Dangerous Driving Penalties — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:22 pm on 17th September 2015.

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Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Conservative, Mid Derbyshire 3:22 pm, 17th September 2015

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Hollobone. I am delighted to take part in this important debate secured by my hon. Friend Alok Sharma. He has been a champion on this issue, as he says, since the tragic deaths of two of his constituents who were killed by a dangerous driver. Any positive changes that may come about on penalties for dangerous driving will be attributable to his and his constituents’ hard work. Such events affect families for ever; it never goes away.

Last week in the main Chamber, I held an Adjournment debate on the issue of road traffic safety outside Morley primary school in my constituency. I want measures to be taken outside the school to prevent another tragedy. When anyone’s child is killed it affects the whole community, and speeding and the death of a child outside the school would be witnessed by many children. I want to prevent that. One of the main issues I focused on was enforcing penalties for dangerous drivers and what can be done to reduce instances of dangerous driving. If penalties are not enforced and drivers think there will not be consequences for not sticking within the law on the roads, there will be more deaths on our roads and more debates like this one, calling for something to be done to prevent them.

In the previous Parliament, the then Secretary of State for Justice announced a review of dangerous driving sentences, and the outcome of that review process has yet to be finalised. For many victims and families of victims injured, sometimes fatally, by a car driver, it can be baffling, and a source of disappointment and anger, when, often, the driver is charged with a minor traffic offence rather than the more serious crime of dangerous driving. Making sure there are tough and clear penalties for dangerous driving should go hand in hand with practical efforts to tackle it.

One of the key ways in which, I think, we can combat dangerous driving is by increasing the use of cameras that can detect when someone goes through a red light and is speeding. While speed cameras are utilised for recording motorists speeding, bringing prosecutions for dangerous driving strongly relies on there being witnesses to the incident. In rural areas, such as in Morley, that is not always possible, and I agree with Jim Fitzpatrick, who said that cameras can and will change behaviour.

Every constituency has areas of high risk where the chance of someone being hit by a car is much higher. In my constituency the busy A608 leads traffic to and from Derby city and runs through a crossing where schoolchildren cross twice a day, which means that there are up to 200 crossings a day. I do not want to bog this speech down with statistics, but I will highlight a few instances that really frighten me. Outside Morley primary school, over a 40-minute period, with a police van present and children crossing, a car ran straight through a red light at speed, driving at over 59 mph.

The children are used to crossing the road, day in, day out. They stop when there is no green man. They start walking, or running, towards the school or home, when the beeping starts and it is safe to cross; but it is not safe to cross if a car is going through the red light. The children are well disciplined; it is the drivers who are not. During the same 40-minute period, four other drivers travelled at over 40 mph outside a school where there is an explicit 30-mile-an-hour limit. It is my hope that the school’s campaign to have the speed limit reduced to 20 mph will be successful—but it will be successful only if the county council is listening.

Just as importantly, I want the drivers to be properly prosecuted. Kate Marsland, the head, has to spend half an hour at each end of the day trying, alongside the accompanying parents, to protect the children. The drivers know there is a school on the road and they put the lives of the children in great danger by what they do. We only know they were breaking the law because of the school’s requests to have the area monitored by the police. However, the police cannot always be there to monitor the situation. Cameras on areas of high risk can really help to catch dangerous drivers before they kill someone. They can also greatly help with prosecutions by showing not just the speed of the car but whether the driver is doing anything illegal at the time, such as using their phone or texting. The clearer the picture of what happened, the easier it is to prosecute.

Moving control for enforcing traffic penalties directly to local authorities could also make a difference. As it currently stands, traffic penalty enforcement is under the remit of the police who have limited resources to spend on traffic violations. They have many other important things to do. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the Member for Harrogate and

Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), said in July that he wants to make effective enforcement of traffic laws a priority to help keep our roads safe.

Would the Minister consider looking at the issue again, and assess the possibility of giving local authorities the power to enforce traffic penalties or even take forward prosecutions, which might persuade drivers to be more careful and obey the law? Giving greater power to local authorities, so that they can allocate more resources to catching dangerous drivers, will help get the message across. If people drive dangerously they will be caught and face the consequences. Maintaining consistency in the penalties given to dangerous drivers will also make people think about their actions before deciding to check their phone or glance at the paper while driving at speed.

I want such measures because I do not want never to have raised the issue if a child is killed. That is what will happen, with many children witnessing it. They will never get over that and neither will the parents or the school. I want the law changed to allow enforcement against dangerous drivers to be increased.