That this House takes note of the case for adequate measures to ensure the reduction of road traffic accidents caused by motorists using handheld mobile devices whilst driving.
My Lords, on 10 August, Tracy Houghton, her sons Ethan and Joshua, and her stepdaughter, Aimee Goldsmith, were tragically killed on the A34 by an HGV driver while they were returning from a camping holiday. This incident could have been so easily avoided had the driver not been distracted by his mobile. Judge Maura McGowan said that his attention had been so poor, he might as well have had his eyes closed. A loss of attention can have devastating consequences.
The fact is, this could happen to anyone, because unfortunately too many people are guilty of using hand-held mobile devices behind the wheel. It is because of this that I have called for this debate.
We have a problem on our roads. From 2011 to 2015 there were 2,106 accidents, resulting in 103 deaths, caused by drivers being distracted while on their mobile phones. And yet, the number of fixed penalty notices issued in England and Wales for using hand-held mobiles while driving fell significantly—from just over 123,000 in 2011 to just under 17,000 in 2015—despite the number of accidents caused by drivers being distracted by their mobiles remaining fairly constant throughout this period. They are the result of the use of mobile devices not just for making calls, but for playing music, looking at maps and directions and texting, among other things—looking down at devices rather than at the road ahead. The problem is obvious. The reaction times of drivers on their mobiles are much slower than of drivers not using hand-held mobile devices. Mobile-using drivers have impaired judgment of their visual environment, and impaired decision-making skills. Their braking times increase compared with drivers not using mobiles.
One study showed that talking on a hand-held mobile posed a risk four times greater than that posed by undistracted drivers. That is on a par with those driving intoxicated. Another study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that texting while driving conferred a risk of collision 23 times greater than driving undistracted. This is indeed a real problem.
We rightly take drink-driving very seriously and there are substantial public campaigns against it. While, admittedly, that contributes to more deaths on the roads, we need to consider the issue of hand-held mobile devices in cars much more seriously. Alcohol, speeding and fatigue are generally viewed as greater threats to road safety because they are the major causes of crashes internationally. Because of this, these issues dominate road safety campaigns and the time of police officers on our roads. I am calling for us to investigate and understand the dangers posed by driving with hand-held mobile devices and for us to look at ways to make this socially unacceptable so we can prevent further unnecessary tragedies.
I would also like to highlight the ways we can develop technologies to allow drivers to use their phones behind the wheel. What needs to happen to decrease the dangers posed by driving with hand-held devices is for us to look at ways for drivers to communicate behind the wheel, possibly through smart systems at dashboard level and voice activation.
We all recognise the inherent dangers of driving with a mobile phone. On the basis of responses to the Department for Transport’s consultation last month, there is clear support for the proposed change in the law to increase the fixed penalty notice from £100 to £200 and to double the points added to a licence from three to six. As a result, novice drivers would automatically have their licences revoked, which hopefully would act as a strong deterrent. I also welcome new laws that will result in drivers who kill other road users because of mobile phone distraction being given life sentences.
Penalties, bans and prison sentences are all well and good, but to my mind this is too late. We need to stop these incidents happening in the first place. Having a ban is not enough. Evidence from not only the UK but the USA and Australia shows that bans do not have an effect on drivers’ long-term behaviour without sustained reinforcement, so it is not enough for us just to increase the fixed penalty notices. We need to continue to campaign so that we can avoid these tragic incidents.
However, these proposed changes do not go far enough. The law would treat car drivers and HGV drivers the same. I argue, and I am sure noble Lords would agree, that the dangers posed by HGVs to the cars around them is substantially higher, given that they are so much larger. HGV drivers already have to go through more stringent tests than the rest of us because their vehicles are more dangerous to other road users if they are driving carelessly. Why, then, should the penalties not be higher for engaging in unsafe behaviour that puts other drivers at risk? In this respect, I believe the proposal does not go far enough and I urge the Government to reconsider it.
We could reduce mobile use in cars by using cameras to catch drivers breaking the law. However, this was rejected back in 2006 by the then Transport Secretary on the grounds of invasion of privacy. Other suggestions, highlighted in a 2003 OECD report, have recommended backing systems that use electronic equipment to block all non-emergency calls from mobiles on our roads. However, the problems raised by this are obvious—non-drivers would be prevented from using their mobiles and the system might aggravate drivers. Furthermore, the system proposed by the report raises difficult questions about the role of government in our private lives. However, on balance, these are questions we need to address.
So if not this, then what? Drivers must be caught using their devices in order to be charged, so police have to be in the right place at the right time. Furthermore, heavy traffic can make it unsafe and impractical to intercept cars. It is harder to spot the offence at night, particularly if the roads are dark, and if drivers’ phones are small or on their laps. For those reasons, I recommend that the Government look at campaigns and ways in which to make driving safer with mobiles. Public awareness and perception are vital, and I commend the media organisations which have campaigned on this issue, including the Daily Mail, which has demanded a six-point penalty. I especially congratulate the Johnston Press group and its new investigations unit, which last month ran a series of hard-hitting stories highlighting the gap between sentences for killer drivers and the level of sanctions expected by grieving families. The Drive for Justice campaign, run by titles including the i, the Scotsman and the Star in Sheffield, is a major contribution to the national debate and a significant boost to public awareness. I also welcome Thames Valley Police’s new online video detailing the heart-rending fatal incident that I described earlier. Videos like this remind us of the hazards and potentially fatal consequences of driving unsafely. Most importantly, they remind us that we can all help the situation by not using our mobiles while at the wheel. I also welcome this month’s Ministry of Justice consultation, although we need to prioritise the prevention of such incidents in the first place.
According to research, perceived self-efficacy is the most important determinant of behaviour change. In layman’s terms, this means that we must make people feel like they can actually follow the recommendations and make a personal difference. This should constitute the thrust of any campaign. This year’s mobile phone THINK! campaign was hard-hitting. However, I came across it only because I was actively looking for it. I urge the Government to do much more to get this film out into the public domain. I also ask them to look at what they can do to get this year’s THINK! film on to more people’s social media platforms.
Given that young people are more likely to text and drive, we should target them, making using a mobile while driving socially unacceptable, just as we did with drink-driving and not wearing seat belts. I am sure that noble Lords will recall the use many years ago of public information films in campaigns. I ask my noble friend the Minister: can we not do this? Can we not show short, hard-hitting ads on primetime TV?
