will indeed be delivered by November 2001? A request was made that regular updates be given in Parliament. During a Standing Committee debate on the Vehicles (Crime) Bill, a Home Office Minister said that regular progress reports would be issued on camera implementation and its effectiveness. What form will those reports take?
Reference has already been made to the European directive and I, too, seek clarification from the Minister as to the Government's view on that. Do they intend to support what appears to be a watered-down version of the directive: a voluntary agreement between manufacturers? If so, why are they willing to opt out of the estimated 20 per cent. reduction in deaths and serious injuries to which adoption of the directive would lead? Do the Government plan to support the implementation in rural areas of measures such as the Gloucester safer city initiative, so that we can get some hard data to work with?
I have just a few more questions for the Minister, to which I am sure he will respond in due course. Although it is not a matter for which the Government are directly responsible, have they undertaken an analysis of the number of additional police officers who might be employed on traffic-related duties following the budget increases that they announced? Would they support withdrawal of the charge of so-called careless driving, which fails adequately to reflect the impact of that offence? Would they support the introduction of an additional charge of serious injury by dangerous driving?
What plans, if any, do the Government have to enlarge the role of Victim Support following road accidents? Can funding be made available to Victim Support, so that it can play a bigger part?
The Minister said that he thought that the number of accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists might have declined because of certain improvements. Will he comment on the view that the number has declined not because of specific measures, but because the number of journeys made on foot or by bicycle has gone down? How will the Government reconcile their valuable targets to reduce injuries with their significant targets to increase the number of journeys by, for example, bike? Many people think that although both targets are worth while, they could work against each other.
The Minister will be pleased to hear that I have finished my list of questions. I hope that he will answer them.
Before I call Ms Drown, I should point out that Tom Brake has asked the Minister to reply to a large number of questions and has highlighted the quality of replies that he hopes to receive. If as many questions are asked by the remaining speakers, the Minister may be pushed to reply today. However, that is entirely in the hands of hon. Members.
I am pleased to contribute to the debate because road safety is a crucial issue that is raised regularly by my constituents. Safety outside schools is the specific concern that is raised most frequently. Many parents want 20 mph zones to be set up outside schools, and there is a case for that being a general policy outside every school. The Minister referred to that issue in his introduction and I am sure that he will address it in his reply.
The Government's advice to local authorities--
Is my hon. Friend aware that in America school buses display flashing lights when they are outside schools, and vehicles are not allowed to progress until the bus has emptied, so speed is effectively reduced to zero? Furthermore, it is a serious offence to bypass such a school. Might that not be a better idea?
Well, that is one example of the lessons that we can learn from other countries.
The then Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions specifically advised local authorities to consider 20 mph zones, particularly around schools, in their local travel plans, but only where there was suitable traffic calming. I am concerned that that advice seems to hold up consideration of 20 mph zones outside schools, and I should be interested to see the extent to which that advice is evidence based. In my constituency we have some wonderfully effective signs outside schools. The signs, which were designed by children, say, "There is a school here. Slow down." That should wake up drivers on that road, who must realise--particularly around school time--that they should slow down and be aware of the dangers. That would be a cheap and effective solution. However, some traffic-calming measures are expensive, which slows down the process of putting 20 mph zones outside schools.
The other issue raised in the Government's advice to local authorities on local travel plans concerned the effective use of speed cameras, which I shall discuss in a moment. Returning to traffic-calming measures, spending £20,000 outside each school in the country would be hugely expensive, but the cost would be small compared with the lives that would be saved. I should like to know the extent to which the Government have examined that issue.
Speed cameras would be an easy way of tackling road safety. Both Ministers and Back Benchers have argued that speed cameras should not be seen as revenue-raising schemes, which would be a concern if speed cameras were to go up outside every school, irrespective of local conditions. However, such schemes would be a reasonable way forward if they were part of saying to everyone, "Outside schools we slow down. There is no tolerance at all of speeding outside schools."
Concerned parents frequently ask me, "Does a child have to die on this road before we can get traffic calming or a speed camera here?" As my hon. Friend Mr. Kidney said, the introduction of traffic calming must be considered logically and must be evidence-based. The areas that need the most help must be dealt with first. We can all understand why parents are frustrated and ask, "Does a child have to die first?" Their concerns should be an important criterion in our considerations.
The other measure that would help outside schools would be more crossing patrols. Schools in Swindon--for example, Robert Le Kyng school, which is on a main road quite near the centre of Swindon--face a real problem in recruiting crossing patrol staff. Even where there is a traffic patrol officer, there is often no one to take her place when she is off sick. On such a day, the local authority tries to inform the school and the police, but that is no comfort for parents who send their children off to school believing that there will be someone to help them to cross the road and hear the next day that there was no one. The solution might lie with the Prime Minister's volunteer scheme: more people could be encouraged to volunteer for the job. Although many companies might not want a member of staff regularly coming to work late because they are a school crossing patrol officer, surely almost every firm would say to an employee who volunteered, "I am happy for you to be the fill-in person when the local person is off sick." That could be their contribution to the community. Many parents who could not do the job would like to be able to be a back-up so that they would know that every day their child went to school they would have someone to cross the road with them.
The hon. Lady might be interested in a suggestion that was made to me by a parent who was concerned about the absence of a school crossing patrol officer at her child's school. Having noted the regular presence of traffic wardens, she suggested that perhaps traffic wardens should have the scope of their duties enlarged to include school crossing patrols.
That is a positive suggestion. I am afraid that in Swindon we have very few wardens--only one or two--so they would not stretch far. In time, we hope to get more in order to tackle our parking problems, which can also lead to road safety problems. However, I shall not go into that now.
Speeding is a major contribution to many road accidents. It is a tricky problem to sort out, and two angles need to be considered. First, driving fast is still seen as macho, a perception that we are starting to tackle, but we have a long way to go in comparison with the way in which society has shifted its attitudes to drink-driving during the past 20 or 30 years. Some of the worst drives that I experience take place when I am on my way to take part in television programmes. A lovely, comfortable car comes along, and I have all my work to prepare for the interview that I am going to, but I have to spend half my journey telling the driver, "You're speeding. Could we go slower? I'm sure we'll get to the studios in time." Nowadays, whenever someone asks me to appear on a television programme and offers me a driver, my dear staff have to say, "She'll have a driver, but only if you can guarantee that they won't speed on the roads." I am afraid that that even extends to former police officers who drive us around the country. That shows that it is an accepted form of behaviour that needs to be tackled.
Secondly, there is a difference between men and women drivers in this respect. The AA carried out a survey examining the different techniques of men and women drivers, which revealed that women had a higher proportion of their accidents at junctions, but men had a higher proportion of accidents on bends, when overtaking and during the hours of darkness. Men adopt faster speeds than women, have a higher fatality risk and commit more driving and speeding violations. They are more likely to drink and drive or take illegal drugs and drive, and are prepared to drive for longer periods than women. If we could get rid of some of those different attitudes to driving, we might move forward.
