Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
WEDNESDAY 10 JANUARY 2001
MR D BIZLEY,
MR P ATKINSON
60. How long is that going to take?
(Mr Cameron) I have no idea, because I do not know
how many applications they get every week.
61. Will you go away and find out what is happening
in Oxford? I want to know the length of the list, when people
will be put back on it with a time and I want to know what is
happening now, please.
(Mr Atkinson) Indeed.
62. Is the general performance of the Driving
Standards Agency sufficiently poor that it contributes to the
fact that we have at least one million plus people in this country
who drive on the roads having not passed their test or having
been disqualified? Or do you think it is totally neutral as far
as that problem is concerned?
(Mr Cameron) It would be fair to say that if there
were total efficiency and if that meant that costs could come
down rather than go up, then that would make more people actually
able to afford to take the test, take lessons, in order to pass
the test correctly rather than drive unaccompanied.
63. You think it is actually the cost of the
test and everything that goes with it rather than the time and
the delays which encourage people to think "Blow it. I won't
bother with the test".
(Mr Cameron) It is a combination of both and certainly
when the time is so long that they have to wait and wait, then
there is always a possibility that they will stop taking lessons,
they will stop learning legally and will drive on their own, yes.
64. You think performance at the present moment
makes that more likely than less likely.
(Mr Cameron) Yes, I do. It is also true to say that
it is not always the actual length of the waiting time, it is
this business where it jumps from four weeks to 20 weeks and back
to 15 weeks so nobody, including the learner-driver, knows where
they are, therefore they cannot plan properly and therefore yes,
they get frustrated, drop out of the system and drive unaccompanied.
(Mr Atkinson) The important thing for the learner-driver
is to be able to know a point in time in the future when they
are to have a practical driving test, whether that is six, nine,
15 or whatever weeks. Clearly the earlier the date can be achieved,
the easier it is to obtain a second test if they fail the first,
but actually for a novice pupil, starting their driving lessons
on the basis that they are going to take somewhere between 26
to 30 hours of tuition, their period of learning is going to be
10 to 12 weeks, I would suggest, therefore having a waiting time
which meets that learning criterion is very important. If the
pupil cannot identify when the test is going to be, they do not
have a target to aim for and the learning process is impeded.
65. I am interested in your attitudes to the
Highways Agency. The document Transport 2010 had a number of novel
ideas about using road space, in particular suggestions like diverting
cars onto the hard shoulder, which I know the RAC had concerns
about. What sort of representations have you made about that document
and also generally when you make representations about a document
like that, how responsive do you find the Agency? Do you think
you are being listened to?
(Mr Bizley) In terms of consultation, we have really
done so through three routes. Firstly through thematic groups
in which we participate and the best example of that is the hard
shoulder roadside safety group which published the Survive Report
about 12 months ago. That has a Highways Agency representation
and we have made representations through that group on all of
the key issues which come into both areas of interest. We specifically
had a meeting with the Highways Agency in November to review particular
areas of interest and we also make representations through the
Motorists' Forum which also has an interest in these subjects.
It is fair to say that our opinions are always listened to. We
always get a positive response. We have to wait to see how much
that listening will be turned into direction of policy. We do
not know that yet because we have not seen what the final policies
which emerge will be.
66. Looking at one or two practical issues which
have been suggested, what about the safe havens option which has
been put forward?
(Mr Bizley) We would certainly support them provided
they are as well as, rather than instead of, hard shoulders and
provided that they are spaced sufficiently close to one another
to be of some practical help.
67. The proposal that the Highways Agency have
come up with that perhaps they should be responsible for removing
vehicles and passengers to the safe havens where they could have
their own mechanics look at their vehicle.
(Mr Bizley) We would certainly be very comfortable
with that as an arrangement provided it did not result in significant
additional charges to the motorist. Generally the efficient removal
and dealing with breakdowns and accidents is a key factor in minimising
the effect of congestion. There is a very close link between congestion
and breakdowns. The vast majority of motorists currently provide
for breakdowns in some shape or form; sometimes it is through
organisations like AA, RAC, sometimes through insurance based
organisations. Whatever route they go, they have a rapid response
service available to them to remove vehicles in a hurry. The more
that people are asked to pay one-off charges if they break down
here, one-off charges if they break down there, the less likely
they are to provide for national cover and that will result in
a deteriorating situation in those areas where some form of mandatory
cover is not provided of the sort you have referred to.
68. Are your discussions more motivated by a
genuine need to improve congestion on the roads by removing broken
down vehicles, or by your concern that the Highways Agency's plans
actually undermine your breakdown business?
(Mr Bizley) I do not think there is any incompatibility
between those two views at all. Clearly we have commercial interests,
but there is also a very well documented and established link
between congestion and breakdowns and it is within the public
interest that breakdowns are dealt with efficiently and effectively
by whatever route. Whatever fiscal structure is in place to fund
that, it should encourage the motorist to provide for that situation
in the best possible way.
69. If the Highways Agency were removing broken
down vehicles to safe havens, another option people would have
which might drive down costs through competition would be just
to contact the local mechanic to come and fix it rather than to
have to have breakdown insurance.
(Mr Bizley) That is always an option open to them.
Apart from on a motorway, there is no requirement to call any
specific breakdown organisation. They can call a friend or local
garage or anyone they like.
70. Do you feel that the Highways Agency is
being sufficiently driver orientated in the way it is putting
forward these proposals?
