Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, this statutory instrument is the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 5) Regulations 2021. Together with the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2021 and the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2021, which follows the negative procedure, these SIs are key parts of 32 measures that the Government are taking to address the current shortage of heavy goods vehicle, or HGV, drivers.
It gives me no pleasure to introduce these regulations to the Committee once again. Noble Lords will recall that they were originally laid under a slightly different name, and I shall call the original regulations the “No. 2 regulations”; they were laid on 16 September 2021. They were debated in some detail on 9 November, but they were not approved in both Houses in time to come into force on 15 November 2021, as set out in the SI. Since affirmative statutory instruments cannot be amended once laid in draft, we decided to re-lay substantially the same regulations afresh, which I shall call the “No. 5 regulations”. The No. 5 regulations replicate the No. 2 regulations already debated in your Lordships’ House, save for an updated title and coming into force provision.
I shall provide a bit of a reminder about the context, which has slightly fallen out of the media in recent weeks. The haulage sector has been experiencing an acute shortage of HGV drivers worldwide for some time. It has affected the industry for many years, but it has been further exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which meant that driver testing had to be suspended for much of last year. During this time, the shortage increased further, as new drivers could not join the industry to replace those retiring or leaving. The shortage of HGV drivers affects the supply chains of not only fresh food but fuel, medicines and medical equipment across Great Britain.
I would like to acknowledge the publication of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s 23rd report last Thursday, which drew special attention to these regulations. I thank the committee for its hard work and continued scrutiny of these and other regulations. As the report highlighted, the impact assessments were not available at the time when the instruments were to be scrutinised by your Lordships’ House, and I offer my sincere apologies to noble Lords for this. I hope noble Lords understand that we were, and are, working at pace to deliver government interventions, including regulatory change, which could alleviate the HGV driver shortage problem, but I recognise the committee’s concern that the impact assessment was not able to be provided. I reassure all noble Lords that the Department for Transport takes very seriously its responsibilities with regard to evidence-based policy-making. I am pleased to report that the impact assessment has now been submitted to the Regulatory Policy Committee for its scrutiny.
I turn very briefly to the content of the SI. The overall aim of the No. 5 regulations 2021 is to increase the number of HGV drivers within Great Britain by increasing the number of test slots available to drivers wishing to pass a HGV driver test, while maintaining road safety standards. The regulations will remove the requirement for drivers who hold a category B licence—namely, for driving a car—to take a separate car and trailer—a category B+E—test before they can drive a vehicle combination in that class. Instead, category B+E entitlement will be automatically granted to car drivers and backdated to all valid category B car licences that have been obtained since 1 January 1997. I note that licences obtained before that date already have the entitlement to tow a heavier trailer, and that a licence is needed only for trailers over a specific weight, not for any trailer at all. Removing this test frees up about 2,400 more tests each month that can be allocated to those wishing to take an HGV driving test, which in turn will help ease the driver shortage. We know that these tests are being taken up by would-be HGV drivers.
The public consultation, which ran from 10 August to 7 September, showed support for the change, with 75% of people responding positively to the removal of the trailer test.
Road safety is, of course, of the utmost importance, and I understand why road safety concerns have been raised. Theory and practical training will continue to be recommended to help maintain driver safety on the roads. An accreditation scheme is being developed, with help from the trailer industry and training providers. This accreditation scheme will provide voluntary training opportunities for car drivers wishing to tow a trailer not only of a size that would previously have required a licence but of any size for either recreational or business use. It will also include training on trailer maintenance and other areas not previously specifically covered by the test. Essentially, training will improve.
My officials have met the trailer and towing safety advisory group to develop the outline of the scheme and to consider core modules that would be applicable to all drivers who tow, as well as sector-specific modules. These might cover activities such as safely managing livestock or breakdown recovery towing. We are also already working with trainers and those in the leisure and business sectors to develop the training package and, together with these groups and the police, will identify the additional data needed to monitor towing standards effectively.
