Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirteenth Report


COM(00) 815

Draft Directive on the compulsory use of safety belts in vehicles under 3.5 tonnes.
Legal base: Article 71 (1) EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Department: Environment, Transport and the Regions
Basis of consideration: Minister's letter of 4 April 2001
Previous Committee Report: HC 28-vi (2000-01), paragraph 3 (14 February 2001)
To be discussed in Council: June 2001
Committee's assessment: Legally and politically important
Committee's decision: Not cleared; further information requested


  3.1  The compulsory wearing by both adults and children of fitted safety belts in cars, goods vehicles and passenger­carrying 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. 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.

The document

  3.2  The proposed Directive, amongst other things, removes certain exemptions regarding the compulsory wearing of seat belts by children; requires that air-bags are de-activated when a child is travelling in a rear-facing child restraint in the front seat; and specifies the technical standard for child safety restraints.

The Minister's letter

  3.3  In his letter of 4 April 2001, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Lord Whitty, says:

    "The draft Directive has been discussed at length at official level and a scrutiny reserve has been recorded for the UK. After a considerable number of changes the current draft is still subject to a variety of reservations from Member States and it is very unlikely that full agreement will be achieved when it is discussed at the Council on Thursday 5 April. However I should like to give you the flavour of what is emerging.
    "As matters stand, we are looking for some clarification on two matters and a commitment to research on two others. The first two points are;

    "—  the terms under which it may be possible to retain a national standard for child restraints in addition to the European ones of the EU and the UN/ECE.

    "—  whether it will be permissible to convey children in vehicles where restraint systems cannot provided.

    "The second two points are:

    "—  The use by children aged 3­11 and under 150cm in height of the lap portion only of an adult seat belt where a child restraint is not available

    "—  The use, on buses and coaches, of adult seat belts by children under 3

    "We think that both propositions might be unsafe. We would not be prepared to accept measures which compromised safety. Further consideration by experts will be needed and possibly further research. This is the direction in which I expect the discussion to go on Thursday.

    "We are committed to a consultation. That will encompass all the interests including manufacturers and users as well as road safety specialists. But I am sure you will appreciate that without more certainty on the detailed points mentioned above it would have been difficult to undertake a meaningful consultation or to evaluate the impact of the Directive. We intend to do both as soon as possible, and shall, as previously promised, keep you informed of progress."

  3.4  As anticipated, the Transport Council concluded that it could not reach agreement and decided to consider the text "at the technical level". According to the Department:

    "The text under discussion attempted to solve outstanding concerns on the detailed requirements for young children to use adult seat belts in the absence of appropriate child restraints. A number of member states had concerns about the proposals. The UK was among those taking the view that it required further examination. The Presidency concluded that the Council could not reach agreement and remitted the text for further consideration at the technical level, hoping for a common position in June."[3]


  3.5  The Minister says that the proposed changes will be subject to further consideration by experts and possibly further research. While we accept that this issue should be subjected to detailed research, we do not understand why such detailed research has not already been done. Indeed, it is difficult to understand the basis on which the changes are being proposed if it is not detailed research. In addition, as we indicated in our earlier Report, we would like to know the basis, in terms of cost-benefit analysis, for the Government's policy of retaining its flexibility in some of the elements of the proposed Directive. Meanwhile, we do not clear the document.

3  Official Report, 10 April 2001, cols. 497-499W. Back

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