Judith Cummins: An accident waiting to happen as Government delays road safety laws and put lives at risk

IN West Yorkshire, 815 people were killed or seriously injured in road traffic incidents last year. In my constituency, more children are killed or seriously injured on our roads than almost anywhere else in the country.

How should road safety laws be enforced?

I know that it is ambitious, but we should aim to eliminate road deaths and serious injuries entirely in the UK. Vision Zero seeks to do exactly that, and I urge the Government to look into that approach.

Clearly we will need a wide variety of tools in order to achieve that, and one crucial part is a tougher criminal justice approach. It was for this reason that I warmly welcomed the Government’s announcement in October 2017 that they would bring in longer sentences for drivers who killed through dangerous or careless driving, as well as the announcement of a new offence of causing serious injury through careless driving.

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I pay tribute to all those who campaigned for this change, including the road safety charity Brake, but we are now over a year on, and the Government has still not delivered on its commitment. In fact, we are no closer to those changes being made.

Ministers are now claiming that the changes will be incorporated into a review of cycle safety, but I have to say that that is completely unacceptable.

It is right, of course, that the Government should look at the laws around cycling in order to make it safer for all road users, but it is not good enough that already-announced changes on sentencing are being rolled into the open-ended process.

I really hope Ministers will listen and set out exactly when parliamentary time will be available to bring these changes into effect. The delay is adding to the suffering that families face when they lose loved ones.

Turning to another criminal justice issue, we must ensure that the exceptional hardship rule, which allows drivers to keep their licence even when they have reached 12 points, is not abused.

Data from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency shows that more than 200 hundred people in Bradford alone successfully used that argument last year and escaped a ban.

There are 11,000 drivers across Britain who still have their driving licences despite passing the 12-point limit. We are allowing unsafe drivers ​to remain on our roads, and ultimately we are putting people at risk. Anyone who reaches 12 points should expect to be banned. Anything less makes a mockery of our road laws.

Of course, our laws are an effective deterrent only if they are properly enforced. For this we need well-resourced police forces that are able to patrol our roads, proactively tackle dangerous driving and bring those who break the law to justice.

It is for this reason that the cuts to frontline policing caused by a reduction in funding from this Government are extremely worrying. On top of the 30 per cent cuts in West Yorkshire since 2010, police forces across the country are facing an additional £165m unexpected pensions bill, which will lead to even fewer officers.

Prior to the Budget, I raised the issue of police pensions with the Prime Minister, and I wrote to her about it on October 26. Unfortunately, I have not yet received a response.

We cannot keep people safe on the cheap, and we cannot keep roads our safe without sufficient resources. If the Government is serious about making our roads safer, it must properly fund police budgets.

Finally, I would like to mention graduated driving licences, which allow new drivers to build up their driving skills and experience gradually, in well-defined, structured stages. There is clear evidence that a graduated licence system would make our roads safer, by reducing the number of young people involved in car accidents.

Drivers aged 17 to 24 years currently make up only seven per cent of motorists, but they represent nearly 20 per cent of the people killed or seriously injured in car crashes.

To conclude, I would like to return to that Vision Zero ambition to eliminate road deaths and serious injuries in the UK entirely.

Ambitious, yes, but we owe it to the families who have lost loved ones to do everything we can to reduce deaths and make our roads safer for all.

Judith Cummins is the Labour MP for Bradford South, She spoke in a House of Commons debate on road safety – this is an edited version.