Motion to Take Note
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Robertson, and at his request, I shall move this Motion. For understandable reasons, in the present circumstances my noble friend Lord Robertson has decided not to travel down from Scotland, and I have therefore been asked to introduce this debate. My noble friend apologises to the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, in the chair, that he did not receive that information.
My noble friend Lord Robertson is the chair of the FIA Foundation. It is the second-largest global charitable funder for road safety in the world, following Bloomberg Philanthropies. He would obviously have intended to focus on the global situation and the SDG target, and most of what I say at the beginning of my remarks will be focused on that.
Clearly coronavirus is foremost in everybody’s minds at the moment, and it may seem a bit odd that we are devoting parliamentary time now to road safety, but the two are, to a degree, connected. Think about how many intensive care wards, hospital beds and ambulances will be needed to cope with coronavirus and then think about how we are squandering vital health resources around the world on entirely preventable road traffic accidents. There are five deaths every day in the UK and more than 60 serious injuries. Globally, more than 1.3 million people die in road crashes each year, and at least 10 million people are seriously injured. Some 250,000 children and teenagers will be killed by adults driving vehicles this year. That is the world’s number one cause of death among young people. It is therefore important that there is a sustainable development goal target dedicated to reducing traffic deaths and injuries.
There was a meeting in Stockholm last month involving Ministers and officials from 140 countries to approve the Stockholm declaration, an action plan for halving traffic deaths worldwide by 2030. I intended to go, but I was unable to do so in the end. I thank the Minister—or the Minister’s colleague—for attending that conference.
Many of the measures in the action plan are familiar. They are familiar in this country and around the world, but the problem is that, although we have managed to reduce road accidents in this country over the past 50 years from around 8,000 to below 1,800 by 2010, things that we have done here have not been adopted worldwide, such as seat belts, safety vehicles, road design, improved braking systems and, above all, speed management. In low and middle-income countries, which have the biggest problems here—90% of casualties occur in those countries—those relatively low-hanging fruits remain to be plucked. Too few people in those countries are wearing safety helmets on motorbikes, too many new high-speed roads are being built without safety precautions, sidewalks or protection for pedestrians, and too many world auto makers are still willing to produce and sell in those countries new vehicles without crumple zones or even basic safety technology.
This is beginning to change, and the UK has been involved in trying to change it. The FIA Foundation has also helped spread the message around the world. UK-based charities have led much of the specialist action on traffic safety. The international road assessment programme is now working with the World Bank and highways authorities in more than 100 countries. Another UK charity, the Global New Car Assessment Programme, is crash-testing popular family cars in Latin America, India and South Africa and publishing the results so that it identifies and shames poor-performing car makers. It praises well-designed vehicles and by doing so boosts consumers’ demand for safety in their cars.
Our expertise is being deployed to help meet that world aim. There was a time when the Department for International Development did not include much about road safety in its grant aid programme, but it is now providing much-needed support to the World Bank’s global road safety facilities and, together with the Department of Health and Social Care, is funding a world-leading road safety research programme. The Department for Transport was also involved in important international conferences last year.
Yet, despite these welcome interventions here in the UK, we should do much more. On funding, the UK should join and support the UN Road Safety Fund, which urgently needs new donors and technical assistance. Currently, bilateral donors include France, Russia and the European Commission. We should join them. There are plenty of schemes to be met: the last call for proposals outstripped the actual money available fifteenfold. We also need to build safety and effectiveness into western and multilateral donors, including DfID, which historically has actually helped to fund unsafe roads without a serious safety element being incorporated.
The recent inclusion of road safety in the World Bank programme is an important development. We need stronger global health governance and co-operation to ensure that road safety is treated as a serious cause of ill health, particularly among young people around the world. We need to approach road travel as a safe system, so that roads, drivers, enforcement and protection of non-vehicle road users are part of a total system. Because mistakes are inevitable, we also need to prevent collisions causing harm and to empower recovery, rescue and hospitalisation to be more effective.
These issues apply around the world. The countries that are most subject to large-scale road safety problems are the poorer and the younger countries of the world. But we should not ignore the fact that we have problems in this country. In the last 10 years, the very welcome reductions of the preceding 20 years have largely stalled for deaths and, to some extent, serious injuries. I hesitate to advance this theory, but for the preceding 20 years, up until 2010, a clear and overarching road safety strategy was adopted by successive Governments. In 1990, the then Road Safety Minister, Peter Bottomley, launched a 10-year programme and, since 2000, we have seen a major reduction in casualties. I hesitate to mention the Road Safety Minister in 2000, but we too launched a 10-year programme at that point, which saw a very significant reduction until 2010.
Much more was still to be done, and the absence of an overarching strategy since 2010 has, whether causally related or not, coincided with the fact that the reduction of casualties here has stalled. There has been some serious progress even so. For example, Highways England’s decision to star rate the inbuilt infrastructure safety of all of its roads is a very important development. Indeed, it is another example of a British institution taking on a three-star rating so that 100 countries in the world have seen their networks based on that new star rating. That was adopted by iRAP with the support of the FIA Foundation, and my organisation, the Road Safety Foundation, continues to deliver many of its benefits. Incidentally, each star gained represents a halving of the rate of death and serious injury.
About 60% of the deaths in Britain are concentrated on targetable motorways and A roads. The DfT trialled a new approach on the 50 most recent local authority roads, as measured by the Road Safety Foundation. The results proved that, within nine months, it was possible to bring forward 50 schemes on the worst roads and train 30 local authorities—through the Road Safety Foundation—in a new, systematic approach to measuring and reducing risk on those roads. A £100 million portfolio of investment was given by the Government, and the return on that was a benefit-cost ratio of 4.4. It was a good initiative by this Government, but that funding is now uncertain. It needs to be continued and new schemes need to be applied to the remaining strategic unsafe roads.