My second recommendation is for the Government to look at ways they can make mobile phone use in cars safer. Often, fiddling with our phones while putting calls on speaker constitutes a risk and a distraction in itself. I therefore urge the Government to pressure, encourage or even incentivise car manufacturers to install more inbuilt systems for answering and rejecting calls from our mobiles to minimise the risk of distraction. Resisting the urge to answer a call constitutes a distraction in itself, so ways in which we could answer our phones using built-in systems at dashboard level would undoubtedly reduce risk on our roads.
Other answers may lie in mobiles themselves. In 2005, Motorola was developing the polite phone. It examined driving conditions and routed calls accordingly. If a driver was parked, all calls would go through; in easy traffic conditions, only calls from your most important numbers would ring, with others sent through to voicemail. In the worst driving conditions, everything would be sent through to voicemail. Finally, in the event of an accident, your phone would dial emergency services. With tools such as Google Maps able to calculate traffic conditions on your in-phone sat-nav, I suggest that such technology would be well within our reach.
I emphasise that I do not have all the answers—fundamentally, I am not a road safety expert and do not pretend to be—but I can see the dangers posed. In calling for this debate, I am keen to ensure that we look more closely at this area so that we may save lives and prevent other tragic incidents. We need to create a wider debate and discussion around this issue. Such a debate will ensure that the issue remains relevant and that we can work together in this House and in the other place to find answers. I beg to move.
My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding, for raising this hugely important issue. I have a particular interest in this debate because I was involved in an accident where the other party was using a mobile phone. After that incident, the other party immediately accepted liability, offered to pay for repairs to the vehicle I was driving and the matter was closed. The police were not involved, nor were insurance companies, but I was left wondering what would have happened in the event that the accident had injured passengers in the vehicle. That set me down the route of considering what options we have open to us.
I think this debate is an interesting indicator of how Parliament gets its priorities distorted. We spend endless hours talking about drink-driving, smoking, parking problems, drug use and whiplash but very little time talking about this issue, which is the subject of much public discussion. We know that almost the entire population under the age of 60 has a mobile phone. I suspect that there are probably more mobile phone users today than there are drinkers, smokers or even drug users.
This debate is about abuse. If you stand on a street corner almost anywhere in the United Kingdom and observe drivers passing by to find out whether they are using their mobile phone, you will be astonished at the numbers who are. Recently, I was standing on a corner waiting for some lights to change near Maidenhead. In the phasing of the lights, discounting one or two of the first vehicles that went through, out of 37 drivers that passed me, 11 were using mobile phones. I believe that what I saw is an indicator of a national problem where the estimates are gross underestimates.
Furthermore, we just do not know how many accidents are caused by mobile phones. The noble Baroness produced some statistics, but I suspect that they are an underestimate. I am not altogether convinced that the police do sufficient investigative work when accidents take place to establish whether the cause of an accident was a mobile phone. Do they stop a driver immediately and say, “Have you been using a mobile phone? Can we have your mobile phone? Can we check whether your mobile phone has been in use?”. I suspect that if rapid checks took place we would find that mobile phones were involved in far more accidents.
Last week, I referred to Google as a source of information on these matters. The benefit of Google is that it provides us with some insight into developments internationally into the issue of mobile phone abuse. Much of that debate is going on in the United States of America. The noble Baroness referred to research in America. The International Journal of Enterprise Network Management recently published a paper on illegal mobile phone usage detection. The trigger for the paper was a series of studies reporting that 20% of all fatal accidents involving trucks or heavy vehicles in the United States involved the use of hand-held mobile phones at the wheel. Additionally, the National Safety Council, another American organisation, published statistics claiming that 21% of all crashes involved people talking on hand-held mobile phones and a further 3% involved texting. I suspect that the statistics here in the United Kingdom would be very similar, if the truth were known. The truth is that we have no reliable data at the moment on the incidence of hand-held mobile phone usage in road accidents in the United Kingdom. This raises a simple question for me: how often do police officers investigate the use of phones in accidents?
When this issue was raised last week in the House, the Minister said:
“Others in the car may well be using a mobile phone quite legitimately … if the driver is not using a mobile phone but others are, that can be a lifeline … during a trip”.—[Official Report, 5/12/2016; col. 493.]
This issue of passengers, to which the noble Baroness referred, led me to do some further research. I trawled some American sites and found that engineers from Anna University in Chennai, India, have invented a device that uses radio frequency identification technology to determine whether a car is moving and the driver using a phone. If a driver is using a phone, the device uses a mobile jammer to shut down the driver’s phone—that is just the driver’s phone. The technology allows passengers complete access to their phones, leaving them free to make calls. Will the Minister follow up on that piece of research?
We come to texting. There is a whole variety of jammer products available for in-vehicle use to deal with texting. A company in America called Access 2 Communications Incorporated has designed a piece of equipment called TextBuster. It is a small piece of hardware which is located under the dashboard—as the noble Baroness referred to—and it thwarts texting. Furthermore, it can shut down phone data connection entirely, shutting off email and other internet connectivity. I can even report that, in America, there are DIY jammer kits on the market, available for as little as £25. That equipment has the benefit of a limited effective range of as little as two or three feet, thereby ensuring that it does not interfere with equipment in neighbouring vehicles. Britain’s retailers might consider the distribution of such equipment, although I understand that at the moment it would be in breach of the 2006 legislation, which I am sure the Minister will refer to in winding up.
The existence of these sorts of technology begs a simple question. Can we imagine circumstances in which automobile manufacturers could offer to integrate these technologies, just like seatbelts or airbags, within vehicles’ Bluetooth systems? Why not make the fitting of such equipment mandatory? That will save lives just as airbags, seat belts and even speed limits do.
Finally, I want to move to another matter, unrelated to mobile phone use but where similar technology issues arise. Jammers can have wider applications and I understand that equipment is now available for interrupting the most frequently used drone frequencies. Drones have become a public nuisance and threaten airline safety, but drone-jamming equipment is now available for operating distances of up to 2,000 feet. The equipment totally disables a drone and will bring it down to earth. Surely we should consider such equipment. I suspect that drone enthusiasts, who pay anything between £30 and £500 in the UK for a drone, would think twice about deploying them in areas where jammers are located if they thought they were vulnerable to destruction—I have airports in mind. Again, Ministers might turn their attention to the possibility of introducing such equipment.
