Road Safety Bill

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Mr. Knight: I rise to support the spirit of my hon. Friend's argument, and I look forward to the Minister's comments. There is growing concern among regular road users about the fact that cyclists seem to be able to behave with impunity whenever they are on the public highway.

Mr. Jamieson: Some cyclists.

Mr. Knight: Some cyclists; I stand properly corrected by the Minister. None the less, that ''some'' appears to be an ever-growing number. They not only use mobile phones, but ride after dark without lights and sail through red traffic lights as if traffic lights did not apply to them. While we in Parliament fine vehicle after vehicle to toughen up the penalties on those who drive them, the authorities appear to be ignoring the behaviour of cyclists; that, at least, is the perception.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch mentioned two experiences from the past two weeks. I have almost been thrown out of a my seat in the back of a taxi when a cyclist who had ignored the traffic lights cycled in front of it—[Interruption.] No, I was not wearing a seatbelt.

I am not inviting the Minister to stray out of order, but it would help the Committee if he said whether the Government had a programme or a policy to ensure that cyclists who are a menace to themselves and others on the road properly obey the law and do not transgress in the way that they appear to be doing in ever-increasing numbers.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): In replying, will the Minister consider whether the amendment goes far enough and whether a cyclist is permitted to use a hands-free mobile phone? The hon. Member for Christchurch related the tragic story of a pedestrian who was so distracted while having a conversation on a mobile phone that she walked in front of a vehicle. Will the Minister consider whether the same element of distraction does not apply equally to cyclists and, indeed, motorists? In that respect, my attention was brought this morning to the tragic case of a Mr. Saunders, who died 18 months after being hit by a car doing 70 mph on the A3. The driver was using a hands-free mobile and said that he did not see the cyclist until he was a couple of yards away. Will the Minister address that aspect of the amendment too?

Mr. Wilshire: It gives me very great pleasure to support the Stanley Johnson amendment. It is not given to many people—assuming that the amendment is accepted—to change legislation before they become a Member of Parliament. I say that because I have little doubt that Stanley Johnson will be the next hon. Member for Teignbridge on 5 May, although what he says to his son when he gets here is another matter. I notice that the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross)—these are his last few weeks in the House before we replace him—is not in his seat. It would be good if the person who currently represents Teignbridge indicated that he had full confidence in his successor.

That said, there is a crucial issue here. I appreciate that some cyclists have the view that their conduct is not, in itself, a particular problem. You may sometimes hear that pedestrians on pavements ought to get out of the way of cyclists. That sort of issue crops up from time to time.

We have to be clear that, although the cyclist himself may not come to much harm if he does something stupid, the capacity for a stupid cyclist to cause mayhem among other people minding their own business is very great. It is not in the least unreasonable to say that they should be brought within the ambit of this regulation. If the argument runs that somebody driving a car while holding a telephone in their hands is a danger, then it ought to follow that a cyclist doing exactly the same thing is also a danger. I have no difficulty in supporting this amendment.
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Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): I endorse everything that has been said. Cyclists can be as much a danger as motor vehicle users when using a mobile telephone. There is no logic at all in the law applying to those driving motor vehicles, while those riding a bicycle are able to continue to use a so-called ''hands-free device''. There should be an overall review of the laws in relation to this, because there is no such thing as a hands-free device, as we all know from using hands-free mobile phones in our own motor cars. It often requires the user of the vehicle to press a button or touch the device at some point. There is a danger in that. Extending it those who use bicycles is logical and reasonable, and would add to safety for the cycle users themselves, as well as pedestrians and other road users.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Charlotte Atkins): This is the first time I have risen to speak in this Committee, and it would be remiss of me not to say what a pleasure it is to serve under your excellent chairmanship, Mr Pike.

