[Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered road safety.
It is a pleasure to serve under you as Chair, Mrs Moon. I am grateful to have secured this important debate. Road safety is an issue that affects every constituency, and I am delighted to see colleagues here from both sides of the House. No doubt they will want to draw my hon. Friend the Minister’s attention to particular roads or even particular accidents, but I will endeavour to keep my remarks as encompassing as possible and to explore how we can best measure and improve road safety as a general rule. I hope that we can have a dispassionate debate about an emotive subject, while always recognising how traumatic failures of road safety can have life-changing implications.
In Great Britain last year, 1,793 people were killed in road crashes—that is 1,793 too many. In addition, the Government estimate that road traffic collisions cost the UK economy more than £16.3 billion a year. In Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire alone, all accidents involving speed cost the economy an average of £32.5 million annually. Those costs could be reduced if we made our roads safer.
Last month, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety released a new report, entitled “Developing safe system road safety indicators for the UK”. That timely and interesting report from PACTS will form the basis of my remarks. It was done in association with Ageas, which is one of our largest motor insurers; it employs more than 400 people in my constituency. They are all too aware of the devastation that poor road safety can cause to those injured or bereaved. I am grateful to them for sending me briefing materials and also grateful for input from the Association of British Insurers, the Road Safety Foundation, the Royal National Institute of Blind People, the Institute of Alcohol Studies, Living Streets and Highways England.
The economy has grown every year since 2010, and the population and the volume of road traffic have grown with it. Despite that, the number of road deaths has not grown over the same period, and we can be thankful for that. However, we could be doing better and getting the number of deaths and serious injuries down. More worryingly, the number of pedestrian fatalities accounts for more than one quarter; it is up 5% on the previous year and up 11% on the 2010 to 2014 average.
We have some of the safest roads in the world, but we need to ensure that the general downward trend in road deaths over the past 45 years continues. That was achieved through improved safety measures, technological advances and public awareness campaigns, modifying behaviours and militating against elements of previously fatal scenarios. And we are far from exhausting the potential for technological advances, particularly in the field of autonomous cars and smart roads. It is at this time of great technological change that a more comprehensive approach to road safety is needed—something against which both current and new forms of transport can be tested, and something that is responsive to new technology. The Government are of course aware of that, and it is strongly to their credit that the UK is leading the way in embracing the advances that driverless technology promises to bring.
The Government issued a British road safety statement in 2015. That was followed by the road safety management review commissioned last year and published in June of this year. It is clear that the Government favour a partnership approach, fully respecting devolution and local authority competences. That is all very welcome, and it is welcome that the report by PACTS and Ageas has come forward. In this spirit of encouragement, I ask the Minister to respond to the points raised by the report. In particular, I ask how the Department is progressing towards a safe system approach.
Traditionally, road safety measures have always been far too reactive. Areas with a history of more serious collisions have received far more focus and, often, locations where there is the greatest danger of collisions and a history of near misses do not get the attention that they need. Also, campaigns have focused on getting drivers and vulnerable road users to stop certain behaviours, instead of such behaviours being proactively designed out.
Systemic measures are needed; that is what a safe system is all about. It is an evidence-based approach focused on preventing death and serious injury, rather than preventing all crashes in the face of human error. Because people do make mistakes and collisions do and will take place, a systemic approach recognises that minimising the physical impact of collisions is a shared responsibility for those who design, build, manage and use roads and vehicles. To put it bluntly, if we crash into someone or something, the vehicle and not the people should take the impact and any damage. That means that, as well as expecting road users to comply with the laws on seatbelts, speed limits, not using phones and so on, we should expect, first, vehicle makers to design safer cars, vans, lorries and buses and, secondly, highways agencies to design and maintain legible and forgiving road infrastructure. Thirdly, medical and emergency services should be prepared, trained and equipped to provide an efficient and effective post-crash response.
A key aspect of a safe system approach is the ability to monitor, target and track progress through specific performance indicators. As Dr Suzy Charman of the Road Safety Foundation has said,
“You cannot manage what you do not measure. There is a need for road safety performance indicators in order to drive effort and investment in the right direction.”
I would be interested to hear from the Minister what consideration has been given to devising any indicators beyond those EuroRAP—European Road Assessment Programme—indicators that are already in use for the strategic road network. I would be especially keen to hear his early responses to the eight indicators proposed in the PACTS report. I will briefly run through the indicators set out in the report.
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. Before he gets on to the eight indicators, would he agree with me that it is already known where the most dangerous roads are? They are often roads over moors, in rural areas, where overtaking takes the car on to the other side of the road, and there are often head-on collisions, which lead to fatalities. Improving those roads should be the focus of the Government’s investment policy. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?
I agree to an extent, in that those are some of the key roads where investment should be prioritised. There are also far too many accidents occurring in urban areas—hits particularly involving pedestrians, which are obviously much more prevalent in towns and cities, where an accident can be much more serious.
I will go through the eight specific indicators. The first is compliance with speed limits on national roads. Speeding currently accounts for about one fifth of road fatalities. The second indicator is compliance with speed limits on local roads. Data collection for both those speed indicators would be through existing speed monitoring equipment and self-reporting in, for example, the Royal Automobile Club survey, which already identifies this.
Obviously, speed is not everything when it comes to reducing dangers, so the third point is abstinence from alcohol and drug consumption. That is a key indicator. Nearly 15% of road crash fatalities involve a driver exceeding the legal alcohol limit. I am told by the Institute of Alcohol Studies that deaths caused by drink-driving are now at their highest rate since 2012. Meanwhile, it is estimated that some 200 road deaths a year—more than 10% of road deaths—are drug-driving related.
The fourth indicator is the percentage of car occupants using a seatbelt, child seats or child restraints. For many people, wearing a seatbelt is now second nature, but, despite it being illegal not to wear a seatbelt, not enough people are wearing seatbelts. Not wearing a seatbelt accounts for between 20% and 30% of road fatalities among car occupants. That is more than 150 deaths a year.
The fifth indicator relates to one of the more recent legislative changes; it is the percentage of drivers not using an in-car or hands-free phone. It can be difficult to establish when mobile phone use has contributed to a crash, but it is reported that dozens of fatal crashes involve the use of a mobile phone.
The sixth indicator is the percentage of new passenger cars with the highest European New Car Assessment Programme safety rating, which is obviously important for the quality and design of vehicles. An academic study cited in the PACTS report has estimated that the risk of fatal injuries is dramatically reduced in five-star-rated vehicles by as much as 68% compared with two-star-rated vehicles. The seventh indicator is the percentage of roads with the highest relevant International Road Assessment Programme ratings, broken down by road type. The final proposed indicator is the percentage of emergency medical vehicles arriving at an accident within 18 minutes of notification.
