In 2018, a staggering 540 people were injured or killed every week in Britain. That is the most phenomenal cost in all sorts of ways. It costs the NHS; it costs the emergency services; it costs social services to mop up after these collisions and injuries, some of which of course are life-changing. We have lawless roads, and the reason for that is that road crime is not treated in the same way as regular crime. The problem is that many drivers will pay as much attention to these changes in the Highway Code and the guidelines as Boris Johnson did to the Covid rules.
That this House regrets the draft Revision of the Highway Code because, despite making important changes to protect road users from harm, Her Majesty’s Government has failed sufficiently to educate the public on the changes.
Relevant document: 24th Report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee
In spite of having tabled a regret Motion, I am, in fact, fully in favour of these changes, and I congratulate the Government on their foresight in actually bringing them in to make our roads safer. It is absolutely brilliant. I wholeheartedly welcome the changes to the Highway Code. They try to create a situation on our roads where those who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger that they may pose to others. That means that a cyclist should assume responsibility for the safety of those walking; and a driver has greater responsibility to look out for those cycling, horse-riding and walking.
It means that car drivers do not turn at junctions when someone is waiting to cross the road—although I have to say that I thought that was the rule already, and I always stepped out fearlessly, scowling at the drivers. So I am glad that that change is being made. It means that drivers should not cut across people on cycles and horse-riders travelling straight ahead when the drivers are turning at a junction. It means that drivers use the “Dutch reach”, using their left hand to open the door, which makes the driver look over their shoulder to check for nearby road users.
All this is common sense, so I am quite curious about what people perceive as the problem. In fact, of course, the answer is that many drivers believe that might is right: the bigger your vehicle, the more right of way you have. In the UK, drivers are still buying bigger and more polluting vehicles. These are safer vehicles—but only for them, the drivers. Road casualties have fallen a lot over the past three decades, but that is because far fewer car drivers are being killed or injured, because cars are safer for their drivers. The number of pedestrians killed or injured in busy cities such as London has plateaued rather than declined. We made safer vehicles but we did not create safer roads.
Many drivers think that they are beyond the law. In 2018, a staggering 540 people were injured or killed every week in Britain. That is the most phenomenal cost in all sorts of ways. It costs the NHS; it costs the emergency services; it costs social services to mop up after these collisions and injuries, some of which of course are life-changing. We have lawless roads, and the reason for that is that road crime is not treated in the same way as regular crime. I have always supported our amazing traffic police; they do an incredible job against the odds. They make the most astonishing number of arrests because, when they see an illegal car moving around and they stop them, they quite often find that the drivers are criminals: they have drugs and weapons and all sorts of stuff in their car.
The problem is that many drivers will pay as much attention to these changes in the Highway Code and the guidelines as Boris Johnson did to the Covid rules. Our only hope is a massive publicity campaign to convince the majority of people that being a responsible driver or a responsible cyclist—or even a responsible pedestrian—is a matter of courtesy, caring and common sense. We need the same energy that went into the TV ads for the Green Cross Code, drink-driving or “clunk-click”. Without that, I am worried that these changes will escalate injuries on the road. Pedestrians will assert their right to cross the road at a side junction, and car drivers or cyclists will not stop. Pedestrians will be in the right, but that will not stop them being hurt.
These new measures need immediate publicity, including notices, for example, sent with every notification that drivers receive. I found out about these changes only by accident, and if I, who care a lot about road safety and road danger, found out about them only by chance, there are going to be an awful lot of people who have not heard about them yet. So I appeal to Ministers to spend the money to make these Highway Code changes relevant and noisy. I hope they will be a small step towards changing the culture of lawless roads, which leaves so many grieving for lost family and friends and many thousands suffering from life-changing injuries. I beg to move.
I finished the debate by saying: My Lords, I thank every Lord who has taken part in this debate, and I particularly commend the Minister. It is such a pleasure to agree with a government Minister and to hear her spirited defence of old and new regulations.
There are a lot of issues here and, of course, I disagree with quite a lot of what has been said. We always have to remember that car drivers are subsidised by the rest of us. They are subsidised by cyclists, pedestrians and, obviously, other car drivers. Please let us not think that car drivers have the right to do whatever they like on our roads.
There are too many issues to cover, but on the issue of cyclists killing other people and so on, that hardly ever happens. In fact, 99% of pedestrian deaths are from motor vehicles. Please let us not forget that. I was going to refer to what the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, said, but the Minister corrected that. Cycle lanes are often dangerous, and the infrastructure has to be looked at.
Lady Randerson, talked about the budget. That is quite important, because I think there is £500,000 at the moment, which will be nowhere near enough. I recommend that if government Ministers could get that out there and notify people on prime TV time—talking about this instead of cake—that would obviously help to spread the word.
The Government have been very slow to produce a draft of these changes. In fact, they were told back in July 2018 that there was a need for a public awareness campaign, yet the relevant people looking at it were given the details only a week ago.
I thank Lord Tunnicliffe, for his positive and sympathetic response. As somebody who does not cycle any more, because I walk, I am well aware of the dangers of cycling in London and other places, including rural areas, and I commend the Minister for saying that we should show some patience and courtesy. It is perhaps time that we all learned that. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
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