The scheme is planned to launch early next year. We will recommend that all drivers wishing to tow a trailer of any size undertake training to safely tow and manage them. We will encourage drivers through our existing campaigns and via our work with a wide range of stakeholders, including leisure and towing groups. We have committed to review the legislation at regular intervals, initially after three years have passed and thereafter at five-year intervals. The impact assessment will be published early in the new year. Our commitment to reviewing the legislation after three years is earlier than the standard five.
As I noted previously, many drivers already have grandfather rights—about 16 million drivers who passed their driving test before 1 January 1997 can already drive a car with a heavier trailer without having to take a separate test. This change affords that same entitlement to drivers who passed their test after 1997. Furthermore, all car licence holders already have the right to tow smaller trailers. We will of course be encouraging all those who are new to towing, of any size of trailer, whether or not they would have previously had to take a test, to take up training.
We should be proud that the UK has some of the safest roads in the world. I reassure noble Lords that our support for the #towsafe4freddie campaign will continue, and we will draw attention to the importance of motorists doing safety checks of their trailer whenever they are towing.
The removal of the separate test for car drivers wishing to tow a trailer or caravan frees up 30,000 vocational test slots annually. This equates to an additional 550 tests per week, or a 37% increase in weekly tests, relative to pre-pandemic levels. This is a significant increase in available capacity. Furthermore, thanks to the great efforts of DVLA staff, the backlog of 55,000 driving licence applications for HGV drivers has been eliminated, and these are now being processed within the normal turnaround times of five working days.
These regulations are just one of the 32 interventions that the Government are putting in place to tackle this issue to help reduce the strain on our national supply chains, which is affecting every aspect of our daily lives. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing yet another set of regulations, which we seem to have debated quite frequently over the last few months, as she said. They give me the opportunity to reflect, now that Covid-19 has been with us for the best part of two years, that the delays in DVSA activity seem to have been going on for that length of time. There are still reports of people being very delayed in getting driving licences back, which I know is not the same thing, but I sometimes question whether the DVSA is fit for purpose and whether it perhaps needs a major upgrade of its IT system or something like that so that it works well. I have never had a problem applying online—other people might do—but when I saw recent press reports about some excessive delays of many weeks I began to wonder.
It is still odd that we think that we can get people to pass a test to drive HGVs or other vehicles without reversing when it is such an inherent part of the HGV operation, in particular with semi-trailers. I tried to do it myself under supervision about 10 years ago—not on a highway, I hasten to add—and it was very difficult, probably because I am thick and stupid. You could argue that it does not really matter because most reversing will take place on private property, so if anybody has an accident then the Department for Transport is not affected in any way, but it is quite important that people should be able to reverse. The Minister said that this change would provide 2,400 more tests a month. I do not know how many that is as a proportion of the total number of tests a year, but how much money and time are saved by not reversing? It would be an interesting statistic, which she might or might not have.
There comes a time when you begin to reflect that tests are getting easier and easier. You could argue that you do not need tests at all. How many more people would get killed on the roads if there were no tests? That is a very stupid question and I do not expect a sensible answer from the Minister, but it is questionable how much drivers need to learn and know before they drive these very large 40-tonne trucks around. I worry that being unable to reverse might just make it difficult.
Driving around Cornwall, as I do occasionally, you meet a lot of people in cars who are obviously strangers, especially in the summer. Obviously, one of you has to reverse when you meet them on a narrow road. An enormous proportion of the people you meet who are not local cannot actually reverse their car. There are no trailers attached to them; it is just their car. On many occasions, friends of mine say to the other driver, “Why don’t you get out and I’ll reverse it for you?” It works, but I am not sure it is a way to go forward.