Those are the eight indicators set out in the report by PACTS and Ageas. Some data will be more challenging than others to collect. The report identifies a number of sources and methods for that collection. It also lists alternative indicators that were considered but rejected because of the difficulties in accurate data collection, such as cyclists not wearing the correct type of helmet, which would be quite difficult to calculate.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. I want to pick up on one thing he said about cyclists not wearing the correct kind of helmet. Is he aware that there is no requirement on cyclists to wear helmets in this country? In fact, in most countries where cycling is an awful lot more prevalent than it is in this country, most people do not wear helmets, because they do not need to.
I think that is an issue. I encourage more people to wear a helmet, because the more they do so, the lower the risk. I recognise that on the continent there is more of a cycling culture, and that we do not see as much of that in this country, outside of London. It is challenging in many communities to encourage people to use cycling as an alternative. I always say to my constituents that wearing a helmet is a way of ensuring that they have the best possible protection and safety on our roads.
As I was saying, it would be interesting to know whether the Department for Transport intends to explore such potential key performance indicators for non-motorised road use and for road crossers, such as those on foot—that also relates to cyclists. I recognise the danger that too many indicators might dilute that focus. A further danger is that indicators can become targets that skew priorities. I think that the PACTS report is helpful for recognising the importance of having effective comparative data that can be trusted to assess road safety.
It is essential for indicators to go beyond the fatal and seriously injured figure—the KSI figure, as it is known. As the former co-chair of the Staffordshire Safer Roads Partnerships, prior to my election to this House, I am quite impressed by the thinking and working that has gone into this report. It is aligned with the progress that is being made at a local and national level, following the Government’s determination to reduce the number of fatalities on our roads.
Of course, actions to improve road safety must be data-led—we must take proportionate action that has a meaningful impact—but the data needs to be broader and take a more systemic view. If we consider the Stoke-on-Trent figures for 2016 as an example, the KSI figure showed an increase of 74%, but within the context of a 5% reduction of overall reported casualties over the same period. There are clearly issues with using the KSI figure alone on a local network level, as significant short-term percentage changes can be caused by a small number of particularly deadly collisions.
As the Government’s road safety statement notes, 98% of the road network in England is local roads, and local action needs to be encouraged and respected. I would be interested in hearing how the Department is getting on with initiatives to spread good practice from one authority to another, particularly on more controversial schemes, such as shared space roads, which the RNIB has raised concerns about.
Another area of controversy is the use of speed cameras. In an age of high levels of accountability, the public increasingly demand transparency. Sometimes speed cameras are seen, unfortunately, as nothing more than a cash cow, to help to meet tightened public finances. We need to ensure that there is public confidence in road safety measures, that we communicate with motorists effectively and that actions on speed—such as putting in cameras or vans—remain reasonable and build on justified, tangible improvements in road safety. Better indicators and data collection may well help to justify such actions.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. On the issue of speed cameras and their locations, does he agree that it is essential that the wider public—pedestrians and motorists—see that they are positioned in such a way as to help to prevent accidents, rather than to apprehend motorists who might happen to be doing 31 mph in a 30 mph zone?
I certainly agree that that should be the case. That is why it is so important that the work is data-led, so that the public can have confidence that cameras are used only in locations where there is a justifiable need for them. I think that that is particularly important when it comes to things such as speed cameras, where motorists are being fined.
Moving on to working locally, it has become increasingly clear, as the PACTS report recognises, that road safety is not just about speed or chasing previous collision history, but about ensuring that actions are focused on reducing dangers more widely. Sometimes, making motorists feel safer has the perverse effect of making them drive more dangerously, but if they are made alert to possible risks, they drive with greater attention. It was, for example, a brave decision for Westminster City Council to remove the pedestrian railings at Oxford Circus when the crossing was redesigned to include diagonal lines. I think we would all agree that that has been a success. It works through behavioural measures—through a nudge, as they say.
It is not only Westminster that is innovating and taking bold steps forward to tackle broader dangers on our roads. Across the country, we are increasingly seeing proactive partnerships, like the one we have in Staffordshire, which represents a change in approach from local service providers. There is an increasing shift towards more holistic preventive actions through a whole range of methods, with the local community stepping up to take greater responsibility to improve safety on their roads. That means more work in schools and with community groups, to teach people about safety and encourage more responsible road usage. Many communities are also developing speed watches in their towns and villages, with local residents volunteering time to encourage safer road usage. After all, the people who drive most irresponsibly and dangerously are often part of those communities, and peer pressure from friends and neighbours can be a powerful tool—more powerful than directions from central Government. I am glad that Whitehall now recognises that.
In conclusion, I hope that the improved use of safety indicators is under serious consideration and progressing well. We need to bolster the trend towards broader preventive and community-led initiatives that best encourage behavioural change and more responsible road usage from everyone. Making data available will be key to that, as will spreading information and examples of best practice in road safety across local partnerships, which will deliver the improvements that we all want to see. I think PACTS and Ageas have made a great contribution.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s giving way, because I know he is winding up. Will he say a little bit about the Government’s consultation last year on causing death or serious injury by dangerous driving? Yesterday was the anniversary of the Government’s statement that they would bring in tougher sentences for those crimes, but nothing has happened in the last year. Will he say something about the possible deterrent effect of a tougher sentence for dangerous driving?
I know that that issue is important to the hon. Lady, and we had a brief discussion about it earlier. It is important that we have tough and appropriate sentences, but they are only part of the picture. As I have set out, there are several ways in which we should encourage safer driving. It is not just about encouragement, but about designing a safer road system and taking a holistic approach to road safety. I hope that the Minister keenly anticipates, as I do, the forthcoming Ageas-supported Road Safety Foundation annual risk mapping and performance tracking report, which will be launched on 30 October and entitled “Getting Back on Track”. The Minister is always on track—or, I should say, on road—so I look forward to his response.
I am pleased to see you presiding over our proceedings, Mrs Moon. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on securing this important debate. I will do my best to be brief, given how many hon. Members want to contribute.
I chair Fire Aid, an international charity that delivers pillar 5 post-crash response to 40 countries using staff and equipment from the UK fire and rescue service and its supply chain. Our constituent members also use the Department for Transport’s excellent THINK! road safety education material and are grateful for it. I thank the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, Anderson Etika and David Davies; Cycling UK, especially Roger Geffen; and the all-party parliamentary group on cycling and Adam Coffman for their briefings for the debate, which I am sure hon. Members found extremely useful.
There is a concern, which I am sure the Minister shares, that casualty reductions have plateaued in recent years. PACTS writes that its members are particularly interested to hear more about the refreshed road safety statement and two-year action plan, which was trailed as being due out in October. I hope the Minister can tell us when that will actually be seen.
I have raised the issue of targets with the Minister before. As he knows, PACTS and many others would like the Government to adopt casualty reduction targets. There is some encouragement, which perhaps the Minister can say more about, in the fact that the Department appears to be reconsidering their advantages. There is a recognition that targets are not a magic bullet, but the absence of a UK target badly undermines our claim to be an international leader in road safety. In the UK, we have a plethora of targets set by various bodies with different dates, baselines and definitions, including one set by the Department for Transport for Highways England, and we endorse United Nations and EU casualty reduction targets, but do not have our own.
