August 10, 2004 at 10:29 pm #8989XV16Participant
House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
Traffic Law and its Enforcement: Road Safety
Wednesday 14 July 2004
MR DAVID JAMIESON MP, MR STEVE GOODING and MR TREVOR HORTON
Evidence heard in Public Questions 504 – 608
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course
Taken before the Transport Committee
on Wednesday 14 July 2004
Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody, in the Chair
Mr Jeffrey M Donaldson
Mrs Louise Ellman
Miss Anne McIntosh
Mr Graham Stringer
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Mr David Jamieson, a Member of the House, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Mr Steve Gooding, Director, Roads and Vehicles Directorate, Department for Transport, and Mr Trevor Horton, Director, Operational Policy, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, examined.
Chairman: Minister, you are so important that we felt we really needed to have you demonstrate your skills, so with the exception of a tiny bit of housekeeping could I then wish you welcome, ask you to identify yourself and begin to do all that is important for Ministers of the Department for Transport to do. But could we start off with our own housekeeping, with your permission. Members having an interest to declare.
Mr Stringer: A member of Amicus, Director of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies.
Ian Lucas: A member of Amicus.
Q504 Chairman: Gwyneth Dunwoody, ASLEF. Could I just assure you, Minister, that I am convinced many more thousands of people will come to join this audience. Perhaps what we lack in numbers we more than make up for in quality. Could I ask you firstly to identify yourself for the record.
Mr Jamieson: Thank you very much, Mrs Dunwoody. I am David Jamieson, Road Safety Minister, and could I ask my officials to introduce themselves.
Mr Gooding: I am Steve Gooding. I am the Director of Roads and Vehicles Directorate.
Mr Horton: I am Trevor Horton from the DVLA in Swansea.
Q505 Chairman: It is very nice to see you all here this afternoon. Who is in charge of the magic button? Are you, Mr Gooding, taking on this grave responsibility?
Mr Gooding: Madam Chairman, yes.
Q506 Chairman: Well, I hope you are prepared. Minister, would you like to begin to talk to us, please.
Mr Jamieson: Thank you very much, Mrs Dunwoody. Can I thank you, firstly, for inviting us here this afternoon to have a look at the proposals that we are putting forward for our primary legislation at the earliest opportunity and for allowing us to do a presentation. I do not think I have heard of a Select Committee having a presentation like this before. I am sure somebody is going to put me right on that. But as I know that you are at the cutting edge in these particular issues on scrutiny and we as a Department like to think ourselves likewise, I thought it would be helpful just to go through the proposals we are making and to very briefly describe what we think they are going to do. Could I stress as well that these are proposals and why we wanted them considered by the Select Committee is because I am hopeful, in fact I am confident, that the Select Committee will be able t make recommendations that we will hear before the legislation starts its progress through Parliament. Of course, it is not unique but it is unusual that that happens to legislation. My view is that we will have better legislation for it having been seen by a Select Committee before it actually goes formally through the House. If I could briefly just put the proposals we are putting forward into the context of road safety. The proposals we are putting forward, of course, are those aspects where we need to improve road safety on our roads that need primary legislation. There are many other things that we are doing but these are the issues that need primary legislation. As you can see from the slide there, the United Kingdom, we are sustaining in comparison with other countries a very good road safety record, although there can be no complacency. Nearly 3,500 people die on our roads each year, but if you look at some of the other countries there you can see their records are far worse than ours. Despite the increasing volumes of traffic – for example, in 1930 there were just 2.3 million cars and vehicles on our roads, in 2002 we had 30 million vehicles on our road – we are still seeing the casualties, particularly the serious and slight injuries, declining over the years. I think the challenge for us now is to keep that reduction going, whereas at the same time making sure that transport can grow in the areas we want it to go, like cycling and walking. We made three years ago a commitment in our strategy documents to review our strategy every three years and part of that rolling programme looks forward past 2010. This programme has meant that we are on course to meet targets. However, there is one target we are concerned about and that is the levelling off of fatalities that there have been on our roads. So there has been a fall, and a very rapid fall, in the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads. However, we have seen a levelling off of the number of people actually killed. We are doing some research into that.
Q507 Chairman: I am sorry, could you just explain the difference between killed and seriously injured and actually killed.
