Motion to Approve
That the draft Order laid before the House on 8 November be approved.
My Lords, this draft order is being made to improve road safety by increasing the number of penalty points imposed when a fixed penalty notice is issued for drivers caught using a hand-held mobile phone or other similar device while driving.
In January 2016, the Government launched a public consultation on increasing the penalties for hand-held mobile phone use while driving and, when it closed in March, we had received more than 4,000 responses. The responses were overwhelmingly in favour, with 94% supporting an increase. In fact a significant number of responses wanted us to go further than we had proposed and to introduce even harsher penalties for this offence. We have listened, and this draft order therefore increases the number of penalty points endorsed on the driving record of a person who commits this offence from three to six. Furthermore, we will shortly lay before Parliament a further order to increase the fixed penalty amount for the offence from £100 to £200.
Some may ask why we are doing this, although we have had various Questions and debates on this matter in your Lordships’ House. As we all know, hand-held mobile phone use while driving has been proven to be very dangerous and was a contributory factor in 22 fatal accidents in 2015. Each one of those accidents is a needless tragedy and we must bring these numbers down. Indeed, your Lordships’ House had a very informed and constructive debate on this issue, which was tabled last week by my noble friend Lady Pidding. As was also said during that debate, families are understandably not just upset but angry that a close relative of theirs was injured—and, tragically, in some instances killed—because of something that could so easily have been prevented. The RAC motoring report published in September 2016 suggests that increasing numbers of drivers also use hand-held mobile phones at the wheel. It reports that 31% of motorists said they used a hand-held phone while driving, which is put in stark contrast when we see the corresponding figure for 2014, which was 8%. The number of drivers who said they sent a message or posted on social media has also risen, 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. 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 seat belt.
It is therefore clear that change is needed. The increase in the number of penalty points which a driver committing this offence will receive means that drivers need only commit two mobile phone offences, accruing 12 points, before facing the possibility of being disqualified by the courts. It also means that novice drivers, who have passed their test in the last two years, will face 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. Again, in the debate we had on this very issue last week we heard some practical suggestions; the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, who is in his place, put forward some practical suggestions that could be made to amend the existing Highway Code, and we are reflecting on those points.
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 are also already disproportionately represented in the numbers of fatalities and seriously injured. Given the risk 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, who are the drivers most likely to offend and use their hand-held mobile phones when driving, to make progress in improving road safety. As all noble Lords acknowledge, education is key. As well as increasing the penalties for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving, we will also launch a new hard-hitting THINK! educational campaign to coincide with these changes. The aim of the campaign is to alert drivers to the new regulations and raise awareness of the dangers of using a hand-held mobile phone. The long-term aim is to change behaviour and make using a hand-held mobile phone while driving as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.
Today, mobile phones are commonplace, but all drivers need to take responsibility for their actions. It may seem harmless when driving to reply to a text, answer a call or use an app, but the truth is that those actions could kill and cause untold misery to others. I therefore recommend that this House approves this order.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for bringing this amendment order forward. I particularly welcome this in the light of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 and the penalty points that are associated with this. Many points were made in the excellent debate last week, launched by my noble friend Lady Pidding, so I will speak only briefly now.
It is now several decades since I was responsible for road safety, and at that time I was responsible for introducing the statutory instrument for seat-belt wearing. On the way a few things which had not been thought of before occurred to me as a driver. They may be old hat to the Department for Transport but, if there is any value in my suggestions, I hope that it will take them on board.
In those days—I am talking about 1982—the publicity campaign was fair for the measures but it did not have the educational element which my noble friend has spoken of and which I believe he envisages for a campaign on this issue. Can that educational element also be introduced in school civics lessons, as well as being communicated to those who want to learn to drive? One needs to imbue in young people the dangers of using a hand-held phone at as young an age as possible. I frequently see cars with all the children in the back using a hand-held device. They are so used to it being an extension of their arm that we have to make them aware of the danger of misuse at a much younger age. That applies even to pedestrians who walk along the street with their eyes down staring at a phone. Therefore, the educational campaign probably needs to be rather broader than may at first seem necessary.
