House of Commons - Explanatory Note
House of Commons
Session 2000-01
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Arrangement of Clauses (Contents)

Road Transport Bill


These notes refer to the Road Transport Bill
as introduced in the House of Commons on 17th January 2001[Bill 12]

Road Transport Bill



1. These explanatory notes relate to the Road Transport Bill as introduced in the House of Commons on 17 January 2001. They have been provided by James Gray MP, the Member in charge of the Bill, in order to assist the reader of the Bill and help inform debate on it. They do not form part of the Bill and have not been endorsed by Parliament.

2. The notes need to be read in conjunction with the Bill. They are not, and are not meant to be, a comprehensive description of the Bill. So where a clause or part of a clause does not seem to require any explanation or comment, none is given.


3. This Bill deals with five separate road transport issues. First it imposes a duty on highway authorities to deal with snow and ice on their roads as far as they deem reasonable. This provision arises in part from the House of Lords case Goodes v. East Sussex County Council [2000] 1 WLR 1356, where it was held that the existing provisions in the Highways Act 1980 for the maintenance of highways only dealt with the fabric of the roads themselves and not matter lying on the roads such as snow and ice. The council were held not liable for Mr Goodes' accident.

4. A similar provision to this clause has been in operation in Scotland since 1984, and this Road Transport Bill uses similar wording. In practice, the requirement of reasonableness has meant that local authorities in Scotland have published the criteria (both in terms of which roads and which weather conditions) for gritting and/or salting roads.

5. Second, the Bill requires traffic authorities to conduct a review of the speed limits in their areas. Speed limits may be out of date and either too high or too low for the roads to which they apply, or may be in the wrong place. The Automobile Association and other motoring organisations have expressed the view that drivers tend to ignore inappropriate speed limits.

6. This provision is accompanied by a provision to simplify the procedure for altering speed limits. At present for example, it is estimated that moving a speed limit sign 100 yards from just after to just before a school would cost an authority about £5000 and take about 12 months to implement. The Bill therefore simplifies the procedure for alterations to speed limits that have been identified in the review, as they have already been subject to consultation.

7. Third, the Bill introduces a new road traffic offence of driving while operating a hand-held mobile telephone. The combination of reduced physical control of a vehicle (while holding the telephone) and loss of concentration on driving (while having a conversation) is seen as posing a sufficiently serious risk to road safety as to justify the creation of a new offence. The offence is to be punishable by a level three fine, an obligatory three-point endorsement and a disqualification in more serious cases.

8. Fourth, the Bill removes the exemption on seat belt wearing which applies to those making frequent deliveries or collections, but retains it for drivers who travel only short distances between stops, such as those making postal deliveries. Delivery van drivers have been exempt since the introduction of compulsory seat belt legislation, but the wording of the exemption goes beyond the intended purpose of the legislation and enables drivers making relatively infrequent deliveries not to wear seat belts. It is estimated that on average 12 drivers per year are killed through not wearing a seat belt under this exemption. The Bill also makes further, minor amendments to the law relating to wearing of seat belts.

9. Lastly, the Bill amends the Transport Act 2000 in relation to mandatory travel concessions. Travel concessions for the elderly and disabled people have been discretionary since the Transport Act 1985. The 2000 Act made at least a 50% fare reduction mandatory for such people travelling within an authority's area (although this requirement could be subject to a starting time). For example, this still means that an elderly person might have to pay the full fare to travel from a village in one local authority area to the nearest town, which might be in another authority's area. The Bill alters this provision to make the mandatory requirement apply to journeys which start and end in an authority's area or the area of a neighbouring authority.


10. Clause 1 is self-explanatory and is modelled on section 34 of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984.

11.    Clause 2 sets out the contents of a speed limit review, which must be undertaken by local traffic authorities (i.e. county councils and unitary authorities) as directed by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State may issue guidance as to the content and preparation of such reviews.

12.    Clause 3 then allows speed limits which were proposed to be altered in the review to be so altered without requiring the procedure set out in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and associated regulations to be followed.

13.    Clause 4 creates a new offence in the Road Traffic Act 1988 of using a hand-held mobile telephone while driving. It is modelled on a provision used in the Isle of Man (the Road Vehicles (Maintenance and Use) (Amendment) Regulations 2000 (SD 178/00)). The Schedule to the Bill makes the amendments consequential upon creating this road traffic offence. The Schedule adds definitions to the interpretation section of the 1988 Act, and entries in the relevant schedules to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, to create a fixed penalty offence with a mandatory three-point endorsement, discretionary disqualification and a maximum level three fine.

14.    Clause 5 removes the seat belt exemption for drivers of most goods delivery vehicles, while retaining it for drivers of delivery vehicles which travel only short distances between stops, such as postal delivery vehicles.

15.    Clause 6 raises the fine for an offence in respect of a child not wearing a restraint in the rear seat of a car from level 1 (currently £200) to level 2 (currently £500), to bring it into line with the penalty which applies to a similar offence relating to a child in the front seat.

16.    Clause 7 rectifies an omission which was made when the Road Traffic Act 1988 was passed by Parliament, by updating a reference to the power to make payments for examinations in relation to exemptions from seat belt wearing for medical reasons.

17.    Clause 8 broadens the scope of mandatory travel concessions for the elderly and disabled people by allowing travel between points that are either in the issuing authority's area or any neighbouring authority. Under the provisions in the clause, both ends of the journey could be outside the issuing authority's area; this would cover, for example, a journey from a village in the issuing authority to a town in another authority and a further journey within the town to a hospital.


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Prepared: 6 February 2001