New Clause 20

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 1:30 pm ar 20 Ebrill 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Vehicle data recording devices

‘(1) A Vehicle Data Recording Device (“VDRD”) is a device which records such data relating to the progress and manner of driving of a motor vehicle as the Secretary of State may by regulations prescribe.

(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations designate a class or classes of motor vehicles which shall be fitted with a VDRD.

(3) The Secretary of State may by regulations prescribe—

(a) the data which a VDRD must record, and how and by whom and for how long such data must be retained; and

(b) the technical specifications of a VDRD.

(4) Before the Secretary of State makes regulations under subsections (1) to (3), he shall consult—

(a) the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders, and

(b) such other organisations as he considers appropriate.

(5) The power to make regulations under this section is exercisable by statutory instrument; and a statutory instrument containing regulations under this section is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(6) A person commits an offence if he uses a motor vehicle of a class which the Secretary of State has, by regulations made under subsection (3), designated as a class of vehicle to which a VDRD must be fitted, and that person knows, or has reasonable grounds to believe, that the motor vehicle—

(a) does not have a VDRD fitted; or

(b) has a defective VDRD fitted.

(7) A person commits an offence if he knowingly causes or permits another person to use a motor vehicle of a class which the Secretary of State has, by regulations made under subsection (3), designated as a class of vehicle to which a VDRD must be fitted, and knows or has reasonable grounds to believe that the motor vehicle—

(a) does not have a VDRD fitted; or

(b) has a defective VDRD fitted.

(8) A person who commits an offence under subsections (6) or (7) shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding Level 4 on the standard scale.

(9) A person who does anything with the intention of preventing data being recorded or retained by VDRD is guilty of an offence, unless the motor vehicle in which that VDRD was fitted has been destroyed and he knows that there are no court proceedings likely to be started or pursued.

(10) A person who commits an offence under subsection (9) shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding Level 4 on the standard scale.

(11) Subsections (6) and (7) shall not come into effect until regulations made under subsections (1) to (3) have come into effect.

(12) Data recorded or retained by a VDRD fitted to a vehicle involved in a road traffic incident in which an injury occurs may be used only—

(a) for the purposes of bona fide research,

(b) by the police or other lawful authorities when investigating the causes of any such accident, or

(c) in connection with the bringing of court proceedings (whether criminal or civil) as a result of any such accident, whether or not any such proceedings are in the event commenced, but shall not be used for any other purpose.'. —[Mr. Carmichael.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Although it is a fairly substantial new clause, it can again be put in a fairly short compass. It is offered by way of a probing amendment and reflects the fact that as technology advances, so must the law. We have experience of black boxes in aeroplanes. We have the experience of so-called spies in the cab—the tachograph devices for lorries. It now becomes eminently possible that similar devices will soon be available for general domestic motoring.

The inclusion of data recording devices in cars could bring significant advantages for road safety. They certainly make the investigation of road traffic accidents an awful lot easier. In my professional experience, before I came here, I saw tremendous advances in the investigation of road traffic accidents. When I started as a boy solicitor many years ago, it was a fairly crude science. It has become much more sophisticated over the years. The information available to the police from the scene of a road traffic accident is  now considerable. The fitting of such devices to cars would be of immense assistance to police when investigating accidents, and would provide definitive evidence regarding the duration and speed of travel, which are important factors to establish in the investigation of crime.

I have been involved in a number of other cases in which there has been an issue about whether a car was being driven at all at a certain time. A classic example of that is that the police are following someone, but manage to lose him or her and eventually turn up at someone’s house to find that they claim to have been sitting at home all night and that, as it happens, they just had four stiff measures of Highland Park before the police arrived, which is why they are in the state in which they are in. That is all grist to the summary courts’ mill, but a somewhat unsatisfactory situation for a 21st-century criminal justice system. Surely, if the technology to establish such things is available for use, with important safeguards to ensure that it would not be misused in a way that would concern those of us who still take civil liberties seriously, I see no reason why we should not consider its introduction.

