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Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to all contributors to this debate, which is a constructive attempt to improve the driving test to deal with an issue that we all recognise is important. Of course, we support the idea of raising the level of first aid proficiency among the general public. We know how important that can be in emergencies. The Driving Standards Agency already includes in the multiple-choice part of the current driving theory test questions on both first aid and accident handling. The question bank for the learner car driver and motorcyclist theory test consists of more than 1,200 questions on a wide range of road safety related topics, including 22 first aid questions and 56 dealing with more general accident handling.
I bear in mind the points made by noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes. It is important that people acting in such circumstances do good rather than harm. She is absolutely right that there is a problemthis Bill is certainly not the vehicle for changing the basis of liability in the law for attendance at accidents. However, I do not think that we should underestimate how intensive the work is to get someone reasonably trained in first aid to do a proper job. The question is straightforwardshould the passing of the driving test be conditional on such training? The question is not whether the outcome is desirablenobody doubts thatbut do we say that such training should be an intrinsic part of the test? Are we asking people to undertake a separate area of work and acquire a skill in addition to the current test?
I heard some reference to other driving tests, but none that I know of requires a level of skill apart from the ability to drive safely. That is what we require with our driving test and it has one of the highest standards in the world, which is why I am able to erect the defencewhich I will in due course seek to erectagainst those who suggest that newer drivers ought to have additional requirements on them. However, we will reach that debate in due course.
We should not underestimate the intensity of our test or the fact that questions are included in it that deal with elementary aspects of first aid. However, that
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is very different from suggesting that, effectively, a separate part of the course would have to be completed successfully before someone was qualified to drive.
There will be costs involved. The cost of the test would inevitably rise. It is an additional burden that we would have to introduce. Pleas have been made that we should consult the Red Cross and St John Ambulance. Let me assure the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, who introduced this point, that we have been talking to both of those bodies. We are interested in strengthening this skill level. We have discussed with them these issues in a way that we hope will lead to a strengthening of that part of the driving test. However, that is a long way from the amendments, which ask for rather more than that. They ask for it to be a condition of the test that a separate range of skills is developed. I have the greatest difficulty in accepting that. I do not know whether it is widely recognised, but it costs individuals seeking to subject themselves to our present test between £800 and £1,000 to achieve the requisite skill level to pass the test. All I am saying is that we have to be careful about how we have a qualitative leap in demands that significantly increases those costs. I maintain that we would need to act with care in this area.
I heard what the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said about those who find first aid considerations particularly difficult. There are some in that category. As the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, emphasised, there are all kinds of reasons why people would have some reservations about their ability to cope in the shock of an accident irrespective of the level of skill, not to mention the fact that when people talk about effective first aid they usually mean skills that are regularly employed and are subject to enhancement and further retesting on a fairly regular basis. No one contends that the driving test should be subject to three, five or seven-year evaluations. We could not conceive of such a concept.
I am therefore completely with all Members of the Committee who seek to improve the level of understanding of first aid in our nation. In that respect, drivers are important because they are more likely than those in other operations to be close to serious occasions on which those skills need to be deployed. However, we need a balance. I emphasise that, of course, we shall continue to consult with those groups that I have already mentioned, with whom we have already had intensive discussions. We will consider how we can improve the test theory.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, emphasised that we would need to tread very warily in relation to an additional test. It is important that drivers are competent to deal with the immediate aftermath of an accident. That is exactly why we intend and will continue to ensure that the driving test addresses that theory. His amendment, too, raises important considerations in relation to the extent of the test. I hope that the Committee will recognise that we share those objectives. We believe that the theory part of the test is the basis on which to make progress. Anything
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beyond that would have very profound implications for the way in which the test is conducted, and I would have to resist those proposals.
Earl Attlee: I am rather disappointed with the Minister's response to my amendment. While I agree with most of what he said about the difficulties of having an additional test, I do not recall his coming up with any argument against my amendment apart from his referring to some difficulties. Perhaps if the Minister does not want to recount them tonight, he will write to me stating exactly what the difficulties are with my proposal.
Lord Hanningfield: I thank the Minister for his response. I have gathered information on this matter and I note that we have had many debates on the use of mobile phones. However, I gather that teaching people the simple process of clearing an accident victim's airway would save many more lives than banning the use of mobile phones while driving. The measure that we are discussing could constitute the most important measure in the legislation in terms of saving lives. Therefore, it needs to be given very serious consideration. It probably is the most important debate that we have had.
I appreciate the practicalities to which the Minister referred. I do not think that any of us expect people taking the driving test to undertake at the same time a full first aid course. As the Minister said, discussions have taken place with various bodies. I have had discussions with them and I shall continue to do so. One might be able to improve the driving test as regards the matter that we are discussing to enable people to obtain a basic knowledge of first aid. If such knowledge will save many lives, we have a duty to try to provide it. The Minister said that he was having discussions with bodies. I shall keep him to that at Report. However, I hope that the Government will come up with a measure before Report that might take us a little way along the road in this matter. With that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Earl said: This amendment is rather simpler. Before discussing it I should state that I have not recently been briefed on it by any organisation involved in driver training; it is entirely my own idea.
While paid driving instructors must be registered and qualified, there is no requirement to use them. The problem is that it is quite possible to pass the test without having had any professional instruction. A competent driving instructor will try to ensure that his
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student is not only well trained but also comprehensively trained; that is to say, that he will have covered a whole range of matters that may or may not come up in the driving test.
There is another problem. Most drivers, including myself, overestimate their driving skills, but young, male novice drivers are the worst. A new problem is arising whereby candidates fail the driving test but brag about their capabilities and refuse to acknowledge their failure and commence driving unaccompanied as if they had passed the test. If these characters had received some professional instruction, they would be more likely to realise their limitations before they took the test. They would then take a more realistic view of their chances of passing it and might modulate their bragging accordingly. They might not leave themselves with no way out if they fail the test. Even if they carried on driving without trying to pass a test, at least they would have had some proper training. I beg to move.
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