Clause 14 - Alcohol ignition interlocks

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 23 Mawrth 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Perhaps the name of the hon. Member for Stafford was noted in the Whip’s book—he will recover.

We are not convinced by the proposal for alcohol ignition interlocks. A recent report from the European Transport Safety Council notes that alco-locks have been used in rehabilitation programmes for drink-driving offenders in the USA, Australia and Canada. It claims:

“experiences in the USA and Canada have shown that the interlocks can lead to a 40 to 95 per cent. reduction in the rate of drink-driving repeat offences”.

It continues:

“Existing studies clearly indicate however that this reduction in recidivism is limited to the period of alcolock installation in the car, or at best for a limited time thereafter”.

European trials have been limited. In Sweden, 900 drink-driving offenders have been on an alcohol interlock programme, but about a third of them dropped out because the programme was strict. Finland is only just about to introduce an alcohol interlock programme lasting one year for all drink-driving offenders, and France has begun a pilot project, with only 40 participants, in Annecy. The UK is cited in the report as also taking part.

The European Transport Safety Council refers to P. R. Marques, who has written an in-depth report for the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Calveston, Maryland. The report states:

“20 years beyond their initial field trials in several California counties, interlock devices and programs have reached a high level of maturity”.

However,

“Researchers will need to continue to evaluate interlock effectiveness evidence to determine if interlock programs can reduce recidivism systemwide, not just in small programs, and no one has yet documented and overall crash reduction due to interlocks although alcohol-related crashes are almost certainly reduced. Much more needs to be done to enhance the impact of interlock programmes, through integration and other counter-measure programmes, most notably alcohol treatment and rehabilitation ... An interlock programme requires some level of administrative control and monitoring” and needs to

“make good use of the dual functions of control and monitoring.”

Although it admits that this is a problem in all societies, it thinks that rehabilitation and other measures are more important.

That finding is confirmed by a survey conducted on behalf of the European Union by the Belgian Institute for Road Safety, which had a project running from December 2003 to December 2005 that came up in some cases with no answers. On relevance—how the project objective is linked to the programme objective—the answer is:

“This can however not be assessed yet.”

On effectiveness, and whether the project has reached its objective, it says:

“No project results were available for the evaluation.”

There is a blank, rather than an answer to the question about whether the results support the programme objectives. On utility, the answer to whether the project includes a baseline and a potential impact assessment is a blank, and for sustainability—whether the project results will last after the project has been completed—there is another blank.

These are early days. The system has been extensively used in the States, where the evidence is that these gadgets, or machines, work only as long as they are in place. It would, in some ways, be irresponsible to install them, because they have not reduced the rate of recidivism and offenders seem to go back to their bad ways afterwards.

That is confirmed by the final report that I should like to call in aid—which goes right across the board, on alcohol as a problem with motoring—by Dr. James Nichols of the National Highway Traffic Safety   Administration and H. Lawrence Ross of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at the university of New Mexico. Their report touches on our earlier debate; they

“feel that swift and sure license actions provide the greatest potential on both counts” on reducing drink-driving and alcohol-related crashes. Their

“model system would provide for mandatory minimum fines ... and mandatory minimum hard license suspensions of no less than 90 days, followed by a probationary or restricted license period”,

after which, there would be

“alcohol education, assessment, and referral programs.”

They say:

“To make license actions more effective, greater emphasis would be placed on keeping suspended and revoked drivers from driving during their license withdrawal period.”

The conclusion is that taking licences away for longer periods has a more beneficial impact.

It seems to me, having rattled through some research papers, that work on this measure is a bit premature. We are all in favour of and open to new ideas, but I think that this system should be kept at the trial stage in limited numbers and not be written into the Bill as a major part of the Government’s alcohol programme. I particularly do not like the idea of

“a lesser period of disqualification (“the reduced period”)”,

in clause 14(3), which may be given if an offender is prepared to take on one of these gadgets. It appears that the effect lasts only as long as the gadget is in the car and, from the evidence that I have quoted showing that people sadly revert afterwards, taking people’s licences away seems to have a bigger impact. Actually, the biggest shock is a brief period of imprisonment.

All credit must go to the Government for looking at new ideas, but this system is in the very early stages in Europe and we should see how other countries get on. By all means let us have some small trials in this country, but I do not think that it is appropriate to build this initiative into the Bill as it stands.