We will see what happens with this, and I trust that there will be no increase in accidents and no problems with it. It also comes with the safety checks that the Minister mentioned. One of the safety checks that clearly does not happen very often, as we debated last night, relates to the height of lorries when they hit bridges. We had a good debate. Sadly, it took place before the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester and I had a very helpful meeting with Network Rail today. One suggestion came under the category of driving tests, which is why I mention it now. Perhaps the Minister could look into it. When you do a driving test for an HGV there are various modules, some compulsory and some optional. One of the optional modules is on how not to bash your lorry against a bridge. It seems a bit odd that in this country that should be optional. When the next round of regulations comes to us on things like this, I wonder whether the Minister could look at making that bridge-bashing module into an obligation. There are many other solutions, which we can talk about on another occasion, but that one would be quite easy to do.
Again, it should be coupled with a requirement for the driver to know the height of his or her lorry. Network Rail says that 50% of drivers do not know the height of their lorries, which I find extraordinary, but how do you measure it if you cannot climb up with a tape measure? That would contribute to reducing bridge bashing and then, if you bash a bridge, learning how to reverse out of it if you are able to.
I look forward to hearing what other noble Lords have to say about these regulations. Of course, they have my support.
My Lords, things are in a terrible mess on all fronts, are they not? The Department for Transport is an example of where problems seem to have got a bit out of hand. I thank the Minister for her explanation, but I find it no more satisfactory than the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee did. That committee is not known for its extreme language, but its report is excoriating on these regulations. It refers, in a letter to the Leader of the House, to them being a particularly egregious example of departments failing to provide the required explanatory material in the required timescale. The Government’s defence, which the Minister has set out clearly today, is that this is an emergency measure. But, to be honest, that is surely stretching our credulity.
After years of warnings from the logistics industry, the Government have been panicked into taking steps to deal with the driver shortage. The Minister herself made it clear, on a previous occasion, that the shortage of drivers went back 10 years. She has told us on several occasions, and repeated it today, that the Government have taken 32 separate measures to tackle the problem. She also said recently that most of them were small, incremental steps that added up to an effective package. So if this measure were delayed because the required evidence of the road safety impact is not yet available, it would have only a marginal impact on the Government’s overall response. There is, therefore, no reason to cut corners.
This is, after all, a very indirect measure: it reduces standards and requirements for the drivers of non-HGV vehicles in order to free up spaces for the drivers of HGV vehicles. It was unacceptable, when these regulations originally came to the House, that the road safety impact had been ignored. It is doubly so now that they have had to be returned to us, because the Government have now had time to note the concerns expressed and do the necessary analysis. In previous debates on these regulations I have raised my concerns on safety, but what is more important is that I am reflecting the concerns of experts.
The B+E testing requirements were introduced in 1997, as a result of real safety concerns, on the basis of evidence. I am aware that the Minister is far too young to remember it, but there was a debate on the issue of road safety. Since then, our roads have become much busier; hence accidents will be more, not less, likely. The regime for B+E testing and training is being abandoned, with no meaningful replacement. The plan is to review it within three years, but that is far too long for something that is going ahead with no evidence at this stage. I urge the Minister that, at the very minimum, there should be a review after one year.
In the view of those in the haulage industry, it is simply wrong that someone can tow a trailer or caravan weighing up to 3,500 kilograms with no testing or training—and do so the day after they pass their driving test for a small car or van. Like the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, I have just come from a meeting with Network Rail about bridge strikes. It is asking for more testing and training, not less; that is what it says its evidence requires.
The Government have abandoned the wealth of evidence, year after year, showing that new and novice drivers are far more likely to have accidents because of their inexperience. The insurance industry knows this, which is why new drivers are charged much higher premiums. The logistics organisations strongly oppose this change and regard it as irresponsible. Unlike the C+E change, it will be virtually impossible to reverse because new licences will be issued with the B+E qualification on them.
