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House of Commons Hansard
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Excessive Speeding and Driving Bans
23 May 2019
Volume 660

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mike Freer.)

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The subject of my Adjournment debate—excessive speeding and driving bans—is very serious. I do not like reading out speeches, but this is a pretty technical issue and there are many factual points that I want to raise, so I apologise in advance that I will be doing a little more reading than I would like. I emphasise that this is an immensely serious issue of great concern around the country. I will be asking three questions at the end of my speech. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer them directly, but if, for any reason, she cannot do so in the detail that we would all like, I would appreciate a written response from her.

I want to emphasise two key points about excessive speeding and driving bans: first, the need for tougher action to tackle speeding offences; and, secondly, the need to explore how technology can be used to improve road safety and reduce the number of unnecessary deaths that occur on our roads. According to the most recent official statistics from the Department for Transport, in 2017, in the UK, there were 24,831 serious injuries in road traffic accidents reported to the police, with 1,793 people killed in road traffic accidents—nearly five people a day. I am worried about the 9% increase in fatalities among motorcyclists and the 5% increase in pedestrian fatalities between 2016 and 2017. While I welcome the slight fall of 4% in fatalities among car drivers, we all know that the figure is still far too high. Any fatality on our roads is one fatality too many.

In 2017, the custody rate for motoring offences was 1%. When an offender was sentenced to immediate custody, the average length of a custodial sentence was only 8.2 months. In 2017, the number of offenders directly disqualified from driving actually decreased by 8%—from 63,000 in 2016 to 58,000 in 2017. This concerns me, and I know it concerns many others, too.

I do not think that any of us will be surprised by the fact that speeding is the most common driving offence on UK roads. It currently accounts for around one fifth of road fatalities. In 2017, across Wales as a whole, 500 drivers a day were caught speeding. I appreciate that velocities differ, and I am concentrating on the highest speeds, but that is still a worrying statistic. In 2017, according to House of Commons Library statistics, just under 20,200 speed limit motoring offences were recorded by North Wales police alone—a 73% increase on the number recorded in 2011. About 86% of the speed limit offences were recorded through cameras, such as fixed-place speed cameras. Of the 20,200 or so speeding limit offences recorded by North Wales police, most resulted in a fine, with fewer than 3,000 leading to the driver facing court action. The sentence for the vast majority of those who were subsequently convicted at court was just a fine.

It is my strongly held belief that collisions and road traffic accidents are not inevitable and that we should not accept them as such. Cycling UK has stated that whereas society expects high safety standards in various aspects of our lives in which there are inherent risks, there sometimes seems to be a different culture on the roads. I agree with its calls for greater use of lengthy driving bans, both as a penalty and in order to protect the public. Convicted drivers consistently avoid driving bans by resorting to claims that such a ban will cause them “exceptional hardship”. In January 2017, according to Cycling UK, almost 10,000 drivers were still allowed to drive even though they had amassed 12 points or more on their licence, and that is despite the fact that those who accumulate that many points should automatically face disqualification from driving.

Brake, the road safety charity, has echoed calls for those who have 12 points on their licence to be prevented from invoking the argument of “exceptional hardship” and instead face an automatic driving ban. This is something I strongly agree with. Drivers who have accumulated more than 12 points on their licence have, in my view and that of many others, been given ample opportunity to comply with the law. They have instead shown a repeated disregard for driving safely and legally. I believe that they should not be allowed to continually flout the law and face little more than a fine.

Guidance from the RAC states that if someone has been caught speeding and the offence is referred to court, they could face an instant driving ban. However, magistrates will generally consider imposing a ban only if someone has been caught driving at more than 45% over the speed limit. That means that they would need to be driving at more than 51 mph in a 30 mph limit, 85 mph in a 60 mph limit or—for heaven’s sake—100 mph in a 70 mph limit. There is little uniformity between the speeds offenders drive at or the offences they commit, and the punishment imposed.

Many examples could be cited, but let me set out a couple from north Wales. A motorcyclist who was caught driving at 138 mph in a 60 mph area on the A5 not far from Corwen got a fine of just over £600 and a 90-day driving ban, so he was back on the roads three months later. There was also the driver of what the press referred to as a “supercar”. He was banned from driving for 56 days for driving at 122 mph, again on a single carriageway road with a 60 mph limit.

Last year I submitted a written parliamentary question to ask the Ministry of Justice how many drivers who have been subject to a driving ban go on to commit further driving offences after their ban has expired. I am concerned that the Department’s response was that it does not hold such data.