Mr Jamieson: The dotted line, what appears to be a red line on the graph there, that is the average reduction needed to meet our target from the baseline of the 1994-1998 average. The white line on the graph shows the killed and seriously injured, how those are falling in relation to the target part of the graph. What that particular slide does not show you is how the serious injuries are actually falling more rapidly. However, the number of people killed is actually on a plateau. So for about five years the number of people killed has reached a plateau. However, the number of people seriously injured has been falling very rapidly indeed. I hope that is helpful. Now, the legislating components of our strategy and the key areas where we think we now need to take some action. I have put them into seven broad categories where we need to make some changes to the primary legislation. I do stress that there is much more happening in the Department and much more happening in the Home Office than appears here, but these are the issues now that we feel need primary legislation. In the road safety strategy we at that time identified a hundred and fifty actions that needed to be taken and twenty-six of those at that time needed primary legislation; eight of them are already done, eleven are actually within this package with other measures as well, three are subject to the Home Office review, three we are still developing and one we are no longer taking forward. One of the first things we have mentioned in our paper to you was on local road safety and the powers to pay grants to local authorities in England and Wales to promote roads safety because although we do a lot of good work in the Department at government level, the real work is done very often at local government level, and we do offer grants to local authorities to undertake safety schemes. The Gloucester Safer City project I think is a very good example, where they have seen the number of killed and seriously injured fall by 38%. Also, the city of Birmingham are currently on a pilot of a £6 million project as well to reduce particularly the problems they have got in the inner city areas in Birmingham and particularly Dealing with Disadvantage. We have offered funding to Manchester. But we want to ease the way in which that funding can be made to local authorities to carry out some of the excellent work they do. We have a continuing concern about drink driving. About a sixth of all deaths now are caused by people who are under the influence of alcohol. One of the proposals we are bringing forward here is the evidential breath-testing and that will allow police forces to maximise their resources in tackling drink driving. Also, what we are proposing here dovetails with a lot of the other things we are doing. You may have seen the latest crash advertisement showing young men in a pub who actually hit a young woman. This is particularly focused, of course, at younger males in the sort of 20 – 30 age group, who are the ones where we have the greatest difficulty at the moment. I have to say the vast majority of people, including younger people, are very, very careful about drink driving, but we have a minority who are not and those are the people who are causing the problem. Also, we are proposing drink-drive rehabilitation and where that has been under way at the moment we have shown that those who complete the course are about three times less likely to offend. Another area is speeding and speeding is a factor in a significant proportion of collisions. It may be up to a third of collisions are where people are either travelling at an inappropriate speed or they are exceeding the speed limit. We are proposing to create variable fixed penalties and increase the range of penalty points from 2 to 6 so that the nature of the offence is more accurately reflected in the severity of the punishment. Speed rehabilitation courses will be offered to those with 6 or more points, of course at the court’s disposal. The increased penalty for not identifying a driver, to remove the incentive not to identify the driver in a speeding offence, and to ban the carriage of these speed camera jammers and detectors, these measures, of course, support the camera strategy that we have had in recent years which has reduced casualties by about 40% at the sites where they have been in place. Bad driving and driver error is a contributor to almost all accidents and casualties on the road and the penalties for the most serious offence of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death whilst under the influence were increased in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to fourteen years, a very severe punishment for that indeed. There has also been a change in the penalty for dangerous driving from two to five years and it is related to a number of other proposals and will be subject to further consultation by the Home Office during the summer following a recent review of the road traffic penalties. Also, another area is driving standards. We have a particular concern over younger drivers and to a lesser extent over newer drivers, those people who have passed their test. The older you are when you pass the test, the more likely you are to be safe afterwards, but younger drivers, certainly in their first year, are very prone to have casualties. Even those who are generally considered as very responsible still make errors of judgment in their first year or so of driving. So you can see they are 6% of all drivers but they cause 12% of the collisions. We are bringing in legislation which is part of a range of activities to improve driving standards. We have introduced the hazard perception test. We are offering a programme of continuous professional development to driving instructors. We have also got the educational programme Arrive Alive and also the Pass Plus initiative for novice drivers. The take-up has risen from about 7 to 14% since the year 2000. Another area where we have concern is where research has suggested that up to 10% of collisions are actually due to people who are too tired on the road. This is particularly problematic on some of the boring roads like motorways, where people are travelling for long distances at constant speed, and it is a problem at certain times of the day. It is a problem in parts of the West Country when people are travelling very long distances from one end of the country to the other at holiday times where people are over-tired. We have undertaken some advertising and the use of the variable message signs. You may have seen the “Don’t Drive Tired” slogans we have put on those, and I think that has been actually quite effective in getting people to pull in.
Q508 Chairman: We were not very impressed with the English, but we were impressed with the sentiment.
Mr Jamieson: Indeed. It was a slogan, Mrs Dunwoody, and unfortunately connected prose does not go very well in the variable message signs.
Q509 Chairman: Well, we shall ignore the fact that your Department is responsible for it, Minister, and not remind you more than once a year!
Mr Jamieson: Thank you very much, Mrs Dunwoody. Also, support for enforcement and for licensing and the registration of number plate suppliers is already in operation in England and Wales. We want to extend the scheme to Scotland and to Northern Ireland as well and also to give the DVLA powers to enforce the scheme alongside Trading Standards, who are doing it at the moment. On insurance and fraud, this is a major concern to us all. Uninsured drivers are, as we know, six to nine times more likely to have a collision and we are now looking at the proposals made in Professor Greenaway’s report. We are looking at those proposals that he had made that need primary legislation, which is just a few of the proposals he has made, and it may be that we will bring some of those forward, I hope, in the next few weeks so that we can include those, if possible, within this piece of legislation. That is a major concern to us, but you will see as well that one of the proposals we have made is allowing the police to be able to target uninsured drivers using the automatic number plate reading technology. We are not able to do that currently within the law, but we are going to give them the power to do that. Also, on the fixed penalties for non-Great Britain licences we are investigating the possibility of using a deposit scheme to ensure that once issued with a fixed penalty a foreign driver will be required to pay a deposit equal to the value of the fixed penalty. Currently, fixed penalties can only be issued where the authorities can check either a counterpart or a licence. Therefore, for unlicensed drivers and those who do not have a British licence they cannot actually issue the penalty to them. Lastly, there are some other measures as well. These are small but important measures to do with the carriage of hazardous materials and to ensure that future prosecutions for breach of the relevant regulations are viable. The radioactive materials transport division inspectors need the power to require answers to questions that are asked and to fail to do so would be an offence punishable by a fine or imprisonment in line with the Health & Safety Executive powers. Currently, not all the powers that we want are available to the inspectors. We want to make sure that they. This is not an area of huge concern but it is a small but important area. The other area as well is alternative fuel conversions, particularly the liquid petroleum gas conversions. Of course, if carried out incorrectly there is the risk of explosion or danger to other road users. The market, I am afraid, currently is unregulated and carried out mainly by small backstreet operations. Some are done extremely well and some are not and we wish to ensure the standards of those conversions are there to promote the safety and of course to promote the environmental benefits that we should be getting from those alterations, which is not always the case. With some private hire vehicles, they evade the current licensing regime which requires, of course, the vehicle safety and criminal record checks by providing their services to select groups and not the pubic at large and we are going to close that particular loophole. So those broadly are the issues that we are bringing forward in the legislation, Mrs Dunwoody. As you can see, road safety is about more than legislation and of course the work will carry on in the areas I have identified there. Thank you very much.
Q510 Chairman: That is extremely helpful, Minister, and we are grateful to you, particularly for giving us copies of your slides. We have been waiting for the Halliday Review of road traffic offences for six months. Are you going to bring forward your proposals now because the Government has got no stomach for major reform?