In his introduction, the Minister mentioned car design and car safety design. We should look at that. Why do speedometers go up to 160 mph? It is absolutely crazy. That tempts people with a new car, on a quiet day, to see just how fast they can go. That is a part of society's attitude that needs changing. I know that we should tackle the problem with other European countries, but the Environmental Transport Association has been saying for a number of years that there is no justification in speedometers that go way over any nationally recognised speed limits. I hope that the Minister will take that matter up with his colleagues.
I have mentioned the macho element in speeding. Another element, which affects everybody, is that driving is such a day-to-day occurrence that it is easy for people to feel comfortable, relaxed and slack about it rather than thinking that they are about to get into a lethal instrument. For some age groups, it is the most likely place in which people will die or be involved in an accident in which someone else will die or be severely injured. The more we can remind ourselves and others of that, the more we will realise the necessity of taking every precaution, just as people do when they are doing other potentially dangerous things.
I have said a little about speed cameras, and the pilot schemes that have allowed local authorities the income from speed cameras have been mentioned. They have been incredibly effective in reducing accidents. In six pilot areas, after just six months, casualties were down by 34 per cent. and speeds by 53 per cent. If such results could be replicated throughout the country, we could see this not as a revenue-making exercise, but an attempt to move to the viewpoint--as has happened with drink driving--that speeding is not acceptable. We should be progressing in that way.
Hon. Members have mentioned the review of speed limits. The Minister said that the AA and others have said that such a review must be done in consultation with drivers. Of course that is right, but the views of pedestrians, cyclists and the families of victims who have died as a result of speeding vehicles should be listened to just as much.
I have three final points. First, there have been reports in this Chamber today about local acceptance of traffic-calming. In my area, many people have called for traffic-calming measures. There have been some complaints and mistakes are sometimes made in the way in which traffic-calming measures are carried out, but I have seen a general acceptance of the need for traffic calming. It is the results of traffic calming in Swindon that have made the greatest impression on me. Speed has been massively reduced and there has been a reduction in accidents--powerful results that show how worth while the measures are.
Secondly, I should like to ask the Minister about the impact on road safety of different vehicles using bus lanes. In Swindon, buses and cyclists use bus lanes but taxis and motor cyclists do not. Both of those groups have campaigned to use bus lanes, and the council is reviewing that. Is there any national information on the impact on road safety of allowing those groups to use bus lanes?
My final point is about road maintenance. It is always seen as boring because it just goes on, year after year, but it can have a big impact on road safety. It is especially important for cyclists and motor cyclists. We have all seen those potholes, and we have all seen cyclists topple over because roads are not maintained. Cars are affected, too. I am delighted that the Government have massively increased the amount spent on road maintenance. In Swindon, up to 10 times the budget provided by the Conservative Government has sometimes been allowed for road maintenance under this Government, but there is still a lot to do. The backlog for road maintenance is huge, and that affects road safety. I am especially worried when people talk about building loads more roads. We should proceed carefully in building more roads when road maintenance is insufficient for the existing ones. I hope that that will always be borne in mind in considering future schemes.
I am delighted that we are having this debate. It shows that the Government are making road safety a priority. We need to keep that priority. Too many people are dying, especially children. Swindon people, and Swindon parents in particular, will back the Government's initiative to tackle the problem. I am delighted with it, and I look forward to working with the Government over the years to come to reduce fatalities and injuries on our roads.
I welcome you, Mr. Winterton, to the Chair. I am sure that it will not be long before you are reappointed as a Deputy Speaker. I also welcome my hon. Friend the Minister. I am sure that we shall have many debates in the wonderful surroundings of Westminster Hall, as well as on the Floor of the House.
Following the debate initiated by my hon. Friend Mr. McWalter on Tuesday, I shall not make too many points. The matter is not controversial. No one present would argue that we do not need road safety, that everything is hunky dory and that there is no cause for concern.
Hon. Members, and in particular my hon. Friends, mentioned the importance of having this debate now. It is always worth bearing it in mind that, up to the age of 18--I use the fact sparingly--the likelihood of dying in a road accident is much greater than the likelihood of dying in any other way. When I hear about attacks and other things that can happen to our children, I try to remind people that the most likely way in which a child will die is either in a car crash or, more likely, by being knocked down by a car. That is a salutary lesson that we must always recall.
I start with a couple of points that I am not sure have been covered; if they have, I emphasise my own position. The idea that there is an urban road safety issue and a rural one, and that they are different, is a false dichotomy and involves false conclusions. The vast majority of motorists drive between urban centres for much of their motoring, and even in urban centres people encounter different conditions, some of which, although they are not rural, involve different traffic speeds, for example. I should like to nail the lie that motorists drive in different ways and that that leads to different road safety problems.
I welcome the production of the Government's rural road hierarchy, whenever that may be. Tom Brake asked for a definite date. I do not believe that it can come too soon, because, although urban casualties have declined, there has been a blip upwards in rural road casualties. We all know why: people tend to substitute what they consider to be slower routes in more urban parts by going through more rural rat runs, which can lead to accidents. That is certainly true in my area.
Hon. Members have already discussed many of the issues that I wanted to cover, such as safer routes to schools, and home zones. In common with my hon. Friend Ms Drown, I ask the Minister for further clarification, particularly regarding local authorities and the prioritising of home zones. Local authorities must fully understand the procedures and act on them as expeditiously as possible. As always there is some confusion, which often, unfortunately, leads to delay. Advice and information should be exchanged between central and local government.
Other hon. Members have dealt with cyclists and pedestrians. We are all pedestrians and most of us are cyclists. I am a keen cyclist and often cycle around my constituency, despite its hills. It would be good to have many more cycle ways, but one feels relatively safe. Nine out of 10 drivers are patient and understanding towards cyclists. I shall not comment on the one in 10, but anyone who has cycled will have experienced them. The problem is that people who do not cycle forget what it is like to be on a bike. Maintaining distance and being able to cut in front of a cyclist are important to drivers, but cyclists find it most annoying to be cut up by a car on the brow of a hill. Occasional re-education of motorists in the experience of using one's own power to travel around would not go amiss.
We have a good record on cycle training for younger people. It does not have to be for young people, but we tend to concentrate on them because we can easily gain access to them through the school system, and our efforts are important. Only about 18 per cent. of cyclists wear helmets, yet the chances of surviving a crash are vastly improved by wearing one, which is why it was made compulsory for motor cyclists. We should look into the possibility of giving out helmets at school. It may be costly and it may not be de rigueur to wear a helmet, but everyone should wear one on a bicycle.
My hon. Friend Mr. Bradshaw, who is now a member of the Government, introduced a Bill on the compulsory addition of bells to bikes. I cannot recall what happened, but it did not become a key part of the Government's legislative programme during the previous Session and it did not feature in the Labour party's manifesto this year. I trust that he will pursue the policy, albeit from a more distant position than in the past.