In the road safety factsheet that it published last year, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents made a very important point:

“There is no doubt that inappropriate speed is one of the most serious road safety problems on Britain’s roads, and causes death and injury to thousands of people each year. Unfortunately, the public has not yet accepted the danger caused by speeding drivers in the same way as the danger caused by drink-drivers.”

Many of us will remember the 1970s and 1980s when there was quite a different culture surrounding drink-driving. None of us would ever want to return to that, but a real case can be made that we are in the same place today in terms of excessive speeds on our roads.

I think it is time for us to review and increase the length of driving bans. I also believe that we need more police monitoring of rural roads. According to the Institute of Advanced Motorists, those are roads on which most fatal crashes take place. We should also take note of a recent report by Brake, which was based on an extensive survey of drivers. The report questions whether the legal limit on single carriageway roads should be 60 mph. The Brake report noted that fewer than a quarter of drivers—23%—stated that 60 mph was a safe speed for a vehicle on a road on which there may be people on foot, bicycles and horses. The report also noted that drivers either wanted, or were ambivalent about, a reduction to the default 60 mph limit on rural roads, with fewer than one in five—19%—objecting to a reduction. That survey gives us food for thought.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mike Freer.)

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The motion lapsed at an extremely convenient time, Madam Deputy Speaker, as I am now moving on to the second part of my speech.

I turn to technology, and specifically what technology now makes possible. I believe that we can and should do a lot more to effectively utilise technological developments so that we reduce the number of driving offences and the causalities that result from them. I know that Ministers have made positive statements in this regard, and I really hope that we can progress well on this.

Intelligent speed adaptation—ISA—is a system that compares the local speed limit to the vehicle speed. As well as advising the driver when they are exceeding the speed limit, an ISA system can limit engine power when necessary to help to prevent the driver from exceeding the current speed limit. The European Transport Safety Council has described intelligent speed adaptation as

“probably the single most effective new vehicle safety technology currently available in terms of its life-saving potential”.

The council expects that, with mass adoption and use, ISA could reduce collisions by 30% and deaths by 20%. In June 2015, the London Mayor and Transport for London announced that ISA would be trialled on 47 London buses. According to the results of the trial, which were announced in March 2016, TfL found the technology to be “particularly effective” when buses drove through zones with a 20 mph limit, and the technology ensured that the buses taking part in the trial remained within the speed limit between 97% and 99% of the time. In the light of the trial, TfL has required all new buses entering service from 2017 to have this technology fitted.

The technology is not just applicable to commercial vehicles, and the European Transport Safety Council is calling for ISA to be fitted on all new vehicles as standard. I think that that is an extremely good idea. In France, it is mandatory for all motor vehicles to carry a breathalyser, and fines are imposed on drivers who are found to be in breach of that obligation. A step up from that is an alcohol interlock. Alcohol interlocks are breathalysers that require the driver to blow into a breathalyser before they can begin to drive. If the driver tries to start the car while over the drink-drive limit, the vehicle is immobilised. Let me be clear that I am not suggesting this for all drivers, but there is a strong case for making it a condition that people who have been convicted of drink or drug-related driving offences must use the technology when they get their licence back.

Alcohol interlocks are already mandatory in Belgium for repeat drink-drive offenders. Many other European countries, including Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden, have introduced either compulsory or voluntary alcohol interlocks for drink-drive offenders. In the UK, the Durham police force is carrying out a voluntary trial of such devices for those convicted of drink-driving. The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety—PACTS—suggested in its October 2017 report commemorating 50 years of the breathalyser that the UK Government should review the potential role of alcohol interlocks. I strongly agree with that.

According to Wasted Lives, an award-winning young driver education programme, road collisions are the biggest killer of 15 to 24-year-olds in the UK. House of Commons Library research shows that, despite making up only 7% of drivers, young people aged between 17 and 24 represent nearly 20% of people killed or seriously injured in car crashes. Those statistics show that we need more action to keep younger drivers safe. There is also a serious case for a graduated driving licence, and I welcome the UK Government’s pilot scheme in Northern Ireland.

A further measure that could be implemented is the greater use of telematics devices, which track and score individual driving behaviour, with the information then used to calculate insurance premiums. Telematics insurance offers an incentive to drivers to drive carefully and safely, because the better the policyholder’s driving, the lower their premium. Telematics devices can record maximum and average speeds, acceleration, braking, cornering and impact. Research by LexisNexis Risk Solutions concludes that telematics insurance has done more to cut accident risk than any other road safety initiative aimed at the young driver market.

