I beg to move,
That this House has considered global road deaths.
Not many people realise this, but 3,500 homes will today have a knock on the door, and a policewoman or policeman will say to the person who opens the door that their son, daughter, mum, dad, uncle or aunt is dead. Some 3,500 people die on the roads globally every day. That is, at a conservative estimate, 1.3 million people dying on the road on this planet of ours each year. That is a disgraceful number.
I have been in this place longer than you, Mr Hollobone, but you will recall that I have form when it comes to being passionate about tackling road deaths. I shall be very careful today, and I hope that colleagues will stop me if I mention something that ends in “safety”, because I do not believe in that description. I think that we should talk about road deaths and serious road casualties, because that brings home to us the reality that 3,500 people die on the roads every day and 1.3 million die every year.
According to the World Health Organisation, road accidents are the 10th leading cause of death globally—the number of people killed in road accidents is just under that for deaths from tuberculosis, which is in ninth place—and they are forecast to be the seventh biggest cause of death by 2030. But unlike natural disasters or disease, this is a human-made problem and every one of the deaths is avoidable—every one of them.
We should discontinue the term “road traffic accidents”, because, in fact, that is not the case at all—these are road traffic collisions.
I did promise that I would not call them accidents or talk about safety.
As I said, I have form on this issue. Very early in my career, I saw two young people thrown from a car and dying by the side of the road, and I never lost that image in my mind. They had been thrown out of the car because they were not wearing seatbelts. When I came to this place, I tried to do something about the issue. My only successful private Member’s Bill—the only time I have come in the top 10 in the ballot—was my Safety of Children in Cars Bill, which stopped children being carried unrestrained in cars. After that, with a little help from the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who is now the Father of the House, I managed to wangle past him a coalition that delivered adult seatbelts. We managed to get a 72 majority in the vote the night before a royal wedding, and I am very proud that that was the case. We then took the coalition that succeeded in that and called it PACTS—the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety. I still have the privilege and honour of chairing that organisation. After 10 years, we formed the European Transport Safety Council, as regulation was moving to Europe. Some years after that, I became chairman of the Global Road Safety Partnership established by the World Bank.
I think that I have to challenge my hon. Friend. He said that if he mentioned the word “safety”, colleagues in the Chamber should stop him, so I am stopping him—because he has a very proud record on transport safety, in terms of seatbelts, his private Member’s Bill, the role that he played in setting up the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and his recent role, which I am sure he will come on to, leading the inter-country legislators committee at the United Nations. Safety is in his DNA, and he should not be embarrassed by that.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, who has campaigned with me for many years on this topic. One thing that I am trying to highlight today is that too many of us in this field have been doing this work for a long time. We need fresh blood; we need new people coming in who will be as passionate as we have been. Certainly part of my role as chair of the Global Network for Road Safety Legislators will be trying to enthuse people in legislatures around the world to get involved—to understand that 1.3 million deaths a year is unacceptable to any civilised society.
When I was working in this area some years ago, a Swedish professor—a doctor—said to me, “We have to get the United Nations to take this seriously and then we can lift the profile of what is happening on our roads.” As Lord Robertson said in a presentation only recently, people forget that if road deaths carry on at the present level, more people will die in the 21st century on the roads than died in all the wars of the 20th century. I hope you agree, Mr Hollobone, that that is a chilling statistic.
I want to say a little about Britain. In 2016, 181,384 casualties on Britain’s roads were recorded. There were 1,792 fatalities—that is 1,792 knocks on the door. Please let us use that all the time—the knock on the door, the chilling moment when someone is told that a member of their family has died. The long-term trend in the numbers of people killed and injured in road accidents has been declining, but the decline has stalled since 2011, and in 2016 we actually had an increase. To those figures we should add the road deaths and injuries in Northern Ireland; otherwise the Minister, who understands these stats very well, would pick me up on that.
It is important that the United Nations now has road safety as one of its sustainable development goals. Why is that? It is because the United Nations knows that that is vital to taking on poverty worldwide. We know that the death of a member of a family in the developing world usually means that family unit lurching into poverty, or, if it is a long-term disability, it drags the family down because it affects their ability to live a decent life. These tragedies are not just about statistics; they affect real families.
In relation to the countries that we have knowledge of, we know that we probably have an underestimate of the numbers of people dying. I was in Beijing not many months ago, and an interesting fact is that, mysteriously, as soon as the United Nations introduced a 5% reduction target, a 5% reduction started appearing every year in the Chinese statistics. I am saying that the stats may be worse even than we are arguing today.
I have just come back from New York, where we had a General Assembly debate on road deaths. It was a very good debate indeed, and a motion was passed on an action programme that I think will be very useful if we take it seriously.
I am arguing today that the United Kingdom has great knowledge about transport safety and great expertise. We have quite a good record. It is not the best in the world—sometimes Sweden is better than us—but the fact is that we have a good record. As I said, we have enormous knowledge; we have research centres and research evidence. We know very well how to reduce the number of accidents on the road, and we do not do that by a lovely gesture.
