Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Goodlad.]
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Atkins) : I am delighted to introduce a debate on a most important subject that is of considerable interest to many people, both in this House and in the country.
I wish to put on record my thanks--and, I suspect, those of hon. Members on both sides of the House--to my predecessor the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), who did so much to achieve success in the broad area of road safety.
Last year more than 5,000 people were killed and more than 300,000 were injured in road accidents. In other words, in a single year 100 of the constituents of every Member of this House were killed or seriously injured in road accidents. They are the sort of people we meet every day in our constituency activities. We probably all know a family that has been devastated by the death of a child in a road accident. Many of us have teenage children--I have two young children--and so we understand only too well the concern felt by parents for children of that age. Two out of every three teenagers who die accidentally are killed on the roads.
That terrible loss of life is not the result of a natural catastrophe that is somehow beyond our control ; it is a disaster of human making that we can and must tackle. Because of its importance, the Government have carried out a full inter-departmental review, of road safety policy. That review, which reported in 1987, analysed the problems, examined what was realistic and practicable, and provided us with a structured framework for reducing those road casualties by a third by the year 2000.
In making its analysis, the review carefully studied what could be learnt from the experiences of other countries. The broad pattern seen in the United Kingdom was mirrored in most developed countries. We had, and still have, the best overall road safety record in the European Community in terms of road deaths both per head of population and in relation to miles travelled. We have a particularly good record for car users, but rather less so for pedestrians and cyclists. As children make up a larger proportion of those groups, we have a relatively poor record on child safety. That part of the study, therefore, gave us a clear indication of where we should concentrate our efforts.
The review examined the effects of past measures that had contributed to the reduction in casualties over the previous 15 to 20 years. That was a complex process because of other changes in behaviour, travel mode and attitudes to one's own and other people's safety. Some actions by central and local government had clearly been
Column 580particularly significant. They included infrastructure improvements such as the building of motorways, which are eight times safer than other roads--we are, after all, meeting a day after the 30th birthday of the building of the M1--urban bypasses, which are often three times safer than the roads they replace ; town centre pedestrianisation ; improvement in road lighting ; the construction of safety barriers, and other low-cost, high-return safety engineering techniques. Changes in road traffic law, notably the introduction of compulsory seatbelt wearing and breath testing for alcohol, have also made a major contribution. Education and driver and rider training, although less tangible, also played a significant part.
In the light of the review, the Government decided to focus on three areas : The first was to raise the level of public awareness and response so that road safety was not seen simply as the Government's responsibility, but that everyone should play their part. The second was to target the most vulnerable road users--that is to say children, the elderly, pedestrians, cyclists and motor cyclists. The third was to use proven, cost-effective methods that could be forecast robustly and would cut casualties by calculable amounts, especially in the areas of vehicle and road engineering.
Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight) : My hon. Friend may be aware that I represent a constituency which does not have any motorways but which, sadly, has had a number of young fatalities recently. Indeed, there are a number of them every year. He has not yet touched upon the contribution that the speed limit can make to road safety, and I wonder whether his Department would uniquely consider the Isle of Wight for a uniform speed limit, as already exists in the Channel Islands. I wrote to the county surveyor about that matter some time ago.
Mr. Atkins : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who speaks uniquely for the Isle of Wight, and with every strength and on every possible occasion. This is yet another excuse to visit his delightful constituency, to see the province at first hand. I shall ensure that my office is aware of his concern and we shall have a look at the matter. This is a serious point which he has developed at some length with his county surveyor, whose response I shall be interested to see.
Based on the review's assessment of what such measures could achieve, we adopted the target of reducing road casualties by one third by the end of the century. This is a tough target which cannot be attained by the Government alone. It will need the combined and sustained efforts of everyone involved in road safety.
So, following the report, we consulted widely on how to achieve its aims. The first fruits of that exercise were set out in the report placed by my predecessor in the Library in July 1988. There was wide support for the proposed approach and a welcome commitment from the local authority associations--together with a work plan for the first few years of the target period. This summer we updated that with a further report and action plan which we circulated widely to all involved. It was warmly welcomed.