Returning to mobile phones, in my view we need a statutory framework capable of shutting down hand-held mobile phone usage by vehicle drivers when vehicles are mobile. Drivers should be able to use hand-held equipment only when vehicles are stationary, at which time connectivity would be automatically restored. The equipment should be wired into the electrics in a way which prevents tampering by the vehicle’s owner. Commercial vehicles, in particular lorries and vans, should be first in line for the mandatory installation of such equipment. Finally, we should amend the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006, in particular where its provisions deal with signal interception.
I understand that the Government have acknowledged that enforcement alone would not fully address behaviour. They have said that they are,
“willing to work with industry on technology that would encourage better and safer behaviour”.
The Government say that they want,
“to take full advantage rapidly developing in-car technology and where it can support safe driving behaviour. However … even with technology such as drive-safe modes it is ultimately the driver that has to take responsibility for their actions”.
My case is that, while hand-held equipment is available which can be used in cars, drivers will very often not take responsibility for their actions. You can have all the campaigns in the world, but I suspect that drivers will ignore them. Campaigning in this area is insufficient; we need mandatory provisions and intervention. That is the only way that we are going to save lives.
My Lords, I am pleased to say a few words on this issue. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding, on raising the matter and on the research that she has obviously done. So far as research goes, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, on his efforts in that regard. I hope that what they have contributed will be noted by the Minister and, in due course, taken forward in so far as that is practical.
I wish to raise only one specific interest in this matter. One can have immense sympathy for victims of crime, particularly when motoring offences occur as they are engaged in an outing or merely crossing the road, and there is a situation where loved ones are killed. I can see that they would expect the punishment that is, in their eyes, appropriate to what has occurred to them. However, I suggest that that is not the way to deal with what is evidently a problem. There are limits to our ability to use heavier and heavier sentences—sentences which are continually rising—to deal with everyday life problems. Such problems are much better dealt with by campaigns to bring home to the public what is really at stake in what they may see as innocent actions.
I go back far enough in the law to remember when—I was a young man and had the task of defending people charged with driving under the influence—it was necessary for a driver to go into the police station and walk along a painted white line. If the driver managed to walk along the white line, it was thought that they had not committed the offence of driving under the influence. It was great sport for young advocates, such as myself at that stage, to take advantage in court of the inevitable stupidity of what was happening and of knowing that the juries before whom the cases came would often think, “There but for the grace of God go I”, and therefore had considerable reluctance to convict. We certainly do not want to repeat the mistakes of that time in dealing with this contemporary problem.
We need an education campaign that makes it absolutely clear that driving with a mobile in your hand and speaking into it is extremely ill advised if you want to avoid driving dangerously. We do not want to create specific offences of a different sort. The existing offences are totally adequate to deal with those who drive dangerously and the penalties in those offences are sufficient to act as a deterrent.
In my experience, the sad thing about motoring offences is that, even though they have the most tragic consequences, the people who commit them are usually perfectly decent people who are horrified by what they have done and continue to carry the scars of what they have done for the rest of their lives. That they do so does not act as a comfort to victims of the offences, but it is not a situation where they need to do other than learn the dangers involved in what they are doing.
I urge the Government to do two things. The first is to bring home to the public in an appropriate way the dangers involved, and the second is to increase detection. That was mentioned by the noble Baroness, and I am sure there would not be the number of occasions detected by the survey that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, carried out if it was given greater importance in the agenda of tasks to be performed by the police. It may well be that there are all sorts of ways in which their task can be made easier, just as in the case of drink-driving it was possible to devise methods of testing how much alcohol there was in a driver’s blood. It could be the same with mobile phones. If they can be jammed as easily as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours thinks, perhaps that could be looked into as well. But please do not create more offences and please do not rely on imprisonment to improve the situation.
We have a problem in our prisons today, which is very much related to the number of persons serving sentences at this time. It is almost now at a crisis stage. At the same time, by unwise legislation, we have increased sentencing penalties continuously. It is sometimes said, “Oh, of course it’s the courts who impose the sentences”, and when it is proposed to increase a particular sentence, it is said, “We can leave it to the courts to sentence at the right level”. But if you increase the statutory penalty to life imprisonment, as is proposed in the case of killers driving dangerously, for example in the Government’s press release, “Killer drivers to face life sentences”, you are interfering with the whole pattern of sentencing, which we have devised so that there is a relationship between sentences.
When you look at the pattern of sentencing, you can look at the top and the bottom. At the bottom, no question of imprisonment arises, because the offence will not be punishable in that way; at the top, life sentences are the appropriate sentence for murder. It is the heaviest sentence now available to us. If you do not want the sentences in between to be raised higher across the board, you must be very careful to limit those situations where a life sentence can be imposed. Otherwise, Parliament is giving a message to the judiciary, which it is bound to observe, that the level of sentences expected for this type of offence is life imprisonment. Even in cases of death by dangerous driving, which is of course the equivalent of what we are looking at but with mobile phones involved, at present the maximum sentence, very appropriately, is 14 years. I would have said that is on the high side for the great majority of offences, and you certainly must not extend the embrace of the heaviest sentences to situations other those for which they are strictly appropriate. Otherwise, you are creating something disproportionate.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Pidding for drawing the attention of your Lordships’ House to the very important issue that we are addressing here today. We should be under no illusions about the untold damage and distress such actions cause to hundreds of families across the country. Many victims are impacted, and this is what I should like to highlight today.
The RAC published a report last week which found that of the almost 2,000 motorists surveyed, 31% admitted to using a mobile phone while behind the wheel. This compares to only 8% when the same survey was conducted in 2014. It may seem harmless to have a quick look at your phone, but the truth is these actions can cause so much misery. A recent study conducted by the University of the West of England, in Bristol, which spoke to crash scene investigators, found that police investigators were seizing mobile phones only in fatal and serious road traffic collisions. Further, in some fatal cases mobile phones were not seized at all for analysis. This means that not only are victims of crime suffering from the impact of a distracted driver on their phone, they are potentially victimised further by gaps in police investigations. I was disappointed to read that, and I hope changes will be made to this approach.
As Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, I have been humbled by the victims I have met who have suffered from such actions. I have met seriously injured victims, and families who have lost loved ones. Through the actions of others, their lives have been shattered. The impact of road accidents cannot be overestimated. Despite the severity of the injuries or the fact that an individual has been killed, a driver’s experience is far removed from the realities of what a victim will experience. The impact on victims needs to be much better understood.
I know there will be some drivers who have caused accidents and harm to their own loved ones, and that they will feel anguish and pain at their actions. That is what I want all drivers to understand. Why put yourself and those you love in a position where you can hurt others and cause so much devastation, just for a few minutes on your phone?