Perhaps the Minister will also consider the merits of using telematics devices to monitor the driving behaviour of those who have previously been banned from driving. It could be made a condition of a licence return following a driving ban that a telematics device is fitted in the offender’s car. Any driver found to be repeatedly driving carelessly or dangerously, and hence continuing to pose a danger to other road users, could then have their licence revoked.

In 2015, a driver on the A495 near Bronington in my constituency was filmed performing two dangerous overtakes on a blind bend. Video evidence of the dangerous manoeuvre was captured by the dash camera of a car behind him, and the footage was used as evidence to secure the overtaking driver’s conviction for dangerous driving. In response to the increasing number of such submissions from members of the public, Operation Snap was launched in December 2017. The initiative was initially devised and piloted by North Wales police and the Road Casualty Reduction Partnership, and has now been adopted across Wales. The campaign allows the public to submit footage from helmet or dash cameras and smartphones to Welsh police forces via a website. The police can then use such footage to investigate and prosecute driving offences.

Since the official launch of Operation Snap, an average of 140 videos and images a month have been uploaded through the website, with the footage used in a number of prosecutions. It is an important initiative. The Transport Committee’s 2016 “Road traffic law enforcement” review concluded that if there is to be effective enforcement of speed limits as the number of dedicated road policing officers falls, the use of technology will be essential—I totally agree.

I conclude my speech with three main questions for the Minister. First, what will she do to ensure that tougher action is taken to tackle speeding offences, and will she ensure that more lengthy driving bans are awarded? Secondly, will she consider removing the “exceptional hardship” argument as a way for drivers who accumulate more than 12 points on their driving licence to avoid deserved driving bans? Thirdly, what will she do to explore ways in which technology can be used to improve road safety, particularly with regard to European Transport Safety Council recommendations? I look forward to hearing from the Minister, and to us all working together to do whatever we can to stop accidents and fatalities on our roads. It is very important that we tackle this issue.

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It is good to see you in your place, Madam Deputy Speaker, for this final debate before the recess, which is a good omen for when we return.

I thank the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) for raising the important subject of excessive speeding and driving bans. I also thank her for extending the opportunity for us to continue working together on an issue on which she has not only campaigned for a long time but has been given an award.

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The Minister mentions the award from Brake, the road safety charity, and I pay tribute to the community of Overton in my constituency. There was a terrible road traffic incident, after which the community came together to campaign on this issue. I feel that this very important award belongs as much to my constituents as it does to me.

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The hon. Lady, true to form, shares the praise with all those who have worked behind the scenes, which has been noted.

The hon. Lady was probably expecting my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), who has been promoted, but I hope she will be pleased with my response. I do not want Hansard or any journalists to be confused: I have not been promoted for long, just for the next 15 minutes.

Road safety is a top priority for the Government. Road deaths are a tragedy for all affected, and injuries can cause suffering and life-changing misfortune. Much of that harm is avoidable, and it is not an inevitable consequence of road transport. As the hon. Member for Clwyd South mentioned, all available research shows a link between excessive speed and the risk of collisions. Increased compliance with speed limits, as part of a wider package of road safety measures, will play a significant role in reducing the number of collisions on our roads.

I share the hon. Lady’s concern that people who drive at appalling speeds, risking the lives of others as well as their own, are too often back behind the wheel too soon. However, sentencing is a matter for our independent courts and is based on the facts of each case. A driving ban, the length of which is at the discretion of the judge, is already an option, and guidance is issued by the Sentencing Council. This is not something on which the Department can intervene. The judiciary are constitutionally independent of the Government, and it is important that no action is taken that may undermine this fundamental principle.

It may help if I say something about the totting up of points. If an offender amasses 12 penalty points or more within a three-year period, a minimum six-month disqualification must be ordered. An offender disqualified in this way may also be ordered to take an extended driving test. Offenders who are disqualified for 56 days or more have to apply for a new licence.

However, courts have the discretion not to disqualify, or to impose a reduced disqualification, if there are mitigating circumstances or exceptional hardship—the hon. Lady raised that issue. This is wholly up to the courts and, again, is not something that the Department can influence, but the Department always notes what is raised in the Chamber. We know the media have reported cases where drivers with many points are still behind the wheel.

At this point I ought to say something about the relative responsibilities of the Department for Transport and the Welsh Assembly. Much road safety legislation and policy is devolved to Wales and Scotland. As well as being responsible for their own trunk road networks, they set policy on safety cameras and issue guidance on setting speed limits. They have legislative competence on all the substantial provisions of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 concerning speed limits and traffic signs.

