EU backs seat-belt law

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The Independent Online
THE European Commission, seeking to mend fences with the British Government, said yesterday it would support any attempt by the United Kingdom to introduce legislation making seat-belts in coaches and long-distance buses mandatory, writes Sarah Lambert.

'It is such a shame when we are both pulling in the same direction and have the same fundamental goal that we end up in byzantine debates about what can or cannot be done,' Robert Coleman, head of the Commission's transport directorate, said yesterday.

He said the Commission would welcome and back any efforts by the UK to introduce compulsory seat-belt laws: 'There is considerable scope for legislation by the UK and I see nothing wrong with it in principle, though we would have to know the details of the regulatory approach.'

There has been confusion since the Commission defended itself against allegations by Robert Key, the minister for roads and traffic, that the Commission was blocking British efforts to impose seat- belts. In its defence, the Commission sought to simplify complex arguments, but produced seemingly contradictory statements.

Mr Coleman said misunderstandings had arisen because in European Union law there was a difference in rules relating to the importation and sale of vehicles and those relating to their actual use.

The Government is able to pass domestic legislation on grounds of road safety that would make the fitting of seat- belts on coaches compulsory. But a UK firm could not block the importation of, for example, German-made coaches which did not have seat-belts fitted, because EU law makes no such requirement. Were the vehicle registered for use on British roads, however, the national law would apply and the coach operator would have to ensure there were belts.