I welcome the Government’s intention to put this issue—of reducing mobile phone use when driving—high on their priority list. I welcome penalties for drivers being toughened up. The doubling of fines and points on driving licences will be a good deterrent for some drivers, but we need to look at how this can affect more than just some. There will be drivers who will still get behind the wheel and pay no regard to these changes in the law. We need to make them aware of the huge impacts that they will cause to victims if they continue to ignore these proposals.
Victims need to know that they can be supported. Charities and voluntary organisations are already carrying out much-needed work. I know that police and crime commissioners, responsible for providing some victim services, are also prioritising this issue. I have seen some PCCs set up specialist units with the police to help victims of these tragic incidents, and I sincerely commend them for doing so. I hope to see more of these specialist services in place to help victims and their families, who are so hugely affected.
I strongly believe that reducing mobile phone use will reduce the numbers of victims affected by bad driving habits, but we all need to play our part—every member of society. As the Transport Secretary and noble Lords have said, it is time to make using a mobile phone while driving just as unacceptable as not wearing a seatbelt or drink-driving. We need better education and hard-hitting messages to ensure that the next generation who love social media are aware of what could happen. While it is exciting to pass your test and own a car, it is also quite dangerous. A car is a weapon on our roads that needs to be respected.
This will be a difficult and challenging task, but I ask that this House supports any attempt to help it be a reality—if for anyone, for the victims who become the unintended consequences of bad drivers’ behaviour. Their lives are truly over. We have to ensure that we make safety on our roads viable for everyone.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding, for tabling this important Motion. I support most, though perhaps not all, of the proposals that she brought forward. Some of us remember that when drink-driving and seat-belt laws were introduced in the 1960s there were many objections from drivers, but of course we soon saw that many lives were saved.
We cannot be complacent when new proposals for safety are made. I have had several colleagues and friends killed in car accidents. I myself was nearly killed when hitchhiking in a once and once-only trip in a 100 miles-an-hour Jaguar, which nearly hit a tractor. Today we are reading about another cause of deaths: people using mobile phones at the time of the accident. How can we make drivers aware of the dangers and reform their behaviour?
Last year, I was driving through a small town in Somerset at about 35 miles an hour—which, I fear, was above the limit—and there was a speed camera. The police then sent me a letter inviting me to attend a morning’s training course to learn about the danger of speeding. I was impressed, as we saw excellent videos of accidents and how to improve one’s driving. It was instructive—for example, we learned that driving on country roads is particularly dangerous—but we were not informed about the dangers of driving while using a mobile phone or being distracted by infotainment systems.
I urge the Minister to ensure that these courses should include video and instruction about the accidents associated with drivers. Yesterday, I asked the Library whether there was any instruction in the Highway Code about the use of mobile phones. To my surprise, it was only in the most recent edition of 2016, where there is a reference in paragraphs 149 and 150, which are labelled,
“Mobile phones and in-vehicle technology”.
The warning is not strongly expressed, and no information is provided about penalties for driving when using mobile phones. Will the Minister consider strengthening those clauses and providing diagrams to show how drivers lose concentration when using mobile phones? Will the Minister also ensure that questions about mobile phones are asked by examiners during the driving test?
The House of Lords Committee on Science and Technology, of which I am a member, is currently considering, among other things, people’s behaviour in road vehicles and noticing how it will change as vehicles become partially or wholly self-driving or, as it is said, autonomous. It seems likely that there will be an even greater tendency for drivers to relax their attention not only when the vehicle has a semi-autonomous aspect but if they are using mobile phones or infotainment. This is a complex interaction which our committee has not considered, but perhaps we should.
In fact, it is not too fanciful to consider how people’s reactions, both physical and psychological, to the movement of the car may be affected by the input from the phone or media system. How will these complex interactions be incorporated in the new semi-autonomous vehicles emerging from the German car industry, which seems to be well down the track with new systems in which your car will autonomously react to the cars in front of it, and so on? If that will also take into account the use of the mobile phone by people in front of you and the people in front of them, it becomes even more complex. The Government need to work very closely with the auto industry to analyse and control these extraordinary new developments.
I have two final points. First, why not insist that mobile phones should not sit, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding, suggested, nicely and conveniently on the dashboard? I suggest that, if you insist on using a mobile phone, you have a very big, nasty yellow thing sitting on your dashboard, so that everyone in the street knows you are using it. That is the trouble at the moment—you can hide using your mobile phone and no one knows you are doing it. We want to make what people are doing visible to their neighbours. I suggest that mobile phone should be uncomfortable, large, luminous, and seen to be anti-social. That is a new idea, and perhaps not so acceptable on the Benches opposite.
Secondly, the Highway Code in both paragraphs recommends rather strongly that if you want to use your mobile phone or laptop, you should go to a lay-by. That proposal seems sensible, but it will be used only if the Highways Agency greatly improves lay-bys, many of which are not safe and are often quite disgusting.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding, on securing this debate on such important issues.
The Department for Transport consultation document from November 2016 outlines the government manifesto commitment to,
“reduce the number of cyclists and other road users killed and injured on our roads every year”.
I am particularly delighted to contribute to this discussion because, although I am not going to say the date or time, in my early 20s one of my greatest friends was killed while cycling, so I am very moved to be involved in this debate.
It is clear that we need to reduce death and accidents on the roads, and it has been suggested that one method is to reduce the number of drivers of all vehicles who use hand-held mobile phones or devices when driving. We need to remember that it is not just phones; a lot of people use hand-held navigation. Currently, fines for drivers found guilty of using hand-held phones are £100 and three penalty points. For first offenders, at the moment a remedial course is sometimes offered. It is argued that these are not sufficient deterrents to nudge drivers to stop using phones in this manner, and it is proposed that all drivers found using hand-held devices while driving, regardless of whether it is their first offence, should face a fine of £200 and six penalty points. Some, including the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, in a recent letter to the Times, have suggested that lifetime bans would send out a message that driving is a privilege that you can lose due to dangerous driving that results in death or injury to another. Such an approach would certainly be less costly than prolonged jail sentences.
Responses to the consultation on changes to the fixed penalty notice and penalty points are overwhelmingly in support of increasing the level of fines and penalty points. Some would argue that those who chose to respond to such a consultation are by very definition a group who would most often want punitive change, and that many of the public would perceive such an approach as unnecessarily harsh. I am not one of these. Having worked as both a clinical nurse and a non-executive director in the health service, I am only too aware of the number of accidents which occur when drivers are distracted.