My second suggestion is that police forces should not go soft or easy—I do not believe that they wish to—on those who say, “Oh, it was only …”, when stopped by the police. If you are to make any campaign for public safety work, you have to implement it fully right from the start, and that is what I encourage my noble friend to do. If there is anything that I can do to help him, he has only to ask.
My Lords, I want to make a very brief point. I was unable to take part in the obviously excellent debate last week, but everything that my noble friend on the Front Bench said pointed to one conclusion: if you use a hand-held device in a motorcar or any vehicle, then automatic disqualification for a period should follow. Six points are better than the current penalty, and a £200 fine is better than the current fine, although it is not a large sum of money. I believe that there should be a true deterrent effect. Personally, I would urge a minimum fine of £1,000 with disqualification for three months following the use of a hand-held device.
My Lords, what distinguishes the offence of using a mobile phone while driving is the fact that it is never a question of neglect; it is always based on a definite decision. We have a national obsession with mobile phones. They do more and more, and we have become increasingly dependent on them. That has undermined the impact of the existing penalty, so I am very pleased that the Government have reviewed this matter. We need to reinforce the penalty in order to make the message clear.
However, I do not fully agree with the Government’s response. I believe that the Explanatory Memorandum lacks a full appreciation of the seriousness of the situation. Recent research by IAM RoadSmart showed that 9% of the people interviewed admitted taking a selfie while driving. I ask your Lordships: for goodness’ sake, why? Clearly, that is a highly dangerous activity.
The drink-driving revolution took a generation rather than being an immediate response, but to have the same impact this legislation has to be well thought through. Therefore, I have some questions for the Minister, because there is now evidence that texting while driving is as dangerous as drinking and driving.
My first question is based on the fact that there is no need nowadays to use a hand-held device in the most modern cars because they have automatic systems that link your phone to the speaker. Therefore, what work are the Government doing with manufacturers to ensure that the systems design is as easy and safe to use as possible? What work are they doing with manufacturers to ensure that these are not optional extras for which you have to pay more but an intrinsic part of buying a new car and come as standard with new models?
The second question is based on the documentation that the Government have provided. They suggest that remedial training courses reduce the deterrent effect of a penalty. How can this be? Surely it is always better to reform rather than simply to punish. Would it not be possible to amend the legislation so that the training course goes alongside the penalty points, as opposed to being an alternative to it? Apparently, the training courses work very well for speeding drivers, and I see no reason why training adults who have made this big mistake would not improve things.
Thirdly, a small but significant number of firms, large and small, expect employees to be constantly available by mobile phone. What are the Government doing to raise awareness in the business community in general that that can be a dangerous expectation? If you always expect your employee to answer the phone, perhaps even when they are on the motorway, that can be a highly dangerous expectation.
Finally, to underline a point that has already been made by the noble Baroness, the police prioritising this is an essential part of the jigsaw. What conversations have the Government had with the police to ensure that they prioritise this as an offence?
My Lords, I draw attention to my registered interest as a president of RoSPA. We welcome the new penalties, particularly as they are accompanied by a road safety campaign. However, as others have said, we doubt their deterrent effect unless there can be visible and effective enforcement.
It is also the view of RoSPA that the law should apply equally to hands-free and hand-held phones, because the distraction and danger caused by using a mobile phone is as much due to the driver not being aware of what is happening around them as to the physical distraction of actually holding a phone. Because the regulation that specifically bans drivers using a mobile phone applies only to hand-held phones, this is often misinterpreted as meaning that it is safe to use a hands-free phone—it is not. As has been said, we know that many employers ban their staff from using hand-held phones while driving for work, but some permit or even encourage them to use hands-free phones. This has to change.
I want to follow the arguments made correctly, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, by adding a thought that was prompted on this occasion by the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, but which has occurred to me over years past. We should follow the examples set by previous advances in ensuring greater safety standards in motor vehicles, specifically the statutory requirement to install seatbelts. I, and I presume several other Members of this House, am old enough to recall the specification of a date by which vehicles of every kind had to have seatbelts. Indeed, I recall installing seatbelts myself in a rather battered Standard 10—it was a long time ago. However, I am certain that specifying a date requiring vehicles of all descriptions to have at least hands-free technology installed would make a significant difference and reduce the appalling toll of deaths and life-changing injuries that have occurred because of drivers using telephones.