I have been in this field long enough to know that someone has only to knock on the door of an insurance company and it will say, “I will give you this flashy little thing that you can put on your bicycle when it’s dark and it will illuminate you and prevent accidents.” Another company will say, “I’ll give you lots of money to have a brand-new version of the Tufty Club, where you train all children about road safety.” Neither of those things, according to the research evidence, has been very successful at all. They may be quite fun to do, but they are not the way in which we tackle these things.
I have worked very closely with the Safer Roads Foundation. It knows very well the efficacy—all the research shows this—of low-cost engineering schemes. We know where people are having accidents. We modify the landscape; we do something about a particular junction that is dangerous, and that low-cost engineering scheme provides the best return possible on our investment.
We have knowledge of the research across the world. I also chair the international committee for road safety research. That is an attempt to link all the researchers on this planet of ours to one another so that we know what each of us is doing. We have worked very closely with India, for example. It is a case of finding out which research can help and sharing the information. One nation will have done the research and can pass it on quickly to the others.
We did not have a millennium development goal for road safety, but the sustainable development goals adopted by the United Nations changed the whole framework. We are now being taken seriously and we need to work very hard indeed to ensure that we achieve something substantial.
In September 2015, at a UN Heads of Government summit, the UK accepted sustainable development goal target 3.6, to halve road deaths by 2020. That was welcomed, but it was rather paradoxical, as our Government have failed to adopt a target for the UK since 2010. The Minister and I get on very well. He knows that, in a debate like this, I will nudge him again on two things: first, to have targets in the UK and, secondly, to have a national centre for investigation of all road accidents, particularly road accidents involving a road death.
We know that we are holding back casualty reduction at home. Targets are not a solution, but they do indicate ambition and commitment, and they influence where we put the resources. When the Government have targets for issues such as reducing suicides, hospital waiting times and net migration, it is hard to see the logic for not having an accident death reduction goal as well.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point and one that many of us have challenged the Government on since 2010. Does he agree that it is completely anomalous that the Government are signed up to the sustainable development goals for the reduction of road casualties, deaths and serious injuries internationally, and that they are signed up to the European Union’s targets for the reduction of road deaths and serious injuries, but that they will not sign up to targets for the reduction of deaths and serious injuries in the United Kingdom?
I take that point. My hon. Friend is a great campaigning friend of mine. I did not know whether to apply for this debate under this Department or the Department for International Development. I hope that I am stimulating a relationship between the Department for Transport, which is very good—I will give it its due—and has a Minister who cares about this, and the International Development team, so that they make proposals.
Using our experience, research and knowledge to help people around the world is one of the best investments we can make in helping a developing country at the moment. Road crashes are the No.1 killer of young Africans aged between 15 and 29. Certain countries leap off the page, such as Tanzania and South Africa, because they are well above where they should be, given the size of their population, the nature of their roads, and the number of people driving cars and two-wheeled vehicles. Much of this has a heartbreaking real cost. Road crashes frequently kill or injure household breadwinners, causing loss of income, increased costs—such as those of caring for a disabled victim—and tipping people into deepest poverty.
The Overseas Development Institute report “Securing safe roads” contained in-depth analysis in three cities—Nairobi, Mumbai and Bogota. That analysis was led by the ODI and the World Resources Institute, which found that it is the poorest sections of society that bear the brunt of traffic-related injuries and deaths, and that politicians and the public tend to blame individual road users for collisions, rather than policy makers or planners.
Can I put this next point at the heart of my remarks? The fact is that, in many ways, cars have become much safer—like a cocoon. My wife recently changed her car because she wanted a hybrid car. It has automatic collision avoidance and 16 airbags. Cars are safer and getting safer still thanks to some of the great work that is being done on the new car assessment programme worldwide. The people in danger are the vulnerable road users—the pedestrians, cyclists and people on two-wheeled vehicles—across the world. Those are the people we really have to worry about.
In terms of other places, America is in fact slipping back on its success. There should be good laws and sensible research-based activity by Government, such as seatbelt legislation, as well as law enforcement, so that people are not let off, or able to pay bribes, because they do not want to be caught for speeding or drunk driving. In the United States, because the states have different rules and regulations, many of their cars do not have rear seatbelts or regulation on that. They are slipping behind. We need that mixture of wise laws, good science-based answers and ensuring that these laws are obeyed. How confident are the Government that their contribution to accident prevention overseas will be well spent?
There is a new United Nations trust, which we established last week. It has every possibility of being a good and substantial fund. The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile put in the first £10 million, and some companies will put in. However, given my experience with the World Bank and the Global Road Safety Partnership, there is a danger that we put too much emphasis on the private sector. Individual Governments must come in. I hope the British Government will put money into the United Nations trust, but they must ensure that there are strings attached, so that we know that the money flows to evidence-based, good ends.
We need to support the development of a road accident strategy across the world. We need to highlight what the Overseas Development Institute report says. We need to reframe road safety in public debates, making connections with issues that people care about, such as the economy, equality and education, and to build alliances at all levels of government, including local, regional and national. We must also produce, in every country, a dedicated road safety plan with short, medium and long-term objectives.