As noble Lords can imagine, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Trailer and Towing Safety shares those concerns. Specifically, its concerns include, first, the lack of an impact assessment on road safety and, secondly, the statistics that it knows of. In the B+E test for car and trailer driving, pass rates suggest that there is consistently a fail rate of 30%, with 8,575 people failing the test in 2019-20. Under the proposed legislation, these drivers would be deemed qualified and able to tow a trailer immediately because they will not need to have taken a test. To the APPG’s mind, these proposals undermine the Government’s previous commitment to trailer safety and the campaign #towsafe4freddie, which it values. It shares the concern of the towing industry that this measure will have an impact on both safety standards and livelihoods because it will mean that a much broader range of people will be qualified for this sort of commercial work, which will undermine the qualifications and skills of those who have been through the test.
Even at this late stage, I urge the Minister to pause and think again. At the very least, I ask her to defer this until the department has done its own impact assessment and then reconsider in the light of that impact assessment. Better still, I urge her to abandon it because, by all logic, this cannot be good for road safety. It is really not worth the risks it creates. This is not about the usual topics of impact assessments. When we have impact assessments, we have fine calculations about how many pounds something will cost small businesses and so on; this impact assessment will be assessed in terms of lives.
We have a fundamental change creeping in, with inadequate evidence, under the guise of urgency. It is not really an urgent measure, because it will be permanent. We need legislation based on evidence. We have had enough of policy-making on the hoof; we need evidence-based policy-making. I urge the Government to give themselves a chance to get that evidence, to reconsider the matter, and to bring this back only if they genuinely feel that this will be safe.
I feel that our discussion on this order today is largely academic, since the Government have already implemented it in reality. Clearly, the words and good work of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee—which I will quote from since I think it deserves to go on the record in Hansard—count for nothing, even though, on behalf of the Government, the Minister thanked the committee for what it had done. The Government have not taken any notice of what the committee said, so that is a funny sort of thanks.
These regulations make amendments to the requirement to undergo a practical car-plus-trailer driving test, which I think is known as category B+E. The amendments will make such a test optional only, and the entitlement to tow a trailer will be given to anybody passing, or who has passed, a car driving test from the coming into force of these regulations. On that score, perhaps the Minister could confirm the figure referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that the nearly one-third of drivers who failed the B+E test will now be able to be on our roads towing a heavy trailer. Could the Minister, on behalf of the Government, just confirm that that is what this means? Of course, the regulations go further than that, because they increase dramatically the number of people who can tow a trailer without a test, since anybody who has passed a car driving test can tow such a trailer. Could the Minister confirm that that is the situation?
Rather surprisingly, the Explanatory Memorandum states:
“There may be a negative impact on road safety of these measures”.
I would be grateful if the Minister, on behalf of the Government, could refer to the evidence on allowing people who have failed the test to tow a trailer to now do so and allowing anyone who has passed the car driving test to tow a trailer. What is the evidence that leads the Government in the Explanatory Memorandum to say that
“There may be a negative impact on road safety”?
If there is no impact, why have we been carrying out this test for a number of years? I would like an answer to that question.
Of course, the Government will have reviewed the necessity for that test, because the Government told us in 2010 that they were going to have a “bonfire of red tape”—that is, they would be going through all regulations to see if they were still necessary. So they must have looked at these regulations that provide for this test and decided that it should not be part of the bonfire—presumably because they thought that it was necessary for safety reasons. Can the Minister confirm that the requirement for this test was looked at as part of this well-trumpeted bonfire of regulations, but that it was decided we could not make a bonfire of this regulation, presumably because the Government thought it was necessary for safety reasons? Yet now they appear to be removing that and there is to be no requirement at all.
The decision is based not on safety considerations but purely on wanting to increase the number of people available to get people through the test to become heavy goods vehicle drivers, in view of the long-standing shortage of such drivers, which has now been exacerbated by Covid and Brexit—though the Explanatory Memorandum does not tell you that. This shortage has been known about for years. Actually, the Explanatory Memorandum admits as much, referring to a “worldwide shortage”—that includes this country—“for some time”. The reality is that, even though this sector is vital to our economy and way of life and even though the Government have known for a decade or more that there has been a shortage of drivers, they have not made sure that we sorted it out so that we did not end up with the kind of situation we have today, where we have to make regulations in a panic that, frankly, compromise safety because we need to release as many people as we can to carry out tests to enable more people to drive a heavy goods vehicle.