Many other things need to be done. There are issues relating to safety in vehicles. Cars are now designed to make collisions at 40 miles an hour survivable for occupants. Roads are designed, or speeds are reduced, to make head-on or side-on crashes above 40 miles an hour impossible. A pedestrian’s likelihood of dying increases exponentially above 20 miles an hour, so the new emphasis on traffic speeds, particularly in our urban areas, to below 20 miles an hour, is very important. It is not rocket science. This is, perhaps, an epidemic for which we do have the vaccines, which are—given the funding and the priority—relatively easy to introduce.
Does the Minister agree that it is time for the Department for Transport to revisit the issue of a longer-term strategic plan? I know that in 2018, the DfT commissioned a study to look at road safety management capability in this country and produced a detailed report. It called, among other things, for a clearer strategy and clearer cohesion across departments for delivering road safety targets. Can the Minister tell us what has happened to that report and whether we can anticipate another, more coherent road safety strategy when the present crisis and focus of government changes?
Many other new things are happening. We are on the verge of semi-autonomous and autonomous cars. As the owner of a relatively new car, I find it quite difficult to manage the head-up display and the electronic distraction right in front of you. The Institute for Advanced Management sent me a note saying that part of its research into in-car entertainment showed a distraction of 16 seconds, which at 70 miles an hour is a five or six-car distance distraction for the driver. That brings its own problems. So, technology that improves driving the car and the comfort of the passengers can be distracting and therefore dangerous to everybody, including the passengers. I specifically ask the Minister whether he has any comments on that research. The way in which car design and differentiation between models is going, what is on your dashboard is used as a selling point.
With those remarks, and particularly the focus that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, would want to see on the international situation and Britain’s role in that, I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I should really congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, on securing this important debate, but certainly the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, deserves to be congratulated on introducing it in such an exemplary fashion.
The background to this debate is the UK’s progress towards meeting the UN’s sustainable development goal 3, in particular target 3.6: halving global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents by 2020.
The Secretary-General’s report to the ministerial meeting of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, convened under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council on 8 May 2019, makes clear that road traffic injury is the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged between five and 29. The number of road traffic deaths globally climbed from 1.31 million in 2013 to 1.35 million in 2016. Against this background, how is the UK faring? The answer seems to be not too badly. Between 2010 and 2019, deaths remained pretty constant, increasing from 1,857 to 1,870 a year, but mainly hovering around the 1,700s. Injuries, on the other hand, declined fairly consistently, from 206,798 in 2010 to 157,630 in 2019, with a slight blip in 2014, when the figure rose from 181,957 the previous year to 194,477.
Could we do even better? How effective is the Government’s current approach to road safety? One factor of particular interest to me is that the Association of Optometrists thinks that the current rules on drivers’ vision are too weak. Poor vision causes many road accidents. We do not know exactly how many, because accidents can be caused by a combination of factors, including tiredness and distraction, as well as poor vision, and there is no requirement for a driver’s vision to be checked when an accident occurs. In 2017, there were two fatal accidents and 52 serious accidents where uncorrected defective eyesight was recorded as a contributing factor, but a 2012 study estimated that over 2,000 drivers in the UK were involved in accidents due to poor eyesight, causing nearly 3,000 casualties.
Currently, a driver’s vision is checked during their driving test by getting them to read a number plate at a distance of 20 metres. However, many drivers are never again required to have a vision test. Furthermore, the current system relies on self-reporting. If a driver has an eye condition, they must report it to the DVLA and be tested to check that they are safe to drive. Once a driver reaches the age of 70, they must complete a self-declaration to confirm that they are fit to drive, which includes confirming that their vision meets the legal standard, but they are not required to provide any evidence of this.
This system is problematic for many reasons. First, the number plate test is not necessarily a reliable indicator of whether someone can drive safely, because it does not check all the relevant aspects of visual function. Someone may pass the number plate test without having good enough vision to drive safely, and the result of the test cannot be checked in a test environment with consistent results. The number plate test should be replaced with a modern, scientific and reliable evaluation process.
Secondly, some eye conditions can be asymptomatic in their early stages, so drivers may not realise that they have a problem. For example, it is possible for someone with glaucoma to lose up to 40% of their vision without noticing. Therefore, they may continue to drive even though their reduced vision puts them and other road users at risk. We also know that some drivers will continue to drive even when they know that their vision is below the legal standard. In 2017, the Association of Optometrists carried out a survey of its members which found that one in three optometrists had in the last month seen someone with vision below the legal standard but who continued to drive.
There have been several high-profile and tragic examples of where drivers have known that their vision is below the legal standard and continued to drive anyway. Poppy-Arabella Clarke was just three years old when she was tragically killed by a 72 year-old who drove through a red light at a pedestrian crossing, which he later told the police he did not see. David Evans, aged 49, was killed by a 50 year-old driver whose vision was below the legal standard and who was fully aware of his vision problems. Natalie Wade, aged 28, was out shopping for her wedding dress when she was killed by a 78 year-old driver with vision below the legal standard. Ambrose Skingle, aged 86, was killed by an 87 year-old driver who lied to the DVLA about his sight problems to obtain his licence.
In 2011, 16 year-old Cassie McCord was killed by a driver with defective eyesight. The driver, who was 87, had been stopped by the police three days earlier and, after failing a roadside vision check, was told to hand over his licence. The driver refused and the police were powerless to do anything about it. Cassie’s mother campaigned for the police to have stronger powers, and “Cassie’s law” was introduced in 2013, enabling police officers to revoke a driver’s licence immediately if they believe that the driver represents a risk to themselves and other road users.
Are there any areas where the Government’s current approach to road safety could be improved? For reasons such as those I have outlined, the Association of Optometrists believes that the current rules on driving and vision are too weak:
“All drivers should be made aware of the importance of good eye sight as an aspect of road safety and encouraged to have regular sight tests, at least every two years. As a fall-back, all drivers should be legally required to have their vision checked when they first apply for a licence, and when renewing their driving licence—every ten years for most people, and every three years for those over 70. That check should involve standardised reliable tests, rather than the inadequate number plate test.”