Mr Jamieson: Well, the proposals, of course, are in the hands of the Home Office.
Q511 Chairman: Yes, and you will be aware that the Minister actually told us last year that the review was due in the new year, but it still has not been published. “New year” is an interesting term but it does not usually stretch as far as August!
Mr Jamieson: Well, we are going to progress the measures that we can progress that are within our gift and that is why we are taking these measures forward. If, during the summer, the Home Office have come forward following their consultation on some of those issues then of course we will look to see whether we can include those into this particular Bill.
Q512 Chairman: What worries me is, you must know the real anger that exists in the public when somebody kills a member of their family or their friends with a motor vehicle and the penalties are pathetic. Are you proposing to increase the penalty for careless driving from £2,500 to £5,000 because you really do not expect the Home Office to offer any speedy reform of the law?
Mr Jamieson: Well, the actual penalties, of course, are entirely in the gift of the Home Office. It is they who can alter the penalties. That is not directly within the gift of my Department.
Q513 Chairman: But does your Department say, for example, to the Home Office, “We need a charge of negligent driving,” because government research has recommended that?
Mr Gooding: Well, we certainly did discuss with the officials in the Home Office what we want to see from the road safety perspective, but ultimately, as the Minister says, the decision will rest with the Home Office.
Q514 Chairman: Yes, we not only understand that the Home Office is responsible, but we do bring Home Office Ministers in front of us. But it is important if you are the driving department to know what it is you are asking them to do. The research on negligent driving as an improved charge was published in January 2002. The Halliday consultation was promised to us six months ago. So who now is refusing to take action, is it you or is it the Home Office?
Mr Gooding: Progress on taking forward the review and conclusions from it is really in the hands of the Home Office, I am afraid.
Q515 Chairman: Thank you. That is very helpful. We have heard suggestions there might be Human Rights problems in an offence such as causing death by driving, in which the penalties might range from discharge to very significant prison sentences. Do you agree with that?
Mr Gooding: We are not aware of a specific problem with the Human Rights legislation but we are conscious that anything we did bring forward would have to be compliant with the Convention on Human Rights.
Q516 Ian Lucas: If I could just expand on that. I recall the Chief Constable of North Wales, Richard Brunstrom raised this issue where he specified that he had to establish the mens rea, the intent, of the person concerned and that would require more than simply having an offence of causing death by driving. There would have to be, for example, causing death by negligent driving. That would be one possibility. So it was that particular issue that he flagged up. Are you aware of that?
Mr Gooding: I am aware that the Chief Constable has raised that and I think that is one of the things that the Home Office team is looking at.
Q517 Ian Lucas: Are you pressing the Home Office? I appreciate it is the Home Office’s decision whether there is going to be a new offence created, but when we have heard evidence we have heard a developing consensus that there is a real need for legislation for a new offence. Are you pressing that upon the Home Office yourself?
Mr Gooding: The thing we are most concerned about is to identify what is best to be done, whether that is a new offence or whether that is a different approach, and certainly, as the Minister has said, we are keen to get a conclusion on this, if we can, to take measures and incorporate them in the Bill that we are discussing now. So there is no desire on our part to soft-pedal on coming to a conclusion on this.
Mr Jamieson: I think the point I was making is that if the Home Office comes forward with that then of course if it is done in time and we get this Bill before Parliament – and that is entirely out of our hands – then we would want to bring those measures forward. The other thing, Mrs Dunwoody, that I think is important and what is helpful about this is that we can get suggestions from yourselves on the Committee and where we can we can include those in the legislation. So this process we are involved in now is slightly different from the usual process where we are looking at existing legislation. We are actually looking at new legislation and we are very open minded and will listen to the views of others of this Committee and others who may have a view on the proposals moving forward.
Q518 Mrs Ellman: The figures you presented to us on the impact of uninsured drivers are really very dramatic, are they not? You are six to nine times more likely to have a collision if you are uninsured.
Mr Jamieson: Yes.
Q519 Mrs Ellman: You mentioned the Greenaway report. What are you planning to do about uninsured drivers?
Mr Jamieson: The Greenaway report has made over twenty recommendations and as soon as we received the report we divided it into sections, those things that need primary legislation (of which there is a few), those things which we are already doing (and there was a few things which were already under way), those things which were somewhat out of our hands with the insurance industry, and we want to progress those with them. There are one or two issues where we are firstly working up those ideas which we hope will be able to be included in this legislation. One of them is the ability for a police officer to confiscate an uninsured vehicle from somebody who driving that vehicle and found to be driving uninsured, giving the power to a police officer to confiscate the vehicle.
Q520 Chairman: On the spot?
Mr Jamieson: On the spot. They do not have that power at the moment, which is quite remarkable, in my view. They only have the power to issue a ticket and the person then is free to drive off. That seems quite ludicrous. There is a number of other issues as well which we are looking at for the primary legislation to include. The Home Office Minister and I met the insurance industry two weeks ago and we went through those issues where we need to work together with the insurance industry on their proposals and I have to say it was a most productive meeting with agreement on both sides as to the sort of issues we could take forward. Some of the issues will need some quite careful thought as to how we are going to implement them. Just one last point. One of the things we have done already to make sure that people have their cars taxed – and we have now hundreds of thousands more cars taxed this year – was to bring in the new penalties for having a car where you have not sworn a statutory off the road notice but have still got it on the road. We have hundreds of thousands of vehicles, it may be near a million vehicles now, which are now taxed but were not taxed before. Of course, the inescapable conclusion as well is that those cars are insured now and they have also got an MOT certificate where that is appropriate. It is still early days to make that assessment, but I think there has been a massive reinsuring of vehicles just before of the action we have taken on vehicle excise duty.
Q521 Mrs Ellman: Are there any problems to do with the Data Protection Act concerning the use of insurance information by the police?
Mr Jamieson: There are some issues to do with the police having access and making a subset of the main database. The main database shows who is insured and connects whether they are insured to the number plate. There are some issues to do with data protection in terms of getting a subset of that information so that the police are able to concentrate particularly on those vehicles that they know are uninsured. That is one of the proposals that we have in front of us to overcome that particular problem.