In Government priorities, four sectors are being addressed--the road, the vehicle, the driver and the vulnerable road user. I shall deal first with the road. We recently announced in the White Paper "Roads to Prosperity" our plans for a £12 billion road building
Column 581programme over the next 10 years. The building of roads is often seen by the public and press solely in terms of increased mobility--the reduction of congestion and shortening of journey times. These, of course, are important objectives, but the aim is also to provide safer roads for vehicles and their occupants. Equally important, by moving traffic out of town centres, we can separate it from other road users such as pedestrians and cyclists and thereby improve their safety. All major road building developments are subject to a cost-benefit analysis. It is very important that this analysis gives full weight to casualty savings. We have looked at this carefully. The value to be placed on saving a fatality has been increased to £500,000 and work is in progress on revaluing serious injuries.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : The Minister is making an important point. In the cost-benefit analysis. Have there been or are there likely to be any changes in the analysis of road building costs comparative to the costs of improving public transport or building railways, or improving railway services? That would reduce road usage, which would be a factor in improving road safety.
Mr. Atkins : We give a great deal of attention to casualties and how they are caused across the whole of transport provision. I could not give the hon. Gentleman an immediate answer on the technicalities of the calculation. If he would like to write to me--
Mr. Atkins : I should be delighted to write to the hon. Gentleman and give him the technical answers so that next time he intervenes he will know as much about it as I do. He makes a serious point about safety, which has been well taken. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin), who handles aviation and shipping matters in the Department, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo), who looks after public transport, are giving these matters important consideration, because they are fundamental to all that we do.
Large-scale road building is not the only way that highway engineers can improve road safety. Local road safety schemes involving low cost remedial measures at problem sites can make a substantial contribution to reducing accidents. These can involve as little as the provision of new signs, road markings or lighting and can extend to resurfacing, junction improvements or the installation of traffic lights or roundabouts. Such schemes are extremely cost-effective. In the summer, we announced that we would be doubling our spending this year on such schemes on trunk roads to £10 million. We are anxious that local authorities should increase the number of schemes on local roads, where most accidents occur. Together we set up a joint task force last year to identify factors which constrain the rate at which schemes are implemented and to recommend ways in which performance can be increased. The task force reported in July, one of its recommendations being that a proportion of transport supplementary grant should be earmarked for schemes on all roads and not just those of more than local importance. Because of the value of these schemes, I have decided that we should give the matter very careful
Column 582thought, in consultation with the local authority associations, and as long as I can be satisfied that the proposed changes would not give rise to any insurmountable problems in relation to the principles of the system, I am prepared to consider them in the next TSG round.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : The Minister has made an important announcement. Can he give any timescale involved in this? I am taking it that he is doing more than give a vague undertaking and is making a fairly firm pledge that this will happen and that TSG will be extended to cover roads of more than local significance.
Mr. Atkins : I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support, as in this matter his experience makes him realise the importance of what I have said. I cannot at this stage be specific. I am working as hard as I can to ensure that the change is incorporated as quickly as possible. In truth, the decision was taken only recently and we are still exploring the ramifications. I undertake to do this as quickly as I can.
Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South) : My hon. Friend will know that Dorset has only one trunk road, so the vast majority of road building falls upon the transport supplementary grant. Therefore, although the 50 per cent. coming from the Government is extremely welcome, the other 50 per cent. that must be provided locally is difficult to find. Has he given any consideration to increasing the number of trunk roads, particularly north- south, in Dorset?
Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend is expecting a little much of me, in a debate such as this, to give him chapter and verse of the road structure of Dorset. His intervention gives me an ideal opportunity to come to Dorset to inspect the road structure at first hand, and I shall be delighted to do so. Perhaps my hon. Friend would care to pursue the matter with me after the debate and we can explore what we can do to assist and improve the road structure--I am sure that it is already very good, but everything is capable of being improved--within his constituency and within the county.
Site specific schemes are very effective in dealing with accident blackspots, but in a typical urban area, over half the accidents are scattered diffusely. These include a high proportion of pedestrian and cycle accidents, especially involving children. We therefore launched a major urban safety project for the development of area-wide traffic management systems for improving safety. These involved road engineering to discourage "rat-running" through residential areas, with road humps and selective road narrowing to reduce vehicle speeds. Five demonstration schemes have now been implemented around the country and the initial analysis has shown a reduction in casualties of between 15 and 30 per cent.
