The UK Government should embark on a wide review of motoring offences, John Lamont has said in a Westminster debate.
The debate coincided with Road Safety Week, a campaign organised by the road safety charity Brake. In the debate, the Member of Parliament said it was time to review the legislative framework with a view to making roads safer for more vulnerable users such as horse-riders, cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists.
Road safety for vulnerable users is a particular issue in the Scottish Borders. Two thirds of cyclist or motorcyclist deaths take place on rural roads in the UK, an average of 25 a month.
The UK Government is considering introducing an offence of causing death by dangerous cycling, following the tragic death of Kim Briggs in London by a reckless cyclist. Kim’s father lives in Coldstream in the Scottish Borders.
However, the local MP co-sponsored a debate in Westminster with Labour MP Ruth Cadbury and pointed out that in order to properly make our roads safer, the Government must also consider whether motoring offences are fit for purpose.
There are some clear problems with the current legislation including confusion over the difference between dangerous and careless driving, hit and run offences which carry only a maximum prison sentence of 6 months and the problem of ‘car dooring’.
Speaking after the debate John Lamont MP said: “The UK Government is right to be considering whether pedestrians need better protection following the tragic case of Kim Briggs.
“However, if the desire is to make our roads safer, the priority has to be looking again at motoring offences.
“It is madness that our current laws treat serious motoring offences so trivially. It cannot be right that hit and run has a maximum sentence of only 6 months nor that a driver can negligently open a car door, kill a cyclist and receive just a fine.
“This is a topic which always attracts comment on social media. I think it’s important to rise above this. My debate was not about motorists versus cyclists. I happen to be both. Road users are not tribes of people competing for a space of tarmac. Road users are simply people, our friends or relatives, trying only to get around.”
“We need to take greater steps to make our rural roads safer for vulnerable users, particularly cyclists and horse-riders in the Scottish Borders.”
A copy of John’s speech is below:
(Interventions have been removed)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I thank the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) for leading this debate—I was delighted to co-sponsor the application for it. The fact that we are both here today, representing different parties and very different constituencies, goes to show how this issue affects all parts of the United Kingdom. My thanks also go to the road charity Brake, Sustrans and Cycling UK for providing helpful information on the topic ahead of today’s debate.
This is absolutely not a debate about motorists against cyclists. For the record, I am both. Road users are not tribes of people competing for space on our tarmac. Road users are simply people—our constituents, our friends and our relatives—trying only to get around, whether that be on foot, on bike or by car. If we want to make our roads a safer place, the statistics do not lie: more than 99% of pedestrian deaths in the UK are caused by motorised vehicles. It does not take a degree in physics to understand that 1 tonne of metal travelling at high speed has the potential to cause greater harm than a 15 kg bike going at 15 mph on a good day. In the face of that, it is abundantly clear that if we want to make our roads safer, cutting down on irresponsible driving must be the priority.
The hon. Lady has already spoken about the need for a review of road traffic laws, particularly on dangerous and careless driving, and I would like to associate myself with those remarks. Another area that we need to look at closely is the law on hit and run offences. The current maximum prison sentence for failing to stop is six months. There is already a presumption against short custodial sentences in Scotland, and offenders are automatically let out early across the UK. That means that someone convicted of a failure to stop offence often escapes a custodial sentence completely.
Failure to stop means a motorist was involved in an accident with another vehicle or person and was aware of the incident, but drove off anyway, with no thought about the damage or hurt caused. However, it can also be used as a means to escape a more serious punishment, such as if a drunk driver fails to stop in order to sober up. Failure to stop is a serious offence that should be treated seriously. It needs to end and we need to increase the maximum penalty to be in line with the maximum penalty for dangerous driving.
Another relatively simple measure to improve road safety would be to look at car-dooring. I think most cyclists are aware of the danger or have had to swerve to avoid a door opening in their path. I have had to do that on a number of occasions. I welcome the Government’s announcement that The Highway Code will be reviewed to include the so-called Dutch reach, where people open a car door with the hand furthest from the door. I hope that that will be included as a requirement so that learner drivers are taught it as a standard part of their lessons and test.
However, we need to also look at whether a new offence needs to be created. Between 2011 and 2015, more than 3,100 people were recorded as being injured or killed as a result of a vehicle door being opened negligently, including cyclist Sam Harding, who was killed in August 2012 when a driver opened his plastic-tinted door in Sam’s path, knocking him under a bus. The maximum penalty for opening a car door negligently was a £1,000 fine, so the Crown Prosecution Service tried, unsuccessfully, to prosecute for manslaughter. The driver responsible received only a £200 fine. Clearly, this area of the law might not be working and needs to be reviewed.
We are calling for a much wider review of road safety offences than is currently proposed. The Government have taken action, which is to be welcomed. The announcement of life sentences for causing death by dangerous driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol was overdue, although it needs to be implemented soon. The Department for Transport also has plans for a pilot scheme that will offer driving instructors training to put cyclists’ safety at the forefront of their minds when teaching new drivers, and The Highway Code review, with a focus on cyclist and pedestrian safety, is also a good step forward. However, the Government need a wide-ranging review of motoring offences as a matter of urgency.
The Government are right to look again at the law surrounding injury or fatalities caused by cyclists. I have every sympathy with Matt Briggs, who lost his wife, Kim, when she was killed by a reckless cyclist. Kim’s father is a constituent of mine who lives in Coldstream, my own town. It makes no sense to focus on cycling offences without reviewing the much greater number of motorist offences. It is time for the Government to improve road safety for our most vulnerable road users, clear up the inconsistencies caused by the current dangerous and careless driving offences, and review the law on penalty points and hit and run offences.
My party rightly has a reputation for being tough on crime, but I feel we make an exception as a party—indeed, we make an exception as a society—if the crime is committed behind the wheel. Perhaps it is because cars are so commonplace and so central to our daily lives that their potential danger has become normalised. It is time to tackle this issue and send out a clear message to the small minority of irresponsible motorists that the safety of vulnerable road users is more important. I look forward to hearing from colleagues during this debate and from the Minister at the end.