Distractions are of course not solely attributable to the use of mobile phones. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, has reminded us what having many children in the car can do in terms of distraction, something that I also recognise from when I was younger. Distracted drivers can be perceived as at one end of a Likert scale, with the other end of the scale being dangerous drivers. It is very difficult to measure at exactly which point a distracted driver becomes dangerous, although the laws on driving while under the influence of alcohol and drugs have become increasingly strict over the last 50 years. In the 1960s—I actually wrote the 1970s, but perhaps the law came in earlier—it was by and large acceptable for people to drive while under the influence of more alcohol than today’s legal limit. The changes to the law on drinking and driving have resulted in significantly fewer people driving while under the influence of alcohol, particularly young people brought up with those new laws. This illustrates that a harsher approach to fines and penalties can be successful. It should be noted, however, that the changes to the drink-driving laws were accompanied by significant educational interventions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding, pointed out, using a variety of media such as television, poster adverts and education in cinemas and schools. Therefore, I argue that any introduction of higher penalties for the use of hand-held devices should be undertaken in conjunction with a significant educational programme, using modern technology support to do so such as Twitter and texting, in addition to television advertising and education in schools, colleges and universities—and why not when you are being orientated to a new job? It was certainly made very clear to me as a district nurse that I could not undertake my duties under the influence of alcohol or drugs. We should probably tell anybody who drives for work that it will be a work-related offence as well to use a hand-held mobile device without stopping the car.
We are told in the Library Note that the proportion of drivers detected using hand-held mobile devices while driving has remained relatively constant since 2002. This is a difficult statistic to validate as we also know that there has been a significant increase in the use of mobile phones in this period. I also note the reference to the RAC and 31% that has just been discussed. Another factor may be that the use of mobile phones while driving is now seen by many people as a minor infringement and fewer cases therefore come to court, rather than that the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving is becoming more socially unacceptable. In any event, the findings of guilt in court have halved, down from a peak of 32,000 convictions in 2010 to 16,000 in 2014—so something is happening. Either we are not taking people to court or people are using them less. Statistically the use of hands-free mobile phones is a minor contributory factor in all accidents reported by the police. The latest figures suggest that it might account for only 1% of fatal accidents. Yet I think that we would all argue that each human life is of value and if improving this issue could save 10 serious accidents a year, this would surely be beneficial.
I have never thought of myself as a victim but when the noble Baroness was speaking I thought perhaps I was in my youth. In the case I referred to earlier, I was able to forgive and get over my grief because it had been a real accident and nobody was at fault. I believe that I would not have been able to forgive and move on nearly as easily if I thought that somebody had been deliberately using a mobile phone or texting and that it had contributed to the accident. It would be of enormous help to victims if we could tackle this issue. For those people who have a real accident, as in the case to which I referred, it is much easier if they can be distinguished from those who are, as it were, flouting the law.
It is clear that driving while using a hands-free kit is legal and that this is safer than using a hand-held device. But we should not fall into a false sense of security—you can be equally distracted with a hands-free device, particularly if you are trying to do something too complicated on the phone while you are driving. I have read about the complicated scientific tools that might be able to provide blocking, but would the Government consider it worth while, when cars have an MOT, for a small suction device to be put in at dashboard level as a kind of cradle for hand-held phones in all cars that do not have proper fittings? These devices are relatively cheap. I have investigated—they can be bought for £5. The big yellow ones are more expensive.
Although I accept that there is no guarantee that a driver would place the phone in such a cradle while driving, if this were combined with an increase in fines and penalty points it may well decrease the number of drivers holding a phone while speaking, because some mobile devices can be used from a distance. It would also reduce the likelihood of drivers looking down at their phones while driving—a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding. We certainly need to reduce texting by drivers.
I believe that most drivers today who use hand-held mobile phones do so because they believe it is acceptable. By this I mean that “normalised deviance” is occurring. Normalisation of deviance is a term meaning that people become so accustomed to deviant behaviour that they no longer consider it deviant, despite the fact that they exceed the rules for elementary safety. I suggest that this has happened with the use of mobile phones in cars and other vehicles. I therefore broadly support an increase in penalties for the use of mobile devices when driving. I have considered the issue of lifetime bans and do not think that this would be appropriate for first offenders but should be an option for repeat offenders. I would not like to see life prison sentences. Will the Government consider the relatively cheap and simple solution of requiring older vehicles to have phone-holding devices fitted when they have an MOT in the same way that, in an earlier era, people were expected to have seat belts fitted in their cars if they did not already have them? I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding, for initiating this incredibly important debate.
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register.
Due to the cost of purchasing and maintaining vehicles, police forces have had to cut the number of traffic officers to help achieve the financial cuts imposed on them. The noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, said that the number of these offences in connection with using mobiles had stayed the same over a 10-year period. This could well be due to the cut in the number of traffic officers. I wonder how often noble Lords present today have seen traffic officers’ vehicles on a motorway—not many, I suspect. It is easy to see a driver who is using a hand-held mobile, and this applies to vehicles of all sizes. However, the driver is not only distracted by using the hand-held device; the person at the other end has no idea of the traffic conditions, which adds to this distraction. Therefore, this issue needs to be attended to.
While slightly wide of this debate, would it not be a good idea if drivers were forbidden to have both ears covered by a device, so that they can hear emergency vehicles? Perhaps such a measure should be applied also to cyclists.
My Lords, this is at its heart a debate about dangerous driving, and it is a sobering subject. We have heard throughout the debate of cases in which people have lost their lives, or lost a loved one, because a driver was distracted through using their phone while behind the wheel. It is striking, when you hear about these families, that such devastation has been caused by a few seconds of distraction, something as trivial as a driver wanting to change the song they listen to next. It is a dreadful thing to put somebody else’s life in such great danger. Awareness needs to be raised of how dangerous it is. With that in mind, I congratulate the noble Baroness on securing this debate.
It has been more than 10 years since the Labour Government introduced the offence of using your mobile phone while driving. However, use of a mobile phone was a contributory factor in 22 fatal collisions in 2015. The police regard mobile phone use as one of the “fatal four” causes of road accidents, alongside speeding, drink-driving and not wearing a seat belt. Research by the RAC points to things getting worse rather than better. A survey taken in September found that 31% of drivers used a hand-held phone behind the wheel, up from 8% who admitted to doing so in 2014. Drivers admitted to taking photos and videos while driving, or posting on social media. A sizeable culture shift needs to happen.