I have had the privilege to work with some very good people on this. Etienne Krug at the World Health Organisation in Geneva has been inspirational in the work that I have done. David Ward and the team from his organisation produced the wonderful report “Manifesto #4roadsafety”for the Global Network for Road Safety Legislators—that comes out of the Towards Zero Foundation. There are some very good people in this area, but at the end of the day, we must ensure that we have, as the World Health Organisation says, a policy called “save lives” based on an integrated safe-systems approach. The WHO report recommends 22 priority interventions in six key areas: speed management, leadership, infrastructure, vehicle safety, enforcement and post-crash survival.
To conclude, we know the answers. We can stop these 1.3 million deaths. We can reduce them dramatically if we work together on the basis of good laws that are enforced fairly and squarely across every country that we work with. We have an enormous opportunity to save lives, communities and families. Let’s go for it!
I am obliged to call the Front-Bench spokespeople no later than 5.8 pm. The guideline limits are five minutes for the Scottish National party, five minutes for Her Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister. Then Mr Sheerman has a minute or so to sum up the debate at the end. There are five hon. Members seeking to catch my eye, including at least two former firemen. I am afraid there will have to be a time limit of four minutes to ensure that everyone gets in.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. As you suggested, I have served more than 31 years in the fire and rescue service and sadly, I am no stranger to road traffic crashes. It is unbelievable—indeed shameful—that road crashes are the leading cause of death worldwide for people aged between 15 and 29. It is a sobering thought to consider the number of lives and the human talent, especially in less well-off countries, that have been lost due to road crashes that were in many cases, if not all, entirely preventable. Things can and do change. In my time in the service, from the early ’70s to 2005, I witnessed many advances. I thank the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) for his contribution to some of them. They include local authorities’ road improvements at dangerous corners, chevrons, warning signs and improved lighting.
The law has been brought to bear through drink-driving limits, speed limits, speed cameras, seatbelt-wearing, crash helmets for motorcyclists and improved driving tests. Safety campaigns such as “Reckless driving wrecks lives” are another advance that many authorities introduce to school children at secondary 5. Manufacturers are to be complimented again for introducing air bags, side impact bars, advanced braking systems, child safety seats and restraints. The fire service has also improved training and equipment and introduced collaborative working with the police and our wonderful ambulance service in the UK.
Road deaths around the world are tragic and costly, and it is time that we stopped treating them as simply things that happen. With others, I delivered fire service training in Romania in the ’90s post the Ceauseşcu regime. That was an eye opener. It was a wonderful country with wonderful people, but they had no particularly good infrastructure. They had poor equipment and poor training and, at the time, the fire service was linked to the military. I am sure the situation will have improved in recent times.
A report earlier this year by the World Bank and the World Resources Institute spoke about treating road deaths as a public health issue, which I would be very much minded to support. There is much more that can and must be done, particularly in developing countries, to improve road safety and reduce the number of accidents and the number of lives needlessly lost due to traffic accidents every year.
As the hon. Member for Huddersfield said, it is very often the police officer who has to go and chap at the door to advise mum or dad that their son or daughter is not coming home, or sometimes to advise the son or daughter that their mum or dad is not coming home. That is a horrendous consequence of a road traffic crash.
I am proud that the UK still has one of the lowest traffic-related fatality rates in the world, with 2.9 deaths per 100,000 people per year. Despite the improvements mentioned earlier, that is still too many, and we should continue to work to reduce that figure further, but it can be compared with the African average of 26.6 deaths per 100,000 people per annum, which is surely unacceptable. I hope that the Department for International Development and the Department for Transport recognise that global road safety is a public health issue of immense importance. The unacceptable fact is that traffic accidents—or traffic crashes—cause almost as many deaths each year worldwide as malaria, HIV and AIDS combined.
I trust that DFID and Transport will consider what more can be done to engage with Governments and stakeholders to promote road safety around the world and in developing nations. The UN rightly included among its global goals for sustainable development a target of halving road deaths by 2030. I hope that those who can implement change are listening, especially to the passion and enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Huddersfield.
It is a pleasure to see you in the chair, Mr Hollobone. I am pleased to follow my friend, the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant), and I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) on securing the debate and on his excellent speech that laid out the issues.
My hon. Friend outlined the statistics of more than 1.25 million people dead and 20 million seriously injured across the world, and the international response, including the World Health Organisation’s and the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, of which two specifically target road crashes. I am delighted to see the Minister present, who is highly regarded, which is the upside. The downside is that because he is highly regarded, much is expected of him. We look forward to his contribution.
The UK is one of the world leaders in road safety. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield attended the UN General Assembly, as he described, and I commend his activities in sponsoring the inter-parliamentary legislators group to share best practice. We can help other countries. We are doing so already through individuals and organisations such as His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent, the international patron of road safety; the FIA Foundation; the Towards Zero Foundation; the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety; the Department for Transport; the THINK! campaign; Max Mosley; and Stop the Crash, chaired by David Ward and Lord Robertson and mentioned by my hon. Friend, to mention just a few.
