Transport Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 506

Back to Report

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Transport Committee

on Tuesday 7 February 2012

Members present:

Mrs Louise Ellman (Chair)

Jim Dobbin

Mr Tom Harris

Julie Hilling

Mr John Leech

Paul Maynard

Graham Stringer

Julian Sturdy

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Deputy Chief Constable Suzette Davenport, Roads Policing Lead, Association of Chief Police Officers, Inspector Alan Jones, Roads Policing Lead, Police Federation of England and Wales, and Chief Fire Officer David Etheridge, Road Safety Lead, Chief Fire Officers Association, gave evidence.

Q244 Chair: Good morning, welcome to the Transport Select Committee. Could you start by giving us your name and the organisation you are representing? This is to help our records.

Suzette Davenport: I am Suzette Davenport, deputy chief constable of Northamptonshire police and the ACPO lead for roads policing.

Alan Jones: My name is Alan Jones. I am an inspector in South Yorkshire but lead for the federation nationally on road policing.

David Etheridge: I am David Etheridge. I am the chief fire officer from Oxfordshire county council fire and rescue service. I take the lead role for road safety on behalf of the Chief Fire Officers Association.

Q245 Chair: Thank you very much. ACPO tell us in their written evidence that getting rid of targets is "somewhat risky". Could you perhaps tell us a little more about what you mean?

Suzette Davenport: From a number of perspectives, the evidence over the last 10 years with partners is that there has been a significant reduction in killed and seriously injured RTCs, which has had a significant impact on local communities and resourcing, whether it is policing or health resources and so on. You have the details of the economic cost of both fatal and seriously injured RTCs.

The difficulty is that without leadership from Government on some national targets-and I understand the localism agenda-you leave the decisions in terms of effort, energy, leadership and resources to local authorities. In doing so, particularly at the moment given the economic climate, the challenge is what a local priority is. There are inevitably some things that local authorities absolutely have to do-and we have seen this over the last couple of years or so-because they are going to impact here and now. Yes, there are risks around road safety, but they are potential risks as opposed to specific risks now. With regard to prioritising resource, effort and energy, there are risks if they do not do that together with us. The evidence for that, now that the road safety grant has gone, is that some of the camera safety partnerships and reduction partnership strategies no longer exist and the emphasis is now almost exclusively on the police as opposed to a partnership approach. As I am sure you are aware, it needs education, enforcement, engineering and partnership work to have the biggest impact on road safety.

I understand why the Government have done it. My view would be that some national targets that help support and drive the local activity of the range of agencies that contribute to road safety would be more helpful.

Q246 Chair: You are suggesting that having the national targets affects what the other agencies do, are you?

Suzette Davenport: Yes. It is about a holistic approach and bringing all the effort and energy together to have the biggest impact. Without some of that drive from Government, my view is that that effort will get dissipated and we will see an increasing trend in terms of both killed and seriously injured RTCs.

Q247 Mr Leech: I want to pick up on what you have said. Is that true of the police as well as other agencies? It has been suggested that certain elements of road safety to do with enforcement of 20 mph speed limits and things like that have not been enforced in the past. Are you suggesting that, by removing these targets, the police may have even less of an emphasis on some of those road safety elements?

Suzette Davenport: Police officers are there to protect life and property. It is not just the legal position but the moral and ethical desire on behalf of police officers to protect life and property. Inevitably, as pressure is applied to police resources, as anywhere else, some decisions may be taken as to what effort and energy resources will be put into dealing with road safety and making sure that that is dealt with on a threat and risk basis. Forces have reorganised to bring units together to be as effective as they can be.

On the specific question you ask in relation to 20 mph limits, my view as the ACPO lead is that it is no good just putting signs up saying, "This is now a 20 mph limit." If we do that and it does not feel or look like it should be a 20 mph limit, then the vast majority of drivers will not self-police. That means you are just down to enforcement. That is not an effective way of achieving the road safety outcomes that we desire, not just as to 20 mph areas but others as well.

Q248 Mr Leech: As a follow-on from that comment, if there was a default speed limit of 20 mph on local roads, would it be easier then for the police to enforce those 20 mph limits because that would be the norm rather than the exception?

Suzette Davenport: There has been lots of academic evidence about driver behaviour and what they will and won’t accept. My view is that, given where we are now, that would be really difficult. If we go back to what the threat and risk is, where there is a proper threat and risk the police will seek to enforce, but, where it is just a local desire that we have 20 mph because it makes us feel better rather than that there is a specific threat and risk, then we will prioritise our resources to where we think there is a threat and risk, which is, in effect, the approach that we take to other speed limits, whether by police officers or automatic detection.

Q249 Paul Maynard: Tempted as I am to ask whether reassurance policing is about making us feel better, I suspect that is for the Home Affairs Committee next door.

Suzette Davenport: Clearly it is.

Q250 Paul Maynard: I go back to the issue of targets, which I seem to raise with every panel, and your concern over the need for a national target. Would you agree with me that an effective chief constable and police authority should be able to analyse the indicators that the Government are collecting and publishing and make an assessment for themselves of their relative standing within the UK? For example, the East Midlands-which I think includes Northamptonshire-have the highest death rate per 100,000 of any region in the country. Should that not be enough of an incentive to local decision makers to prioritise road safety without the Government setting crude arbitrary targets that might not relate to your local specific conditions?

Suzette Davenport: It is a very valid and legitimate question. Chief constables absolutely can, and arguably should, take the approach that you have suggested. The reality is that there is a whole range of pressures on policing as there is for other public agencies about what the specific priority is there and then.

On behalf of ACPO, I lead to ensure that we encourage, enthuse, cajole and sometimes embarrass forces that are not delivering in a way that we think they should to deliver outcomes. Home Affairs issues the strategic policing requirement, but it does not include road safety and KSIs as part of it. When chief constables are looking at how they manage their resources and deliver in terms of safety, they will not necessarily look at roads policing because there are no national targets. That is despite the fact you can almost guarantee that, for every local committee you go to and the consultation we undertake with the public, speeding and antisocial behaviour invariably feature in the top five of the priorities for the local public.

It is absolutely a legitimate question. My view is that having a national target will help support, encourage and enthuse chief officers to make sure that road safety and KSIs are still on their agenda.

Q251 Paul Maynard: Have you seen the paragraph in the Government’s road safety framework where they set out what they expect will be the reduction in KSIs if all their various activities are put in place?

Suzette Davenport: Yes.

Q252 Paul Maynard: Do you regard that as a target in all but name? Does that not give you something to work towards?

Suzette Davenport: It is not a target. It is saying, "We would like you to do these things to achieve this outcome."

Q253 Paul Maynard: If it said at the top "Target", you would be happy then.

Suzette Davenport: The issue is about responsibility and being held to account, and the mechanisms that we have through targets to be held to account for delivery of outcomes.

Q254 Paul Maynard: We have signed up to a Vision Zero target, which is a philosophy of continuous improvement. I am trying to understand whether the problem is not with the Government so much as the decision-making structures within local police forces, and indeed local government generally, in that they cannot act without someone in Whitehall telling them, "There, there; you are doing the right thing. Off you go."

Chair: Mr Jones, could you perhaps comment on Mr Maynard’s question, because in your written evidence you talk about roads policing and numbers of police for that duty being reduced. Do you think that is connected to the targets issue?

Alan Jones: I would support what DCC Davenport says regarding the target issue. You have to look back on the fact that targets have set the standard and there has been a consistent standard set for a good number of years. Through those national standards we have all witnessed a significant reduction in collisions and injury on the road. That is a glue that binds the interaction between thinking and determination to reduce casualties. The real concern is about national versus localism and how it will work on a local basis.

