Improving Driver Safety

– in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 11 January 2023.

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Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole 11:00, 11 January 2023

I will call Andrea Leadsom to move the motion and then I will call the Minister to respond. There will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up as is the convention for 30-minute debates.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the matter of improving driver safety.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Sir Robert.

Imagine that you are at home, and you have just cleared away the dinner. There is a knock at the door, and you look at your partner: “Are you expecting anyone?” “No.” You answer the door, and a police officer is standing there to deliver the most dreadful news that anyone could ever hear: that your son or daughter has been killed in a car accident. I am sure everybody here would agree that the loss of a child is the very worst thing that could happen to anyone. It goes against the very order of things, and no family ever recovers from their loss.

Sadly, I have had a number of grieving parents come to my surgeries over the past 12 years to talk about the terrible impact of the death of a child who was either a passenger in a car or driving alone or with friends. My heart goes out to every parent who has ever had to receive that terrible news, and in particular my constituents Chris and Nicole Taylor, who lost their beloved daughter Rebecca in 2008. Chris and Nicole came to see me soon after I became an MP in 2010, and I have tried to support their brilliant campaign that seeks to significantly reduce the risk of any other young, inexperienced driver dying on our roads.

Evidence submitted by the Department for Transport to the Transport Committee’s young and novice driver inquiry in 2020 revealed that while young drivers account for only 7% of full driving licence holders, in 2019, they were involved in 23% of fatal and serious collisions in the UK. In 2021, the AA surveyed its members, asking them what they thought were the greatest safety risks to teenagers. The responses that came back were clear: members thought that drugs and gun and knife crime were the greatest risks to young people, but in fact, road deaths are far and away the greatest risk. They account for 17% of deaths of five to 19-year-olds, compared with 9% of all deaths being alcohol and drug related, and 7% being due to homicide. Road deaths clearly pose the much bigger risk.

Now, my constituents Chris and Nicole have joined forces with Radd Seiger, another constituent, who campaigned so tirelessly with Harry Dunn’s family to achieve justice for Harry following his tragic road death in 2019. Their campaign calls for new arrangements for young people as they learn to drive and become used to our busy and dangerous roads. First, they recommend that any learner driver should complete a minimum learning period of 50 hours’ driving, or six months in time, before they can take their practical driving test. During that time, they should complete a logbook of driving under different road and weather conditions. Secondly, they recommend that young drivers who have just passed their driving test should wait for a period of time—up to a year—before being allowed to carry other young passengers. Statistics have shown that young drivers are more likely to be involved in a collision when a similar-aged passenger is in the car. In 2016, 25% of casualties among those aged 17 to 24 were passengers.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that point about the so-called graduated driving licence and support her calls for it. Emily Challen, whose parents live in Normanton in my constituency, was killed when her friend had only had a driving licence for eight months, three of them were in the car, and they drove, tragically, into the back of a heavy goods vehicle. We need to protect our young people, because the significance and the responsibility of driving others is far beyond what I recognised to be the case when I was a young driver. As my right hon. Friend says, the stats clearly show that we need to protect our young people, so that they can protect their friends and loved ones. I ask the Minister to reflect on graduated driving licences in his response.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for telling the story of her constituent. Across the country, there are far too many similar, tragic cases.

The third recommendation of my constituents’ campaign is that young drivers should not be allowed to drive between midnight and 4 am. The risk of a young driver being involved in a collision is eight times higher between 2 am and 4 am on both weekdays and weekends. My constituents and I recognise that there will need to be exceptions to any such restrictions, such as for young parents taking their children out in a car or young people who are travelling to work between the hours of midnight and 4 am. It would be perfectly easy to create those exceptional circumstances. I have every sympathy with the aims of my constituents’ campaign, and I urge the Minister to look at the merits of these modest but potentially incredibly effective measures. A further recommendation that has been made to me by many others is that the use of black boxes for young drivers should be compulsory when they are first on the roads.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

I apologise, Sir Robert, for being a little late; I had a chemotherapy session at Guy’s, and it overran.

The right hon. Lady knows I am a great supporter of this. The first 1,000 miles that a young person drives are the crucial ones, and we must do anything we can to support them and make sure they are safe. People forget this, but she will know better than anyone else here that this is the biggest killer worldwide of children and young people. It is not any disease; the biggest killer of children and young people worldwide is death on the roads.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point and for rushing across here straight from his procedure, which demonstrates his great regard for the importance of this subject.

