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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: This is an extraordinary amendment. Surely you cannot pass your test unless you are able to drive. If you are able to drive, it does not matter who taught you or how they taught you; the essence of the matter must be the test. However, my noble friend referred to another serious matter. If people are failing the test but driving while pretending they have passed it, it is terribly important that they should be caught up with. I believe that the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and my later amendments, which seek to mark new drivers' cars, might constitute a way of catching those people.

Lord Davies of Oldham: The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, has typically hit the nail right on the head. That is our exact objection to the proposal, rather than the intent behind it. We want to see an enhancement of driver skills in this country, so we are taking measures to improve the quality of driving instruction. We have said that those who give driving instruction should have enhanced standards, and be expected to meet higher requirements. There are areas of specialist driving where we would expect to raise standards through making additional demands.

In the case of the ordinary person who wishes to become a driver, however, it is the test, not how they arrived at the result or what kind of instruction they had, that matters. I hear what the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, says: that if they have failed the test then they will have benefited from driving expertise. That may or may not be so—I think it probably is so. Nevertheless, we have a driving test to detect whether a person is safe to drive on British roads. It is the test which has to be passed, not a certificate obtained on how one arrived at the competence with regard to the test.

I understand the motives behind the amendment: to raise standards in this country. We are at one with the noble Lord on that and will make progress in the ways that I have indicated, but in circumstances in which we are confident that this is one of the most rigorous driving tests in the world. As I have indicated, for ordinary drivers seeking to pass the test for the first
 
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time, it usually involves a number of hours of expert tuition. It may be that a small number can get by on the basis of help from unqualified drivers, but the vast majority of our fellow citizens get through this test through substantial expenditure on driving instructors, whose standards we want to raise. That is the basis on which this rigorous test currently makes its demands, and we should therefore not worry about how people have reached that level of competence. We should assure ourselves that that level of competence remains high.

On that basis, I hope the noble Earl will accept that I am not in a position to accept his amendment, well intentioned though it is. I hope he is prepared to withdraw it.

Lord Brougham and Vaux: How are the Government going to raise the standard of driving instructors?

Lord Davies of Oldham: I have given an indication that we have it in mind to look at the way in which we will improve those qualifications. I am not currently in a position to give details. We are thinking of looking, in the first instance, at driving instructors who deal with specialist vehicles—public service vehicles, heavy goods vehicles and so on. We are concerned about this. We recognise that the present situation could and should be improved. I have given an undertaking to look at this seriously.

Earl Attlee: I am very surprised to be shot down in flames on this amendment. I had hoped to have a little support for it. I will clearly have to think again and, subject to the usual caveat, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 25 agreed to.

9 pm

The Earl of Dundee moved Amendment No. 117:


"RESTRICTIONS ON NEW DRIVERS
(1) The Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act 1995 (c. 13) is amended as follows.
(2) In section 1 (probationary period for newly qualified drivers), after subsection (4) insert—
"(5) During the course of the probationary period, the following conditions shall apply to a qualified driver—
(a) he may not drive accompanied by any person under the age of 21;
(b) the vehicle must be fitted with a distinguishing mark determined by regulations issued by the Secretary of State indicating that the driver is a probationary driver; and
(c) he may not drive when the proportion of alcohol in his breath, blood or urine exceeds the prescribed limit.
(6) The Secretary of State shall prescribe by regulations the size, nature and colour of the distinguishing sign in subsection (5)(b) above.
 
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(7) The prescribed limit of alcohol for the purposes of section 5(iii) above is—
(a) in the case of breath, 9 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres;
(b) in the case of blood, 20 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres; and
(c) in the case of urine, 27 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres.
(8) If a qualified driver drives in breach of any of the conditions set out in subsection (5), he is guilty of an offence.""

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 164.

These amendments seek to place limitations on newly qualified and young drivers. Amendment No. 117 proposes a new clause relating to the Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act 1995. That Act already establishes a probationary length of time for new young drivers. If adopted, Amendment No.117 would add to the requirements for this period. It would do so in three ways. First, a newly-qualified young driver would be dissuaded from carrying other young people as passengers. Secondly, the vehicle would have to display a distinguishing mark to indicate the driver's probationary status. Thirdly, the prescribed limit of alcohol in breath, blood or urine would become lower than that for non-probationary drivers. As already outlined, those three proposed measures are contained in Amendment No. 117.

Amendment No. 164, on the other hand, encourages the introduction of graduated classes of provisional licence. It does so by proposing a flexible power, although not a requirement, for the Secretary of State to order such graduated licences if and when he should see fit. The background to the amendments is of course the anomaly concerning young drivers. Seventeen to 21 year-olds account for 7 per cent of the driving population, but they comprise 13 per cent of the drivers involved in collisions. Therefore, there is a strong case for measures that can improve the safety record of young drivers.

Nevertheless, these are probing amendments. Let us take the theme of dissuading newly-qualified young drivers from carrying young passengers. The amendment states:

Clearly, that stipulation, if adopted, would be unreasonable. It would militate against a host of safe and responsible young drivers who would thus become prevented from assisting their own families by driving younger brothers, sisters and others where necessary and desirable. Equally, however, we can do well to take note of international examples that may assist us to adopt a balanced approach. Many jurisdictions have put in place graduated licensing programmes to maintain a level of supervision over newly-qualified drivers. In New Zealand, new drivers may only carry passengers when accompanied by a fully licensed adult driver, and in California the driver may not carry passengers under 20 years old. Many other jurisdictions restrict the young driver's ability to carry
 
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passengers during the learner rather than the probationary period. In British Columbia, Canada, the driver must display a N-plate, for novice, for the full 18-month novice period. In the Australian state of Victoria the probationary period lasts three years, during which the drive must display red P-plates.

Many areas have lower blood alcohol limits for provisional drivers. In Western Australia, there is a lower BAC of 0.02, whereas for other drivers it is 0.05, and the provisional period lasts for two years. In New Zealand the BAC is a little higher at 0.03. In the state of Oregon drivers under 21 must have a blood alcohol content of zero. Graduated licensing schemes share several other features, including limitations on speed, holding a licence without committing an offence for a certain period, and engine size.

Of course the problem is the same here as it is in other countries. Young drivers are more likely to be involved in collisions and are more likely to do so at excess speed, at night, under the influence of alcohol and while carrying passengers of a similar age to the driver. The current Road Safety Bill clearly provides an opportunity to reduce the problem, and the amendments in the group invite the Minister to do so. I beg to move.


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