I certainly have sympathy with the case put by my noble friend Lord McKenzie that it is evident that the use of hands-free telephones constitutes a certain level of danger. However, I would make the case, without diminishing the force of his argument, that the danger of having to manipulate a telephone by hand is far greater than that of answering or using a hands-free telephone. In the cause of making further advances—much in the spirit of the view put by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—I would ask the Government two questions. First, would they consider emulating the example set by the requirement to install seatbelts in the front of all vehicles? The requirement to install them at the rear, I am proud to say, was partly a European Commission initiative when I had the pleasure of being the transport commissioner. Now, of course, that requirement is universal in all saloon cars, as well as in relevant other vehicles which have rear seats. If a date was to be specified and legislated for, I am certain that could make a significant difference.
My second question is whether the Government are considering commissioning relevant research to establish whether there is a technological means in motor vehicles to ensure that it is impossible for a person occupying the driving seat to use a telephone while the engine is running. I am certain it is well within the capability of modern technology to establish such a relationship and to enforce such a technical prohibition. Are the Government commissioning research that could produce such a result?
My Lords, all the evidence indicates that the culture change needed to move away from unsafe driving is primarily driven home to people by tough penalties and, in turn, by their proper enforcement. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that these may not have gone far enough yet to discourage the growth of the use of hand-held devices.
The third area of change, which is perhaps less effective but none the less one the Government will use, is education. In the programme that they devise, will they drive home to people that if they are involved in an accident it is now technologically possible to check whether they were using a hand-held device or texting at the time of the accident? Many people are not aware that this can be done and, if they knew that, they might think a second time before continuing to use the devices in the knowledge that it might be traced back to them after an accident. Will the Minister comment on that?
My Lords, has the technology developed to the extent that people can ensure that an incoming call does not stop them driving? Perhaps there could be a voicemail on the telephone in the car that does not allow you to take the call while driving—going back to the point about the engine being turned off—rather like we have at home, where we can see who is calling. It must be feasible. I am sure that people feel compelled to answer incoming calls, whereas if we are sensible enough we do not use the phone for outgoing calls while driving.
My Lords, using a handheld telephone in the car, unlike wearing a seat belt, is a breach of good manners on the road. People apparently feel empowered nowadays to use a mobile telephone at any time they feel they need to communicate with someone. If the House will indulge me, I will relate my own experience with my 21 year-old goddaughter. I took her and her parents to the theatre in Paris. Just as the singer who was performing that evening came on stage and the lights went down, my goddaughter saw fit to send a text to someone which created a light on her machine. I quickly reminded her that she may upset a few people with that light and so would she please turn it off. She ignored me and went on texting, so I reminded her again. People were looking around and getting rather upset. She still did not take any notice of me. I then said to her, “For God’s sake, turn the thing off!”. This again she failed to respond to. I had reached my breaking point so I grabbed her mobile and threw it into the audience across the aisle. I saw it bounce off the head of what could have been a Frenchman or indeed anyone and then back into the aisle. She was totally astonished by my behaviour. Her aunt who was also with us said, “Well done. I have been longing to do that for a long time”. My goddaughter, who is now 25, told me the other day after I asked whether her telephone was the same one that I had thrown into audience that it was. She said, “That was a salutary lesson and I have never forgotten it”.
I do not think that education is required, as the Minister has just said; rather, it is lessons in manners, which could extend to other activities undertaken by drivers. To my mind, what causes a lot of accidents nowadays is pure bad manners and self-indulgence.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the chairman of the FIA Foundation, one of the biggest international road safety organisations; and for 10 years I chaired the Commission on Global Road Safety, which had a lot to do with establishing in the United Nations the Decade of Action for Road Safety—we are at the midpoint in that. My memory is as long as that of the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, on the great debate that we have had on road safety. I can recall many debates in my early days in the House of Commons fighting against the forces of the left and of the right who were against implementing the compulsory use of seat belts, as referred to by my noble friend Lord Kinnock. A combination of Dennis Skinner and Enoch Powell made sure that the House of Commons never came to a conclusion, and it was Lord Nugent of Guildford, a former Conservative Minister of Transport, who proposed a new clause in this House that revolutionised the way we drive cars and which was then accepted in the House of Commons. Virtually overnight the number of organs available for transplant in this country declined to a critical level because most of them had come from the casualties of road accidents.
