The Crime and Courts Bill had its Second Reading in the House of Commons on 14th January. The Bill now moves to Committee Stage.
Rebecca Harris made the following speech relating to road safety.
Rebecca Harris (Castle Point) (Con): I want to support some of the many excellent provisions in the Bill, and in particular the inclusion of drug-driving as an offence on which the police can act at the roadside in a proportionate and simple manner. There have been many such cases of which I have been made aware and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on having campaigned on the issue with great success.
I am disappointed that the Government have not taken the opportunity to go slightly further and consider road traffic offences more generally, including the laws on those who drive while medically unfit. Of course, the problems caused by drug-drivers and those who drive while medically unfit are incredibly similar from a public safety point of view. In both cases it is an offence to drive, but the law is not effective in preventing the problem.
Arguing for the drug-driving offence in another place, Lord Henley recognised that although being unfit through drugs is an offence, it is not prosecuted often enough because of the difficulty the police have in trying to prove that the driver is sufficiently impaired. That has hampered the police in taking drug-impaired drivers off our roads and the new provision will give the police a proportionate power to do so and punish them appropriately for endangering the public.
I do not consider those who drive while unfit for medical reasons in the same category as drug-abusing drivers; nor do I believe that they should necessarily be punished as severely as they might be under the Bill. Drugged and drunk drivers have made a decision to incapacitate themselves, whereas those driving while unfit for medical reasons might not have done. The effect on our roads is the same, however, as that driver is incapacitated while driving a vehicle that can kill.
The police should have the power to take a licence away or prevent someone they believe to be unfit to drive from doing so until it can be established otherwise. We know that 1,100 casualties and 50 deaths are caused every year by drug-driving, but I cannot quote the number of casualties on our roads caused by people driving while they are medically unfit—for example, because their eyesight is impaired—because we do not record the figures. In my short time as a Member of this House, however, several tragic cases have been brought to my attention.
One such case was brought to me by one of my constituents, whose niece, Natalie Wade, died on the way to buy her wedding dress, mown down by a driver who categorically knew he was unable to see appropriately to drive but continued to do so. He refused to recognise his obligation to report that to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, which is what we require medically unfit drivers to do. Hon. Members might also be aware of the case of a lady called Cassie McCord, who was killed by a driver with impaired eyesight who had been stopped three days earlier by the police. The police were unable to prevent him from driving, he continued to do so and she died when he ran her over only three days later.
We do not stop such people driving but we need to avoid these preventable deaths. The very least we could do is allow the police to do their job, and when they recognise that individuals are clearly unfit to drive for whatever reason—drug-driving or medical impairment—we should allow them to act.
Dr Huppert: The hon. Lady is making an extremely good point and she is absolutely right to say that we must focus on the level of impairment, not the cause. If it is a question of road safety, we must focus on a solution whereby people who are unfit to drive for medical reasons or because of drugs or alcohol that they have recently consumed should be unfit because they have reached a threshold of impairment, not because of the cause of that impairment.
Rebecca Harris: Someone who is apprehended by the police because their driving is impaired by alcohol can have their vehicle taken from them at the roadside, and the new provisions will go a long way towards ensuring that that happens more often with drug-driving and that we can prosecute drug-drivers more readily and more easily. If a person fails a roadside sight test, however, such as that which one needs for a driving licence, it is impossible for the police to take their keys and require them to have an eye test. Perhaps we could extend the scope of the Bill—I hope in Committee that we can take the provision one step further and consider those who are medically unfit to drive, for whatever reason.