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

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:52 pm on 13th September 2018.

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Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 3:52 pm, 13th September 2018

It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I, too, congratulate Stephen Twigg on securing this debate on road safety around schools. I very much share his concern about the issue. It is a sobering fact that children are killed or seriously injured in road traffic accidents every year near schools. The hon. Gentleman will have heard many stories, and he referred to a couple in his speech in a moving and heart-rending way. He will have heard such stories in his previous role as shadow Secretary of State for Education and in other positions in and around government.

I also pay tribute to Mr and Mrs Colleran for the work they have done. It was lovely to meet them briefly earlier, and I look forward to a further conversation. I absolutely pay tribute to them, because obviously Bobby Colleran was a marvellous, marvellous boy. They have vindicated his memory by the great actions and energy they have shown in promoting Bobby zones and the other measures that the hon. Gentleman discussed. I have been through their website with some care, read the stories and seen the work, and I pay tribute to them. It is a remarkable achievement.

I and my officials are only too keenly aware of road traffic fatalities and injuries and the need to protect the most vulnerable road users. As Chair of the International Development Committee, the hon. Gentleman will know that by internationally measured standards the UK has an excellent road safety record and a long history of success in encouraging safe behaviour from all road users. This country should be proud of the fact that the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads dropped by 61% from 1990 to 2016. There has also been a recent drop in the total number of children between nought and 17 years old who are killed or seriously or slightly injured on Britain’s roads, from 23,383 in 2014 to 21,661 in 2016. In the hon. Gentleman’s area of Liverpool, there has been a drop from 236 in 2014 to 232 in 2016. However, we are striving to make our roads even safer still and before turning to the specific questions that have been raised by Members, I will talk about the range of measures and initiatives we are taking to try to address these issues. I am extremely grateful for all their contributions.

I will start by talking about the THINK! campaign, which is very close to many Members’ hearts. We want to build road safety knowledge. Jim Fitzpatrick spoke about education and its centrality, and he is absolutely right. We want to build deep road safety knowledge and skills at reading roads and pavements among younger generations, forming good habits that last a lifetime. The THINK! team has recently completed a two-and-a-half-year project to produce new educational resources for three to 16-year-olds. They are entirely free and are available to any school, any other educational institution or non-educational institution or any individual that would like to use them, whether in the home or in teaching.

The team engaged parents, teachers, youth leaders and road safety professionals in the development of those resources, which include films, songs and games—different modes of education and play—to encourage as many young people as possible to understand the importance of using the road safely. Those resources are, in a way, the modern equivalent of the green cross code that Jim Shannon mentioned. We launched the resources at a London school in April, and the campaign has received very positive support online and from the national and regional press.

We are also taking other important measures. One that has been much in the headlines recently is our cycling and walking investment strategy and the safety review that has come out of that. We as a Government are committed to increasing cycling and walking and to making our roads safer for vulnerable users, including pedestrians and especially children. We will only achieve that ambition if children feel safe when they walk and cycle to and from school, for the very reasons picked out in the debate today, because that is a point of vulnerability.

In September 2017, I announced a cycling and walking safety review, launching a call for evidence that closed in June. It was astonishingly successful in eliciting a public response. We have had something like 13,000 responses, covering a wide range of issues, from infrastructure to road user education, and with hundreds of suggestions. I have already made various interim announcements this year that reflect the input and expertise shown through that consultation process. They include measures to improve standards for infrastructure; measures to incorporate better guidance on close passing of vulnerable road users—bicyclists or horse riders, for example—into The Highway Code; and £1 million to fund pathfinder projects to upgrade the national cycle network. We will be making further announcements in that area soon.

Much of the focus of the review, as one might imagine, is on protecting cyclists, walkers and other vulnerable road users. However, cyclists themselves must play their part in creating safer roads. In rare but tragic cases, the dangerous or careless actions of a cyclist have led to death or serious injury. I am afraid we had one involving an e-bike recently in London, as colleagues will have seen. We are consulting on plans to create new offences—legal expertise has identified a gap in the law in England in that area—in order to bring penalties potentially for causing death or injury by dangerous cycling into line with those for driving. We expect drivers to be held to account if they carelessly or dangerously cause death or injury, and the same will potentially be true for cyclists if the consultation plays out that way. The consultation is open until 5 November.

The question of education and its link to road safety receives particular attention in Government through Bikeability, the Government’s national cycle training programme designed to give children the skills and confidence to cycle safely and competently on today’s roads. Bikeability has substantial funding—£50 million to cover cycle training from 2016 to 2020. That includes a £5 million investment in Bikeability Plus, which introduces four-year-olds to balance training, teaches pupils how to fix and maintain their bikes, and encourages families and children who do not currently cycle to do so.

Local authorities have bid into the Department for the training places that they wish their schools to deliver across levels 1 to 3 and Bikeability Plus. As of May 2017, more than 2.1 million places have been delivered across the country since Bikeability started in 2007, and we have secured an additional £1 million to support it during 2018-19. Bikeability is about learning not only how to ride a bike, but how to keep oneself safe on the road, and how to read roads. It therefore makes an important contribution to understanding of general road safety.

Another scheme to mention is the Walk to School project. The emphasis rightly placed by colleagues on walking buses is very welcome. During the coming year, the Government will invest a further £620,000 in the Walk to School project, which has been highly successful. It is delivered by a charity called Living Streets and aims to increase the number of children walking to school. It will support the delivery of the Government’s target to increase the percentage of children aged five to 10 who usually walk to school to 55% by 2025. It builds on previous funding that targeted all kinds of schools that were not covered by the access fund “Walk To” consortium, to ensure maximum geographic reach. I have asked my officials to input all aspects of today’s debate—such as walking to school, and understanding walking buses as a way of safely co-ordinating road use—to our cycling and walking safety review. We want to take all the learning today, including Bobby zones, to which I will refer in a moment, and walking buses, and add it to the process of reflection and consultation.

Another important area in which we are taking measures is pavement parking. Parking on the pavement can, of course, cause serious problems for child pedestrians, and not just those in wheelchairs or with visual impairments. A child’s-eye view of the world is a much lower one. It is harder to see where one is, and if the pavement is being blocked it is harder to negotiate for a young person who may have very limited experience. It is also bad for parents with prams or pushchairs.

Within London, as Members will know, there is a statutory ban on pavement parking. Outside London, local authorities have powers to prohibit pavement parking by making traffic regulation orders—TROs—under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. They may also use bollards to protect pavements physically. We have heard a lot of concern from interested groups, the general public, those with disabilities and the elderly about the incidence of pavement parking outside London. We are currently gathering evidence to try to understand the effectiveness of current legislation. That includes considering alternative methods for tackling inappropriate pavement parking. The review is in progress, and I expect it to draw some conclusions by the end of the year. It is an internal review, and if it concludes that there is a case for change, the next stage will be to proceed to consultation sometime next year.