Letter: Backward seats are the way forward

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Sir: With regard to your article 'School transport: something must be done' (26 May), the doctor who attended the M40 school minibus crash in November said that had passengers been wearing seat belts there would have been fewer deaths and a few moments later commented that the survivors who were thrown clear of the vehicle owed their lives to not wearing seat belts.

These two conflicting statements encapsulate the dilemma: you have to choose your accident before doing up, or not doing up, your seat belt. Furthermore, in a head-on collision - the commonest type of severe accident - the 'whiplash' caused by the seat belt (which pins your trunk to the seat but allows your head to continue moving forward) may cause destruction of the spinal cord. This results in permanent paralysis below the mouth - tetraplegia - with all that that implies for the (often young and healthy) victim.

There is, however, one certain way of reducing the terrible toll of tragedies: turn the seats around.

Research carried out by the Royal Aeronautical Establishment after the last war established that aeroplane passengers would be much more likely to survive if they were facing backwards. This important finding has never been put into practice - in spite of the fact that half of all train seats are rear-facing - because it was then thought that the travelling public would not tolerate the idea. Now that there have been seven fatal coach crashes in as many months the public will doubtless accept what is, after all, just common sense.

Yours faithfully,


London, NW3

27 May