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Baroness Gardner of Parkes moved Amendment No. 37:


"IDENTIFICATION OF VEHICLES DRIVEN BY NEW DRIVERS: PILOT SCHEME
(1) The Secretary of State may by order establish a pilot scheme for identifying new drivers by means of a distinguishing mark on vehicles driven by them.
(2) The scheme shall apply to all drivers passing the driving test within a specified period of not less than 3 months' duration.
(3) Drivers who pass the test during that specified period shall be required for a period of one year to drive only in vehicles carrying a distinguishing mark of such size, nature, position and colour as may be prescribed in the order.
(4) Following the pilot scheme, the Secretary of State shall submit a report to Parliament on the effect of the scheme on accident rates and the incidence of road traffic offences among the target group, when compared to control groups who passed the driving test in the period of 3 months immediately before and immediately after the pilot period."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I have gone to a lot of trouble, although I cannot claim credit for the clever wording of the amendment. It is specifically designed to meet all the objections that the Minister raised to my earlier, much more simple amendment in which I specified the type of plate, the number, the period of time, and so on. So this is an enabling amendment. The Minister has said that the trouble is that we always believe that young people aged 17 to
 
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20 have many more accidents—sure enough, the Red Cross confirms that in its statement. My noble friend Lord Hanningfield said that they are six times more likely to have an accident; the Red Cross did not say that in my brief, but I accept that figure.

First, the amendment states:

so it does not oblige him to do this, but it includes it as a possibility, which is extremely valuable because we have been trying for years to get such a provision—I certainly tried during the passage of the previous two relevant Acts.

The amendment continues,

Again, I have left it to the Government to decide whether they want "R" plates, "L" plates, a happy face or a frog as an identifying mark; it is entirely up to them.

9.45 pm

Subsection (2) of the proposed new clause says:

It was important to include something of that type because if you applied the scheme only at certain testing stations, everyone might move to the next testing station to avoid it. If the scheme lasted less than three months, people might say, "I'll hang on until that horrible little test is over before I take my test, so I won't be one of those that will be assessed". It is important that new drivers should drive only in vehicles carrying a distinguishing mark for a specified period but I am flexible on whether it is one year, three months or six months. The Minister could decide that. The amendment even refers to,

It is very important that, under proposed new subsection (4), following the pilot scheme there should be a report. The whole purpose of the idea is to answer the Minister's statement that we do not know whether such a scheme would help. I agree that we do not know, but for some reason the Department for Transport tends to chicken out and be unwilling to do something that would enable it to see whether it works and whether the situation of young people is different.

The amendment gives the Minister all sorts of opportunities to do things without forcing him to do them. I am prepared at Third Reading to table an amendment—or ask him to do so, if he prefers—that suits him better. He may not like some of my words, but we have gone to great trouble to table an amendment that is practical and enabling but still leaves great flexibility with the Department for Transport. I beg to move.

The Earl of Dundee: My Lords, I support my noble friend's amendment entirely. I am sure that the Minister will agree that we must acquire proper evidence of what works well and achieves best practice in road safety. For certain aspects of road safety, employment of pilot
 
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projects is undoubtedly the way forward. Thereafter, as my noble friend Lady Gardner, has explained, we can extend to the United Kingdom expedients that have proved efficient. That is particularly desirable in the case of her amendment as it advocates pilot projects to address the main anomaly that we face: new and young drivers, including 17 to 21 year-olds, who account for roughly 10 per cent of driving licences but are involved in about 20 per cent of crashes.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, as I think I said in Committee, this type of programme is already available in Northern Ireland; therefore we have evidence of whether it works. In some respects, one might even say that this is an attempt to extend the scheme to the British mainland, which is maybe not a bad thing. From a constitutional point of view, is it not a breach of human rights that young people in Northern Ireland, but not those on the British mainland, are subjected to such a scheme? Is that allowed?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, perhaps young people would be happier to have such a scheme. It is a long time since I took the driving test but I remember vaguely that awful feeling of setting forth without anyone having the faintest idea that you were driving for the first time by yourself and therefore taking some notice of you. It might be worth testing in a pilot whether young people felt more secure in having a mark that, to some extent, is a warning sign saying, "Just be careful of me. I am quite new here and I might do something wrong".

There seems to be a lot of benefit in what is being put forward. I did not know that this happened in Northern Ireland, but it might be possible to find out from young people there—or anyone who passes the test because they do not all have to be young—whether it gives them a feeling of security.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for tabling this amendment. I can see the benefits of what she seeks to do. I suspect that the Minister will tell us that although it is done in Northern Ireland, we do not know the result. The problem in Northern Ireland is that there is not a control and there is a different accident rate from the rest of the UK. Perhaps a small trial with a control, which of course would be the rest of the population, would be beneficial.

