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John Thurso: I rise to speak to new clause 20, which would create a road accident investigation service. I have done my best to draft the provision in a way that the Government will find acceptablea forlorn hope, but I keep trying.
I realise that the new clause may not find favour with the House or the Government, but the subject is serious. The proposal is really a probing amendment. The reason for it is that for all other modes of transport there is a body to investigate accidents, look into their causes and make recommendations. When we discuss road accidents in Westminster Hall, in Committee, as we did on the Bill, and in the Chamber, people often refer to statistics showing that, in terms of casualties, the equivalent of a major rail crash occurs almost daily on our roads. It is thus important that we can establish accurately not only the primary cause of an accident but also the contributing factors.
When I debate with people outside the House whether speed cameras and other measures are effective, I notice that those in favour of a measure will use all available data to prove, for example, that speeding is a major contributory factor, while other people will argue that the road engineering of a particular stretch of road is the problem, or whatever it may be. In many cases, the answer is that there is no single, overriding factor that is the sole cause of an accident. Often an accident may have a primary cause, but other factors contribute. We do not always hold a proper investigation of accidents so that we can build up a picture and a pattern based on evidence.
I am interested in new clause 17, tabled by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), and the concept of using a black box, because that would fit neatly into new clause 20 and the ability to base what we do on scientific and engineering analyses of what is actually happening. For example, we might win the battle with those few remaining doubters in respect of speed cameras if we could say, "Here are 10 accidents. Here is what has happened. Here are the primary factors. Here are the contributory factors. This is why it is a good idea to put a camera in a certain location."
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We might also be able to consider how often accidents are caused by the state of the vehicle. I do not know, for example, whether our current MOT certificate laws, which we all take for granted, are as up to date as they should be. It would be interesting to know whether the quality of modern cars is such that the number of those accidents has diminished since the passage of that legislation. I simply do not know and I am not sure whether that information is readily available.
A body that exists specifically for investigating accidents, commissioning research and making recommendations would be a very useful start in the fight for greater road safety. I have been told that one argument against such a body is the question whether it would fit in with the police. How would it cut across what they might do? If one considers what happens with rail or marine accidents, where accident investigation branches exist, the function of the police investigation is to determine whether there is criminal responsibility.
The involvement, as may happen in some cases, of health and safety investigators in no way prevents the accident branch for that mode of transport from undertaking its work. In practical termsfor example, with a rail crashpolice arrive and look at their bit and the health safety people arrive and look at what they are interested in, after which the accident is handed over to the rail accident investigation branch for full investigation.
Such a body need not be large or particularly costly. A great deal of its work would involve collating information, but it could make a positive contribution to road safety. I will not press new clause 20 to a Division, but I hope that the Government will consider whether there is not some merit in it.
Mr. Jamieson: First, I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) on the way that he moved the motion and his thoughts on new clause 17, which are profound. He has thought through the issues carefully. The new clause would provide for the installation of electronic recording devices in road vehicles with the purpose of capturing data about the behaviour of the vehicle's driver and certain functional parameters of the vehicle. In the event of an accident involving injury, the use of such data would be restricted.
Such technology would offer benefits in research and accident reconstructionthere is little doubt about thatbut it may be viewed as unacceptably intrusive with respect to the driver. In circumstances other than those of an accident that involves injury, it is not clear what, if any, use of such data is, or could be, envisaged. Indeed, there may be human rights concerns. In particular, the right to respect for private and family life under article 8 of the European convention on human rights may apply to provisions that, by a combination of requirements and offences, seek to ensure that data relating to a person's movements and actions are recorded and possibly made accessible to others.
We need to do some more work on how some of the data collected under new clause 17(12) could be used in circumstances other than an accident having taken place. If such data were to exist, a court could subpoena someone to provide that information, but the
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investigation might not relate to a specific collision on the road or any research being conducted on an accident.
I know that there is significant interest in such devices. Consultation has recently taken place in the United States with vehicle manufacturers about the voluntary fitting of a standardised recorder. The European Commission has just let a research project to evaluate their possible usefulness. The research will consider competing technologies, their compatibility with all classes of vehicles and their usefulness in accident reconstruction. The two-year programme will review the legal implications for their use in litigation, both at European and national level. It will conclude with recommendations on the possibility of establishing European law on the fitting and approval of these devices within the European type approval framework. The recorders are likely to rely on data provided by other vehicle systems and their construction will be governed by international regulation. It is thus important for due consideration to be given to the compatibility of any future device. As I have said, the topic is on the agenda in the international arena and I believe that that is the most appropriate place to develop such standards.
Mr. Greg Knight: What will be the British Government's position on retrospection in the ongoing discussion? I declare an interest at this point, but such recorders would not be necessary or desirable for historic vehicles.
Mr. Jamieson: The right hon. Gentleman's pre-war Rolls-Royce will probably survive having such a device fitted to itthe figure on the radiator will probably not be affected either. Older classic vehicles are seldom used on the road and have a low mileage. They are usually driven in special circumstances, so they are not used routinely for commuting or to cover long distances. He will know that the number of collisions involving such vehicles is extremely low, mainly because they go slowly and their drivers treat them preciously because they fear that they might get bumped or scratched. I hope that my points have helped my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West and I am grateful to him for raising the subject.
On new clause 20, I agree with the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) that the thorough investigation of road accidents is a critical foundation of our effort to reduce casualties. However, the measure tends to ignore the scale and nature of road accidents and existing arrangements for investigating them.
There are significant differences between the investigations required for road accidents and incidents involving other modes of transport. The hon. Gentleman alluded to the number of deaths on the roads. In 2003, 3,247 incidents resulting in a fatality occurred on the roads, although there were obviously more fatalities than that because several accidents involved more than one person. That figure alone is indicative of the significant resources that would be involved in the investigations that he suggested.
The difference between road casualties and rail, air and sea casualties is that most road casualties are caused by an individual human failing, rather than the failure
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of equipment or procedures. I know from the maritime investigations in which I have been involved that they generally examine the failure of equipment or procedure, but such an investigation would not be appropriate for a road accident. Road incidents are almost entirely due to a failure of some sort on behalf of the driver of a vehicle or others driving near them. Aircraft are almost entirely controlled by equipment, so in the rare circumstances in which there is a casualty involving an aircraft, that is almost always due to an equipment failure rather than human error. The difference between the causes of such incidents explains why their investigation requires a different approach.
The police undertake a thorough investigation of all road incidents that lead to death and most that lead to a serious injury. In the past three years, they have undertaken a manual procedure of investigation. Some people say that that is too onerous and prevents the road from being cleared quickly enough, but the individuals involved and their relatives naturally want a thorough investigation.
The police investigate fatalities and treat the scene as if there has been a suspicious death. There is a thorough investigation and police forces and local authorities share information and look at patterns of road casualties. They consider whether engineering improvements are needed or whether people need to be educated locally. My Department maintains a national database of road accident statistics and uses the data to inform research studies and policy development. The data also help us to check that we are delivering our target for reducing deaths and injuries on the road. Finally, we have in hand several research studies that are considering the factors that contribute to accidents. That research is used to shape policy that is much more likely to lead to improved road safety. Although I am sympathetic to the general thrust of new clause 21, I am not sure that a formal organisation to investigate road accidents is appropriate, so I urge the House to resist the measure.
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