Q522 Mrs Ellman: What are you planning to do to deal with that problem?
Mr Jamieson: Well, we will bring in legislation that will just allow the police to make that subset of the database so that they can actually specifically identify those cars that are not taxed. At the moment the DVLA within their database will have identified cars or vehicles that they know still exist but do not have any tax on them and do not have the statutory off the road notice sworn on them as well. If those are spotted on the road, usually by the automatic number plate readers or by the police visually spotting them, then of course they can interrogate the database instantly. At the moment the police cannot do that in that way with the insurance base and the proposal we are bringing forward will make sure that can happen.
Q523 Mrs Ellman: Are you surprised that there is this problem because does not the legislation say that data can be used to prevent crime?
Mr Jamieson: It can, but I think there is a particular problem with the Act and this particular issue. It is a small issue but very important in terms of the police doing their enforcement.
Q524 Mrs Ellman: What about breath-testing? Are you considering introducing random breath-testing?
Mr Jamieson: Targeted breath-testing, which is perhaps a better way of putting it than random breath-testing. I would not be in favour of random breath-testing because that suggests that the police will just stop all vehicles at will on the road and the vast majority of people do not drink and drive, young and old alike, and I do not see any reason why we should be upsetting vast numbers of ordinary people or discomforting or in any way inconveniencing people who are going about their business in a lawful way. However, there is a difference between that and targeting breath-testing, where the police could perhaps go to places where they had had it reported to them or suspected that people might be leaving a premises and be under the influence of alcohol. It is my understanding from the road safety advisory group that met last week that the ACPO representative said they felt they had sufficient powers at present to be able to target breath-testing where they thought it was appropriate.
Q525 Mrs Ellman: So you are saying that the police are confident they have sufficient powers?
Mr Jamieson: That is what we were informed last week, yes. The ACPO representative said that they thought they had sufficient powers to target the breath-testing. The bits that they very much support in these proposals, of course, is the roadside evidential testing, which of course they do not have at the moment. At the moment a breath-test is taken and if the officer sees from the breath-test that someone is over the limit or suspects that someone is over the limit they have to be taken to the police station for a breath, blood or urine sample, whereas the evidential testing at the side of the road will be able to provide evidence for a court case against somebody and in fact the police will not necessarily have to take the person back to the police station. If they were satisfied that the person was not going to drive again, they could be released straight away and therefore liberate a very substantial amount of police time which is used taking people back to the police station.
Q526 Mrs Ellman: There does seem to have been quite a sharp reduction in the number of breath tests taken. Do you think the police are not giving this the priority it deserves?
Mr Jamieson: There has been a reduction in the number of breath-tests taken. However, the number of people being prosecuted has actually gone up. One interpretation of that is that there is better targeting of the breath-testing. If there was a couple of million breath-tests each year and only the same number of positives that would mean a large number of people being inconvenienced by taking the test, but I think it is very important to target on those people who are the more likely ones to be the offenders.
Q527 Mrs Ellman: Have you got any plans to lower the alcohol limits?
Mr Jamieson: We looked at this two years ago and we decided that we could not see there would be a particular benefit in doing so. I think what convinced me in the end were the figures for those people who are involved in collisions. The large majority of them were not just at the limit, they were way over the 80 limit. So the people who choose to be irresponsible are just way, way over the limit and we need to tackle that as a separate problem. That is an enforcement problem. I could not see any great evidence of people between 50 and 80 causing large numbers of collisions. So really the big problem we had was way above. I think the other thing I was concerned about is that we would start a debate then as to which level it is safe to drink at and my view on that is there is no level at which it is safe to drink at. Zero drink is the level that is safe. There could have been then a debate, “Well, you can drink this much for 50, that much for 80, and I think that would be totally unhelpful because the real problem is people who are way, way above the limit and we have got to look at ways of tackling those people.
Q528 Mrs Ellman: Is it not the case, though, that in the Government’s road safety strategy it does suggest that if the limit was lowered from 80 to 50 mg of alcohol it would actually save 50 lives and 250 serious injuries?
Mr Jamieson: Yes, that was one prognosis that was made at the time. If there was convincing evidence that reducing the limit would reduce the casualties then I would be very happy to look at it again, but the real problem we have is that one in six of all the deaths caused by drink driving are people who are way over the limit and those are the people I am really concerned about and I think that is where we have got to put our efforts in at the moment. That is why the evidential testing and also the regime of taking people’s licences away and making them go through retraining, I think. is terribly important for people who are serious offenders.
Q529 Mrs Ellman: You suggested that there might not be any such thing as a safe level. I think that was the implication in one of your answers before. Do you think we could come to a time when it was thought there should not be any drinking of alcohol when people are driving?
Mr Jamieson: I do agree the only safe level for driving is to have no drinks at all, no alcohol in your blood. There are some people who, for medical conditions, have very low levels – very low levels – which are quite safe in their blood, so the idea of having a zero perhaps is not terribly helpful. I think where we have drawn the line at the moment, at 80, is a good line. The other thing as well is that looking at other European countries, some of the countries that have much lower levels firstly have lower levels of fines and that was the other argument we had. Somebody said, “Well, if you reduce the level from 80 to 50, are we going to have a lower level of fine to go with that? Perhaps we would not have a ban?” My view was, no, if somebody is found to be at the level of 80 they should face the immediate ban and a very substantial fine and all the other problems that go with it like the increased insurance, etc., and all the stigma that goes with it, I am glad to say, in our society now. So I felt that we had got that about right at the 80 level. What we have to do is give the police better powers to enforce it and we need to make sure that we carry on driving down the figures as we have been doing in recent years.
