Road Safety (Schools) — [Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:02 pm on 13th September 2018.

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Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee 3:02 pm, 13th September 2018

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered road safety around schools.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I thank the Chairman of Ways and Means for granting time for this debate. I am pleased that we have the opportunity to discuss an issue of national and international significance, which has had a profound effect in my constituency.

Bobby Colleran was a bright, fun and loving boy. He was good at football. He loved playing cowboys and Indians, and he loved his Xbox. As his mum put it, he was, “Cheeky but charming.” He was,

“his own person and didn’t care what anyone thought.”

He loved his family and friends, and would not allow anyone to be upset or alone when he was around.

Bobby loved his nan and his grandad Richie—“Grandy,” he called him. He loved his mum, Joanne, and his dad, David. He was the “Most loving little boy.” Bobby was the middle child and he loved it that way. He had his big brother, Harry, and his younger “twinnies”, Frankie and Georgie. When his younger brothers started school, Bobby would stand by the nursery railing every day at playtime, to check that they were okay and to talk to them. He had a big, caring heart.

On 24 October 2014, while Bobby was returning home from Blackmoor Park Infant School with his mum, he was knocked down and he died. He was six years old. The incident, when it happened, sent shockwaves around my constituency of West Derby, and around Liverpool as a whole. The coroner said:

“When a six year old dies in these circumstances, it affects the whole city.”

As the local community mourned, questions were asked about how this could have happened outside a school. In the aftermath of Bobby’s death, the Bobby Colleran Trust was created. The trust works hard to encourage and promote better road safety awareness for children and parents, and throughout the education system, to help prevent future tragedies. We are here because we need to ensure that roads around schools are safe for children and parents, because we want to see changes in the law that will make the areas around schools less dangerous, and because we owe it to Bobby and his family to make it clear that an incident of this nature should never happen again.

The Bobby Colleran Trust is leading the way in encouraging local authorities and the Government to make our roads safer. I am pleased to say that it has had a lot of success in the city of Liverpool. People across Liverpool applaud and endorse its efforts to make roads near schools safer. One way it is doing that is by encouraging schools to introduce Bobby zones. If you drive around Liverpool, Mr Evans, you will see huge banners outside schools with the straightforward slogan, “Slow Down for Bobby”, next to a picture of his face. In fact, every primary school in Liverpool now has a Bobby zone banner, which is a testament to the Colleran family’s ceaseless work for Bobby’s legacy.

I also want to put on the record my thanks to Radio City in Liverpool, which has supported the Colleran family and the Bobby Colleran Trust since its creation. I am pleased that Adam from Radio City is here today, along with the Colleran family. They have used the medium of radio to raise awareness of Bobby zones and the “Wear Blue for Bobby” campaign.

Bobby zones are designed to slow down the traffic around schools and prevent the unnecessary build-up of vehicles. The maximum speed limit in a Bobby zone is 20 miles per hour. No dropping-off or picking-up is allowed in the Bobby zone, even when the traffic appears to be at a standstill. Drivers should not park on the pavement in any manner within these zones, as that can force pedestrians into the road, which can act as a further distraction to other road users. Drivers should not park in locations that could block the walkway for children and parents. Drivers should be extra vigilant in these zones, and aware that the surrounding area is full of children and their families.

I know that there is an appetite for such measures right across the country. In the past 24 hours, just on social media, I have had responses from parents, campaigners and others from right across our country. In July, for example, there was a furious row at a meeting of Manchester City Council, where discussions were held about which schools in Manchester should get new safety crossings. Earlier this year, two children were knocked down outside Crossacres Primary School in Wythenshawe, Manchester. According to the council’s road safety sub-committee, there were 48 serious incidents outside Manchester schools from 2014 to 2016. A legally enforced Bobby zone outside those schools may have prevented some of those incidents from happening in the first place.

Bobby zones have probably already saved lives in Liverpool. In a cruel twist of fate, earlier this year, on what would have been Bobby’s 10th birthday, another pupil from Bobby’s school, Blackmoor Park, was knocked over in nearly exactly the same spot as Bobby. Paramedic Gary Earps, who had just picked up his daughters from the school, saw the incident and rushed over to help. Fortunately, the pupil suffered only a broken leg, but it could have been a great deal worse. In an interview with Radio City, Gary said that he believed that the Bobby zone had saved that child’s life. He said:

“If what happened…is a prime example, then a life’s been saved because of this. You’re not going to eradicate incidents, but what you can do is put measures in place to minimise injury or death ultimately…
I think every school in the country should have these zones where the speed limit is low.”

Bobby zones are now in effect outside every primary school in Liverpool, but that alone is not enough. Like Gary, I would like to see a Bobby zone outside every school across our country. The small changes that drivers and other road users can make will have a lasting impact on the safety and security of roads around schools. Does the Minister agree that every school should have a Bobby zone? If so, what action will the Government take to make that a reality?

The Bobby Colleran Trust did not stop at Bobby zones. It has developed very helpful education tools for schools to use to help educate their pupils about road safety. One such programme is the “Superbob!” books, developed and written by local author Jude Lennon. Superbob is, as we might imagine, a bit of a superhero. His most important job is not to fight crime or take on the bad guys, but to help people cross the road safely. The aim of the book is to create an interactive, fun, educational resource that can be used in primary school assemblies. It has been taken up not only in Liverpool but across the north-west of England. Since the book was launched, Jude Lennon has visited hundreds of schools and spoken to nearly 60,000 children about staying safe on the roads. Indeed, the book was such a huge success that it spawned a sequel, and earlier this year “Superbob S.T.O.P: Superbob Tells Off Parents” was released.