The enforcement of speed limits is an operational matter for the police. Policing in England and Wales is divided into territorial forces, with the Westminster Government setting policing policy. It is for chief police officers to decide how to prioritise enforcement in accordance with their local priorities and demand. Their police and crime commissioner’s police and crime plan can also be used to address this issue. Individual police forces may also work with local communities and local volunteers to tackle speeding, taking specific local needs into account.

The penalties for excessive speed start with informal advice—the hon. Lady has campaigned on this—because, of course, the more that people are aware, the more they will hopefully monitor their speed. Where such advice is not appropriate, drivers are prosecuted by means of a fixed penalty notice or, in the most serious cases, a postal charge bringing them before the court.

Current guidelines issued by the National Police Chiefs’ Council allow police the discretion to take account of the individual circumstances of each speeding offence, and to take the action they consider appropriate. This ensures that the focus of attention is on the most serious offending and those individuals who clearly and deliberately break the law. The guidelines also seek to provide consistency of treatment from forces in different parts of the country and to set out the principles that underline the police’s approach to enforcement of the law on speeding. However, these are only guidelines, and there are no plans to change this or advise the police how to enforce speed limits.

The hon. Lady mentioned Operation Snap, and I agree with her on the outcomes of that programme. The police have introduced Operation Snap, which has used media such as dashcam evidence, helmet cameras or personal video for the detection of road traffic offences that do not involve a collision. I agree that this is an example of innovation that tackles those driving offences that the public want the police to deal with. It also significantly reduces the time for the police to make a decision on an offence. The aim of Operation Snap is to improve driver behaviour. This is important to note, because she spoke about the anti-drink-driving campaigns back in the day, which changed people’s attitudes completely. If drivers perceive that they could be prosecuted for driving poorly, we hope that they will not drive poorly to begin with, thus reducing the likelihood of a collision.

The hon. lady also talked about sentencing and penalties. After a full consultation, in October 2017 the Ministry of Justice confirmed Government plans to introduce life sentences for drivers responsible for the deaths of other road users. The proposals that were confirmed include: increasing the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving from 14 years to life; increasing the maximum penalty for causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs from 14 years to life; and creating a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving. Sentencing remains a matter for the courts, but raising the maximum penalty will give the courts the tools to deal with the most serious cases. The legislation will be brought forward as soon as parliamentary time allows.

The hon. Lady also made powerful points about drink-driving, and I wish to confirm that the Government currently have no immediate plans to lower the drink-drive limit in England and Wales. Our approach to tackling drink-driving is through rigorous enforcement, penalties and changing the social acceptability of drink-driving in the first place.

The hon. Lady made some good comments about the Brake report, which we welcome as it highlights the important aspects of road safety. Last June, the Government announced their intention to publish the refreshed road safety statement and the two-year road safety action plan later this year, to address four priority user groups: young people, rural road users, motorcyclists and older vulnerable users.

The hon. Lady made some important points about technology. We are currently engaged in negotiations as part of the EU’s third mobility package, which will introduce intelligent speed-adaptation devices in vehicles in the future. She made a powerful point about telematics. I do not want to stray into another Minister’s area of responsibility at the Dispatch Box, so I will offer the hon. Lady the opportunity to meet the relevant Minister once they have settled into their post.

I emphasise that we are determined to improve safety on our roads for all road users, and to see to it that offenders receive the justice that they deserve. I do not doubt that, just like the previous Minister, the new Minister will take this issue incredibly seriously. If I have not covered all the hon. Lady’s points, I will ensure that any that are outstanding are covered in a written response. I congratulate the hon. Lady on being a strong campaigner on this issue and on bringing this important debate to the House.

I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for all your work, and I thank the Clerks, the Doorkeepers, and everyone who works in the Tea Room and the Library and keep us going, as well as the wonderful team from the Department for Transport, who keep the Ministers going. I hope that everybody has a wonderful recess, although I am a little nervous because I am being joined by my parents-in-law, Tim and Wendy Wheeldon. They will be spending time with their daughter-in-law in the constituency of Wealden. I am pleased to be spending the recess with my husband, David, but my daughter, Farah, is going to become a teenager, as she turns 13 on 1 June, so this might not be a quiet recess and I may wish to get back to work sooner than my colleagues.

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Just before I adjourn the House, I wish the Minister, all her family and everyone who serves this House so well in many, many capacities, a peaceful recess. I also add to the many accolades that have been expressed about Philippa Helme, my most sincere thanks for her calm, wise counsel on many occasions here in the Chamber and behind the scenes. Once again, on behalf of everyone who works here and who serves this place, I thank Philippa for her many decades of dedication to this place and wish her well for an exciting future.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.