(Mr Bizley) They have certainly indicated that their
initial intention would not be to charge for this service and
that would be something which would suit all parties. The risk
is that over time, as the breadth of the service grows, the financial
burden will be such that they would wish to levy a charge.
71. I was actually asking a more general question
about the Highways Agency itself. In your view, is the Highways
Agency driver/customer oriented?
(Mr Bizley) I think it is becoming more driver oriented.
We have observed some positive changes over the last 12 to 18
months as the role has evolved effectively into management of
the infrastructure as opposed to a construction based organisation.
72. Your feeling generally is that it is going
in the right direction.
(Mr Bizley) We certainly see positive signs but we
wish to reserve a final judgement for another year or two.
73. I have listened with interest to your concerns
about administration, efficiency and so on. However, I note that
we have at least three if not four agencies which in some way
are interested in road safety in its widest context, not only
skills of the drivers but also vehicle integrity, the environment,
congestion and so on. From your different standpoints, RAC and
BSM, presumably together those are your main concerns as well.
(Mr Bizley) The Survive Report to which I referred
earlier drew attention to some particular concerns relating to
those who work on motorways for example. If, for example, someone
is working on the hard shoulder and is involved in an accident,
that is treated as a road traffic accident, in which case the
police are the lead organisation. In any other situation the Health
and Safety Executive would be involved in that.
74. What I am trying to get at is that four
of the ten key objectives of the Department of the Environment,
Transport and the Regions, are being effected by its executive
agencies: improving transport safety, all the six agencies, not
just the ones we have referred to are involved; reducing traffic
congestion, presumably the Highways Agency; reducing the impact
of transport on the environment, Vehicle Inspectorate, DVLA, Vehicle
Certification Agency contribute; customer focused services, presumably
all those agencies are involved there. You see the potential for
confusion and duplication. That is what I am trying to get at.
In your experience, should we be worried or is there evidence
to suggest that there is that duplication and there is that confusion?
(Mr Bizley) Inevitably conflicts occur between some
of those key objectives. For example between safety and reducing
congestion. We talked earlier about the use of hard shoulders
as an issue. The important thing is that the processes have to
be transparent so that the roles of individual agencies and indeed
the processes which result in decisions are visible publicly.
At the moment this is not the case. Let me give you a simple example
of whether lighting is installed on a motorway. There is a very
clear body of evidence which says that if a motorway is lit there
will be fewer accidents and fewer people will be killed or injured.
Clearly there are environmental grounds for wishing to discourage
the use of lighting in certain areas. It is a form of pollution.
Some difficult judgements have to be made, some difficult economic
balances. If some of those were that much more transparent, visible,
then the roles of the individual agencies would also be better
understood in that situation.
75. Yes, but the DVLA is charged with facilitating
road safety and general law enforcement by maintaining registers
of drivers and vehicles and collecting VED. The Driving Standards
Agency promotes road safety in Great Britain through the advancement
of driving standards, in particular by testing drivers and driving
instructors. There you have what some might argue is an artificial
divide between the safety and objectives and the vehicle and the
driver. From your position of experience, are you finding, for
example, that the only thing which the Driving Standards Agency
is interested in is the testing of drivers and the effectiveness
of their instructors? Are you also of the view that DVLA is only
interested in collecting VED and keeping a register?
(Mr Atkinson) Between those two agencies in particular
there are clearly some crossover activities which in our case,
the pupil's experiences, the pupil experiences provision of a
licence from one agency and the test from another, not necessarily
a smooth passage from provisional licence holder to a full licence
holder in passing both the theory and practical test and one can
see an element of bureaucracy which exists between those two agencies
in both the issue of provisional licence and ultimately its upgrade
to a full licence.
76. Is there a case in your judgement with the
agencies you are in contact with for a review of them to see whether
there is overlap and duplication?
(Mr Cameron) It is true to say that none of us has
any problems that they are trying to integrate and they are trying
to follow all the things as far as road safety and what have you
are concerned. The problem is that the systems they have in place
are not overlapping, certainly the computer systems they have
in place are not working as they should be, they are not working
efficiently and therefore if that means inefficiency in the agencies
it means that they are struggling to be more efficient rather
than to promote the ideal of road safety. What I am saying is
that there are good grounds for saying they ought to be looked
at with regard to efficiency savings which could be done by integration
of computer software etcetera which at the moment, certainly as
far as DSA is concerned, is sadly lacking.
77. Do you consult with local authorities? You
consult with everybody else.
(Mr Cameron) Yes.
78. In your memorandum you talk about road signs
which you put up and ask for consistency of approach in terms
of applying for permission from the relevant agency to erect temporary
signs and consistency of approach between the Highways Agency
and local authorities in terms of the type, size, nature of the
signs. Could you elaborate very quickly on what you are seeking
there from that sort of consistency and transparency?
(Mr Bizley) May I first say that none of us here today
is expert on the sign side of the business? The process is operated
on a regional basis by the Highways Agency, sometimes through
third parties. It is simply a lack of consistency by region that
we are talking about.
79. You are obviously giving us your view on
the way in which the agencies work. When somebody breaks down
on the motorway and picks up the telephone, to whom do they get
(Mr Bizley) If they pick up one of the SOS telephones,
they get through to a police control room and the police control
room will then take the details and relay the request for assistance
on to the breakdown organisation nominated, or indeed if the person
does not have a breakdown organisation they will send out their
own contractor. Having said that, 60 per cent of the calls which
the RAC receives from people broken down on motorways come from
mobile phones and that is going up steadily. In that situation,
we then have to inform the police that there is a breakdown on
the motorway and then attend to it in the normal way.