In addition to schemes designed specially to achieve casualty reduction, significant benefits can be obtained by ensuring that all road works affecting the highway, whatever their main objective, are designed with safety in mind. This can be done at the design stage and by subjecting all schemes to a safety check by staff not associated with the original design. Such a "safety audit" will shortly become standard practice on the Department's own schemes. The second of our objectives is the vehicle. There are already large potential savings in casualties in improvement in vehicle design. The Transport and Road Research
Column 583Laboratory has been a world leader on design improvement that could reduce casualties. Our present task has two objectives. The first is to encourage manufacturers to start introducing some of these improvements without waiting for legislation. Like other hon. Members, as a Member with a constituency interest in a truck and bus manufacturer, I am only too well aware of the pressure on it, not only from the public generally but from me, for improvements. Customers today are demanding higher standards of safety. Older drivers, whose numbers are rapidly increasing, have made it clear that they attach as much weight to safety and comfort as to speed and high acceleration. The example of Volvo in successfully marketing the safety of its vehicles is one that others would do well to emulate. Secondly, we are pressing for better vehicle safety standards within the European Community. Where vehicle construction standards need to be agreed, we know exactly which features would save most lives.
Mr. Corbyn : Like the hon. Gentleman, I welcome many of the improvements in bus design, and the Volvo has a high standard. Will the hon. Gentleman also turn his mind to the problem of access for less mobile people? Basic bus design is old fashioned, and it is possible to have much lower access to buses and lower floors, with a slightly different layout design. Less mobile people would then be able to use buses more safely and easily.
Mr. Atkins : I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman congratulated a firm which makes buses in my constituency. His point is entirely fair and one that we make continually. My advisory committee on the disabled raises the matter with me regularly, and I reflect its anxieties to manufacturers whenever possible.
Where vehicle construction standards need to be agreed, we know exactly which features save the most lives and those should have priority. The Commission has a real contribution to make and we wish to work closely with it. This does not involve it in matters outside its proper competence which are best left to national Governments, such as how much alcohol people may lawfully drink or the speed at which they can travel on roads.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) : Will my hon. Friend discuss the use of anti-lock brakes within the framework of the Community? He will be aware of the contribution of anti-lock brakes on aircraft and that 15 per cent. of accidents on roads arise from skidding. Anti-lock brakes would make a major contribution to solving that problem. Will he consider that?
Mr. Atkins : I have anti-lock brakes on my car and I appreciate their importance in keeping me on a safe course in the event of an accident. My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I shall look at it most closely.
We could save 10,000 deaths or serious injuries to car occupants per year with the measures to which I referred earlier. They include better protection against the side of a car impacting against another car or obstacle, and a better design of steering wheel which will reduce facial injuries to drivers. I was pleased to support the launch of a new steering wheel on the new 200 series of Rover vehicles at the Motor fair a few weeks ago. The manufacturers and TRRL put a great deal of work into producing that world-leading design. Likewise, thousands of deadly
Column 584injuries to pedestrians and motorcyclists could be avoided if cars were to be designed with a more "pedestrian- friendly" front. A further category where substantial savings could be achieved is in protection for motorcyclists. Some motorcyclists have sometimes argued that they should have complete freedom to choose the motorcycle that they like without paying attention to safety features. My hon. Friends will not be surprised to learn that I am all for freedom but at present the freedom does not exist. Our research shows that substantial benefits can be obtained from better protection of motorcycle riders, not just to the legs, although that would be an important benefit, but against frontal impact, for example through the provision of airbags. Yet, at present no manufacturer offers such features on its normal production run of motorcycles, so motorcyclists are denied the choice of safety features, even if they want them.
I am also anxious further to improve bus safety, which we touched on a moment ago. We already have a good record. We were among the first in the world to have a stability test to prevent overturning. We have new measures in progress to reduce the risk of people being trapped in automatic doors on buses--something that has caused great anxiety especially among elderly people.
More remains to be done. We are particularly anxious to encourage greater safety among children. We want to ensure that the buses provided are safe and in particular are fitted with seatbelts. I am pressing manufacturers to include seatbelts on all seats and we are encouraging schools to request seatbelts when they charter coaches. Every parent should encourage his or her school to do that. A further area where we are looking for improvements is on better access for disabled passengers, especially to enable easier boarding and alighting. Again we are encouraging manufacturers to bring forward improvements voluntarily, without waiting for legislation. But legislation may still be needed. This will require agreement within the European Community. As with many other matters which are not given the attention that they deserve, the United Kingdom is taking a leading role in pressing for early agreement on better bus standards, in keeping with the aim of harmonisation of standards within Europe to achieve a high level of safety.
