Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Patnick.]
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Christopher Chope) : I am delighted to be able to introduce a debate on a very important matter. I am also delighted that so many of my parliamentary colleagues are in the House, and that Oppositon Members are here, too. In particular, I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) is in the Chamber. During his distinguished tenure of the office that I am now privileged to hold as Minister for Roads and Traffic he staked out a distinctive line on road safety policy. He campaigned for and promoted vigorously his passionate belief in road safety. I hope that he will contribute to the debate. We shall shortly be introducing road traffic legislation to implement the proposal set out in the White Paper "The Road User and the Law' that we published last year. By updating the framework within which drivers use roads, it will make a significant contribution to road safety. This morning, however, we are to consider the wider approach to road safety or, as one might more precisely describe it, casualty reduction.
Casualty reduction is what road safety is about : safety on the move. All human endeavour involves some risk. That applies particularly to transport which, in some way or another, involves us all. The potential for accidents and injuries is immense, but the fact that large numbers of people move vast distances each day in safety shows the extent to which the risks involved have been minimised. However, accidents happen, sometimes with tragic consequences.
Safety in transport is a key priority of my Department. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport launched earlier this year the Safety-on-the-Move campaign which is aimed at every user of all forms of transport. Every day millions of transport users take unnecessary risks and are involved in accidents which could so easily be avoided simply by the greater application of care and common sense. Absolute safety can never be guaranteed, but we must work hard to learn from past mistakes and encourage each individual to think about what he or she can do to protect their own safety and that of others.
In no area of transport is the concept of personal responsibility more important than in road transport, where nine out of every 10 accidents involve human error. Any air, sea or rail transport disaster involving substantial loss of life makes the headlines, and rightly so. Fortunately, that does not happen very often. Indeed, it is the rarity of such events, as well as the loss of life, that makes them newsworthy. Occasionally, because of the
Column 808number of people and vehicles involved, a road accident will make the headlines, but day after day tragedies are happening on a smaller scale throughout the country. On average, 14 people are killed and 165 seriously injured on our roads every day of the year. That is 100 people killed every week. That is the price, in wasted and ruined lives, that we pay for the convenience and flexibility of road transport on which we all depend. The financial price is equally daunting-- some £6 billion each year.
Distressing as the casualty figures are, our present road safety record represents a considerable improvement on the mid-1960s, when there were nearly 400,000 casualties each year, including almost 8, 000 fatalities. Since then, the number of fatalities has fallen by one third despite a 250 per cent. increase in traffic. Our record is one of the best in Europe. We have a casualty rate of 9.2 deaths per 100,000 population, compared with 33.2 deaths per 100,000 in Portugal, 22.7 in Luxembourg, 21.1 in Spain, 20.6 in France and 13.4 in what was the Federal Republic of Germany.
Despite our record position compared with other European countries, we should not be and we are not, complacent. That is why in 1987 we set the target of a reduction in casualties by one third of their 1981-85 average annual level by the end of the century. That target was based on a fundamental and far-reaching interdepartmental review of road safety policy, which reported in 1986.
Before reviewing the general progress towards this demanding target, I wish to tell the House what I consider to be the single most important measure which can be taken by the Government further to reduce deaths and injuries to car occupants. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that I am issuing a consultation paper this morning inviting comments on a proposal to extend the law on seat belt wearing in cars and taxis to apply to adults as well as children in rear seats of vehicles where seat belts are fitted. I have arranged for copies of the consultation document to be placed in the Library. Compulsory wearing of front seat belts was introduced in 1983. That simple requirement has yielded a tremendous return in human and economic terms. At least 200 deaths and 7,000 serious injuries have been avoided each year, and, as a result, significant resources have been released in the health service. Compulsory restraint of child rear seat passengers was introduced just over a year ago and is having similar benefits.
Existing seat belt legislation has shown that people will respond to laws which they perceive to be sensible and beneficial. This country has one of the highest front seat belt wearing rates in the world, with about 92 per cent. compliance. We believe that public opinion now favours the extension of legislation to cover adults in rear seats.