One of the key issues that I think is important-and I need to stress this point-is the Government’s 20% reduction in policing and funding and the fact that the Home Office and DfT need to think more collaboratively in terms of what their expectations are. We continually hear the Home Secretary say that the role and function of the police is to reduce crime, but in all this there is a big issue on road policing delivery and the function of road policing. There is a significant loss of police officer numbers now delivering front-line operational policing. You cannot sustain a 16,000 loss in police officer numbers, and as much again in back-office staff, and continue to do the same.

If you look at forces like Devon and Cornwall, they have significantly reduced what was a fantastic unit delivering road policing. The skills and experience that that force had have been lost to response policing. Last week we heard that in West Midlands 65 front-line police officer roles will go to support back-office functions. This is happening around the country. There comes a point where we have to ask at what point we can continue to sustain the delivery of enforcement, education and all the other issues, not just with road policing but peripheral key issues as to crime reduction, crime fighting and crime enforcement. Targets are important, but I honestly think we have to get the message right that, if you are going to do this, there is a risk and it needs to be a proportionate risk being taken between the local and national factors.

Q255 Chair: Mr Etheridge, you have also written about targets and problems relating to joint working and the role of the fire and rescue service. Is that again to do with national targets or are there other factors such as lack of funding?

David Etheridge: We have to accept that road safety is a multi-agency responsibility and therefore needs a multi-agency response. That will involve cross-local authority working, cross-services in the local area working and also of course cross-Government Departments. The whole issue on targets is a very interesting one as to whether that would be a driver for this to happen locally, or whether it would happen locally regardless of whether there is a national target.

As for the strategic framework and identifying the direction of travel-whether if all of these indicators and the current working of the high-performing areas continue, we will see an outcome-by default, ultimately, that could be treated as a target. I would suggest that, if you look at the key performance indicators within the framework of the strategic framework itself-the outcome framework-we need to be able to recognise whether we are achieving success right across the country rather than it just being a local issue.

There is an important leadership role for central Government here to indicate that this is a priority and clearly there is an economic cost of this nationally, but I think the economic cost of it locally is very acute. If I may just give an example from my own authority, I am part of Oxfordshire county council. I have the privilege to sit on the leadership team of adult social care. We see the victims of road traffic accidents and the ongoing social care costs associated with that. There was a case some time ago of a 23-year-old young man who received life-changing but not life-shortening injuries through a road traffic accident. Potentially that individual could live for another 60 years. The cost of care of that individual as it stands today is £100,000 per year. Based over that individual’s life that is a £6 million cost, just based on today’s figures, let along ongoing care or inflationary increases and so on.

Clearly, there is a local authority and an adult social care need for everybody right across the public sector to work together on this. If that could be driven slightly more by a central Government overarching target, we would welcome that because it sends a very clear signal to all agencies that this is a priority.

Q256 Graham Stringer: Inspector Jones, you said that there have been cuts in police forces of 15,000 officers, and that is undoubtedly true. Has that disproportionately affected the enforcement of road safety?

Alan Jones: The 16,000 is the HMIC’s figure over the period. Police officer numbers are down by about 5,000 over the last 18 months or two years, and that will continue to drop significantly. Inevitably, as police forces are expected to continue delivering the same but with less and with efficiencies-and I accept there are efficiencies within the system-there has to come a point where chief officers take a decision as to what is the priority in their local area. One of the key areas we have to consider is what will happen when police crime commissioners come along and what their emphasis may be in terms of local road safety issues.

Q257 Graham Stringer: I understand that, but I am more interested in finding out what has happened now and whether there has been a disproportionate impact on road policing at the moment.

Alan Jones: At the moment it is too early to give a definitive figure in terms of how road policing has been affected by this, but there is clear evidence relating to Devon and Cornwall, the West Midlands and other forces if you talk about policing of the motorways and general enforcement activity as police forces are reducing their commitment to policing the roads on a central basis. There has to be an inevitable impact from that.

Q258 Graham Stringer: Can you quantify that in any way in terms of officer hours on motorway duty?

Suzette Davenport: May I come in here, Chair? It is difficult to have a direct correlation with the numbers. It is not just specialist roads police officers that have a contribution to make to policing the roads. It is all of the officers to a varying degree. We could do some work, if it would help the Committee, to identify a number of input measures. There are some difficulties just looking at input measures, the number of specialist road police officers and the numbers of tickets, whether they are fixed penalty tickets for road policing matters or speeding tickets. We could get some of those input measures for you, but what we cannot do now is say, "I can draw a direct correlation between the numbers of people and what is happening in terms of road safety."

Going back to the point that Mr Maynard made earlier in relation to the partnership working, it is not just the impact on policing and chief officers looking at the targets. It is about driving the partnership work, which collectively will make a far bigger difference than just policing and looking at road safety issues.

Q259 Graham Stringer: I understand that. It should be possible to get statistics that show how many hours police officers are spending patrolling motorways now compared to two years ago.

Alan Jones: You can use your own example of travelling up and down a motorway. If you look back a few years, you would probably have seen a police car.

Q260 Graham Stringer: My example probably would not be very good. I am looking for hard statistics.

Suzette Davenport: We would not be able to provide you with that data.

Alan Jones: That is difficult at this stage, but I agree with Ms Davenport that that is something that we could provide in terms of the question that has been asked. You could project that over the next two or three years.

Graham Stringer: That would be helpful.

Q261 Chair: Inspector Jones, we would like to get solid information if you can find that.

Alan Jones: I am sure we could do that.

Q262 Chair: You talk about a reduction in numbers and we have had representations from people who say that they have never seen a police traffic officer on certain individual roads. We would like to have some hard facts about that.

Alan Jones: That would be helpful and I am sure we could work that through with ACPO support.

Suzette Davenport: I would just make the point that we would need to distinguish between specialist roads policing officers and our more generic officers and police staff members who make a contribution to policing the roads.

Q263 Graham Stringer: Staying on motorways, the Government are consulting at the present time on the possibility of increasing the speed limit on motorways from 70 mph to 80 mph. What impact would that have, do you think, if the Government decided to go to an 80 mph speed limit?

Suzette Davenport: From an ACPO perspective, we are not against looking at consultation on 80 mph. We would want to see and comment on the research that demonstrates the implications of doing so. As we know, 70 mph was first set a number of years ago. Some of our motorways are safer now and illuminated most of the time. Cars are much safer than they were when that speed limit was first set 40 or 50 years ago.

However, there are some places on the motorway where my view is that that would not be appropriate. There is a balance between setting a one-size-fits-all versus what is best in terms of road policing. In keeping the roads safe, the difficulty is that it is an easy message to give to the public-to say that all motorways are 80 mph. My view is that it is the conditions that have an impact.

I was on the M40 on Monday at six o’clock in the morning. It was raining, snowing and the visibility was poor. In my view, people who were probably doing 70 mph were going too fast for that road at that time. I would be far more in favour of looking at variable speed limits that can be enforced and that help people to make decisions about what is appropriate at that particular time. We are not averse to 80 mph, but it is not appropriate in all circumstances.

Alan Jones: If I can make an additional comment to that, the issue on 80 mph is certainly something that we should seriously consider, but we also need to look at the enforcement parameters around that. We need to send a clear message that, if 80 mph is the limit, then 80 mph is the limit. This business about adding another 10 mph or 12 mph on to the guidance and everything else means that the 80 mph speed limit is probably 90 mph before enforcement is taken. That is a key point. When you look at the issues on that, it sends a message to the public that, if 70 mph is the limit at the moment, they are all right doing 75 mph, 77 mph or perhaps 80 mph. If you look at a lot of drivers, they probably do that kind of limit where it is deemed safe to do so. My concern would be where the enforcement parameters sit in and the impact that might have on other speed limits in other areas.

