Commons Gate

Road Safety (HC 460-iv)

Transport Committee 21 May 2008

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Evidence given by Play England, Adrian Voce, Director; Help the Aged, David Sinclair, Head of Policy; Living Streets, Tony Armstrong, Chief Executive; CTC, the national cyclists' organisation, Roger Geffen, Campaigns & Policy Manager; Department for Transport, Jim Fitzpatrick MP; Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Mike Fawcett, Head of Road User Safety Division.

Q383 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Obviously, the government have an impressive record in bringing down the number of deaths particularly over the past 10 years, but when one looks at road user groups there is one area where it has failed abysmally. In the case of motorcyclists the numbers have gone up by 28%. Because of outside pressures like congestion charges and the price of fuel we appear to be forcing more and more people to use motorcycles. How will you reverse that trend? It seems to me somehow that people who are killed when riding motorcycles are not as important as other groups and the statistics indicate that the government think that as well.

Mr Fitzpatrick: It is certainly a key area of concern. I shall ask my colleague to speak in greater depth about the motorcycle strategy set up in 2005 by one of my predecessors. The statistics are worrying. They are less worrying - I heavily qualify this - in that although the numbers have gone up the number of people engaged in motorcycling have increased by a greater number. Therefore, if that is taken into account the increase is not as disproportionate as it looks.

Q384 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): It is probable that the present price of fuel is driving more and more people to motorcycling. That means that more and more people will be killed and the trend will continue. You will not meet your targets and there will be a lot of sadness in the country. What is to be done to stop this carnage?

Mr Fitzpatrick: I mentioned earlier in passing that at the end of this month we shall introduce a star-rating system for motorcycle helmets. It became apparent to us from evidence that not all motorcycle helmets available for sale did an adequate job in protecting motorcyclists and that it was not necessarily the case that the most expensive helmets were the best for safety. Our estimate is that if people wear better helmets we can save up to 50 lives a year from this year, and we hope that that will make a big contribution. The motorcycle strategy that we worked out was to address that particular issue. Out of 3,000-plus dead 599 were motorcyclists according to the last available figures. I have met the board which has a number of work streams but this is a particular area of intensive work we are undertaking. We think there is a lot we can do to assist motorcyclists to operate in a safer environment.

Mr Fawcett: In addition to what the Minister has mentioned, there is a wide-ranging programme of actions to further the strategy: publicity aimed at both motorcyclists themselves and car drivers - many of the accidents are caused by car drivers who fail to notice motorcyclists when they pull out at junctions and there is a "think" campaign on that - and measures to improve highway engineering so there are not dangerous bits of ironwork or just things like diesel spills which can make the road surface very dangerous for motorcyclists. We have issued new guidance to local authorities about allowing motorcycles into bus lanes and introduced a new register of post-test motorcycle trainers. Changes have been made to the motorcycle riding test. We have been doing some research into rider training and rider fatigue. The Minister alluded to our new road safety delivery board which brings together people from our delivery partners: the police, local authorities and others. Only on Monday it had a discussion about motorcycling and identified examples of good practice that local police forces and local authorities had identified and sought to spread. The delivery board is to come back to that issue at its next meeting. It was very encouraging that a lot of initiatives seemed to be working well, but there were also other areas where there was less happening and we hope to improve on them.

Mr Fitzpatrick: We are engaging with the motorcycling community itself. There are representatives from motorcycling groups and manufacturers on the strategy board set up in 2005.

Q385 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I turn to road user training and novice drivers and the consultation document Learning to Drive published by the department. I find it a disappointment and a missed opportunity. A previous witness on another today told us that the department was no longer brave enough and I think that gives a good indication of the document. When do you think we shall see the results of the new initiative? When will we see the number of young drivers killed or seriously injured, or killing others, going down?

Mr Fitzpatrick: That is crystal ball gazing and I am not sure I can offer you any kind of authoritative answer.

Q386 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Perhaps an easier question is: when will the information come in?

Mr Fitzpatrick: The first thing is the piloting of the pre-drive educational qualification in Scotland this autumn. This is about preparing youngsters who are not of driving age in secondary school with the opportunity to get a qualification that will stand them in good stead because it will demonstrate that they take an interest in road safety in due course when they enter employment. That will teach them some basic things such as how to behave as a passenger in a car - for example, the wearing of seat belts - and also general road safety matters. That will prepare them for driving. That is the first thing to be piloted this year. The timetable for the rest of the programme is that we expect to roll it out in the years ahead, so there will be no immediate change. We want to pilot elements of the new training and testing to make sure we get it absolutely right. In that instance it will perhaps take longer than we would have wanted it to take.