In this Chamber, we recently debated the International Development Committee’s report on education for all. I made the point that it is all very well promoting education in developing countries, but we should also be teaching road safety in schools, because 500 kids leave for school every morning and do not return home. They die on the world’s roads. We need to get those kids to and from school safely.
I chair Fire Aid, which is the umbrella organisation for the UK fire service and fire industry that delivers post-crash response and training equipment to more than 30 countries. One of our founding partner organisations, the Eastern Alliance for Safe and Sustainable Transport, quotes the 2015 World Health Organisation report on road safety, which details that half a million lives could be saved each year through good post-crash care. That includes stunningly simple things, such as a single universal telephone number for an emergency service response—18 countries have no 999 number and 41 countries have multiple numbers. Our partnership organisations deliver equipment and training, and are saving lives.
The UK has a good road safety story. The THINK! brand of the Department for Transport is held in international regard. We have expertise across the piece that we can share with other countries, whether on legislation, regulations, equipment or training. That soft diplomacy could enhance UK plc’s reputation. We can save lives. We can prevent broken bodies. We can have the most positive economic impact in the countries that would benefit most.
We need a signal from Government that recognises not only the opportunities that the sustainable development goals provide but that we are in the best position to help so many countries, whom I hope would acknowledge our assistance. We should not do it just for geopolitical advantage, although that should not be lost on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but because it is the right thing to do. It is already being done by all those I mentioned earlier and others.
I am keen to hear how much the Government are doing, how much they recognise what is being delivered by those UK organisations and how much more they think we can do—not just through the Department for Transport, but through the Department for International Development too. I look forward to the Front-Bench responses from the SNP, from my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) for the Opposition and from the Minister. This issue should demonstrate that there is no difference between any of the UK parties.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) on securing the debate and on his excellent speech, which many hon. Members found very stirring. His passion in the subject reawakened in me the memory of a phone call to our home in the middle of the night when my cousin, Eric, sadly died in a road traffic collision. I shall never forget the sight of my father, a typical Scot who did not wear his heart on his sleeve, standing in the kitchen of our home in Forfar and crying.
I want to speak briefly about the privilege I recently had of attending a presentation on stage at the Macrobert theatre at the University of Stirling entitled “Safe Drive, Stay Alive”, which shows young drivers how dangerous the roads can be. All the year 4 and year 5 pupils from the surrounding secondary schools in central Scotland attend the presentation. Frankly, the dramatic production uses shock tactics to hammer home the message about the importance of being aware on the roads and concentration when driving, and about how dangerous the roads are. I pay tribute to the team who I saw on stage: PCs Vinny Lynch and Andrew Starkie alongside Alan Faulds, Patrick Boyle, David Galloway and Bill Taylor. David Galloway particularly deserves a special plaudit. He talks about road safety with the authority of someone whose life has been drastically changed by a road collision. The performance is intensely emotional and moving, so it is hard not to shed a tear throughout the evening. From start to finish, it works effectively to truly convey the impact of a car crash—those two seconds that change lives forever, both physically and mentally.
I will never forget what someone from one of the blue light services said on stage:
“When I go home from my shift at night, and I lay my head on my pillow and I close my eyes, I see you lying in the wreckage of the car.”
No matter how hard the rescuer tried to expunge that memory from her mind’s eye, that is what she saw. It is my view that although it is a shock production, it is so important that the relatives of those who have died, the voices and testimonies of the emergency service first responders, and the victims themselves speak to young people, as it can truly be a turnaround moment in their appreciation and awareness of the danger of roads. If every young driver could see this production and see through the eyes of a road casualty, I am sure that we would go a long way to ending the scourge of car fatalities among young people. I believe that it would teach lessons that would remain for a lifetime.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Hollobone.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) on securing this debate, on the compassion and passion that he always shows for his subject matter, and on the vociferous way that he speaks on each and every occasion that he brings an issue forward. The hon. Gentleman is a Huddersfield Town supporter, but we forgive him for that. As a Leicester City supporter, I am very pleased to remind him of that; I think that his team beat us once this season, but we beat them the other time. However, that is by the way.
It is very good to come along and speak about an issue that is very important to the hon. Gentleman and indeed to every one of us who is here in Westminster Hall to participate in this debate. One preventable death is one too many. The fact is that road deaths are largely preventable and we must do our part to try to ensure that such deaths are prevented.
As I always do in these debates, I will give a Northern Ireland perspective. I look forward to the Minister’s response. There is a great responsibility on his shoulders to come forward with the answers that we are looking for, but I have no doubt that he will respond in a very strong and supportive way to what we are saying.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland data shows that 95% of all deaths and serious injuries on roads are caused by human error, whether that is drink-driving, speeding, carelessness, inattention, or not wearing a seatbelt. We all know what we have to do on the road and sometimes, inadvertently and for whatever reason, we may not do those things.
The latest figures released by the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland show an increase in the number of serious injuries from road collisions to 828, which is the highest figure since 2010. While the number of road deaths has been dropping in the last couple of years, the number of road injuries has not, and we also have to consider that.