I am not sure how to answer that, but I am pleased to hear it.
I am pleased that we have a strategy for pedestrians. It is sometimes viewed as bizarre, but there are important reasons why we are always in the game of education. A couple of weeks ago, during road safety week, I visited Little Angels, one of my nurseries and pre-school units, in Eastington, not far from where I live. It was good to see the children being trained to cross the road. I was involved in the role play and my foot was driven over more than once by a tiny car. Education is not discrete: it is an on-going process. We must ensure that all road users understand the need to be tolerant, not only of similar users--car drivers being tolerant of other car drivers--but of different types of user.
I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister came to Gloucester; I will invite him to Stroud so that he can see the other side of things. From the objective evidence of the letter columns of the local paper, I can say that there is no more popular subject than the safer city project. Most of the letters are very critical, seeing those responsible for the project as nothing less than fascists who are removing people's right to drive in whatever direction they want at the speed they think appropriate. The critics view all the impositions as unfair. I occasionally feel hot under the collar and want to respond to them, but I have to bite my tongue because the project is not in my constituency and is not directly my responsibility, although many of my constituents drive through the wonderful streets of Gloucester. There is a view--I am sure that it is a minority one and hope that it is held by a tiny minority--that all the money spent on the project is wasted and that much more could be done with it. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon said, our roads need resurfacing. We need to ensure that people understand what we are doing and why, and that there would be many more casualties if we did not do it. Again, the issue is important and we must keep banging on about it.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister comment on progress on seat belts on coaches? There is a timetable for their installation, and it cannot be implemented a moment too soon because there is a need to ensure the proper protection of school children travelling on coaches. There has been disagreement with some of the safety organisations about what type of seat belt should be fitted. I have in my constituency an active campaigner who is not totally happy with our achievement--which I think is a good one--of making the fitting of seat belts on new coaches compulsory. On the general safety of coaches, when the police or traffic engineers do a purge, it is worrying how many coaches dismally fail the road safety requirements.
Hon. Members have covered the issue of motor cycling and they have been fair. We must try to strike the right balance between encouraging people to use that important alternative to the car, and laying down safety requirements for motor cyclists. On drink-driving, a handful of constituents have come to me who, as part of the requirement of getting back a licence, have to undergo a medical test; they are, to use the term used earlier by my hon. Friend Mr. Kidney heavy drinkers. In two of the cases I dealt with it was unclear why they were being asked for a test. Perhaps those people were not telling me the whole truth, but it is important that we have clear criteria for when a medical test is required to get a licence back.
The safety strategy mentions the difficult issue of older drivers. I have a vested interest here, because I persuaded my father to give up driving at the age of 88 four years ago, although he saw himself as a pretty safe motorist and did not have a terribly bad record. One of my local GPs said that he was very concerned when older motorists asked him to give a statement that they were safe to drive. He is unclear about the degree of knowledge that he is expected to demand from an older driver and, more particularly, about whether he is taking a risk, so we need to look into that.
I have a mini-question about illegal taxi-ing, which has not been mentioned so far, but is certainly a problem in my area and not unknown in London. There seems to be a growth industry involving people who turn their cars into taxis on Friday nights and take enormous risks. Unfortunately, other people take those risks with them, and we should perhaps consider that aspect of road safety.
I welcome the chance to take part in the debate. I said that I would mention the safety Bill, which I presume will relate largely to rail safety and may include air safety. I hope that it will consolidate road safety measures, because there is a need for that. We must ensure that we know what else needs to be done.
The use of hand-held mobile phones in cars has been mentioned, and I am not sure what the legal position is. Some people have been satisfactorily prosecuted, but that is not having the desired impact. People on bikes or in cars at roundabouts increasingly have difficulty in judging whether drivers have seen them, because they are more interested in receiving a telephone call than in driving their cars. We need therefore to tighten up legislation if we are to have our place in the sun.
I shall dwell mainly on the issue of cameras this afternoon, because I think that there is deep uncertainty in the Government's mind about their use, and I believe that they could support a road safety strategy. I am particularly interested in hidden cameras and those that link to computerised systems for the gathering of information about where vehicles are. Among other things, they allow us to check whether some vehicles should be on the road, on the basis that information picked up by a camera sometimes requires the police to be alerted.
Cameras are the most important of the road safety devices available to us. Although people often talk about the cost of installing a camera, they say too little about the benefits of such an installation. At least one contribution this afternoon has characterised my position on traffic calming as not very positive. In fact, Hemel Hempstead has a mature traffic-calming system involving about 50 roads. It is interesting that there are about 20 different designs for traffic calming. That is partly because every time a road is affected, its residents complain bitterly, so another style of traffic calming is tried the next time.
I shall give two examples, which show why it would have been better not to introduce traffic-calming measures. The village of Nettleden in my constituency was cut in half by speeding vehicles, so something had to be done. A pinch point was put at each end of the hamlet, so vehicles have to move over at the beginning of the system so that they can drive through the village. That sounds as though it will make the cars go slower, but in the mornings nearly everyone is going south and in the evenings they are going north, so there is not much traffic in the opposite direction. When vehicles arrive at one pinch point and see, 150 yd away, that the other is clear, they promptly step on the gas to try to get through it, in case there is a vehicle coming round the corner a bit further on which will then approach the chicane. The measures have made virtually no difference, and five cameras could have been installed for the same cost.
There should be a hidden camera in Nettleden to record the speed of cars so that drivers who travel faster than the 30 mph limit can be prosecuted. However, in an old village where the houses are right on the road, even the 30 mph limit is too high when children might come straight out of their front doors and on to the road. Like other hon. Members, I believe that the limit would more suitably be set at 20 mph. Just up the road from Nettleden is a road on which cars are driven at absurd speeds. There should be no motor vehicles on that road at all, let alone fast cars, so that bicycles and pedestrians can have the joy of it.
That raises a question about ownership of the roads, which are not only for motorists. Other people may have rights that have been given far too little consideration.
All over the country there are vehicles travelling towards a collision at 120 mph. One of the Government's research papers, which was commissioned for the speeding review carried out in March 2000, stated that having a speed limit of 60 mph on a single carriageway road was as appropriate as continuing with open sewerage systems in the middle of the road. But it is far unhealthier than that; the general speed limit of 60 mph on single carriageway roads is obscene. I do not say that there are not some roads where it is appropriate--I can think of some in Lincolnshire, for example, where there is a clear sightline for many miles. However, local motor cyclists traverse those roads at nearer 120 mph because they are great places for a burn-up; there is little enforcement and there are no cameras. Those roads have some of the highest death rates on single carriageway roads in the country.
The issue is what measures we believe are appropriate. A report by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions states that there are four different categories of response to cameras, and people who slow down just as they go past and speed up afterwards are in the third category, called "manipulators". That was matched only by the category called "defiers", who took no notice of the cameras whatever. Visible cameras play a major role, but not in altering standard driver behaviour. Driver behaviour alters in the proximity of the camera. That is not the case for all drivers, but it is enough to lower speeds at a 50 mph camera by as much as 5 or 6 mph.