The Government's third priority is to influence driver behaviour. The most direct way of doing that is through legislation, and a substantial body of road traffic law is designed to maintain and improve road safety. Earlier this year we published our response to the road traffic law review--the so- called North report. In the White Paper, "The Road User and the Law", we set out the Government's proposals to establish a closer link between the requirements of the law and the road safety and traffic benefits that it is designed to achieve. We aim to hit hard the bad driver and the drink- driver, and to ensure that those who drive badly or under the influence of drink are properly punished. The key measures include replacement of the present reckless driving offence by a new dangerous driving offence aimed more at the observable standard of driving and less at the drivers' state of mind ; a new offence, with up to five years imprisonment, of causing death by careless driving while unfit through drink or drugs, and other measures against drink-drivers ; a new extended driving test for drivers disqualified for the main bad
Column 585driving offences ; use of modern technology to detect speeding and traffic light offences ; and a major experiment in rehabilitation for drink-driving offenders.
Meanwhile, we have already taken steps to extend the high-risk offenders scheme. Under the scheme, the worst drink-drive offenders--those disqualified at two and a half times or more over the limit or for refusing to provide a specimen--are required to satisfy the medical authorities that they do not have a drink problem and are otherwise fit to drive before their licences are returned. The law alone will not stamp out drink-driving or prevent people from driving badly. We have to change people's attitudes. Drinking and driving is the largest single cause of road accident deaths in this country. Nearly 1,000 people are killed each year in accidents where the driver or rider has been drinking over the legal limit. At night nearly half the drivers killed have alcohol levels above the legal limit. That is why we are concentrating our publicity effort against drink-driving. I am pleased to report that this is meeting with some success. Research carried out for the Department of Transport into the effectiveness of its advertising, measuring changes in attitudes to drink-driving, shows that the number of people driving after drinking has almost halved over the past 10 years from 29 per cent. to 16 per cent. Recently published statistics show a 5 per cent. fall in the number of breath tests found positive after accidents. That evidence is supported by coroners' statistics. The police have made an enormous contribution to combating the menace of the drink- driver. They have increased considerably the resources that they put into enforcing the law. The number of breath tests that they administer is now approaching half a million a year. Last year the police asked for their powers to breath test to be extended, as hon. Members know. Earlier this year the Home Office invited comments on whether there should be any change in police powers to require breath tests. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will be studying the outcome of that consultation exercise as one of his priorities, and hopes to make an announcement shortly.
Even where the driver is not under the influence of drink, research shows that over 90 per cent. of accidents involve human error. We simply do not know enough about human behaviour to understand such things as why people take risks, why they fail to see a pedestrian or why they misjudge distances and speeds. An increase in our knowledge of these matters could be of enormous benefit in reducing road accidents by enabling us to design roads and vehicles better to minimise the chance of error. We have therefore set up a programme of behavioural research to provide the building blocks from which we can hope to begin to find answers to those questions. It is long-term strategic research with potentially huge returns. Our road and vehicle safety research programme now exceeds £8 million a year and includes over £500,000 for long-term strategic research into driver behaviour.
Motor cyclists are vulnerable road users, in that they are eight times more likely than car drivers to be involved in an accident and 40 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured. More than 40 per cent. of motor- cyclist
Column 586casualties are under 20 years of age. Those statistics have provided us with a six-point package of measures to make motor cycling safer.
First, next year all motor cyclists will have to undergo basic training by qualified instructors before they can take their motor cycles on to the roads. Secondly, they must then take the test for a full licence within one year, rather than the two years that are currently allowed. Thirdly, as from 2 October, the test is now more demanding, with the examiner following the candidate around the test course on a motor cycle. Fourthly, we are supporting a proposal by the European Commission to restrict newly qualified riders to lower-powered machines for the first two years after they have passed the test. Fifthly, car drivers will have to undergo the same basic training as other motor-cycle and moped riders before their provisional entitlement comes into effect. Finally, learner riders will not be able to carry pillion passengers.
Pedestrians are among the road users at greatest risk, yet are the most difficult to protect. More than a third of all people killed on the roads-- over 1,700 each year--are pedestrians, and a large proportion of those are children and elderly people.
One of the most important ways of protecting pedestrians is to slow down the traffic in residential areas. I have already described the urban safety project involving the use of speed-reducing techniques. We shall shortly be introducing regulations to make it easier and cheaper for local authorities to provide road humps, and we shall also be relaxing the regulations for pelican crossings. I shall be inviting views on the possibility of more widespread use of 20-mph speed limits in conjunction with area-wide "traffic-calming" schemes.