How can interventions to reduce the number and severity of road traffic accidents best be implemented? As I have said, the current number plate test should be replaced by a modern and reliable evaluation process to check drivers’ vision. This check should be made compulsory when a driver first obtains their driving licence, then every 10 years when they renew their licence, and every three years once they reach the age of 70. I know that the Association of Optometrists would be happy to work with the Government to help implement these changes and take them forward.
My Lords, I will declare my voluntary interests before beginning my remarks. I had the honour of serving as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy for Turkmenistan and Iraq, both of which I will mention in my remarks. I also chair the AMAR international charitable foundation, whose example I will reference.
The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, requested this debate. We honour him for that request despite the fact that he is not in his normal seat, and we thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for putting it in front of your Lordships’ House. I wonder whether the experiences of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, as Secretary-General of NATO might have heightened his awareness of road safety issues in both military and civilian contexts. Nine years after his retirement, he clearly celebrates the 2015 sustainable development goals, including the one for road safety, the one that we are debating today, which is identified as number 3.6.
My own concern for road safety came from my experiences with the military, in Iraq, in this case, accepting the kind hospitality at Camp Victory offered by US General Chiarelli and subsequently by General Joe Anderson and General Odierno over a five-year period. When going out in on patrol in Baghdad with their soldiers, I consistently read the notice in the military vehicles stating, “Wear your seat belts. We have more deaths from traffic accidents than we do from enemy action”. I found that very hard to believe and I questioned it, but of course they were absolutely right.
Five years in Baghdad and other missions with the US military elsewhere taught me a lesson that road safety is not an add-on to personal and family health; it is an integral component of human health, life and safety. I welcome the adoption by the United Nations of the SDGs, including target 3.6 regarding road traffic accidents. For some years earlier, in my capacity as chairman of the AMAR international charitable foundation, I partnered with Shell to tackle road safety issues and the injuries and deaths of mothers and children in Maysan province in Iraq. The province is in the south of the country and has a huge oil field called al-Majnoon, meaning, “My God, what have we got here?” It is one of the biggest oil reserves in the world, and when they discovered it, that is what they named it. It has a wide population of marsh people around it.
Shell entered into a partnership with the AMAR Foundation in order to have a look at these issues. I will say that the local population were very unbriefed indeed, and it was a pleasure to be able to work with them. We did a pilot in 2013 with 1,654 pupils. We expanded it to 72 schools and 136 teachers in the autumn of 2014. From May to December 2013 we extended it to April 2014, at no cost to Shell. The total value of the Shell project was $179,000. Within that, the core part was $42,000 plus $40,000 to produce the teaching materials for the local people and the training of trainers, with a field budget of $106,000.
What did we do with that money, and why was it effective? At the heart of it lay the use of women. In that sense, that is a very successful way of working in any case. We trained volunteer women to assist on the Iraqi family road safety education project. During one quarter alone, the 24 women safety volunteers in al-Nashwa and the 40 in al-Dair made a total of, and I quote correctly, 9,315 education visits to families in the community, reaching an average of 8,482 beneficiaries educated every month. Quarterly refresher training was provided both in al-Nashwa to the WSVs on 8 June that year and in al-Dair. The 40 women safety volunteers and four supervisors were divided into two groups, owing to their large size.
Part of my comments today will refer to modelling and looking at the ways in which achievements can happen. In this project, participant understanding of the training was evaluated through pre and post testing. Health staff from the AMAR clinics locally, also funded by Shell, provided road safety education to a total of 3,831 patients during that quarter, an average of 1,271 people a month.
During the quarter, a total of 226 road traffic accidents were recorded by health staff, representing a decrease from the 424 incidents and accidents reported in the previous quarter. Quarterly refresher training was provided; road safety education was delivered by the staff in the primary health centres; and the targeting of children in the schools was another outreach programme. For example, with children, a team worked hard to compose with the relevant local education department a teacher-training booklet, cards with photographs, messages and the children’s stories and songs, and this was piloted in a dozen or more schools.
I raise these details because, as the noble Lord stated, the Department for International Development has spent a very large sum of money indeed over that same period of time—£9.8 million—and now there is another surge of funding to support more research programmes.
Shell has high sensitivity to the health of populations local to the oil and gas fields where it works. Indeed, it is the principal extractor in large parts of the globe. Given the experience I have had with Shell, I very much welcome its approach to local populations. It is, as far as I am aware, the only major oil and gas institution with its own medical personnel in headquarters as permanent staff. I cannot help but compare that with the use of the funding that DfID has put into the global budget of the Global Road Safety Facility, all of which appears to have gone on research. So I seek to persuade the Minister to continue to think globally—that is essential—but also perhaps to consider acting locally. It is the people themselves who are suffering the road incidents and if they have no knowledge they will not be able to benefit from their Governments’ efforts.
Indeed, the development goals certainly highlight the need for road safety development in developing nations. There this will mean new roads and new vehicles of all types and kinds. These will be novel to the local population. They will offer huge risks to life and limb: incoming foreigners, poor road behaviour by everyone, unnecessary permanent injuries, and a lack of education on these issues.
I wonder, therefore, whether, looking at lessons learned, as we do, we should be discussing size. I suggest that given today’s more difficult environment the days of big—indeed, vast—unmonitored grants are and should be past. The trusted organisations have let us down: Oxfam and prostitution; Save the Children, where I used to be a director, employing known sexual offenders; and UNICEF claims of expenditure contradicted by knowledge on the ground—information I have already given to DfID. The evidence is contradicting the reality. Perhaps we should start to remember that small is beautiful, and although small needs monitoring, is it not better to have definitive outcomes for a number of people than global goals which, wonderful though they are, do not seem to give us the outcomes that the people themselves will achieve? It does not happen, of course, with UN grants either.
The population and local governments of the north of Iraq—I am moving my geography—have to cope with 3.8 million refugees and IDPs who have been hastily sheltered since 2013. There are Yazidis, Christians, Syrians and Muslims, none of whom believe that the UK Government have given them anything at all. Yet both I and the Minister know that we have provided one of the largest sets of grants ever known to the north of Iraq in order to assist the KRG and the Iraqi Government in Baghdad to look after that enormous influx of refugees.
