School bus rules `leave lives at risk'

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The Independent Online
Regulations to improve the safety of school buses and coaches are "riddled with loopholes that makes them a nonsense", the British Safety Council said yesterday.

Although the Department of Transport brought in new safety laws last May, with further European Union laws coming into force next February, the council, in conjunction with the pressure group Belt Up School Kids (Busk), said that the many exemptions in the rules left children at risk.

Glenda Jackson, a Labour transport spokesman, is supporting a joint BSC and Busk petition which will be presented to the Government.

Last May, the Minister for Road Safety, Steven Norris, ended the "three for two" concession which had existed since 1954. That allowed three children under 14 to sit in seats with two belts. It is now a legal requirement to fit a lap belt to each seat used by a child aged three to 16. From February, EU regulations will make belts compulsory on all mini-buses and coaches, though vehicles registered before 1988 will not need them for another year. However, the "three for two" concession will still apply to buses where there are no belts and where standing is technically allowed.

The BSC and Busk said many old buses - without seatbelts - were still used by school authorities and they were exempt from the new laws. The BSC spokeswoman added: "This makes a total nonsense of the new laws. Seatbelts don't exist on these vehicles, and children will still be at risk."

The BSC wants the "three for two" concession to end for all vehicles, thus ending the ability of some operators to legally carry more than 100 children in one vehicle at a time. The BSC added: "If coach companies allowed such scandalous overcrowding, they would quite rightly be prosecuted."