A Gallup poll commissioned earlier this year by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety shows that 82 per cent. of people favour compulsory wearing of seat belts. All the major organisations involved in transport and safety--the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the British Medical Association, the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club and the police--support the introduction of this requirement. There has been a legal requirement for all new vehicles produced since 1987 to be fitted with rear seat belts. Many older cars also have them, so the new laws will affect at least six out of every 10 cars.
Column 809Extension of the law on wearing seat belts is the single most important and cost effective way to reduce casualties among car occupants, who make up more than half of all those killed on our roads. Wearing rear seat belts will also reduce casualties among front seat passengers in the event of a crash. It is estimated that this will save 100 lives each year and prevent 1,000 serious injuries. With such huge benefits available, we must not delay. The casualty savings will be even greater as the proportion of cars fitted with rear seat belts rises each year. The new law can be introduced by regulation made under existing powers in the Road Traffic Act 1988.
We are inviting comments on the consultation paper to be sent to us by the end of January 1991. Subject to those, and to the approval of the House, it is my intention to bring the regulations into force by the middle of next year.
People in cars which already have rear seat belts fitted need not, and should not, wait for this additional legislation. Indeed, it is common sense that belts should be worn now. We have always made it clear that reducing the number of casualties is a shared responsibility. The Government cannot achieve the target alone. A feature of the past two or three years has been the development of an alliance of interests, involving the public and private sectors. Reflecting this growing concern, and to some degree fostering it, is the responsible attitude of the media, which now report road safety as news, discuss the issues involved, and campaign for change and improvements.
I also acknowledge the support of the many interests involved, especially those in the private sector which have helped us to bring the road safety message alive by associating it with products and services in daily use. The brewing industry has been particularly supportive of our campaign against drinking and driving and, with the National Licensed Victuallers Association has launched a number of major initiatives and has put great effort into the development and marketing of low-alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks. The insurance industry has helped, both collectively and individually. I pay particular tribute to General Accident, which has made a major contribution. Household names sucnh as Kwik-fit, Autoglass, Halfords and, most recently, Texaco, have provided valuable sponsorship for departmental road safety initiatives and have developed ideas of their own.
Motoring associations continue to play their part on behalf of responsible road users, and throughout the police have proved steadfast in their support. They are usually the first on the scene of an accident and they have to break the terrible news to families waiting at home. They know at first hand the importance of reducing the number of casualties, and of minimising the injuries which occur when accidents happen.
In paying tribute to those who have taken up the road safety issue, it has to be said that, with a few notable exceptions, vehicle manufacturers have not normally provided the lead that we might have hoped for. Until recently, they have continued to give prominence to speed and performance rather than safety when developing and marketing their products. It is encouraging that, as the public perception of the motor car changes, manufacturers are increasingly developing safe and more environmentally acceptable vehicles which meet public demand. It used to be thought that safety did not sell vehicles. I am pleased to
Column 810say that that no longer appears to be the case. In the past few days, yet another major car manufacturer has declared :
"Our research indicates that our potential customers now place more weight on car safety than on any other issue the old industry saying that safety does not sell will have to change in the 1990s. In the coming decade it is safety that will sell cars."
If this is true, it is among the best bits of transport news of the year.
I shall now review progress towards developing measures to achieve the targeted reduction in road casualties of one third by the year 2000. The Government's strategy is to concentrate on three areas : first, to raise the level of public awareness and response so that road safety is seen as an issue for society ; secondly, to focus on the most vulnerable road users --children, the elderly, pedestrians, cyclists and motor cyclists ; thirdly, to concentrate on proven cost-effective casualty reduction measures, principally in vehicle and road engineering.
Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams) : My hon. Friend mentioned cycling. Great progress has been made in our major cities to provide for cyclists. I think that about 90,000 cyclists come into London every day, and the number is increasing. Are the Government going to make progress, so that cars are cleared off the principal routes and cycle tracks are provided throughout the capital, so that we can get about much better on two wheels than on four?
