Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)

WEDNESDAY 10 JANUARY 2001

MR D BIZLEY, MR P ATKINSON AND MR K CAMERON

  60. How long is that going to take?
  (Mr Cameron) I have no idea, because I do not know how many applications they get every week.

  61. Will you go away and find out what is happening in Oxford? I want to know the length of the list, when people will be put back on it with a time and I want to know what is happening now, please.
  (Mr Atkinson) Indeed.

Mr Bennett

  62. Is the general performance of the Driving Standards Agency sufficiently poor that it contributes to the fact that we have at least one million plus people in this country who drive on the roads having not passed their test or having been disqualified? Or do you think it is totally neutral as far as that problem is concerned?
  (Mr Cameron) It would be fair to say that if there were total efficiency and if that meant that costs could come down rather than go up, then that would make more people actually able to afford to take the test, take lessons, in order to pass the test correctly rather than drive unaccompanied.

  63. You think it is actually the cost of the test and everything that goes with it rather than the time and the delays which encourage people to think "Blow it. I won't bother with the test".
  (Mr Cameron) It is a combination of both and certainly when the time is so long that they have to wait and wait, then there is always a possibility that they will stop taking lessons, they will stop learning legally and will drive on their own, yes.

  64. You think performance at the present moment makes that more likely than less likely.
  (Mr Cameron) Yes, I do. It is also true to say that it is not always the actual length of the waiting time, it is this business where it jumps from four weeks to 20 weeks and back to 15 weeks so nobody, including the learner-driver, knows where they are, therefore they cannot plan properly and therefore yes, they get frustrated, drop out of the system and drive unaccompanied.
  (Mr Atkinson) The important thing for the learner-driver is to be able to know a point in time in the future when they are to have a practical driving test, whether that is six, nine, 15 or whatever weeks. Clearly the earlier the date can be achieved, the easier it is to obtain a second test if they fail the first, but actually for a novice pupil, starting their driving lessons on the basis that they are going to take somewhere between 26 to 30 hours of tuition, their period of learning is going to be 10 to 12 weeks, I would suggest, therefore having a waiting time which meets that learning criterion is very important. If the pupil cannot identify when the test is going to be, they do not have a target to aim for and the learning process is impeded.

Dr Ladyman

  65. I am interested in your attitudes to the Highways Agency. The document Transport 2010 had a number of novel ideas about using road space, in particular suggestions like diverting cars onto the hard shoulder, which I know the RAC had concerns about. What sort of representations have you made about that document and also generally when you make representations about a document like that, how responsive do you find the Agency? Do you think you are being listened to?
  (Mr Bizley) In terms of consultation, we have really done so through three routes. Firstly through thematic groups in which we participate and the best example of that is the hard shoulder roadside safety group which published the Survive Report about 12 months ago. That has a Highways Agency representation and we have made representations through that group on all of the key issues which come into both areas of interest. We specifically had a meeting with the Highways Agency in November to review particular areas of interest and we also make representations through the Motorists' Forum which also has an interest in these subjects. It is fair to say that our opinions are always listened to. We always get a positive response. We have to wait to see how much that listening will be turned into direction of policy. We do not know that yet because we have not seen what the final policies which emerge will be.

  66. Looking at one or two practical issues which have been suggested, what about the safe havens option which has been put forward?
  (Mr Bizley) We would certainly support them provided they are as well as, rather than instead of, hard shoulders and provided that they are spaced sufficiently close to one another to be of some practical help.

  67. The proposal that the Highways Agency have come up with that perhaps they should be responsible for removing vehicles and passengers to the safe havens where they could have their own mechanics look at their vehicle.
  (Mr Bizley) We would certainly be very comfortable with that as an arrangement provided it did not result in significant additional charges to the motorist. Generally the efficient removal and dealing with breakdowns and accidents is a key factor in minimising the effect of congestion. There is a very close link between congestion and breakdowns. The vast majority of motorists currently provide for breakdowns in some shape or form; sometimes it is through organisations like AA, RAC, sometimes through insurance based organisations. Whatever route they go, they have a rapid response service available to them to remove vehicles in a hurry. The more that people are asked to pay one-off charges if they break down here, one-off charges if they break down there, the less likely they are to provide for national cover and that will result in a deteriorating situation in those areas where some form of mandatory cover is not provided of the sort you have referred to.

  68. Are your discussions more motivated by a genuine need to improve congestion on the roads by removing broken down vehicles, or by your concern that the Highways Agency's plans actually undermine your breakdown business?
  (Mr Bizley) I do not think there is any incompatibility between those two views at all. Clearly we have commercial interests, but there is also a very well documented and established link between congestion and breakdowns and it is within the public interest that breakdowns are dealt with efficiently and effectively by whatever route. Whatever fiscal structure is in place to fund that, it should encourage the motorist to provide for that situation in the best possible way.

  69. If the Highways Agency were removing broken down vehicles to safe havens, another option people would have which might drive down costs through competition would be just to contact the local mechanic to come and fix it rather than to have to have breakdown insurance.
  (Mr Bizley) That is always an option open to them. Apart from on a motorway, there is no requirement to call any specific breakdown organisation. They can call a friend or local garage or anyone they like.

  70. Do you feel that the Highways Agency is being sufficiently driver orientated in the way it is putting forward these proposals?
  (Mr Bizley) They have certainly indicated that their initial intention would not be to charge for this service and that would be something which would suit all parties. The risk is that over time, as the breadth of the service grows, the financial burden will be such that they would wish to levy a charge.