Hidden cameras are important. They could be much more effective in ensuring that motorists travel at the speed that is deemed to be safe. At the moment we assume that if we have a limit of 20 mph, everyone will whistle through at 32 mph anyway. I do not see why we should permit that. Motorists have the right to know that there are hidden cameras, but often they do not know where they are. We could have a signposting system. In my Adjournment debate on Tuesday, I suggested a speed limit sign with a double red ring around it to denote strict enforcement of the limit, possibly or probably with a hidden camera. That would have some effect on speed.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the research done on the Nottingham pilot which showed that digital cameras have effectively eliminated speeding in the areas in which they are used because they catch every driver? Drivers get to know that they simply cannot speed there.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am aware of that. I am also aware of the Norfolk experiment in which the signs are sensitive to the speed of the car. At the moment they simply tell the car as it approaches to slow down. Those signs are not linked to anything else and will not result in a prosecution, yet they are effective because drivers do not want to be embarrassed in front of other drivers by having a sign flashing at them. Again, as with many of these measures, the tolerance level is set very high. The police take the view that otherwise the sign would flash so often that people would ignore it completely. It is a difficult balancing act.
Such devices could be extremely powerful weapons. The trouble is that the Government still lack the will to take action. I will be interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say about that. Perhaps I should intervene on myself here: I welcome my hon. Friend to the Front Bench. I forgot to do so during my Adjournment debate because I was rather short of time, and I hope that he will accept my welcome now. I also thank him for the spirited way in which he set about his duties.
It is difficult for the Government to find the will to take action because they do not want to be seen as being against the motorist, and they have good reasons for taking that view. I note what my hon. Friend Ms Drown says about the differences between the sexes in their attitudes to motor vehicles. Most members of the male sex are extremely interested in motor vehicles in a way that is often just short of, and sometimes even greater than, love. The car is a fantastic invention. It is a tremendous testimony to human creative, imaginative and engineering powers. Just to appreciate vehicles is perfectly natural, and people's desire to enjoy their vehicle and motoring is an important part of their general attitude to vehicles.
Through the all-party motor cycle group, I have been involved in trying to promote GCSE and more advanced examinations in motor vehicles and road user studies, which is available as a GCSE in Northern Ireland but not in the rest of the United Kingdom. The approach should be generalised because it is important for young people to develop an understanding of motor vehicles, what they can do and their limitations, and the circumstances that give rise to danger. That echoes some of the comments of Tom Brake. Included in the syllabus is the field examination of road configurations to assess the extent to which they pose danger and threat. That allows young people who learn about motor vehicles to see the relationship between their driving and the road in a more constructive way. Other parts of the paper deal with the law and other matters.
I want to see such education as part of our general shift. I have put that already to the Department for Education and Skills, asking for specialist schools with dedicated facilities for familiarising people with motor vehicles before they become motorists. I have so far had an interesting response.
I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that there are courses about car crime. However, the basic problem is that there is no parallel elsewhere and that many people see driving as a right rather than a privilege. Unless we return to the idea that it is a privilege, many of the problems that he has talked about will continue.
I hear what my hon. Friend says but the difficulty is that driving is a necessity in many areas, so it must be a right. Many people live in villages that are cut off from the outside world because they do not have a bus or train service. If they did not have access to vehicles, their life prospects and available choices would be so significantly reduced that it would be hard to see how some communities could subsist. Although I understand his comments, I believe that there are two elements. First, the motor vehicle is a fantastic testimony to human creativity, which we rightly admire--especially those of us who are interested in engineering sciences. Secondly, the car is a necessity, albeit a dangerous one. We must deal with the subject on that basis.
If the Government have no plans to reduce the 60 mph speed limit on single carriageways, why not? Why was there no specific mention of hidden cameras in the speeding document? I have checked carefully with the Ministers concerned on that point, and it is because the Government do not want to be seen as anti-motorist, as they would be if they introduced a whole raft of regulations, perhaps taking the advice of my hon. Friend Mr. Kidney and significantly reducing the blood alcohol limit so that people could have only half a glass of wine with dinner, for example, or lowering speed limits dramatically. As I have said to my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon, there is no reason in principle why the speed limit for some road situations should not be zero.
One great safety invention was based on the view that there are road situations in which it is appropriate for the speed limit to be zero. That invention was the work of Leslie Hore-Belisha in the 1930s, who said that drivers could not as of right cross a piece of road identified by an orange globe and black and white markings on the road. Anyone near that piece of road had the right to cross it before the driver, who had to stop. That philosophy is very interesting. We replaced Belisha beacons and zebra crossings with a system of pelican crossings, in which vehicles may proceed but, for 17 or 18 seconds, must give priority to somebody else. The pedestrian must start off and get across while the indicator is beeping, and at the end of that time, the road becomes the motorist's again. We must remember Belisha's courageous and exciting approach, and we should generalise it.
I am not wildly impressed when people talk to me about a 20 mph limit for home zones, because the chances of serious injury to a child who is hit at 20 mph are substantial indeed. If we took a more Belisha-like approach to home zones, we would say, "Hang on a minute, these are places where children play." Children come out through a front door with a ball and kick it around, and mothers can watch them from a window. Perhaps a car goes by occasionally. Church road in Flamstead in my constituency is a nice little road, and it is perfectly reasonable for children to play on it. A car should travel at no more than 5 mph on it. It should be clearly understood that it is a road in which children are in charge.
At the moment, it is difficult for us to incorporate such a philosophy. Throughout Hertfordshire, which has been proactive about road safety partnerships, roads are painted red. There is elaborate signing and there are pinch points, humps and everything else. The result is confusion for people in the locality. They no longer know what they are meant to do. There is still a prevailing philosophy that the road is for the motorist, albeit for a motorist who is the equivalent of a runner who has had his right leg kicked in so that he has to hobble rather than run. To start with, we need an understanding that some roads are not for the motorist. If their primary use is for children's play, let that be clear, limit the speed to 5 mph, and install a camera to ensure that people honour the limit and do not zoom around at 15 mph. Let us be clear about what those roads are for.
I did not take much pleasure in hearing the Minister say that cycle injuries have decreased, because I believe that the reason is that cyclists have been terrified off the roads by vehicles converging at 60 mph from the north and 60 mph from the south. Sandwich cycling is not appealing. I am now unable to use my bicycle on country lanes. I sometimes cycle to my local paper shop, which is not down a country lane, but I am denied a proper, decent bike ride because that road is completely dominated by the motorist.