Q264 Graham Stringer: Let me be clear about what you are saying. You are saying at the moment, I think, that there is probably a tolerance of 10% plus on speed limits.

Alan Jones: Yes.

Q265 Graham Stringer: Are you saying it is ACPO’s view that, if it went up to 80 mph, there should not be any pluses-any tolerance above the 80 mph?

Alan Jones: My view and the federation’s view is that we would have to be pretty firm about that because it sends a message to the public. What message are we sending to the public? That is the important thing on that. What is the speed limit? If the speed limit is 80 mph, what can I drive at before any enforcement action is taken?

Q266 Chair: Is it ACPO’s broad proposition that it should be kept to very specifically? Can that be done?

Suzette Davenport: In our earlier discussions with the DfT, while we are not averse to looking at the implications of moving to an 80 mph limit, we would not want to see a concomitant rise in the thresholds that go with it. It would not necessarily be dead on 80 mph, but what we would not want is effectively saying to the public, "It’s okay to drive on the motorways at 89 mph." I know that members have already had evidence presented to say that the average speed on motorways is 79 mph. What we would not want to see is a concomitant rise of the perception that it is effectively okay to travel at 90 mph.

Q267 Mr Leech: If the assumption is that there would need to be a proper enforcement of the 80 mph speed limit, would that require more police resources?

Suzette Davenport: Not necessarily because you can do it by automatic detection in some places.

Q268 Mr Leech: You are talking about average speed cameras or fixed speed cameras. In terms of actual policing, the cost of implementing speed cameras across all the motorways to enforce those speed limits would be very high. Would there be an assumption that the police would be expected to be more visible and enforcing that 80 mph limit more stringently?

Suzette Davenport: Again, as in my previous comment, we would need to look at what the threat and risk is in this particular area and whether it is a good use of resource in terms of the threat and risk around road safety to deploy our resources to that. There is an expectation that we would enforce as we do. I understand the costs associated with the infrastructure around cameras, but the cost of police resourcing is such that we would need to look across the board to understand where you get the best benefits for your investment in terms of resources.

Q269 Mr Leech: If significant resources were not put into introducing more speed cameras on motorways, would you accept that in order to enforce the 80 mph properly, given that we have an issue with police vehicles not necessarily being visible on the motorways at the moment, there could be a serious resource implication for the police?

Suzette Davenport: Hence my saying that, while we are not averse to 80 mph, we would need to understand what the implications of moving to 80 mph are, and therefore how we might use our resources to support enforcement.

Q270 Chair: Are you saying there would be a resource implication? That is the question Mr Leech was putting.

Suzette Davenport: Yes, potentially.

Alan Jones: I agree entirely. I think there would be a resource implication; there has to be. If we look at the amount of motorway that is covered by automated speed cameras at the minute, it is only a relatively small section. It is the M25, parts of the M1, the M40 and M42. There are some issues on that if the speed limit is put up. Again, it is the message we send to the public. If you are going to exceed the speed limit, what are the risks of being caught and prosecuted for that offence? It is a very valid question. The question is who can and who does do the enforcement, if police forces are so stretched that they are unable to deliver that kind of service in terms of priority.

Q271 Julian Sturdy: Ms Davenport, when we were talking about speed limits, you touched on the conditions dictating speed limits. That has been talked about within the Committee over a number of different hearings. If we went to a more continental variable speed limit and increased it to 80 mph but the speed limits were reduced under certain conditions, how effectively could that be enforced?

Suzette Davenport: Again you are back to the same response to Mr Leech as to the range of capable guardians, whether that is police officers or Highways Agency. Although they do not enforce speed limits, they still have an effect on a number of drivers and their behaviour, yes, through police enforcement and automatic detection.

Q272 Julian Sturdy: On a technical point-say, for example, you had an 80 mph limit and suddenly weather conditions dictated that that should quickly be reduced to a 60 mph limit-if you have cameras on that section, can you automatically alter the setting on the cameras so that they move at the same time down to a 60 mph limit?

Suzette Davenport: Yes, we do have cameras. There are fewer rather than more of the cameras that can do variable speed limits and will change in accordance with the conditions as they are set.

Q273 Julian Sturdy: You are saying fewer rather than more.

Suzette Davenport: Yes.

Q274 Julian Sturdy: My next point is that, if we did go for a variable speed limit, the cost implications would be considerably more than just moving to a straight 80 mph limit.

Suzette Davenport: Yes; there would be cost implications, but that would be balanced against the benefits that you accrue in not having the KSIs, clearly.

Q275 Mr Harris: I find it very odd that ACPO do not apparently have a view on whether the speed limit should go up to 80 mph. I find that odd. Are you trying not to annoy Ministers or something?

Suzette Davenport: No, not at all. The research has not been done to understand what the implications are. I would not want to presume one way or the other without having an evidence base to say, "For these reasons ACPO think it is either a good idea or not a good idea to increase the speed limits on motorways"-whether that is all or some of our motorways. You would quite properly ask me, "What is your basis for either supporting or not supporting it?" We do not have the evidence base. Once we have that, we will consider it and then we will form a view as to whether we support for all, none or some motorways.

Q276 Mr Harris: This debate about whether or not we raise the national speed limit has been going on certainly throughout the whole of my adult life. It is not a new debate. I find it odd that an organisation as important and influential as ACPO are trying to remain above the fray on it. I accept the question of evidence. Are you aware of any country-and I address this to the whole panel-where the national speed limit has been raised and that has led directly to a reduction in accidents and casualties on the roads?

Chair: Mr Etheridge, do you have any views on this?

David Etheridge: I am not aware of a country that has done that. I would support ACPO’s position on this, which is that common sense would tell us that there must be a direct link between speed and those numbers killed and seriously injured on the roads. All of the road safety professionals working right across key stages within schools and working with driver enforcement schemes, for example, following a speeding fine, will indicate that speed is a direct contributor to those figures. Common sense would tell us that, if you increase the speed limit, there must be some form of correlation in terms of an increase in KSIs.

However, I am not aware of any absolute academic research that concludes that that is the outcome. From the point of view of the Chief Fire Officers Association, we would welcome the opportunity to comment on that research and potentially challenge any findings that come out of that because, in our experience, the vast majority of accidents that we go to are caused by excessive speed and driver behaviour. There is a very clear message that can go out from an increase in speed limits on the sort of encouragement in driver behaviour that we work so hard to try and counteract through all of our educational programmes right across fire services within the UK.

Q277 Mr Harris: Do I detect disagreement between ACPO and the federation as to whether or not there should be a large leeway if we went up to 80 mph? I think you were suggesting, Mr Jones, that if you go above 80 mph-

Alan Jones: The federation view is that we should leave the speed limits as they are. It is dead simple. If there is a move-an initiative-to increase the speed limit to 80 mph, then the point we are making is that there has to be a limit around that because it gets crazy in regard to what speeds you might be going at before enforcement action is taken.

Q278 Mr Harris: The federation supports not-

Alan Jones: Our position is that we are quite happy to leave the motorway speed limit at 70 mph. If there is a push to move the speed limit to 80 mph, and that is a political will, then obviously that is a matter for politicians and Parliament.

Q279 Mr Harris: Ms Davenport, if it went up to 80 mph, do you have a view as to whether or not ACPO should have new guidelines about 5% plus one?

Suzette Davenport: Our position is that we do not discount the potential to go to 80 mph, as we have already discussed, but our position is very clear that we would not want to see the sort of 10% plus two, which is generally the rule of thumb in enforcement, for the very reasons that the Committee has heard before. There is a direct correlation between speed and road safety. However, motorways are our safest roads. It is about finding that balance in what the will of the public and Government is and making sure that the advice we give from an ACPO perspective supports the evidence for what is best.