However, because the funds are spent by the UN, they are not noted as being funds coming from any individual Government. The reasons are understandable, but it means that the local people of the north of Iraq believe that Britain has betrayed and deserted them by giving them nothing at all, even though that is the exact opposite of what we have done. However often I explain that to the local population and to the governments in question, both regional and national, when I visit them, the message does not get through. As I say, that is understandable, because the money is invisible to the local population and their governments. This is not necessary, because the German Government, who I am sure are just as stringent or more about their expenditure as we are, are well known for the funding they provide. Perhaps we should think about how UK taxpayers’ money needs not only more careful husbandry through monitoring—which the large grants do not get, of course—but a change of values. Perhaps we should change them from high expenditure on unmonitored international NGO projects to having our normal British respect for low-cost, high-value, well-monitored development expenditure where the overriding goal is the people’s development—the development not of the spender but of the recipients. By realigning our development expenditure with UK foreign policy and human rights, we could again offer expenditure with a British face.
Our large grants have been absolutely wonderful, but is now not the moment to rethink the way we spend our money? I have no doubt at all that the world needs Britain. We are the most successful, multiracial, best co-ordinated and outward-looking nation in the world and our charitableness is immense. The examples I have just given are offered as a model that might be capable of being copied a million times over for a minuscule amount of money. Engaging with Shell and other major global businesses in Britain is another way of doing this. I would be happy to discuss new ways of using our funding with the Minister whenever that will be possible.
Perhaps I may say again what a pleasure it is to contribute to this debate and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and his alter ego, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for this opportunity.
My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, on his speech. I welcome the fact that reducing road traffic casualties is enshrined in the United Nations sustainable development goals and targets, but it is disappointing that so little progress has been made. Globally, road traffic crashes are the eighth leading cause of death for people of all ages, and they are the leading cause of death for children and young adults. Approximately 1.35 million people are killed on the world’s roads each year, while roughly 50 million people are injured. Some 90% of these accidents occur in low and middle-income countries, even though those countries are home to only 54% of the world’s vehicles. The average cost of all this is 3% of GDP. At a time when we are becoming all too familiar with pandemic death rates, road accidents are indeed the neglected pandemic.
Some of the poorest countries are home to the worst statistics. Anyone who visits many African countries, for instance, cannot fail to be shocked by the intensity of the traffic and the lack of basic safety measures. These countries also lack robust health services or systems of support for those unable to work, which simply magnifies the impact on families where one member is injured in a traffic accident.
There are some international initiatives to help these countries improve their road safety, but as yet they have made little headway. The UK recently participated in the third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety and new targets were agreed. The World Bank hosts the Global Road Safety Facility, and the UK has committed £9.8 million between 2013 and 2021. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us whether the Government have committed funding for any other international schemes. Although I welcome the £9.8 million, it is a paltry sum.
All these statistics ignore the other unseen killer that is a product of our road transport, and that is emissions—both carbon dioxide, which creates climate change, and nitrogen dioxide, which contributes to more than one in 19 deaths in our largest cities and towns here in the UK. If it is bad here, it is even worse in poorer countries, where the vehicles are often older and therefore more polluting and large numbers of people live in close proximity to busy roads.
This debate refers specifically to our own progress here in the UK in reducing death rates on our roads. I am pretty sure that, when the Minister responds, he will refer to our relatively safe roads. Our road accident statistics—1,784 in 2018—compare well with many other countries’, yet progress on reducing the number of fatalities has stalled.
For the rest of my time today, I will simply pick on a number of separate but clear issues that lie behind those figures and can be quite easily addressed. We have seen a major increase in traffic in the UK in recent years. We have also seen significant advances in vehicle technology, which should make them safer, yet in many respects our approach to road safety has not kept pace with modern facilities or challenges.
Pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists have significantly higher casualty rates per mile travelled than those travelling in cars or buses. I commend to the Minister research undertaken at Nottingham University, which has highlighted that one of the most common forms of fatal crash is when a car pulls out in front of an oncoming bike or motorbike. They are called LBFTSs—looked but failed to see. The evidence is that when a lot of traffic is on the road, drivers often fail to remember all they have seen and simply forget bikes and motorbikes most easily. All this suggests the need for a road safety campaign to encourage drivers to reinforce their visual memory by literally thinking bike and saying “Bike”. We all remember from our childhood the “Look right, look left, look right again” and “Stop, look, listen” campaigns. Those things are simple but memorable and lifetime effective.
The group of car drivers most likely to have a fatal accident are the newest and youngest. Those aged 17 to 24 make up only 7% of full licence holders but equate to 16% of road deaths, even though on average their mileage is lower. Some 15% of the deaths of young people occur in road traffic collisions. In 2017, 313 people were killed in crashes involving young drivers; 108 of them were the drivers themselves, 55 were their passengers and 150 were other road users.
Other than introducing the theory paper, the driving test today still looks remarkably like the one I took when I was 17. I suggest that that is ridiculous. For a number of years there have been calls for a graduated driving licence. One in five new drivers crashes their car in the first year. There are a number of limitations that could be placed on new drivers so that they can gradually build up to full permission to drive at any time of day on all roads and with passengers. I was pleased to see that the Government committed to considering this last year, and I hope that the Minister can update us today. Wherever GDLs have been introduced, from California to New Zealand, death and accident rates have fallen.
However, those of us who are older can also cause problems. The World Health Organization says that poor eyesight is a key risk factor in road crashes, and approximately 3,000 casualties a year in the UK can be attributed to the driver having poor vision. The noble Lord, Lord Low, addressed this issue in considerable detail, and I congratulate him on his speech. I reiterate that the problem is that there is no structured approach to testing for adequate vision. People can lose up to 40% of their vision without even being aware that they are losing it. Although there are minimum eyesight standards, the responsibility lies with us as drivers. Once you have your licence, you are unlikely to be tested again for a very long time, if ever. Doctors and police can of course intervene and report you, but the process is pretty haphazard. We all know that eyesight declines with age, and a requirement for a simple and regular test is surely a fairly modest one.