Drink-driving used to be accepted as something that happened regularly. It is no longer socially acceptable. People know that it is illegal to get behind the wheel drunk or under the influence. They know why it is illegal. They consider it reckless and know that it puts other people’s lives in danger. Public awareness, education and enforcement have all worked together to reduce the number of incidents and the number of people who would ever consider drinking and driving. This is a cause to be hopeful. We know that it is possible to tackle a problem and make our roads safer because it has been done before and so can be done again.
We welcome the Government’s decision to increase the penalties for using a mobile phone while driving. Labour has been pushing the Government to act on this issue, which has been worsening in recent years on their watch. The increase from three points to six means that a driver who is caught on their phone twice will face the possibility of disqualification by the courts. Novice drivers who are caught for the first time may have to take their test again. Tougher penalties are part of the package that is needed to demonstrate the severity of the offence and the heartbreaking consequences it can have. Have the Government had discussions about applying an outright ban to those caught using their phone while driving? This is available for those driving or attempting to drive while over the alcohol limit. Is there a reason the Government settled on a six-point penalty? What is being done to educate drivers so that they are aware of the new penalties and that using a phone while driving is a serious offence?
There is a problem of the Government’s own making, which they have not yet faced up to. We have the law, education and awareness-raising, and the last part of the puzzle is enforcement. It does not matter how severe the penalty is if we rarely manage to use it. Penalties are hardly a disincentive if they are not applied when they are deserved. It remains far more of a challenge to convince people that behaviour is reckless and constitutes a serious offence if they are never pulled over for it.
In 2010, over 35,000 drivers had court proceedings instigated against them for using a mobile phone while driving. In five years of Conservative-led Government, that enforcement record fell year by year. By 2015, half the number of the drivers were being dealt with in court for this growing, life-threatening offence. The number of fixed penalty notices dropped from over 123,000 in 2011 to under 17,000 last year. Drivers are getting away with it. Mobile phone use is not picked up automatically, as speeding is currently. It takes enforcement, but this Government have cut police resources and depleted the ability of our police forces to enforce the law. Home Office figures show that local areas have lost, on average, 27% of their dedicated road police. We therefore have to ask the Government, if they are taking this offence as seriously as they claim to and as seriously as they should, what are they doing to improve these abysmal enforcement figures?
I will say a word or two about some of the previous contributions. The noble Baroness, Lady Pidding, and a number of other noble Lords talked about smart systems. Those of us who have relatively modern cars have at least semi-smart systems, and there is much to commend them. However, I look to the Government to say what they are doing to advance research into smart systems to make them even more effective. The noble Baroness also raised the issue of public information films. Of course, when the Government came to power in 2010, they cut back quite radically on the use of such media. Some of the campaigns that were run in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s—not just on drink-driving but on AIDS, for example—were value for money. The Government should reconsider the use of high-quality campaigns.
My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours shared with us his data-gathering skills and brought home that this is a widespread offence, and considerable effort is needed to tackle it. His idea of immediate automatic checks by the police after anyone has been involved in an accident has some value, and I hope the Minister will react to that. We automatically check drivers for alcohol after an accident, and this would have a similar chilling effect. My noble friend also commended the use of technology.
It was important for us to listen to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, whose cautionary words on sentence escalation are important. Somehow, in our whole system, we have got it wrong. We have too much incarceration and not enough other thoughtful ways to tackle offences. He told the white line story. I am not an expert on the judicial or criminal world, but my understanding is that where sentences have been overly severe, prosecution rates have fallen because juries have been reluctant to come forward with a guilty finding. There were periods in which the death penalty, for instance, was widely available but not much used because of a sense of revulsion about excessive sentencing. We have to move from relying on very excessive sentences to looking at the whole question of how to change attitudes.
The idea of a campaign was a theme that ran through many of the contributions. The noble and learned Lord touched on that when he talked about people who kill someone in an accident being scarred and having to live with it for the rest of their life. That got to me. The one thing that came out of the drink-driving campaign that influences my driving behaviour is the thought of killing somebody and wondering how I would live with that for the rest of my life. We somehow have to embed that idea in the souls of our drivers.
I come back to a point that was made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. We know that the most powerful deterrent to crime is detection rates. High crime detection rates have a much bigger impact than sentencing. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, covered many of the same points. My noble friend Lord Hunt took us back once again to the 1960s. It is very clever, and I do not know how we did it, but culturally people have moved on from that period. The Government should take up his idea of a mobile use element to speeding courses. Such courses are occasions when you have a cultural handle on a driver. The driver has already made the decision to take an educational, as opposed to a punitive, route, and he is possibly in the right frame of mind to absorb that sort of information. It would be interesting to know whether the Government are doing any behavioural research as a means of tackling this problem.
Finally, we were left with a distinction between distractions and dangers. I have spent most of my life in safety-critical industries. The reality is that you always worry about proportionality, and it is something we have to build into this culture. If you are listening to a complex radio programme—“In Our Time” on a Thursday morning is a good example—and trying to manoeuvre in difficult traffic conditions, there is no question but that the act of listening affects your powers of concentration. We have to get people to think in a much more holistic way about their behaviour when they drive. This is an issue on which Members on all sides wish to see progress.
I end my remarks with a rather more hopeful question about how the Government plan to measure success in this area. What sort of monitoring will be done to gauge the effectiveness of the new penalties and the awareness campaign, and to judge what is working and what more may need to be done? Behavioural change, as we know, takes time. It is my hope that we may speed it up a bit by ensuring that drivers know that a couple of irresponsible seconds behind the wheel can cost someone’s life.
My Lords, first, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this very timely and important debate. In particular, I thank my noble friend Lady Pidding for this opportunity to set out what the Government are doing to reduce road traffic accidents caused by motorists using hand-held mobile devices while driving. We are taking decisive action in a variety of ways, which I will set out in a moment.
My noble friend started her speech in a very poignant way. All of us, across the House and beyond, were deeply moved by the tragic events that we saw not so long ago—in August—on the A34. My noble friend made particular and poignant mention of Tracy Houghton, her sons Ethan and Josh, and her step-daughter Amy, who tragically died in an accident in which the person who was subsequently taken to court and convicted of causing the tragedy was using his mobile phone. In mentioning those tragic events, I also pay tribute to the police in Thames Valley who were involved in dealing with that accident. I am pleased that we have with us today Chief Inspector Henry Parsons, who was involved with those investigations. When such tragic events take place, it is, as many noble Lords mentioned, the bereaved families who often suffer the consequences of what are, at times, the careless actions of others.
