Education / Safety First: Councils take action on buses: Fran Abrams continues the Independent's campaign for safer school transport

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The Independent Online
New safety measures are being introduced by a number of local authorities on their school transport following pressure from parents' campaign groups.

In Camden, north London, seat belts will be fitted by September on 25 coaches and 18 minibuses used for school trips and for transporting special needs pupils to and from school.

The borough is also introducing a code of practice which asks drivers to check their vehicles daily, and is giving extra training to drivers. Within six weeks of the transport department recommending the changes, the education department had approved the pounds 40,000 needed to cover the costs.

Several other local authorities have taken action, prompted by fears in many schools that unsafe minibuses could lead to serious injuries or even deaths in the event of an accident. The M40 crash, in which 12 pupils and a teacher died, has focused many minds.

Sheffield is consulting all its schools and has suggested that all minibuses with side-facing crew seats should be replaced as soon as possible. Teachers who hold permits allowing them to drive school minibuses are all to be re-assessed on their competence, and the council is recommending that none should drive for more than four hours in a single working day.

In Hertfordshire, all new minibuses will be fitted with seat belts in future. The county is also lobbying its local MPs to press for legislation making belts compulsory in new minibuses and coaches.

In Oldham, Lancashire, the education committee decided last week that seat belts should be fitted as soon as possible in all vehicles used for school trips. A survey of schools is being carried out to discover how many own minibuses without belts, and the council intends to make money available to have them fitted. In addition to checking its own and school vehicles, the council is looking at ways of ensuring that private contractors which carry schoolchildren also put appropriate safety measures in place.

Councillor David Jones, chair of the education committee, said: 'Many parents are expressing their disquiet about the lack of action, or a lead from the Government on this issue, but our view is that the matter cannot be pushed to one side any longer.'

Ten out of 15 buses taking children to Kingsmead School in Wiveliscombe, Somerset, were found to be defective when they were checked by police and transport officials last week. Two, which were due to take 80 pupils on a trip past a steep hill where accidents have occurred before, had dangerous tyres and loose wheel nuts. The contracts of two coach operators were terminated.

Fourteen schoolchildren were taken to hospital suffering from shock and slight injuries when their coach collided with a lorry in Staffordshire last week. In North Yorkshire, more than 50 children escaped injury when their bus was involved in an accident with a car. A police spokesman said that the most vulnerable seats on the bus had belts fitted.

'The opinion of the traffic policeman at the scene is that they undoubtedly stopped the children from being thrown forward and saved potential injuries,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)

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