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

We believe that there is real merit in having black boxes. We are probably behind America on this. I know that it sometimes irritates the Minister when I go on internet forays, but I wonder whether he has heard of the method of world crash investigation that Ricardo Martinez, the chief executive officer of Atlanta-based Safety Intelligence Systems, who is considering using data recorders, describes as BOGSAT—a bunch of guys sitting around talking, or coming up with their best guess. There is real merit in the idea of having a recording of the last five to 10 seconds of the performance of the car. All it does is use the existing technology that is used to trigger air bags and automatic braking systems and records the speed, length of time for which the brakes were applied and other factors which would have controlled the car at the time.

The Americans seem to be further down the road than us. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ran a Ford F-150 truck into a wall at 30 mph to test a whole series of different black boxes. They are taking it seriously. The boxes are also being used in court cases. We have said that we should be careful about citing court cases, but I shall mention two. There was one in Fort Myers, in which a man claimed to be doing 60 mph, but was actually doing 90 mph. In another case, in Arlington Heights, a hearse struck a squad car and the hearse driver claimed that he had a medical condition. It turned out that he accelerated to 63 mph in the last five seconds, which was 20 mph above the posted limit. Therefore, it can cut both ways. This technical advance has merit, and I am interested to hear the Department’s official view on the measure.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland for raising this important subject. I was pleased to hear that my earlier comments rekindled his enthusiasm for Europe, although I was not aware that the Liberal Democrats had lost their  enthusiasm for it. So far today I have discovered that the new Conservative party is pro-Europe and anti-market, and that the Liberal Democrats are now anti-Europe and pro-market, so things are certainly changing in the political sphere.

The hon. Member for North Shropshire is correct: there is merit in exploring the idea, but both he and the hon. Gentleman would be the first to agree that we cannot legislate yet, because a bunch of guys sitting around talking is probably not a good evidential base for legislation. Nevertheless, it is clear that black box recorders have long-term merit.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 1:45, 20 Ebrill 2006

The bunch of guys sitting around talking was the hon. Gentleman’s definition of current traffic investigations, his criticism being that the investigations do not have accurate data. He was obviously proposing that the system that he is trying to sell to the US Government is a much more accurate data supplier, so that the bunch of guys would not have to sit around talking.

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

I realise that I am slow on the uptake sometimes, but I got the point. My point is that the present evidence for the potential of black boxes is also largely derived from a bunch of guys sitting around talking. That is a necessary first stage in developing what will ultimately be legislation, but we can pose some obvious issues that would need to be addressed before black boxes were provided for. What would they be used for and under what circumstances would people have access to the information on them? How would we deal with the freedom issues that they would present? What about compatibilities of standards—how would we make sure that we were reading them accurately?

In principle I agree that black boxes have merits. My own vehicle has a black box in it and I have no access to the information that it collects. That information is downloaded to the nice chaps at Alfa Romeo when I have my car serviced, and they use it for designing the next generation of Alfa Romeos, which as an Alfa Romeo owner I think is probably a good thing. What I think is a bad thing is that I have no ability to use the data, because it might advise me on how I could drive better, or how I could save fuel by amending my driving habits.

There is a whole range of things that black boxes could offer, from fuel efficiency and environmental benefits right through to accident investigation, but we are a long way from being able to specify or require them, and there would have to be a raft of debate on diverse technical and freedom issues before legislating for them. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland for beginning that debate and I look forward to continuing it, but I urge him to withdraw the new clause as it has served its purpose in initiating the debate.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

We learn something new every day, Sir Nicholas. Apparently some cars already have black boxes, and when I get back to Shetland tomorrow I shall have a look at my car to see whether the makers of Vauxhall have afforded the same opportunity to  Vectra owners such as myself as that which has been afforded to Alfa Romeo owners.

I am crushed that the Minister has paid so little attention to my parliamentary pronouncements on the subject of the European Union that he should think that any lack of enthusiasm in that respect on my part—heresy, as some of my hon. Friends call it—is somehow novel or recent.

As I indicated, and as the Minister acknowledged, the new clause was intended to start a debate. It is not my intention to press it to a vote, and with the Minister’s assurance that the subject is something that the Department has in its sights, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.