Over to you, Sir George

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The Independent Online
For 30 years we have known that seat belts will help to prevent deaths in coach accidents. So the sight of bodies being taken yet again from the scene of a devastating accident involving a coach should send a shudder down the spines of the coach operators and make many of them hang their heads in shame. Their long-standing resistance to calls by safety campaigners for seat belts has only recently been dropped. They now belatedly recommend that new coaches should be fitted with belts.

So the wheels are moving - but oh, so slowly! The bureaucracy of the European Commission has been forced grudgingly into action and next year is expected to issue draft legislation on making belts mandatory, but there has been a terrible lack of urgency about the whole process. And there will inevitably be objections from other countries, who will present counter-proposals. Already, according to the Consumers' Association, the draft measures are in danger of being watered down, before they are even made public, in an effort to delay implementation. In the meantime more people will die.

British ministers have tended to hide behind this lumbering European process, arguing that it would be impossible to enforce legislation unilaterally. But this is only half true. There is nothing to stop the UK going it alone, but it would not be able to take action against foreign registered coaches. These are, however, a tiny minority of those on our roads. Sure, British operators would be able to go to the European courts claiming that it was unfair for them to have to abide by such legislation. But it is highly unlikely that any operator is going to court publicity by objecting to a measure that clearly will save lives.

Recently, under pressure from a very effective parents' lobby, ministers agreed to ensure that all coaches and minibuses carrying schoolchildren must be fitted with seat belts. If ministers can act unilaterally on children's transport, they can do so on all coaches. Adults' lives are worth just as much as those of children. The new Transport Secretary, Sir George Young, could do worse than tell coach operators, paraphrasing his leader only slight, to "belt up and shut up".