Q530 Mr Donaldson: Firstly, if I can be a bit parochial and touch on your proposal to extend the regulation of number plates supply to Northern Ireland. That clearly demonstrates that the Department has the capacity to regulate the whole of the United Kingdom, yet on the issue of fixed penalties and driving licences Northern Ireland is treated separately. I have constituents who have received letters from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency advising them that because they are resident in Northern Ireland they hold “foreign” driving licences, which you can imagine causes some considerable upset. In fact a driving licence issued in Northern Ireland has on the very front of it the words “United Kingdom” and then in large letters “UK”. Therefore, is the legislation not an opportunity to address this anomaly where someone who is a British citizen living in Northern Ireland, who moves to live in England, has to apply for a new driving licence because he is told that his driving licence registered and issued in Northern Ireland is a “foreign” driving licence? When my constituents are stopped for speeding, because they cannot pay a fixed penalty they have to actually go to court in England over what would normally be a fixed penalty issue, where they would pay a fine on the spot. Because they are the holders of a driving licence issued in Northern Ireland they actually have to go through the process of hiring a solicitor, going to court and pleading their case. Is this not an opportunity to provide a regulatory basis for the whole of the United Kingdom on driving licences, fixed penalty notices and number plate supply?
Mr Jamieson: This is a complicated area because in my Department on some issues we deal with just England, some with England and Wales and some with the whole of the United Kingdom, but I am glad that you welcome the extension of the law in terms of the number plate suppliers to Northern Ireland and Scotland. The police say this has been one of the most effective things we have done so far in England and Wales in reducing car crime. However, there is, of course, the opportunity for people to buy their number plate in Scotland or in Northern Ireland at the moment and we want to close that particular loophole. I am not sure we are going to put right all the issues to do with Northern Ireland vis-à-vis the United Kingdom and England and Wales here this afternoon, but perhaps Trevor Horton from the DVLA might just be able to assist you with some of the issues that you raised.
Q531 Chairman: It does seem rather bizarre, does it not? If you said to the Cornish, “You are actually using ‘foreign’ papers,” something tells me there might be a mild reaction!
Mr Jamieson: Some of the Cornish like to think of themselves as not part of England, Mrs Dunwoody.
Q532 Chairman: Well, I am aware of that, but let us take somewhere more easily delineated. If you told Swansea they were driving on “foreign” papers, do you think this would go down badly?
Mr Horton: No, not at all well, Mrs Dunwoody. Mr Donaldson is obviously right, there are two separate legislative frameworks for driving licensing in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. It is complicated because concerning vehicles there is one legislative base, but for driving licensing there seems to be two; there is one in Northern Ireland and there is one in the rest of the country. Although the two organisations do try and work very closely in parallel, these sorts of anomalies do come up. The advice we have had on the legislation with which we are dealing here is not particularly appropriate for the wider issues but we certainly wish to work towards closer relationships on Northern Ireland driving issues and gradually amalgamating the various rules. So I would hope that the anomalies you speak of would be addressed before too much longer. But certainly on the registration number plate suppliers, we took this opportunity because it is clear that it has worked very well in England and Wales but it will not work, obviously, if we have got people supplying the core plates in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where we have extended it further.
Q533 Mr Donaldson: Surely it does not take a great deal of regulation to pass a law which says that if you pass a driving test in Northern Ireland – and I am aware that the standards in Northern Ireland for driving tests are as high as they are in other parts of the UK – and you are entitled to a driving licence in Northern Ireland, your driving licence should continue to apply if you move to live in England, Scotland or Wales? It is not necessary to amalgamate all of the laws concerning driving. The regulation of driving in Northern Ireland is, of course, relevant to those who drive in Northern Ireland, but I am talking about a driving licence holder from Northern Ireland who has moved to live in England, Scotland or Wales and the fact that his driving licence is not acceptable. In fact the law at the moment says that it expires after a certain period of time and they have to apply for a Great Britain driving licence. Now, surely there cannot be a great deal of regulation involved in saying that a Northern Ireland driving licence will continue to apply in Northern Ireland for the duration of its lifetime, because of course you have to apply for a renewal of your driving licence in Northern Ireland. Surely the sensible thing to do would be to regulate so that a Northern Ireland driving licence holder who moves to live in Great Britain can continue to drive on their Northern Ireland driving licence until it is ready to expire, whereupon they can apply for a Great Britain driving licence?
Mr Horton: Well, certainly that opportunity has not been taken.
Q534 Chairman: Well, would you like to go away and think quite seriously about this, because I think what concerns the Committee is that there will be areas that obviously you cannot control but it does not seem that this particular area should be that difficult? Will you go away and given us a written note on it?
Mr Horton: I will indeed.
Q535 Chairman: Thank you very much.
Mr Jamieson: Mrs Dunwoody, I have just taken a little bit of advice there. I was curious as to the question because all European Union licences are acceptable in each of the European Union countries and it is my understanding that there would be no requirement for somebody from Northern Ireland who had taken the test in Northern Ireland to take a test if they came to the mainland UK.
Mr Donaldson: With respect to the Minister, that is an entirely separate issue. The difficulty is that with the current law – and I have represented constituents on this issue in correspondence with the DVLA – the position at the moment is that your Northern Ireland licence, if you move to live in England, expires after, I think it is a six month or a twelve month period. That means you have got to apply for a Great Britain driving licence at that stage, whereas my driving licence at the moment does not expire until the year 2006. What I am saying is that surely it cannot be that complicated to regulate so that a holder of a Northern Ireland driving licence continues to be able to drive on that licence in Great Britain until such times as his driving licence is up for renewal, whereupon he can apply for a Great Britain driving licence rather than having this fixed period, which means he has got to apply within a certain period otherwise, as happened with one of my constituents, he is actually driving outside the law without a proper driving licence?
Q536 Chairman: Mr Horton, will you give us a detailed statement on the exact position on that and we will have a look at that. If it is not you and it is the Home Office, we may need to show them that.
Mr Horton: Yes, we will do that.
Mr Jamieson: We will make sure you get that.
Chairman: We just need a detailed explanation of how and why – well, we know, probably, why, but still.
