Imagine a terrorist atrocity in Britain in which 1,000 people were killed. There would be a national outcry. The Prime Minister would hold press confer- ences, emergency debates would take place in Parliament and huge efforts would be made to prevent such an event happening again. Then imagine the same thing happening again four months later, and for a third time four months later. A scandal, people would say. It's doubtful if Government would survive.
Well, that's what's happening on Britain's roads: 1,000 people are killed every four months. And what is the Government doing about it? After seven years, and just in time for a General Election, we finally get a Road Safety Bill. It contains some sensible updating of legislation, not least in responding to Conservative calls for variable penalty points and a clamp down on anti-social drivers.
But given the importance of the problem the Bill tries to address, it is a missed opportunity. Typically, this Government has ducked the difficult subjects such as the debate on drink-drive alcohol levels. Instead, Labour is offering a list of initiatives that somehow miss the point.
As usual the political focus is on "fixing the driver". But the tools are blunt and there is no attempt to distinguish between the irresponsible yob bent on destruction and the well-intentioned but careless. The Bill ignores the fact that fatalities per miles travelled are five times higher among 17- to 19-year-old males than the middle aged. The under- lying problem in this age group is attitude, not skill, but the Government seems afraid to grasp this nettle.
Drivers are not the only problem. We can help motorists by making our roads safer. Thanks to organisations like Eurorap (www.eurorap.org), we know which roads carry the most risk, but ministers show neither urgency nor imagination in creating protective measures. There is no overall safety standard in road construction and too little local accountability for the quality of our non-motorway infrastructure. The Road Safety Bill gives more police powers for drink-drive evidence but nothing on drugs. It will mean you can use a mobile phone on your bike but not in the car, even if you are gridlocked in a traffic jam or broken down and too scared to leave your car.
In addition, there are no more traffic police to make our roads safer. Only a patrolling police officer can check whether drivers are fit to be on the road, and insured and taxed.
But where there is only talk from this Government, there will be action from the next Conservative government. We won't wage war on the motorist; we'll wage war on accidents. We won't tolerate 3,500 deaths a year. Labour pays lip service to the need for more road safety but its latest proposals are long on talk and short on action.
In the past nine months we have set out how we will put more emphasis on improving road safety. Speed cameras, for example, should be used to cut accidents and save lives, not just to raise cash.
We want stricter speed limits around schools and parks to reduce child deaths. We want more Vehicle Activated Warning signs to alert drivers to their speed and encourage them to slow.
Unlike Labour, we will be tough on those who risk the lives of others. We will seize and pulp the cars of those who drive illegally.
It is typical of this Government that while it drags its feet on making physical improvements to road safety, Ken Livingstone has wasted no time in raising the congestion charge. This will hit vulnerable people hardest but will do nothing to improve safety.
This Road Safety Bill is a disappointment in many ways. It fails to provide imaginative solutions to road safety and instead simply tinkers on the edges. While the Conservative Party is ready to support any measures that make our roads safer, in a year that road deaths increased, we could go much further in making our highways safer.
Tim Yeo is Shadow Secretary of State for TransportReuse content