On a standard country lane, 45 mph is probably appropriate, and I do not know of any reason why there should not be a lower limit at hazards. If 45 mph is appropriate on the nice, straight bit where the driver can see exactly what is ahead, there is no reason why there should not be a speed limit for going round a corner. If a bend sign can be put on a road, a sign can be put underneath not to advise but to instruct people to go round it at 25 mph. There could be a hidden camera to ensure that if they go above 25 mph, they risk prosecution. That is very important, and if it happened, I could return to the country roads near my house on my bicycle. I could take out my seven-year-old daughter, who has never been on the road, on her bicycle, rather than be terrified by motorists who go along that road as if it were a motorway, particularly during rush hour.
The Government have been unwilling to confront those issues because they do not want to come across as being an enemy of the motorist, which I can understand and, to an extent, sympathise with. However, it is important for us to be imaginative about how we can meet motorists' demands more reasonably. If we ask people to do 5 mph here, 20 mph there, and 45 mph where previously they went at 60 mph, and we strictly enforce that with hidden cameras, we shall lose many people from the road, including some for whom a car is a necessity.
We are also responding to the motorists' agenda. One way in which we can do that is by thinking again about the speed limit on motorways. At present, 4 per cent. of deaths are caused on motorways and 54 per cent. on single carriageway roads where the bedlam speed is still the limit. There is no argument about which roads are the safest. Consider, first, a car proceeding along a road at 60 mph with another car coming at 60 mph in the other direction, as happens on many single carriageway roads. They will pass each other within a matter of a yard. If anything goes wrong, such as a tyre blow-out, there will be a crash with a collision speed of 120 mph, or if they are both going round a corner in a country lane at 45 mph, a crash at 90 mph. It is unlikely that anyone will emerge alive from such a collision.
Secondly, consider a car going along a motorway at 120 mph. It has an intelligent speed assessment unit fitted in it that sends a signal to a global positioning satellite. If that car gets too close to the car in front, it will be automatically slowed to a speed consistent with stopping safely by a signal to the engine management system. Some would call that scenario science fiction, but we already have the technology and some trial vehicles.
Other things being equal, there is no reason why the Government should not announce in principle that they would be happy to see an increase in the speed limit under the appropriate circumstances given that the current limit is disobeyed at any given time by 55 per cent. of motorists, and periodically by a larger percentage than that. The current limits bring the law into disrepute in the sense that most people do not believe that it is sensible or feasible to obey them. We could keep the current limit, but announce that we are willing to consider increasing it subject to conditions such as strict compliance with whatever new limit we decide and new technology.
The Minister mentioned on Tuesday that tyre noise on urban motorways was a problem. We, therefore, need a limit that reflects the current state of motorway road surfaces and tyre technology. They must be factored into whatever limit applies. The Government could send out a signal to the motorist by saying, "We are thinking about those of you who enjoy your car and want to use it safely at faster speeds, and we would like to meet your demand if we possibly can." That would lead to a much greater willingness on the part of the motorist to comply with the harsher regime that I envisage should be introduced for children's play spaces, roads with cyclist and equestrian priority and rural roads policed by hidden cameras.
I thought that my hon. Friend was speaking with the voice of sweet reason--until he advanced the last part of his argument. Those Members who have been involved in transport safety for a very long time have always felt that speed is one of the greatest dangers. Every time the speed limit is raised, people travel that much faster than the new limit. If a limit is raised to 80 mph, they travel at 90 or 95 mph, and so on. The 55 mph limit that was established in the United States led to a win-win situation all round. It proved environmentally better for this fragile earth and reduced road deaths substantially. I advise my hon. Friend against relinquishing the fight against motorway speeding. We must be very cautious--
I hear what my esteemed colleague says, but because the Government have not wanted to appear to be anti-motorist and because nearly all the measures associated with an improved safety regime appear anti-motorist, many good things that should be done have not been done. I am simply asking whether there is a way in which motorists' aspirations to enjoy motoring at speeds that sometimes exceed our current limits can be factored into encouraging the responsible use of vehicles in all circumstances.
One can think solely about safety. One can regard cars simply as objects that pollute the planet. There are ways of approaching the subject that could lead to a very repressive regime indeed. The Government's own publication on speeding states that there is a trade-off between those factors. It quickly dismisses the idea of increasing the motorway speed limit, but the issue is whether we can develop an overall package that will gain people's respect. There is no computer model available from PACTS, for example, that shows how we can change people's mentality so that they will understand that it is vital to drive at no more than 5 mph down Church road, Flamstead. Such thinking might be more achievable through my approach than through a 20-point package, every single one of which appears to have been designed by those who think that cars are polluting and dangerous, and that their use is best minimised.
I want us to send the right signal, and I am doing that in part through my recommendations in respect of the study of motor vehicles. In Great Britain, at least, one can study vehicle engineering at graduate and post-graduate level, but not at GCSE or A-level. We must make it clear that we understand and are responding to the problem, and that we would be willing to agree to a trade-off, as it were, in the appropriate circumstances.
Like my hon. Friend, I am interested in lowering the average actual speed of vehicles on the road. Let me make it clear that I very much want to see that happen. To give a random example, if there were a strict limit of 80 mph on the motorway as opposed to the current, widely disobeyed limit of 70 mph, I do not think that the average speed would go up. It might possibly go down. We would certainly not be seeing a law ignored by almost everybody subject to it, so brought into disrepute. Such a situation is not sensible.
It is perfectly consistent to say that overall speeds can be lowered within a varied package. My points do not apply only to motorway speed limits. A road in my constituency has an advisory speed of 35 mph. It is not a strict speed limit. It is a very sensible speed in snow or sleet, or when strong sunshine has followed a downfall of rain, but otherwise it is ludicrously low. It is a little bit of road that leads to the M1, and anyone going round it at 35 mph would be shunted up the back by a 20-tonne or 38-tonne truck. It would be dangerous to go round it at that speed.
The problem is that local authorities are so keen on caution that they set limits that even the most responsible of motorists finds unreasonable. Once that happens, people get used to the idea that if the limit is 70 mph, they can add 10 per cent. to make 77 mph and then a couple for luck, to give 79 mph. Then they think, "As long as I'm doing 79, they won't do anything to me. At 80 they might pull me in if they're being narky, but otherwise they won't."
An awful lot of motorists are making such calculations, even on roads with 30 mph limits. They add 10 per cent. to make 33 mph and a couple more for luck, which is 35 mph. We have worked out that there are many, many roads in Britain with a 30 mph limit where serious or mortal injury is likely. My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon has been very eloquent about the problem outside our country's schools, where it is ludicrous to have a speed limit of 30 mph.
Another example will illustrate even more clearly that speeds much lower than 30 mph are dangerous. [Interruption.] I am in your hands, Mr. Winterton. Is the debate due to end at half-past five?
With permission, Mr. Winterton, I shall endeavour to reply to what has been a full debate.
I said at the beginning that I was looking forward to hon. Members' contributions, and I have enjoyed listening to the deep concern and thoughtful insights that so many of them have.