Mr. Chope : I shall deal with cycling in more detail later in my speech. Last week, I was pleased to be able to attend a seminar and give extra backing to the campaign for a 1,000-mile cycle route in London. I also spoke at the rally in Trafalgar square on the previous Sunday, along with the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and other hon. Members. I think that my hon. Friend underestimates the number of people cycling in London. It is estimated that more than 1 million people regularly use bicycles as their principal means of getting to and from work. I share my hon. Friend's interest in cycling.
In developing a structured approach, the task breaks naturally into three sections--the road, the vehicle and the road user. The building of roads should not be seen solely in terms of increasing mobility, reducing congestion and shortening journey times. Although those are important objectives, new roads are also safer roads for vehicles and their occupants. Equally important, there are safety and environmental benefits from moving traffic out of town centres and reducing conflict with other road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists. All major road building developments are subject to a cost-benefit analysis. To ensure that that analysis gives full weight to casualty savings, the monetary value to be placed on preventing a fatality has been increased to £600,000 and work is in progress on reassessing the full costs of serious injuries.
I want to maximise the safety benefits from our expanded roads programme. From next April, all new road schemes prepared by the Department will be audited for road safety during their design and before their opening. Road safety audits are formal checks during the road planning and construction process, carried out by staff with safety expertise, independent of the design team. The same process can be applied to local highway schemes. Guidance for local authorities has recently been published by the Institution of Highways and Transportation.
Column 811Large-scale road building is not the only way in which highway engineers can improve road safety. Local road safety schemes providing remedial measures at problem sites can make a substantial contribution to reducing accidents and are extremely cost effective. Last year, we announced that we will be significantly increasing our spending on such schemes on trunk roads. We are anxious that local authorities, too, should increase the number of schemes on local roads, where most accidents occur.
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery) : The Minister spoke about a road safety audit on new road schemes, which, of course, is to be welcomed. Will he also introduce a scheme of road safety audit on existing trunk roads? For example, in rural areas, many trunk roads through villages still do not have footpaths for pedestrians.
Mr. Chope : The Department is always looking at road safety issues on the trunk roads for which we are responsible, and our agents are normally in close touch with the details of any particular location. I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that substantial resources are put into road safety schemes where there will be some proven benefit from them. Obviously I cannot guarantee that the whole trunk road network will have pedestrian sidewalks incorporated in it. Each case will be looked at on its merits.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : I thank the Minister for his reference to cycling. On pedestrians and trunk roads, is not the hon. Gentleman's performance not concomitant with his words? Is he aware that the Minister with responsibility for docklands transport has declined to put a footbridge across the heavily used A13 trunk road in my constituency for use by pedestrians, on the grounds that there are four closely spaced existing subways and public money cannot be used, despite millions of pounds of expenditure on new roads in the area? Should not pedestrians be given the choice? Everyone knows that subways have hazards. The refusal to spend a few thousand pounds on that work surely shows contempt for my constituents and for pedestrians who wish to cross that road.
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) made a valid point about subways. Rapes have occurred in the subway at the Target roundabout on the A40. My hon. Friend the Minister uses that road often. Elderly people in particular never use the subway, so they run across the A40, taking their chance against traffic racing along, sometimes illegally at 90 mph. We must do something about that.
Mr. Chope : I share my hon. Friend's anxiety, but subways are a much safer means by which to cross a road than crossing at the same level as that used by ordinary traffic. Sometimes the subways are controversial and people are afraid of using them. It is important, as far as possible, to separate pedestrians from traffic. In January this year, we announced our decision to extend eligibility for transport supplementary grant to schemes on all local authority roads rather than limiting it to roads of more than local importance, as has been done in the past. This decision follows the recommendation by a joint Department of Transport local authority working
Column 812group, which reported last year. By encouraging more authorities to eliminate known accident blackspots, this financial incentive will help considerably in achieving our national target.
The bids which we have received have shown that many local highway authorities have responded enthusiastically to this new opportunity. I hope that those authorities will continue this important work and that, with the prospect of more financial assistance, more authorities will feel encouraged to implement these practical road safety measures. We shall announce details of the TSG settlement next month.