I am tempted down the road taken by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. This is a useful move forward and perhaps it will get some attention, but it does not go nearly far enough. People who use mobile phones in cars are a danger to themselves and much more to others, so the deterrent effect is going to have to be important.
I represented the British Government—a rare thing for someone on the Opposition Benches—earlier this year at the UN General Assembly, when I spoke in the debate on the resolution on the road safety aspect of the sustainable development goals. There were quizzical looks there as to why I, as a former Defence Secretary and Secretary-General of NATO, should suddenly have this new passion on road crashes. I made the point that the number of people killed on the roads of the world today is much more than those killed in conflict—indeed, even in the Second World War, the bloodiest war in human history. About 160 million people died in all the conflicts in the 20th century. On present projections, twice as many people will die in car crashes in the world in the 21st century as died in all the wars of the 20th century.
We need to focus on this epidemic of casualties and death. Some 1,700 people died in road crashes last year in this country, which has one of the best records in the world. That number is indefensible, even in a country with as good a record as ours.
The crucial thing with the order is maybe not the quantum involved but the enforcement of the law. You can have all the laws in the world, but if they are not being enforced they do not work. It is therefore important that the message comes forward, not only in the education process outlined by the Minister but from those who are deeply concerned about this epidemic of road deaths, that these are serious issues, enforcement will be tight and we will make sure that people pay the penalty. I do not think it is acceptable in this day and age that so many people can die in this country and throughout the world, and that numbers should grow in the way they do. This is a very small step. Much more needs to be done.
My Lords, I add my support to the excellent suggestion of my noble friend Lady Chalker that we have education in our schools on the perils of the use of handheld mobile devices in cars, to work via peer pressure to make such use socially unacceptable. I also welcome the confirmation from my noble friend the Minister regarding the public awareness campaigns. Will the Government ensure we get these out there on social media platforms too?
My Lords, we support the order, largely for the reasons set out by the Minister. Before the introduction of mobile phones we managed to survive, as a nation of car drivers, without them. Presumably, we ought to be able to survive today without using them—a risk to ourselves and others in our cars—while driving. I will, though, ask a few questions about the change in penalty points and issues related to it. I would be grateful for a response either now or subsequently.
I start by pursuing the line the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and others referred to, namely on disqualification. In the debate in the House of Commons on this order, the Commons Minister said:
“Driving ability is clearly impaired if someone is using a handheld mobile phone. Studies show that that potentially impairs driving more than being above the drink-drive limit”.—[Official Report, Commons, Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee, 6/12/16; col. 4.]
If the Government accept the findings of these studies—the Minister in the Commons referred to them in support of his case for the order, as has the Minister here—why did the Government decide not to impose a period of immediate disqualification, as is the case with those found to be driving when above the drink-drive limit?
Alternatively, since a period of disqualification can be imposed by a court for a speeding offence, usually in cases where the offender has driven well in excess of the limit for the road in question, why did the Government not provide for a court to have the discretion to impose a period of disqualification where the circumstances in which the hand-held mobile phone was being used appeared even more potentially dangerous than normal? For using a hand-held mobile phone while driving, there is no question of a period of disqualification or its equivalent being imposed for a first offence for most drivers, despite the Minister stating that it potentially impairs driving more than being above the drink-drive limit and its being, according to the police, one of the “fatal four” causes of road accidents, alongside speeding and drink-driving—for which a period of disqualification can or must be imposed—and not wearing a seat belt.
Novice drivers who have passed their test in the previous two years face revocation of their licence if they commit a single mobile phone offence. So what difference in terms of the potential adverse impact on driving ability from using a hand-held mobile phone while driving is there between a driver who passed their test within the previous two years and one who passed their test 30 months ago?