My hon. Friend Mr. McWalter, with whom I had the pleasure of debating on Tuesday night, mentioned Belisha crossings. He may or may not know that one of my predecessors in Plymouth, Devonport was the same Hore-Belisha, a Minister of Transport in the 1930s who later filled other Government posts. Apparently he was well known, in the late July-August period, for going out and doing a bit of what we nowadays call showboating to get himself into the press, which was not much known in those days. I do not know whether I will be able to emulate some of those aspects of his contribution to road safety. Despite being a Liberal, he was an extremely thoughtful, intelligent and able man who thought carefully about these issues.
One of the overriding themes that emerged in the debate, especially in the helpful and thoughtful comments of my hon. Friend, was the need for us to change the culture of the way in which people think about driving and using the roads. It is not just a matter of enforcing laws. I am reminded of my days in higher education back in the 1960s. I well recall the debates in the junior common room, one of which was on the motion, "This house believes that the drink-driving laws are an affront to individual liberty." I was struck by the passion with which people said that they should have the individual liberty to drink as much alcohol as they wanted to and then to drive their car or motor bike. We had similar debates about seat belts, in which people said, "How dare Big Brother Government or the nanny state tell people whether they should wear seat belts." If one met those same people today and presented them with the same arguments, very few would say that it is socially acceptable to drink and drive. People's attitudes are changing, as my hon. Friend said, but we must still challenge some of their attitudes towards speeding, road use and the consideration that we show to one another.
I shall endeavour to respond to as many points as possible. That is a formidable task, but I shall try in some small measure to be equal to it. Sadly, Mr. Syms could not stay for the rest of the debate; I believe that he is driving carefully back to his constituency as we speak. I appreciated his kind welcoming of me to my post and his consensual approach to road safety. It is important to find that consensual approach. He referred to road safety in the context of the Tory party's "recent very popular manifesto". I wonder what would have happened to the Conservative party had its manifesto been unpopular. Perhaps the new leader will be reflecting on that in the coming months and years.
The hon. Gentleman introduced the concept of a road casualty investigation branch and how it might work. There are some difficulties with that. Many of the problems that we have discussed are local problems, and the solutions need to be owned largely by people in their own localities. As was said during the debate on Tuesday night, there are often local solutions to local problems. The other difficulty with his idea is that it could duplicate the work of other bodies such as the Commission for Integrated Transport, the Audit Commission and the best value regime. Creating a roads inspectorate could be a major distraction from other priorities in the 10-year plan.
The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members mentioned drink-driving. The main issue is that we must drive down hard on the small hard core of people who would still support that motion from the 1960s and who still think that drink-driving is acceptable. They are a hard core who put other road users at risk, whether it be pedestrians or car drivers.
My hon. Friend Mr. Kidney gave a passionate and quietly compelling speech today. He made effective comparisons between the death and injury rates of different modes of transport. Anything we do regarding road safety must not distract us from safety in other areas, such as rail and air. When accidents happen on rail, in the air, or at sea, they can be catastrophic events, which cause considerable public concern.
My hon. Friend referred to the cross-party approach of successive Governments, and we must all recognise that. Over a long period, there has been a reduction in road incidents coupled with a massive increase in road use. He talked about traffic calming in the context of finding engineering solutions to problems. I am attracted to such ideas, in general, because they do not involve enforcement, which is often expensive and can be distracting for the police when enforcing the law in other areas. He was intervened on by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead, who said that people in his area objected to some of the traffic-calming schemes and engineering solutions. However, the real test of such schemes is how much they improve road safety and contribute to a safer environment. There will be objections, but generally they will not come from the people living in the area who, along with their children, have been put at risk.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford also referred to school buses. In Toronto, I saw the effect when a yellow school bus turned on all its lights on an eight-lane highway. Every other vehicle came to a standstill, under the threat--I believe--of imprisonment, and of having a licence withdrawn if the bus's signal was ignored. To see two or three small children walk across that urban motorway in total safety was a compelling sight. That idea is attractive and the Government are examining the use of school buses. Perhaps we can gain something from the experience in the United States and Canada.
My hon. Friend also mentioned rear seat belts, as have other hon. Members. The campaign, which the Department undertook last year, used an advertisement showing a teenage boy in the back seat, and talked about his mother meeting her killer. It turned out that the son, who was not belted in, was the killer. That had a considerable impact on the public. Sometimes such advertisements are shocking, but perhaps we need that on occasion. It had a profound effect on me--I have fairly grown-up children and I reflected on the issue very carefully. It was an effective campaign. In the European Union we are considering tightening rules for seat belt use by children in all vehicles. Announcements will be made in the not too distant future.
My hon. Friend also mentioned a driving test for older people. I trembled for a moment because I had heard that those over 50 might have to take a re-test. My hon. Friend Mr. Drew nods--he is somewhat younger than me. The evidence shows that older, more mature drivers are far safer on the roads, and insurance policies reflect that. I am sure that my hon. Friend Mr. Sheerman, who has a fine record on road safety, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead and I would have something to say if a new regime were introduced for the over-50s, and we would want to be assured that it was a major contributor to road safety. I have yet to be convinced of those arguments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford mentioned summer time. If I stray too deeply into that, I may exceed my brief, but some evidence supports his comments about road accidents occurring at certain times of year and about how darkness, especially in relation to children travelling to school, affects road safety.
I am glad that Tom Brake welcomed the debate. He made several interesting points. He mentioned cameras and how they can contribute to slowing people down and, like others, mentioned people driving towards the camera, slowing down and then speeding up. Cameras are often placed in blackspots, and even if people do that, the cameras contribute to road safety. Feedback on the Gloucester scheme, which the hon. Gentleman may not have had an opportunity to read, contains details of experiments in which an average speed was taken over a length of road. A camera takes an image of a number plate, records the speed at the beginning and end of a journey along a piece of road, and calculates the average speed. That is intelligent thinking, as in such circumstances people cannot get away with slowing only in a particular part. They can get away with driving faster and stopping just before the next light, but I do not believe that many people would choose that option if they were in a hurry to reach their destination.
The hon. Gentleman discussed traffic calming, which he said some people consider an impediment to driving. I am sure that he would agree that traffic calming is generally an impediment to dangerous driving. The hon. Gentleman also discussed cycling and asked whether schools receive any best practice guidance. Key stage 3 curriculum guidance on children's personal, social and health education contains general guidance on safety, and we may revisit that aspect.
The hon. Gentleman then moved from being constructive to being slightly grudging and churlish, although it may have been merely the tone of his voice. I believe that he said that he would ask me three questions, but I stopped counting at 10. I shall endeavour to respond to some of the points that he quite properly made.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the rural roads report, which I am told will be available in November. He also asked whether it will be delivered by 2001; the answer is yes. He asked when a progress report on speed cameras and their effectiveness will be available. That report will be available shortly; I hope in weeks rather than months.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the European directive on car design and whether we should opt for regulation or agreement. We are considering whether a voluntary agreement can be struck with car manufacturers. The attraction of such an agreement is that it can be implemented fairly rapidly, and we can monitor its progress. As he knows, the difficulty with a directive is that it takes time, as the democratic process in the European Union takes time, and it could be two, three or even more years before agreement is reached on a directive. We must decide whether to go for the quick option of a voluntary agreement or to opt for a directive that would probably be effective but might take longer to implement.