The 63 road deaths in Northern Ireland in 2017 continued the downward trend that began in 2014, when 79 people in Northern Ireland lost their lives on the roads. Although the 2017 total is significantly higher than 2012’s low of 48 deaths, about half as many people die on Northern Ireland’s roads now compared with a decade ago. Yet, as I said at the start, one preventable death is one too many. Sixty-three families are grieving today; 63 homes have been torn apart; and the communities of those 63 people are living without a vital part of their make-up. We need to see an improvement in road safety and in this place we need to play our part in achieving that.
A recent survey by the Brake charity and Churchill Car Insurance of 2,000 UK drivers was quite illuminating; we always cite statistics, but I believe they give an indication of what people are thinking. Some 52% of those surveyed admitted to driving at 25 mph or faster in areas with a 20 mph speed limit; 25 to 34-year-olds were the age group most likely to drive at 25 mph or faster in a 20 mph area, while 55 to 64-year-olds were the least likely to do so; more than seven in 10 drivers underestimated the number of children who are killed on roads globally every year; and eight in 10 drivers thought that vehicles travelled too fast in their area. In addition, research has found that children cannot judge the speed of approaching vehicles that are travelling faster than 20 mph, so children may believe that it is safe to cross a road when it is not.
In his introduction to the debate, the hon. Member for Huddersfield referred to the Green Cross Code, the Tufty Club and so on; I am of the generation that can remember those things. When we were children, those things were very much part of the safety regime that existed.
Five hundred children are killed on roads globally every day, which comes to nearly 183,000 deaths across the world each year. It is for that reason that we must take on board the manifesto of the Global Network for Road Safety Legislators—Manifesto #4RoadSafety—which highlights the measures that it believes parliamentarians worldwide should adopt to reduce the number of road deaths.
As I have said, we have a role to play to improve road safety globally. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this matter forward, raising awareness of it and highlighting it for the attention of the Minister. I would also like to highlight the fact that any strategy must be carried out in co-operation with the devolved Assemblies, and I look forward to understanding what the cohesive UK-wide strategy will entail. I ask the Minister to consider—indeed, very much consider—having a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland-wide strategy. If he introduced such a strategy, all the regional devolved Administrations could be part of it, which would also be a good idea.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) for calling this debate on a really important topic. Around the world, we must design better safety into our roads, and as a member of the Transport Committee I will confine my remarks to how we can design better safety into roads, not only here in Britain but around the world.
There is one feature in particular that I will speak about, which is road signs, because right around the world, whether the road signs are pointing to Plymouth—
Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.
The debate will now run until 5.54 pm.
Before the interruption, I was talking about road signs. Whether they point to Plymouth, Perth, Paris, Panama or Phnom Penh, they are important around the world. The issue was brought to my attention by one of my constituents, Trevor Gorman. His son, also called Trevor, was killed in a road accident last June on the A38, which runs through Plymouth. Trevor was driving with two friends when their van collided with a road traffic post, killing all three men. The post they collided with was made of steel, and was not designed to collapse or crumple to absorb the impact. Experts at the inquest said that the pole met requirements when it was erected in the 1990s, but had not been replaced since then.
The accident that took the lives of these three young men could have been prevented. Thanks to Highways England, the steel signpost has now been changed to a lattice-type pole that crumples in the event of an impact. I wrote to the Minister on 15 March trying to raise awareness of the importance of crumple-able lattice poles in preference to hard steel poles that do not crumple when hit by traffic that comes off the road. I wrote to and met Jim O’Sullivan, the chief executive of Highways England. He confirmed that the sign would be replaced with a crumple-able post, not the same steel post that has been used in the past. That is really important, because as there is more and more traffic, more and more hard, galvanised steel posts are being erected on motorways and lesser roads across the world. In Britain, many of those hard posts are being replaced by lattice-type posts. I invite hon. Members, next time they are driving on busy motorways, to have a look at the signposts. The lattice-type posts—those that can be seen through—crumple if they are hit by a car, absorbing the impact. The pole will not come loose and hit people in cars, which is how Trevor Gorman and his friends died.
We have an obligation not only to learn from best practice of replacing hard, galvanised steel poles in the UK with crumple-able, collapsible poles, but to ensure that best practice is shared around the world. I am sure that hon. Members will be familiar with the 1968 UN convention on road signs and signals, which sought to standardise the amount of signs. What it did not do is standardise the poles to which those signs are attached. I invite the Minister to engage in international collaboration and co-operation on road safety. Could the best practice that is being adopted on our roads in the UK—replacing hard poles with collapsible poles—be shared with our international neighbours?
Mr Gorman, who has been running a fantastic campaign to raise awareness of this issue, wants to ensure that no other families suffer the knock on the door spoken about by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield. If we can do that not only in England and for traffic authorities across the UK, but around the world, those three young men who died on the A38 because their van hit a pole that could not collapse might not have died in vain.
We now come to the first of the Front-Bench speeches. To help our Opposition spokesmen, I will ask the Clerk to set the clock to show how long a five-minute speech should last. I call Alan Brown for the Scottish National party.
Thank you, Mr Hollobone. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship; the debate has been impeccably run, as usual.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) on introducing the debate. He has spent a long time campaigning on road safety in general, and I pay tribute to his previous work on seatbelts and his parliamentary manoeuvres to ensure that that important legislation got through. He clearly set out the magnitude, scale and impact of global road deaths, how important the issue is, and the fact that this is the 10th biggest killer in the world at the moment—set to rise to seventh, around the level of tuberculosis and all the rest of it. As parliamentarians we all sign up to campaigns to eradicate diseases and other killers, but clearly more needs to be done to tackle the scourge of global road deaths.
I pay tribute to all the other speeches made by hon. Members—I cannot go through them all due to time constraints. Clearly, it has been a consensual debate because it is on such an important subject, but I may make a couple of comments about the Government that are not quite so consensual. I pay tribute to the hon. Members for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) for their speeches and the work they have done in the fire services. I have friends in the fire services. Such personnel are at the front end, seeing this close up. The devastation is not just for the families; we have people at the front end, and the psychological stress has an impact on other people besides the families.
We have touched on the fact that according to the World Health Organisation, road accidents are the 10th leading cause of death, so obviously the issue needs to be tackled. To tackle it properly, we need to understand the causes. Over the years, better vehicles and roads have contributed, particularly in the UK, to a reduction in the number of deaths on the road, but the fact that 90% of deaths occur in low and middle-income countries—Africa has the highest death rate—suggests that there are other factors such as healthcare and remoteness when people are involved in accidents. We need a detailed analysis to tackle the issue on a proper, global scale.
From the Library briefing paper, Great Britain seems to do well; it is ranked 46 out of 49. I noticed that, interestingly, Mexico has the same death rate per million as the UK—27.7 deaths per million population. Mexico is not a high-earning country, so other factors are obviously at play. As the hon. Member for Huddersfield mentioned, the US does not have as good a record—it is the 9th worst in the chart. What are the reasons for that? In the US, they have a car culture, so I would have thought that they would be more safety conscious. They certainly have a much more lax attitude to drink-driving. There is no compulsory requirement for crash helmets for motorcyclists, who are vulnerable road users. The hon. Member for Huddersfield touched on rear seatbelts. It shows again the theme of having correct laws, enforcing the laws and making sure people adhere to them.
In the UK, there were fewer road deaths this year than in 1926 when records started, which shows the progress made. There was a post-war increase in the number of deaths, up to 1966, in line with the number of road users. In 1966, drink-driving legislation was introduced and that started a downward trend in the number of deaths, which has continued since.
A few years ago, the Scottish Government went one step further. They have lowered the drink-driving limits further, from 80 mg per 100 ml of blood to 50 mg per 100 ml. The measure was met with scepticism by Opposition politicians at the time. The Tories were telling us that all these poor wee grannies were going to be targeted by the police and meanwhile real criminals would be going scot-free. In actual fact, there has been a 7.6% reduction in the first year of the new legislation. It has helped to bring about a change in culture, which will clearly lead to a reduced number of fatalities and accidents. I urge the Minister to think carefully about this and to fall in line with Scotland, rather than having the joint highest drink-driving limit in Europe.
In terms of other road safety measures, average speed cameras have been a success. On the A9, average speed cameras have reduced the number of fatalities by 40%. Investment in the strategic road network helps. I would also suggest that the UK needs to sign up to the UN target to halve the number of road deaths. The Scottish Government have a target of a 40% reduction in road deaths between 2010 and 2020. I believe the UK Government abandoned their target for a reduced number of fatalities—I would urge the Minister to think carefully about that.
It is a pleasure to see you in the chair, Mr Hollobone. I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) on securing this important debate and on his knowledgeable speech. He has been an impressive road safety campaigner for many years, and the debate is worthy of him. I also pay tribute to other hon. Members who have spoken today.
This is a very timely debate. Globally, about 1.3 million deaths as well as more than 50 million injuries are caused by road accidents each year, according to the latest estimates from the World Health Organisation. In the UK, we have a proud record and some of the safest roads in the world. There are an estimated 3.7 road traffic deaths per 100,000 people in the UK, meaning we have the safest roads in the world other than in Sweden. However, we must strive to be even better.
I am pleased that the last Labour Government supported global road safety. In 2009, Labour pledged to donate £1.5 million each year from the Department for International Development to a global road safety facility. However, under this Government, progress has somewhat stalled. The 2010-2015 coalition originally scrapped our 2009 pledge, before being forced into a U-turn by the International Development Committee in 2011. In our 2017 manifesto, we said that a future Labour Government will reset the UK’s road safety vision and ambitiously strive for a transport network with zero deaths, reintroducing road safety targets and setting out bold measures that will continuously improve road safety standards.
I ask the Minister why the Government scrapped the road safety targets that were introduced by Labour. The Government talk about road safety being a top priority, but Ministers have failed to reduce the number of those seriously injured or killed on our roads.
I know my hon. Friend has limited time, so I will just ask a quick question. We had a 30-year consensus on the reduction of deaths and serious injuries on roads, starting with the Conservative Administration in the ’80s under Mrs Thatcher—I think the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) was Road Safety Minister at the time. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is very disappointing that the coalition Government moved away from targets? Does he hope, like I do, that the present Conservative Government would restore the targets that they started 40 years ago?
My hon. Friend puts it very well. I seek consensus on this issue and I hope the Minister will consider the points that my hon. Friend has made so eloquently. He did not mention the reductions in the police, but I should add that there is a link to that as well. I hope the Government will also reconsider their cuts to the police service.
It is worth bearing in mind that the road injury statistics are rising. A Department for Transport statistical table for the year to September 2017 showed that serious road injuries had increased by 7%. We should focus on that point and seek consensus. As I mentioned earlier, the Minister should seriously look at the UK taking a leading role in promoting road safety globally. What discussions has the Minister had with colleagues in the Department for International Development about global road safety? I also believe, in addition to domestic consensus, that there should be consensus between Departments. We should seek to work with our international partners.
In conclusion, although we have one of the safest road networks around, we should not be complacent. The Government should be doing much more to make our roads even safer. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments on some of the important points raised in today’s debate.
If the Minister would be kind enough to finish his remarks no later than 5.52, that will allow Mr Sheerman two minutes to sum up the debate.
I am very grateful for those remarks, Mr Hollobone. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I am grateful to colleagues from all parts of the House for the thoughtful interventions they have made on this important topic and for how they have managed to compress a lot of thought and passion into a small number of minutes. That is impressive and good to see.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) on securing this debate. As he said, this is a serious global issue. It is a sobering thought indeed to reflect that around the world, 3,500 lives are lost in road crashes every day according to the World Health Organisation. I absolutely recognise his efforts over many years, internationally and at home, to create a positive force for change. I am also pleased to acknowledge that sat behind him is a Mount Rushmore of dignitaries from the global road safety world, including David Ward of the Global New Car Assessment Programme and David Davies of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety. I thank them very much on behalf of the House and the Government for the work they do.
I had the pleasure of presenting to an international field of parliamentarians and others at the Global Network for Road Safety Legislators in December last year. That was a welcome opportunity to share the UK experience with other legislators, to learn from them and to see best practice in the field. As has been said today, by international standards the UK has an excellent road safety record and a long history of success in encouraging safe behaviour and safe road use from all those who travel on them. It is a record that this country should be proud of. It goes back many years under different Administrations. It is interesting to reflect that the number of people killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads has dropped by 61% since 1990.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) rightly mentioned that many of these accidents occur from human error. It may be that in a world of connected autonomous vehicles and pods travelling around the world, human error will be minimised, road safety will be improved and accidents will fall, but there are many things that Government, local authorities and business can do and have done to reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads and roads in other parts of the world.
I am keenly aware of the impact such fatalities can have and the need to protect our most vulnerable road users. I cannot pause without reflecting on the comments made by my hon. Friends the Members for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) and for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) and the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). They drew attention to the important issue of the impact on young people. In my constituency we have a marvellous charity called the ELY Memorial Fund, which is dedicated to supporting those bereaved by road traffic accidents. It was set up after the death of Emma Louise Young by her wonderful parents, Angie and Steven Tyler. They have pioneered a “Dying2Drive” initiative that will match anything that my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling could mention. I have visited it myself. As the sixth formers come out, seeing a smoking ruin of a car with bodies slumped over it and blood everywhere, the colour drains from their faces and they become completely aware in the most graphic way possible of what it could be to have an experience like that. As my hon. Friend rightly said, it is absolutely harrowing.
Just looking at our young adults, the number of those aged between 17 and 24 killed on Britain’s roads has fallen by 25% since 2010 and 77% since 1990. There is therefore much to be proud of but much still to do. The UK has been a key driver in the development of the sustainable development goals. We are in a strong position to make an effective contribution to the UN’s target on road safety, sustainable development goal 3.6, which is to halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents by 2020. We are also pleased to play our part in the development of a common global vision and narrative on sustainable transport through a target to provide by 2030 access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems and special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations. The hon. Member for Huddersfield rightly focused on the impact that a death can have in destroying the fabric and the social and economic integrity of a family. That is one reason why that is a development issue as much as it is merely a road safety issue.
I suggest to the House that the Government’s commitment in the area is clear. The road safety statement, “Working Together to Build a Safer Road System”, published on 21 December 2015, set out our priorities for action. We have delivered heavily on those actions. In particular, in March 2017 we doubled the penalty points and increased the fine—to £200—for using a hand-held phone when driving, as part of our continuing efforts to tackle that dangerous and reckless action.
For more than 50 years, we have used a combined approach of tough penalties and rigorous enforcement along with the THINK! advertising campaigns, recognised by Members across the House for their quality and the international respect that they command, to reinforce the social unacceptability of drink-driving, reminding people of the serious ramifications that drinking and driving can have on themselves and others. That has had results: alcohol-related fatalities have reduced from 25% of all road deaths in 1979 to 13% of a much smaller number of reported road deaths two years ago.