I said earlier that I wanted to refer to the words of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, the report of which deserves at least some notice. It says:
“While we appreciate the objective is to free up capacity at test centres to enable more HGV drivers to obtain their licences, our 15th Report”—
this is the 23rd—
“raised safety concerns about the possibility of towing accidents increasing and suggested that, if the data is unclear, the position should be reviewed earlier than the three years set out in the Regulations.”
That seems eminently sensible. It continues:
“The House has followed up these issues in debate and in questions, but the re-laid version of the EM is silent about these concerns. We wrote to the Minister about this omission. The Minister’s response neither reduced our concerns about these safety issues nor offered any reassurance that the Department understands the critical importance of evidence-based policy and the respect that should be accorded to Parliament and its scrutiny processes.”
The committee continued:
“These Regulations have been scheduled for debate in Grand Committee next Tuesday, 14 December”,
which is where we are now. It goes on:
“We are publishing this Report in advance so that it is available to those participating in the debate. However, as this Report makes plain, we are deeply dissatisfied with the Department for Transport about its approach to these Regulations and, for this reason we have invited the Minister to give evidence to explain the policy choices she has made.”
I assume that is still to come—it sounds like it will be quite a happy little meeting.
There are also other aspects of the report. The committee makes a very interesting comment in paragraph 9:
“In response to an oral question in the House on 1 December, the Government announced that: ‘All car drivers wishing to tow a trailer for leisure or business will be encouraged to undertake a voluntary accreditation scheme, which is being developed with the help of the trailer industry and training providers.’”
In fairness, that is something the Minister has already said. It goes on:
“‘The scheme is planned to be launched early next year and will focus on a core model for all drivers, with sector-specific modules for different towing activities.’ This suggests that the Department recognises that there are safety issues that need to be taken into account.”
If the Government did not think there were any safety issues to take into account, why would they be encouraging people to undertake a voluntary accreditation scheme in respect of a test they have decided was no longer necessary? It does not add up; it does not seem particularly logical. The committee is quite right to point out that it suggests that the department recognises that there are safety issues to be taken into account.
As the committee says, none of this is addressed in the Explanatory Memorandum accompanying these regulations, which blandly says:
“any increase in … accidents will need to be monitored”.
I know what the word “monitored” means, but does it mean that the department will count them up and then not do anything? Could we have an explanation of whether it literally means that it will monitor any increase in accidents, or does it mean that it is going to do anything about it? Does it mean that it will wait three years before it does anything about it? That is when the next review is apparently going to take place. As I think the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, was more or less suggesting, if we are going to see an increase in accidents, some action needs to be taken pretty fast and not be left for that period of time.
I am sorry to quote so much, but this is a very damning report—the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, was quite right in what she said. On the subject of urgency, which is the whole basis of the Government’s argument for behaving as they are and completely ignoring the views of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee—indeed, the regulations have been laid under emergency provisions—it says:
“The Department’s rationale for pressing ahead with these Regulations in the absence of the appropriate information to support and explain the policy, is, it says, on grounds of urgency. We find this unconvincing because the Minister’s correspondence indicates that the policy has already been implemented administratively”.
It goes on to say:
“In a letter dated 18 October, the Minister said: ‘Stopping Category B+E testing as a temporary measure has already increased the number of HGV tests available by around 550 per week.’”
I think that is also referred to—if I have understood the wording correctly—in paragraph 12.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum, where it says:
“There is expected to be a significant impact on the public sector”—
and I am not sure why it picks out the public sector, but perhaps the Minister could explain what the significant impact is meant to be that applies only to that sector. It goes on to say that
“DVSA has already taken operational measures to restrict the delivery of the B+E driving test by up to 66% so the marginal improvements in testing capacity will be lower than this.”
