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Road Traffic (Safety)

Volume 474: debated on Tuesday 22 April 2008

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about the content of driving tests; to create offences relating to dangerous driving; and for connected purposes.

In introducing this Bill, I wish to make specific acknowledgment of the work of the children and young people’s think tank “Kids Count”, and of the “Drive to Survive” campaign. I also want to recognise the work of Inspector Toby Day of Leicestershire police and of the all-party parliamentary group on child and youth crime. I want to thank all of them for their assistance on the matters that I am bringing before the House this afternoon.

In 2006, the last year for which figures are available, 3,200 drivers, passengers and pedestrians lost their lives as a result of road accidents, but no figures, numbers and statistics can convey the underlying tragedy of each case—the loss of friends, family members and loved ones whose lives have been cut short, and the lifelong impact on those left behind. The headline figures mask some disturbing trends and patterns of behaviour. Although the total number of fatalities has decreased over the past five years, the number of fatalities among young drivers under 25 has gone up from 537 to 606—an increase of 13 per cent. The number of young drivers under the age of 25 convicted of driving while intoxicated due to drink or drugs also increased in that period.

There is also the serious issue of deaths arising from high-speed chases. In 2006-07, some 155 people were killed or seriously injured as a result of road traffic collisions on public roads during emergency responses and police pursuits. Some of the recent headlines say it all. A police officer was injured after his patrol car collided with a stolen caravan during a chase on the M6, a woman was killed and four people taken to hospital when a car collided with a Mercedes that was fleeing police in east London, and friends of a teenager who died in a car that crashed after it was involved in a police pursuit have been paying tribute to him ahead of his funeral. At the end of last year the Independent Police Complaints Commission published its two-year review of road traffic incidents involving police vehicles that resulted in a fatality or serious injury. It made 29 recommendations about how police practice could and should be changed.

More should be done to reduce the number of deaths and injuries arising from accidents involving young drivers and pursuits. That will partly involve prevention through demonstrating, and bringing home very clearly, the reality of being involved in a serious car accident. I was moved by a recent presentation organised by Drive Survive, a multi-agency partnership based in Cheshire. Partners involved in the project and the presentations that Drive Survive offer include the police, the fire brigade, the Highways Agency, the ambulance service and hospital accident and emergency services. By dramatically highlighting the consequences of inappropriate driving and vehicle control, Drive Survive seeks to educate young people aged between 16 and 25 of the risks involved in driving dangerously or recklessly, and to prevent serious injury or worse.

Having sat through part of the presentation, I can confirm that the content is deliberately graphic and hard-hitting. It shows real-life images of accident scenes and direct testimony from those who do an amazing job in responding to emergency call-outs. Most importantly, it includes personal accounts from families affected by the loss of a relative in a car crash. The project has received very positive feedback from local colleges and other stakeholders, who testify to the impact that it has had. I believe that such education, understanding and recognition of the consequences of dangerous driving could have a wider impact and could start to change attitudes, altering the approach of young, normally male, drivers who think that it is impressive or the right thing to do to try to show off to their mates about the limits of what their cars can do, or indeed of what they can do behind the wheel of a car.

My Bill would amend the Road Traffic Act 1988 by including a specific reference in the driving test to the impact of being involved in an accident involving a motor vehicle, and in relation to the powers of the Secretary of State and local authorities to provide road safety information and training. I believe that that small change to the law would assist, encourage and facilitate a national programme to temper the behaviour of young drivers through hard-hitting education and training programmes focused on the reality of driving dangerously. By providing such a real-life context as part of the theory exam in the current driving test, it will make the test more relevant and emphasise other existing safety aspects of the theory requirements.

This approach is intended to build on the current Arrive Alive road safety programme conducted by the Driving Standards Agency, and to extend the concepts of what happens when an accident occurs—the types of injuries sustained, the likelihood of survival, and so on—so that they form an important part of the preparation for learning to drive.

The second part of my proposals addresses the legal sanctions available in circumstances where there is a pursuit. To date the focus has been on dealing with the effects of pursuits, instead of the cause. Pursuits are inherently dangerous and are difficult to manage and contain operationally. If drivers did not make off from the police, there would be no reason to pursue them.

The instant that drivers decide to accelerate away from police vehicles to avoid capture, for whatever reason, they make the decision to enter an extremely high-risk arena where a number of lives, including their own, are put at risk. Many of them have driven vehicles at horrendous speeds along public roads for up to an hour before they are stopped, and are prepared to take any steps to evade arrest, yet even when they are caught, most walk away with little or no punishment.

A number of pursuits occur when offenders choose to make an escape having committed relatively minor offences. Research has shown that the main reason why offenders flee in a vehicle is that they are not deterred by the low level of punishment that they perceive will result from their actions. Some reports indicate that the prospect of a custodial sentence would cause offenders to abandon their vehicle at an early stage and make off on foot. Although current sentencing guidelines for the offence of dangerous driving allow for evading arrest to be taken into account, this approach is not acting as a deterrent, and in my judgment is not working well in practice.

My Bill would therefore create a new offence aimed at someone refusing to stop when requested by a police officer and then engaging in sustained and extreme dangerous driving. It would achieve this by creating an aggravated driving offence punishable by an unlimited fine, mandatory disqualification and up to three years’ imprisonment. A key part of the new offence is that it would require intent; in other words, where someone is asked to stop, knowingly fails to do so and then drives dangerously, an offence would be committed.

This approach has the support of the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Police Federation. Too many lives continue to be lost on our roads. We need to cut the annual death toll. The measures that I have outlined are practical, proportionate and deliverable. They can play an important part in changing the mindset behind the wheel, and in so doing, reduce the number of individual tragedies that so many of us see in our constituency surgeries each week. I commend them to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by James Brokenshire, Mike Penning, Mr. John Leech, Mr. Stewart Jackson, Mr. Lee Scott and David T.C. Davies.

Road Traffic (Safety)

James Brokenshire accordingly presented a Bill to make provision about the content of driving tests; to create offences relating to dangerous driving; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 June, and to be printed [Bill 98].