Photo of Lee Scott Lee Scott Ceidwadwyr, Ilford North

In cultures where this method has been tried, as we have just heard from my hon. Friend, it has been proved not only that there might be issues and problems with it, but that it can be overcome. Various devices have allegedly come into force that can give false readings to allow the car to be started, and enable the person still to drink and drive. I do not think that there is anyone in Committee who is not trying to stop drink-driving, but I believe that the enforcement of the current laws by police, as mentioned by the Minister, and the enforcement of penalties would be a better way forward. Let us have tests, but not as part of a major Bill.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

Both hon. Gentlemen will be glad to know that I share their analysis to a large extent; it is just on the conclusions that I differ. They are both right—it is early days for the technology, and I can give them an absolute assurance that there is no way that the Government will allow widespread use of it without proceeding carefully and step by step, with proper experimentation and proper research to build up the evidence that it is worth while. Clause 14 must   be examined in conjunction with clause 15, in which we make it clear that we can implement alco-locks experimentally at some point.

I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott) that there may well be devices that can fool the current generation of alco-locks, but there will be improvements, and we will make tests and take cognisance of the results.

I encourage hon. Members to remember the constraints under which the Government operate when they need primary legislation. The Bill went through its stages in the previous Parliament but fell because of the general election. For the second year on the run, there is a major slot in the parliamentary timetable to discuss these issues. It may well be several years hence before there is another slot for primary legislation that focuses on road safety, and if we do not today take the powers that we need in order to do such experiments, then, if the rest of Europe and the world start to make progress, we shall not be in a position to take advantage.

We agree that the technology is in many respects untested and a lot of work is needed, but we shall proceed only step by step as we accumulate evidence that it could work. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to take powers today that allow us to be involved in the work.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister said that to a large extent he shared the analysis of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North. Does he share the analysis, therefore, of my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire, that the technology would most properly be used for offenders who have been caught more than once—after their disqualification and as an extra penalty—rather than for first-time offenders, which would let them off their sentence a little bit? Surely we should be reinforcing the message to drink-drivers, and the measure should be an extra, punitive one.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I agree partially. It is not a measure that should be used for first-time offenders. It could be appropriate for repeat offenders—people who clearly have had an alcohol dependency problem and who, in order to get their licence back, would have to demonstrate not only that they have served their disqualification period, but that they have been through a rehabilitation process of some sort and have addressed their drinking. The disqualification period might be slightly reduced if they agreed to take an alco-lock.

I hear from many Members with constituents who have been in such a position, who have had repeat drink-driving offences and who want their licences back. The DVLA says, “The Secretary of State takes the view that we can’t be certain you are not going to reoffend.” They then have to go to their doctor and get a doctor’s note saying that the doctor thinks that they will not drink again, but sadly, we know that alcoholism is not curable. There is always the possibility of people reoffending; even those who have   been sober for many years sometimes start to drink again and may be tempted to reoffend. Once someone has been a repeat offender, it is difficult to convince people that they should get their licence back. I see the proposal as a potential tool for somebody who has been through rehabilitation. If there is a feeling that they may deserve to get their licence back and that they are not going to reoffend, maybe voluntarily agreeing to a alco-lock will allow them to convince those in the system that they should be allowed to drive again.

These things need time to bottom out, however, and to be done carefully, in the light of experimentation, research and results gathered from around the world. I assure hon. Members that if they do not work or research starts to indicate that they have no merit, they will not be used. Given the difficulties of getting primary legislation and the need for it even to do such experiments, it is nevertheless appropriate to take the powers now. Given my reassurances, I hope that hon. Members will support clause stand part.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:45, 23 Mawrth 2006

I am not convinced. We have evidence from the United States, which uses the devices extensively. People there are quite clear that the devices work only so long as they are installed. The recent massive survey of drink-driving and alcohol-related crashes firmly concluded that action on licences, withdrawal of the ability to drive and ultimately the withdrawal of freedom have a longer-term impact. I was interested to hear that the programmes are experimental. Experiments are going on, and presumably we can liaise with our colleagues in Sweden, France and Belgium, which are carrying out trials, but I am worried that that would be a major distraction. Getting the programmes up and running will take a lot of time and effort. According to the research that I have seen, a lot of monitoring is involved in them. I feel, especially after hearing the speech made by hon. Member for Stafford, that the problem should be addressed by the withdrawal of licences, better enforcement of the existing laws and, if necessary, imprisonment. Conservative Members will not therefore vote for clause stand part.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 11, Noes 4.

Rhif adran 3 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 14 - Alcohol ignition interlocks

Ie: 9 MPs

Na: 3 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

NOES

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.