  71. I was actually asking a more general question about the Highways Agency itself. In your view, is the Highways Agency driver/customer oriented?
  (Mr Bizley) I think it is becoming more driver oriented. We have observed some positive changes over the last 12 to 18 months as the role has evolved effectively into management of the infrastructure as opposed to a construction based organisation.

  72. Your feeling generally is that it is going in the right direction.
  (Mr Bizley) We certainly see positive signs but we wish to reserve a final judgement for another year or two.

Mr Stevenson

  73. I have listened with interest to your concerns about administration, efficiency and so on. However, I note that we have at least three if not four agencies which in some way are interested in road safety in its widest context, not only skills of the drivers but also vehicle integrity, the environment, congestion and so on. From your different standpoints, RAC and BSM, presumably together those are your main concerns as well.
  (Mr Bizley) The Survive Report to which I referred earlier drew attention to some particular concerns relating to those who work on motorways for example. If, for example, someone is working on the hard shoulder and is involved in an accident, that is treated as a road traffic accident, in which case the police are the lead organisation. In any other situation the Health and Safety Executive would be involved in that.

  74. What I am trying to get at is that four of the ten key objectives of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, are being effected by its executive agencies: improving transport safety, all the six agencies, not just the ones we have referred to are involved; reducing traffic congestion, presumably the Highways Agency; reducing the impact of transport on the environment, Vehicle Inspectorate, DVLA, Vehicle Certification Agency contribute; customer focused services, presumably all those agencies are involved there. You see the potential for confusion and duplication. That is what I am trying to get at. In your experience, should we be worried or is there evidence to suggest that there is that duplication and there is that confusion?
  (Mr Bizley) Inevitably conflicts occur between some of those key objectives. For example between safety and reducing congestion. We talked earlier about the use of hard shoulders as an issue. The important thing is that the processes have to be transparent so that the roles of individual agencies and indeed the processes which result in decisions are visible publicly. At the moment this is not the case. Let me give you a simple example of whether lighting is installed on a motorway. There is a very clear body of evidence which says that if a motorway is lit there will be fewer accidents and fewer people will be killed or injured. Clearly there are environmental grounds for wishing to discourage the use of lighting in certain areas. It is a form of pollution. Some difficult judgements have to be made, some difficult economic balances. If some of those were that much more transparent, visible, then the roles of the individual agencies would also be better understood in that situation.

  75. Yes, but the DVLA is charged with facilitating road safety and general law enforcement by maintaining registers of drivers and vehicles and collecting VED. The Driving Standards Agency promotes road safety in Great Britain through the advancement of driving standards, in particular by testing drivers and driving instructors. There you have what some might argue is an artificial divide between the safety and objectives and the vehicle and the driver. From your position of experience, are you finding, for example, that the only thing which the Driving Standards Agency is interested in is the testing of drivers and the effectiveness of their instructors? Are you also of the view that DVLA is only interested in collecting VED and keeping a register?
  (Mr Atkinson) Between those two agencies in particular there are clearly some crossover activities which in our case, the pupil's experiences, the pupil experiences provision of a licence from one agency and the test from another, not necessarily a smooth passage from provisional licence holder to a full licence holder in passing both the theory and practical test and one can see an element of bureaucracy which exists between those two agencies in both the issue of provisional licence and ultimately its upgrade to a full licence.

  76. Is there a case in your judgement with the agencies you are in contact with for a review of them to see whether there is overlap and duplication?
  (Mr Cameron) It is true to say that none of us has any problems that they are trying to integrate and they are trying to follow all the things as far as road safety and what have you are concerned. The problem is that the systems they have in place are not overlapping, certainly the computer systems they have in place are not working as they should be, they are not working efficiently and therefore if that means inefficiency in the agencies it means that they are struggling to be more efficient rather than to promote the ideal of road safety. What I am saying is that there are good grounds for saying they ought to be looked at with regard to efficiency savings which could be done by integration of computer software etcetera which at the moment, certainly as far as DSA is concerned, is sadly lacking.

  77. Do you consult with local authorities? You consult with everybody else.
  (Mr Cameron) Yes.

  78. In your memorandum you talk about road signs which you put up and ask for consistency of approach in terms of applying for permission from the relevant agency to erect temporary signs and consistency of approach between the Highways Agency and local authorities in terms of the type, size, nature of the signs. Could you elaborate very quickly on what you are seeking there from that sort of consistency and transparency?
  (Mr Bizley) May I first say that none of us here today is expert on the sign side of the business? The process is operated on a regional basis by the Highways Agency, sometimes through third parties. It is simply a lack of consistency by region that we are talking about.

Mrs Gorman

  79. You are obviously giving us your view on the way in which the agencies work. When somebody breaks down on the motorway and picks up the telephone, to whom do they get through?
  (Mr Bizley) If they pick up one of the SOS telephones, they get through to a police control room and the police control room will then take the details and relay the request for assistance on to the breakdown organisation nominated, or indeed if the person does not have a breakdown organisation they will send out their own contractor. Having said that, 60 per cent of the calls which the RAC receives from people broken down on motorways come from mobile phones and that is going up steadily. In that situation, we then have to inform the police that there is a breakdown on the motorway and then attend to it in the normal way.


 
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