Black boxes are the “good spy in your car”. They record data about a driver’s driving style, such as whether the driver is taking corners safely and whether they are keeping to the speed limit. Furthermore, data from the British Insurance Brokers’ Association shows that black boxes in cars can result in savings of more than £1,000 a year in insurance costs for some young drivers, so they are a real win-win. In evidence to the Transport Committee in 2021, telematics insurance provider insurethebox confirmed that its technology has assisted 80,000 young drivers to reduce speeding per mile by 21%, which it estimates has resulted in 700 fewer crashes and 22 fewer serious injuries.

The Minister will be aware that the concept of graduated driving licences was the subject of a full Transport Committee inquiry in 2021. The GDL proposes a minimum supervised learning period, an intermediate licence period that places quite strong restrictions on the newly qualified driver, and then a full unrestricted driving licence that is only available after completion of the first two stages. International evidence was put forward to the Committee at the time showing that the GDL can reduce collisions and trauma from accidents involving young drivers by 20% to 40%. The main concerns about the GDL are that it reduces access to employment and education, that it impacts on young people living and working in rural areas and that the restrictions may be hard to enforce. Nevertheless, the Transport Committee’s report recommended that the Department for Transport should resume a study into the social and economic consequences of the GDL, which it committed to in its 2019 road safety statement.

Many people will argue—indeed, the Minister may seek to—that a GDL is not enforceable, but I would say that the vast majority of young people learning to drive are extremely sensible, if not actually a bit scared of getting behind the wheel. They have no desire to crash their car, and they certainly have no desire to harm themselves or cause harm to any other young person. While there may understandably be some reluctance to change the rules, it is my view that young people would, on the whole, comply with new rules around learning to drive. As a result, we would see a massive decrease in the number of deaths and injuries on our roads.

I am grateful to the many in this House and the other place who have shown a significant interest in this area. I am sorry that this debate is relatively short because many were keen to contribute to it. I am delighted that the noble Lady, Baroness Jenkin of Kennington, will also be tabling a question in the other place on the same topic, demonstrating her concern and interest.

I pay tribute to all the parents, including Chris and Nicole, who have shown such determination, and to Charlotte Charles and Tim Dunn for their passion in making sure that no other family has to suffer the terrible losses that they have all endured.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 11:10, 11 January 2023

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend Dame Andrea Leadsom for opening this debate on improving driver safety, and for her sensitive speech. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Sir Robert.

I begin by offering my condolences to the bereaved families who are the driving force behind today’s debate: to Mrs Sharron Huddleston, who tragically lost her daughter Caitlin; and to Chris and Nicole, who are here in the hall, who lost their 18-year-old daughter Rebecca, both in road traffic incidents. I thank my hon. Friend Alicia Kearns for mentioning her constituent, Emily Challen.

Sadly, as a constituency MP, I am no stranger to helping bereaved families in similar circumstances. I continue to support my constituents John and Karen Rowlands, whose son Andrew was killed when an acquaintance was able to purchase a car without even holding a driving licence, and drove it with tragic consequences for Andrew. To lose a child is the worst thing imaginable, and I commend all the families on their bravery and determination in wanting some good to come from their grief.

My right hon. Friend is right about road deaths being the greatest killer and greatest threat to the lives of young people, which is something Mr Sheerman and I have spoken about before. Any death or serious injury on our roads is unacceptable, and our deepest condolences go to all road collision victims and their families. I reassure right hon. and hon. Members here today that the Government take road safety for all road users very seriously. It is at the core of the Department for Transport’s agenda and is something that I am honoured to work on. I am committed to doing as much as I can to improve road safety.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

My intervention is merely to make a plea. When I was a very young MP, we introduced the compulsory seatbelt legislation and banned children from being carried in cars without restraint. Does the Minister agree that we have been a wonderful exemplar of good practice, but it is slipping a bit? There is not as much interest in Parliament as there used to be in road safety, and our figures, after plateauing, are getting a little worse. Does he agree that it is worrying that not wearing a seatbelt is a factor in 30% of deaths in cars?

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank the hon. Member for raising that point, and he and I were both at the recent reception on that subject. The fact that 30% of deaths are related to seatbelts when it is compulsory to wear them is totally unacceptable. We have made great progress in this country, but we need to do more. He is right about plateauing, which I will address a little later in my speech. I am glad that hon. Members are present here today for this short debate. They are all committed to this issue, and I urge other hon. Members to join the hon. Member for Huddersfield and get involved in his campaigns.

In November in Portcullis House, I presented the annual Livia award, which was established in 1999 in memory of George and Giulietta’s 16-year-old daughter Livia, who was killed in Enfield by a driver who mounted a pavement while she was walking home. The award recognises excellence in road fatality or serious injury investigation and the contribution to the investigation through family liaison work by police officers in the Met. I learned about the challenges faced by officers in bringing to justice people who had been driving in a criminal manner, leading to the death or serious injury of others, and gained an insight into the dedication required to effectively support families who have suffered from bereavement because of a dangerous driver. As a constituency MP, I now know the importance of that family liaison.

