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Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): In view of the shortness of time, I will restrict my comments to two issues. We have heard a wide consensus indeed in the House this afternoon. I greatly welcome that and hope that it is continued throughout our consideration of this very good Bill, which I support enthusiastically. Like many of my colleagues, my misgivings about the Bill are that it does not go far enough and are not about what it contains.
While listening to the debate from the Back Bench today, I have been reflecting on the importance of road safety casesa point that has been made already. I was formerly a solicitor in a small market town in Shropshire. During the relatively short time that I worked thereabout eight yearsfour young people were killed in different road traffic accidents. Although
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I did some criminal law at about the same time, no other deaths of young people ever came across my desk during my work there. That gives some idea of impact that road safety issues have on our constituents. We have heard today, with great eloquence in a well-argued speech, from my hon. Friendmy good friendthe Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe), about the impact that deaths can have on all our communities.
I want to talk briefly about the graduated points system. I have a great deal of respect for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but he lost me in his arguments this afternoon in putting the case for reducing the number of penalty points from three to two. We all know that speeding drivers are more dangerous than drivers who do not speed. We all know that the faster people drive, the more dangerous they are. In that context, I cannot for the life of me understand how it makes sense to reduce the number of penalty points imposed for a speeding offence from three to two. I have grave concerns about that. I have no difficulty with the concept of a graduated points system. If clause 16 was amended to refer to a range of three to six points, I am sure that that would carry widespread support throughout the House.
My second concern relates to an omission from the Bill. This is a road safety Bill and road traffic offences, particularly those that cause serious injury or death, are very important matters indeed in our constituencies. Our constituents find it completely frustrating that no offence can be brought before the courts that reflects the gravity of the death of an individual, when someone who is at fault causes that death while driving a vehicle. In short, our constituents cannot understand why there is no offence of causing death by careless or negligent driving.
We fail as legislators if we do not address that concern. John Halliday has been investigating that lacuna in the law since July 2003. The Home Office, to which he will report in due course, has been giving assurances to Members of Parliament and to members of the Transport Committee, on which I serve, that the issue will come to the House and be addressed, but we are still waiting for that. The Bill gives us the appropriate opportunity to address the huge gap in the law.
One of the cases with which I dealt when I was a solicitor in Oswestry involved a 19-year-old motorist who was travelling down the A5, a road that my hon. Friend the Minister knows well. Three passengers in the vehicle that he was driving were killed in a road traffic accident. For a year afterwards, the case proceeded through the courts, based on an allegation of causing death by dangerous driving. I represented the driver and at no stage was there sufficient evidence to justify such an allegation. However, I think that the effect of three deaths, and the importance of those deaths to the families concerned, caused the prosecuting authorities to decide to proceed with the allegation.
Ultimately, a year on, that case was thrown out in the Crown court. As a result, the families of the three people who were killed felt badly let down by the criminal justice system. Equally, the individual who was acquitted felt let down because he had been awaiting trial for 12 months and did not consider that the
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allegation was ever justified. An offence of causing death by negligent driving would have allowed the case to be dealt with quickly to the satisfaction of all parties concerned. There would have been an element of closure for the families and even for the defendant, who was devastated by the impact of the accident.
Every hon. Member has said that they believe that that offence is justified. It is incumbent on us as legislators to act now, to wait no longer and to ensure that the offence of causing death by careless or negligent driving is available to our courts so that bereaved families can have justice.
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): I declare my non-pecuniary interest in that I co-chair the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety. The approach of PACTS is strictly non-party political. I want to praise successive Governments and Parliaments for keeping the politics out of road safety for decades. The great gain from that has been to our society as a whole, with a huge reduction in the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads over that time.
However, it is valid to make the point that last year, for the first time in a number of years, the number of fatalities in the statistics for those who were killed or seriously injured went up instead of down. We should not read too much into one year alone. Longer term, the trend in killed and seriously injured is still clearly downward, but as we have heard so movingly so many times, every loss of life on the roads is a tragedy. So I want to concentrate on ways to reduce the fatalities on our roads.
I very much support calls for a wider range of offences and tougher sentences for killing by driving, as that would meet the public desire for justice and provide an opportunity to introduce further deterrents against the careless use of dangerous vehicles on our roads. I want to focus on preventive measures but, because of the limited time left for Members who wish to speak, I shall ditch most of them and concentrate almost entirely on drink-driving. However, I urge all parliamentarians to have regard to the report by the advisory group on motorcycling, given the huge increase in motorcycle deaths last year. I urge all employers to have regard to the guidance from the Health and Safety Executive on work-related driving. I alert the world in general to the huge gains from technological solutions, including intelligent speed adaptation, which can reduce fatalities further in future.
To keep my contribution short, I shall concentrate on drink-driving. Ever since laws on drink-driving were introduced, the legal limit has been 80 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood. That limit has served us well, and is robust and well-understood. However, because of changes in the law, the practices of modern society and the retailing and marketing of alcoholic drinks, it is time to reduce the limit from 80 to 50 mg. After significant falls, there was a plateau in the number of deaths in the 1990s. As a couple of Members have pointed out, the number of drink-driving deaths has been creeping up. Since 1998, when it was 460, it has risen by more than 20 per cent., and last year it was 560. In 2003, 19,000 casualties were caused by alcohol-related crashes. The Government consulted on whether to
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change the limit in 1998, and in its consultation document the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions predicted that, as a result of reducing the limit from 80 to 50 mg, 50 lives a year would be saved. Using rough statistics, 97 per cent. of drivers either have no alcohol at all in their system or less than 50 mg. Those drivers are not anywhere near the present limit and most of them would not change their behaviour if it were reduced to 50 mg, as they are within that limit. Those people cause hardly any of the deaths on our roads, and their behaviour would be unlikely to change in future.
As some Members have said, about 2 per cent. of drivers have no regard at all for the legal limit and far exceed it. They are often caught two, two and a half or three times over the limit. I concede that changing the limit from 80 to 50 mg will not make much difference to their behaviour. Our priority for them must remain enforcement, tough sentences and, to some extent, education and publicity. The final 1 per cent. of drivers are close to the present legal limit, and attempt to stay within the law. They are just under, just over or at 80 mg, and are responsible for a significant number of deaths on our roads. One assumes that they would adjust their behaviour in accordance with the new limit. They may not be within it, but they would try to keep to it, and would probably be a little under, about the right level or a little bit over. The latest assessment based on the 2003 statistics on alcohol-related deaths on our roads was made by Professor Richard Allsop of the centre for transport studies, University College London, who estimated that we would save 65 lives a year if we reduced the limit from 80 to 50 mg, and if 1 per cent. of drivers changed their behaviour to the extent that I described. That gain is worth having. The target is continually to reduce casualties, and it is reasonable to expect a contribution through the reduction of fatalities caused by drink-driving, but such a contribution is not currently being made. In addition to enforcement and education, we must change the limit.
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