On seat belts, there have been increasingly precise requirements since the 1970s, so you would think that the case has been made. Yet the statistics show that passengers, as opposed to drivers, are particularly cavalier about this. In 2017, 27% of car occupant fatalities were of people not wearing their seat belt. That statistic should be advertised a lot more frequently. I am pleased to see that the Government are considering imposing penalty points on those who flout the law on this. There is a steady stream of prosecutions in our courts—over 6,000 in 2018—and they achieve a high level of convictions. The figures show a stark picture. I would be careful in how I say this but the picture is stark: it is overwhelmingly a male problem. One in 10 of those prosecuted is female, and the rest—I lead your Lordships to conclude—are therefore male.
Finally, recent research from the Institute of Advanced Motorists demonstrates the dangers associated with in-car entertainment systems. We are all familiar with the dangers of texting or using our mobile phone while driving—although you can still see people doing it quite commonly—but driver distraction is still a factor in about one-third of road collisions in Europe. The IAM research showed that drivers interacting with in-car systems such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay increase their stopping distance by four to five car lengths. That is a considerable increase. I say to the Minister that we investigate air and rail accidents and have bodies to do that and to draw strategic conclusions on safety. I suggest to the Minister that we need a body to look at road accidents as well.
History has shown us that, where the law changes, social acceptance rapidly follows—for example, on drink driving—so I encourage the Government to embrace the need for change.
My Lords, I express my thanks to my noble friend Lord Robertson of Port Ellen for securing this debate and express regret that the current health crisis has precluded him from being here today. As my noble friend Lord Whitty said, much of his speech in opening the debate in the name of my noble friend Lord Robertson included the points and thrust of the case that the noble Lord would have made. In reality then, we have not been denied either the opportunity to hear the views of my noble friend Lord Robertson or to be made aware of the considerable and effective work that he has undertaken and is undertaking to promote road safety globally.
The sustainable development goals consist of 17 global goals covering ambitious aims such as ending hunger, poverty and inequality. They also include good health and well-being, and target 3.6 concerns road deaths and injuries. The sustainable development goals were agreed to by all 193 UN member states in 2015, with the target of achieving them by 2030. However, target 3.6 was an exception, since it provided for halving the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents by 2020, not 2030. At the end of 2018, the World Health Organization published a report assessing progress made in improving road safety globally and concluded that the sustainable development goal target 3.6 to halve road traffic deaths by 2020 would not be met. Participants at the third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety in February called for a new target to replace target 3.6—namely, that there should now be a reduction in road traffic deaths by at least 50% from 2020 to 2030.
The SDGs replaced the millennium development goals, which had guided international development work over the period from 2000 to 2015. A key difference in the introduction of the SDG agenda was that the goals became universal, meaning that all countries, including the wealthiest nations, are required to meet them. We are therefore committed and obliged to meet these goals domestically as well as to support other countries to do the same through our international development work; hence the relevance of my noble friend Lord Whitty’s support for the Government’s work to support other countries in the field of road safety, but also his pleas for further substantial action—some of which he spelled out in specific terms—to which the Government will no doubt give their response when the Minister replies to the debate.
As I understand it, though I may well be wrong, all government departments are meant to have embedded the sustainable development goals into their single departmental plans and to have nominated an SDG champion at director level whose responsibility it is to promote the sustainable development goals in their department. If I am right, can the Government say who that person is within the Department for Transport, when they were appointed to that role and the extent to which their role as SDG champion at director level is their sole activity to which they can give their undivided attention, as opposed to being one of a number of responsibilities that they undertake?
As has already been said, road traffic accidents globally are the eighth leading cause of death for people of all ages and is the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged five to 29 years. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of road deaths globally increased, reaching 1.35 million in 2016. Over those years, the number ran at approximately 18 deaths per 100,000 people.
Approximately 50 million people are injured globally each year, some 10 million seriously. Once again, as has been said, road traffic deaths and injuries cost countries 3% of their GDP, on average. However, 90% of road traffic deaths occur in low and middle-income countries, yet these countries have only 54% of the world’s vehicles. That indicates where supported action is most needed, as my noble friend Lord Whitty highlighted in his speech.
For better or worse, I was recently in Vietnam. To someone used to driving, walking or cycling on the roads in this country the bustling city of Saigon, not dissimilar in population to London, is—to say the least of it—a completely different experience. Scooters dominate the traffic scene. Far from all significant traffic junctions are controlled by traffic lights and the number of cars, a number of them four-wheel-drive SUVs or vehicles of similar size, is increasing. Those increasing numbers of cars and large numbers of scooters are not necessarily the ideal partners when it comes to using crowded, congested city roads, where traffic regulation appears at times somewhat limited. That of course has implications for pedestrians, too.
Road safety, particularly for younger people and their parents, is apparently becoming a major source of concern in Saigon. A first new metro or subway line of some 20 kilometres is under construction in Saigon, with Japanese finance. Some there predict that it will remove a significant percentage of scooter journeys from the roads, when opened, since it will provide a much faster and safer route for many going to and from the city centre, not least commuters. It remains to be seen whether that proves to be the case but if it does, it should make a contribution to improving road safety. It also highlights that providing finance or expertise for public transport schemes, as opposed to direct investment in making roads or vehicles safer, can also impact favourably on road safety.
A further factor in determining the impact of road accidents on deaths and injuries is the quality, or otherwise, of medical care. As has been said, in those countries with a high incidence of accidents the medical facilities are not always to the highest standards or not so easily accessible to all, or both. Help in that area can also impact in a positive way on road safety.