Many pedestrians are run over because they are not seen by car drivers. Last Wednesday I launched a conspicuity campaign on the theme "See and be seen", directed at persuading vulnerable road users--pedestrians, cyclists, motor cyclists and horse riders--to wear or carry something that can be seen easily by drivers. Pedestrians, however, must also be taught to look after themselves.
That brings me to the third identifiable group of vulnerable road users-- children. Their vulnerability, and its tragic consequences, was highlighted in the BBC television programme "Watchdog" earlier this week. Education and training must be the key to improving our record on child safety. Good pre- school road safety training can help to avoid casualties among children as they grow older. We are about to launch a pilot "traffic club", in co- operation with the General Accident insurance company and local authorities.
Let me record the thanks of my Department--and, I think, those of road users generally--to companies such as General Accident and the many others that take such enormous trouble and put so much effort into supporting and encouraging such schemes, particularly those involving children.
The pilot scheme will provide parents with road safety material suitable for their child's age. The project will cover some 500,000 children, who will receive an initial package on their third birthday and another every six months until they start school.
Once at school, children can be taught road safety as a subject in its own right. I welcome the initiative shown by some head teachers in introducing road safety into their school curricula, and I hope that more schools will follow. Together with the motor-cycle industry, we provide support for former motor-cycle ace Dave Taylor, who tours schools throughout Britain bringing home the road safety message to both pupils and teachers.
Mr. Banks : Have the Government considered putting road safety into the national curriculum? Ensuring that children are educated in road safety would then be a legal requirement, and would no longer be left to the more progressive and far-seeing teachers.
Mr. Atkins : As the hon. Gentleman will understand, that is a matter for the Department of Education and Science, and I am in regular contact with the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford- on-Avon (Mr. Howarth). We certainly intend to see what we can do to bring road safety into the formal structure of the curriculum. I am delighted that it is being given its present degree of priority, but the hon. Gentleman has made a fair point with which I have considerable sympathy.
It is possible, then, to make road safety part of the wider curriculum. Last month we launched a "Safe Journey to School" competition, aimed at pupils aged between eight and 12. Children, parents, teachers and school governors will work together to devise alternative, safer routes to school. In the process the children will become more aware of traffic hazards, and will develop skills and techniques to deal with them : thus the general awareness of the school community of traffic danger will be enhanced. An inter-active video will make children more aware of road hazards generally. We are also developing teaching resources for use in the national curriculum. By using road safety statistics in mathematics or vehicle stopping distances in physics, children will gain a heightened awareness of road safety while studying core curriculum subjects. Regulations making compulsory the wearing of seat belts by children in the backs of cars came into force on 1 September and constituted a major step to improve child safety. More than 60 children are killed and more than 7,000 injured each year while travelling unrestrained in the rear of cars. Three quarters of those lives could be saved and two thirds of those injuries avoided if all wore restraints. Cycling is another activity in respect of which we are concerned predominantly with child safety. The cycling proficiency team organised by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, aimed at teaching children aged nine or more to ride bicycles safely, is to be relaunched as "Cycleway". I am assured that it is not going to be scrapped, as some press reports have suggested. About 300,000 children pass the test each year--almost 50 per cent. of the age group--and I am sure that that initiative, which will involve teachers more closely, will result in
Column 588more children being better prepared for our roads. ROSPA will continue to award certificates and badges to children who pass the test.
Mr. Corbyn : The Minister will be pleased to learn that I passed my cycle test at school. Will he have discussions with the cycle dealers and their associations to ensure that when children in the appropriate age group buy a bicycle, or one is bought for them, they are given the maximum possible encouragement to undergo training and to take a test?
Mr. Atkins : I am fairly certain that that happens a good deal already, but if we can improve on the present position I shall be happy to do so. My own children, aged 13 and 10, both own cycles, and have been told in no uncertain terms that they must take the test. I hope that other parents will tell their children the same, particularly with Christmas coming up and the possibility, indeed probability, of more children being given bikes. I should add that, as my children already own bicycles, they will not feature among the presents that they will receive this Christmas. I hope that they will not read this!
The County Road Safety Officers Association, with the help of my Department and of General Accident, has provided a highway code for young road users which provides sensible advice on safe cycling. We are currently working on the production of a public information film to encourage the wearing of cycle helmets, particularly by children. I shall continuing to give high priority to improving child safety, and to developing the necessary measures with the help of all concerned.
