Dangerous Driving — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:48 pm on 8th July 2019.

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Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 5:48 pm, 8th July 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate the petitioners and Helen Jones, who introduced the debate. She said that talking about the issue was to step into a world of horror, and she underlined that when she spoke about the heartbreak of families such as that of Violet-Grace. Like the hon. Lady and others, my sympathies go to the families and others who have been similarly affected by such criminality—that is what it is.

The hon. Lady described the selflessness of the organ donation following that incident. That is in stark contrast to the incredible speed, criminality and heartless cowardice of those who perpetrated such a heinous crime.

The hon. Lady went on to talk about the failures of the justice system, which, rightly, has always been different in Scotland, so I will not talk too much about those ins and outs. Regulations are of course set by the UK Government, but the law is different. Comparisons must be made with wherever people drive, however, and lessons must be drawn from the accidents and criminal acts that occur when someone is behind the wheel. Actions should always be taken as a result to make our roads safer.

The hon. Lady talked about the need to deter further offences. She mentioned education campaigns and drink-drive actions, which I will talk about in a minute or two, after I recap the words of hon. Members, first those of Ms Rimmer. She talked about Rebecca, Glenn and Violet, and all the people who signed the petition. She talked about the balance of the impact on victims versus that on the defendants, giving more details of the terrible events surrounding the incident involving Violet-Grace. She talked about the understandable rise in anger in the communities, and other hon. Members spoke about how their constituents were similarly affected.

Liz McInnes told us about the terrible case of Joseph, whose car was put on display outside Parliament for everyone to see. That was a particularly heartbreaking sight to witness. If every vehicle involved in something like that was put outside, we would not be able to contemplate the carnage caused by drivers being irresponsible or—as others have said, and will say many times in future—carrying out criminal acts behind the wheel.

Colleen Fletcher discussed some serious and troubling crime involving drug use on the roads, and recounted the story of poor little Corey and Caspar. This has been a difficult debate to listen to, hearing about all the personal tragedy involved and thinking about all the issues that go on to wash into families and communities, as well as the devastating impacts on people’s lives outwith the initial incident, but going on, perhaps even for generations afterwards. She talked about how those boys were mown down when they had barely even started their lives.

Stephanie Peacock talked about previous convictions hardly being acknowledged in another tragic case, and Dr Drew discussed van drivers disregarding the law. He discussed the need to change the culture and the minority of people who regularly drive dangerously. Some can be educated, but a shameful minority just ignore that. He also mentioned the help needed for voluntary groups.

Jim Fitzpatrick made a powerful contribution, as has been said. He talked rightly about the need for greater seriousness on road deaths and about the targets required by the UK Government for casualty reduction. He went on to what I will talk about now, which is education, training and of course the law, as well as the cultural change required.

When the hon. Member for Warrington North began the debate, she said that there was no need to delay action. Indeed, there is no need to delay. Things can be done, and they do not have to wait for other bits and pieces to fall into place or for other issues to be dealt with. In Scotland, action has been taken on some of the issues that the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse was talking about. Through Scotland’s road safety framework to 2020, the Scottish Government are committed to achieving safer road travel. The framework sets out Scotland’s first ever national casualty reduction targets. Will the Minister let us know whether he intends to follow that lead in this instance?

The SNP Scottish Government have taken a wide range of actions to reduce road traffic accidents in Scotland, including cutting the blood alcohol limit and introducing drug-driving limits in 2019. I will give more detail on that in a moment. Action has resulted in the number of people killed or injured on Scotland’s roads reaching the lowest level since records began.

In Scotland, by nature of our geography, road safety is an everyday issue. Most of us use the roads every day as drivers, passengers, cyclists or pedestrians, and for many it is the main way of getting to their jobs—for some, it is doing those jobs. The Scottish Government and the road safety partners are committed to the outcome of safer road travel in Scotland for everyone. To that end, the Scottish Government produced a framework for improving road safety for the next decade. The framework describes for Scotland the road safety vision, aims and commitments, including those targets for road death reductions that I mentioned.

The Scottish Government will also seek to establish a “Drive for Life” culture, which will seek to influence young people’s attitudes to road safety and future driving behaviour before they get behind the wheel. They will conduct a public debate on young driver issues, including graduated licences and additional training, and encourage and support the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents Scotland with the formation of the Scottish Occupational Road Safety Alliance in order to raise employers’ awareness of the need to have a policy for managing occupational road risk. They will also investigate ways to promote and facilitate initiatives relating to further training for older drivers, including consideration of incentives for that.

The hon. Member for Warrington North, when discussing those shocking and desperate acts, also talked about the need to reduce accidents. Specifically, it is important to reflect on the legal blood alcohol limit in Scotland, which has been reduced from 80 mg to 50 mg per 100 ml, lower than the rest of the UK. Incidentally, England, Wales and Northern Ireland still have the 80 mg limit, which is the joint highest in Europe. In Scotland, making that change saw a reduction of 7.6% in drink-driving in 2015 compared with the previous year.

At that time, Transport Minister Humza Yousaf also announced plans for a cycling taskforce, the main aim of which will be to drive forward ambitious cycling infrastructure such as segregated cycle paths. Although dangerous driving is rightly the focus of this debate, we must not forget that other road users are in danger on the road not only from dangerous drivers, but from other irresponsible driving behaviour.

The SNP MSP Gillian Martin introduced a Member’s Bill in the Scottish Parliament to require seat belts to be fitted in all dedicated home-to-school transport in Scotland. The Bill received Royal Assent in December 2017. Furthermore, in 2019, the Scottish Government introduced drug-driving offences and, by the end of this financial year, we will have spent more than £8.2 billion on Scotland’s motorways and trunk road network to improve road safety, including the M8 missing link, the Queensferry crossing and—this one is important in my constituency— average speed cameras on the A9. If the Minister is looking for an example of something that has changed driver behaviour dramatically, those average speed cameras are now welcomed by the community, which saw the difference they made in adjusting the behaviour both of locals using the road regularly and of visitors.

There has been excellent progress, but there is always more to do. We are not content that rates are at the lowest since records began; we have to do more to maintain that improvement. The Scottish Government have been working with the Welsh Assembly on the casualty reduction targets. Official figures revealed that we have had a drop, but we intend to continue the improvement work.

I hope that the Minister will answer the questions about the legal issues that have been raised by hon. colleagues. He will take notice of the passion of the petitioners, the heartache of the families and the pleas of hon. Members in this Chamber and from all parts of Parliament who want action to prevent further road deaths and to tackle those who deliberately flout the law, affecting people’s lives in many ways.

I thank you for the opportunity to speak, Mrs Moon. I look forward to hearing about the action that will be taken, and whether the Minister will take into account the lessons that may be learned from Scotland.