Surely what this differentiation means is that, once individuals are more than two years past the date of their driving test, they are then allowed one free go at driving while using a hand-held mobile phone in the sense of not being taken off the road for a period of time. What message does that send out, since that fact might lead some to regard it as worth taking the risk of being caught for the first time using a hand-held mobile phone once they had got past two years since taking the test? Certainly, the figures on enforcement—to which my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton referred and which show a big drop of some 90% in the number of fixed penalty notices since 2011, at a time when the RAC reports a significant increase in the percentage of motorists saying that they use a hand-held mobile phone while driving—do not suggest that the likelihood of being apprehended is particularly great. Fear of being apprehended is surely the biggest deterrent to committing an offence. Reducing the number of front-line police officers, despite commitments being given that this would not happen, has very noticeable effects. We do not draw the same distinction when it comes to drink-driving between those who passed their test within the previous two years and those who passed their test more than two years ago, even though the Commons Minister is on the record as saying that studies show that using a hand-held mobile phone potentially impairs driving more than being above the drink-drive limit.
Does the provision for revocation of novice drivers’ licences apply also to HGV and PSV novice drivers who use a hand-held mobile phone while driving? As a matter of interest, is using a hand-held mobile phone while driving more prevalent in some parts of the country than in others, taking into account the number of people driving in different parts of the country?
Have there been other examples where increasing the penalty points for a traffic offence, as opposed to imposing penalty points for the first time, has reduced the incidence of such offences? I ask that because the impact assessment states on page 2:
“Higher penalties are expected to act as a deterrent to the use of mobile phones whilst driving”,
but then states:
“It has not been possible to predict with certainty the number of accidents that can be avoided each year as a result of the intervention and therefore this benefit has been assessed qualitatively”,
followed in paragraph 34 on page 7 by the statement that:
“There is a lack of robust evidence as to the effectiveness of increased penalties at deterring the use of mobile phones”.
There is a real danger that some who read the impact assessment and its apparent lack of hard evidence that the increased penalty points should reduce the incidence of hand-held mobile phone use while driving might come to the conclusion that this change following a consultation has more to do with the Government making policy by focus group than on the basis of a logically argued and substantiated case. Presumably the increasing sophistication and complexity of hand-held mobile phones, and the greater range of purposes for which they can now be used which necessitate looking away from the road ahead for longer than a split second, is a factor in their use while driving posing an increased hazard and danger that must quite rightly be addressed.
On a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, the impact assessment states on the first page that,
“not offering the remedial course as an alternative to the”,
fixed penalty notice,
“and penalty points will act as a further deterrent, as first time offenders face the full FPN and fixed penalty points”.
As far as I can see, the impact assessment does not provide any information on how successful or otherwise the remedial course has been in ensuring that first offenders do not offend again. Could the Minister fill in this apparent gap in the information provided? I assume that the Government have some hard information showing that those who have been on the remedial course are just as likely to offend again as those who have not. However, that information should now be placed on the record in Hansard. If the Government do not have that hard information, what is the case for no longer offering the remedial course?
In the debate in this House last Thursday on hand-held mobile devices, the Minister said:
“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”.—[Official Report, 15/12/16; cols. 1440-41.]
Does this mean that today the Government seek approval for an order, in respect of which the impact assessment refers to no longer offering the remedial course as an alternative to the fixed penalty notice and penalty points, at the same as they consider continuing with education on the risks of using a hand-held mobile phone alongside a penalty? If that is correct, it seems a rather odd way to proceed. Why not make some decisions now, before withdrawal of the remedial course, on the future of the education aspect?
Finally, could the Minister confirm the definition of “driving” as far as this offence is concerned? For example, if you are stationary in a traffic jam on the M25 and using a hand-held mobile phone, have you committed this offence if your engine is still running, or if your engine is switched off and your handbrake is on?
My Lords, first, I thank all noble Lords who contributed to the debate this afternoon. I also acknowledge and thank all noble Lords for their broad support for the measures outlined by the Government, in particular the support from Her Majesty’s Opposition and from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench.
The final point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, is a pertinent, technical one. I shall certainly refer to him. I suppose there would be an added technical issue as to whether the engine is running or not, but he raised an important point on traffic jams. When someone is stopped, the enforcing authority in such a case would normally be the police, who have the ability in assessing it to use what I would describe as a degree of common sense in the application of a particular penalty.
