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Road Safety

Volume 407: debated on Tuesday 24 June 2003

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2.9 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide local traffic authorities with powers to develop urban safety hierarchies; to identify 20mph zones and home zones; to require the Secretary of State to issue guidance on the setting of speed limits; and for connected purposes.
My reason for proposing the Bill is that, notwithstanding the measures to improve road safety taken by the Government and many local authorities of different political colours, there are still too many people who die or are injured on our roads every year. The toll is particularly high among pedestrians and cyclists in urban areas, particularly child pedestrians. The Bill that I propose would encourage local authorities and the Government to take measures that I believe would result in a significant drop in the number of people killed and severely injured on the roads. It would do that by focusing on speed, as excessive speed is a major contributory factor to the death toll on our roads.

The aim of my Bill is to encourage local councils to adopt a comprehensive approach to managing speed on urban roads in their area, and in particular to encourage the wider introduction of 20 mph zones. I acknowledge that many local authorities have done a lot of good work to improve road safety in their area, not least in my own city of Edinburgh. However, if we look at the picture in the United Kingdom as a whole, there is still significant room for improvement. Indeed, the rate of death and serious injury to child pedestrians in Britain is one of the highest in the European Union.

The facts are clear: speed is a major cause of many of these deaths and injuries. At present, however, although local authority transport plans are required to take into account targets for casualty reductions, only one third of those plans contain a recognisable speed management strategy.

My Bill would encourage all local authorities to develop a strategy for speed management on roads in their area. It would introduce the concept of the urban safety hierarchy, in which local council roads in urban areas would be classified as one of three types: residential, distributor or access roads. Residential roads would automatically have a 20 mph speed limit; distributor roads, which are largely for through traffic, would retain the existing 30 mph limit; and speed limits on access roads that link residential with distributor roads would be either 20 or 30 mph, depending on their nature.

My Bill would give local authorities throughout the country the option of introducing a hierarchy approach; they would not be obliged to do so. That would enable forward-thinking councils to adopt a broader, strategic approach to speed management, which is denied to them by existing legislation.

My Bill could, and I hope would, bring about a much wider coverage of 20 mph zones in residential areas throughout the country. Although most Members will be familiar with 20 mph zones in many—probably most—local authority areas in the country, overall they cover only a very small percentage of residential roads in urban areas. Extending the coverage of 20 mph zones would be one of the most effective ways of reducing the death and injury toll on urban roads. Research on existing zones has shown that in the year after their introduction, accidents resulting in injuries fell by an average of 61 per cent. and accidents resulting in injuries to children fell by 67 per cent.

My Bill would also require the Secretary of State to issue new guidance for local councils on the setting of limits on urban roads. That would replace the existing rules, which are largely inadequate because they are based on the speed at which vehicles travel at the moment, rather than the speed that is appropriate for a particular road.

Last but not least, my proposed Bill would encourage the growth of home zones by giving local councils the power to implement speed orders in such areas to provide for speeds of no higher than 10 mph. Currently, only 14 home zones are in operation in the UK, with another 61 in the pipeline. If there is to be a real countrywide roll-out of home zones, the Government need to use their powers under the Transport Act 2000 to introduce regulations to allow local authorities to declare what are known as "speed" and "use" orders in home zone areas. Without such regulations, which have been awaited for three years, I fear that the concept of the home zone will not really take off in the UK as it has done so successfully in many European countries. Hon. Members may be aware of the situation in the Netherlands and Germany, where the home zone is a well-known feature of the urban landscape. The home zone should be not an occasional, exotic creation, but an arrangement that is the norm in residential areas up and down the country.

I shall close by reminding hon. Members that this year about 700 pedestrians and cyclists were killed on Britain's urban roads alone, and about 10,000 were seriously injured. There are also accidents involving motorists and a toll of death and injury on rural roads. If the number of people who die or are seriously injured on the roads were the product of one serious incident on the railways or in the air, there would be an outcry for immediate and instant action. It is time that we treated the death and injury toll on our roads with the same urgency. The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, which has done much good work in this area, has estimated that the measures I propose in the Bill, if fully implemented across the country, could save up to 450 of the 700 lives of pedestrians and cyclists that are lost each year in urban areas. For that reason, I ask the House to support my Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Mark Lazarowicz, Helen Jackson, Ms Julia Drown, Peter Bottomley, Ms Joan Walley, Mr. David Kidney, Mr. Andrew Dismore, Mr. Brian H. Donohoe, Mr. Don Foster, Tom Brake, Rob Marris and David Wright.