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Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful for the constructive work that the noble Earl has put into this amendment. We understand the thinking behind it. It is quite a reasonable proposal and is one way in which the Department for Transport can ensure that standards of vehicle roadworthiness are maintained. We have already recognised the benefits of adopting such a measure. We recently consulted on the proposal to introduce exactly that sort of covert check at MoT garages. I am sure that the noble Earl will be aware of that. The consultation received a positive response and we are in the process of amending secondary legislation to permit VOSA examiners to carry out those covert checks, with which I
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know the noble Lord sympathises. Registers will be kept of the vehicles involved and VOSA vehicle examiners will ensure that only relatively minor defects will be introduced on the covert vehicles. There will be no defects that would affect the safety of the driver or other road users.
However, there are a number of reasons why it would not be justified to apply those covert check procedures to VOSA inspectors in heavy goods vehicle testing stations, which I think that the noble Earl is interested in doing. First, it will be recognised that there are far fewer VOSA inspectors than there are MoT testers, so standards among VOSA staff are far easier to monitor and maintain under existing arrangements. It is also important to recognise that VOSA inspectors carry out only vehicle testing. They are not involved in vehicle repairs, as are most MoT testers. As such, they are far more familiar with test procedures than most MOT testers, whose main burden of business lies elsewhere. Similarly, all VOSA goods vehicle testing stations have a standard layout of test lanes to help to ensure that standard procedures are constantly applied. Finally, VOSA inspectors are already subject to regular quality assurance checks. Even if it were decided to widen the scope of the initiative to include covert checks of VOSA goods vehicle testing stations, the legislation couldI should like to assure the noble Earl on thisbe amended by statutory instrument. Therefore, if we were persuaded of the argument, we could introduce that fairly rapidly.
I hope that the noble Earl will recognise, therefore, that we have some reservations about the necessity of this being extended to VOSA staff and goods vehicle testing and that he will appreciate that we understand the motives behind his amendment; we recognise the value of the work that he has carried out; and we are not hostile, in principle, to what he seeks to achieve. We think that we are achieving that in other ways. On that basis, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Earl Attlee: I go around your Lordships' House and when people ask me whether I have had a good summer, I say, "I've had an absolutely fabulous summer in all respects". This is a fabulous start to Committee stage. I am extremely grateful for the Minister's comments. I was not aware of ongoing work. My amendment was not targeted at HGV testing but at car testing stations, where I suspect there is a greater problem for the reasons that the Minister described. I included HGV testing stations because I quoted Section 45 on car MoTs and Section 49 on goods vehicles MoTs just to be comprehensive. I am extremely grateful for the Minister's response. With no hesitation, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is clear and simple. If people are cycling and using mobile phones at the same time, they present a hazard not only to themselves but to other road users. We can send out a strong message to all road users that the use of mobile phones can result in them not paying sufficient care and attention to what is happening and therefore putting themselves and others in danger.
I suspect that the Minister will tell the Committee that it is already an offence to be in charge of a cycle while not properly in control of it, and that using a mobile phone while cycling demonstrates that the cyclist is not cycling safely. If cycling while using a mobile phone is an unsafe and undesirable practice and the Government are aware of the problem, why should there be a specific offence that applies to motorists but no specific offence that applies to cyclists? I would be grateful for any explanation to justify such a distinction.
I fear that identifying a particular example as a specific offence might undermine the general message that people should have full control over their vehicles while driving and indeed full control over their bicycles while cycling. That is the amendment's import, which would make it apparent that even the Government accept that vulnerable road users, even if they do not happen to be at the wheel of a car, have a duty to themselves and others. I beg to move.
Viscount Simon: I am delighted to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, just said. He stated that using a hand-held mobile phone is dangerous. The same applies to hands-free mobile phones. The person at the other end of the phone does not know what one's driving conditions are or what else is happening on the road and therefore one's concentration can be badly affected. Transport Research Laboratory research has shown that reaction times for drivers using mobile phonesboth hands-free and hand-heldare worse than those for drivers over the blood alcohol limit. That leads to increased likelihood and severity of collision.
A considerable body of research indicates that the impairment caused by hands-free mobile phones is as significant as that caused by hand-held mobile phones. The impairment occurs primarily through distraction from the conversation and not from taking a hand off the wheel. Therefore we go back to the distraction of the person at the other end of the phone. Continuing to allow hands-free mobile phone use may give the mistaken impression that that is safe driving behaviour. It is not. An evidence-led policy on mobile phones would suggest that both types of phones should be banned.
It is sometimes argued that banning the use of hands-free mobiles would be unenforceable. However, even if the ban on the use of hands-free mobiles were not in force, it would still be possible for police crash investigators to determine afterwards if the driver had been engaged on a mobile phone conversation at the time. A case has already come to court following a fatal collision last year. The driver would by definition
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be guilty of an offence and any injured parties would automatically be able to initiate a damage claim without having to wait for the courts to decide whether the driving amounted to careless, dangerous or some other form of bad driving offence.
Lord Bradshaw: I back up what the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, said. I fear that the reason people use hands-free equipment is that it is known that there is no way of enforcing the law or prohibiting the use of hands-free equipment, because any policeman or other enforcement agency cannot see it. However, it leads to a serious situation in that people promote hands-free phones as safe. They are safe only from anybody detecting their use; they are certainly not safe in respect of other road users and other drivers. When the Minister sums up I would like him to underline the message that the Government are not in the business of promoting unenforceable laws, but nonetheless should deprecate any organisation that promotes things it says are safe but that it really means are undetectable.
Lord Berkeley: I agree with what my noble friend Lord Simon said about hands-free phones, in which he was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. There is a new type of hands-free phone. It clips around one's ear and has a spike that goes toward one's mouth, which hears what one says. I bought one a few months ago, not so that I could break the law if it is amended by Amendments Nos. 96 and 97, but so that I could use it on my bicycle. The comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, about using a mobile phone on a bicycle are right. It is dangerous to cycle along the road with one hand on the handlebar and holding the other hand to one's ear.
I bought one of these things that clips on to one's ear, and it works fine if you are stationary. However, once you are moving the wind is blowing past you and whereas you can hear what the other person is saying, they cannot hear what you are saying because it is like the noise of a mighty rushing wind. They are useless when going along on a bicycle and, I presume, on a motorbike. My son has had the same experience. To the question of bicycles and mobile phones the answer is to stop. It is the only solution, if you want to be on the phone, much as you want to keep going. The noble Lord has a point, but it should apply both to traditional mobile phones and the ones that are hands-free, because the latter do not work anyway.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 96 and 97. I do not think the fact that police cannot detect them should be a reason for not including hands-free mobiles in the definition of a mobile phone. If you have one of the things clipped to your ear the policeman can see thatif he happens to be around, which is probably unlikely, but he might be. It is possible to check through the mobile phone companies whether someone was using a mobile phone if there has been an accident. If you are on a bicycle you tend to get run into by cars just as
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frequently when people are using a hands-free mobile phone as when they are using an ordinary mobile phone while driving, because they are not concentrating. I support all the amendments.
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