Ministers refuse to publish seat belt report

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The Independent Online
TRANSPORT ministers are refusing to publish a report into the viability of fitting seat belts on coaches despite demands for the information from the coach industry and seat belt campaigners.

The report, ordered by ministers last autumn, is an examination of the technical feasibility of fitting seat belts on to both new and existing coaches. Two crashes last winter involving a coach on the M2 and a minibus on the M40 - in which a total of 23 people died - have put pressure on ministers to decide whether to make seat belts mandatory and they have repeatedly said they were waiting for the report.

Now, however, the Independent has discovered that the ministers do not intend to publish the report. A Department of Transport spokesman said: 'It was an internal study and publishing it would not help anyone. However, we will be publishing its conclusions in due course, probably next month.'

Last week John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Transport, said in a written answer that he had received the report and said it found 'that there was now a good case for requiring the fitting of seat belts to new vehicles'.

The Confederation of Passenger Transport, which represents the bus and coach industry, has repeatedly asked for the report to be published to enable its members to decide whether to fit seat belts. Coach operators are now generally sympathetic to the idea of installing seat belts but are worried about the technical aspects since most of the 20,000 coaches in Britain are not designed for seat belts.

In the event of an accident, seats are supposed to crumple on impact from the passenger behind, affording some protection. The CPT's spokesman, David Watson, said: 'The industry knows that new coaches should be fitted with belts. What we need are the technical standards to assess what to do with the old ones.'

Ministers and the coach industry have been engaged in a war of words on the issue. The coach operators have claimed they cannot fit belts because there are no technical standards and therefore insurance companies may withhold payments in the event of an accident. The Department of Transport rejects this, saying that insurers encourage the fitting of belts provided it is done with manufacturers' approval.

The coach operators have been pressing for the report to be published and now say they have been left not knowing what to do.

Safety groups such as Belt Up School Kids, which is pressing for mandatory belts, say that ministers have been hiding behind Brussels when they could make a decision themselves. BUSK is planning a boycott of companies that do not have belts.