In light of the fact that the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has been told by the Minister that the department has already implemented the terms of the regulation, it says:
“The House may wish to ask the Minister to explain what further gains will be made if this instrument were to be brought into effect immediately rather than delaying it until the appropriate supporting material is available.”
I ask the Minister to explain, on behalf of the Government, what further gains will be made if the instrument is brought into effect immediately, rather than delaying it, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, in the light of the Government’s statement that they have already brought the thing into operation.
I shall read one final paragraph from the report. The committee took the trouble to produce it, so at least this Committee should show that it has some regard for the committee’s work and what it has to say. It says:
“We have drawn attention to a number of concerns about these Regulations, and members of the House have followed up these concerns, along with concerns of their own, in debate and in oral questions. Shockingly, the re-laid version of the EM makes no mention of them but simply repeats the EM laid alongside the No. 2 Regulations. We wrote to the Minister about this matter. The Minister’s response neither reduced our concerns about these safety issues nor offered any reassurance that the Department understands the critical importance of evidence-based policy and the respect that should be accorded to Parliament and its scrutiny processes.”
I rather share the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s view that the House and our committee—it is our committee; it does an invaluable job of work on our behalf in drawing to our attention the contents of secondary legislation—are frankly being snubbed by the Department for Transport. To put it mildly, that is a retrograde step, and I hope this will be the last occasion that the Department for Transport does so.
We will not oppose this measure—although noble Lords might think, after what I said, “Why on earth not?”—because we recognise that there is a need to get more HGV drivers, but this is a long-standing shortage and there was no need to deal with it in this panicked way. The Government have said that they had 32 measures to address the problem of the shortage, so why is it that the other 31 apparently could not prevent the Government ending up in a situation where they have to produce this one regulation in such a hurry that it potentially compromises safety? There is no information from the Government on what the impact of removing the need for this particular test is likely to be, nor of allowing thousands of people who failed the test to put a trailer on the road and anybody who has passed the car driving test to do likewise.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser: I sincerely hope that this is the last occasion that the SLSC has to write such a report and refer to me in that fashion. It does not make me particularly happy and, coming on the heels of another issue that we have had regarding our SI programme, I reassure all noble Lords that I will meet with the appropriate officials very early next year and we will sort it out. It is not acceptable, and I do not wish for my department to be seen in such terms by your Lordships’ House and its committees. It is not what I want to happen, and I will do everything I can to make sure it does not happen in future.
I thank all noble Lords for their further consideration of these draft regulations. I will focus on the areas on which I have additional information that I have not raised previously with noble Lords or with the SLSC, but, again, I will write to give a full account of the Government’s position to make sure we cover all the issues raised.
The first point is the need for speed and the urgency with which these regulations are being put in place, which was noted by noble Lords and the SLSC. Obviously, had the first debate gone as we had planned, they would already be in place. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned that the first consideration is the need to quickly free up test slots to get new HGV drivers qualified and on the road. Noble Lords have debated many times the length of the shortage, that it was a long time coming, and that it has got acute during the pandemic. I knew that there was a shortage prior to the pandemic, as people used to come and tell me, but there was no impact, or it could not be felt, because the industry was able to deal with it and the supply chain could cope. The pandemic has meant that the lack of resilience of the supply chain has been exposed. That is why we need to act urgently now. I could not have brought this to your Lordships two years ago and said that it was urgent because it absolutely would not have been, but it is now.
It is the case that we release a significant number of tests. We know that they are being taken up and that people are applying to be HGV drivers. They are entering the industry, which is exactly what we need to see. We removed the tests back in September. We basically said that they would not go ahead. That has obviously helped. It is worth noting that we will at some stage lose the extra testing capacity provided by the MoD. That obviously cannot go on for ever. Therefore, putting this in place is obviously very helpful.