Targets can be aspirational, and the Government have adopted them in a range of public policy areas such as NHS waiting times, reducing suicide, vehicle emissions and greenhouse gases. Given that road crashes are the largest cause of death and injury for young people and many of us in our daily lives, surely they deserve equal priority.
If possible, I would like the Minister to say something about 20 mph zones. Everybody supports them and they have appeared all over the country, but we all recognise that without physical restraints or technological equipment, just putting up signs that say 20 mph does not achieve anything.
I would also be grateful if the Minister commented on the number of traffic police and enforcement officers. There have been massive reductions in the number of police officers around the country, which would suggest that the number of traffic police has also been significantly reduced. If he could say something about that, and about the last time that he discussed the numbers with his ministerial counterpart at the Home Office, that would be helpful.
The cycling community has expressed angst about the Minister’s review of dangerous cycling. As a cyclist, I see far too many fellow cyclists going through red lights and pedestrian crossings, and the tragic incidents that have taken place warrant a review of dangerous cycling. The cycling community says that there also needs to be a review of dangerous driving, however, and that the Government need to show an approach to both rather than just focusing on cycling.
Cycling UK makes reference to the fact that convicted drivers routinely evade driving bans by claiming that it could cause exceptional hardship. As of June 2017, more than 10,000 drivers in Britain were still permitted to drive despite having more than 12 points on their licence. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that and the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) about convictions and the punishment fitting the crime—the Government have been promising to make a statement on that for some time.
This ought not to be a party political issue, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South, whom I congratulate again on securing this important debate, and the number of hon. Members from both sides of the House who want to speak demonstrate, but the Government have to recognise that there is disappointment. To go back to targets, there was a 30-year consensus. Targets were introduced by the Thatcher Administration in the ’80s and parties of both colours kept to them for all that time. They were effective in reducing the numbers of people being killed and seriously injured on our roads. I am keen to hear whether the Minister has any news on that.
As a former Road Safety Minister, I know that the issue presents huge challenges, but the Minister is highly regarded and trusted so he has an opportunity to restore the confidence of road safety campaign organisations and hon. Members present. We hope that his refreshed road safety strategy and two-year action plan does just that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on securing this important debate. I compliment him on his speech’s content and his delivery. I pay tribute to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Police Scotland and the Central Scotland Road Safety Partnership, which delivers the “Safe Drive Stay Alive” campaign every year, as I have previously remarked on in the House. The highly effective campaign includes an evocative and emotive live presentation designed to change behaviour and thinking about the responsibilities that we have when we sit behind the wheel of a car.
I want to speak about my constituent, Mrs Elizabeth Billett, who came to see me a few months ago because she had read something in the Stirling Observer that vividly brought back memories of what had happened to her grandson, whom she had brought up. Her case was previously mentioned in the House by my predecessor, Dame Anne McGuire, but I mention it again because the issues surrounding it are still relevant. Those issues relate to the consequences of foreign drivers who visit the UK driving on the wrong side of the road. The essence of my speech is to ask the Minister what more can be done to help foreign drivers who come to this country to be aware of the need to stay on the correct side of the road. I will also raise points that are outside his remit as a Minister, but which I hope he will contemplate and perhaps offer a view on.
Mrs Billett came to talk to me about her grandson, Andrew McLean, who was 22 years old when the car he was driving was hit by someone driving on the wrong side of the road. That person happened to be a French national, who was subsequently sentenced to 200 hours of community service and given an 18-month driving ban in 2012. When I met Mrs Billett, it was clear that the grief that she felt was still as fresh as if it had only just happened. That is the reality of that kind of shocking loss. To lose a grandson at such a young age—he was only 22, as I said—is a truly horrible thing to happen. It has blighted her life. We must recognise the truly shattering effect that the loss of such a young man has had on Mrs Billett and her family.
I now turn to the case that brought Mrs Billett to my constituency office and highlight the issue that I wish to raise. Recently, in Gartmore on the A81 in my constituency, a French driver, again on the wrong side of the road, resulted in three people being seriously injured and hospitalised. The sheriff in Stirling imposed a £3,000 fine, which he stated was immediately enforceable, and he disqualified the driver from driving for 27 months. I recognise that this is a devolved area, but it is a relevant one, which we should contemplate in this debate.
The sheriff said the second part of the sentence—not the fine, but the disqualification—was unenforceable, because if the individual concerned returned to France it would have no effect. That is what I ask the Minister to contemplate today. Is there not a way in which the consequences of this type of accident, the impact it has—visible to me when I met my constituent; I have a lasting memory of her grief and pain at the loss of her grandson—and the resulting sentence can be enforced, regardless of where the individual concerned goes? There must be a way of co-operating across Governments on this issue.
Being in charge of a motorcar is a very serious responsibility and drivers must take it seriously. I ask the Minister and all of us here today to consider how we might ensure that sentences are appropriate to the impact of the crime and are enforceable across national boundaries. My constituent, Mrs Billett, has been left in limbo for years. Nothing can be done to bring her grandson back, but we can go further than we currently do and help to bring her some sense of justice.
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on securing this very worthwhile debate. My contribution will be very short and will cover slightly different areas to those covered so far.
I am indebted to many of my parish councils. I attended a meeting last Friday at St Paul’s church in Whiteshill and over two thirds of my parish councils were represented there. The issue that people came to discuss was speeding. It is probably the biggest issue I have, in terms of postbag, outside of all the individual issues that we all face as Members of Parliament.
People came to that meeting to express their concerns, but I was also greatly indebted to my friend Charles Pedrick, who has done more than anyone I know in the area to highlight the issue of what to do about speeding. He organised the meeting, with the support of Martin Surl, Gloucestershire’s police and crime commissioner, who has put his money where his mouth is by partly paying for two automatic number plate recognition cameras—one in Whiteshill, which is why we were there, and the other one in Rodborough. The cameras have demonstrated that, in the main, people are law-abiding, but those who break the law do so in a hideous way, by driving at 70 mph through a 30 mph zone.
My first question to the Minister—this is why I will be brief—is whether it is possible that we could use the data that has been collected. In Gloucestershire, about 100,000 pieces of data have been collected in the year or so since the two ANPR cameras have been up. At the moment, that data is used by the police. They go and knock on a door, in extremis, or they send letters to those who have offended seriously, not once or twice but on a regular basis. Is it possible that we could use that data more proactively, so that we can catch these people out?
I was genuinely shocked when I tabled a parliamentary question about how many people in Gloucestershire were banned from driving. Given how serious speeding and drink-driving are, the number is infinitesimally small, and that is because we do not seem to have any joined-up action. Can we use that information to crack down on those people who are making other people’s lives a misery?
Of course, it is not only people who are affected by speeding but cows and horses. There are a number of commons in my constituency. Every year, when the cows are put out we lose about 12 of them, because they are knocked down. However, it is not just a case of knocking down an animal; such incidents have a hideous impact on the affected farmers, who have to pick up the beast and who also often lose out financially. There is very little that can be done about the perpetrators. We ought to be able to do much more to them. If anyone hits an animal in a car, it is their own fault; they were driving without due care and attention. Is there something more that we can do to follow up on those individuals who have had accidents and caused all this disruption?