Q280 Mr Harris: You do not have any figures in mind.

Suzette Davenport: No, I haven’t.

Q281 Mr Harris: Someone travelling at 85 mph or 86 mph.

Suzette Davenport: No, and it would be improper for me to try and guess. I want the evidence which provides me with the basis for saying we think we should do X, Y or Z.

Q282 Paul Maynard: Could I return to DCC Davenport’s written evidence? Leaving aside paragraph 3.8 where you seem to question whether any of our Committee’s reports actually achieve anything, one of our reports that I did hope began to achieve some change was that into drink and drug driving. I was particularly interested in your section on drug screening by the roadside. You cited evidence from Australia, but you did not source it, where it was found that there was a 25% false positive or negative.

Suzette Davenport: We can do, if that would be helpful to the Committee.1

Q283 Paul Maynard: That would be very helpful indeed. One of our key findings was that we believed that Government should accelerate the introduction of roadside drug testing units. Could you explain a little more as to why you have such misgivings about this?

Suzette Davenport: I do not have misgivings about screening in terms of drink-drive. The issue in terms of drug-drive and roadside kits is that currently, for somebody to be impaired through drugs, which is the current legislation, you have to prove, first, that they have had drugs and, secondly, they are impaired. If you have a roadside screening device, that gives you nothing more at the moment. We will still have to prove that they are unfit through doing the field impairment test and that they have drugs in their body. You will still have to go through the process of going back to the police station and having a medical practitioner do a test on them.

The position of ACPO has been clear for a number of years now. The police see the coalition Government wanting to press ahead with this. We need an absolute offence that says, "If you have these drugs in your body at this level"-just as we do with drink-driving, which we have now had for 45 or 46 years-"then you are committing an offence." The likelihood is that, if you have those drugs at that level in your body, then you are going to be impaired.

My misgivings at the moment are that we will still have to go through the process of demonstrating drugs and impairment; so we do not gain any benefits to policing at all. There is no point buying the equipment.

Q284 Paul Maynard: Virtually every Australian state’s road safety strategy focuses on drug-driving as part of the Safe Systems approach. When you cited Australia in your evidence, are you aware of any precise activities that Australian state governments are undertaking to tackle drug-driving that we are not doing in the UK? Clearly, they are prioritising it more than we are but potentially not very well, if your evidence is to be believed.

Suzette Davenport: My trusty colleagues who do lots of detail have done work in relation to understanding that detail. You may be aware that we have started piloting drug screening devices. As part of looking at those and working with the DfT, we have said that these are good or not so good pieces of equipment. The type of approval process in the UK is the best in the world, so they will always come and look at ours. That is why we have looked abroad to see what is happening elsewhere and have found, as we have demonstrated in the written submission, that there are issues with those. We would not want that because we would not want it to be undermined, which again goes back to the points I have made about, "Give us an offence and give us the right kit." We absolutely understand the link between impairment and road safety. We want to press ahead and support the Government in dealing with drug-driving, but at the moment we are not in a position to do that either from a legislative or equipment point of view. Certainly my colleagues can get information in relation to the work that has been done in Australia to understand what it is they have been doing.

Q285 Jim Dobbin: An offender has the option of either having some education or going on a course instead of accruing points. Do you maintain that this has been effective?

Suzette Davenport: Very much so. The feedback we get from the courses is hugely positive. I have a number of letters that are sent to me that say, "I wish we could have done this course before." I have talked to Ministers about the driver improvement schemes and how we might get some elements of those into the training that people do before they actually get into a car and drive of their own volition, through the learning to drive process.

There is a report that has been done that looks at the national driver offender retraining schemes-NDORS. That has not been released yet, but that is very positive in terms of the impact. It is hugely positive. The new ACPO roads policing strategy talks about supporting those people who have a moment’s lapse of concentration as opposed to offenders who are going to break the speed limits and have an impact on road safety. It is really important that we have a range of responses that can deal with the range of people who are on our roads and might have a lapse of concentration versus those who say, "I am going to speed and put people at risk regardless."

Q286 Jim Dobbin: What is the percentage of offenders who choose that option?

Suzette Davenport: We do not have that specific detail to hand. We say, "If you are within this range of speeding offence, whether it is 30 mph, 40 mph or 50 mph, then you can opt to have this course. You do not have to. You can opt to have this course, and therefore you do not get the points but you have to pay for the course." I was with my road safety team about a month ago. The vast majority of the people who are offered it take it; very few don’t.

David Etheridge: It is very important that education is the key here. We have just had a discussion about drink, drugs and speeding. Clearly, these things are all directly linked into driver behaviour. It is important to understand that there is an opportunity particularly for organisations such as fire and rescue, right across the UK, to link into other agencies and to help support that education.

If I can give an example, within my own authority in Oxfordshire we have directly linked into the youth courts. For any young person coming through the youth courts who has been convicted of a motoring offence-it could be speeding, taking a vehicle without consent, driving without insurance or drink or drug-related-part of their post-sentencing activity is that they come to the fire and rescue service for an evening and spend some time with us. We take them through a very hard-hitting educational programme, which has some very graphic images. We then quite literally put them in a car and provide them with the experience of being cut out of a car using the hydraulic equipment. I am very proud to say that, to date, that has resulted in a 100% success rate against those individuals not reoffending to do with vehicle crime.

That is replicated right across the UK with fire and rescue services. I think that is a very good example of where the brand imagery and the brand social positioning of fire and rescue services can be exploited a lot more to support the education work that goes right across both the public sector within the police and indeed lots of the voluntary sector to do with road safety as well. To us, education is the key. We have to be very sure that we can feed into the educational system and the national curriculum an opportunity to build in the solution for the next generation. Rather than us treating the symptom, we should be treating the root cause, which is very much to do with driver behaviour. The earlier we can get involved with students through key stage education, the less impact there will be on society later on.

Q287 Chair: Mr Etheridge, do you think that the Department’s framework as set out at the moment will help or hinder the fire and rescue service to do that sort of work?

David Etheridge: To be very frank, the level of fire service commentary in there is light. Fire and rescue services up and down the UK are significantly involved with road safety now because it is part of our business. Over a third of our calls now are associated with activity on the roads. We have managed over the last few years to halve the amount of accidental fires in homes and indeed halve the amount of deaths in homes. That is a good example of the powerful nature of the fire service brand in terms of community education. There is absolutely no reason why that could not be replicated in road safety, particularly if there was more funding and potentially legislative change that identified that fire and rescue services could be a vehicle to help manage this risk going forward.

Q288 Chair: What kind of change do you need?

David Etheridge: At the moment, for example, under the Fire and Rescue Services Act we have no statutory requirement to be involved in road safety at all. We do it because clearly it is absolutely the right thing to do. For local neighbourhood action groups and local crime and disorder partnerships, speeding and vehicle driver behaviour are always an issue at local level. The fire and rescue service is very well placed to pick up on those local feelings and to react accordingly to local wishes. When it comes to some of the larger scale educational programmes and Government thinking, there is clearly a role for the fire and rescue service going forward to help educate the next generation of drivers coming through.

Chair: Thank you very much for coming and answering our questions.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Brian Simpson MEP, Chair, European Parliament Transport and Tourism Committee, Ellen Townsend, Policy Director, European Transport Safety Council, and Szabolcs Schmidt, Head of Road Safety, European Commission, gave evidence.

Q289 Chair: Good morning and welcome to the Transport Select Committee. Last year the Committee went to Brussels and we had the pleasure of meeting your Committee, Mr Simpson. I am very pleased indeed that you have been able to come along here today. Before we start the questions, could each of you give us your name and position? This is to help our records.