Q537 Mr Donaldson: On the issue of the fixed penalties then for non-GB licences, where you are saying here that you are unable to give “foreign” (i.e. non-GB) licence holders and unlicensed motorists fixed penalties, will the new provision cover people from Northern Ireland and will you be able to issue fixed penalties from Northern Ireland who hold Northern Ireland licences which are not recognised at this time as GB licence holders?
Mr Gooding: The short answer is, yes. I should put the qualification that the proposal is to be rolled out initially to the commercial driving sector, but certainly the intention is to remove that specific anomaly and make the fixed penalty available to all in the way that Mr Donaldson describes.
Mr Donaldson: Again, Mrs Dunwoody, it would be helpful, I think, if that could be addressed in a note to the Committee because it is, I think, an infringement of the Human Rights of people from Northern Ireland that they have to go to court on an issue which ordinarily would be dealt with by a fixed penalty notice, whereas someone living in England, Scotland or Wales does not have to go through that situation and I think that is an anomaly which needs to be addressed, if possible, in this legislation.
Q538 Chairman: Minister, if we could just have a note which will address both of those important points?
Mr Jamieson: We will clarify that and, if necessary, we will talk with our colleagues in the Northern Ireland office. Very important points have been raised, Mrs Dunwoody, and we will certainly have a look at those. Whether we will be able to incorporate them into this particular legislation – because we are looking particularly at road safety issues – I am not sure, but nevertheless if we can, we will.
Chairman: In default, we can always stamp every Celtic driving licence with “foreign”, can we not?
Q539 Mr Stringer: In your answer to Mrs Ellman’s question about the use of the insurance database by the police you said there was one small item in the Data Protection Act which stops it being used but you were not more explicit. Can you expand on that?
Mr Gooding: I have not got the particular point, but what I understand is that the Data Protection Act prohibits the establishment of the discrete database that the police need and therefore we are looking at a specific exemption to make sure that that is possible.
Q540 Chairman: Why, because it could not be accessed by members of the public? You do not know why?
Mr Gooding: I can offer a further note, but I am not sure of the specific problem that is within the Data Protection Act. I am aware that we have spotted the problem and that is what we intend to tackle.
Mr Jamieson: I think we need a lawyer on board here, Mrs Dunwoody, but we will clarify. As I understood, it was a subset or a discrete section of the data that the police cannot create which is the problem, which we can do through the DVLA and through the issues to do with Vehicle Excise Duty, but currently we are told that the Act does not permit that to happen. So what we want to do is to make sure that we close that loophole and allow the police to create these subsets or items of discrete data.
Q541 Mr Stringer: You will let us have a note on that?
Mr Jamieson: Yes. If you want what the legal niceties are, yes, of course. I am not familiar myself in that amount of detail with the Data Protection Act, but I can make sure that we drop a line to you on that.
Q542 Mr Stringer: In your presentation, Minister, you have rightly highlighted the problem of tired drivers. What is the policy basis for deciding where there are lights on motorways?
Mr Jamieson: The lights on motorways generally tend to be in urban areas, mainly because there are more intersections at those particular sections. If you take the large section of the motorway around Birmingham or even around London, or even parts of Manchester, where there are a lot of intersections and cars that are moving in and out of the carriageway then we tend to have lighting at those sections. But for road safety reasons and other reasons they are not though to be appropriate in all of the stretches of motorway, in fact I think for environmental reasons as well. People have had a lot to say about street lighting. So for environmental reasons they are not thought to be necessary in the large open stretches of motorway.
Q543 Mr Stringer: What is the evidence base that you would not get an accident reduction if you lit up more or even all of the motorway system?
Mr Jamieson: I am not sure if we have any research on that. We could certainly have a look.
Mr Gooding: I am afraid, like the Minister, I am not sure that we have specifically researched that point. I think the point where we were coming in is that fatigue is not just a night time issue. I think fatigue is an all day issue and that is where we are trying to address it. We have not spotted a particular trend in casualties relating to night time accidents where there was poor visibility because there was no lighting as a particular problem, but we can check the data.
Mr Jamieson: The fatigue issue, as Steve has said, is not just a night issue. There are people who start very early in the morning, people who are starting to drive at 1.00, 2.00 in the morning, and they have their collision sometimes quite early in the morning when it is light. Some people start a journey, say, at 6.00 in the morning and are still driving into the afternoon in daylight.
Q544 Mr Stringer: I accept, Minister, that it is not just a night time issue, but as somebody who does a lot of motorway driving, I always feel slightly more tired when I move from the lighted area of the M1 onto the M6, or at the end of the lights on the M40. It strikes me as a more difficult drive and I wondered what evidence you had as to whether that caused accidents or not, because without that evidence it seems to me to be difficult to balance up the impacts of light pollution against the safety of drivers?
Mr Jamieson: I think generally on the trunk roads and motorways there is a presumption of having no lighting unless it is in places where it is needed for safety, for where people are changing carriageways, etc., and I am not aware of any evidence that lighting would actually help on most of the open roads at night. In fact some of the motorways, particularly in the summer period, are actually very clear at night and having lighting on them I am not sure would necessarily contribute to road safety. There would be enormous cost to this as well and we have to balance one safety measure with another.
Q545 Mr Stringer: I am sure your officials will tell you the cost. What I am interested in is whether you have any evidence of the benefits and it seems not at the moment. When we had the AA and the RAC before us and we asked the fairly obvious question of what would have the biggest impact on road safety they always answer that it is changing the design of some A roads around the country and they say that for relatively small amounts of money, £300,000 here, three-quarters of a million there, you could get rid of these danger spots. What programmes do you have for following that advice and do you accept the advice?
Mr Jamieson: That, as part of the road safety strategy, is an essential pillar of it and, as you know, the three Es, the engineering and enforcement, but engineering is very important indeed. A lot of work and a lot of research has been done on the surfacing of roads and having safer and quieter surfaces, but the design of roads has changed terrifically over the years in the light of experience we have got of road casualties and very careful research that has been done over a long period of time. You will probably notice that much of the money spent by the Highways Agency now is actually improving junctions, putting widening schemes in, bypassing villages where there are hazards and dangers. So much of the effort from the Highways Agency now is very much focused on safer roads. It is an integral part of all the planning of roads now. Road safety is one of the most important features when we are planning roads. The other thing as well is that with the local authorities now much of the money that is being spent through the local transport plans is actually focused very much on safety, reducing congestion and safety; sometimes the two things go hand in hand.
