Road Traffic Offences: Fatal Collisions Debate

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Department: Department for Transport

Road Traffic Offences: Fatal Collisions

Ruth Cadbury Excerpts
Monday 15th November 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship in this important debate, Mr Rosindell. I thank the Petitions Committee, and I particularly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees) for her powerful speech introducing the debate. I thank the hundreds of thousands of people who have signed the petitions and particularly the families who have come here today, who are sitting in the Gallery. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd), who was so brave in describing his tragedy. His experience and the experiences of our constituents bring home what an important issue it is. It is a cross-party issue.

I co-chair the all-party parliamentary group for cycling and walking. In 2017, when we were still the all-party parliamentary cycling group, we published a report on justice and the legal system, which made a number of recommendations about changing the law. Some of those recommendations were subsequently incorporated into law, but more can be done, as I will discuss shortly.

Three years ago this month, I led a debate in Westminster Hall on this very topic. We had a useful response from the then Minister with responsibility for transport, who repeated his announcement that the law was changing, and I congratulate the Government on the changes they have made. We thank them for increasing the maximum sentence for dangerous driving from 14 years to life and for increasing the sentence for careless driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol from 14 years to life. The Government are bringing in a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving, with a maximum sentence of two years.

I congratulate the Government on what they have done to encourage more people to cycle and walk, using covid emergency legislation. They have brought in funding and regulatory changes that make it safer to walk and cycle in those areas where local authorities have used that funding and regulatory change, particularly in areas that have created more space for cycling. However, we will not get more people cycling until or unless the conditions on the road not just feel safe, but clearly are safe. The same goes for motorcyclists, who are proportionately among the most frequent victims of road traffic incidents.

I also thank the Government for bringing in revisions to the highway code. Those revisions, about the hierarchy of road users, are supported by many organisations that represent vulnerable road users. There is now an expectation placed on the vehicle driver, who is driving a potentially dangerous metal can weighing several tonnes at speed at people on bikes or motorbikes, walking or in buggies. That is good, but we need improved messaging about the revisions, because I do not think most drivers, possibly even most police officers, are aware of them.

I thank Living Streets, British Cycling, Cycling UK and the Road Danger Reduction Forum for providing Members with useful briefings and statistics, all of which bring home the importance of this issue. Every time road safety has been discussed in this House, Members from all parties have taken part, and today we have heard from the hon. Members for Keighley (Robbie Moore) and for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). We all have experiences of incidents where justice has not been done for the victims of road traffic collisions and their families. There is still more work to do to get that to change.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is currently going through Parliament. I thank the Members of the House of Lords for taking some amendments forward, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter for his amendment to the Bill when it was in this House. We will discuss these matters again on consideration of amendments. We need to clarify the distinction between careless and dangerous driving. Driving should be deemed careless or inconsiderate if it involves a breach of the highway code that causes inconvenience, intimidation or danger to another road user, and it should be deemed dangerous where a breach would lead to a driver being failed automatically if they drove in that way during a driving test.

We also need to ensure that the maximum custodial sentences for causing serious injury do not fall vastly below those for causing death by equally bad driving, while strengthening the role of driving bans for offenders whose driving has clearly caused danger but who are not obviously dangerous persons. We have heard examples today of repeat offenders who are clearly dangerous and who need to be imprisoned to ensure public protection. As right hon. and hon. Members have said, there are others for whom a driving ban would be sufficient punishment because they are not otherwise dangerous people.

We need to strengthen the penalties for those who continue to drive while banned; align more closely the offences and penalties for causing death and serious injury while under the influence of drink or drugs with those for causing death and serious injury while driving while disqualified; and create a new offence for causing serious injury while under the influence, with a maximum sentence of five years. We also need to increase to two years the maximum sentence for opening the doors of vehicles in a manner that results in death or serious injury. A woman died in such a situation on Chiswick High Road in my constituency many years ago.

I want to address another point that I do not think has been mentioned today but which we raised during our 2017 inquiry. A number of people get off and avoid a ban—or successfully appeal against one—after receiving 12 points or more, which should result in an automatic ban. To make an analogy with a serious house burglar or someone who carries out an assault in the street, they do not get off and avoid their sentences because they need to go to work or look after their children, so why should somebody who causes serious injury through dangerous or careless driving be let off a driving ban? I agree that a driving ban should be used more, but it should be imposed more by the judicial system.

Safer roads mean that more people will walk and cycle. That will reduce congestion, improve health, reduce pollution and improve the economy because those vehicles that need to be on the road will be able to get to their destination faster. Our sympathy has to be with all those who have lost a loved one through death by dangerous driving. We in this place can act on that sympathy, and offer more than just words, by strengthening the law.