The trust has also given out around 15,000 high-visibility jackets for pupils, which make students more visible when they go to and from school, particularly in winter, and therefore easier for road users to spot. In April, the trust established a children’s bereavement counselling service in conjunction with Aquarius counselling. The service provides support to grieving children and young people between the ages of five and 19 living across Merseyside, in Liverpool, Huyton, Knowsley and Sefton. The counselling team provides therapy in creative ways, for example through artwork, music, role play, storytelling and dance. The trust has done so much good work in Bobby’s name that in some ways it is hard to put into words. The passion with which the Colleran family have pushed the issue speaks to their heartfelt desire to ensure that no child is knocked down or killed outside school ever again, and I want that to become a reality, too.

I have been a long-standing supporter of improving road safety and, in particular, recognising those who respond in the immediate aftermath. In my previous tenure as the Member for Enfield, Southgate, a similarly tragic incident led to my becoming chair of the Livia awards. The Livia Award for Professionalism and Service to Justice is an annual award given to the Metropolitan police officer in the traffic operational command unit judged to have provided the most meritorious service. It arose from an exceptional circumstance: the untimely, tragic and avoidable death of Livia Galli-Atkinson, who was killed in Enfield on her way to ballet on 12 January 1998. I have proudly chaired the Livia award panel for almost 20 years. I pay tribute to Livia’s parents, Guilietta and George. Like Joanne and David Colleran, they are dedicated campaigners for road safety.

In 2003, when I was an education Minister, I was pleased to speak at the first Safe Routes to School conference in Leicester, which had been organised by the charity Sustrans. The Safe Routes to School programme was set up by the previous Labour Government to support infrastructure developments around school catchment areas and clusters to make it easier and safer for pupils to walk or cycle to school. Surveys show that one of the main barriers for parents allowing their children to walk or cycle is concern for their safety along the way. The fund was set up to mitigate such concerns by building cycle paths and walkways, laying down road markings and introducing clearer signage to help get pupils to school safely. The Scottish Government still run a similar scheme. Will the Minister update the House on the status of safe routes to school now in England?

Every month, almost 200 children receive life-threatening injuries or tragically lose their life while crossing a road in our country. Evidence shows that 11 and 12-year-olds are the most at-risk group when it comes to road safety. An 11-year-old pedestrian is three times more likely to be killed or seriously injured during the school run than a 10-year-old. That age group accounts for almost one third of all child pedestrian deaths. The statistic is striking, and I understand that the main explanation is that 11 is the age at which many children get their first mobile phone. Nearly a quarter of 11 and 12-year-olds say that they have been distracted when crossing a road because of a mobile phone or MP3 player.

I am told that the term for such people is “smombie”, which we think means a smartphone zombie. So-called smombies put themselves at risk by not paying attention to the road, but it also puts drivers under more pressure and risks unnecessary incidents. In fact, in some states of the United States and in Abu Dhabi, it is illegal to cross the road while using a mobile phone. I am really pleased to hear that First News will be running a big campaign on this specific issue during Road Safety Awareness Week in November to try to educate children about the dangers of not paying full attention when crossing the road.

It is vital that children and young people have road safety education and skills from the youngest possible age so that they can continue to put those into practice in their teens and then in adulthood. That is one of the reasons why the Superbob books are so important; they teach children a lifelong lesson—the often neglected lesson—of how to cross a road safely. What are the Government doing to ensure that all students are given high-quality road safety education in schools across the country?

Since 2010, the Government have increasingly sought to devolve transport powers to local government and to city regions. Of course, that brings with it some benefits as it allows local areas to adapt their roads and transport to local needs and priorities. However, safety around school is an issue of national significance, so I urge the Government to develop and update their national framework in conjunction with schools, the police and local authorities to ensure that best practice is enforced throughout the country.

In 2010, when the current Chancellor of the Exchequer was the Secretary of State for Transport, he told the Transport Committee,

“We have not ruled out” a new national road safety framework. Indeed, the coalition Government released the framework in 2011, but it lacked specific recommendations on how to deal with road safety around schools. Do the Government have any plans to update the road safety framework? If so, will they consider the specific set of issues of safety around schools, including my suggestion that Bobby zones be taken up as a national priority?

Unfortunately, last year we saw in this country a small increase in the number of deaths on the road after a long period in which in most years the figures declined. In 1990 more than 5,000 people were killed on the roads. The figure for 2017 was 1,792. That fall is hugely welcome and is in part down to the extraordinary campaigning of organisations such as RoadPeace and Brake, and of course the Bobby Colleran Trust. However, 1,792 deaths is still 1,792 deaths too many. We have some of the safest roads in the world, but that does not mean we can be complacent. We must instil best practice, ensuring that roads around our schools are safe for children and families, and listen to groups that have been working on the issue, such as the Bobby Colleran Trust, which are out in the community making changes to people’s lives and wellbeing.

I would like to take this opportunity to invite the Minister to meet me and the Colleran family in Liverpool. I know that he met them briefly at the beginning of the debate this afternoon, and I thank him for that, but if he has the chance to come to Liverpool he will see the schools with their Bobby zone banners and gain an appreciation of the city-wide impact that Bobby’s death had, and the city-wide effect of the campaigning efforts of his family and the trust. I wish, of course, that we were here debating the issue in less tragic circumstances, but we have an opportunity to learn the lessons from the death of Bobby Colleran and to do everything in our power to ensure that no other child is hurt or dies on our roads. In many ways, Bobby has left a wonderful legacy: 60,000 children are better educated about road safety, there are Bobby zones in every primary school in Liverpool, and now there is a special bereavement service for young people and children across the north-west of England. Let us keep Bobby’s legacy going by making sure that every school in the country has a Bobby zone, and by keeping pupils and their families as safe as we can.