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Lord Bradshaw: I forbear to challenge the Minister, but the motorways are safest because there are no pedestrians or cyclists on them, so people do not get killed on them. It is not because people behave better on motorways.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I accept the truth of that position. If the argument is that learner drivers should have all sorts of restrictions imposed on them because they can kill people, and I can suggest an environment in which fewer people will be killed because the roads are safer, my argument holds, even if I accept the noble Lord's point that there are special features with regard to motorway driving. I do not see the point of adding a restriction when those roads present fewer challenges to the newly qualified driver than other roads. Although some desperate accidents occur on all kinds of roads, most of the time accidents that lead to death and which involve young people do not happen on motorways but on local roads.
 
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I hear what noble Lords are saying about restrictions improving driving. The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, has pursued this argument with great skill over a number of years. Our concern is to ensure that graduated learning happens before the test. That is the way in which we can guarantee the highest level of driving. If it is thought that I am very negative about other restrictions on drivers—and I am because I do not believe that there is proof that any of these restrictions would improve driving quality—I must say that I recognise that newly qualified drivers are more prone to accidents. If the statistics were not available, common sense would dictate that those who have just learnt to drive have less skill than those who have been driving for some time.

The Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act 1995 exactly recognises that fact. It puts newly qualified drivers on probation for two years after passing their driving test. If during that period a driver reaches six or more penalty points his or her licence is automatically revoked and he or she has to start again. That is a restriction on the freedom of the newly qualified driver; that is a way of bringing home to them that, of course, they have passed one of the more demanding driving tests in the world, but they are also placing themselves on roads that often provide some of the most demanding conditions in the world and they are on probation. If they commit no offence, have no traffic difficulties of any kind, they pass the test and enjoy the same freedoms as the rest of us. However, if anything goes wrong in those first two years, it would be a rather condign punishment to say that their licences are taken away.

I emphasise to noble Lords that I accept the argument that we have a special issue with regard to newly qualified drivers. I maintain that improving the standards of tuition, enhancing the status of the test, and having that one obvious requirement on the newly qualified driver, meets the situation as best as we can. I hope noble Lords will withdraw their amendments.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I shall not move Amendment No. 120 which is grouped with that of my noble friend Lord Dundee. The Minister has repeatedly made the point that there is no proof. One could get proof by introducing a pilot. If, at Report stage, I table—as I may do—an amendment giving the department the right to introduce a pilot to test this scheme, that would be the way to do it. The Chief Constable of Northern Ireland was extremely supportive when we debated this many years ago, when speakers from Northern Ireland spoke about how good it was. They considered it was clearly established and proven in Northern Ireland. The only way to decide whether it would be an improvement would be to have a pilot scheme. That may be the answer. I would like the Minister to consider that before we come to Report stage because if there were a provision in the Bill to create a pilot scheme and, dependent on the result, we decided to do this, that may be one way forward which would benefit us all.
 
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Meanwhile I shall not move my amendment, but my noble friend Lord Dundee has the right of reply on his amendment.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness that I am mindful of the fact that the most northerly piece of motorway is in Perth, which means that someone who learns to drive in, say, Wick or Thurso, will be more than 200 miles away from a motorway. On the idea of having a pilot project, it would be a good idea if one of the project areas were in the far north, let alone the island groups, because their driving experience is going to be very different. Furthermore, the first time they will indulge in motorway driving may well be on rather long holiday journeys, which is not the best time necessarily to be learning to drive on a motorway.

Lord Brougham and Vaux: We all recognise that learner drivers cannot drive on motorways. As the noble Earl mentioned, some people do not have access to motorways. The Minister says that they are trying to improve standards of driving. I have been an advanced driver with ROSCO for the past 20 years. Would the Minister consider suggesting to drivers that after, say, 10 or 12 years they consider taking an advanced driving course? I am sure that it does one a lot of good.