Let me reflect on the constructive contributions that have been made in this debate. The Government have introduced legislation to increase the penalties imposed when a driver is caught using a hand-held mobile phone or other similar hand-held device while driving and receives a fixed penalty notice. The number of penalty points added to the driver’s licence will double from three to six, and the penalty fine will also double from £100 to £200. The legislation for the increase in penalty points has already been approved in the House of Commons, and we will debate it for approval here next week, on 20 December. The statutory instrument for the increase in the penalty fine will be laid before Parliament using the negative procedure in the new year. Subject to the approval of Parliament, we aim for the new penalties to be effective from 1 March 2017.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and Her Majesty’s Opposition for their broad support for the measures. He and other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Pidding, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, talked about the importance of education. As noble Lords are aware, there will be a specific THINK! educational campaign from around the time that the new penalties come into force to inform drivers and raise awareness. THINK! is also undertaking a review over two and a half years into how to target child and teen audiences more broadly, which is another point that several noble Lords reflected on.
As well as these forthcoming changes, the Government launched a consultation through the Ministry of Justice on 5 December seeking views on driving offences and penalties relating to causing death or serious injury. The consultation contains proposals on increasing the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving from 14 years to life; increasing the maximum sentence for causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs from 14 years to life; creating a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving, with a maximum sentence of three years; and a longer minimum disqualification period for drivers who kill. I pay tribute to the contribution from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who stressed the importance of the issue of education and the caution of life-sentencing in this respect. I encourage all noble Lords to bear in mind that the deadline for the consultation is 1 February. The Government will reflect on the responses that they receive.
The measures I have outlined in response to questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, show that the Government are serious about addressing public concerns regarding drivers who needlessly kill or seriously injure other road users. They also show that the Government are serious about ensuring that those who kill or seriously injure others due to using a hand-held mobile phone or other similar hand-held device when driving face serious punishment through the courts. The noble Lord mentioned the issue of six points. One of the intended consequences of increasing the fixed penalty to six points is that drivers need only commit two mobile phone offences, accruing 12 points, before facing automatic disqualification by the courts. Drivers who habitually use their hand-held mobile phone or other hand-held device when driving face being banned sooner than under the existing system.
In addition, novice drivers who passed their test in the last two years will face automatic revocation of their licence if they commit a single mobile phone offence. Under the Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act, novice drivers can accrue only six points rather than the usual 12 before they face disqualification. To regain their licence they must reapply for a provisional licence and pass a further theory and practical driving test.
The majority of novice drivers are young people below the age of 25, and evidence suggests that young drivers are the group most likely to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving compared with other drivers. As a group, young drivers also are already disproportionality represented in the numbers of fatalities and seriously injured. Given the risk that they pose, there is a need for a strong deterrent to their offending behaviour. It is proportionate that the consequence of a single mobile phone offence may mean disqualification. We must aim to effect behavioural change among this group—the drivers most likely to offend and use their hand-held mobile phones when driving—to make progress in improving road safety, which was a point well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock.
My noble friend Lady Pidding asked specifically about heavy goods vehicle drivers. Drivers of heavy goods vehicles and passenger service vehicles who commit this offence will continue to face the possibility of the traffic commissioners, who regulate HGV and PSV operators, using their powers to review and possibly suspend the driver’s vocational licence entitlement to drive these vehicles. Given the greater impact that such large vehicles have in accidents, I believe that that is proportionate but I will also reflect on the suggestions made by my noble friend. All these various elements come together with the aim of making the use of a hand-held mobile phone or other hand-held device while driving as socially unacceptable as drink-driving—a point reflected on by several noble Lords.
Hand-held mobile phone use while driving is very dangerous and was a contributory factor in 22 fatal accidents in 2015. Behind these statistics there are individual tragedies, some of which we have heard about today, caused by drivers who have acted selfishly, insensitively or carelessly. Each one of those is a needless tragedy, and we must bring these numbers down. The families are understandably very upset and angry that a close relative of theirs was killed because of something that could so easily have been prevented. The Government also recognise that using a hand-held phone when driving has become widespread. The RAC Report on Motoring, published in September 2016, mentioned by my noble friend Lady Newlove, suggests that increasing numbers of drivers are using a hand-held mobile phone at the wheel. It reports that 31% of motorists said they used a hand-held phone behind the wheel compared with 8% in 2014. The number of drivers who said they sent a message or posted on social media rose from 7% to 19%.
In 2014, the Department for Transport commissioned roadside observational studies which showed that around 1.6% of drivers are using a hand-held mobile phone at any given moment. We will conduct a similar exercise in this respect once the new penalties are in place. We all accept that driving ability is clearly impaired by using a hand-held mobile phone and studies have found that it potentially impairs driving more than driving above the drink-drive limit. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has calculated that a driver is four times more likely to crash when using a mobile phone while driving.
The police also regard driving while using a hand-held mobile phone as one of the fatal four causes of accidents, along with speeding, drink or drug-driving and not wearing a seatbelt. Several noble Lords talked of this. It is clear that change is needed, which is why the Government are taking action and responding to the public to take tougher action. I also accept that it is also about a change of culture and behaviour. Increasing the fixed-penalty notice to six points makes it among the highest penalty points when a fixed penalty is issued.
Noble Lords have also talked about offering offenders an opportunity to take the driving test. The Government have been following this. Currently police forces can offer an alternative to penalty points in the form of courses, but it is our view that drivers should not be offered a remedial course instead of a fixed penalty notice. There is a place for education, but the Government are clear that using a hand-held mobile phone when driving should be penalised to deter reoffending, which is similar to the approach we have taken to drink-driving offenders. This again was a point well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins. We are considering the options for a model under which drivers committing this offence will receive a penalty in combination with education on the risks of using a hand-held mobile phone or other devices while driving. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, both pointed out the importance of education and we will work with police and road safety groups to develop a practical model, taking legislative action if required in due course.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked about specific reviews. The department is planning to conduct a roadside observational survey that will monitor mobile phone use as a follow-up to the one carried out in 2014. He also made a number of practical suggestions about the driving test and making amendments to the Highway Code, which I shall of course take back to reflect on. He suggested as a way forward the use of a large yellow mobile phone so that all can see it. That is something for the phone manufacturers to reflect on, but as he talked about it I noticed that every Member of your Lordships’ House quickly checked the size of their own mobile phone. As we can see, the approach of the manufacturers is somewhat different. Phones are becoming more discreet and are designed to be light, but who knows what the future holds? Certainly his other practical points are well made.