On drug-driving, we introduced a specific drug-driving offence in 2015, with specified limits for 17 drugs, including illegal and prescription drugs. In addition, in 2015 we provided £1 million in funding to police forces specifically for better equipment, enforcement and training of officers in drug-recognition and impairment-testing skills. Last year we published research on the effectiveness of the drug-driving legislation introduced in 2015. It found that the legislation had led to additional police activity against drug-drivers, and higher prosecution and conviction rates.
It is important to say that we also recognise the importance of equipping drivers with the right skills, encouraging the uptake of more pre-test practice in driving and a broader range of real-world driving experiences for novice drivers. Following a public consultation last year, therefore, we have announced amended regulations to allow approved driving instructors to provide lessons on motorways to learner drivers in a dual controlled car. Those new rules will come into effect in June this year. Meanwhile, from 4 December 2017 the practical driving test changed to include following directions from a sat-nav and testing different manoeuvres, making it more applicable for modern driving.
A theme of this debate has been that young people are particularly at risk. That is absolutely right. We know that they are disproportionately represented in our casualty figures, and we are undertaking a substantial £2 million research programme to identify the best possible interventions for young and novice drivers. Those measures to be considered include voluntary limits during the first months of driving solo, more pre-test learning and hazard perception learning, the use of telematics to help novice drivers, and a range of educational interventions.
It is also important to recognise that other vulnerable road users other than drivers need attention. Motorcyclists account for 19% of all road deaths, despite accounting for only 1% of traffic. They have not been mentioned in this debate, which I know is by accident and because of the short time we have had, but they are a very important source of the killed and seriously injured statistics. We consulted on improvements to motorcycle training and provided our response last year, setting out our long-term intention to provide for change.
In September last year I announced a cycle safety review. In March this year I launched the consultation on the cycling and walking investment strategy safety review, which invited those with an interest in improving safety of cyclists and pedestrians—including vulnerable road users—to provide evidence, whether drawing on experience from this country or other countries, so that we may use that evidence to shape future policy decisions.
Our road safety statement sets out the Government’s vision, values and priorities to improve the safety of our roads, and how we are working towards a reduction in the number of deaths and injuries domestically. However, I recognise that our road safety statement—it is a theme that that has come out today—does not include a national road safety target.
No mention has been made of the insurance companies, which have been strategically and purposefully trying to reduce accidents by offering insurance incentives. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that, because some of those insurance companies have brought in systems that really help.
As the hon. Gentleman acknowledges, insurance can cut in different directions based on the pooling effects and the way it is segmented, but potentially insurance can be a valuable part of setting a set of incentives, particularly for young drivers, that could improve road safety over time.
I will return to the key topic that has been raised: the lack of a national road safety target. It is true that we do not have one and we do not have road safety targets for local authorities or the police. Our judgment has been that there is a tremendous need, as has been recognised here, for local road safety practitioners, the police and local authorities, to supply and apply their knowledge and skills to local circumstances, but we are wary of a centralised approach to setting targets. That occurs in a political context in which the 2010 Government took over a vast panoply of targets across the whole of Government and sought to create greater empowerment and local accountability by removing many of those targets. It is important to say that local authorities, the police and other bodies remain free to set their own targets, if they find that useful. It is also worth saying that the over-emphasis on targets can itself be counterproductive, because it can cause people to chase the target, rather than the problem.
We understand and remain committed to the international road safety goals, to which we have already committed ourselves, to sharing our experience and expertise with other Governments, and to taking part in many global forums, which have responsibility for making roads safer, including the UN World Forum for Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations and the Global Forum for Road Traffic Safety, both hosted by the UN Economic Commission for Europe in Geneva. In addition, my colleagues in the Department for International Development are contributing nearly £10 million—not £1 million or £1.5 million—to the Global Road Safety Facility, a multi-donor trust fund operating through the World Bank. That is a scheme to which the Government as a whole are signed up. The programme has been running since 2013 and is due to continue until 2021.
The Global Road Safety Facility generates research and evidence on road safety. Working on these areas directly relates to the focus area of disability through potential reductions in future disabilities incurred through road crashes, as well as all the other economic and social effects that have been highlighted today. That facility has made progress on road safety particularly within the World Bank, and in 2015 all World Bank-funded road programmes included the road safety component as a result of its work. Also, in 2016, road safety was accepted as a theme in the World Bank environmental and social safeguarding framework, so that all programmes approved near a road will need to include an appropriate road safety component.
This research will help to reduce the high numbers of fatalities for road traffic accidents in low and middle income countries. We will be collecting road transport data through a grant between the Department of Health and Social Care and the work of the official development assistance research funding, in order to assess solutions to road safety problems globally. That will help shape policies and regulations to reduce accidents in four partner countries: Vietnam, Bangladesh, Kenya and China. In summary, the Government take an active role in reducing global road deaths and will continue to support and engage in making not just our roads, but all roads around the world, safer.
We have a thoughtful Minister, and we are building a good relationship with him. This is not a party political matter—
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).