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 very important issue. As the hon. Gentleman will know, in a previous incarnation, I led a vigorous and successful cross-party group to try to reduce costs in private finance initiatives. Believe me, I understand how expensive public procurement can be. As he will have seen, the Department has taken some steps to try to provide lower cost alternatives. If there is a reform of traffic regulation orders, that may well enable the reduction of costs. Local authorities have existing powers to band together to share procurement powers if they wish, but it is right to say that there are some parts of the country, particularly under framework contracts, where one could be seriously worried about some of the costs that local authorities find themselves operating under. One would like to see the democratic process operating in order to encourage them to take the low-cost but effective solutions wherever possible.

Before I come on to the questions that have been raised, I would just mention one more thing—mobile phones. We have taken a tougher stance on drivers who use a handheld mobile phone at the wheel. The penalty doubled to six points and a £200 fine last year, which means that drivers face having their licence revoked if they are caught using a mobile phone while driving.

My hon. Friend Huw Merriman raised the issue of procurement costs. He is absolutely right; I have responded to that, and to the point he raised about walking buses.

My great friend, the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse, has been a superlative campaigner for international road safety and the genius of the fire service internationally, as many colleagues will know. He focused on national targets. As he says, the country is bound to international targets. We have taken the view that national targets do not necessarily play a role in improving safety. It is a contested matter. There are countries that have national targets with very good safety records, but it is very hard to point to a process of causation. We have taken the approach of trying to balance a wide range of interventions. Although the general trend remains broadly downwards, it is true that it has levelled out, and that is certainly something we are taking seriously. The Department is doing a lot of work on the areas of causation for that. Part of the current work on the two-year road safety strategy is looking specifically at older and more vulnerable users, young people, rural users and motorcyclists—they are four of the most at-risk categories. Work in the cycling and walking safety review very much targets a portion of those groups.

The hon. Member for Strangford was absolutely right to emphasise the impact of speed and the speed differential. The case for 20 mph speed limits rests heavily not just on the evidence of the more civilised approach that they bring to urban traffic—or that they are likely to bring if combined with the appropriate traffic calming measures and the like—but also on that of the initial impact of 30 mph versus 20 mph causing greater injury or greater risk of death. The hon. Gentleman was right to raise that point.

I have discussed the point raised by Karl Turner about national road safety targets. I understand why he raises the point. It is important to say that our road safety record remains the second best of any country in the EU and the fourth best in Europe. The concern about its levelling off is not restricted to the UK. There are similar concerns in many other countries with good safety records around Europe, and that is why it raises some difficult questions.

I have a couple of other points to touch on in response to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby. I have talked a little bit about the question of whether schools should have Bobby zones. I pay tribute to the work of Highways England and the police in educating young people in schools, and other charitable organisations such as Brake and RoadPeace have been mentioned. They have all had very important impacts.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of smombies. Our two-year road safety action plan is looking into that issue as part of the young persons’ component. Whether that is responsible for some of the increased injuries that we have seen in city environments is an interesting and open question. I should mention that Bikeability has entered a very interesting pioneering arrangement with Halfords, so they can leverage off each other in terms of spreading the word about road safety to potential users.

As I mentioned, I have asked officials to take the details from this debate, including the very interesting conversation we have had about Bobby zones, as input to the cycling and walking safety review. If there is evidence from Liverpool on the beneficial effect that Bobby zones have—it may be anecdotal at this stage rather than fully evidential—we will be very interested to see it.

The Government are taking an active and wide-ranging approach to tackling road safety in general and around schools. We will continue to support and work closely with all parties in making our roads safer for everyone that uses them.