The same is true of horses. We are considering how we can have safer bridleways, but how do people get to those safer bridleways? We need to consider, very carefully, how the network can be joined up, to ensure that people are able to ride their horses safely, without people rushing past them at 60 mph.
My last point comes from the meeting I attended last week and it is a request to look at traffic regulation orders. Can we have a way in which we can make villages more composite, so that each village does not have to pay quite a large sum of money to get a TRO to reduce the speed in their area to 20 mph, which is largely recognised as being what villages need?
If the Minister could answer those questions in the short time that he has today, I would be very grateful.
Safety on our roads is obviously an important issue; it is also one that we have discussed here in Parliament before. The countryside is changing and has been for many years, and yet country roads are not changing, except perhaps for repairs of a few potholes and patchy resurfacing. I am talking in particular about roads in rural areas.
I credit my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), first, for securing the debate—it is a fantastic debate on an important issue—and, secondly, for highlighting the hazards and deaths on our roads. Devon and Cornwall police have recently diverted resources from fighting what we might call traditional crime, such as burglary, to keeping our roads safer. They recently launched their “No Excuse” campaign, which challenges road users who, basically, break clear rules about road safety and thereby cause injury and death. It is a shame that, because of that and the inability to maintain improvements to the roads, resources are being diverted in this way.
Attention really must be given to designing out danger, as well as to managing driver error and behaviour. As a rural constituency MP in west Cornwall, a number of issues are raised with me on a regular basis; indeed, I have raised many of them in this place before. As I have said, the countryside is changing. However, as a local MP I believe that I have exhausted every possible route other than to raise these issues with the Minister, which is disappointing. I would like to hear from him today what tools MPs can use to get their local authorities and others to focus their efforts on areas where there is clearly a danger, as well as a concern, and where local communities are genuinely worried about what is going on in their neighbourhoods and outside their houses.
I would really like to know from the Minister what more I can do on roads such as, for example, the A30 at Trereife junction, which I was involved with even before I was elected to this House. The A30 is a very busy road that takes people to Land’s End and the junction is tricky, and advertised as such. Years ago, red was painted on it to slow people down. However, that red paint has now gone, and despite many efforts and petitions, Cornwall Council seems completely uninterested in making the junction safer.
In New Road, there is simply a need for a pedestrian crossing from a massive housing area across to the beach. Again, however, the local authority has shown no interest.
As I have said, the countryside is changing. We have huge vehicles, including agricultural vehicles, using our roads. Often they use minor roads, and in a village called Leedstown, which is on the B3302, it has been established that speeding takes place. I have had many meetings with the council, huge petitions have been created by the local community and lots of concerns have been accepted, but there has been no action whatsoever. The council blames the police for not enforcing the law; the police blame the council for not improving the roads. And in Ashton and in Breage, the situation is exactly the same.
The Minister and the Secretary of State will be aware of our concern about the A30 in Crowlas. It is the main road that takes people into Penzance, which has a population of more than 20,000 people. It is a single-carriageway road that takes people to that end of Cornwall. The money has been secured to make it safer—indeed, it was secured some time ago—but there has been absolutely no action. So I would love it if the Minister could give Highways England and Cornwall Council a call, to ask them why they have not acted when they have the money to do so.
Finally, on Sunday there was a three-car crash, which resulted in life-changing injuries for one individual, on the A30 from Camborne to Penzance. I recently talked to Highways England in Bristol about that road and it said that there was no more that it could do; it needs the Secretary of State to ensure that a route appraisal is included in the second road investment strategy, or RIS 2. I thought that I would take the opportunity today to make that point, particularly to the Minister. So, please include a route appraisal in RIS 2.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate under your chairmanship today, Mrs Moon.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on bringing this issue forward and giving us all a chance to participate in this debate.
I will very quickly give a flavour of what is happening in Northern Ireland, as I do in nearly every debate in Westminster Hall, because it is always important to have the statistics that back up the story we are trying to tell.
In Northern Ireland we had 9,737 casualties on our roads last year. Obviously, we have to do better. Road safety is a multifaceted issue and a multifaceted approach is needed. Speeding is a clear issue. All hon. Members who have spoken so far have said that, and will continue to say that. According to statistics released by the Department for Infrastructure, 69% of drivers broke the speed limit on built-up roads in Northern Ireland. Whereas 50% of them drove too fast on single and dual carriageways, speeding on motorways was down by 30%, so there are some good things. The majority of pedestrian casualties occur in built-up areas. Again, we need to highlight that issue. Twenty-nine of the 34 child pedestrians and 302 of the 413 adult pedestrians who were killed in 2016 died on built-up roads.
Pedal cyclists are also vulnerable in built-up areas. More than half of the cyclist deaths in 2016, 58 out of 102, and most cyclist injuries in that year, almost 17,000 out of nearly 18,500, occurred on built-up roads. Although rural areas have their own particular issues, built-up areas are where the real pressure seems to be. In 2016, 789 people were killed, almost 16,000 were seriously injured and 113,055 were slightly injured. If someone is driving at 40 mph and they hit a child, they will probably kill them; at 30 mph, the child has an 80% chance of survival; and at 20 mph, the child is likely to survive being hit, with only minor injuries. So it is clear that we need to drive in built-up areas at a speed that is not a threat to other people.
Inexperience does not end with passing the test, which is why the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, which the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) referred to, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and the Institute of Advanced Motorists have a scheme that involves on-road driving assessments, manoeuvrability tests, road-safe and wellbeing exhibitions and simulated fatal car crashes. Those are important steps in the way forward to educating people and raising awareness.
Teaching our young drivers is essential. We must address the fact that they do not have lessons on motorways, and their first trip up the road to university, changing lanes and navigating, is simply dangerous, so we must look at that issue as well.
I very much support the scheme that we have back home in Northern Ireland; I suspect it is probably evident in other parts of the United Kingdom as well. Our education programmes in high schools feature personal stories, often from young people who have been disabled in accidents. There are graphic demonstrations or dramatisations to influence the attitude of young students driving for the first time. I remind the Minister that the insurance companies do some monitoring of first-time drivers. The scheme to reduce insurance and to monitor the speed of cars is a good scheme.
I also have concerns about horse deaths on the roads. The British Horse Society is aware of some 2,914 reports of road incidents involving horses; 230 horses have died and 39 riders have lost their lives. We need to remind people how to drive at the right speed at the right place. There might be a 60 mph national speed limit, but sometimes it is safe only to drive at 40. When it might be safe to drive at 60, some people doing 20 mph is an issue that must be addressed as well. There is work to do, and there must be funding for a strategy. I look to the Minister for the strategy and for the funding to back it up. I welcome the fact that in Northern Ireland we have put measures in outside schools. We have put in schemes to reduce speed, which will increase safety for children at school.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon, in this important debate.