Szabolcs Schmidt: My name is Szabolcs Schmidt. I am the head of unit for road safety at the European Commission Services.

Brian Simpson: I am Brian Simpson, MEP for the north-west of England and chairman of the European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee.

Ellen Townsend: My name is Ellen Townsend. I am policy director for the European Transport Safety Council. We are a non-governmental organisation with 45 members from across the EU. We have five UK members. One of the founder members is the Parliamentary Advisory Council for the Transport Committee-PACTS.

Q290 Chair: Is the UK a world leader in road safety?

Brian Simpson: The UK is certainly up there at the top as far as road safety is concerned, but we also need to recognise that we cannot be complacent about that. I often hear the phrase, "Our road safety record is better than x, y or z", and in pure statistical terms that is probably correct, but we still have a death and injury toll on our roads that is far too high. As I have often said, Chair, if other modes of transport lost 2,500 to 3,000 people every year, then we, as politicians, would be jumping up and down wanting to know what we are going to do about it. Yet, on the roads, we have that kind of death toll and we seem to tinker at the edges with it. If you ask, "Is it better than in a lot of the other EU member states?", the answer is resoundingly yes in statistical terms, but I always bring in the caveat that we cannot be complacent.

Q291 Chair: The European Commission still has targets for road safety, but the target to halve deaths between 2001 and 2010 was not met. Do you think that targets are the most effective way of dealing with this issue?

Brian Simpson: I really do think we need targets because, unless you have something to aim for, you lose the vision or focus of what you are trying to achieve. The European Parliament was quite critical of the Commission failing to reach the targets but then was also very much in favour of Vision Zero and the targets set out by the Commission in their road safety programme. I have listened to the debate on targets, both prior to us sitting here and also reading the reports from when you have questioned other people on targets, and I think targets are needed.

I cannot get my head around why the UK Government want to take away targets on road transport but are very obsessed with targets in other areas. Education springs to mind. For me, if you need targets in education, surely you need targets in road safety where you are talking about people’s lives. I am happy that we have targets and I would hope the UK would also reintroduce targets.

Q292 Chair: Are there any examples of targets being set at a local or regional level rather than a national level in any European countries of which you are aware?

Brian Simpson: Every member state sets its targets at a national level. Where you have devolvement of government, for example, in Germany, where you have the Länder, which are very strong, they will have their targets set within the national framework. You do have these targets that are there for people to aim for.

In the European Union, and certainly the Commission has tried to do this, we have tried to harmonise the targets across the whole. That is a difficult task in itself because the situation you find in Germany, the UK, the Netherlands and Sweden is a lot different from what you would find in Bulgaria, Romania and the countries of eastern Europe. We still believe that setting something to aim for in European targets, even if it is a very harsh target to hit, is something worth doing.

Q293 Mr Leech: How many of the different members of the European Union reached the target of halving the number of deaths? Was there any correlation between them having stricter targets and reaching that target of reducing the number of deaths by half?

Brian Simpson: On a target of halving deaths, I would imagine not many would have reached it. I do not know the exact figures. Ellen might have better figures than I on that. I do not necessarily think that hitting the target is the key here. It would be wonderful to hit the target, but it is the fact that there is a target at all and it is something to work to. That is the principle that we have taken in Parliament.

Q294 Mr Leech: But is there any correlation between countries with tough targets doing better than countries without individual national targets?

Ellen Townsend: There was some evidence presented by one of the previous experts that cited a calculation of 4% average greater reduction in deaths in countries where there were strict targets, and I do have the figures. What is interesting, the UK being one of the EU15, is that the EU15 managed to achieve a minus 47% reduction as a whole. That is very close to the minus 50% target. About 10 countries did manage to do over 50%.

I would like to stress that one of those 10 was Sweden. If we are talking about competition at the higher end of the front-runners, the UK being one of the top three countries in road traffic deaths, Sweden is the other country with which the UK is quite often compared. Sweden managed to do minus 50%. I would like to pass the message on that it is possible to do even better, even if you are one of the top performers.

Q295 Mr Leech: Did the countries that reached that 50% target all have individual national targets?

Ellen Townsend: Yes. The only countries in the EU27 that do not have national numerical binding targets are the UK, Malta and Luxembourg. Germany has just adopted a new nationwide reduction target last autumn. It is quite a historic thing. That really leaves the UK with Luxembourg and Malta.

Q296 Mr Leech: Is there any correlation between the best reductions being in countries where they have the toughest targets to reach?

Ellen Townsend: Looking at the countries that have managed to reduce massively, it is one of the key elements. ETSC comes forward with a number of reviews.

Q297 Chair: Could you say what ETSC is?

Ellen Townsend: European Transport Safety Council; that is my organisation. We have a number of reviews. One of them is "A Methodological Approach to National Road Safety Policies" published in 2006. It is basically a review that says these are the ingredients that you need to put into place, and that includes having a vision, a target, a road safety plan, objectives and a review of the whole thing. A target is an integral part of that.

Q298 Mr Leech: It would be fair to say that you think targets are a good thing.

Ellen Townsend: Yes, crucial.

Q299 Mr Leech: And they have a significant impact on reducing the number of deaths.

Ellen Townsend: Yes. If I may add one last sentence, they are linked to political will and taking responsibility for progress.

Q300 Chair: Your answer is yes.

Ellen Townsend: Yes.

Q301 Jim Dobbin: We had a discussion in the first session about speed limits. It is common knowledge that speed limits in some European countries are much higher than here. Do you think that is a good example for us to follow?

Brian Simpson: I don’t know, Mr Dobbin, because in some instances the speed limit is slightly higher, but that is because they are in kilometres per hour as opposed to miles per hour; so it is 120 kph as opposed to 70 mph. Technically, I would think you are right, but the standardisation tends to be at 120 kph, except Germany, which does not have a speed limit on its autobahns, although it does put in speed limits on certain sections of autobahn where it feels it is dangerous and needs to be done. Germany is the only country that does not have a maximum speed limit, and I look to Ellen for confirmation.

Ellen Townsend: Yes.

Q302 Jim Dobbin: Where there is a speed limit, how strict is the enforcement?

Brian Simpson: When you are looking across 27 member states you will always get a variance in how it is enforced. That is always one of the key issues for my Committee. You can pass as many regulations as you like, as you will all know, but if you do not enforce them then you have a problem. I believe there is a very strong correlation that where you have "the better countries", if I can use that term, for accidents and deaths, that is where the road regulations are enforced more stringently.

Q303 Jim Dobbin: Do you think it would be a good move for the situation in Europe to be translated into this country and accepted here?

Brian Simpson: There are certain elements of what other countries do that could be used in the UK by way of road transport. I do not think you can have a one-cap-fits-all and just plonk it on a country, but there are elements that we do that are important in road safety. There are also things that the UK could do. The classic example of that is that the UK could sign up to the cross-border enforcement regulation, which they have failed to do. They are the only member state that has not done that.

When you talk, as you did earlier, about speed limits and how to enforce the speed limit on the motorway if it goes up, at the moment you have 70,000 non-UK drivers who break speed limits and go through red lights, but you do not prosecute them. They go over to their own country and you cannot get at them. In that sense this is what this cross-border enforcement legislation is designed to stop, but the UK would not sign up to it.

Q304 Chair: Could you explain to us how it would be different if the cross-border legislation was signed up to?

Brian Simpson: I am not trying to do the Commission’s job here, but what would happen with cross-border enforcement is that, if you commit an offence in another member state, they could then ask you-in the case of a UK driver they would ask the UK-to enforce their regulation, pick up their fine, put on their points or whatever it is so that you could not get away from the force of the law.