My noble friend Lord Whitty referred to the importance of the design and construction of vehicles in reducing road deaths and injuries. He also referred to controlling the speed of vehicles in locations where they and pedestrians are alongside each other, since the speed at which a pedestrian or cyclist is hit by a vehicle determines the severity of the outcome of the incident. I have seen, as others no doubt have, projects not that far from where we are now that have revitalised residential streets and shopping areas, simply by either significantly reducing vehicle speeds and access or pedestrianising the location completely. Instead of parents with young children walking along roads that have heavy and potentially fast vehicle usage, while holding on to their offspring firmly and closely, you see a totally different atmosphere: a more relaxed and happier one, where parents no longer feel obliged to hold their children firmly in check. They no longer feel that their children are in imminent danger of being knocked down. This not only returns streets to the communities who reside or shop in them but makes a contribution to improving road safety.
I referred earlier to the size of cars in the context of Saigon. There is also an increasing prevalence and usage on our roads of SUVs and similar larger vehicles, a development which appears to have happened quite rapidly and is, presumably, continuing. What contribution is that increase making to road safety in this country, and to the sustainable development goal of a healthy and safe environment? I fear that it may be negative, if the miles driven per litre of fuel is less than for a smaller car. On a similar-speed basis, presumably the adverse impact on a pedestrian or cyclist of being hit by one of these vehicles is greater. If figures or other information on this aspect are available, perhaps the Minister could write to me with the details.
Like my noble friend Lord Whitty, I will listen to the Government’s response to his plea for more government support for road safety improvement initiatives and organisations working in this field in other countries, where such support can have a significant and marked impact.
I was struck, though not entirely surprised, by one comment made to me in Vietnam. The thrust of it was that a few years ago the individual making the comment would have wanted, if he could, to leave his country and seek a better life elsewhere. He said that things had now improved, at least for him. He felt that the country had a future and he wanted to stay to be part of it. I do not wish to suggest that supporting projects to improve road safety is the difference between individuals wanting to stay in their country and wanting to leave, but it is one of a great many issues that impact on the quality and enjoyment of life. I have never understood the approach of those who seem to begrudge every penny of what we as a nation spend on supporting improvement projects in less-developed countries, since the same people are often the most vociferous in their concerns over levels of migration into our country. One way to reduce migration worldwide is to seek to reduce people’s desire to become economic migrants from their own countries through the developed world, including our own country, providing the financial and practical resources to help to improve the standard and quality of life in those countries, so that the number of those seeking to leave, who are often those whom such countries need most to remain, diminishes.
I once again thank my noble friend Lord Whitty for his powerful contribution. I also thank my noble friend Lord Robertson of Port Ellen for the considerable work he has done and continues to do in the specific area of road safety initiatives and improvements worldwide. I hope that the Government will be able to give a not just sympathetic but positive response to the case for more support worldwide made by my noble friend Lord Whitty. I also hope that the Government will respond to the points made by my noble friend Lord Whitty and others, including on a longer-term strategic plan relating to road safety targets for this country, continuing finance to target the most dangerous roads for action, the stalling in the fall of the rate of fatalities, and the potential implications of ever-more sophisticated dashboard technology acting as a distraction for drivers and slowing down reaction times.
My Lords, I believe that I am the second member of the Government Front Bench to attempt to translate themselves into a lookalike of my noble friend Lady Vere this afternoon. I fear that I have not been too successful, but I am very sorry that she is not in her place. I thank all who have participated in the debate. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for standing in so ably for the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, whom we miss.
Much has been done to improve road safety in the UK. I noted the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, on the statistics that he raised about improving road safety since 2000. He was very modest, but I believe that he should be applauded for the work he has done in that respect. Since 2010, the UK has reduced reported road fatalities by 3%, compared with a 11% rise in North America and a 21% reduction in EU and EFTA countries. The rest of the UNECE countries had a combined average reduction of 15% over the same period.
However, as the House will agree, so much more needs to be done, and 2020 marks the start of the decade of action to accelerate progress towards the sustainable development goals. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, there are still 1.35 million deaths a year on roads throughout the world, which is unacceptable. That is why the UK is committed to improving road safety domestically and internationally, but this must be done effectively. We should approach road safety on a number of different fronts. It is essential that we focus on education, enforcement and empathy in all that we do.
On our approach to action domestically, as noble Lords will be aware, the UK published a road safety statement last year, which focuses on cutting crashes among key groups of road users. It is a two-year action plan, targeting four of the most at-risk categories: young people, rural road users, motorcyclists, and older vulnerable users. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, put it very well when she mentioned LBFTSs. That has to be at the top of the list of issues to address.
Underpinning this work is a single principle: that of making our roads safer for all. This is exemplified by the safe-system approach that we launched in 2015. The heart of this approach is the understanding that humans are both fragile and fallible, so when mistakes happen, cars and roads should be designed to forgive, while road users should be given the best possible training to avoid crashes happening at all. This will take some time to achieve. I was very interested to hear of my noble friend Lady Nicholson’s experiences in Iraq with Shell, where some innovative and pioneering training methods were used. I found her speech particularly interesting.
The safe-system approach also aims better to manage the aftermath of crashes. We have awarded a £480,000 grant to the RAC Foundation and Highways England for a new road collision investigation project. It will trial investigation methods similar to those used following aviation and oil and gas industry accidents—perhaps referring to the experiences raised by my noble friend—to see whether they can help us better to understand the causes of crashes and near-misses on the roads.
We are also taking practical action to optimise the efficiency of crash scene investigations. The collision reporting and sharing system—inevitably known as CRASH—is now being used by 23 police forces in England and Scotland. It makes it far easier for the police, often working at dark, windy and rain-drenched roadsides, quickly and accurately to record the full details of a crash, from pinpointing the exact location to loading full witness statements. The next version of CRASH will be launched later in the year. We are continuing to hone this crucial tool that has proved invaluable to police officers around the county, and we are also working with the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s specialist capabilities review to develop a new version of CRASH specifically for investigators of the most serious incidents. It is my hope that the evidence gathered through these new systems will not just assist in the investigation of individual collisions but will enable us to identify previously unseen patterns and trends and help to ensure that crashes are not only fully investigated but, importantly, simply prevented.