We have had so many statements from the Government and debates in this House about one or more of the issues of congestion, air pollution, obesity, diabetes, poor physical and mental health, and the decline in our high streets’ economies. I have two solutions to all those, which do not cost a lot to the public purse or to our constituents: cycling and walking. I shall focus mainly on the first: more people cycling more often to work, school, the shops, to visit friends and family and all those other journeys that we take as part of day-to-day life.
Unfortunately, too few people in this country cycle regularly. The single greatest reason why British people, most of whom own bikes, do not cycle as part of their daily or weekly activities is fear for their safety. If the road culture and infrastructure were safer, more people would cycle. So we need to normalise cycling, as many of our competitor countries have done, as a safe and convenient activity for people of all ages and abilities, with all the health, environmental, economic and quality of life benefits that that would yield. We can do that only if the Government focus on the safety of those who are on bikes and on foot.
I want to express my concern at the Government’s announcement of a new review specifically of cycling offences in 2017 in response to one admittedly awful case involving a pedestrian killed in a collision with Charlie Alliston, who was illegally riding a fixed-wheel bike, which illegally lacked a front brake, on the road. I believe a much wider overhaul of our laws is needed, as promised by Ministers more than four years ago.
I shall focus on the key issues that reflect the five main headings of the “safe systems” approach adopted in the Government’s road safety statement. On safer roads and junctions, we were promised new standards for cycle-friendly planning so that they consistently applied in all new roads and traffic schemes, new developments and planned highway maintenance works. It cannot be right that new housing estates are built in this country with not only no segregated cycle paths, but sometimes no footways, either. The Government should show leadership in all new developments, housing schemes, rail infrastructure and major roads, as well as leading on retrofitting our existing urban and rural infrastructure.
We need work in every town and city so that we can all be served with a safe network of segregated cycle routes on main roads, safe quietways on minor roads, and safe accessible places to lock or store cycles, and that needs a shift of some—not a lot, proportionately—of transport capital funding. The earmarked UK Government spending for cycling and walking in 2019-20 will decline to just 37p per person: just a fraction of the £10 per head called for by my group, the all-party parliamentary group on cycling, in our 2013 “Get Britain Cycling” report and by the Transport Committee’s own 2014 report on cycle safety.
We ask that the Government adopt continental-style rules to give greater safety and priority to pedestrians and cyclists at junctions, as promoted by British Cycling’s “Turning the Corner” campaign. This is based on the principle that drivers turning at a junction give way to pedestrians and cyclists travelling straight ahead across their path. We hope that that will be incorporated into The Highway Code.
We need to build a nation of safer drivers. It goes without saying that all road users should respect the rules of the road and the safety of others, which means a combination of education and enforcement, as other speakers have said today. We need better driver awareness of cycle safety, including new and consistent advice in The Highway Code, to be reinforced through public awareness campaigns. We need to strengthen roads policing and the capacity to enforce. We need to review traffic laws and penalties to clarify, for instance, the distinction between careless and dangerous offences. We need to make use of driving bans, reducing the ability of convicted drivers to evade such bans, and we need tougher penalties overall.
We must invest in cycle training for children and adults to give them more confidence in cycling on the roads. Provision is currently a postcode lottery. Such training also leads to safe driving behaviour for those who have experienced it. After all, HGV drivers regularly include cycle training as part of their driving training. I had hoped to mention more of the recommendations today, but time is short. We look forward to working with the Minister on the recommendations.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on securing this important debate on an issue that clearly and obviously has much cross-party support and interest. I want to speak today on behalf of my constituents, the Smith family from Llandevaud, who tragically lost their daughter Rhiannon, aged just 21, in a road collision last year. I want to pay tribute to them for the way in which they have bravely and relentlessly campaigned ever since for measures to make our roads safer, to prevent such events from happening to other families.
Alongside their work on local road safety issues, the family established the Rhiannon Jade Smith Memorial Trust, which held its first Welsh road safety conference last month at the Celtic Manor in Newport. It was extremely well attended and covered a large range of road safety issues, many of which were touched on today. Experts who attended included Rod King, from the “20’s Plenty For Us” campaign, which advocates the potential benefits of default 20 mph speed limits in urban and residential areas, except where it makes sense to retain 30 mph speed limits. My Welsh Assembly colleague, John Griffiths, is campaigning on that with the Welsh Government, and it was the subject of a recent debate.
Gwent police Chief Inspector Martyn Smith, who is responsible for our roads policing, and police and crime commissioner Jeff Cuthbert, spoke about how they are tackling alcohol and drug driving as well as those who use their phones behind the wheel. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) that cuts to police and traffic officers make their job far more difficult, and that that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. We also heard from Sarah Jones, of Public Health Wales, who talked in favour of graduated driving licences. Those are obviously targeted at younger drivers and they exist in other countries. She is a passionate advocate of them. It would be interesting to hear the Minister’s views on both the 20 mph campaign and graduated driving licences.
We talked about the need for a dedicated road collision investigation branch, similar to those that investigate rail, maritime and air accidents, which would look at road accident data, analyse incidents and spot any trends, to identify solutions. I know that the Smith family would like me to raise that specifically with the Minister today. Obviously, it would not replace the work of the coroners and police, but it would work on top of that, to analyse trends, and would have the potential to save more lives.
I was pleased to see the Government’s announcement in the summer of a dedicated branch run by the RAC Foundation as a pilot. I look forward to hearing the results so far from the Minister, so that that approach can grow. Countries such as Sweden have used it effectively for many years, and it would be interesting to see how far the Government have got. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse, I think targets are important; it is time that the Department for Transport thought again about the national road safety targets, which were scrapped in 2010.
I draw the Minister’s attention to the suggestion for an all-Wales fatal collision review board, which South Wales police are working on. They have proposed a model similar to the national road collision investigation unit, where a board of experts would meet regularly to discuss categories of drivers or road users who are particularly high-risk and review fatal collisions to consider trends. All kinds of bodies and partners could be included. It would be good if the Minister looked at that, and specifically at cross-border working with the Welsh Government. It is important to learn road safety lessons wherever we can.
We are clearly not making the progress on road safety and fatalities that we should expect as a nation. The Government’s projections show an increase in local traffic of up to 50% by 2040, so clearly we must do more and collaborate better to make roads safer.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mrs Moon. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on securing this debate, whose importance is self-evident, given the Members attending it.
Having served for 31 years in the fire service, and sadly over that time having attended many needless and avoidable road traffic crashes, I believe that the importance of road safety in all its forms throughout the UK must never be underestimated. Many of the events in question ended with fatalities or life-changing injuries. As we have heard today, the impact extends to the families of the individuals, and that must be considered. The needless loss of a loved one in a road traffic crash can be continually devastating.