The title of the SI refers to licensing, not testing, because the testing is just the ticket to get your licence. The second consideration was, “Why do we have to put this in place, given that we have cancelled all these tests? Why not just leave it, throw it away, put it in the bin and never do it?” I have a lot of people out there who want to drive a caravan. At the moment, they cannot take a test to do so, and the number of people wanting to drive a caravan is increasing: the longer these regulations are delayed, the longer the wait. That is why we must continue down this path, although we have already cancelled the tests: because those people now need the legal right to be able to tow a heavier trailer or caravan. It is about licensing, not about testing. Any delay has a real-world impact on people who want to drive that combination of vehicles.
I turn to concerns about road safety. I have been the Road Safety Minister for more than two years now, and I am incredibly proud of the work we do. Most of the data we have available to use is collated by the police. Often, it will be on the basis of an assessment done at a collision site, where contributory factors are set out in incident reports, but that is done without the benefit of hindsight and on the basis of the evidence available to the police officer at the time and what he or she thinks may have happened. It is not perfect, but the STATS19 data is the best we have and we are constantly looking to improve it. However, it can never be perfect, because some of what we collect is subjective—the contributory factor, decided by the police, is subjective. That in and of itself is not a showstopper. If a dataset is sufficiently large, of course you can ascertain trends, and that is what we do. We have all our various interventions for more vulnerable types of users or at particular road locations. Great things can come out of the data. However, when it comes to collisions involving larger trailers—just recall that this is about only larger trailers; it is not about people who tow smaller trailers, as anyone can and has always been able to do, probably for forever—the dataset is very small. It is statistically challenging to reach conclusions based on a very small dataset, particularly over a short period.
Of course, it is a good thing that the dataset is quite small, because the proportion of incidents that involve a car or van towing a trailer was about 0.45% of the total back in 2019. In those incidents, there were reports of eight fatalities, 87 serious injuries and 379 slight injuries. Every death on our roads is a tragedy and every serious injury is deeply unwelcome, but those numbers are small, so they create a challenge for evidence-based policy-making. But that does not mean that we do not do our utmost to continue to have evidence-based policy-making.
Furthermore, there are other challenges in collecting and analysing the data that I have just relayed to noble Lords. Those figures include incidents involving larger trailers and smaller trailers. The police officer did not know when they turned up whether this trailer needed a licence or that one did not, and the person in the car may not have been able to help with that matter. We do not know whether there is a separation between those people who needed a licence, depending on when they acquired their licence—pre-1997 or not. We cannot be certain that the towing of a trailer was a factor in the incident at all or whether it was purely coincidental. Sometimes, it might be recorded as a contributory factor, but those contributory factors may often be about roadworthiness and short-term maintenance issues, which, again, have nothing to do with testing. That is more about understanding how to maintain your trailer.
This is why we can identify trends if we have sufficient data over a longer period. We know that, in general, vehicles towing any types of trailers—again, large or smaller ones—have become safer, as have vehicles more generally. We sometimes struggle, necessarily so, to disaggregate the data as to why that would be the case, as lots of things have changed since 1997. There have been significant changes to the safety of vehicles, to the theory test and to road design—I could go on. There will also continue to be improvements in road safety in the future. It is therefore not possible to pinpoint the impact of a test that was introduced in 1997 down to a tiny degree, because so many other things are included in the data, which, thankfully, is going in the right direction.
This is our challenge, so what data do we have? We have STATS19 data collected by the police, then shared annually with the DfT. What do we need and over what period, and when would any changes, be they positive or negative, become visible and statistically significant? The SLSC and other noble Lords have asked about the three-year review period. The availability and analysis of data is one reason why we feel that three years is appropriate. We get the data from the police once a year and it has to be analysed. Also, on what we have to do now, the role of any Minister is to do evidence-based policy-making. I think all noble Lords who have been Ministers will know that sometimes, unfortunately, the evidence does not give you exactly the right answer. If it did, being a Minister would be easy—and trust me, it really is not.
