Seatbelts complusory for children in minibuses

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Minibuses and coaches carrying three or more children will have to be fitted with seatbelts from February 1997, the Government announced yesterday.

Announcing the new measures, Transport Minister Steven Norris said regulations for fitting seatbelts to all new minibuses and coaches whether they carry children or not, will be introduced as soon as the necessary agreement has been reached in Europe.

Coaches registered before 1 October 1988, however, will not have to have seatbelts fitted before 10 February 1998.

The "3 for 2" concession, which allows three children under 14 to sit in seats fitted with two seatbelts, will end on 1 May.

"I believe these measures will further improve the good safety record of minibuses and coaches and will go a long way towards reassuring parents who may be concerned for the safety of their children when travelling in these vehicles," Mr Norris said.

Pressure has been growing for more than two years for action on seatbelts following the M40 accident in November 1993 when 12 children, aged 12 to 14, and their driver-teacher from Hagley Roman Catholic High School, Hereford and Worcester, died in a minibus crash in the West Midlands.

Parents of the children demanded government legislation after a verdict of accidental death was recorded and coroner Michael Coker said that the children might have had a better chance of survival if they had been wearing seatbelts.

The then Transport Secretary, John MacGregor, announced an improvements to seatbelt safety on minibuses in July 1994 and his successor Brian Mawhinney made firm proposals last March.

The Confederation of Passenger Transport welcomed yesterday's announcement which it said put "an end to the uncertainty and speculation which followed the Government's consultation in March last year".

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