Local authorities have a crucial role to perform in road safety. I particularly welcome the constructive way in which they have adopted the targeted approach as recommended in the excellent road safety code of good practice, which the local authority associations published just over a year ago. I am now reviewing with local authorities, in the current round of regional annual consultative meetings, their progress in setting local targets and drawing up road safety plans for achieving them.
Road engineering can be used also to control vehicle access and limit speed. The road hump regulations made last March give much more freedom to local authorities about installing humps. Guidance on the regulations has been issued this week. Much interest and support has been expressed following the consultation exercise on our proposals to facilitate the introduction of 20 mph limit zones in residential areas. The guidelines to local highway authorities on circumstances where these may be suitable will be issued before Christmas. I know that many councils are keen to start introducing these new limits--indeed, four have already applied. If introduced as part of a comprehensive programme of safety management and targeted on the areas with the worst problems, they can have a major impact, particularly in improving our child road accident record. On vehicle safety, improvements in vehicle construction standards offer the most potential of significant reductions in road casualties but require agreement in the European Community. I believe that the European Community as a whole should see this as a much higher priority than it does at present, given the benefits for all member states. We estimate that proven improvements in vehicle design would prevent 200,000 lives and serious injuries each year in the European Community.
I should like to mention two particular issues. The first is the need to make cars safer, especially for the occupants. We know that there is much scope for making all cars better able to withstand impacts. I should particularly like to see early agreement in the European Community on a side impact standard. The United States Government have already announced their intention to introduce such standards. It is sad that we were not able to introduce them as quickly in Europe. So far, there has been no agreement between member states on this vital point.
The second issue is the need to reduce the extremely high level of motor cycle casualties. Motor cyclists' heads and legs are most at risk. We are pressing strongly that there should be no dilution in existing United Kingdom standards for motor cycle helmets because of the need to agree a standard within the European Community. Sometimes there is a danger that we may end up in European Community regulations with the lowest common denominator. It would be sad if that meant that we were not able to have the higher standards which we
Column 813think are necessary. On my recent visit to the transport and road research laboratory, it was clear that even our British standard for motor cycle helmets has scope for further improvement and enhancement.
We are also anxious that manufacturers should voluntarily introduce improved leg protection on motor cycles, at least on some machines, so that those motor cyclists who want greater safety can obtain a suitable machine. Leg injuries account for as much as 60 per cent. of all serious injuries to motor cyclists. The transport and road research laboratory has demonstrated that it is possible to design a motor cycle with leg protection that does not detract from its styling. The big motor cycle manufacturers have used specious arguments in opposing such protectors, and their arguments have often been based on special pleading.
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : Am I right in saying that if the parents of a person involved in a motor bike crash in the United States--or the person himself--wanted to make a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the bike because it has not made leg protectors available even as an option, the public information from the transport and road research laboratory would be available to the lawyers?
Mr. Chope : The research published by the transport and road research laboratory is public and is available to all countries. I am sure that those who represent people in such cases in the United States would be well advised to take note of the laboratory's valuable research in this area. The whole House will agree that it is extraordinary that leg protection is not available as an option on all machines.
The safety of road users is the most important area in terms of the potential for casualty reduction as in more than 90 per cent. of accidents human error is a crucial factor. Yet it is the most difficult area in which to make progress as one relies on influencing human behaviour. Our approach has been to divide road users into two broad groups : vehicle occupants and vulnerable road users--those without the protection of a vehicle and the secondary safety features that it possesses. The vulnerable road users are pedestrians, cyclists, and especially child pedestrians and child cyclists. We are seeking to improve the safety of vulnerable road users. Young motor cyclists are five times more likely than young car drivers to be involved in an accident and they are 18 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured. For a 17-year-old motor cyclist without any experience, the chance of having an accident in his first year is, on average, 100 per cent. Not all 17-year-old motor cyclist have an accident in their first year, so that means that many of them have more than one accident. That emphasises how dangerous it is for young motor cyclists on our roads.