If the Government decide to take the voluntary route, can the Minister give hon. Members an undertaking that action will ultimately be taken if the voluntary agreement does not achieve the 20 per cent. cut in pedestrian deaths and serious injuries that the directive will apparently achieve?
Clearly, if the voluntary agreement were ineffective, it would be absolutely right for my Department to revisit it and consider further measures. I believe that it has been suggested in some quarters that the two may run in parallel. However, we must consider those matters with our partners in Europe. We are mindful of the hon. Gentleman's points.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene. I could not be here earlier because I was chairing a meeting in another part of the Palace, as I am chairman of the global road safety partnership of the World bank. I apologise to my hon. Friend and to you, Mr. Winterton. Twenty years ago, we were shown a soft body design by certain car manufacturers. However, cars today are still designed in a way that kills pedestrians in a pretty awful way. They still have all those sharp corners and hardness of impact. Relying on the motor industry for voluntary agreements is not always the best way. I am a little impatient with the EU at the moment.
I thank my hon. Friend. I bow to his enormous experience in this field. Many of us share his impatience. We will look at that carefully. It is not easy, as he will know, to design the front of a car to lessen the impact on pedestrians. One design will suit adults, another will suit larger children and yet another will suit smaller children. It is a complex engineering area. Nevertheless, I accept the thrust of his remarks.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington asked about the Gloucester safer cities initiative and whether it could be extended to rural areas. The answer is yes; it will be extended in due course. He asked whether more police officers would be required for some of the schemes that we mentioned. That is a matter for the Home Secretary, but my Department is in close liaison with the Home Office on those important matters. He asked also about the support for dropping the charge of careless driving. A review of road traffic penalties is under consideration.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about enlarging the role of victim support to road casualties. Representatives of RoadPeace met Lord Whitty and we have available in the Department the record of their discussions. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that a consultative document allows us to go down the routes about which he asked. He asked also whether cycling was increasing or decreasing. It is difficult to collect the statistics, and he will know why. My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead also mentioned that. The feeling is that the numbers of people cycling are probably static, but that is not a wholly accurate statistic.
My hon. Friend Ms Drown made a passionate and extremely well-informed contribution to the debate. She gave a full description of many aspects of road safety. I agreed with much of what she said. I liked her comment about speedometers. My first car was a 1934 Austin 10 and I was delighted to see that the speedometer went up to 80 mph. I soon discovered that at anything above 40 mph the car felt like it was about to disintegrate and was desperately dangerous. I therefore had to learn to drive within the capability of that car. Its brakes and steering were limited and it could not pull up as quickly as modern cars can and could not corner. Our general theme, and the point where I came in on this debate, is that we have to drive within the limits of the road and the limits of the vehicle. That is where intelligent thinking by the driver is important.
My hon. Friend has more experience of these things than I do, and so I shall pass on to my next point.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon made some good points about motorists feeling safe in their cocooned environment and not paying proper attention to what is outside it. That is a powerful argument. One part of the Think! campaign, which we launched yesterday, draws drivers' attention to speed limits so that they think about what is happening outside their little cocoon. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, 5 mph extra above 30 mph leads to 21 ft or 6.5 m extra in braking distance. Braking distance increases exponentially at higher speeds--one needs a far longer braking distance at 40 mph. Those campaigns are about making drivers aware that, although they are in the cocooned confines of their vehicles, they must think about things that are happening outside.
My hon. Friend mentioned safety outside schools. It is important that we consider road safety, especially when pupils go in and out of school. It is difficult to talk of one solution to that problem because schools and roads differ, but my hon. Friend raised some important points. Schemes such as the one providing for safer journeys to schools and local authority initiatives such as improving signing outside schools and putting in calming measures have been successful. I can assure her that road safety for the 24,000 schools in this country is an important issue that will be in our minds and hearts during the coming months and years.
My hon. Friend made a sexist remark when she distinguished between the driving capabilities of men and women. Unfortunately, she has statistics on her side in that men do have a worse record of accidents than women, so I shall swiftly move on from that subject.
My hon. Friend mentioned bus lanes and their importance in road safety. Provisions on their use are enforced in different ways in different parts of the country because on that issue local people are making local decisions. In some areas, taxis are permitted to use them and in one or two areas motor cycles are also allowed. However, we shall be monitoring bus lanes carefully. Indeed, we are looking for a pilot scheme area for motor cycles, so if my hon. Friend sees me afterwards we may be able to assist her.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud always makes a thoughtful contribution to debates on this subject. He particularly stressed the need for proper education and for people to show tolerance. Indeed, a general theme in today's debate is that thoughtfulness and tolerance are as important as the enforcement of the law.
My hon. Friend raised some issues connected with cycle helmets. The Department's evidence clearly shows that wearing cycle helmets reduces the severity of injuries, particularly for children. However, we shall take his comments on board.
My hon. Friend referred to the safer cities project in Gloucester. If he does not already have the relevant document, he may want to acquire a copy from the Department because some of the statistics relating to roads are really impressive. The document openly points out those measures that were unpopular and ineffective. However, the project generally improved road safety in the area. For example, in Barton road, which passes through a fairly rundown area of Gloucester, there were 81 accidents in the three years before the scheme was introduced. However, in the time the scheme was running, there was a 24 per cent. reduction in those accidents.
My hon. Friend raised the issue of seat belts on coaches. He will be pleased to know that it will soon become compulsory to fit lap belts on coaches. If he would like further details on that matter, the Department can provide him with more information.
My hon. Friend asked whether we could take up with the DVLA the issue of medical tests for people who persistently drink and drive. If repeat offenders and those people found to have more than 200 mg per 100 ml refuse to take a test, they must have a medical to get their licence back. He asked whether the Bill on safety will contain elements of road safety. I assure him that it will contain some elements of the road safety strategy.
At one point, my hon. Friend attributed to me an argument made by my hon. Friend Mr. Drew, so I waited to see whether my hon. Friend the Minister would give him the answer to my one outstanding question. That was about blood-alcohol levels, and whether the Government accept that a lower limit of 50 mg would save lives and will adopt that level.
I assure my hon. Friend that that idea is under active and close consideration, but it must be carefully scrutinised. We must consider enforcement, and whether it will contribute to road safety, the only important criterion by which we can judge it. It will be discussed in that context.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead repeatedly talked about the Government not seeming to be anti-motorist. I assure him that the Government are not anti-motorist. I am not anti-motorist. We are pro-motorist, but, equally, we are pro-cyclist, pro-pedestrian and pro- safe use of the roads. That is a better way of looking at the matter. The people who are most at risk from dangerous motoring are other motorists. The pressure for better standards on the roads comes largely from people who drive cars because they want to drive in a safe environment where they are not threatened by people who are speeding or have consumed an excess amount of alcohol. We are pro-motoring, but that is safe motoring. Our environmental targets and targets on noise also have to be considered.
