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Road Deaths

Volume 465: debated on Tuesday 23 October 2007

1. What recent progress her Department has made in reducing the number of deaths and serious injuries on the roads. (159761)

Good afternoon, Mr. Speaker. The number of people killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads has fallen by 33 per cent. in the last decade and the number of children killed or seriously injured has fallen by 52 per cent. in the same period. However, there are still around 3,000 people dying, and nearly 30,000 being seriously injured, every year. Clearly, we need to continue to work hard as there is always more to be done on road safety.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. May I suggest that he looks at the regulations that prevent local authorities from putting traffic-calming measures in place on classified roads, such as City road and Frog lane in Wigan? If we can put such measures in place, we can help the Government to drive down the number of terrible accidents and serious injuries throughout the country.

My hon. Friend has a strong point to make on additional speed restrictions on urban roads. A Transport Research Laboratory study showed that in 20 mph zones accidents fell by 60 per cent., child accidents by 67 per cent., and cycling accidents by 29 per cent. We have devolved the responsibility and authority to introduce the zones to local authorities, and I know that many authorities across the country are taking advantage of those regulations.

But is the Minister aware that the number of deaths on our roads could be cut by several hundred a year, and the number of serious accidents by over double that number, at a stroke if we were to abolish the ridiculous ritual whereby we put our clocks back every autumn, thus plunging the country into mid-afternoon darkness? Will the Minister have a word with the Secretary of State to see whether she can persuade the Cabinet to allow Britain to remain on British summertime throughout the year in the interests of road safety, albeit initially on a trial basis?

I seem to remember answering that question last year, when I was a junior Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry and responsible for time. [Interruption.] Somebody has to be the Minister for time, and I’m your man. The evidence that was presented showed clearly that there was a strong split in the country between those in favour of the change and those against. The statistics on road accidents, compelling as they were, were not entirely convincing. I seem to remember that we tried the arrangements that the right hon. Gentleman suggests, as did other European states, and we all reverted to the time zones that we currently use.

Motorcyclists are particularly badly represented in the figures. I understand that some 20 per cent. of casualties and serious injuries involve people on motorcycles. Will my hon. Friend outline what steps he is taking to address that problem?

As my hon. Friend suggests, motorcyclists continue to be disproportionately represented in the casualty figures. We have been working closely with representatives from the motorcycling industry and with user groups. Indeed, I have met three such groups in the past three weeks. In 2005, we published the Government’s motorcycling strategy, which sets out a range of actions to make motorcycling safer, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right: 600 of the 3,000 people who were killed in the last year for which figures are available were motorcyclists, and that is just entirely wrong.

I have one of the most dangerous roads in Britain, the A59, in my area. On one part of it, where sadly there have been deaths and serious injuries, there have been calls for a roundabout, but I am told by the county council that there are insufficient funds to build it. The council has put up a lot of cones, but accidents still occur. Will the Minister please look seriously at using all the fines from speed cameras to improve road safety on some of our most dangerous roads?

The hon. Gentleman obviously knows his area well, and raises the case of a particular road. The money that is raised from speed cameras is recycled. Local authorities can spend it as they wish. There is a priority system for dealing with accident blackspots, which is used by the Highways Agency and other authorities. If he wishes to drop me a line on the issue, I will certainly get information to him on the latest position in respect of the road that he is concerned about. Obviously, where we can take action to reduce accidents on particular roads, we ought to make sure that it is taken.

May I offer a Welsh solution to an English problem? Will my hon. Friend visit my constituency and see the first-class 20 mph zone that has been created outside Rhyl high school by North Wales police and Denbighshire county council, using money from safety cameras? It is one of the most comprehensive 20 mph systems in the country, with initial warnings, secondary warnings and a camera.

As a Londoner I hate to disillusion my hon. Friend, but he is describing not a Welsh solution but a local authority solution. As I mentioned to our hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner) only a few moments ago, we have passed regulations to empower local authorities to do exactly what my hon. Friend’s local authority has done, because it brings benefits to the whole community and in many instances improves traffic flow routes as well. We want 20 mph zones to be introduced where they are appropriate. They clearly are effective. They cut accident rates, which means that we can protect our communities and particularly our children. I would encourage every local authority to engage with its community and see whether they are relevant for them.

The encouraging headlines belie a grim statistical trend. One in six deaths on the roads are associated with drink driving. That has increased from 460 in 1998 to 540 last year. Does the Minister think that by presiding over a reduction in traffic police numbers and not making drink driving a key performance indicator for police forces, the Government are sending out all the wrong messages and contributing to the problem, not to the solution?

The hon. Gentleman raised that very point in Westminster Hall last week and we had an interesting discussion. I was able to reassure him that after our recent efforts to campaign against drink driving, there were more breathalyser tests in recent times. We liaise closely with our colleagues in the Home Office to make sure that enforcement is as high up their agenda as it is on ours. The hon. Gentleman says that one in six fatalities are caused by drink driving. In one in three fatalities, speed is a contributory factor. I am not in any way minimising that. We must take into account all the reasons why fatalities occur. There are far too many, and we both agree that as a Parliament we want to be seen to be doing all we can to encourage better driving on our roads.

The latest figures show that there has been a 37 per cent. decline in the number of fatal and serious child casualties in Stockport. There is still more work to be done, but will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the work of the local road safety officers and the many initiatives that they are pursuing, including their valuable preventive work in schools?

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in commending the activities of the officers of her local authority. As I have mentioned in the past few answers, 20 mph zones and action at local level by local authorities can save lives. All of us in the House would encourage that.