Where you have serious accidents, where there is death or serious injury, the laws are in place anyway to arrest people and hold them accordingly. We are talking here about speeding offences, non-payment of the congestion charge, jumping a red light or whatever. At the moment you cannot prosecute non-UK drivers if they go back to their home country.

Ellen Townsend: Maybe I could add a couple of words on a possible rise in the speed limit. As a road safety organisation, we also would not like to see an increase in the speed limit on the UK highway. Mr Etheridge from the fire service very clearly made a good case about it. If you have an increase of speed, that will lead to greater severity in terms of crash results.

ETSC is gathering data from across the different EU countries and looking at progress in relation to different indicators. Three years ago we published a report comparing the different numbers of death rates on the motorways. I just want to cite a couple of things. First, 8% of the total deaths in the EU occur on the motorways. That is data for the EU 25 from 2006. However, motorways account for only 1% of all roads. Yes, they are safe, but there is still a lot more that can be done to make them safer.

If I can pick up on the point made by Mr Harris, I would say that increasing the speed limit would not be one of the ways of making roads safer. You were asking before about what other countries were doing in terms of best practice on highway safety and what could Great Britain learn from other European countries. Mr Leech mentioned section control, so speed enforcement time over distance, which I understand is already here on some sections of the UK highway. This is seen to be very effective. I have an example here from Italy. They introduced it first as a pilot but now it is being stretched across their whole highway network. They have managed to halve deaths on the section of the highways through using section control. That has been evidenced and looked at.

Q305 Chair: We have some specific areas of concern. One is to do with the very high death rate among young drivers. Are there any lessons that we could learn on how to address that in a more effective way? There is a very high death rate for young and novice drivers. Do you have any suggestions as to how that could be addressed? Are there any examples in the rest of Europe as to how that is looked at in a more effective way, perhaps by graduated licences or training pre and post-test?

Szabolcs Schmidt: I will start with that and if you allow me later on I will give a few facts and figures on the speed limit.

Q306 Chair: No; I am asking you about young drivers. I want to know about the young drivers.

Szabolcs Schmidt: With young drivers, we are in an area of course where we have a shared responsibility. The competence of the European Commission in terms of legislation is rather limited. A lot of actions need to be taken at a national, if not local, level.

One of the few areas where the community could become active is in driving licence regulation. We have a huge problem with young drivers, and especially young drivers on motorcycles-the so-called powered two wheelers. There, indeed, we have had an amendment of the driving licence legislation. It was the third amendment in 2009 to be transposed. Graduated access to licensing was introduced at European level for powered two wheelers. We think it is really important because these are very dangerous vehicles, not only for the driver himself but for more vulnerable participants in transport such as cyclists and pedestrians. We have a clear legal obligation that, from 2013 onwards, there needs to be graduated access for those who would like to enter the highest ceiling, unless they have reached a certain age.

By the way, we are still looking forward to receiving the complete transposition from the UK of this directive, which has not yet taken place. It will be one of the big works of the European Commission to make sure that the legislation in force is correctly applied in a harmonious way throughout the EU so that we do not find the situation that in one member state it is applied in one way and in another way in another member state.

Beyond that, we are certainly promoting the graduate access posts in advance at a very early stage, starting with school age, by having dedicated curricula on road safety to train young people how to behave. For the time being in terms of legislation, we think it is more appropriate to focus the European report on those groups that are really vulnerable, and, as I explained, these are usually the young people on powered cycles.

Having said that, we are financing and undertaking a lot of campaigns. For instance, under the Cypriot presidency there will be a so-called "Road Safety Day"-we will organise it with a certain frequency-that will be dedicated to this group of young people. It should deal with questions arising from the driving behaviour of young people. Of course, these will be recommendations to be taken on board by the various member states.

Brian Simpson: Chair, in Dieter Koch’s report to Parliament, to answer your question succinctly, there are four sections in which we specifically look at young drivers, including the graduated driver, education and all of that. There is also education not just on driving but on the problems of driving while drunk or under the influence of drugs and so on. I am sure you will find paragraphs 28 to 32 of that report interesting, if your secretariat can dig it out.

Q307 Chair: If there are any examples of greater success than we achieve, please direct our attention to that. That would help us because we do not seem to have grasped this nettle very well. We do not seem to have managed to achieve significant changes.

Brian Simpson: Okay.

Q308 Julian Sturdy: Mr Schmidt, I want to clarify what you have just said. Are you saying that there is an EU directive coming forward regarding the access to the graduated licensing and that will include better education in schools at a certain age? Is that what you are saying? Are you hoping that all member states would sign up to that? I just need to clarify that I have that correct in my mind.

Szabolcs Schmidt: Perhaps I was too quick. There are two distinct things. One is all the measures that can be taken at national level, such as education at school, which are not covered by the driving licence at all but are strongly promoted by the European Union by way of giving grants to organisations and by awareness-raising campaigns and so on. It has nothing to do with the driving licence legislation. These are so-called "soft" measures.

Q309 Julian Sturdy: Which you are promoting.

Szabolcs Schmidt: Which we are promoting and where we have no power to enforce it. Where we have power to enforce is the graduated access to the licence for heavy motorcycles. From 2013 onwards, at the age of 16 you can only drive a limited engine size and then you can gradually improve by two steps, unless you have reached the age of 24, when you can have direct access to the heavy cycle.

Q310 Julian Sturdy: That is for motorcycles only then.

Szabolcs Schmidt: This is only for motorcycles because we identified that that is the most vulnerable group. These are young people who are not trained and are not well advised to access the streets immediately with heavy motorcycles. That is why this graduated access will become legally binding all over the EU from 19 January 2013 onwards.

Brian Simpson: The Motorcycle Action Group are not overly enamoured with it, as I am sure you are probably aware.

Q311 Julian Sturdy: I just wanted to be clear in my mind. On this point, in previous sessions we have talked about the UK driving licence test. A number of people have said that in its current form they do not believe it is fit for purpose. What are your views on that and what is happening in the rest of Europe regarding an improved test process and enforcement around that?

Brian Simpson: It is a problem Europe-wide. There is exactly the same issue. I do not think the driving test is strict enough in the UK. I do not think it is strict enough throughout Europe.

Q312 Julian Sturdy: It is not just a UK issue: it is a Europe-wide problem?

Brian Simpson: It is not just a UK problem at all.

Szabolcs Schmidt: There is an additional problem in that the way in which you obtain a driving licence is very diverse across Europe. There are very different ways to get a driving licence and this makes a comparison very difficult. On the other hand, and I come back to your very first question, if you look at the overall performance of the UK in terms of road safety, it cannot be the worst system, but there is always room to improve. This is always something we are considering. We do not yet have concrete proposals, but we are considering and working upon common curricula so that every driving instructor throughout Europe should at least provide the same level of education to his trainees. This is something we would like to achieve in order to improve the road safety record.

Q313 Julian Sturdy: I have one more point. Moving on to cyclists, accidents in the UK involving cyclists have gone up recently. When I go to Europe on holiday with my family it is quite prominent in certain cities that cycling is very well promoted. In certain areas safety would be classed as being a lot better in certain cities. What do you think the UK can do to improve the safety of cycling within our cities? I am a York MP, a renowned cycling city, but again talking to local constituents they still want a safer city for cycling. Are there lessons we can learn from that?

Brian Simpson: There are two issues for me on that. One is education of motor vehicle drivers as to the presence of not just cyclists but pedestrians. It is what we call the vulnerable road users. Again, in the report from the European Parliament there is a whole section on vulnerable road users, including cyclists. If you get a few minutes you may want to have a look at that.