The noble Lord mentioned the issue of remedial courses. Certainly, whether those courses should be offered has been down to police discretion. It is the Government’s view that the application of a severe penalty rather than a remedial course will have the necessary effect of deterring a future offence in that regard. He suggested that there was a contradiction between applying the penalty points and education. The education that I referred to is the campaign we are running alongside the new provisions that we are proposing. The noble Lord asked several other detailed questions, some of which I will answer as I go through my responses to other noble Lords. Of course, as ever, if I do not respond to every single question arising out of his analysis of the order, I will write to him.
All noble Lords raised important and pertinent issues. I acknowledge, as I am sure we all do, the work of my noble friend Lady Chalker. She referred to her time as a Transport Minister and her experience when the seatbelt was introduced. In that regard, I think there are many people who are not just thankful to my noble friend, the Government and all the parliamentarians who passed that law—I know the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, was part of our parliamentary establishment at that time as well—but who are alive today simply because of that provision. We are thankful across the board that that was taken forward in a positive way. Whenever changes are made, there are often those who are critical or sceptical about whether the changes will actually have an impact—indeed, those who pursue the line of non-compliance in the hope that the issue may not be pursued.
We have seen with the seatbelt experience that the issue has become a matter of course. There has been an undertone that it is not about just enforcing a law or making a change, it is about a cultural mindset and changes. I have been to certain parts of the world where perhaps seatbelts are not part of the normal care attire, where you sit in the car and feel yourself flapping around in the air at times because something is missing. If the seatbelt is not there, you hold on to other parts of the car as the car moves forward, or indeed leave the vehicle altogether. It has been embedded in our culture and I hope that in years to come we will reflect on this order in the same light.
The issue of the publicity campaign around this change has been well articulated. Again, from her experience, my noble friend Lady Chalker spoke about the importance of schools and civic lessons. I shall certainly take that on board and reflect on it, and share it with my colleagues and Ministers in the Department for Education to see how this can perhaps be incorporated in a practical way. I am reminded of the experience we have from other countries, such as the United States, where learning to drive is part and parcel of teenagers’ high school life. There is learning for us there.
My noble friend also talked about police forces and enforcement. A number of other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, raised the important issue of enforcement and prioritisation. Reflecting on last week’s debate, my noble friend Lady Newlove, who is the Victims’ Commissioner, talked about the good practice that already exists in the prioritisation of this issue by a number of police forces. Certainly, we will be talking to police and crime commissioners in this respect to ensure that their priorities reflect the importance of implementing this.
My noble friend Lord Cormack and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, articulated the importance of more serious and severe fines. Indeed, my noble friend talked about the £1,000 fine. I am sure noble Lords are aware that the penalty for drivers using handheld mobile phones or other similar hand-held devices needs to be a strong deterrent. The planned financial penalty increase will apply to those who receive a fixed-penalty notice. However, to be clear, where a driver is prosecuted and taken through the courts, a magistrates’ court may well impose a fine of up to £1,000—for heavy goods vehicles, the fine will be £2,500—instead of ordering points to be endorsed on a particular driving record. There are already provisions within the law, particularly in those severe cases where it is decided that the matter should be pursued through the courts.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson—I thank her again for her support in this regard—talked about the importance of manufacturers. We are in discussion with mobile phone companies as well as car manufacturers to see how this can be taken forward although this is very much at an early stage. As she may be aware, there is already a set of guiding principles which, when applied during the development of a product, should lead to a design that can be safely used within a vehicle. That is also set out in the European statement of principles on human/machine interface. To further assist manufacturers and those wishing to assess a particular product, the department has also sponsored the development of a checklist that can be used to ensure that each of these principles is considered. I should add at this juncture that the Government would welcome working closely with mobile phone manufacturers and car manufacturers on this matter.
The issue of drive-safe modes was again raised today and several noble Lords made the point that the technology might already exist. It is very much worth pursuing this matter to ensure that it is taken forward where practical applications and adaptations can be made, and we shall undertake further work on that.
My noble friend Lady Pidding spoke about the importance of social media and the THINK! campaign. I assure her that the campaign is focusing on two distinct areas. First, it is communicating the change in legislation to all audiences via radio, outdoor advertising and so on. Secondly, as I said in my opening remarks, the major contributing factor in terms of age groups is the cohort of 17 to 34 year-olds, and younger, so we will adapt and use social media and online video advertising as well. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and my noble friend Lady Chalker mentioned police resourcing and police and crime commissioners. We will work very closely with them on the THINK! campaign. There are various measures in terms of good practices that can and should be shared across the network and in the prioritisation by PCCs, which I have already alluded to.
