Road Safety

Mark made a number of interventions in a debate on road safety in Westminster Hall:

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I appreciate that I have stopped the Minister in his prime, only two minutes into his speech, but he has said that the number of deaths is still far too high. Surely he would agree that motoring, like many other activities in life, can never be entirely risk free. He makes great play of the fact that there have been significant reductions in the past year and that fatalities are at their lowest level for many decades. Does he have a figure in mind for an acceptable number of deaths, given that inevitably a balance must be struck between addressing what is obviously a risky undertaking and ensuring that there is relatively swift movement on the roads for the many millions of our fellow countrymen who wish to go from A to B?

Mr. Field: Implicitly, the Minister understands that driving is inherently a hazardous activity and therefore, to a large extent, some accidents will genuinely be accidents. He is right to refer to the lack of a seat belt, drunken-driving and massively excessive speeding. All of those are factors in some accidents, but does he not agree that we will reach a level that might be regarded, although we do not want anyone to die on our roads, as acceptable? I am talking about a point at which a lot has already been done in all the areas that we are discussing, but there are still a number of deaths because of the intrinsic hazard that comes with driving. One of the dangers, whether this is in relation to individual freedoms that are being upset or the concern that I have often expressed on speed cameras, is that too much is driven by money raising, rather than simply safety aspects.

Mr. Mark Field: No one would want to defend the so-called rights of irresponsible or dangerous drivers. As the Minister rightly points out, the Government propose additional points for reckless or excessive speeding—perhaps as many as six for each such incident.

Would it not be sensible, in conjunction with that, to recognise that for certain technical speeding offences—such as driving only a few miles per hour over the limit, perhaps in the middle of the night, when there is not really any danger to other road users, and particularly in relation to speed cameras—there should be something less than the standard three-point tariff? In other words, we should have a slightly more flexible tariff system, as regular drivers committing four relatively small technical offences within a three-year period would, as the Minister said, automatically get a six-month ban. Surely Parliament’s intention was to have bans for the most reckless drivers.

Mr. Field: Presumably, therefore, the Minister accepts that 74 per cent. of accidents have nothing to do with speed. No one wants to encourage the most reckless speeders, but speed cameras do not stop some of the worst offenders—the unlicensed and uninsured drivers—who can be a much bigger hazard. One of the problems surely is that the erection of a speed camera often comes cheek by jowl with a policy of the local authority to reduce the number of police in an area. That makes road conditions ever more hazardous. Presumably, among many of those 74 per cent. of accidents not related to speed, there are unlicensed and uninsured drivers, who should not be on the road at all. They might keep within limits, but none the less will be a hazard to themselves and other road users.