We have tightened up the training and testing requirements for motor cyclists. Last year, we introduced a stiffer on-road test in which the examiner follows the candidate around the test course with radio communications. Since then, we have been developing with the motor cycle industry arrangements for compulsory basic training for new motor cyclists, which will come into effect at the beginning of next month. Holders of provisional licences issued on or after 1 December will not be permitted to ride
Column 814on the roads on their own until the basic training courses have been completed and the instructors are satisfied that they are safe. Once on the road, learner motor cyclists are now no longer allowed to carry pillion passengers. The presence of a pillion passenger significantly alters the handling characteristics of motor cycles and has a marked adverse effect on the light-weight machines on which learners ride.
We have also tightened up the law on learner drivers by introducing minimum qualifications for those who accompany them. They must now be at least 21 years old and have held a full licence for at least three years.
Children are an especially vulnerable group of road users. Road accidents are the greatest cause of accidental child deaths. Last year, almost 9,000 children up to the age of 15 were killed or seriously injured in road accidents, which is the equivalent of 25 each day of the year. In May this year, we launched a major initiative to improve our child road safety record. The initiative has been given tremendous support by local authorities and their road safety officers, by school teachers, by voluntary organisations, by the police and by the private sector.
Mr. John P. Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) : Education about road safety is an important topic. Is it not true that some schools have no road safety training and that there is no uniform provision in our schools?
Mr. Chope : That is right. The Government's objective is to improve the record of schools in teaching road safety. It is fair and reasonable that each school should go about it in its own way, but the need for all schools to teach road safety is paramount. The statistics show that too many pupils are taught far too little at school about road safety.
Our programme for child safety is extensive. It is set out in our policy statement, "Children and Roads--a Safe Way", which is available in the Library of the House. Our strategy has three main elements. We are seeking to slow traffic in residential areas where children are at greatest risk, to improve road safety education and to encourage parents and motorists to take greater responsibility for child road safety.
I am delighted that the public expenditure plans for the next three years, set out by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, include the provision of up to £10 million for a sustained campaign on child road safety. The first phase of the campaign was launched last month under the banner of our Safety-on-the-move campaign and focused on child pedestrians. Its main elements were a television commercial which was designed to bring home to parents and to motorists the scale of the problem and 13 million leaflets for parents and drivers giving advice on what they can do to ensure that children are safe on our roads. The leaflets were distributed by local authority road safety officers and they are still available. Copies are also available from various major high street outlets. Our campaign was immediately followed by one of equal scale which was launched by Texaco with the catchy slogan,
"Children should be seen and not hurt."
I want to emphasise again how much we appreciate the tremendous effort that the private sector has put into our child safety initiative.
Next spring, the next phase of the campaign will focus on child cyclists. For all cyclists--not only child cyclists
Column 815--cycling is a healthy, socially acceptable and environmentally friendly form of transport. There is a resurgence of activity in it and I am keen to assist that, but I am very concerned about the safety risks involved. Cyclist fatalities last year were 30 per cent. higher than in 1988 and almost 300 cyclists were killed. Serious and slight casualties were up by 4 per cent. and 21 per cent. respectively, and just over half of cyclist casualties suffer head injuries.
All such injuries would be made less serious if helmets were used and, in many cases, the only damage would be to the helmet. Research carried out in the United States shows that cycle helmets prevent 80 per cent. of all serious head injuries. The transport and road research laboratory has calculated that if all cyclists wore helmets, 4,000 casualties a year would be saved and 3,000 serious head injuries would be reduced to slight injuries. We should be negligent if we did not make those facts known.
Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield) : As a car driver, I am aware of the role of cyclists in moving about our cities. Many courier companies in London are now using cyclists and they do not always allocate head gear to the riders. The problem for vehicle drivers is that they cannot see cyclists as they weave in and out of the traffic at Hyde Park corner, at Marble Arch, in Trafalgar square or in any city centre. Please will cyclists be encouraged at the very least to wear dayglo vests so that we can see them? Motorists are not unsympathetic to cyclists, but cyclists are very difficult to spot.
Mr. Chope : My hon. Friend is right ; conspicuity is vital for any cyclist who is concerned about his or her safety. Parents should ensure that when their children go out on bicycles, they can be seen by other road users.
