Seat-belt law loopholes leave children at risk

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The Independent Online
Children's lives could be put at risk by cash-strapped local authorities and irresponsible coach companies exploiting loopholes in new legislation designed to make journeys to school safer, safety campaigners claimed yesterday.

The laws enforcing fitting of seat-belts in minibuses and coaches carrying three or more children came into force yesterday. The Government was forced to act after a series of accidents which included the November 1993 M40 minibus crash in which 12 children and their teacher were killed.

However, safety campaigners and industry lobby groups said they were "concerned" about the new legislation.

"There are certainly loopholes in the law for older coaches. We expect responsible operators to work within the spirit of the law," said Simon Posner, a spokesman for the Confederation of Passenger Transport, which lobbies for the coach industry.

Under the laws there is no requirement that seat belts added to older vehicles have to be checked by experts. Last year, inspectors for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) found that one company had used exhaust brackets to fit seat belts.

Experts also point out that although coaches have to fit seat belts, no operator has to check children are wearing them. Rospa and the bus industry wants the Government to pay for "escorts" to ensure children are strapped in. The Department of Transport later said it would produce proposals for inspecting the belts.

Last week, The Really Useful Show, a BBC consumer programme, obtained a letter from a Welsh council advising bus operators about another loophole. Denbighshire county council's head of highways told companies that "you can of course fit speed limits to existing vehicles, which will remove the requirement to fit seat belts".