My department has taken some significant steps on the domestic front. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, highlighted unsafe roads, and he was quite right to do so. In 2017, we launched the £100 million safer roads fund to tackle the 50 most dangerous A roads in England. My noble friend Lady Vere recently visited the A1290 in Sunderland, where crucial improvements have been completed. Others are under way around the country, and many more are soon to be started. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, raised this point, so I hope that he will be listening carefully to what I am saying.
In 2018, the cycling and walking review was announced, containing a two-year action with 21 packages of measures. This is a ground-breaking plan to cut the toll of incidents involving pedestrians and cyclists. Key interventions include reviewing guidance in the Highway Code to improve safety for cyclists, pedestrians and horse-riders, encouraging local councils to invest around 15% of their local transport infrastructure funding over time on safe and efficient cycling and walking infrastructure and investing £100,000 to support police to improve enforcement by developing a national back-office function to handle footage provided through dash-cam evidence.
My department’s 2019 road safety statement, with more than 70 actions, is targeting key interventions to improve road safety. The noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Whitty, asked about this. For young road users—who were also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who made a very important point—there is a broad aim to improve road safety for children and young people through new technology and research and by developing better learning opportunities and messaging for young drivers. This includes helping new drivers to stay safe through a number of actions, such as, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, encouraging learner drivers to increase on-the-road experience before taking their test and reinforcing vital road safety measures through our THINK! campaign.
For rural road users, we are setting up a rural road users working group. Membership will be from a diverse range of people and institutions affected by road safety in rural communities, including local authorities, rural businesses, farmers, horse-riders, cyclists and ramblers. Key issues might include: how to make it easier and quicker to make local improvements to traffic signs on country roads; the issue of rural speeding; and speed limits and rural safety enforcement.
To improve the safety of motorcyclists, we are committed to ensuring that they are equipped with the specialist skills necessary to stay safe on the road. Motorcyclists are one of the highest-risk user groups on the road, and we have proposed a range of specific actions and research initiatives designed to understand the risks, increase protection and improve behaviour. The DVSA is developing a package of measures to improve the training regime. We are working with UK industry and motorcycle groups to understand how to encourage riders to wear the best protective equipment for their needs and what, if any, improvements need to be made to protective equipment. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, who raised the important point about helmets. I hope she will forgive me if it was not her but it was one of your Lordships. We are commissioning additional research into the use of powered two-wheelers and other vehicles in the gig economy to understand how to reduce the safety risks these drivers encounter.
For older road users—this may be of particular interest to this House—the Government have committed to assessing the recommendations from the 2016 Older Drivers Task Force. We need to better understand the extent to which driver vision issues pose a road safety risk in the UK. On that note, I took note of the interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Low; this was also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. I assure the House that the department and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency take road safety very seriously. Current licensing arrangements take into account the risks that an individual poses to road safety. Currently there are no plans to introduce mandatory eyesight testing for drivers because there is no evidence that this would improve road safety. Although an optician’s certificate or equivalent would provide assurance that someone had had their eyes tested, this would not ensure that a driver could meet the current eyesight standard on an ongoing basis. It would also not guarantee that the driver would use their prescribed glasses or corrective lenses while driving.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, spoke about seat belts—another important issue. Seat-belt use levels are generally high but there is no room for complacency. Non-seat-belt use accounts for a disproportionately high number of car occupant fatalities: 26%. That is why we are reviewing the issues behind this problem. As part of this, we are considering the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety report calling for this offence to result in penalty points.
My department is also reviewing enforcement and legislative interventions to identify improvements that can be made to road safety. Enforcement capability can and will be improved. We are undertaking a comprehensive review of roads policing and will shortly publish a call for evidence as part of that. We are also reviewing the UK’s law on mobile phones and seat belts, with a view to closing the loophole requiring proof of “interactive communication” for an offence of using a mobile phone while driving to be committed, and to understand why there is a continuing issue with non-seat-belt use, as I mentioned earlier.
On the very important point about in-car entertainment, which I think was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, the department is aware of the research and the published report, and will be reviewing the detail. The Highway Code already warns drivers of the dangers of distraction but clearly this is not enough. This is very much work in progress.
All our interventions use an evidence-based approach to deliver the best results. For example, the department looked at 20 mph speed limits, and has published research addressing the gap in the evidence on their effectiveness. There is insufficient evidence to conclude that there has been a significant change in the number of collisions and casualties following the introduction of 20 mph limits in residential areas. I am very much aware of this as I live near Oxford and there are plenty of those in the middle of Oxford, as noble Lords will be aware.
The evaluation of 20 mph limits studied 12 case study schemes, comprising a variety of area types, road types and scale. A further three case studies covered local authorities that had chosen not to implement a 20 mph scheme.
While we recognise that speed has an impact on road safety, we do not support the introduction of blanket 20 mph speed limits nationally because they might not be appropriate for all roads’ local conditions. Local authorities have the power to set speed limits on their roads, as does Highways England for the strategic route network. Their local knowledge makes them best placed to make these decisions. The department has published guidance designed to make sure that speed limits are appropriately and consistently set while allowing for flexibility to deal with local needs and conditions.
As well as these interventions, for some time THINK!—my department’s pioneering and award-winning road safety campaign—has worked on targeted campaigns to improve the behaviour of drivers in England and Wales. The THINK! “Mates Matter” strategy focuses on young male drivers aged 17 to 24, who are four times more likely to be killed or seriously injured on the roads than car drivers aged 25 or over. The strategy challenges social norms among groups of mates; encouraging young men to watch each other’s backs. This includes targeting channels most popular with young men and aligning activity with the cultural and seasonal moments that matter most to them.