I fully agree with hon. Members opposite. Cyclists should not use mobile phones while cycling. The Highway Code makes it absolutely clear that cyclists need to keep both hands on the handlebars, except when they need to signal or change gear. We have no evidence, however, that cyclists have caused accidents as the result of using a mobile phone. The hon. Member for Christchurch is clearly very unlucky to have come across cyclists who are using mobile phones and consistently do not cycle safely. Although cyclists certainly do break the law, there is no evidence of a need for particular legislation to stop cyclists using mobile phones. Plus, the cyclist is probably putting themselves at greater risk than they are other road users. A cycle is a relatively small vehicle which would probably cause damage to a pedestrian, but in the uneven battle between a car and a cyclist, the cyclist is far more likely to come off worst.

Mr. Rosindell: Is the hon. Lady suggesting that we should not also concern ourselves with the safety of cyclists? She makes a good point, that cyclists are going to be in danger if they use a mobile phone, which means taking their hands off the handlebars. Surely we should protect their interests as well.

Charlotte Atkins: Certainly, but we could also perhaps legislate for a cyclist eating an apple while riding their bicycle. It makes no more sense to do that than it does to legislate for their using a mobile phone. The police already have adequate powers to deal with cyclists who cycle dangerously. Let us make it clear that it is a minority of cyclists who cycle dangerously or carelessly. We have seen a growth in cycling, particularly on cycle paths and off-road. We are also ensuring that cyclists get proper training. We are introducing a new training regime to ensure both that people who are not used to cycling in traffic get appropriate training and that there is training for youngsters who cycle to school or near their homes.
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The important point is that we do not need to legislate to dissuade cyclists from using a mobile phone. Any cyclist should recognise that it is sensible to have both hands on the handlebars and to keep control of their bike. It is clear that police do not often prosecute cyclists but, under sections 28 and 29 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, they have the appropriate powers to take action against those who are cycling dangerously or carelessly. The penalty for dangerous cycling is a maximum fine of £2,500. For careless cycling, it is £1,000. Those are more than adequate penalties.

The amendments do not work as amendments because the construction and use regulations of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, made under section 41 of the 1988 Act, do not contain requirements that prohibit the riding of a pedal cycle when using a hand-held mobile phone. Therefore, there is nothing against which the offence of contravening the regulations could be applied. That is a technical issue.

I do not believe that we need to take action against a cyclist using a mobile phone. We need to train cyclists and get them to understand not to drive dangerously, whether by holding a mobile phone, eating an apple or, as often happens, cycling on pavements and going through red lights. We must create a culture in which cyclists understand that they too must obey the rules of the road. They can be dangerous. Cyclists who cycle in that way give a poor example to those youngsters we are trying to encourage to take up cycling because it is healthy exercise and helps to combat obesity. I hope that the work that we are doing in Government will encourage people to take to cycling, both to get to work and for leisure purposes. It can be a pleasurable activity but only if people take the appropriate steps to ensure that they are cycling safely, and not putting themselves, pedestrians or, indeed, motorists at risk by creating conditions in which accidents can occur.

John Thurso: The Minister is making an excellent argument in favour of why the amendment should not be accepted. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) is not in place to hear this excellent argument. However, on the point that she makes about cycle paths, is it not the case that concentrating on separating cyclists from the road wherever possible is the best possible way of achieving safety?

Charlotte Atkins: That is true. I often find it strange that cycles can go into bus lanes. As someone who has cycled in London quite a lot, particularly in the borough of Wandsworth, which the hon. Member for Christchurch knows well, the idea of cycling in a bus lane seems to me somewhat suicidal because a bus is rather larger than a car. I have been pushed off a bicycle; as I was cycling to a hospital, as it happens. It is important to try to separate bicycles from cars. Increasingly, as more and more people take bikes on to
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the roads, particularly in places such as London where a critical mass has been reached, motorists are noticing cyclists more than in the past. It is becoming safer for cyclists, because they are being noticed. We must recognise, however, that we will all—cyclists and, indeed, motorists—have to be much more considerate on the roads.

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