In December, I was fortunate to spend a day with Sussex Police and to see at first hand its work on drink and drug enforcement, which is another important aspect of road safety, as part of their wider drink-drive campaign. In fact, the chief constable is the national lead on road safety, alongside their police and crime commissioner. The chief constable has a personal story, as her father was a victim of a road traffic incident when she was a teenager.

My constituency work, my work in the House and now my role as a Minister have all enabled me to gain a greater understanding of the operational and strategic challenges faced in this area. I am committed to ensuring that Government can support those who are affected and do everything we can to reduce incidents.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

Before the Minister concludes, may I remind him that Brake, which is based in my constituency, is a national organisation that supports victims of road accidents? I hope he will come to Huddersfield soon to meet the wonderful people who run that lovely charity.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to mention Brake, which does great and amazing work. I am sure my officials have noted his request for a visit; they know I am keen to get out and about as much as possible, so I hope to be able to visit the hon. Gentleman in his constituency and meet the campaigners at Brake.

I am committed, as are the Government, to supporting families and, crucially, to making a difference to the number of deaths and serious injuries that occur in the first place. As the hon. Member for Huddersfield knows, I had the pleasure of attending the Project EDWARD—Every Day Without A Road Death—parliamentary reception with him to present the Government’s views and outline our keenness to act. I have learned a great deal from listening to other Members, and in his speech the hon. Gentleman highlighted the importance of seatbelt compliance in making a difference. I am grateful to him for being here today.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

We are rightly placing an emphasis on drivers. In discussions about road safety, a misplaced responsibility is often placed on roads rather than drivers, so it right that we are talking about how we make drivers safer. However, there are some junctions and roads that are inherently dangerous; one such road is the A52 at Bottesford in my constituency. The problem in rural constituencies, such as mine and that of my right hon. Friend Dame Andrea Leadsom, is that decisions about whether to invest in safety upgrades to junctions depend on how many fatalities take place there. If the junction that is outside the small village of Bottesford were outside Loughborough, there would be far more accidents because there would be far more people using the junction. I know we have discussed this before, but would the Minister kindly look at taking rurality into account when deciding whether the number of fatalities is significant enough to invest in infrastructure and safety upgrades?

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I grew up in a rural area myself with a job, like those that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire mentioned, that finished after midnight and that I had to drive home from. I now represent a rural constituency, and this issue is a concern to my constituents. They want road safety—road traffic accidents are the biggest killer of young people in my constituency, as they probably are in everybody’s—but they also want the safe and sensible approach outlined by my right hon. Friend. As I move towards my concluding remarks, I will pick up on the details of what she and the family who are here today have proposed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton is right to point out that road safety is a particular issue in rural areas and we have to do more to make rural roads safer. That is why, as part of our consideration of the call for evidence on road traffic offences and their policing, we are considering testing all sorts of different proposals. One of them is about making not wearing a seat belt an endorsable offence, which should help to squeeze the very small number of people who do not wear seat belts. Given the potential for deaths and serious injuries, that is a major concern. It is especially a concern on some of our rural roads, where people think, “Well, there’s nobody else on the other side of the road, so I might be all right.”

Turning to the subject of the debate, we know that young drivers are massively over-represented in collisions, as my right hon. Friend made clear with the statistics. That is the case not just here in the UK, but around the world. Among OECD countries, road traffic crashes are the single greatest cause of death among 15 to 24-year-olds. As Members have mentioned, young drivers in the UK account for around 6% of licence holders, but around 22% of fatal and serious collisions—those statistics are from 2021. Fatalities among young drivers have fallen over the decades and are around half of what they were in 1990, but we are still seeing far too many young drivers killed—78 in 2021—and we have much more to do to address this issue.

Although the reductions are encouraging, we really are not complacent. A focus for the Government is to make roads safer for all users, but especially for new and novice drivers. This group was one of the four key road user groups outlined in the road safety statement in 2019, and it continues to be so. The Department’s broad aim for young road users is to improve road safety through technology, as my right hon. Friend mentioned, through the research that we are conducting at the moment and by developing better learning opportunities and targeted messaging for them.