Before the emergency services arrive at an incident, many people find they are trapped in not only a crushed motor vehicle but a twilight world between life and death. It is often wet, miserable, cold and bleak. In a rural area it might be in an insecure and isolated place. I, and many others in the fire, police and ambulance services, have on many occasions had the privilege simply of holding someone’s hand, squeezing it gently and speaking to them quietly, making the promise—not knowing whether it can be kept—“We’ll soon have you out of here,” while mentally formulating a plan to achieve that important goal.
In those 30-plus years, I have seen many improvements to vehicles and, indeed, to legislation—I commend manufacturers for improvements such as airbags, crumple zones, improved braking systems, side impact systems and so on. Many people owe their lives to those developments. Legislators can be proud of introducing the compulsory wearing of seatbelts, and of crash helmets for motorcyclists. I take the point that has been eloquently made that we should perhaps be on the journey towards the compulsory wearing of head safety gear by cyclists on the streets today. Not least of all such measures is the breathalyser, although it is sad to note that, despite it, the relevant statistics are rising. That is shameful and disgraceful.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South ably emphasised the importance of the recent report on developing safe system road safety indicators. I do not intend to repeat what was said, but in the report, PACTS raises the importance of securing statistics in the form of eight key performance indicators. I, for one, would welcome those KPIs on road safety, but with the proviso that they should be used wisely and actively by roads authorities, police, policy makers and other stakeholders. That might include the Chancellor, with respect to investment.
The intention should be to reduce road traffic crashes. Statistics tell us that currently 71 deaths or serious injuries occur every day in the UK. That must be unacceptable. There is no value in gathering useful data and not putting it to use. All of us present in the Chamber are concerned about the fact that the trend for improvement in road traffic fatalities and serious injuries has in recent years ceased. The improvement has plateaued and bottomed out: the figures for 2017 show another year of no improvement with respect to the reduction in deaths and serious injuries on the UK’s roads. It is not good enough.
We need to ensure that the driving test keeps up with new developments. I hope that I will not be misunderstood, as it is not always a matter of young drivers—some people do pass their test when they are older, and there are mature gentlemen like me who cause road accidents. Aspects of the test might be how to cope with driverless vehicles, which will soon be on the roads and could be encountered in the not-too-distant future. Drivers and riders should be encouraged proactively and continually to self-assess their abilities to drive in a safe manner. Should they be driving? People need to be safe to drive. That is especially relevant when people are affected by illnesses notifiable to the DVLA.
It may be hard when someone reaches my time in life to give up what they have done for 40 or 50 years or more, but perhaps it is wise to give it some thought, or seek serious advice about whether they should do it. There is a balance between the young and the old. Educating drivers on managing everyday tiredness and fatigue is an enormous factor in accident prevention. It will be interesting to assess the data gathered on that, if the PACTS recommendations are brought forward.
I would be pleased if the PACTS recommendations on statistics gathering were introduced. However, in tandem with gathering data for future years, we must endeavour to secure improvements across the field of road safety year on year. I am encouraged by the work that various agencies and Governments undertake to arrest the increase in fatalities and serious accidents.
We recognise that things are not working as they should at the moment. I know a great deal is being done, but further improvements will be achieved through education of individuals as much as improvements to the environment in which they drive—something that has been mentioned before. There is recognition that improvement is needed in some of those areas. I welcome the KPIs. I think that they will be a good step, and I hope that the Minister will consider introducing them.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on initiating the debate. I want to raise an issue that is rarely discussed in the context of road safety—driver eyesight. My interest—indeed, my passion—about the issue arises from a terrible incident in my constituency two years ago. Poppy-Arabella Clarke—three years old, a delightful girl and the apple of her mum’s and dad’s eye—was crossing the Chester Road with her mother, Rachel. She was run down by a driver who was 72, and who had been told twice in the previous three weeks that he should never drive again, although he continued to do so. The family are devastated to this day.
We need a common-sense approach towards this—indeed, on other issues we have had such common-sense engagement with the Government. Five years ago Avril Child’s two daughters, who were in their early 20s, were crossing the Walsall Road. They got hit by a driver who was doing 64 miles an hour, and Sarah died. Bizarrely, the individual who was behind the wheel got four years in jail and a four-year driving ban, and he started serving the driving ban on day one of being in jail. We engaged with the then Justice Minister, the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), and the law was changed so that such bans will now run consecutively. In a similar vein, I hope that the Government will approach with common sense the issue of what needs to be done about driver eyesight.
I wish to make three points. First, as things stand, when we take a driving test we have to read a number plate from 20 metres. That is a lamentably poor measure of visual acuity, so why not improve it? The original number plate test dates back 80 years to 1937. It is a comparatively weak test, and across Europe there is a much more robust approach. Of 29 countries assessed by the European Council of Optometry and Optics, the UK was one of only five that required just a licence plate test. Furthermore, in 22 of the 29 countries assessed, a doctor or ophthalmologist is required to carry out an eye test, yet in the UK, only the driving instructor conducts the test on the day. Evidence from Brake suggests that the public would support such a measure, and polling shows that 67% of the general public believe that the system should change.
There is also a case for the introduction of regular eyesight tests during our driving lives, because at no point do most drivers ever have to take an eye test. Again, if we consider the European experience we see that some countries such as Hungary and Finland require an eye test from drivers in their 40s, and a further 13 countries require an eye test at 70, 75 or 80. We know from evidence provided by Brake and data from Direct Line that British drivers are not getting their eyes tested on a regular basis. Indeed, 12% of drivers never get their eyes tested, and 16% of drivers have had an accident in the past two years. For those who have problems with their eyesight, the figure for those involved in an accident increases to 67%. There is a strong case for us to do something in the United Kingdom, as has happened in many countries throughout Europe.
There is also the question of older drivers. Under UK law, once someone reaches 70 they must renew their driving licence, but they self-certify that they are fit to drive. There is no requirement for a medical—people just fill out a form and stay on the road. According to evidence from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, there are 4.5 million drivers over 70, and 100,000 over 90. The overwhelming majority of those people drive safely—indeed, statistically the big problem is not older drivers; it is young men. Having said that, there has been rapid growth in the number of older drivers, and as we live longer the number of drivers over 70 and over 90 increases—there are 3,700 drivers over 90 in the west midlands alone.
In conclusion, we hope that the Government will consider a range of measures, including a mandatory obligation for an ophthalmologist or doctor to report to the DVLA anyone they examine who cannot drive safely. It is somewhat surprising that the road safety strategy does not refer to eye testing, and I hope that the Minister will agree that these are real issues. We have already engaged with the Minister and had constructive discussions, and I hope that the Government will be prepared to take the necessary action, because never again should we have a tragedy such as the one that befell Poppy-Arabella Clarke.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on securing this important and, as it turns out, wide-ranging debate. It is my duty to sum up the debate, and I hope hon. Members will forgive me if I miss any salient points. I shall start with the previous speaker, because I felt that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) was directing his remarks at me, although I will try not to take it too personally. I recently had an eye operation, and at the moment I have a self-imposed ban on driving, even though I have been reliably informed by my consultant that I am fit to drive. The hon. Gentleman’s points were well made.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South introduced the debate with a wide-ranging discussion that covered traumatic tales of accidents, as well as the need for us to use data properly, to data-mine why accidents happen, and to use that information to further road safety. I do not think that anyone disagrees with him. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) wants us to think about road safety, and to consider 20 mph zones as well as looking at the reduction in the number of traffic police that has led to other accidents. The hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) commended his local police and road safety people on their “Safe Drive Stay Alive” campaign. He touched us all when he spoke about foreign drivers and how there is no way to enforce the bans imposed by Scottish sheriffs. That is a tragedy.
The hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) spoke about local speeding issues and data from local cameras. I cannot go into the technicalities of English law, but anything that helps to increase road safety should be used, and it is the duty of all Members of the House to ensure that roads in their constituencies are as safe as possible. The hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) spoke about country roads and made an important point about the A30. I will try to get through my remarks quickly, because there is a lot for the Minister to answer.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) gave a comprehensive overview of road safety in Northern Ireland, and he spoke about the education of young drivers and how graphic illustrations really help. The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) is a real advocate for cycling and walking. She may be surprised to hear that until recently I cycled frequently, but I take on board her views that most people do not cycle because of road safety issues. I only ever cycled on cycle paths, and I thank Sustrans for its work in Scotland and for the number of cycle paths that pass by beautiful places.
It is important to consider amending The Highway Code—that returns to the point about education because we must ensure that people understand those amendments. The hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) eloquently paid tribute to the Smith family in her constituency and the trust that they have set up. The investigation of such road accidents can only help to improve the lives of people in her constituency and across the UK.
The hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) spoke about his more than 30 years’ service in the fire and rescue service, and about the devastation caused by accidents. People who are trapped often require a simple hand hold, which is an immensely powerful thing. I thank him for his service. As he said, the improvements made to motor vehicles by manufacturers are important, but, as we know, vehicles are driven by people and education is the most important thing. The hon. Gentleman mentioned seatbelts, crash helmets and so on, as well as breathalysers. Drink-driving is still rising in the UK, but I am glad that things are improving in Scotland, because of the actions of the Scottish Government. I think those were all the Members who spoke, so I will briefly do some quick headlines.
I want the Minister to consider the Scottish Government examples that I will give him. Scotland’s road safety framework to 2020 has produced really good results, with cuts in the numbers of accidents. Things that the Scottish Government have done include cutting the blood alcohol limit, and we must take on board the fact that the limit has been reduced from 80 mg to 50 mg, which is lower than for the rest of the UK. We really must look at, and I would like the Minister to think about, the 7.6% reduction in drink-driving as a result of that.
The Scottish Government are also looking at drug-driving limits—I commend that idea to the Minister—and they are going to introduce roadside testing. They have considered where they can make prosecutions for different types of drug, specifying the limit for each and testing against that. Importantly, they also want to ensure that it is not just people who are driving in an impaired manner—zig-zagging across the road—who can be stopped by the police.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) for securing this important and timely debate. He is clearly very committed to making roads safer in his constituency and he speaks with great knowledge of the subject.
The Government recently published their 2017 figures for reported road casualties in Great Britain, after a lengthy delay. Although there are some positives in that latest statistical release, there is also cause for concern. The Minister told me earlier this year that the picture was mixed, and it remains so. We have heard from hon. Members on both sides of the House about this country’s proud record. We have some of the safest roads in the world. In fact, we have the fourth lowest number of road deaths per million inhabitants, behind Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. However, we must never think that that means the job is done, while thousands of families each year are still traumatised by the tragedy of losing a loved one in what are so often avoidable circumstances.
Last year, as we have heard, 1,793 people were killed on Britain’s roads. That is an average of five every day, and more than 10 times that number suffered serious injuries, many of which were life-changing. The Government talk a good game about road safety being a top priority, but their legacy so far is one of disappointment and frustration, and the latest Department for Transport figures reaffirm that. Since 2010, progress has well and truly stalled. Another year of stats has been published and we are no further forward.
I pay tribute to the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and Ageas for publishing their important report on safe system and road safety indicators earlier this month, and the Government need to sit up and take notice of that. Many stakeholders are calling on the Government to adopt road safety performance indicators. The Government scrapped road targets that successfully reduced the number of people killed or seriously injured by a third under the Labour Government. The Government say that targets do not achieve anything, but I disagree. They focus minds and attention, and hold the Government to account. Currently, there are no targets with which to assess progress. The Government set themselves targets to meet in pretty much every other area of policy, but not for reducing road deaths and injuries. Why is that the case?
We have heard about the safer road fund, and we welcomed that targeted approach to enabling local authorities to improve the most dangerous stretches of A road in England. The fund initially totalled £175 million, of which £100 million is currently invested. However, the other £75 million that was originally allocated has, according to the Minister, “not been required”. Will he clarify what that is about? We saw this morning that the RAC Foundation and the Road Safety Foundation have published a report on the possible benefits of the safer road fund, which estimates that the fund could prevent almost 1,450 deaths and serious injuries over the next two decades on the riskiest A roads of England. We are crying out for investment in road safety, so why is that money not being spent and where is it being reallocated to?
We are also concerned about enforcement. Traffic officers have seen a 24% fall in their numbers since 2012—a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). In 2010, there were 3,500 police officers patrolling the UK’s roads, but by 2017 the figure had fallen to 2,600. It seems that cuts to our vital services are putting safety at risk.
The latest road safety figures show that there has been an increase in the number of pedestrian and motorcyclist fatalities as well. The number of cyclists killed has remained broadly constant since 2010: why has progress stalled in that area as well? I would be grateful if, in the time he has available, the Minister could answer some of the points raised by the Front-Bench spokespeople as well as by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I thank you, Mrs Moon, and I thank all colleagues across the House for the very interesting and wide-ranging debate this afternoon.
Far from not being held to account, I think this is the third road safety debate I have done in recent months, and it speaks to the vigour of our democracy that Ministers can be held to account on this important issue. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) who has done excellent work on the Transport Committee. He knows from that, and from his work before entering Parliament, that this country has what was described by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner)—perhaps I should not refer to him as my hon. Friend, but he is—as a “proud record” in road safety improvements, and that is rightly recognised.
An interesting example is a case I have officials looking at, which is the recent concerns about seatbelts and the proportion of accidents in which failure to wear a seatbelt has been a contributing cause. That has rightly been touched on in the debate. It is sometimes important to remember that seatbelt use is observed by 98.2% of car drivers in England and Scotland, which is one small indication of how attitudes and practices have changed over time. Although the number of fatalities has levelled out recently, as has been said, we should be very proud that that number fell over a consistent period and is significantly lower now than it was even 10 years ago. However, it is important to say that I recognise, as do the Government, the billions of pounds in economic costs alone of road casualties, and that is not to say anything of the human costs. Three dreadful stories of death on our roads have been mentioned in the debate, and I hope to have the chance to touch on those.
