New Clause 28

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:15 pm ar 20 Ebrill 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Reflective clothing

‘In the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52), after section 16 (wearing of protective headgear) insert—

“16A Wearing of protective clothing

The Secretary of State shall make regulations requiring, subject to such exceptions as may be specified in the regulations, persons driving or riding in motor vehicles of any class specified in the regulations to wear EN471-compliant reflective garments  when leaving the vehicle at a roadside, except where the vehicle is parked.”.'.—[Mr. Paterson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

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

We think that there is a compelling case for the new clause. Statistics show that when pedestrians are more visible there are road safety gains. Of all road fatalities, 45 per cent. happen in darkness, and 21 per cent. of all the fatal casualties on roads in 2004 were pedestrian casualties. Some 559 pedestrians were killed or seriously injured in 2004 on footways or verges as a result of road accidents, and in the same year 147 people were killed in accidents on motorway hard shoulders. It is clear that pedestrians are vulnerable, and it would be a good thing for them to be more visible.

Approximately 40 per cent. of drivers involved in an accident with a car driver or passenger who has unexpectedly been forced to leave a car say that they did not see the victim. In 2002, 28 per cent. of accidents involving a car and a pedestrian could be attributed either to the driver looking but not seeing the pedestrian, or to the person who was hit wearing dark or inconspicuous clothing.

I shall briefly examine other countries. In 2003, 115 people were killed or seriously injured in Spain while working at the side of the road, repairing their vehicle or getting in or out of their car. To reduce that number, it is now mandatory for people getting out of a car at the road side to wear a retro-reflective vest. Similar action has been taken in Italy, Portugal, Austria and, most recently, Israel. The measure is being seriously considered in Sweden, which the Minister and I happily visited before Easter.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents advises that pedestrians wear something that will make them conspicuous, particularly in conditions of poor visibility. The US Department of Transportation has shown that reflective clothing increases the visibility of a pedestrian by a factor of five. In a study that it carried out, it found that wearing a retro-reflective vest increased the distance at which a driver could see a pedestrian by about 159 m. The evidence is compelling. There is a European standard, EN471, for the design of reflective clothing. We recommend in the new clause the use of that standard.

The total cost of road accidents in the UK in 2002 was £17.76 billion. Highly visible reflective vests complying with EN471 cost as little as a fiver, and given that the Minister thought that it was good value to spend a tenner to change from paper licences to photographic licences, I am sure that he would agree that there is merit in motorists having £5-worth of reflective vest in their car in case they have to get out at the road side.

I am always worried about the blood pressure of the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy), so I will not go through all the anecdotal history showing that reflective vests would have had merit. However, it is worth quoting the Minister’s colleague, the hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins), who said last March when discussing the previous Road Safety Bill that

“anything that helps the motorist and their passengers to remain safer after an accident or when they have had to stop for whatever reason is worth considering.”—[Official Report, 8 March 2005; Vol. 431, c. 1451.]

So the Government have acknowledged that there is merit in the suggestion. Our contention is that, given the investment that a driver has to make in a car—in servicing it, insuring it, fuelling it and everything else—£5 is not an exorbitant sum. There would be real merit in having a reflective vest when a car breaks down or when a passenger has to get out. They would be a lot safer and more visible to oncoming road users.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I do not want to detain the Committee for too long, but I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire. I dislike unnecessary regulation and red tape, but where issues of safety are concerned we should examine the experiences and practices of other countries to see whether they are worth following. As my hon. Friend said, the law in Spain, which I have seen in operation, is that if a person stops his vehicle and leaves it for whatever reason—from what I have seen, that is usually owing to a breakdown, a flat tyre or another mechanical problem—he must don a reflective jacket. That is a valuable aid to road safety.

I have been involved in two near misses while driving with headlamps on and someone with dark clothing has been standing in the carriageway. On one occasion it looked as though the man was admiring his vehicle rather than trying to repair it, and if he had been wearing reflective clothing I would have seen him at a much greater distance.

