Boys injured as minibus is crushed in accident: Accident intensifies debate on whether seat-belts should be fitted in coaches

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The Independent Online
THIRTEEN members of a school football team were injured when their minibus was crushed between a petrol tanker and a lorry on a busy trunk road yesterday. Six adults were also taken to hospital after the accident near roadworks on the A3 near Cobham, Surrey.

Doctors said that all but one of the children escaped serious injury because of their teachers' insistence that they wear seat-belts fitted to the minibus.

The six-vehicle accident, the latest in a series of crashes involving coaches and minibuses, will add to the debate over whether such vehicles should be fitted with seat-belts.

Last week 12 children and their teacher died after a minibus ran into the back of a motorway maintenance vehicle on the M40 in Warwickshire. Just over a week earlier, a coach carrying American tourists crashed on the M2 in Kent, killing 10 people.

Yesterday's accident involved a minibus carrying 13 boys and two teachers from Ashburton High School in Croydon, south London, to a football match against Salesian School in Chertsey, Surrey. Other motorists helped firefighters and ambulance crews pull the trapped pupils from the back of the bus. At least four had to be cut free.

Some of the 11- and 12-year-olds received emergency treatment at the roadside before being taken to St Peter's Hospital, Chertsey. One boy was taken by air ambulance to the Royal London Hospital with head and pelvic injuries.

Some witnesses said the accident on the A3 near the M25 intersection occurred when several vehicles collided after a lorry some way in front of the minibus slowed down to enter roadworks. Other reports suggest the school bus had been shunted by another lorry before it struck the empty tanker.

Pradip Rana, a consultant surgeon at St Peter's Hospital, said that in his experience 'someone wearing a seat-belt is more likely to survive a crash'.

One of the teachers told hospital staff that he had insisted all the children wear their selt-belts before setting off. A spokeswoman for Croydon council said that, unlike the minibus involved in the M40 accident, all seats in the Ashburton school vehicle faced forward.

Some academics believe introducing seat-belts in coaches would cut deaths by 12 per cent and serious injuries by 40 per cent.

Yesterday the European Commission announced it is to introduce road safety laws throughout the European Union. Proposals are likely to draw on a study published yesterday by the European Transport Safety Council which recommend wider introduction of airbags, safer steering wheels and better laws on child restraints.

Professor Murray Mackay, of the University of Birmingham's crash injury study unit, estimated road accidents cost Britain pounds 7bn a year and called for all motor and insurance firms to invest more generously in safety research.