My hon. Friend mentioned creating safer environments for children to play in and graphically described the environment that he would want for his own and his constituents' children to play in. I strongly subscribe to that. There are areas in many of our cities, and even villages, where it is difficult for children to play outside and have proper recreation because there are no back gardens, and flats and houses are small.
There was, I think, some confusion between my hon. Friend's description of home zones and the 20 mph limits. The home zones are concerned not only with the speed of vehicles but with the whole quality of the environment in that area. That might refer to housing, safety on the road or crime-reducing measures, such as installing proper lights and widening pavements. As I said to him on Tuesday night, the 20 mph limits are matters for local authorities. If he wishes to pursue them in parts of his constituency, he must take that up with his local highway authority.
One implication of what I said was that, instead of having powers only to ask local authorities to set speed limits of between 20 and 70 mph, the Government could empower them to have, among other things, substantially lower speed limits. Is the Minister willing to instruct local authorities accordingly?
If my hon. Friend is suggesting that speed limits go below 20 mph, I should say that some engineered solutions that I have seen make it difficult to drive faster than 10 or 15 mph. Those are not enforced speed limits; in some home zones, matters have been so engineered that it is exceedingly difficult to drive at all.
We must also consider the needs of the people living in those roads and their own sensible, intelligent car use. We must balance all factors in drawing up, and consulting on, such schemes. They can be controversial, because people in the area do not always have a coalescence of view on how best to make progress.
As to increasing the speed limit to 80 mph or beyond--on Tuesday night we were steaming along at 120 mph in a 1.2 litre Vauxhall Corsa--I do not find it an attractive option. All the evidence suggests, as my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield said, that increased speed limits lead to increased accidents on the road. I also oppose it on environmental grounds. The pollutants per mile--exhaust and noise emissions--are substantially greater for every 10 mph increase in speed. I have seen nothing to convince me that we need to move on from the 70 mph limit, let alone to an 80, 90 or 120 mph limit.
As my hon. Friend is aware, that applies only when there is an intelligent speed interface with a global positioning system. It is a futuristic example, but I take his point.
I accept that. My hon. Friend may be suggesting that, as science develops rapidly, it may not be so futuristic. Some car manufacturers are examining the possibilities of having intelligence devices in vehicles. However, we have to take other factors--the catastrophic failure of a tyre or an engine, for example--into account. The result at 120 mph will be very different from that at 60 mph. A vehicle can be brought under control after a catastrophic blowout of a tyre at 60 mph, but that would be impossible at 120 mph and would almost certainly lead to a major crash.
I have endeavoured to answer the questions put to me and I appreciate your strictures, Mr. Winterton, on some hon. Members. We have had a thoughtful and interesting debate, which has reinforced the cross-party consensus on many issues raised today. I am pleased to have initiated the debate and I assure everyone that road safety will be central to the Government's strategy on improving life for motorists and pedestrians and enhancing the liveability of some of our communities. It has been a well-tempered debate under your excellent chairmanship, Mr. Winterton, and I look forward to returning to our subject in the not-too-distant future.
Order. Before I call Mr. Bottomley, I must say that I frown on hon. Members arriving extremely late for debates and expecting to be called. A few moments remain and I do not have to adjourn the sitting until 5.30 pm, so--exceptionally--I call the hon. Member.
You have taken the words out of my mouth, Mr. Winterton. I would have preferred to be able to speak earlier, but that is life. I was not present until now because one of my constituents broke his wrist while walking down the street and faced a section 5 charge under the Public Order Act: I was expected to be a witness in Chichester court. I am pleased to have arrived in time to hear the Minister's winding-up speech. I apologise for missing the rest of his remarks: he has a natural gift for the subject and I hope that he enjoys his ministerial responsibilities.
I join the Minister in paying tribute to the blue light users--the police, the ambulance and the fire service who have to cope with the consequences of our mistakes. None of the 3,400 road deaths a year is a pure accident. All have causes and most have consequences. We should pay tribute to those who are called out--day or night, in good or bad weather--and have the awful job of knocking on a stranger's house to say that someone will not be coming home. The reason for involvement in road casualty reduction is minimisation of avoidable disadvantage, distress and handicap.
Safety developments for coaches are important. When, sadly, there has been a coach crash involving fatalities, the media should say whether the people killed were sitting in the exposed seats. If we could get people to avoid those seats--the unprotected seats beside the driver and the middle seat in the back row--or to wear seat belts, the number of deaths in coach crashes would, I believe, be cut by 75 per cent. overnight. The media, however, do not report that. I ask them kindly to say whether those who have died in crashes were wearing seat belts. The present situation is about as ludicrous as that of people who die in early middle age because they smoke. The media and coroners conceal that fact, but we should be far more open about the factors, not necessarily causes, associated with deaths that are often unnecessary.
I suggest that when the courts process drink-driving charges, especially when people are significantly above the legal limit--which is by no means a safe limit, although it may not be right to change it--the places where they have been drinking and their drinking companions should become publicly known. A bar owner or host of a party should not necessarily be charged, but such people should not get away without publicity if they knowingly supplied a driver with a significant amount of drink. Equally, people's drinking companions should become known, because we are responsible. We set the peer group pressure and influence the culture, which matters.
I suspect that most Ministers would want to duck my final point, because it is controversial. As we move from a glorious summer to autumn, changing the clocks will lead to an excess of deaths of between 80 and 120 people--about twice the total number of deaths from variant CJD. The reason for that may be publicity in Scotland, although in practice even people in the central populated belt of Scotland would gain by not changing the clocks in autumn. If that is so and the only people who can conceivably be adversely affected are those living up in Caithness and Sutherland, why do we not have an open debate and have the Scottish Parliament consider the issue for the benefit of Scotland as a whole as well as the rest of the United Kingdom?
The hon. Gentleman has made interesting points in the little time that was left, and I will certainly take that into consideration. Let me also place on the record our appreciation and a tribute to him for the contribution to road safety that he has made over a long time. I had hoped to be able to say that earlier.
I am grateful to the Minister and I end by repeating my apology to you, Mr. Winterton, and to other hon. Members. At the Royal Society discussion on scientific advice to the Government, I said that the only thing that I had done when a junior Minister with responsibility for road casualties was to take the advice of the interdepartmental committee. I think that its members were quite pleased that a Minister was willing to read what they had written, to do what they had suggested and not to do things that were justified by the argument that if it saves only one life, it is worth while.
Despite all the good measures that have been taken, 3,400 lives have been lost, so we must do more than save just one life. We must influence the hundreds and thousands of people who take actions with the risk of one in 100. That mathematics leads to deaths, tragedy and misery, most of which we agree is avoidable.
I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members present when I say that we accept the hon. Gentleman's apology and respect the serious way in which he deals with constituency matters.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes past Five o'clock.