Last but not least among the most vulnerable road users are the elderly. Almost 30 per cent. of all pedestrians killed on the roads are over the age of 60. The new proposals for traffic calming will be of particular benefit to older people--both pedestrians and motorists--as will other measures announced in our pedestrian safety package last spring.
Many interesting and important ideas were aired at a seminar that I addressed last Tuesday on the subject of the older driver, arranged by the Automobile Association. I look forward with keen interest to receiving the report and proposals aimed at improving the safety of older motorists on which the AA and the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention are now working.
What is clear from all these activities and initiatives to which I have referred is the important role which everybody, both as individuals and through the institutions of which we are part, can play in improving road safety.
A moment ago I mentioned vehicle manufacturers. They have done much to design safer cars and make available safety features, such as anti-locking brakes, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jacks) referred so cogently. But the impression given by vehicle advertising is that there is only one manufacturer who sees safety as a primary selling point. It seems to me that all too often the central feature of the promotion of a new car is its acceleration, or the extent to which it is capable of exceeding the legal speed limit. I do not think that it is enough to say, "That is what people want". Indeed, I note some countries have agreed a code of practice with their industries to avoid purveying such a message. Advertising forms attitudes as well as responding to them.
Column 589There is also a role for insurance companies. If, as in the United States and Sweden, they published accident and casualty rates of different makes and models of cars, the consumer would be able to make an informed choice. Of course there are other factors. No doubt sports cars have a worse record than family saloons because they are driven by different types of people, but that is no reason why someone who is in the market for a family saloon should not have information on the relative safety records of different models. I very much welcome the voluntary agreement of the motor insurance industry to bring to an end policies which provide protection against the consequences of disqualification from driving for alcohol or drug-related offences. Similarly I welcome the clear signal given by Pearl Insurance in withdrawing cover from drivers involved in accidents when their blood alcohol level is above the statutory limit. I hope that others will give equally clear signals to the drinking driver.
Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch) : My hon. Friend referred to excessive speeds. Would he dare to think the unthinkable and explain to the House why motor vehicles are produced all over the world that are capable of being driven at 120 mph? Is it perhaps for use in people's driveways, or is there some other area that has escaped my notice where such speeds can be attained in this country?
Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend has asked a very good question. It is one for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders as much as for me. I used to drive a little old sports car quite quickly. I have since realised the folly of my ways, but I think that acceleration forms as much a part of it as the high speed at the top of the range. However, my hon. Friend has made a fair point which he should continue to address both in public and in private to those who are in a position to answer.
There have been other notable initiatives. Autoglass has provided splendid prizes for the "Safe Journey to School" competition and 3M has given its support to the conspicuity campaign. Britax has helped us to publicise the child seat belt law and Kwik-Fit has run an award winning campaign promoting the use of child restraints. There must be many other private companies with an interest in road safety. I hope that they can be persuaded to take an initiative in support of the national effort to cut casualties. After all, enlightened self-interest is a great motivator for improvement.
I welcome, too, the splendid support for the campaign against drinking and driving given by the drinks industry. The brewers, publicans and soft drinks manufacturers have not only reinforced our message that drinking and driving do not mix but also can take credit for making it socially acceptable to decline to drink alcohol. They have introduced and promoted a range of alcohol-free and low-alcohol beers, wines and ciders which make it possible for a driver to feel socially at ease while avoiding alcohol. This is particularly important to young men, who are the main target of our publicity against drink-driving.
Finally, there is a group with perhaps the most important role and responsibilities in road safety--the local authorities. Without question, even with all the support and goodwill of the private sector, achieving the target of reducing road casualties by one third will depend
Column 590on the commitment and co-operation of local government. Seventy five per cent. of all casualties occur on local roads. Bus and train users are as vulnerable as--indeed, more so than--car users as they cross roads at each end of their trips to reach their destinations. Only local highway authorities can implement safety schemes on these roads. The local authority road safety officers are on the front line of education and training, providing education material to schools and promoting road safety projects.
From my experience on a local authority, I can say that the status of road safety officers is not always what it ought to be. Too often they are stuck in offices at the back end of the building, and the committee to which they respond comprises members of the authority who perhaps are not in the forefront of day-to-day council activity. That must change. The road safety officer must be one of the most important people among council officers. The road safety sub-committee must become a committee in its own right and must have a say in all matters relating to transport.
