Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to introduce limits on the age of tyres on buses and coaches; and for connected purposes.
The Bill would make it an offence to operate a public service vehicle with tyres that are 10 or more years old, give the traffic commissioners power of sanction and enforcement in this regard, and make it a requirement of the annual vehicle test that the age of tyres be checked and recorded.
Governments of all persuasions have presided over exponential improvements to the safety of passengers and road traffic users over many decades. Since the introduction of seat-belt legislation in the early 1980s up to the present day, there has been a 70% reduction in fatalities on our roads, and changes to the law of the land made in this place have been a significant contributory factor in forcing advancements in road safety, resulting in such a massive reduction in deaths, but sometimes, as in the case of seat-belt regulations, it takes a long time for Parliament finally to act.
When I was a teenager, public information films warned drivers not to mix crossply and radial tyres, and vehicle awareness has improved considerably in the intervening two decades, to the point where people are now more aware of ensuring that their car tyres are regularly checked and inflated to the recommended pressure. There are checks on the condition of tyres on buses and coaches, but many people will probably be shocked to learn that there are no age restrictions at all for tyres used on public service vehicles.
Why should the age of a tyre matter? Technological improvements under development have the potential radically to improve tyre wear, so some might ask whether there is a need for legislation that limits the age of tyres on PSVs. Even within the industry itself there is an ongoing debate regarding tyre decrepitude, with some arguing that modern advancements make an age restriction on a tyre unnecessary, while a great proportion of experts contend that it will be many years before technology can routinely be deployed in a way that would accurately predict the inner conditions of a tyre and negate the need for a tyre age restriction. That is the real issue today. While a tyre might look in perfectly good condition from an external visual check, and its tread be within the legal limits, that does not guarantee the condition of the whole tyre, nor give an accurate representation of the levels of danger that it poses to drivers and passengers.
Ahead of introducing the Bill, I have received support from Merseyside fire and rescue service, Kwik Fit and the National Tyre Distributors Association. I have also consulted other bodies, such as the British Tyre Manufacturers Association, which has provided information on non-destructive testing systems and real time in situ reporting. There are differences of approach to the issue, but the one thing that all parties have in common is the desire to ensure that passengers are transported on the safest tyres possible.
The Bill has three purposes: to raise awareness of tyre safety on buses and coaches, to promote consumer education on tyre ageing, and to improve road safety. According to the latest Department for Transport estimates, the last year our buses travelled roughly the same distance as a round trip to the moon—380,000 times. Between 2008 and 2012, the latest period for which figures are available, on average nearly 200 people were injured every week, and nearly 90 people were killed every month on our buses. Those figures are far too high, but it should be noted that not all of these accidents are solely caused by the age of tyres, and that is part of the problem. Due to the methodology of data capture, it is not possible accurately to estimate how many people needlessly die on our roads in accidents caused specifically by the age deterioration of tyres.
However, we know that in September 2012, as a coach was journeying back to the north-west along the A3, a fatal crash occurred in which two passengers and the driver were tragically killed. During the inquest into the deaths of Michael Molloy, Kerry Ogden and Colin Daulby, the coroner found that the primary cause of the crash was the age of the tyre on the front wheel axle. Michael’s mother—a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle)—has become a courageous campaigner on the issue. The tyre in question was 19 and a half years old. Despite appearing to be in good condition externally, the dilapidation of its structure was such that it burst at speed, and three lives were lost as a result.
Fire chiefs have since made it clear to me, and to Michael’s mother, that the Bestival crash, as it has become known, was not an isolated incident and that the age of tyres is a regular factor in road traffic accidents involving buses and coaches. That means that even if a bus or coach is not operational every day for 10 years, and even if there are lengthy gaps in the vehicle’s use, a degree of dilapidation still occurs and the risk factors continue to increase simply because of its age.
There is an additional element to consider: climate change. My Bill will ensure that the law reflects the dangers that variations in British climatic conditions pose to road safety. Due to extreme environmental considerations, the degradable nature of coach and bus tyres is, according to experts, likely to accelerate, thus increasing the dangers associated with tyre age. I know that some Government Members might believe that it is not for Parliament to intervene in such matters, but I simply point to the unnecessary loss of life as a counter-argument to any accusations that this is the nanny state gone mad.
The Bill will offer road users and passengers a double guarantee with regard to safety. The primacy of the conditionality regulations will remain in place. In other words, all tyres on buses and coaches will have to continue to satisfy the use and construction regulations. However, at 10 years of age the tyres will have to be replaced, at least until technological advances are such that a tyre’s internal condition can be inspected to the same degree of accuracy as can its external condition.
However, although the Bill aims to put a limit of 10 years on existing tyres, I recognise that research and development is an ongoing process. The Bill would not be a barrier to that R and D and would act as a catalyst for the introduction of advanced manufacture. If the industry could demonstrate that a bus or coach tyre had been developed that was demonstrably safe beyond 10 years of age, the age restriction within the limits of the Bill could easily be increased in line with those guarantees and the supporting scientific evidence. However, the industry acknowledges that it is not there yet, so 10 years is a reasonable restriction at present.
Turning to monitoring and enforcement, my Bill will make it a requirement for the age of a tyre to be checked and recorded at the annual passenger vehicle test; at the moment, only its tread and external condition are considered. That will ensure that operators are aware of the age of the tyres on all their vehicles and, by extension, that they are aware of the risks posed by an ageing tyre to the safety of their passengers. It would also afford them the opportunity to plan the phased renewal of tyres reaching the end of their shelf life. Additionally, if a bus or coach operator continued to use tyres that were more than 10 years old, the traffic commissioners would have the power either to revoke or to limit their licence.
There are plenty of other rubber-related products that people would be rightly cautious about trusting if they knew that they were decades old, so why would anybody trust their safety to a 20-year-old tyre? I suspect that people would be extremely sceptical about allowing their child to ride to school on a bus with tyres that were probably manufactured before their child was born. Not only is that potentially the case, but it is not beyond the realms of possibility that there are tyres more than twice the age of the children they are transporting. That is simply wrong.
As many Members present will attest, deterioration is a consequence of age. We should no longer allow deteriorating tyres to compromise our safety on the roads, which is why I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Steve Rotheram, Helen Jones, Bill Esterson, Derek Twigg, Ian Lavery, Pamela Nash, Mr Dennis Skinner, Dame Anne Begg, Mr George Howarth, Kerry McCarthy, Mrs Louise Ellman and Mark Hendrick present the Bill.
Steve Rotheram accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 28 November, and to be printed (Bill 77).