To finish on the technology issue, which my noble friend Lady O’Cathain also mentioned, there is currently no solution that might prevent a driver using a phone that does not simultaneously deny other occupants in the same vehicle or in nearby vehicles the legitimate use of their phones. However, we are aware that a number of companies have developed a drive-safe mode, and we are open to working with the mobile phone industry to find feasible, practical ways forward. As I am sure my noble friend will agree, one very good failsafe system is the one in which people do not take or use their hand-held mobile phones. People sometimes forget that.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, also raised the issue of banning hands-free phones. In terms of enforcement, it is generally very difficult for the police to see whether someone is in conversation with a person in the car or with someone on the phone using hands-free operation. However, if the person is driving poorly then the issue is one of driving without due care, or perhaps a more serious contravention, and the police will follow that up. I am sure that if the police subsequently discover that the cause might have been distraction by a mobile phone then they will take the appropriate action. However, as we have discussed before, some would argue that there are other distractions in the car, such as loud music which distracts the driver from the sounds outside. The presence of small children in cars—something which I have talked about and experienced directly—also may act as a distraction. All those matters need to be kept under review.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, raised the issue of research and the Institute of Advanced Motorists. We will certainly reflect on its continuing studies and I think that research in this area will continue to evolve.
The noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, raised a number of questions about seat belts and car manufacturers, and about having specific dates by which manufacturers could have this technology deployed. As I have mentioned, we are talking to car manufacturers about how we can ensure that such technology is built in. Researching using technology for this was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, in the debate last week. He asked the DfT to look into some interesting and practical suggestions, and I have asked to see them.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, also talked about how technology in this area has improved and about how further changes can be made. Technology provides a basis for how we can move forward, and I believe that the House broadly supports the action the Government are taking. Some suggest that mobile phones should be banned altogether as well as the distractions can arise from elsewhere. Mobile phones now form a major part of everyone’s life, including most people in your Lordships’ House. I noticed the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, hanging on to his mobile phone very tightly as I mentioned banning. Mobile phones form part and parcel of how we conduct our lives, whether you are slightly older or younger. I have a two year-old who can navigate his way around particular mobile phones and electronic machines perhaps better than I can. Technology needs to work with how law evolves. We need to ensure that technology is adapted in a positive way.
I was intrigued listening to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, talk about his experiences in the cinema. I am sure his goddaughter and, indeed, all of us have probably learned from that experience that if you are watching something in a theatre or a cinema, the light from a mobile phone disturbs, although his escalation procedure may not be the recommended way forward for the DfT. I will ask him afterwards what his actions did for Anglo-French relations, and we shall perhaps return to that at a later stage.
My Lords, a number of us advocated disqualification for a period, and he has not touched on that.
There was a final point on disqualification. I believe I have already touched on it. When someone is caught using their mobile phone and is referred to a court, instead of getting a fixed penalty notice, not only would they get a fine of £1,000—an HGV driver would get a larger fine—but they would also face disqualification. That is in the hands of the justice system and the magistrates’ courts. I hope that that answers my noble friend’s question. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked whether this applies to HGV drivers. Indeed it does. HGV drivers can be pursued through traffic commissioners who regulate HGV and PSV operators.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this important debate. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, talked about experience around the world. Perhaps we do not realise the dramatic nature of the impact until we reflect on the statistics and the information behind deaths on our roads. When that is presented to you, whatever measures we take—what we are doing today or other measures—to mitigate those deaths reflects poignantly on the work of those who ensured that seat belts were fitted into cars. We owe it to all those on our roads and to families who have been impacted by those killed on our roads due to accidents often caused by people who use a hand-held mobile phone, send that text or check that social media tweet or Facebook update on the basis that it is only a second’s distraction. Recent tragic events on our roads have reflected that that one second of distraction can lead to a lifetime of loss for a family. I hope that in answering most, if not all, of the questions on the statutory instrument we can move forward in a practical way.