Road Safety and the Legal Framework — [Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 20th November 2018.

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Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth 9:30 am, 20th November 2018

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered road safety and the legal framework.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for enabling this important debate on road justice and the legal framework from the perspective of vulnerable road users, which follows two debates on road safety held in this House over the past few weeks. The first was led by Jack Brereton, and the second was a Government debate led by the Minister of State, Department for Transport, Jesse Norman.

Those important debates highlighted a range of issues that lead to avoidable road death and serious injury, particularly to vulnerable road users, such as those on foot or riding pedal cycles, but also to motorcyclists, wheelchair users, horse riders and others. As well as raising concerns about issues such as investment in highways, road design, training and The Highway Code, Members present at both debates expressed concerns about gaps in the application of road traffic offences and penalties, highlighted by the experiences brought to them by constituents following deaths and serious injuries among vulnerable road users.

I thank Brake, RoadPeace, Cycling UK and the House of Commons Library for helping me to prepare for this debate by providing detailed briefings. I secured this debate jointly with John Lamont. We are both officers of the all-party parliamentary group on cycling, which last year held an inquiry entitled “Cycling and the Justice System”, culminating in a report that was published in May 2017. That report made 14 recommendations, but today we will focus on just four areas of road justice that we contend need review by Government: clarity over the distinction in charging and sentencing between dangerous and careless driving; misuse of the exceptional hardship rule in respect of driving bans; inadequate sentences for leaving the scene of an accident; and car-dooring.

All of those who are involved have no doubt that there is a need for a review. The wider context is that we and the Government share an ambition to make walking and cycling the natural choice for shorter journeys to reduce congestion, cut pollution, improve health, rejuvenate our shopping parades and save us all money. We also need to cut the cost of the effects of death and serious injury, including through lost futures and exorbitant health costs. Part of the solution is to address gaps in our road traffic laws.

The laws and their prosecution should be there to encourage safer driving, reduce casualties, improve road safety through the deterrent effect, and reduce irresponsible behaviour on our roads. The effectiveness of road traffic laws is of particular importance to vulnerable road users because irresponsible driving presents a disproportionate threat to them. It also puts people off travelling by foot or by bike, despite the huge health and environmental benefits of doing so. We generally expect high safety standards and strong obligations to avoid or minimise hazards in other risky professions, such as rail drivers and airline pilots, and other dangerous workplaces, such as construction sites. However, for drivers of vehicles, lapses of concentration that cause death or injury are regularly dismissed as accidents or carelessness, rather than something that is avoidable.