Q546 Mr Stringer: How much did your Department spend on publicity this year?
Mr Jamieson: The Department spent in this current year somewhere in the region of just over £14 million directly on publicity ourselves.
Q547 Mr Stringer: How much of that was on road safety?
Mr Jamieson: I am sorry, that is the road safety budget. I beg your pardon. That is the road safety budget.
Q548 Mr Stringer: So what is that as a percentage of the overall budget?
Mr Jamieson: Oh, quite small.
Mr Gooding: It is the vast majority, I think, of our paid publicity budget. I am afraid I have not got the figure for the total publicity budget with me.
Q549 Mr Stringer: So the £14 million is 80 – 90% of the total publicity budget?
Mr Jamieson: Of the publicity budget, yes, but not of the total budget of the Department by any means.
Q550 Mr Stringer: No, the publicity budget. How is that broken down between the different headings, such as speed, driving at work?
Mr Jamieson: I have a list here. We focused mainly on drink driving, speed and the issues to do with the safety of children. So it is about £2.6 million on the drink driving campaigns, about £2.15 million on speed, and then children and teenage safety, of course a high risk group, that is about £2.53 million. The other area included work-related road safety. That is about £2.5 million. Then the other categories are smaller – fatigue, mobile phones, drug-driving, and so on.
Q551 Mr Stringer: Mobile phones was the point I was going to come to next. I do not recollect exactly how long the law has been changed so that is it not lawful to drive while using a mobile phone. I am sure you will remember, Minister. What assessment has been made of the impact of that change in legislation?
Mr Jamieson: The legislation has had a considerable impact. Of course, the legislation covers hand-held mobile phones, as you know. It was brought in in December last year and it has been operating throughout this year. The police have undertaken a number of prosecutions. There was a period of grace to start with, which was recommended by ACPO when people were given warnings. I have not got the precise figures but I know there has been quite a few prosecutions in some areas. We know as well that the understanding of what the law is is extremely high amongst motorists. Somewhere in the region of 95% of people actually know what the law is, so there is an understanding of the law, and since we have brought the legislation in that has gone up very substantially in response partly to the advertising that we did.
Q552 Mr Stringer: So lots of people are being prosecuted and people understand it. Has it saved any lives or reduced the number of accidents?
Mr Jamieson: Well, it is a bit early to say. There is no question that from observation that has been made of drivers the number of people driving holding a mobile phone has reduced. There is no question of that. The impact on road safety – you will appreciate that these things take quite a time to see the impact and in fact some of the things we do, Mrs Dunwoody, and one of the frustrations in the area of road safety is that it is sometimes difficult actually to pinpoint exactly what is doing what and to be totally objective in seeing what a particular measure has done.
Q553 Mr Stringer: I would that thought hand-held mobile phones was the most obvious one?
Mr Jamieson: It is very obvious and personally I think driving with hand-held phones is exceedingly dangerous. We have all seen the people driving along, not indicating, struggling to change gear, taking their hands completely off the wheel. Yes, it is extremely dangerous, but as I say, in terms of the impact we will have to see over a longer period of time what impact there has been of bringing in this particular piece of legislation.
Q554 Mr Stringer: If I may, just one last question which I have asked repeatedly of the Ministers who come to talk about road safety and it is whether or not you are going to consider introducing tests for people who have passed their driving test when they reach a particular age, 75 or 80. There has been a recent incident, as I am sure you are aware, of a hundred year old man who has caused fatalities. Usually I bring up the case I my own constituency where an elderly man wiped out half a family. Do you have any intention of introducing legislation in that direction?
Mr Jamieson: Well, there is some legislation in place already. I am not aware of any evidence that elderly, as opposed to older people, are causing huge numbers of accidents. Generally, the figure for the number of accidents caused falls as people get older and more mature, particularly the middle-aged group are without doubt the safest group of people because they are people who have got a lot of experience on the road and drive regularly and very safely. Of course, the licence has to be renewed at the age of 70 anyway and at that time a person has to declare any medical conditions, and of course the DVLA look into those most carefully.
Q555 Mr Stringer: But that is self-certification, is it not, in effect? I am asking whether people should not have either an eyesight test or some other test which shows that they are still fit to drive at a particular age?
Mr Jamieson: Well, of course, somebody could have a condition which made them unfit to drive well before that. Somebody could, in their forties and fifties, be in exactly the same position and we do rely upon people coming forward and saying that their condition has changed, or in fact very often what happens, of course, is that families step in where somebody has a medical condition, particularly with an elderly relative. Very often, I think the DVLA will find that it is the family who take the first action.
Q556 Mr Stringer: I accept that it is not a huge problem statistically, but it is a very distinct problem and sometimes you can make progress by getting rid of a distinct problem even if it is not a large statistical problem.
Mr Jamieson: Would it be helpful if Trevor Horton just says a few words about how we deal with older people and medical conditions.
Mr Horton: As the Minister says, we do get a lot of reports, particularly from families, GPs and concerned neighbours about difficulties elderly people are having with driving and all of those, as the Minister says, are carefully investigated and where it is appropriate the licence is removed. But I think everybody recognises now that this is an increasingly difficult area. People do tend to be living longer and people want to drive as long as they possibly can. It is quite difficult to get people away from their car. One of the things we have agreed with the Minister is that we carry out a review of this sort of end of driving life situation, as it were, to see how we can perhaps tighten things up. You are absolutely right, Mr Stringer, a lot of it does depend on self-declaration where it is not picked up families or doctors or others and we just need to stop people falling through a loophole.
Q557 Mr Stringer: So there is a review ongoing at the moment?
Mr Horton: There is indeed.