The local authority associations have recommended that each authority should set a local casualty reduction target and produce a road safety strategy for meeting that target. They have produced guidance to their members on how to go about this in their "Road Safety Code of Good Practice". This is an excellent document which I recommend hon. Members to read, if they have the time, and which I wholeheartedly welcome.
I am currently engaged in a round of regional meetings with local councillors and their chief executives and have been struck by their interest and commitment. To provide the missing link between the national targets and these local targets we agreed to set regional casualty reduction targets and to monitor progress towards achieving them at the next and subsequent regional consultative meetings. In a wide-ranging speech, for which I make no apology, I have outlined at some length the Government's approach to tackling the scourge of road casualties. There are two aspects which are of the highest importance. First, there is the hard- nosed process of identifying where our record is poorest, concentrating on proven casualty reduction measures, analysing what is achievable in numerical terms, setting targets and monitoring what has been achieved.
Secondly, there is the need to change attitudes throughout society, to bring home to people the scale of the human disaster that is going on around us, to make them recognise that this is not someone else's problem but that of the whole of society.
Every individual road user must be made aware of his or her duty of care to others and to himself or herself. Parents must instil in their children the fact that the roads are the most dangerous place where they are ever likely to be. Teachers in the classroom, doctors in their surgeries, Members of Parliament in their constituencies, the press and television all have a responsibility to advise and educate. Vehicle manufacturers can make their products safer and can market safety in their advertising. Every private company in this country can improve road safety by ensuring safer driving by their employees. Some can contribute directly by developing and marketing new safety products. Others can sponsor road safety projects both locally and nationally.
I can assure the House that the Government are committed to playing their full part in the war against this senseless loss of human life ; but that war can be won only by the concerted effort of every company, every institution
Column 591and every individual in this country. Without that,3 million people will die or be injured on Britain's roads over the next decade. 10.17 am
Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) : In recent years under this Government transport safety has become a major focus of public concern-- not, regrettably, because of their attention to road safety, which we acknowledge, but because of the unprecedented series of transport disasters : in the air, at sea, on the railways and on London Underground. While these tragic events serve to concentrate the mind on specific safety issues and on what we believe to be the Government's neglect of the public sector, it is the relentless toll on our roads that must rightly occupy our thoughts today. For every minute that we are debating the matter this morning, one person will be injured in a road accident. Furthermore, as the Minister has acknowledged, the victims of road accidents are, disproportionately, the most vulnerable members of our
society--children and the elderly. The Opposition are acutely aware of the fact that we have some of the worst safety statistics in Europe when it comes to children on our roads. We acknowledge that attempts are being made to reduce the number of accidents in Britain and we wholeheartedly welcome the Government's target to reduce accidents by one third by the year 2,000. I am happy to join the Minister in paying tribute to the former Minister, the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), for his work.
However, as the Minister has reminded us, during 1988 over 5,000 road users died and over 300,000 were injured in road traffic accidents. In addition to the enormous emotional cost of this tragic loss of life, the social cost is in excess of £4 billion. The accident figures could be dramatically reduced if a variety of measures were put into practice.
Road safety is an equity issue. At present, cyclists and pedestrians run a disproportionately high risk of being killed or seriously injured as compared with people who travel in cars or on buses. Pedestrian injuries are increasing. Last year, nearly two fifths of all people killed on the roads were pedestrians and cyclists. Furthermore, as the Black report showed, children from economically deprived backgrounds are most at risk from road accidents. Surely it is ironic that the most inherently safe and environmentally benign modes of transport--walking and cycling--produce the most casualties.
The Government have responded to the particularly pressing problem of child accidents on the road with a programme of education which the Minister has outlined today. While we commend the launch of the major pilot on pre- school traffic clubs, we believe that there is a case for a general duty to be placed on schools to teach road safety. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and I hope that road safety will be introduced into the national curriculum and that the national curriculum will not interrupt the programmes that some schools have already started.
However, there is a fear that those good measures will be lost in the wider measures of Government policy. Educated children would not only be aware of their own safety needs, but would recognise the huge deficiencies in Government transport planning which directly impinge on safety. The reductions in Government financial assistance
Column 592to public transport are a scandal. High prices and poor standards of service and safety resulting from the cuts in subsidy force people to make more journeys by private car. Indeed, the Minister's own advisers predict dramatic increases in private car use in the next 20 years.