THINK! also works with trusted influencers and brand partners to extend the reach and credibility of its messages. The strategy covers a range of issues, including drink-driving, distraction from mobile phones and passengers, as mentioned earlier, and inappropriate speeds on country roads. As well as the work of THINK! in helping schools and nurseries teach children as young as three about road safety, we have awarded £200,000 to Road Safety GB to roll out augmented-reality technology resources to schools so that children can gain real-world understanding of risks from the classroom.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, raised an important point about vehicle standards. Vehicle safety is of course a key aspect of road safety, but the UK recognises the importance of regulating vehicles and supports the introduction of Euro NCAP systems around the world to back that up. The UK also works at the United Nations on vehicle standards as a leading member to ensure the safety of vehicles. However, despite this good work, more needs to be done around the world and the Department for Transport is committed to that work.
I turn to the management capacity review, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. This independent review, published in May 2018, was commissioned to identify practical and actionable opportunities for strengthening joint working, local innovation and efficiency on a national and local basis. It informed our thinking for the refreshed Road Safety Statement and two-year action plan published the following year. Work has recently been commissioned on the effectiveness of targets and will report in autumn 2020, addressing one of the main points made by the review. As mentioned earlier, we are enhancing our understanding of the causes of collisions, another of its recommendations, with the £480,000.
The statement also announced actions on our key priority groups of the young, older users, motorcyclists and rural road users, which the review raised as well. In addition, we announced that we would lead a review of roads policing, working with the Home Office, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and other agencies. As part of that review, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services has conducted a thematic inspection of roads policing in seven police forces. Its report is due to be published shortly and its findings and recommendations will inform our understanding of the current situation with regard to the effectiveness of roads policing.
We recognise that we have a reasonably good record on road safety in the UK compared to many other countries. We are exploring how we can use this to work with and learn from other countries. Department for Transport officials meet officials from other countries and international organisations to share best practice and explore how global road safety can be improved. This was very much a theme in the House today—linking with other countries and learning from them and, I hope, them learning from us. In this vein, last September we hosted the UK’s first international road safety conference, which was attended by experts and legislators from across the world and demonstrated the UK’s commitment to sharing experiences and knowledge to improve road safety domestically and internationally.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and others referred to the United Nations sustainable development goals, which were designed and adopted by all member states in 2015 and are the shared blueprint to tackle the most pressing global challenges by 2030. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that we continue to be committed to the sustainable development goals and support the aim of target 3.6 to reduce global road traffic deaths and injuries.
My noble friend Lady Vere demonstrated the importance of highlighting road safety alongside other international challenges, such as sustainability and health, at last month’s 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety. The department supports the Stockholm Declaration, which aims to halve the number of deaths and serious injuries on the world’s roads by 2030. We expect the Stockholm Declaration to include this target for delivery by 2030 when it is presented at the next UN General Assembly as a resolution for adoption. However, due to the current climate as a result of Covid-19, negotiations on the resolution have not begun. When they do begin, the UK will engage and provide its views.
To pick up on points raised by my noble friend Lady Nicholson and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, on international road safety, the UK, via DfID and DHSC, has been an active donor to the World Bank’s Global Road Safety Facility. This has helped fund a number of key initiatives, including the African Road Safety Observatory, a unique initiative that launched in 2019. It aims to foster national, international and continental co-operation to generate road safety data and to influence road safety policies in African Union member countries. The research programme on road safety was launched in 2019 with funding and support from UK aid. It comprises eight research projects. The programme will also include the development of software to assess the effectiveness of road safety interventions.
In addition, DfID, which has been mentioned by several noble Lords, works on a number of different projects connected to road safety. For example, its £12.3 million ieConnect programme provides support to the World Bank Development Impact Evaluation initiative to undertake impact evaluation on transport, including road safety.
I realise that time is marching on and I have quite a lot more to say, particularly since I have picked this up at short notice from my noble friend Lady Vere. I may well need to answer a number of other questions, which I will most certainly do by letter, but I will jump ahead to say as a summary that the UK absolutely recognises the importance of improving road safety domestically and globally. We are working in many ways to achieve this, including, as I said, with other countries. We have achieved considerable results domestically in reducing deaths and serious injuries on our roads and there have been improvements around the world. However, as has been said, much more can be done, and we are committed to ensuring that the UK is part of the global effort for road safety. With that, I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for introducing this important issue for debate today.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that summing up and for his mastery of the brief at short notice. He has covered a lot of the points.
I referred in my opening remarks to my chairmanship of the Road Safety Foundation, but I should also have referred to my chairmanship of EEAST, a charity that deals with projects in central Asia and eastern Europe. The remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, about her experience in Iraq, and indeed my noble friend Lord Rosser’s reference to Saigon, illustrated that, in both rural and urban areas, the impact of motor traffic, often for the first time, on whole communities means that you have to take the whole community to you. The link I would make with the plea relating to the strategic goals is that until relatively recently neither DfID nor, even more so, the multilaterals had included road safety in their major development projects. That has changed and they have specific funds for it. DfID has been a leader in that, which I applaud, but it is also true that very substantial aid from this country, the European Union, the World Bank and other multilateral organisations goes to promoting the development of roads and rail infra- structure in those countries. It is important that safety is not an add-on, but is built in.
Part of building it in is taking the community with you. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, that the appreciation of British engagement in these matters is an important aspect of soft power and one that undoubtedly has a real benefit to the lives of those communities and the lives saved by such interventions.
I am also happy to thank the Minister for his references to the 10-year period of action, which is close to my 10-year strategic plan. I hope he takes on board some of the suggestions in relation to eyesight that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, and the noble Lord, Lord Low, made. I had one disappointment in the Minister’s view in relation to that. Yes, there are technical difficulties in relation to eyesight and enforcement of whether or not you wear your glasses, but they are not insuperable. I believe this is an important part of saving lives and avoiding incidents on the roads domestically in the UK, and one on which other countries around the world would welcome British input. He should take seriously the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Low, of a dialogue with the Association of Optometrists. It is very important that this dimension is taken into account.
The general support for the work that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, was intending to bring to our attention is welcome. I hope we see a follow-through in the coming years. I beg to move.