The Earl of Dundee: I thank members of the Committee for their remarks as much as I thank the Minister, although I am sorry that he is unable to accept the amendment. As indicated, the anomaly concerning young drivers obtains here as much as it does everywhere else. In this country 17 to 21 year-olds represent 7 per cent of the driving population, although, as I recently quoted, they comprise 13 per cent of drivers involved in collisions. The current Bill certainly provides a good opportunity to address this anomaly and to improve the safety record of young drivers.

There are a variety of individual and combination remedies. These include graduated classes of provisional licences, a dissuasion of newly qualified drivers from carrying passengers, the prescription of a lower alcohol limit than for others and a requirement to display a distinguishing mark on vehicles. I hope very much that some such measures will be introduced. I agree very much with my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes that pilot schemes could well be the best facilitators and the best way forward. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 26 [Disqualification until test is passed]:

On Question, Whether Clause 26 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Hanningfield: This clause amends Section 36 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act by substituting a new version of the definition of "appropriate driving test".

The new definition would enable the Secretary of State to prescribe regulations when the appropriate driving test is an extended test. The clause also requires
 
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the Secretary of State to consult with such representatives as he thinks fit before making an order under this clause.

I shall ask the Minister a number of questions about how he envisages this clause will work in practice. In particular, in what circumstances will the Secretary of State deem it necessary to prescribe the use of an extended test? It would be helpful if the Minister could give us further details of what exactly would be incorporated in the terms of an extended test.

Furthermore, what is the difference between an extended test and a test of competence to drive, which is not an extended driving test as detailed in subsection 3(b) of the clause? How many individuals does the Minister envisage would be expected to participate in this extended test in any given year? Would the financial implications be both for the driver and for the test centre? The Minister told us how much it costs to take a driving test, so I do not know how much it would cost to take this extended test. In short, who will pick up the costs of this?

Finally, which representative organisations would the Secretary of State consult before making an order under this section; and, indeed, for what purpose would such a consultation take place?

9.30 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: I understand the nature of the noble Lord's query. The new definition in Clause 26 will enable the Secretary of State to prescribe by regulations the circumstances in which, where a court has ordered that someone must pass a retest to recover driving entitlement, the retest must be either an extended driving test or an ordinary test of competence to drive. Furthermore, the clause improves driving licence security by applying the forgery provisions, to which I am sure the noble Lord has no objection.

Section 36 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 gives courts a power, and in some cases places a duty on them, to require road traffic offenders to pass a driving test in order to regain their driving licence entitlement. Subsection (2) of Clause 26 amends Section 36(3), not only by providing broader powers on where a court may order that a person be disqualified until a test has been passed, but also by making it clear what is for an order and what is for regulations.

Subsection (3) of Clause 26 substitutes a new subsection (5) of Section 36. Currently, where the offender is convicted of an offence involving obligatory disqualification, or is disqualified under the totting-up provisions, the appropriate driving test is an extended test. We regard that as overly rigid. There could be circumstances in which it was appropriate to use Section 36(3) to require obligatory retesting but where it would be sensible that the retest be just the ordinary test of competence to drive. We have already announced, in the context of our measures to address drink-driving, that we envisage providing that any person disqualified from driving for two years or more should always have to take a retest before recovering a full licence. But we envisage that an appropriate test
 
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in those circumstances could be the ordinary test, including both the computer-based test of knowledge and hazard perception and the practical driving test.

All we seek is flexibility for the courts to decide which test to apply. The extended test is double duration and has a double fee. It can be taken only in a motorcar or a motorcycle, so it applies to drivers who seek to achieve competence in that area. The extended test is a significant extra imposition. We want to give courts the flexibility that they need on whether to impose the extended test or whether to require merely that the offender pass the driving test again.

We have a database of approximately 3,000 consultees. All the consultations are placed on the agency's website. We are consulting fully. I hope that the noble Lord will feel that we are justified in framing the clause to include the element of flexibility.


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