Regulations to extend compulsory seat belt wearing to bus and coach passengers

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Options

7. The Directive requires legislation to be introduced to make the use of seat belts in moving buses and coaches compulsory, where they are fitted, for seated passengers aged 3 years and over. It must be implemented no later than 9 May 2006 and comments were invited on the following options:

- the date for implementation;

- how passengers should be notified of the obligation to wear seat belts;

- if passengers should be exempt in urban areas or where standing is permitted;

- if more children should be allowed, until May 2008, to be carried than there are seats available fitted with seat belts;

- whether drivers should be responsible for seat belt wearing by children; and

- the creation of a new offence if a coach operator fails to ensure that passengers are informed of the requirement to wear seat belts.

8. The Department proposed that, subject to parliamentary approval, the new regulations should be brought into effect from 1 July 2005 but no later than 1 May 2006. There was little opposition to this and the Department has now decided that the earliest practical date to implement the Directive is 1 January 2006. Arrangements are now in hand to prepare the necessary regulations and obtain Parliamentary approval for this.

9. The Directive requires passengers in buses and coaches to be notified that seat belts (or child restraints) must be worn if available. The Department suggested that operators of vehicles over 3.5 tonnes should be required to use the prescribed pictogram and that in smaller vehicles it would be satisfactory for the driver to make an announcement.

10. Various comments were made and in the light of concerns expressed about the practicality of relying on the pictogram, the Department has decided that operators may choose any of the options permitted under the Directive.

11. On exemptions, the Department has now decided in the light of the comments made to adopt the exception for passengers in urban areas or where standing is permitted. However, there was broad agreement that the existing prohibition on allowing more children to travel in a vehicle than there are seats available fitted with seat belts should be retained. The Department does not therefore intend to permit this exception.

12. At present drivers are responsible for ensuring that children under 14 wear seat belts. In the consultation document the Department suggested that it would be unreasonable to expect coach drivers to ensure that children wear seat belts. Although a few responses expressed concern that no one would be responsible for children, the Department has decided that the new regulations should exempt drivers of passenger carrying vehicles over 3.5 tonnes from liability for children under 14 years old.

13. The consultation document invited any other comments. In the light of concerns about those with disabilities, the Department has also decided to provide an exemption for registered disabled people who are unable to use a standard seat belt.

Costs and benefits

Business sectors affected

14. Bus and coach operators, and charitable or voluntary organisations that operate such vehicles, will be affected by the requirements of the Directive.

Benefits

15. While bus and coach travel is generally safe, some serious accidents do occur. The number of casualties, particularly deaths, varies each year. The figures for seated bus/coach passengers are

  2001 2002 2003
Fatal 1 8 0
Serious 197 207 172
Slight 5188 4635 4826


16. In some of these cases seat belts may not have been available to wear or would not have been able to prevent the casualties. Although some responses to the consultation questioned the suitability of adult seat belts for young children, we are satisfied that it is safer for everyone over 3 years old to use an adult belt rather than travel unrestrained. While are unable to estimate the likely casualty savings from the introduction of compulsory seat belt wearing in buses and coaches, we do expect the measure to be beneficial. The Department calculates the value of preventing a road fatality at £1.25m at June 2003 prices [4] . For a serious injury this figure is some £140,000 and for a slight injury nearly £11,000.

Costs

17. There are no direct costs on bus and coach passengers arising from a requirement to wear a seat belt, where fitted, although operators may pass on any increased costs arising from the notification requirement. These are considered unlikely to increase fares significantly.

18. Seat belts already have to be installed in all new buses and coaches except those designed to carry standing passengers. The new regulations will not require seat belts to be installed where they are not currently required. Nor will they require child restraints to be provided but there will be costs on operators arising from the requirement to inform passengers that seat belts must be worn.

19. The Confederation of Passenger Transport estimated that fitting pictograms in coaches would cost some £7.6 million with ongoing maintenance costs (eg replacement of signs that had been damaged or vandalised). In the light of responses to consultation, the Department has decided that operators may choose any of the permitted methods for notifying passengers. This should minimise costs, particularly for those operators who already have systems installed on their vehicles which may be used for this purpose.

20. There may also be some costs associated with enforcement. In England and Wales in 2003, 145,294 fixed penalty notices were issued and 4,990 cases went to court for failing to wear seat belts. We do not anticipate that extending compulsory seat belt wearing to rear seat passengers in buses and coaches will significantly increase these figures. There will be some costs on the Department for publicity and these will be met from existing allocations.

[4] Highways Economic Note No 1 is available from DfT Free Literature, PO Box 236, Wetherby, LS23 7NB or online at http://www.dft.gov.uk/stellent/groups/dft_rdsafety/documents/page/dft_rdsafety_026183.hcsp

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