Some cyclists consider that we should not be encouraging the wearing of cycle helmets. The Cyclists Touring Club has written to road safety officers discouraging them from promoting cycle helmets, and the club says that helmets will not reduce accidents. It is obviously correct in that, but helmets will reduce injuries and save lives.
Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West) : The Minister is making a helpful suggestion, but perhaps he should consider making it compulsory for tiny children who ride on the back of their mother's bikes and who are incredibly vulnerable to wear helmets. Does my hon. Friend have any suggestions to make on that subject?
Mr. Chope : I do not have a specific answer to that, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to it. I am sure that some of those who carry children on the back of their bikes are not fully aware of the dangers.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : I want not to follow the argument advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) but to refer to the Cyclists Touring Club advice. It should be clearly stated that that advice is wrong and in some cases lethal. The New England Journal of Medicine shows that 80 per cent. of cyclists who die in accidents have sustained head injuries and that such injuries can be reduced by 80 per cent. if a cycle helmet is used. I do not want to consider the question of compulsion, but any responsible cyclist should advise others to wear helmets. I saw the representative of the Cyclists Touring Club who gave the advice while he was supervising his child in a swimming pool. Perhaps I
Column 816may draw an analogy : sending a child out without a cycle helmet is equivalent to sending him into a swimming pool without making provision to save him from drowning.
Mr. Chope : That is a telling and helpful analogy. When I spoke at the rally in Trafalgar square, I was horrified to find myself being heckled when I said that it was important that people should wear helmets. A vocal group of cyclists opposes cycle helmets, but I think that many cyclists realise how important they are. We must make it more socially acceptable for school children to wear cycle helmets, and we are anxiously considering how we can make the wearing of helmets trendy, just as it has become trendy to wear a skateboard helmet. Improvements in the design of cycle helmets have helped considerably, but there is still a long way to go.
Mr. Harry Greenway : As chairman of the Parliamentary Friends of Cycling, I warmly support what my hon. Friend is saying. What is his Department doing to develop a policy on the wearing of safety helmets for cyclists, for horse riders under the age of 18--under the Greenway Act--and for skateboarders? That would be a good policy. If an all-purpose helmet for children can be produced, we shall no doubt have them for older people in due course. That will be to everyone's advantage and will help to save lives.
Mr. Chope : I assure the House that one of the most important messages in our next publicity campaign will be that no child should be allowed by a parent to cycle on the road without training and without a helmet. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) and thank him once more for his efforts in connection with the Horses (Protective Headgear for Young Riders) Act 1990. As my hon. Friend knows, I was pleased to issue a consultation document earlier this week on the regulations that are needed to implement that important legislation.
We are seeking to persuade drivers to use the road more safely. The most direct way of influencing driver behaviour is through legislation. The road traffic Bill to be introduced shortly is designed to improve the contribution that the law makes to road safety through its influence on driver behaviour. We aim to establish a closer link between the law's demands and safety on the roads. We intend to simplify and clarify the law so that it is better understood, and to encourage the use of warnings and education. Where persuasion fails, more effective enforcement and tougher penalties are needed. Our reforms will ensure that enforcement measures and penalties are better designed to deter and punish the bad driver and the drink-driver.
Drinking and driving is driver behaviour at its worst. It is the largest single cause of road accidents in Britain, accounting for an estimated 840 deaths in 1988--the last year for which figures are available. That is why we attach particular importance to tackling the problem and why our anti- drink driving campaign continues to be given such high priority. That sustained campaign has been successful in changing attitudes. Drinking and driving is now seen as thoroughly anti-social behaviour, and we shall be developing that theme further in our Christmas campaign.
Legislation has been an important factor in influencing attitudes to drinking and driving, as have the actions of the police in enforcing the law. Last year, there was a steady increase in the number of screening breath tests, which
Column 817exceeded 540,000--22 per cent. more than in 1988. I know that some think that we should have random breath tests. But the fact that there are already half a million breath tests a year shows that the police are very active in this matter. At present, they concentrate on those whom they suspect of driving under the influence of alcohol and on those who have been involved in road accidents. The chances of people being able to drink and drive without getting caught have been significantly reduced by the number of breath tests.