In this case, it is interesting to hear the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, refers to road safety. Sometimes he states that he believes there may be a potential road safety issue; at other times, he uses the phrase “and, frankly, compromise road safety”. On what evidence and basis? Because we are having this debate on whether there is an impact on road safety, there is uncertainty. So what do you do if there is uncertainty when you are trying to make policy on the basis of evidence? You have first to improve your data.
We are committed to looking at how we can improve the data—not only, funnily enough, to see the impact of the test’s removal on vehicles driving with larger trailers, but to see the intervention of the accreditation scheme on those towing smaller trailers. There could be a significant impact on people who never even thought about having any training. They did not need a test, so why should they bother? We know that there have been some very unfortunate and high-profile cases of trailers that were below the level that this test would have applied to anyway. We have to look at the data; I absolutely commit to establishing what we can do to improve it and providing the right sort of basis to fully understand the impact.
The other thing that one can do in evidence-based policy-making, if there is no certainty—I accept that in this case there is none, and think I see that on both sides of this debate—is to ensure that mitigations are in place. That is why I have already outlined the accreditation scheme, which we will announce more progress on next year. We will also take a number of other measures that will have a positive impact on road safety in relation to all trailers, not just the heavier ones. The current theory test already includes questions on towing skills; we can add more questions to that. We will also work with the driving instructor profession to ensure that learner drivers are prepared for and understand the rationale behind the questions in the theory test, and what considerations need to be had when thinking about driving a car with a trailer.
Another issue that we in the DfT are, dare I say it, quite good at—even if we have had a bit of a bashing today—is communication with drivers. Our THINK! campaign is very well respected. We will therefore be able to reach out not only through our own channels but by using our close relationships with our stakeholders to ensure that people who want to drive a trailer fully understand what they need to do.
There are a couple of other points that I will briefly mention, although I will write. There are 32 measures. Some are short-term interventions. Some are medium and long-term interventions. Some are small. Some are absolutely massive. One thing alone will not solve the problem and removing one thing will reduce it by a certain amount. We have to understand that those interventions cover a large range of different things.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned new and novice drivers. They can already tow a smaller trailer, of course, so we would expect them to do the training. However, we also know that new and novice drivers are less likely to drive a heavier trailer because they probably do not caravan as much as older people.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned that a third of drivers fail the test. However, some people take the test multiple times, so the number of people failing will be significantly less than a third. I accept that those people would then have the right to be on the road, but I also accept that they may not necessarily get into an incident given that the number of incidents is quite small. Hopefully, they will take up the training. Therefore, on balance—everything in road safety is on balance—we believe that it is right to continue with these regulations. I commit to doing all the things I have mentioned today over the next period of time to improve the data and make sure that our mitigations are as strong as possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made some excellent points. I would love to spend another 10 minutes going through them but I think that I probably should not. I will therefore write a letter to him about bridge-bashing, the DVLA and all sorts of other things.
I thank the Minister for her detailed response but there are huge inconsistencies in it. I draw to her attention the fact that the Government appear to have a limited approach to relevant data. She talks about the difficulties in obtaining data, but we have firm data on both the number of people who fail this test every year and the number of new drivers who have accidents in the first year or two of their driving careers. There are other approaches that the Government could have taken, such as doing away with the test and saying that you must have two years’ driving experience before you can tow a trailer as large as this. Did the Government consider other approaches? They seem to have gone for the extreme, riskiest option rather than looking at other things, such as increasing the capacity of driving test centres.
This Government are increasing the capacity of driving test centres; it is one of the 32 interventions that we have already outlined. We could have put in a two-year requirement but that would not have achieved what we wanted because there is no reason why you would deny somebody who is a perfectly good driver, even though they have just passed their driving test, the chance to do the training and tow a heavy trailer. I am not sure that there would have been a good rationale for denying somebody that right when, quite frankly, old people like me can already drive a heavy trailer—and I have never been anywhere near any training. There are already inconsistencies in the system, so these regulations create a simple system that everybody can understand, with mitigations in place to ensure that it is as safe as possible.