Skip to main content

Roads: Fatal Accidents

Volume 687: debated on Wednesday 22 November 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What plans they have to reduce the fatal accident rate among drivers aged 17 to 19.

My Lords, in 2005, there were 465 road fatalities involving a driver aged 17 to 19, of whom 149 were drivers in that age range. These are dreadful figures, and this problem is a main focus of a review that we are conducting of our road safety strategy, which we aim to publish in the new year.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Given that many fatal accidents occur at night, when young newly qualified drivers are carrying passengers, does he agree that targeted advertising would serve to reduce that number of deaths? However, does he accept that the disproportion of fatal accidents affecting young drivers will never properly alter until a balanced package of restrictions and incentives is introduced, currently the subject of inquiry by the Transport Committee in another place?

My Lords, in our review, we will take into account both the conclusions of the Transport Committee in the other place and the representations that we have had from many Members in this House, of which the noble Earl is an excellent example, on how we could improve safety. We are very concerned about the road fatality rates for young drivers but there is no easy answer to this. Part of the problem is that we can introduce all the regulations, restraints and constraints in the world, but if a substantial proportion of these fatalities occurs among people who act lawlessly, such constraints will just be ignored.

My Lords, does my noble friend have any statistics which demonstrate what proportion of the fatalities involving young people also involve the intake of drink? Is not one of the solutions to reducing the number of deaths among 17 to 19 year-olds to reduce the legal blood-alcohol level so that it is equivalent to that which applies elsewhere in Europe?

My Lords, my noble friend has identified a contributory factor which the House would suppose to be germane to this issue. Twelve per cent of the accidents that resulted in fatalities were due to excessive consumption of alcohol or the taking of drugs. Of course, we recognise that that is a feature of some young drivers but, again, I make the point that reducing the level of the alcohol test would mean little to those who were bent on reckless behaviour, and our problem with these statistics lies largely in that area.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we need to hit people of this age and type where it hurts most; that is, by having the ability to confiscate their vehicles?

My Lords, there is also the sanction of taking away the ability to drive. Punishment is severe when fatalities have occurred, which is where the Question is directed. The issue is not about the level of deterrence in the courts; it relates more to the effective control of drivers who break the law, and society’s recognition of the necessity to bring home to young people who act recklessly in this regard the dreadful consequences that might be visited upon them and on complete strangers who are involved in such accidents.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned lawlessness, and we know that most of those fatalities are associated with youngsters who are uninsured, unlicensed, and may not even have passed their driving test. Surely one of the main problems is that there are far fewer traffic police because of the reliance on speed cameras, so there is no one to catch these young people. Does the Minister agree that if more traffic police were back on the road, some of these people might be apprehended and we would not have all those fatalities?

My Lords, I agree with that. We want traffic police to concentrate on reckless and dangerous driving, which has dramatic and disastrous effects on others, rather than just on speeding, but the noble Lord will recognise that speeding is a major contributory factor to such accidents. He will recognise, too, that the Road Safety Act, which we recently passed, freed up resources through the Highways Agency for more police to be engaged in traffic patrols. Of course I welcome that.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of, I think, eight successful presentations that have taken place in Thames Valley at which members of the emergency services—the practitioners who go to road accidents—seriously injured victims of such accidents and bereaved parents met thousands of 16 and 17 year-olds? Will he ensure that the knowledge of those forceful presentations becomes widespread, because I and other members of an audience of nearly a thousand were very struck by the effect that it had on the young people concerned?

My Lords, the noble Lord has identified a constructive development. There is no doubt that in the process of educating young drivers—indeed, all drivers—our ability to communicate the consequences of careless and reckless driving is extremely important. People who have offended against speed limits are invited to attend a seminar in which they are taught the consequences of excessive speed, and that also appears to be having a beneficial effect.