Mr Jamieson: I think what we do not want to do is to affect the many people who can drive very safely after the age of seventy, and why should they not, is my view. People are enjoying older age now very safely. There are people having highly active lives after the age of sixty and seventy, whereas our parents and grandparents never enjoyed that, and that is something I celebrate every day, that older people now have a much more active life. But it does bring some other problems with it.
Q558 Ian Lucas: Why are you proposing to reduce the penalties for speeding?
Mr Jamieson: Well, it is not reducing the penalties for speeding, it is actually –
Q559 Ian Lucas: Three points to two point?
Mr Jamieson: Well, it is widening the number of penalties that can be given I think what we have to look at is the degree of seriousness of all the offences and where an offence is perhaps someone who is just over the limit perhaps it may be appropriate that only two points would be appropriate in that case, or in another case where somebody is going very fast, considerably over the limit, maybe six points, or of course if they are considerably over that then somebody can be not given a fixed penalty but they can instead go to court and face very heavy penalties.
Q560 Ian Lucas: At 35 miles per hour a car is twice as likely to kill someone as at 30 miles per hour.
Mr Jamieson: Yes.
Q561 Ian Lucas: Thirty-five miles per hour is relatively slowly, a small amount over the limit, is it not?
Mr Jamieson: Yes.
Q562 Ian Lucas: But it is still a serious matter?
Mr Jamieson: Yes, but I think we just have to be proportionate. I think all punishments have to be proportionate to the crime and I think it is just giving that little bit more leeway with particular offences.
Q563 Ian Lucas: So which particular case would merit two points on a licence?
Mr Jamieson: Well, that is something we want to consult about. What we are doing here is we are giving the ability within the law to have a wider range of the offences, but what we want to do is for them to consult where we think those lines ought to be drawn, and again that is an area where we would welcome both during the production of this particular Bill and then afterwards when we go into the stage of bringing in secondary legislation to enact the legislation we would look then to getting suggestions and advice from others.
Q564 Ian Lucas: I still do not understand where the momentum for actually reducing the number of points for the speeding is coming from. Why is it that you are consulting about that? You spent £2.15 million, I think you said, on highlighting the dangers of speeding. It seems to me that proposing to reduce the number of points for a speeding offence from three to two gives a contrary message to the message that you are trying to give about speeding generally.
Mr Jamieson: I think it is because there is a wide range of culpability in speeding. You can be somewhat over the ACPO limit of 10% plus 2, or you can be a long way over that limit. You suggested that you are twice as likely to kill somebody at 35 miles per hour or say 40, but when you get to 60 you are almost certain to kill the person. It is really just giving, within the law, the ability to reflect the seriousness of the criminal event, to reflect the seriousness in the punishment that is being given.
Q565 Ian Lucas: I still cannot understand why there is a need to reduce the points level to two points. Can you give me an example of a minor speeding offence?
Mr Jamieson: Well, I think if somebody was caught – I mean, there have been cases where people have been caught three times in one day going through a speed camera. They would claim, of course, that the road was fairly clear at the time they had been caught. I would not have a great deal of sympathy with that person, but on the other hand they are then facing, on another minor infraction of that, losing their licence. I think it is just a matter or proportionality really. It is just a matter of creating that band of offences where the more serious ones are dealt with much more firmly and those people with the lesser offences are getting a lesser punishment.
Q566 Ian Lucas: I noticed that the speed rehabilitation courses referred to in the proposal are only available for those who have six or more points on their licence. Is that correct?
Mr Jamieson: That is correct, yes.
Q567 Ian Lucas: Why the restriction?
Mr Jamieson: Well, there are two levels here. There is the retraining and the rehabilitation. What we want to roll out more is the police retraining programmes where this is done instead of having a fixed penalty, instead of there being a punishment. Somebody may then opt to go into retraining. It costs them usually more money than the fixed penalty, but of course they do not get the points on their licence. Those retraining programmes which have been operated by the police in parts of the country I know have been very successful indeed and I know a number of people who have gone on them rather shamefaced and come out saying, “I’ve actually learnt quite a lot that I didn’t expect to learn.” I think that is a good thing. Again, this is the point I was making before. Generally, people who have perhaps just infringed the law on a minor way on one or two occasions, for that person to have some retraining and perhaps see the good sense of driving more slowly I think is the right way forward. It is good education.
Q568 Ian Lucas: But would that not be a case of someone having only three points?
Mr Jamieson: Yes, indeed, it would generally. Yes, it will be somebody on the lower end.
Q569 Ian Lucas: So it does not really make a great deal of sense to have it for people with six points plus?
Mr Jamieson: Well, that is entirely different. I think if the court then felt that some sort of rehabilitation was needed this would usually follow a two year ban when the court would say, “Before you go back on the road you have actually got to undertake some form of rehabilitation.” Particularly with drink-drivers, of course, those people who have been found guilty of drink driving perhaps on more than one occasion or are very heavily over the limit on their first occasion, it may be that some sort of rehabilitation is appropriate before we allow them unfettered back on the road.
Q570 Ian Lucas: I have received reports that the courts, certainly in the North Wales area, are having a huge number of speeding cases going into the courts at the present time. Have you received any similar reports? That is causing problems with the throughput of cases in the magistrates’ courts generally.
Mr Gooding: Yes, we are aware, I think, that one of the consequences of the safety camera programme is that the number of speeding offences picked up has increased.
Q571 Ian Lucas: Can you give me an indication of by how much they have increased?
Mr Gooding: I would have to come back to the Committee on that, I am afraid.
Q572 Ian Lucas: Have you had any reports that that is interfering with the administration of the magistrates’ courts?
Mr Gooding: Not as such. Through that programme we do provide for the costs of administering the scheme through the courts, so we would hope that it would not be causing a backlog or a problem in dealing with them.
Ian Lucas: Thank you.
Q573 Chairman: Are you totally confident that your speed cameras are very efficient and properly maintained?
Mr Jamieson: The speed cameras have to be type approved, so the actual equipment is rigorously type approved. The equipment shoul
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