We have made good progress with the actions set out in the road safety statement. We have commissioned research to explore the potential of the graduated learning scheme, which was awarded to the Driving Instructors Association. This is now a modular learning project that uses a comparative trial to assess whether a modular approach to learning is feasible to deliver, and whether it can improve novice driver competence and safety. The trial commenced in the spring of 2021, and the findings are expected later this year. I am sure that Members present will be very interested in the results.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

What form will the results of that survey take? Will there be a written ministerial statement? Will the Minister come to the House and tell people what the results are? Obviously, that is key to what action we take.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My right hon. Friend asks a very good question. I will write to her on exactly what form we are expecting the results to take, but I would certainly be delighted to address the House on this issue, because it is something I am particularly interested in. I will write to her, and perhaps we could do another Westminster Hall debate after that if there is not going to be a formal statement on the Floor of the House.

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency continues to ensure that the practical driving test allows for the assessment of candidates’ ability to drive safely and responsibly, and the agency has reviewed its national standards to ensure that they reflect what is required of safer and responsible drivers and riders. Its “Learning to Drive” publication was refreshed and published alongside the online driving record in 2020. Last year, refreshed guidance to help approved driving instructors to conduct mock tests was also published.

The pinnacle of our work on improving driver safety for young and novice drivers is, of course, the Department’s £2 million research project, Driver2020. Around 16,000 new drivers and 12,000 novice drivers have taken part in the project, which began in 2019 and trialled five non-legislative measures to help understand what works best to improve learning and pre-test experiences for young drivers. That is a huge number of young people to reach out to, and so far we have research involving guardians, with mentor agreement; mutually agreed driving restrictions, if applicable; a log book, as my right hon. Friend mentioned, to record the amount of time in different learning situations, including driving at night or on motorways; and a telematics-based app, to record and coach driving behaviour. My right hon. Friend mentioned some of those in her speech.

We are also providing extra classroom-based tuition to enhance young drivers’ learning, and extra hazard protection training to help young drivers understand risky situations on our roads. Members have mentioned the first 1,000 miles. From my personal experience, I know that driving in one type of road condition can be very different from driving in a totally novel one, so this is particularly important for young drivers.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

May I press the Minister on driving in different conditions? Is that intended to become a prerequisite prior to drivers being let loose on the roads?

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

We are looking at the evidence and the research. We will see what works best, and that is what we want to do. Some things could be superb and the best thing to do; others might not be as suitable. When the research is published, we will be able to see what is most effective. It will probably be a combination of measures, but I do not want to prejudge the report.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

If we are to have good behaviour on the roads, we need laws to be enforced. Will the Minister talk to the Home Secretary about having more police on the roads? People do not see police cars on the roads any more.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank the hon. Member for making that point. Enforcement is obviously a major issue and it cannot be done just by automatic number plate recognition cameras. When I was down in Sussex recently looking at the impact the police are having on drink and drug driving, I saw that those enforcement issues are particularly important. It is about having more police, which the Government are putting in, but it is also about being able to get quick processing, particularly on drug driving, because the processing times can be longer than the charge period for some of these offences. It is a combination of different enforcement measures, but he is right to raise that issue.

As I mentioned, all the issues that are being looked at are potentially valuable tools in helping our young drivers as they embark on their lifelong road safety journey. Because of the pandemic, the research sadly had to pause. That is why we expect the final report to be published by the DIA later this year, and that will help to inform our young driver policy.

Turning to future work, the Department is working on the road safety strategic framework, which it also aims to publish in the spring. The framework will establish a safe system approach. As part of that, we are considering what might be appropriate and we are supporting indicators on casualty reduction. The key principle of the safe system approach is to recognise that people make mistakes and things go wrong. The approach accepts that responsibility is shared, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton mentioned, and that collisions are the result of a combination of factors, which can be mitigated. The road safety strategic framework will provide the structure needed to deliver a safe system approach effectively and efficiently. This approach is proven and accepted in many other sectors, including health and safety and public health. It has already been adopted as best practice in other countries, which have subsequently seen significant reductions in road deaths and casualties.

Safer road users are one of the five pillars of a safe system approach. Young and novice drivers will therefore feature in the framework, as well as rural road users, which hon. Members have mentioned. It is on rural roads that many of our young and novice drivers are tragically killed or seriously injured, often after they have had driving tests in suburban locations and then moved out on to rural roads in constituencies such as mine.

Safer roads and road signs form another of the safe system pillars. Since 2018, the Department for Transport has provided more than £100 million for the award-winning safer roads fund to improve the top 50 most dangerous roads in England, many of which are rural roads. Many in the first round of the scheme are now complete, and all of those in round two are under way. At some point, I hope that I can announce more of them, because they are important for improving specific junctions and roads. I hope that all this excellent work not only by the Department and DVSA, but in conjunction with research partners, TRL, the Road Safety Foundation, voluntary organisations and others, reassures hon. Members that the Department takes driver safety seriously. I look forward to sharing more of our future plans with hon. Members on all these different aspects in due course.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.