If I may, I will briefly rehearse the current state of play from the Government’s standpoint and then come to the many interesting questions that colleagues have raised. As colleagues will know, in 2015 my predecessor announced an overarching strategy known as the road safety statement, and I think the evidence is clear that we have made very good headway in many areas. However, we absolutely recognise that there is more work to do. I am glad that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East has mentioned the RAC Foundation’s report into the effect of the investment that was made in safer roads.
That £100 million was bid for by 50 local authorities, and it was allocated to them. I am sure we will return to that subject over time, but it is worth saying that as the report shows, that money is projected to have a very positive effect on reducing casualties and deaths, and—purely in economic terms—a high cost-benefit ratio, as one might expect. That in itself is worth mentioning.
However, as an indication that the Government are not in any sense letting the grass grow under our feet, we announced in June a two-year action plan to address four specific priority groups within the overall road safety statement, as part of a refresh of that statement. The first group is motorcyclists, and the second is rural road users, who have been mentioned; I think the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) rightly picked up the issue of rural roads. The third group is older and more vulnerable users—the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) mentioned elderly drivers and the effects posed by them—and the fourth is young road users, who are disproportionately implicated in killed and seriously injured statistics.
We are also trialling many new and different approaches to try to get at the root of what is clearly a hard problem. That is why earlier this year, the Prime Minister announced a £480,000 partnership between the police and the RAC Foundation to trial the new approach to investigating road collisions, along the lines of the road collision investigation branch mentioned by the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden). It is also important to note the £350,000 competition run by PACTS to provide police forces with the next generation of mobile breathalyser equipment. If that is being adopted in Scotland as well, we can be delighted, because that is a source of improvement.
The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) suggested that somehow, the Government were only targeting cyclists with our latest announcement about the review of cycling road offences. First of all, that is clearly not true, although there are specific concerns about potential risks and harm posed by cyclists, which Laura Thomas mentioned in her report and have existed among the judiciary and the legal fraternity for a long time. That harm is not large in numerical terms—it is very small compared to the number of cyclists killed by drivers—but it is undoubtedly worth noting as we evolve a wider ecology of road use. We have taken measures to address drivers specifically, including doubling the penalty for the use of mobile phones to six points and a £200 fine, and targeting drink and drug driving. Drug driving is a particular menace, killing some 200 people a year, and we have targeted it through a new regime of roadside swab testing, which has proven to be a fast and efficient means of identifying drug drivers.
Of course, some things are best handled not just through regulation, but through other, softer interventions. I was pleased to note that the national speed awareness course is having a real effect, and is more effective at reducing speed re-offending than fines and penalty points, according to a recent evaluation over a period of three years following the initial offer to attend. The Government are also thinking about interventions to support new drivers. A range of measures is being trialled, but legislation is now in force that allows learners on to motorways when accompanied by an approved driving instructor, so they do not have that cliff-edge experience of going from driving on local roads to driving on fast-flowing motorways.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South rightly mentioned the safer roads fund. He will be aware that in Shropshire, not far from his constituency, there is the A529 between Hinstock and Market Drayton, which has the unhappy accolade of being the most dangerous road in that part of the UK, according to analysis carried out by the Road Safety Foundation in 2014. That is just one of the areas that has been targeted with nearly £4 million through the fund. Of course, Stoke-on-Trent City Council should be congratulated on the work it has been doing on investing in road and pavement maintenance, re-allocating bus lanes, upgrading traffic signals, and the like.
I mentioned that the two-year action plan focuses in particular on young people, rural road users, motorcyclists, and older people—not just the damage that older people might do to themselves, but the hazard they pose to others. It was my very unhappy duty to meet with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington, and the Clarke family to discuss the awful situation of Poppy-Arabella. I remember it extremely well, and I hope that Rachel and Phil were glad of the opportunity to talk about their situation and the experience that they had. It is important to say that optometrists already have a duty of care to check eyesight, and at the moment there is not any evidence that a compulsory, formal duty to assess eyesight would have a marked positive effect. However, that is one of the things that we are trying to cover—if not directly now, then as part of a future flow of work—through the two-year action plan.
The issue of cyclists was mentioned by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth. She will understand that a formal response to the safety review consultation is coming, and a formal action plan, I hope, will follow later in the year. There is some further work to be done on road safety that I hope to announce before too long, so there is a pattern of things under way. I cannot always anticipate things that are going to be made public in formal statements after proper agreement across Government, but she recognises—as does my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South—that there must be, and is, a hierarchy of road use, and that cars do enormous damage to vulnerable road users of every kind, not just cyclists. That is the fitting counterpart to the work we have been doing through the Thomas report, and of course, the killed and seriously injured statistics show that cars are much more dangerous. The Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy safety review has had an enormous response. Something like 13,000 responses have been received; a lot have come through formal write-in programmes, but many have come from ordinary cyclists and members of the public, and rightly so. One of the things that has come out of that, on which the Government have done a lot of work, has been the work of the West Midlands police on close passing. We have already announced some further work on that, and I expect that to continue.
The PACTS report is the original instigator of some of this debate. I congratulate PACTS on the work it has have done, and I thank Ageas for its work as well. I welcome the work on the indicators that are being used. The Government are already very engaged with what might be considered the “safe systems” approach. We have thought about that in the context of cycling and walking, but we are trying to balance that with specific evidence of places where one needs to be able to address actual harm inflicted. The response cannot just be about predictive anticipation of where there may be collisions. It also has to be about showing a local community that a collision has been addressed; an accident has met with a response; and a concern has in some sense been understood, recognised and salved, if not solved. It is important to recognise that we adopt that approach within Government, and we do so seriously.
I have constantly gone round the houses on the issue of targets with my great friend the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick)—a brilliant fireman and, I have no doubt, a great campaigner in this area—and with others. As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East mentioned, there are countries with targets that have better safety records than ours, but there are also countries with targets that do not have better safety records than ours. The matter is not absolutely clear by any means, and we will continue to discuss it over time.
On 20-mile-an-hour zones, I remind colleagues that local authorities are fully free to use a range of traffic-calming measures, including all-day limits or partial limits. I am very sympathetic to my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) regarding the situation of Mrs Billett, as he will know. We have all kinds of flags at ports, and we have bollards and interventions on roads, but he is absolutely right to flag that issue. Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) is absolutely right to pick up the point about agricultural vehicles, and I will be writing to him separately on the topic of the A30. RIS 2 will be announced in the middle of next year.
I had better sit down. Mrs Moon, you have been a brilliant Chair. Thank you so much.
I thank all Members who have contributed to this wide-ranging and interesting debate, and I am particularly grateful for the heartfelt speeches that some colleagues have made. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) will notice, I now wear glasses. I have recently had my eyes checked, and I did not wear glasses previously, but I do now. I am sure that he will be happy to know that my eyesight is now much better.
I thank the Minister for his comprehensive remarks on a number of the points that were raised throughout the debate. I hope the debate has raised awareness, and I particularly thank Ageas and PACTS for the work they have done. I also remind Members of the report produced by the Road Safety Foundation, which is due to be released on 30 October.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered road safety.