Mr. John P. Smith : There may have been a dramatic increase in the number of tests carried out, but it is important that drivers who drink should perceive that they will get caught. Does not the Government's own research, carried out by the transport and road research laboratory, show that the majority of drivers who drink think that the chances of getting caught are very small? New punishments will not be a deterrent if drivers do not think that they will get caught.
Mr. Chope : I think that perceptions are changing. Drivers think not only of their chances of getting caught but of what will happen if they are caught. A few years ago, some people's attitude to drink-driving was that one should not breach the 11th
commandment--"Thou shalt not get caught"--but these days drink-driving is regarded as very anti-social. One does not get much sympathy from one's peer group if one is caught drinking and driving--a fact which recent examples have brought home to us.
I do not think that random breath testing is necessary. The police have tremendous discretion and, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said earlier this year, it is appropriate to leave the law as it is. I emphasise that there were 22 per cent. more breath tests last year than there were the year before. If the police continue at that rate, it will not be long before we have 1 million breath tests a year. It would be wrong, however, if so many people were stopped by the police and asked to take breath tests--only to be sent on their way because the tests were negative--that people began to view breath testing as they did the use of the stop-and-search laws on the streets of London. One can always make a case for increasing police powers, but we should be cautious about giving greater discretion to the police in this matter.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : No doubt we can debate the matter further when the road traffic Bill is introduced. The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) raised a point about perceptions which ought to be dealt with straight away.
Even in New South Wales, where random testing is carried out on a scale that would lead in this country to 24 million tests a year, three out of four people caught are caught in targeted testing. Am I right in saying that it would not be appropriate for a transport Minister to draw attention to the fact that, on Merseyside, half those tested are charged, which suggests that there, there is not enough testing?
Column 818consider further the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) that we should install breath kits in places of entertainment so that people may make their own assessment of their condition and of their fitness to drive? Some people are not aware of their condition and they do not know whether they should be driving. It is easy to be doubtful, but some people do not know whether they are in the doubtful state. We should be encouraging people to take more care of themselves instead of placing additional burdens on the police, who already have considerable difficulty with the public's attitude towards them. Instead of always depending on the police to take action, should we not be encouraging more people to act for themselves?
Mr. Chope : I was in the Chamber when my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) raised that issue in a ten-minute Bill. He received much support on that occasion. However, it is a controversial subject. At the moment there is no restriction on public houses purchasing such machines if they so wish. There is not much evidence that many have been installed, but I do not want to deprive people of the freedom to purchase them. However, I am not minded to make that compulsory.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : Does not the Minister accept that it would be extremely dangerous to follow that line? It would encourage people to drink up to the limit, but the full alcohol effect may not occur for some time after they have done that. People may leave the public house believing that they are fit to drive when they are not. It is extremely dangerous to suggest that we should move down that path. The simple message should be, "If you drink, don't drive."
Mr. Chope : I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman's final comment, and his earlier point is an argument against the proposal from my hon. Friend the Member for Havant. I would not want to ban those devices, but there is precious little evidence that people want to buy them.
This Christmas we will once again receive a great deal of support from the police for our Christmas drink-driving campaign. No doubt hon. Members will have seen the Metropolitan police announcement about that yesterday. I am grateful for the support of the police. We will be launching our official campaign on 4 December.
To reinforce our fight against drinking and driving, we announced earlier this year an extension of the scope of the high risk offenders scheme under which the most serious drink-drive offenders are required to satisfy the Secretary of State on the basis of a medical examination that they do not have a drink problem and are otherwise fit to drive before their licences are returned after a period of disqualification. The measure has been widely welcomed. Even when the driver is not under the influence of drink, accidents happen and most involve human error. We do not know enough about human behaviour to understand why people take risks, fail to see a pedestrian or misjudge distances and speeds. An increase in our knowledge in that respect could be of enormous benefit in reducing road accidents by enabling us to design roads and vehicles to minimise the chance of error and by helping us to improve the effectiveness of our publicity material.