The difficulty in the UK is that you need to segregate the cyclists out from the other road users. Sticking a two-foot wide lane with a yellow line on the main road through Wigan doesn’t do it, frankly. That is what we have got to look at. Also, with road safety, I would plead with you not to forget that road infrastructure has a big role to play in road safety and reducing accidents. It is the way roads are constructed. That is particularly the case with vulnerable road users. It is where you site your zebra crossings and how you work your level crossings, which we have a problem with in the UK. As you will be aware, motorists seem to have this bizarre death wish to cross a level crossing when a train is coming. It is how you educate people about that, but it is also how you look at your infrastructure to try and help. We have a problem in the United Kingdom particularly with cyclists. City roads and urban areas tend to be tight. We ask cyclists to share the road with other road users, and that is probably a recipe for disaster. If they do not do that, they go on the pavement, and that is a recipe for disaster for the pedestrians.

Szabolcs Schmidt: I would like to add something to that. It is a very sensitive area for us because it is typically a case for subsidiarity. Cyclists would hardly ever approach a trans-European network for which we feel responsible. This is a typical case, not just for national authorities but often for local authorities to find appropriate solutions. We can certainly promote best practice to help this process. I know my colleagues from the so-called Urban Transport Unit are working on that.

To give you an illustration, I fully agree with what MEP Simpson has said, but in order to give you the opposite example, if you are forced to share roads, there is not only the possibility to segregate traffic but to turn it around. There is, for instance, a recent example from Belgium where vehicles are allowed to visit the cycle lanes as guests. In other words, the road is dedicated as a cycling lane, and the private cars or vehicles have to line up behind the cyclists and drive at such speed and with such care that they do not cause danger to the cyclists. This is just to illustrate that there are many ways to deal with it. It depends very much on the local situation.

Something which we did at European level, and which in this respect is very important, is the blind spot mirror. We have introduced legislation under which every new heavy goods vehicle has to be equipped with a blind spot mirror in order to spot cyclists more easily. We went further and imposed on the operators of heavy goods vehicles a retrofitting requirement. Now you will not find a single truck without blind spot mirrors. That has certainly contributed to easing the problem a little bit.

Q314 Chair: To which countries does this apply?

Szabolcs Schmidt: All over Europe.

Ellen Townsend: Everywhere.

Brian Simpson: Everywhere, yes. It is a European directive.

Q315 Jim Dobbin: On this issue of cycling and who is a danger to whom, as a Member of the Council of Europe, when I go to Strasbourg, I always feel under threat from cyclists. It might well be that I am an irresponsible pedestrian; I do not know. What is your view of that?

Brian Simpson: I think you should stand outside the Berlaymont as well as in Brussels. That is another one.

Ellen Townsend: I have a couple of things to say. Generally, what is good for cyclists is also good for pedestrians. Again I cite Sweden as an example and as your main competitor. They managed specifically to reduce the number of pedestrian and cyclists’ deaths by 50% in 2001–2010. What did Sweden do, and is GB doing the same thing or not? What can be learned from that? They invested very heavily in what Brian has already mentioned, which is the separation of pedestrians and cyclists through infrastructure measures. They also rolled out 30 kph or 20 mph zones. So another thing was the management of speed at the lower end. We were talking earlier about speed on the highways-in urban and also residential areas specifically.

The last point where the UK should be playing a more proactive role-I know we will come to vehicle safety-is in terms of trucks and bikes interacting. There is a lot more that can be done to look at underrun protection. If a truck is involved in a collision with a cyclist, there are further improvements that can be made to make the underrun of the heavy goods vehicle better so that the unfortunate cyclist or pedestrian would be more likely to survive. Again, that is an area where the EU has exclusive competence, but the UK has a seat at the table to argue for stronger legislation. We really need that leadership from you.

Q316 Mr Harris: Mr Simpson, I can confidently predict that you are about to get a lot of mail from members of the CTC-formerly the Cyclists’ Touring Club-complaining about the notion that we should segregate the main traffic from cyclists. If I am wrong they can correct me, but their view would probably be that the roads are there for everyone and it is up to motorists and cyclists to understand each other’s behaviour; that is how you reduce accidents.

Are there other nations who have done what you are advocating to a much greater extent in having separate infrastructure? As you rightly say, it is difficult to do it in cities where things are very tight. In the Netherlands or Sweden, for example, is a huge amount of money spent on completely separate cycle paths as opposed to the way we do it here?

Brian Simpson: Getting letters from CTC is nothing new. I have been getting them from all kinds of user groups. Where we have seen that separation taking place and where it is possible to do it-in some instances it is just not possible to do it because of the very physicality of the city or whatever-then we have found it has been safer for cyclists to ride without fear of being knocked off by other road users.

Q317 Mr Harris: Have those countries that have seen a much bigger increase in cycle usage done that by educating other road users to understand the behaviour of cyclists or by creating a separate infrastructure?

Brian Simpson: They have done both. Once you do it, by its very nature you have the education process in place. Those countries that have done it also tend to be more cycle-conscious-some would say cycle-crazy. The Low Countries, Sweden and Denmark have an education from day one. When you see the kids on their bikes in these countries with mum and dad, and the little ones on the back, that is when they start their education. We don’t; we tend to give an 11 or 12-year-old a bike and say, "There’s your bike at Christmas, son. Away you go", and we send him straight on to the A49 or whatever. There is an issue there as to education, but I think one leads to the other. That is why those countries with what is seen as a more pro-bicycle approach have the least accident figures.

Szabolcs Schmidt: I can add to that from my empiric experience with my children who visited school in Germany at that time. There was indeed a dedicated lesson at the age of seven or eight on how to behave on a cycle and what to do. It underlines what MEP Simpson has just said. That is in a country that opts for a separate lane system.

Brian Simpson: We used to do that in this country. For those of us old enough to remember the cycling proficiency test in the school backyard: guilty as charged.

Q318 Mr Harris: We have new standards in schools, but it is not quite the cycling proficiency test.

Ellen Townsend: I can add one last thing on cycling. This is not just part of the new EU White Paper on Transport to tackle climate change; it is one of the priorities within the UK as well. The Transport White Paper advocates cycling and walking for all journeys under 5 km. ETSC say that they are risky forms of transport, but, instead of saying we do not want people to walk, we want to make that much safer and encourage people to do that.

Another point which we have not touched on yet is the "safety in numbers" concept. I have been living and working in Brussels for 10 years. When I arrived I was one of the few to cycle, but now there is a modal split of about 5%. The more people there are out cycling is very good in terms of increasing the awareness of other road users, as we said before, with pedestrians nor drivers not being shocked that there is a cyclist whistling past.

Q319 Julie Hilling: I would like to ask one last question on cycling and then ask some on health. Are other EU countries better at enforcing cyclists to obey the traffic laws? A huge problem is the fact that cyclists think it is fine to go through red lights and cross a zebra crossing when there are pedestrians going across it. I know it is only a small percentage of cyclists, but it does create problems for other road users. Do other countries have better methods of enforcing it?

Szabolcs Schmidt: To give you one example, in some countries, for instance, if a person is preparing for a test for a driving licence for a motor vehicle, if he or she is caught for a bicycle violation or even as a pedestrian for crossing on a red light, it is noted down and it will have an impact on his or her admission to the test. They would need to wait for another six months or something like that and take lessons. You have countries where the enforcement of the traffic rules on these non-registered road users is also taken care of, to some extent at least.

Ellen Townsend: I have an example to cite from the police in Germany. I can send it to you in a note, but they ran a campaign whereby during the first period they were just stopping cyclists and saying, "You just went through a red light. I am not going to fine you this time, but do you realise what that could actually mean to yourself and other road users? By the way, this is part of a campaign and we are going to come back and within two months this would be the fine that would be incurred by your particular offence." They then came back at a certain time afterwards and did proper enforcement of cyclists. That is a classic approach to effective enforcement. It is linking the preventative with the explanatory, and then following up, hopefully, with a smaller percentage that was ignoring the original advice.

Brian Simpson: Again, it is the same old issue. Those who enforce their traffic regulations will enforce their bicycle regulations as well.

Q320 Chair: It is a general issue of enforcement.

Brian Simpson: Yes.

Q321 Julie Hilling: I want to ask about health issues related to driving. I am interested in eyesight testing and also sleep apnoea. Could you tell us what health checks you believe there should be?

Chair: Do you think there should be mandatory eyesight testing?

Brian Simpson: In this Dieter Koch report again, you will find that he believes there should be mandatory eye tests from age 65.

Ellen Townsend: It is every 10 years and for older drivers every five years, "older" being over 65.

Q322 Chair: That is after the age of 65.

Ellen Townsend: That is right.

Brian Simpson: That is what is in the recommendation.

Q323 Chair: There is an ongoing issue about diabetes as well. Could you tell us where that is up to? There is some discussion going on about that and the definition.

Brian Simpson: Yes, there is.

Szabolcs Schmidt: This affects a Commission directive, which stems from the driving licence directive. I am afraid there might be some misunderstanding or misreporting in the media. As a matter of fact, in the framework of testing fitness to drive there is a detailed description in the technical annex of how people who are suffering from diabetes shall be treated. As a general principle, of course, people who have diabetes have full rights to drive their vehicle and it is in no way limited.

However, it also defines the severe cases-those cases which really pose a threat to road safety. It is very simply defined. A group of medical experts has worked on that for a long time. It simply says that, if a person cannot control his diabetes himself and he or she requires medical assistance or becomes unconscious, then this is a clear indication that the diabetes is not under control. If that is repeated, this person should be checked to see whether he or she can keep their driving licence.

Something along these lines has always been practised in the UK. I cannot imagine that it is something strikingly new because it is the principle that those people who have such severe diabetes should submit themselves to a reassessment. Of course, if it is brought under control, they will get their driving licence back. It is stricter for professional drivers. A single such hypoglycaemic event should call for the withdrawal of the driving licence if the test shows that he has no control of the sickness.

Q324 Chair: Are you saying, Mr Schmidt, that that particular directive should not alter the current situation in the UK, because there has been some concern about what the directive actually means?

Szabolcs Schmidt: I do not honestly know what the situation was before in the UK. I am referring to the overall good performance of the UK. This is part of the overall situation. The UK has looked very seriously into the fitness to drive for health reasons in the past. If doctors have seen that a person cannot continue to drive easily because of health reasons and must undergo treatment, it also happened in the past, and now there is a European directive which specifies what should happen and gives a very clear definition. It is now crystal clear to everyone what a severe event is. It is the case which I have described. I cannot tell you what past practice in the UK has been, but I have a suspicion that there is a little bit of misreporting or perhaps the UK authorities have put something stricter in place than the EU directive. I cannot exclude that; I do not know.

Brian Simpson: That is my information as well, Chair. The DVLA and the Department for Transport considered that these new rules are more clear-cut than previous EU rules and, therefore, the current UK standard will need to be interpreted more strictly than previously. That is what was said to me. We now have a common definition of what it is. It is having a severe attack more than once a year, with "severe" in turn being defined as necessitating the assistance of another person. That is what the definition is. The DVLA has now decided with the Department for Transport that we need to be stricter in the UK than we have been in the past. That is the thing I had been questioning, and you may wish to.

Chair: Thank you for clarifying that.

Q325 Julie Hilling: Are you looking at other medical conditions? As I say, sleep apnoea is something that we know affects an awful lot of lorry drivers. Is this something that is being looked at across Europe?

Brian Simpson: It is.

Szabolcs Schmidt: That is why I raised my hand. As to the first part of your question, we are now setting up a similar working group of medical experts to define the criteria for sleep apnoea. In due course there will be a definition of when sleep apnoea leads to a situation where fitness to drive needs to be reassessed.

Q326 Julie Hilling: Are you looking at any other medical conditions?

Szabolcs Schmidt: Yes. It is already in place for epileptics and on eye testing, Cardiovascular diseases are currently being reassessed. There is already a definition, and experts in the medical field have informed us that it needs some fine tuning, which is ongoing. So these are the areas.

Q327 Chair: There does not seem to be a lot of connection between the UK policy and some of the European initiatives like EuroRAP, looking at the safety of the roads and indeed the vehicles. Do you think that is a big problem?

Brian Simpson: I do, but always recognising of course that road safety in the generic sense in the end, if you take away the driving licence regulations and the health requirements, is a thing for member states and subsidiarity. Ellen mentioned earlier that the lack of joined-up thinking and looking at best practice is quite stark when you look at road safety in particular, not just in the UK but across the EU as a whole. I go back to what I said right at the very beginning. We have the best road safety record; we do. But it has made us a little bit cocky and a bit complacent, in my opinion. We still have 2,500 deaths a year and a load of accidents and injuries. There is still work to be done. In that regard we should be getting more involved in what is going on in other countries through the European Union. Let us have a look at that best practice and see what can be done.

When you look at things now generally, there are some good ideas that we had in the UK that are now being used in European countries. There are ideas they have had that we have used over here. For example, there are chevrons on motorways, to give you a classic example, and "Mind your Distance". France had that idea first. There is a lot we can do by working together. There is also a role here for the European Union to co-ordinate that so that we can work together for what is best for each individual member state.

Q328 Chair: Thank you very much indeed to all of you.

Brian Simpson: Chair, can I make one point because I would be shot if I did not make it? One of the things that came out of the report by Mr Koch, which we have not touched on, is blood alcohol levels. In particular, the UK has the highest blood alcohol tolerance, if you like, within the EU. My Committee is very committed to the fact that blood alcohol levels should be harmonised downwards. We have an agreement on 0.5%. Some would rather go even further. I know it is something that we have looked at in the UK, but they would have killed me if I had gone back and had not mentioned it to you.

Ellen Townsend: I would support that.

Chair: You have sparked off another question.

Q329 Julie Hilling: Can I ask about the evidence of more accidents when people are driving between 0.5% and 0.8%? What evidence is there of this?

Chair: We did in fact look at this issue in earlier sessions. One of the questions that came up was enforcement being more effective than lowering the limit. I really do not want to open up the whole topic, but Ms Hilling has asked for your comments.

Brian Simpson: Enforcement is key. Again, you can have whatever level you like if it is not enforced.

Ellen Townsend: We would also need more enforcement of drink-driving in the UK. ETSC has also done a comparison of the numbers of breath tests per 1,000 population. If you look at Finland, Sweden and the countries at the top, there are between 385 and 287 checks per 1,000. I will have to double check that.

Q330 Chair: We did look at this issue before, but Mr Simpson was right to bring our attention to his concern here.

Brian Simpson: I had to.

Szabolcs Schmidt: It is also very much a question of message, especially to young people. If they see that alcohol and driving do not fit with each other-not even a single glass of beer normally-then this is a very important message to improve the road safety record. The UK is performing very well, and I have said it several times, but there is one particular issue. If you look at the statistics, young drivers below the age of 25 are not as good as the EU average, and also motorcyclists. Everything that can help young drivers to be oriented in the right direction, and alcohol is one of the big problems, could be helpful in that respect.

Chair: I thank all of you very much indeed for coming and assisting us in our inquiry so well.


[1] Drug driver test results flawed, article by Ronan O'Connell, Th e West Australian March 23, 2011. Review of Western Australian Drug Driving Laws, JE Woolley, MRJ Baldock, CASR REPORT, April 2009

Prepared 17th July 2012