What assessment has the Minister or his officials made of the effectiveness of the provision in other countries? It was as a result of a speech that I made when we discussed the previous Bill that the then Minister, the hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands, said that she was willing to examine what had happened in other countries and to consider the benefits with a view to revisiting the matter. I hope that the Minister can tell us whether an assessment has been made.

The Minister referred to a box in his car and said that he had no idea what was in it and, by implication, no idea what the contents meant. At first, I thought he was referring to his red box, but he made it clear that he was referring to a black recorder box. If he cannot give us an answer today and my hon. Friends do not press the new clause to a vote, I hope that he will tell us on Report what assessment his Department has made of the effectiveness of the provision where it has been tried.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport 2:30, 20 Ebrill 2006

When I proposed that we should have photo identity licences at a cost of perhaps £5 or £10 I was accused of introducing a stealth tax, yet here we have a Conservative Front Bencher suggesting a further stealth tax. People would not have to keep just one £5 piece of equipment in their car. If they had a five-seater car, presumably they would have to keep five  pieces of equipment in it. The hon. Gentleman’s stealth tax would be five times higher than the one that he accused me of introducing.

There is no legal distinction between parking at the road side and stopping at the roadside because someone has broken down, so careful consideration would have to be given to the drafting of such a provision. The hon. Gentleman’s arguments are right. A pedestrian is much safer if they can be seen. Of the 3,000-plus accidents that result in death in this country every year, a relatively small number involve people who stop their car at the road side and get out of it. A much higher number are pedestrians who are struck by cars. A logical extension of his argument is that he would like legislation to require all pedestrians to wear reflective clothing. We already make it clear that wearing reflective and light-coloured clothing is good practice for children. It is certainly good practice for adult pedestrians and for motorists who are at the road side because they have broken down. We deal with that in the highway code and in other guidance that we issue to motorists. However, it is a big leap from good practice to compulsion.

I am not prepared to accept the new clause and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman tabled it as a probing amendment. However, I am prepared to say to him and the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire that we will continue to monitor experience in other countries that introduce such legislation. If clear evidence starts to emerge that it would have the beneficial effect that they believe it would have, we would look again at the need to legislate. In the meantime, we will continue to use education campaigns and the guidance that we issue to motorists to make it clear to them and to pedestrians that wearing light-coloured and reflective clothing is sensible and that motorists should include some reflective clothing in their car in case they break down. That is part of the guidance that we already issue, which is different from legislating. We shall look at any evidence that emerges and perhaps return to the matter.

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

I am not hugely encouraged by the Minister’s response. Later on, Sir Nicholas, you and I will be driving up the motorway and whether we wave an ancient paper licence at an oncoming juggernaut if we happen to break down on the M6 or the M1, or a brand new, glossy photo licence, it will have no impact on the oncoming driver. If we get out wearing a reflective coat it will have an impact. The Minister should not muddle up the two.

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

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would tell me how many reflective coats he has in his car. As he is so convinced by this argument, presumably he is doing it voluntarily.

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

That is a perfectly good and fair point. I have not purchased one yet, but I am hoping that the price will come down. The statistics came from the Minister’s Department. I said that 559 pedestrians were killed or seriously injured in 2004. That is from table 31 of the Department for Transport’s report “Road Casualties Great Britain 2004”, published in September 2005. The other figure of 147 people killed  in accidents on the hard shoulder of motorways comes from the Minister’s written answer on 16 October 2005.

We do not support extra cost or extra regulation, but we support regulations that ensure that motorists have tyres with a certain tread depth. That costs motorists quite a lot of money. If a car’s tracking goes wrong, one has to throw away quite an expensive tyre much earlier. We support such regulation. For £5, this is not a huge investment. It is compulsory to have triangles in the back of the car in case of a breakdown. I am partly encouraged by one or two of the Minister’s comments which I will analyse carefully when Hansard is printed. On that basis, we will not push the new clause to a vote. We will hold back our thoughts until Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.