We have therefore set up a programme of behavioural research which we hope will begin to find answers to those questions. That is long-term strategic research with
Column 819potentially huge returns. Our roads and vehicle safety research programme exceeds £8 million a year and includes more than £700,000 for the behavioural aspect.
As drinking and driving declines, and as safer roads and cars are produced, any progress in casualty reduction will depend more on changing driver attitudes. The next target must be attitudes towards speed. Inappropriate speed is a contributory factor in 30 per cent. of all accidents in which as many as 1,500 people die each year. A year ago my predecessor expressed concern at the extent to which speed featured in car advertisements. I met representatives of the Advertising Standards Authority at the Independent Broadcasting Authority and I was impressed by the seriousness with which they are approaching that difficult area. I am pleased that action has recently been taken against some of the more flagrant examples of advertising excessive speed.
As people will know, last year there was significant increase in deaths on our roads and particularly among car occupants on rural single carriageway roads and minor rural roads. Many of the accidents on those roads involve no other vehicle and are caused by drivers overestimating their ability to control their cars at speed. Such roads have an upper speed limit of 60 mph. Too many drivers have still not got the message that speed limits are the maximum permitted speed and not the desired or recommended speed. A speed of 60 mph is quite unsafe for many country roads, particularly when driving conditions are difficult.
Drivers of other vehicles have an equal responsibility to drive at an appropriate speed. The mandatory fitting of speed limiters to coaches will ensure that they cannot break the limit on motorways. Recent speed surveys show how effective limiters are. Many car drivers feel intimidated by heavy goods vehicles. Although they have a low accident involvement rate, the accidents involving those vehicles that occur can have horrific consequences. It is of particular concern that the drivers of the very heaviest of lorries are among those who break the speed limits most. They compound the offence by driving close to the vehicles in front of them.
Mr. Roger King : My hon. Friend has outlined the problems, but why do we not consider the solutions and introduce speed limiters for heavy goods vehicles? Surely that is long overdue. The tachograph is not satisfactory : it simply monitors what has happened after the event. If speed limiters are applicable to coaches--and rightly so--why should they not be applicable to 38 and 40 tonne heavy goods vehicles?
Mr. Chope : My hon. Friend has made a fair point, and there is a healthy debate about that not just in this country but in Europe. Such limiters may come about eventually, but, as my hon. Friend said, the tachograph is important evidence of the speeds at which lorries have been travelling. We need to ensure that those who are responsible for lorry drivers have greater regard to the tachograph evidence of the speeds at which lorries are travelling. Nevertheless, I understand my hon. Friend's point.
Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham) : Before my hon. Friend ends his comments on speed, will he refer to the Government's attitude toward speed cameras? Many of us believe that the introduction of speed cameras will cut the death toll quite dramatically. I understand that the Government intend to legalise the use of speed cameras at
Column 820accident black spots. Will legislation be drafted to allow the use of speed cameras to be expanded without further primary legislation?
The casualty saving potential of improvements to vehicle safety standards is obviously enormous. The 1987 road safety review report, on which our target is based, assumed that 40 per cent. of the one third reduction in casualties would come from vehicle safety measures. The delay in reaching agreement in Europe on the necessary changes has clear implications for the attainment of our target, particularly given the lead times involved in manufacture. Nevertheless, that target remains firmly our goal. By any standards it is a tough objective. If we are to achieve it with only a limited contribution on the vehicles front, we shall have to redouble our efforts on other fronts.
I have done my best to outline the Government's strategy for making road travel safer, but that cannot be achieved by the Government alone. Progress depends on the willingness and concern of society and ultimately on the response and responsibility of individuals. The Government's role is to provide a lead and a framework. That is why we have developed a targeted approach based on the structured implementation of cost-effective measures of which our intention to require the compulsory wearing of rear seat belts, where fitted, by adults as well as by children is the best example. Our aim is to save 1,700 lives and avoid 20,000 serious injuries a year by the end of the century. On road safety, I am proud to say that we lead the world, but that is a matter in which being the best is not good enough. We can, and must, do even better.