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Road Safety: Mobile Telephones

Volume 688: debated on Thursday 25 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is the number of successful prosecutions in relation to the use of hand-held telephones while driving.

My Lords, the latest figures, for 2004, show that, for England and Wales, there were 789 prosecutions and 641 convictions for using hand-held mobile phones while driving. However, offences are dealt with by the offer of a fixed penalty. In 2004, some 74,000 tickets were paid.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer and for the rather flattering signal-ahead answer given by the Home Office two days ago. I hope I shall have such favoured treatment when I ask a Question in the weeks and months to come. The Answer revealed the figures for successful prosecutions, and another survey showed that some 500,000 calls are made on hand-held phones in a 24-hour period, so is he satisfied that the police are pursuing this matter with sufficient vigour, or perhaps the offence is difficult to prove? Does he agree that what is really required is a sea-change among the driving community, such as occurred with drink-driving, which nevertheless took many years to become socially unacceptable?

My Lords, the noble Viscount makes a very good point about drink-driving and the culture of drinking that prevailed at the time, which initially made it difficult for enforcement to bite. The offence has been in place for only two or three years and, as I revealed in the Answer, some 74,000 drivers have been ticketed, which indicates a high level of enforcement. I agree with him that this area will develop over time. The Government take the issue of driving while using a hand-held mobile phone extremely seriously.

My Lords, can the Minister say why he can give the statistics for the number of tickets issued for using a hand-held telephone while driving but not for the numbers of tickets issued and paid for the offence of cycling on footpaths? Why does he not collect one set of statistics, or why does he not give them when he is able to give them for the other offence?

My Lords, I do not want to underestimate the nuisance value of cycling on footpaths, but the threat potentially posed by hand-held telephones when a motorist uses one while driving is rather different. It is clearly important that we collect data and statistics on that issue. The cycling question is rather more difficult.

My Lords, given the extraordinary disparity between the number of successful prosecutions and the number of recorded telephone calls made by people while mobile in a car, does the Minister not agree that the time has come to try to produce a culture change? That will require advertising, particularly television advertising.

My Lords, the Department for Transport has embarked upon a campaign on this issue. I am sure the noble Lord will have noticed that an increase in the penalty is to be introduced on 27 February, and there is a substantial advertising campaign around that. We have also recently been blessed, I guess, with some fairly high-profile cases of people being convicted of driving while using a mobile telephone.

My Lords, can the Minister say whether there has been a change in the number of deaths and injuries attributed to road traffic accidents caused by people using their mobile phones since the penalties were introduced?

My Lords, I do not have precise statistics on that issue. I can say that accident figures continue to fall, and I would like to think that our efforts to tackle mobile phone use while driving are part of the explanation behind that. In the last year for which I have statistics, there was a further decline in accident numbers and, in particular, in serious injuries. I am more than happy to provide those statistics to the noble Countess in a letter.

My Lords, I want to follow on from the question asked by the noble Countess. Does my noble friend have an analysis of the statistics which shows what proportion of those people convicted of driving while using hand-held mobile telephones were involved in a road traffic accident as a result? Are the police proactively seeking to prosecute people who have not yet caused an accident, but who might do so if they continued their behaviour?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is seeking statistics which may not exist. She will know that I am new to this brief, but I shall check on the matter because that information might be extremely valuable. We are well on the way to achieving our casualty reduction targets for 2010. There has been a 40 per cent reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured in road accidents compared with the average number for 1994 to 1998, and a 50 per cent reduction—this is an important statistic—in the number of children killed or seriously injured during that period. The Government are having a fair measure of success in meeting their casualty reduction targets.

My Lords, in how many accidents last year was the use of a hand-held telephone recorded as the cause of the accident?

My Lords, it is a complex issue and a complex question. I do not have the data. I am more than happy to have the research conducted and provide the noble Lord and others with that information.

My Lords, about one hour ago, I was very nearly knocked off my bicycle by a car turning left at the bottom of Wimpole Street—I was on the road and not on the footpath. As the driver was turning left, he was blowing his horn and was on his mobile. If I were to take his registration number and report it to the police, would anything happen?

My Lords, I would be extremely cross if nothing did happen, because it is exactly the sort of thing that the police should follow up.