What real hope can there be for achieving the Government's targets on road safety when they have no coherent policy for public transport? Only yesterday, British Rail and London Regional Transport announced average price increases of 9 and 10 per cent. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether he expects any increase in road accidents as a consequence of those price rises. In London, when fares were increased by 100 per cent. following the Law Lords' ruling on the GLC's Fares Fair policy, accidents increased in London by 3, 000 per annum. An expert study carried out by Professor Allsop of University college concluded that there was a linear relationship. Thus, we expect an increase in road accidents as a consequence of yesterday's fare increases. Not only will those increases deter people from using public transport by price ; they will also result in a poorer service. As the Minister knows, the Government's decision to cut public money in revenue support led the operators to seek increases 50 per cent. higher than those announced yesterday. Clearly, they believed that increases of twice the rate of inflation were required to finance the improvement and investment programmes they seek to undertake without Government support.
Does the Minister honestly believe that the state of public transport in Britain, particularly in London, will not continue to force people onto the roads and into private cars? That is not the only area of Government policy which is at odds with their commitment to road safety. Where is their real commitment to traffic-calming measures and accident investigation and prevention? The Minister has said much about experiments and future good intentions, but we want to see them in practice. Not nearly enough is being done. Experts from the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the Association of London Authorities and the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety have all pointed to the vital importance of local measures in the urban environment that can save lives. Sadly, the Government's laudable aim of reducing accidents by one third by the year 2000 is unlikely to be reached because their general philosophy in transport is profit first. It also appears that there is a certain amount of inertia in the Government in implementing new legislation. The Minister referred to the White Paper "The Road User and the Law" which could make many useful contributions to road safety, but will anything on it be included in the Queen's Speech? It would be highly regrettable if it were not and I hope that the Minister will assure us that that vital piece of legislation will be included in the coming Session.
The Opposition welcome some of the proposals for changes in road and traffic law set out in the White Paper, particularly the proposal to replace the reckless driving offence with offences that relate more closely to actual standards of driving. We also favour proposals for retesting, retraining and rehabilitating offenders, and we believe that the Government should reconsider their omission of drunk-driver offenders from the retesting proposals. We were surprised by and did not understand the exclusion of drunk-driver offenders from the retesting proposals.
Column 593We are firmly committed to reducing the number of drink-driving offences. While we appreciate the success that has been referred to this morning in the fall in the number of fatal accidents involving drivers over the limit, we believe that a comprehensive package of measures should be introduced further to reduce those figures. More has to be done to devise appropriate sentencing and treatment programmes for high-risk offenders. In line with the EC, the Opposition believe that the current legal level of alcohol consumption for drivers is too high and should be reduced to 50 mg per 100 ml of blood. It is commonly believed by those who have researched these matters that the test used in 1967 to set the present limit is now inappropriate.
We believe that, along with the reduction in acceptable levels of alcohol, an agreed system of random breath tests should be introduced. At the moment, the chances of drunk driving being detected are too low, ranging from one in 250 trips in one locality to one in 4,000 trips in other parts of the country. The police are making up the rules as they go along. There is no consistency and no justice. Therefore, it is time that a new system is put in place. However, we are absolutely clear that such tests would be acceptable and civil liberties would be protected only if rigorous standard guidelines were set out for the police so that in no way could they be used to victimise certain groups in society.
Ms. Ruddock : The evidence is in the statistics that demonstrate that there is no consistency in the numbers of people being stopped randomly, which vary enormously and depend on the rules adopted by individual constabularies. I am afraid that there is also evidence that there is disproportionate stopping of young black people in many parts of London. If we really want to tackle the problems, we must legitimise random testing and that means that we must legislate. There are many ways in which random breath testing could be better implemented. Many groups would need to be consulted before a firm course of action could be taken, but we are convinced by research abroad that it can make an important contribution to the reduction to the numbers of drivers over the limit. We look forward to the promised report from the Home Secretary. Other legislation could also be implemented if the Minister is really serious about trying to meet his targets by the year 2000.
The Minister mentioned improvements in vehicle safety standards. We agree that they could play a part in reducing casualties. Pedestrian-friendly car fronts, side impact protection in cars and front under run guards on heavy goods vehicles would significantly improve a person's chance of survival when involved in an accident. However, we require more than the Minister's fine words. If motorists are to be forced to do what we know could be significant in saving people's lives, action is required.
I ask the Minister to give his attention to second-hand vehicles. Perhaps he could refer to that subject when he sums up. The maintenance and repair of vehicles is important for the prevention of accidents. We are concerned about the continuing illegal practice of clocking