SAFETY BELTS IN VEHICLES UNDER 3.5 TONNES
Draft Directive on the compulsory use of safety belts in vehicles under 3.5 tonnes.
||Article 71(1)EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
||7 December 2000|
|Forwarded to the Council:
||8 December 2000|
|Deposited in Parliament:
||10 January 2001|
||Environment, Transport and the Regions
|Basis of consideration:
||EM of 18 January 2001
|Previous Committee Report:
||None; but see (10720) 9228/88: HC 29-xiii (1990-91), paragraph 1 (6 March 1991)
|To be discussed in Council:
||4-5 April 2001|
||Legally and politically important
||Not cleared; further information requested
3.1 The compulsory wearing by both adults
and children of fitted safety belts in cars, goods vehicles and
passenger-carrying vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes is required by Council
Directive 91/671/EEC. However, the Directive allows Member States
to legislate for certain exemptions. In the UK the main exemptions
are: a person holding a medical certificate; people instructing
holders of provisional licences while the holder is performing
a manoeuvre which includes reversing; drivers of taxis and private
hire vehicles; and people conducting driving tests.
3.2 The provisions on compulsory wearing
of seat belts for children are especially complicated, as under
the original Directive different requirements could apply in different
Member States. For example, in Sweden young children are not allowed
to travel at all in a car unless restrained by an appropriate
child restraint. In the UK, on the other hand, no child may be
carried unrestrained in the front seat of any vehicle, and no
child may be carried unrestrained in the rear seat of a car if
there is an appropriate restraint available anywhere in the car.
However, in the UK, if no child restraint is available, the child
can still be carried.
3.3 The Commission argues that these different
rules in different Member States cause problems for intra-Community
traffic. It adds that there is a case for raising the level of
safety by reducing the discretion available to Member States under
the existing Directive.
The current proposal
3.4 The proposal seeks to bring about greater
protection for vehicle passengers, especially children, and greater
harmonisation in the law relating to the compulsory wearing of
seat belts. It has five elements.
3.5 First, all occupants of cars and goods
vehicles, up to 3.5 tonnes laden weight, would be required to
wear restraint systems where provided. However, children under
12 would have to use a child restraint system (child seat or booster
seat, for example) suitable to their body mass and would not,
as is currently allowed in the UK, be able to use the adult belt.
The proposed Directive would remove the exemptions that have allowed
some Member States, including the UK, to permit the carriage of
children under 12 years of age without a child restraint where
one is not available.
3.6 Secondly, the Directive would prohibit
children under three years of age being carried in cars (but not
taxis) unless a child restraint system is provided. It would remove
the option of carrying children unrestrained in the rear seat.
Children are already prohibited from being carried unrestrained
in the front seat.
3.7 Thirdly, the Directive would require
the air-bag to be de-activated when a child is travelling in a
rear-facing child restraint in the front seat.
3.8 Fourthly, the Directive specifies that
child restraint systems must comply with the UN-ECE Regulation
44/03 or its equivalent or any other adaptation and must not simply
be of an "approved" type.
3.9 Fifthly, the proposal extends the original
Directive by requiring that drivers and passengers of all
passenger-carrying vehicles and goods vehicles wear safety belts
where they are provided, and that passengers should be informed
of that requirement by one or more of a range of audio/visual
means. This is an extension of the original Directive which did
not apply to vehicles of more than nine seats.
3.10 Safety measures are a controversial
subject. The Commission states that some "extreme civil liberties
campaigners argue that the compulsory wearing of seat belts is
an infringement of the freedom of the citizen." However,
the Commission points out that the legal precedent for such measures
is well established and that society has a vested interest in
the sense that each road accident fatality has a high cost to
society. The Commission estimates that the social cost of each
fatality is 1 million euros.
3.11 In relation to child passengers, the
Commission points out that "small children are not miniatures
of adults: the mass of the head of a small child is about 25%
of the body mass, whereas the mass of the head of an adult is
about 6% of the body mass." As a result, the injuries suffered
by children of less than one year of age are typically to the
head and torso. In the UK, some 270 babies (that is, below one
year old) are killed or injured each year when travelling in cars
and, for the EU as a whole, the number of deaths is estimated
to be at least ten times as many. The Commission does not indicate
by how much this figure could be reduced if the Directive is adopted.
However, the Commission notes that child restraints have performed
well in accidents, with the majority of occupants suffering only
minor injuries or no injuries. The youngest children are especially
vulnerable as car passengers and yet by allowing them to travel
unrestrained in rear seats they are afforded the least protection.
The Government's view
3.12 The Government believes that the wearing
of seat belts makes a major contribution to reducing the number
and seriousness of casualties resulting from road accidents. Calculations
by the Transport Research Laboratory suggest that some 550 lives
and 9,250 serious injuries per year are saved through passengers
wearing seat belts. The Government therefore supports in principle
the amendments to the existing Directive. However, the Government
points out that if the revised Directive were adopted in its present
form, it would restrict the number of child passengers in a car
to those seats fitted with child restraint. The Directive would
also mean that safety systems manufactured to a standard older
than UN-ECE 44.03 would become unusable even though they offer
some protection. The Government says it wishes to consult widely
on the proposal, and in negotiations would seek to retain some
flexibility in some of the elements of the proposed Directive.
3.13 By requiring appropriate child restraints
to be fitted and used for children under 12 years of age, prohibiting
the carriage of children under three years of age in cars (except
taxis) unless a child restraint is provided, and making child
restraints older than the required standard unusable, the proposed
Directive will cause inconvenience to some families. Against such
inconvenience is the major contribution the wearing of seat belts
makes to reducing the number and seriousness of casualties resulting
from road accidents.
3.14 The Government intends to consult
widely on the proposal, and states that in negotiations it will
seek to retain flexibility in some of the elements of the proposed
Directive. However, the Government does not provide reasons in
terms of a cost-benefit analysis for wishing to retain its discretion.
Because of the sensitivity of the issue and the lack of any consultation
on the subject so far, we do not clear the document. We request
further information from the Government, especially any analysis
of the costs and benefits involved in retaining the option of
allowing children to be carried unrestrained. We also wish to
be kept informed of any consultation on the subject.