Viscount Simon: My Lords, I am somewhat surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, did not mention Australia. I happened to be working in Australia when putting an identifying mark, which happened to be a "P", on the back of a car was introduced. It was very efficient, worked well and still is working well. I thoroughly support what the noble Baroness is trying to do. It is very good. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, might like to know that I have spoken to a few drivers with an identifying mark on the back of their vehicles. They say that it has given them
 
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some confidence in that the majority of drivers, but certainly not all, keep out of their way and give them due care and attention.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I, too, support my noble friend's amendment. There is a case for a pilot scheme. As we have said several times, we need to ensure that there is extra provision to enable young people to learn to use the roads properly, because that is where most accidents and deaths occur.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, particularly the mover of the amendment. Having discussed these issues at some length last time, I see the attraction of a possible pilot scheme. I want to attest to the House that I shall be negative about it in my final conclusion. But I want to make clear that we are concerned about newly qualified drivers, which is why we have, in parts of our legislation, stiffened up the penalties for newly qualified drivers who offend. There is no doubt that there are anxieties.

In any system the most newly qualified will be more vulnerable to getting things wrong because experience is a great teacher. We would all attest to that—it makes us the kind of perfect persons that we are. When discussing legislation of this kind, we all know the benefits of many years learning the skills of driving and so forth. By definition, newly qualified drivers, through their lack of experience, are more prone to accidents. Certainly, we need to address this as a particular issue.

The problem is that we do not think that a pilot scheme will tell us a great deal that we do not know already. We know already, for instance, that the restricted scheme for drivers in Northern Ireland with regard to the restricted plates seems to make very little difference to road accident statistics. We do not regard the Northern Ireland experience, which is by far the closest to home for obvious reasons, as helping us in any way. On the more technical points, I will write to the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. I need to talk to lawyers about that factor, so I cannot answer him immediately.

In 2004 we carried out a full consultation on this issue because we were very conscious of the public anxiety surrounding it. Our own statistics indicated clearly the difficulties associated with newly qualified drivers. But we concluded at the end of the consultation that we would not gain from imposing more extensive restrictions on newly qualified drivers. Our task was to ensure that they are better qualified by improving the driving test so that they would have to meet more rigorous standards. I should say that that is also the answer to the point about the restrictions that are imposed abroad. I take the point about what is done in certain American states, in Australia and various other places. However, first, many of those areas allow people to drive from a much younger age than in this country. Secondly, their tests do not approach ours in terms of rigour. So it is not surprising that additional restrictions are placed on new drivers because people are being put on to the road who we would not regard as qualified to drive. Our emphasis is on the quality of our driving test, both the theory and the practical elements of it.
 
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We have carried out some statistical research on newly qualified drivers. The rate at which such drivers break the law compares reasonably well with the rest of the population. Under 4.4 per cent of newly qualified male drivers received fixed penalty notices or summonses for motoring offences, while the figure for females was just below 1.6 per cent. We should disabuse ourselves of the notion that every 17 year-old who gets into a car is a madcap driver hell bent on proving his machismo qualities and thus causing accidents. However, accidents caused by young drivers are dramatic and reported widely in the press, not least because they shock us so. Nothing is more chilling. I recall only too well an accident in my former constituency involving four youngsters aged 17 and below, including the driver, who was only 17. The car hit a moorland wall and all four were killed. The sense of shock in the community reverberated for months afterwards because it was such a colossal waste of life. We are all conscious of the cases when things do go wrong, but the statistics do not bear out any notion that we have an outbreak of lawless brigandry when learner drivers qualify.

I have already mentioned that we bite more heavily on newly qualified drivers who get it wrong. If they make a mistake within two years of passing the driving test and accrue six or more penalty points, they can be disqualified. That is half the points that may be accrued by more mature drivers.

I am not complacent about this issue and I welcome these debates. They force us to consider carefully the basis of the consultation we carried out some 18 months ago and the conclusions we drew from it. Indeed, a great deal of detailed research on this issue is now in progress. We accept that learners and newly qualified drivers need to gain experience and we know that a minority of them deserve to lose their licences because they have not conducted themselves well enough immediately after qualification, and lose their licences they do.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, we do not think that the objectives of this cause would be advanced by a pilot study. I hope that she will accept my response and feel able to withdraw her amendment.


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