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House of Lords Hansard
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23 July 2019
Volume 799

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to include road safety targets for England as part of their road safety statement.

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My Lords, there is no robust academic evidence to indicate that the setting of targets would contribute to progress in road casualty reduction. As announced in the road safety statement published last Friday, the department will be conducting research into the efficacy of targets. However, local authorities, the police and other bodies are free to set their own targets, should they wish.

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My Lords, I declare an interest as a deputy president of RoSPA. I thank the Minister for her reply and welcome the Department for Transport’s road safety statement released last week. However, it is extremely disappointing that in an otherwise positive and constructive policy the Government failed to commit to safety targets for England. There were over 170,000 road traffic casualties in the UK in 2017, 1,793 of them fatal. Our road safety improvement trend stagnates, while the best in Europe—countries such as Norway, Ireland and even our own Scotland—all use targets and are seeing continuing improvement. Do not the Government agree that the case for the implementation of targets for England has already been comprehensively made?

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The Government do not agree that the case has comprehensively been made. However, as I have already stated, we will be conducting research into this area and will consider the results. I thank the noble Lord for his welcome of the road safety statement. It is fine work and will see us through the next two years, with numerous action plans for our four key user groups.

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My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Government’s decision to take another look at the proposal for graduated driving licences, which was dropped some time ago, is welcome, as is the proposal for eyesight tests for more senior drivers? Both are welcome and are likely to lead to an improvement in road safety.

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My noble friend has mentioned two of our key user groups for the road safety statement, the first being young road users. We will look at and research both a graduated learner scheme, which is the period up to when people pass their test, and then graduated driver licensing, which will consider driving at night and whether young users can carry passengers. We are also looking at eye tests, which would be free for older road users.

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My Lords, part of the remit of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch is to improve air safety by making use of lessons learned from air accident investigations. There are similar remits for bodies that deal with marine and rail accidents. Given the need to reduce road accidents, it seems odd that we have no national road accidents investigation branch. Given that many other countries do, can the Minister explain why we do not?

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I thank the noble Lord for that question. Indeed, it was my pleasure to visit the AAIB last Friday and it truly is a world leader in air accident investigation. Turning to road accident investigation, there are many things that the Government are doing. For example, we have committed £480,000 to road collision investigation work which is being undertaken by the RAC Foundation. This will look at the causation of accidents, which has changed significantly in recent years, and it will provide insights on investigations but also interventions.

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My Lords, we have an Office of Rail and Road and it is responsible for rail safety. Seven passengers died on the railways last year, compared with 1,770 people who died on the roads, as my noble friend has said. Is it not time that the Government extended the remit of the ORR to cover road safety?

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The Government are not minded to do that at the current time. We believe that the current system is working well. There have been improvements in road safety. The UK is the second best in the EU in terms of road safety. We have done well. Fatalities have fallen by 39% in 10 years, but I recognise that there is more to be done and that is why we have done this road safety statement.

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What commitment are the Government giving to lowering the drink-driving limit, particularly when drugs are also involved, given that alcohol is thought to be involved in one in eight road deaths?

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The noble Baroness will be aware that in Scotland they recently reduced the limits for drink-driving and a review by the University of Glasgow showed that there was no evidence that reducing that limit had contributed to a reduction in road deaths. However, the Government are aware that some people, for example, are repeat drink-driving offenders and we have now put in place the facility where such people have to medically prove that they are not alcohol-dependent before they get their licence back.

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I am sure my noble friend is aware that a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease has to be notified by law to the DVLA. When the DVLA receives that information, it then makes medical inquiries. Is my noble friend aware that that would give only a medical opinion? It would not necessarily give any indication as to how safe that person is on the road and it is very difficult for relatives and friends to have input into that consideration.

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I am very interested in what my noble friend has to say and if she has any more information on certain cases I would be happy to look at it. I know that the DVLA looks at its policies, processes and procedures with regard to licence renewal, and it is up to the applicant to make sure that they notify the DVLA if they have a medical condition or if their eyesight has deteriorated.

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My Lords, I just wonder, looking at my noble friend’s Question, are we talking about the United Kingdom? Are we talking only about England? Are we talking about Wales? Are we talking about Scotland? Are we looking for common unity on this issue?

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Matters relating to road safety are substantially devolved. However, I have some statistics here which the noble Lord might be interested in. The number of fatalities in the UK per unit of measurement is 28. Of the four home nations it is highest in Northern Ireland, where that goes up to 37, then Scotland at 35, Wales at 33 and England at 27. I hope that there is work going on between the countries. England is currently leading the way, but I would certainly welcome some developments in other nations.

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My Lords, would it not be more sensible to incorporate night driving into the learning period for driving and possibly include it in the test so that learners learn how to drive at night rather than just limit drivers after they have passed their test and are not with a trained instructor?

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We are looking at all the things we might potentially include in the graduated learner scheme. At the moment we are leaning towards minimum learning periods and elements such as that, with night driving later on. However, we are also very conscious that that might have detrimental social and economic impacts on those who have already passed their test.