Road Traffic and Street Works

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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1st reading
Wednesday 24th January 2024

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about speeding offences on roads to which a 20mph limit applies; to make provision about the enforcement of moving traffic offences; to require 24 hour staffing of works on specified public roads; and for connected purposes.

As I am sure you are aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, life as a motorist has changed significantly over the past two decades. Cars have become safer, more efficient, greener and quieter, and yet despite the fact that the motor car is possibly one of the greatest contributors to human wealth, happiness and freedom, it has become seen by many as the root of all evil. Despite the enormous benefits that cars bring to our constituents’ families up and down the land and, indeed, to people across the world, for many motorists, the world seems to be filled with councillors and officials who are dedicated to making their lives more difficult. Driving is becoming a minefield of potential traps and penalties, such that drivers are becoming paranoid and resentful about the entire system. When that happens, order tends to break down, and the time has come for a rebalancing.

In the Bill, I propose three modest measures that would achieve a better balance and would hopefully see better results generally for motorists and members of our communities across the board. First, I propose that anybody caught speeding between 20 mph and 30 mph does not receive penalty points, rather they would be required to attend a speed awareness course. Repeat offences would require repeat attendance at speed awareness courses. I should declare an interest, having been at a speed awareness course recently after I was caught unwittingly doing 24 mph on the Embankment, along with the Archbishop of Canterbury—not at the same time or in the same vehicle, but he was also done for a similar offence.

The roll-out of 20 mph speed limits across the country has brought benefits in terms of road safety, but it has left many thousands of drivers disproportionately punished for straying over the limit. The fact that drivers can receive three penalty points for doing 24 mph in a 20 mph zone and for doing 57 mph in a 50 mph zone seems unfair to many and is in danger of discrediting the system. In addition to penalty points and a fine, drivers so punished would also face higher insurance premiums at a time when premiums are rising significantly in any event. As it stands, it is possible for someone to lose their driving licence by driving at 24 mph four times in three years.

Two years ago, it was revealed that as 20 mph zones were rolled out across London, Transport for London was setting a target of a million speeding fines a year with the Met police. That represents a huge increase in prosecutions and the accumulation of points. Analysis of Department for Transport data by Claims.co.uk confirms that of those speeding in a 20 mph zone, 49% were exceeding the limit by 5 mph or more, and only 19% were driving above 30 mph. Those numbers, of course, imply that 51% of those caught speeding were doing less than 25 mph.

In evaluations, speed awareness courses have proven to be significantly more effective in preventing reoffending than penalty points and a fine. If our objective is to improve road safety, particularly on residential roads, it would be more effective to put people through repeated courses, perhaps with increasing intensity and time required. That would be a more proportionate approach and would achieve better road safety. Points would of course still apply for those who fail to attend courses or, indeed, who fail their courses, which I understand is a possibility.

The second element of the Bill is for non-speeding traffic offences enforced by a local council or body other than the police. A first offence in those circumstances at a particular location should result in a warning letter, rather than a fine. A subsequent offence at the same location would attract a fine in the normal manner. Over the past few years, we have seen a significant increase in the number of traffic enforcement cameras operated by local authorities. In London alone, nearly 3.2 million tickets were issued in 2022-23, extracting about £200 million from motorists. The number of councils approved by the Government to operate enforcement in that way has increased steadily. There are regular reports in the media of the earnings of particular cameras. The most successful camera in Birmingham apparently pulls in £10,000 a day from drivers who stray into bus lanes.

A number of councils that have introduced enforcement cameras have started with a grace period, during which erring drivers have been issued with a warning letter for their first offence at a particular location, recognising that a sudden change may not be immediately appreciated by many. In Liverpool, the city of my birth, when cameras were brought in at one particular location, 1,400 drivers were caught out within the first 24 hours. Happily, they all received a warning letter first. That is a good and civilised principle, and it maintains public support for the enforcement system. It recognises that the vast majority of drivers will have made a genuine error, will learn their lesson and will not make the same mistake again.

This very British sense of giving people the benefit of the doubt should continue, and this Bill would make it a permanent feature. Anyone who commits a moving traffic offence—caught in the yellow box, straying into a bus lane or turning left when they should not—enforced by a local authority with a camera for the first time at a particular location would only receive a warning letter. Subsequent offences at the same location would attract a fine in the normal manner.

Finally, the third element of my Bill says that any roadworks on an A road should not be left unattended at any time. We know, as Members of Parliament travelling around our constituencies and to and from London, that the Government have struggled to control and minimise disruptive roadworks. Anyone who drives in any major city will say that unannounced roadworks with poor traffic management and inconsiderate positioning are a source of huge delay and aggravation—even more so when those works are seemingly abandoned and lifeless, sometimes for days.

Even in the past few days Hyde Park Corner, one of the busiest junctions in the capital, has been beset with works and temporary traffic lights, with not a soul in sight after 5 pm. There is a polite Government consultation out at the moment on increasing fines and tinkering a bit with the current system. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) introduced his ten-minute rule Bill, the Roadworks (Regulation) Bill, last year with an imaginative and more radical set of measures to address the same problem, and his “Can the Cones” campaign hit the mark with many.

My proposal is simple. It would require contractors to ensure that no roadworks on any A road can ever be left unattended. Someone must always be on hand to deal with problems, speak to the public, alert authorities to traffic issues and generally manage the site. That obligation would also provide a powerful incentive for the work to be completed quickly and the duty could be satisfied by having at least one person always working on the site—a very efficient use of resources and one that would show the public that contractors are being as diligent as possible and works are being completed as swiftly as possible. Above all, motorists would know that their safe and smooth passage through the works was being supervised at all times.

These three simple measures would improve all our lives, with greater road safety, a greater sense of proportion and civilisation in the enforcement of non-speeding traffic offences and less aggravation for motorists going through abandoned works.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Kit Malthouse, Royston Smith, Will Quince, Nickie Aiken, Sir Desmond Swayne, Philip Davies, Mark Menzies, Shailesh Vara, Julie Marson and Steve Tuckwell present the Bill.

Kit Malthouse accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 19 April, and to be printed (Bill 152).

Mark Francois Portrait Mr Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford) (Con)
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On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) kindly mentioned in his speech that I brought in a similar Bill, or at least a Bill on the same subject, last year. I commend him on what he has done and put on the record that the roads Minister was here to listen. If my right hon. Friend or I put in for an Adjournment debate to give the roads Minister an opportunity to reply on the subject, perhaps the Chair might be prepared in due course to look favourably on such a request?