Q387 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): A key part of your proposals is that people will pass the initial test and then there will be an incentive for them to go on to take further driver training. My understanding is that there are difficulties with the ABI in that respect. You do not have an agreement with the insurance companies. The logic is that people will take this advanced course and pay a lower premium. Is there not an agreement at this time with the insurance companies?

Mr Fitzpatrick: As to the ABI, it arrived at a commercial decision that for young and novice drivers who passed their test and then went onto a course called pass plus they would offer a reduction in premiums because they expected that having passed that test and done additional training they ought to be safer. There is a suggestion - it is no more than that at the moment - that the pass plus qualification is not as good as was hoped and some youngsters were signing up for it because they knew they would get a reduction in their insurance premiums rather than wanting to secure better training. The insurance companies have said to us, however, that if we can demonstrate that the new driver training and testing regime produces better and safer drivers - the only way we can demonstrate that is by a reduction in the number of collisions, crashes, serious injuries and deaths with drivers coming through the new regime - obviously they will be interested in reducing premiums, because the only reason the premiums are high is because of the number of crashes that young drivers experience in the first six months. On that basis all of them are regarded as a risk and have to pay the premium. If we can demonstrate that they are being trained more effectively, that they are safer and likely to have fewer collisions insurance companies will cut the premiums.

Q388 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): The plan is that everyone will pass the basic test and then go on, but what you are saying is that until it is proved that there is a reduction in crashes there will be no subsidy - I use that word advisedly - from the insurance companies. Therefore, how will these young drivers pay for that extra training?

Mr Fitzpatrick: What we are trying to achieve is a sea change in driving. One lady I saw at a meeting before coming here said that she went on an advanced course having sat through the initiative based in Cheshire that she is now championing across the country. It demonstrated to her that she thought she was a safe driver but when she looked at herself she found she was not. We are saying that to pass a test at one point in your life and not revisit your own driving skills for the rest of your life is not necessarily the best way to ensure you are a safe driver. When people pass the test they have difficulty in identifying how to get a refresher course and an advanced driver's certificate and can improve their skills or make sure their skills are up to scratch. There is the Institute of Advanced Motoring. By virtue of changing the regime for ADIs we hope that ADIs will offer advanced courses and you will not have to go to the IAM; you will be able to go to your local ADI because it will have qualifications to train you to a higher level. If you are trained to a higher level that ought to make you a better and safer driver; it ought to make you more employable and attractive to companies who look for drivers, but it will also make you more attractive to insurance companies because you will be able to demonstrate that you have trained yourself and have a greater degree of competence and are likely to be a better risk than somebody who has not. We are trying to change the culture of driver training and learning into lifelong learning, much as we are doing for people in different occupations.

Q389 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): What percentage of children receive formal cycle training at the moment?

Mr Fitzpatrick: I do not know the answer to that off the top of my head, but my understanding is that when the £120 million that Ruth Kelly announced in January for Cycle England spreads out to local authorities, the demonstration towns and directly into schools and cycle clubs half a million more children will be trained to Bikeability standard and an extra 100,000 will receive other aspects of training. I am not sure how many are trained to that level of proficiency at the moment, but the numbers trained by 2012 will be at least half a million more.

Q390 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): When we talk about categories of children, there is an argument - it was one I put to Parliament unsuccessfully - about the compulsory use of cycle helmets. We know that they save lives. The BMA is totally supportive. Why is the government so reluctant to take this up?

Mr Fitzpatrick: We have initiated additional research into cycle helmets and interim findings will emerge next year. The Westminster Bike Ride will take place in two weeks' time and I shall certainly be wearing my helmet on that occasion.

Q391 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I am talking about the wearing of helmets by children being made compulsory. That is where the government seems to have a blind eye.

Mr Fitzpatrick: The government is not convinced that it should be made compulsory for children in different environments, for example cycling around in front of their own homes as opposed to cycling on a road. There are different categories of cycling. Enforcement in respect of helmets is a matter about which the government has not yet been persuaded.

This is an uncorrected 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. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

The full transcript may be read here.

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On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB