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Lord Beaumont of Whitley: I have very few of my own teeth left in my head. I have lost my teeth in batches over the years. The second batch was lost when I was reading a book while riding a bicycle along a Norfolk road and impinged on a stationary van. I tell that anecdote because it has a bearing on the apparent self-confidence of people who use a telephone while driving a car, which is becoming a common practice. I have relatives in America where that phenomenon is even more common. Like a number of other practices

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in that country, I believe that we are likely to follow that example. It is not safe to use a telephone while driving a car any more than it was safe to read while riding a bicycle.

I do hope that the Government will take this amendment on board or, if they do not accept it, produce something of their own.

11.15 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I have two speeches to make on mobile phones. One speech lasts for three and a half hours and the other for three and a half minutes. It is the latter which I intend to deploy at this late stage of the evening.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, for her reference to the efforts I made last year with regard to a Bill in this House. As she rightly said, matters have moved on in terms of the Stewart report and its very substantial evidence of the abuse of road safety implicit in people seeking to make or receive telephone calls while driving a car.

I declare my interest as president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents which has campaigned on this issue for some time. At this stage I state the obvious: last year we were treated to considerable police action to demonstrate that this matter could be dealt with under existing law and that that would act as a deterrent to people and establish the fact that this was a practice which ought not to be pursued by drivers. I was grateful for that response, as I am sure all Members in the House were. If it was thought that this would reduce the use of mobile phones by drivers, I am sure the Minister must recognise that it did not have that effect.

The issue, of course, is quite straightforward. Even if people learn at a sufficient rate of the dangers of such a practice, the number of mobile phones being purchased is growing at such an extraordinary rate that their use on the roads is almost certainly increasing rather than decreasing.

The necessity for legislation has parallels with what happened over seat belts. Sensible people knew that the wearing of seat belts was a safety aid. But it was not until it became the law of the land that seat belts were universally used and the law largely complied with. I think the same obtains with regard to mobile phones.

I recognise the reservations of the Minister. There may be imperfections, as the noble Baroness was kind enough to recognise, as regards her proposal. But she is to be congratulated on reintroducing the issue at this stage of the Bill. I would emphasise that something needs to be done in legislative terms, and soon.

Viscount Simon: Most people say that the police have sufficient powers regarding the use of mobile phones in a moving vehicle. Police officers say they would much prefer a specific offence and that is what the noble Baroness, I believe, is trying to achieve.

It appears to me that she has not made clear in her amendment something I believe she intends; namely, that it is when the vehicle is actually moving that the driver commits an offence and not when it is stationary.

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Finally, something which has to be borne in mind, whether the mobile phone is hand held or not, is that the concentration of the driver can be adversely affected for up to 10 minutes after conversation has ceased.

Earl Attlee: I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, for introducing this important amendment. I see some problems about the use of a hand held telephone when the vehicle is mobile. I agree it would be desirable to create a specific offence so that motorists knew that they were going to get into trouble if they used their hand held phone while the vehicle was in motion.

Lord Winston: I cannot help intervening briefly, having visited the Transport Research Laboratory this afternoon. Whatever legislation we enact, we must ensure that there is good evidence for doing so. One of the questions we must ask before legislating is the extent to which using a hand-held telephone, with or without hands free, contributes to accidents. My impression was that the answer is not entirely clear but perhaps I am wrong. I hope that the Government will pursue the question because it is important.

Lord Whitty: As my noble friend will know from his visit to the TRL, the issue is being assessed in various research projects in order to ascertain the statistical contribution of mobile telephones to road accidents. Many accident reports indicate that the problem is growing but because it is relatively recent it is not easy to establish the precise statistical base.

The view of the police is that they do not need the additional power because the act is already covered by general offences relating to undue attention or careless driving. The specification of a particular offence could have two downsides.

Viscount Simon: Is the opinion of the police at ACPO level or officers on the street? The officers on the street would like to see legislation.

Lord Whitty: My noble friend may have conducted an opinion poll, but it is the view of chief police officers. It is also the view of various operational people within the police traffic area. I have no doubt that some police would like to see offences for all kinds of acts, but, in general, police representatives have said that the provision would not be sensible because there are two downsides. The first is that specifying the mobile telephone would take away attention from other distractions such as combing your hair, eating a sandwich and so forth within a car. I leave the rest to Members' imagination. It is therefore a no more serious offence than other ways of being distracted within the car.

Secondly, the only type of mobile telephone which would cause the police to stop a car would be hand-held because a hands-free telephone could not be seen. Research shows that the level of distraction when using either is almost the same. Therefore, specifying that a hand-held telephone could lead to police action,

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even if there were not an accident or driving offence, would undermine the message that hands-free telephones can also cause considerable distraction for drivers. Significant research, mainly that carried out in America, suggests that.

We have said that if that proves not to be the case we will review the situation. If it remains the case, I assure the House that were it to be proved from accident statistics or police reports that current powers are insufficient to deal with the problem, when we are examining penalties and offences we shall consider bringing it forward as a separate offence. However, at this point we are not convinced of the necessity for that, nor are representatives of the police.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: I thank the Minister for that response. Before withdrawing my amendment I want to comment on some of the interventions. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, who made it clear that ACPO is arguing against the need for a specific offence. One should not forget that road traffic accidents are a low priority in police work. One may argue about whether that is desirable but it is the case. Therefore, one can understand why the most senior police officers might be reluctant to have to introduce new duties in an area which is already under-resourced.

I was interested to hear the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I believe that research is now becoming more and more specific in indicating that there is a connection between accidents and the use of a mobile phone while driving--that is, while the vehicle is moving. That is what the amendment says. It refers clearly to a person driving a vehicle and it assumes that the vehicle is moving. However, there is certainly a connection between driving a vehicle, using a phone and being accident-prone while doing so.

I shall respond briefly to the Minister. I agree with him that it would be more desirable if all use of a mobile phone by a driver of a moving vehicle were prohibited by law. However, I do not believe that I would get that past his eagle eye because there is a divergence of opinion as to whether or not using a mobile phone which is hitched on to the car--that is, it is not hand-held--is as dangerous as using it while it is in one's hand. Therefore, I went for the more obvious of the two targets.

I am sorry that the Minister does not believe that the amendment will be of use to him in his considerations of how our attitudes and the law should progress with regard to this problem. I consider that it is a problem that is increasingly likely to become a nuisance in the years to come. However, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Lord Bradshaw moved Amendment No. 419:


    After Clause 257, insert the following new clause--

SPECIAL PARKING AREAS

(" . In paragraph 2(5) of Schedule 3 to the Road Traffic Act 1991 (special parking areas), at the end of the words in parentheses insert "and to moving vehicles failing to comply with the indications given by the signs shown in any of diagrams 612, 613, 614, 953, 960, 961, 1043, 1044, 1048 and 1048.1 of the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 1994.").

The noble Lord said: I move this rather prosaic-looking amendment with some reluctance following the rich diet that we have had today with regard to concrete pumping machines.

The effect of this amendment would be to extend the scope of camera enforcement of road traffic offences outside London. It would extend that scope in terms of going outside London geographically and would also include other offences, such as banned turns, restricted access, yellow box markings, no entry restrictions and the like.

First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for the letter which he wrote to me and which I received by fax this afternoon. I refer to matters which were raised in the Moses Room during the Grand Committee stage.

I know that the Government--the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said so then and says so in this letter--want to extend the experience of camera enforcement of bus lanes outside London before moving to extend that enforcement to other offences. Local authorities also want that extension. I have a letter from one local authority which states that it would very much like to have added to the list of offences banned turns, restricted access and parking within yellow box markings.

I do not ask that the powers should be extended immediately, but that the opportunity should be taken in this legislation to build in the possibility at some future date to extend the powers by order rather than return to primary legislation. The major way to improve public transport in the short term is to get more use out of buses. The greater use of buses is closely linked to buses moving freely along the highway. That means two things: first, the enforcement of parking, to which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, refers in his letter; and, secondly, local authorities should take up the powers available to them to take over the enforcement of parking areas through special parking area regulations.

The police should be able to enforce the provisions on the operation of buses properly throughout the length of streets. We have just talked about their inability to enforce the mobile phone regulations and I was talking earlier about their inability to enforce the rules on the use of restricted roads by heavy lorries. The police do not do those jobs. We have to move on technologically. I seek an assurance that the Minister will at least consider taking the powers, even if they are not used until he has the experience that he is seeking of the enforcement of bus lanes outside London. I beg to move.

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11.30 p.m.

Lord Whitty: The noble Lord has correctly divined that my view is that we should concentrate on making sure that the extension of enforcement powers to bus lanes, which we agreed in Grand Committee, should run and we should see how the enforcement powers work, rather than extending them to other potential offences. I remain of that opinion. The amendment would not meet the noble Lord's objectives because it would make no provision for the issuing of regulations, which he recognises would be needed were we to do as he suggests.

In general, the Government tend not to warm to suggestions that we take powers that we are probably not going to use within the foreseeable future. We intend to stick with that doctrine and not take powers when we will not know for some time whether we will need them. That will depend on how effective the bus lane enforcement provisions are. Reluctantly, I fear that I cannot accept the amendment.


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