Several noble Lords referred to semi-autonomous vehicles. The Government are investing a great deal in smart car technology and we are talking to manufacturers. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, made further practical suggestions in that respect which I think are important to reflect upon.
The penalties we have been discussing are in respect of those using mobile phones while driving. However, as the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, pointed out, we need to look at all road users. Only yesterday, as I was being driven back to the department and was looking at my next briefing, suddenly the car had to brake sharply because a pedestrian using his mobile phone decided to walk into the middle of the road. The importance of education for all users, whether car drivers, cyclists or pedestrians, was a point well made by the noble Viscount.
The question of banning mobile phone use for all those in a vehicle was raised, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has raised this with me in Parliamentary Questions. Of course it is difficult for the police to witness from the roadside a hand-held mobile phone in operation but I hope that, through our educational process, drivers will become more responsible. If someone is driving poorly because they are distracted by a phone conversation or because they are checking social media, even if they are using hands-free technology, the police can check mobile phone records and prosecute for other offences such as dangerous driving, which may incur higher penalties. I will come to the point made by the noble Lord about technology in a moment.
Let me assure noble Lords that, make no mistake, drivers who behave recklessly or inconsiderately must understand the consequences of their actions. Noble Lords may be concerned about how we will enforce the new penalties. The increase in penalties will have a deterrent effect on people committing hand-held mobile phone offences while driving and, as I have said, the THINK! campaign will greatly assist in this respect. Any action will be in addition to current enforcement practice, including the current pilot being undertaken on the strategic road network of loaning police forces an HGV cab to spot offenders, something noble Lords may have followed in the press recently. The level of effective roads policing is not necessarily dependent solely on one factor such as the number of officers specifically engaged in roads policing at any one time. It is of course for police and crime commissioners to identify their local needs and, in consultation with the chief constable, to draw up appropriate plans. But as my noble friend Lady Newlove pointed out, in her important role as the Victims Commissioner, she is already seeing demonstrably good practice across the country in this respect. The chief constable will, of course, retain operational independence and then deploy appropriate resources to the priorities agreed in the policing plan as they see fit. I am delighted that I am joined by my noble friend the Minister at the Home Office, because we will work together at the Department for Transport and the Home Office to establish what practical options are available.
There are often calls for technology to help drivers be more compliant. These need to be looked at very carefully and we invited views as part of the public consultation at the beginning of the year. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, raised phone-jamming equipment in cars to stop drivers using their mobile phones. While it may be a simple idea, it has drawbacks, as we have previously discussed. It will prevent others in the car using mobile phones. However, he talked about different research. It is important to reflect on the research and I will certainly welcome any feedback from him on the work that has been developed in this regard. We will certainly look at whether there are ways that a driver could be isolated from using their mobile phone, but not to the detriment of others. That is worth looking at further.
Mobile phones can be fitted with a motion detector that cuts out the signal when it detects motion. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, talked about technology and drones. A consultation on drones will be issued shortly; I draw the noble Lord’s attention to that. He was right that I, as the Aviation Minister at the DfT, know full well the merits of geo-fencing—for example, to prevent the use of drones in areas they should not be progressing into—in particular on issues of safety. We are also aware that a number of companies have developed “drive safe” modes. The industry is working together with government to ensure further development can be made in these areas.
On whether car manufacturers should do more, there is already a set of guiding principles that, when applied during the development of a product, should lead to a design that can be safely used in a vehicle. I am sure this debate will further inform research in that area.
The Government are fully aware of the case for reducing road traffic accidents due to the nature and use of hand-held mobile phones or other similar hand-held devices when driving. That is why we are introducing legislation to increase the penalties for this offence, alongside the planned launch of a new THINK! Campaign, and directly asking police forces not to offer diversionary courses to those who commit this offence, but, where a course would otherwise have been offered, to impose a fixed penalty notice instead. However, the courses are an important part of education. Several practical suggestions were made regarding how further education can be followed up. That is an important suggestion that we will reflect on.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this important and timely debate. We had a Parliamentary Question on this not so long ago and we will debate the important legislation next week. It is important to reflect on the fact that these actions are necessary and important to take because of the tragic events we have seen recently on our roads. Use of technology is a good thing. The evolution of mobile phones reflects how technology has developed. As it develops, we need to ensure that anyone who is a road user also reflects on the importance of safety.
In thanking all noble Lords once again, in particular my noble friend Lady Pidding, I underline that the Government regard this as a priority. There can be no better poignant words than those of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister when she reflected on the tragedy that has impacted on many people. On hearing of that, she said:
“Sadly we have seen too many times the devastating and heartbreaking consequences of using a mobile phone while driving”.
As she concluded her remarks on that tragedy:
“A moment’s distraction can wreck the lives of others for ever”.
My Lords, on my entering your Lordships’ House just over a year ago, it said in the Letters Patent that I should be given a voice. It is with the immense privilege of being given that voice that I have brought about this debate. I am still on a very steep learning curve and this is the first debate that I have tabled. I am grateful for the time that has been afforded to me and most grateful for the speeches made by all noble Lords. I am encouraged that there has been a great deal of agreement today, with many common threads. I know that many other noble Lords who were not able to be with us today also feel very strongly on this issue, as we saw in Oral Questions last week.
I also thank my noble friend the Minister for his full and detailed reply. I welcome the steps the Government are taking and, picking up on that common thread, I hope that great investment will be put into the public awareness campaign and, working alongside the media, in getting it out into the widest possible domain. I was encouraged by what the Minister said about considering action in relation to HGVs and about the education and awareness campaign.
Before closing the debate, I want to acknowledge the fantastic work done by emergency services throughout the country in dealing with horrific road traffic accidents, and the amazing support, often unrecognised, that our police give to bereaved families. I join the Minister in citing in particular the work of Thames Valley Police and the support they have given to the Houghton and Goldsmith families.
By having this debate, we have raised the profile of a very important issue and given an opportunity for a wider discussion. As such, the debate can only have been very worth while. I know this is not an easy issue to solve, but I hope we can move a step closer to seeing a reduction in the number of incidents caused by the use of hand-held mobile devices in cars and, as a consequence, the prevention of future fatal tragedies.
Motion to Take Note