Select Committee on European Union Forty-Ninth Report


Letter from David Jamieson MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions to The Chairman

  I wrote to you on 20 July[11] last year to update you on progress. There was no discussion during the Belgian Presidency but you wrote to me on 27 November asking to be kept in the picture.

  The Spanish Presidency have now tried to make progress on the Directive and there has been further consideration.

    (a)  Subject to a six year transition, all occupants of cars, vans and goods vehicles must use the proper restraints.

  At the present time in the UK, if there are more passengers than seats with belts, the additional passengers are not breaking the law. They would be in future, when the new laws come into effect.

    (b)  All children under three years of age in cars and vans must have the proper child restraint.

  At present the requirement is only that, if restraints are available in the rear seats, they must be used. This proposal will prohibit the carriage of children in the older vehicles for which there are no anchorages (we estimate this as less than 1 per cent of cars and vans on the road today).

    (c)  Children 3-12 and under 150cm in height would have to have the proper restraint device for age/size (except where the car does not have rear seat belts to attach them to).

  At present children may use an adult seat belt if the proper child restraint is not available. An exemption has been offered for "short and occasional journeys" but is subject to a maximum six year period.

  There has been much discussion of this point. It is acknowledged that circumstances arise where occasionally, due to unforeseen circumstances, a driver may find himself transporting children additional to his normal load for whom the appropriate restraints could be expected to be used. The Presidency and the Commission do not want to allow a loophole that has potential to be widely exploited and have now said they wish to limit this exemption to six years. The Government considers this quite wrong since it is not a transition provision that can be time limited. It will remain important that drivers consider the wider safety and security of a child, and in the appropriate circumstances should be permitted to carry an extra child using an adult seat belt if there is no alternative transport for him/her at all. Transposition of the Directive into UK law would have to allow for this and in the course of the necessary consultation on regulations, we shall seek a formulation that reflects the spirit of the Directive.

    (d)  In buses and coaches fitted with seat belts, all seated occupants must use them or an appropriate child restraint if available.

  The Government is content for this proposal to apply to adults and children aged three and over. However, the safety benefits of wearing an adult belt have not been evaluated for the very smallest children and we remain opposed to implementing measures for which we can provide no clear justification. There had been a proposal that this should be subject to further research (to be completed before the Directive comes into force) but the Commission, contrary to its earlier position, now regards such research as unnecessary. The UK and several other member states believe it is essential.

  In addition, three proposals remain broadly unchanged from the Directive as originally published, all of which we support:

    (e)  Requirement that rear-facing child seats should not be used on a seat with frontal air bags unless the air bag has been deactivated.

    (f)  All child restraints must conform with UN/ECE Regulation 44/03 or better although national standards may continue to be used for five years.

    (g)  Passengers on buses and coaches must be informed of the obligation to wear seat belts/restraints by one or more means.

  The Government fully supports these.


  Collectively, the provisions in the Directive will outlaw the practice occasionally seen of four or more passengers occupying a back seat where only three have belts. Larger families would be most affected but there is a six year derogation for them to adapt to the requirements. The growing second hand market in six/seven seater people-carriers makes adaptation more affordable. The case for the appropriate restraint has been demonstrated by research and the cost of acquiring child seats and booster cushions should not represent a burden to the typical family motorist. The derogation also give time for the Government to pave the way with heavier publicity.

  The safety benefits are not easily quantifiable except to the extent that it is highly probable that car occupants in collisions will suffer worse injury when unrestrained. We do not know the extent to which children currently use adult belts rather than child restraints and it is difficult to get such information by observation. Technical advice is that adult belts are not designed for children under 150cm and they should therefore be encouraged to use a more appropriate restraint. Records of seat belt wearing by persons involved in accidents ceased to be made when wearing became mandatory (reliable information would not have been available). Wearing rates overall (seat belts and child restraints) are already high for children and the benefits of compulsion are going to be marginal but definitely in the right direction. The compliance costs for parents will accordingly be small. The tightening of legislation will provide a stimulus for better compliance among adult rear seat passengers whose wearing rate is currently only 56 per cent.

  There is a significant enforcement aspect here which must be considered. Under item (c) above I alluded to the exceptional and unforeseen circumstances where a driver finds it necessary to convey more child passengers than there are appropriate child restraints available. There might also be emergency occasions when the total number of passengers will exceed the number of seat belts available and we shall want to provide some sort of protection against indiscriminate prosecution. This could, perhaps be done by specifying in statute mitigating circumstances which might be regarded as "reasonable cause" not to observe the law on a particular occasion.


  I have to say that the detail of this particular Directive has raised questions of subsidiarity for us. It is appropriate, I think, for Europe to provide a general steer on road safety matters and to foster co-operative and collaborative work, particularly of a technical nature. Moreover, in the Single market, there is a strong case for common legislative standards for safety features of vehicle design. However, on this Directive we have found ourselves getting into the harmonisation of laws on the behaviour of occupants of vehicles intended for their own safety not for that of others. There are also issues of enforcement and penalties. On the whole, these areas for legislation would be more appropriate at the level of member states. Most of the measures in this Directive are acceptable on grounds of road safety but we shall (John Spellar will) be making these points about subsidiarity in the Transport Council, partly to alert the Commission to our views before they consider future legislative proposals on road safety.

  On the specific detail, there is broad agreement among member states on much of the Directive, but serious concern about point (d). It is not certain whether the attempt to time-limit the exemption at point (c) will provoke a backlash. Up to this point the UK was the only member state with concerns about this proposal. As such there is still a possibility of political agreement at the June Council with a Second Reading in the European Parliament in October.

  I will obviously aim to keep your Committee up to date. Please let me know if you have further questions.

22 May 2002

Letter from The Chairman to David Jamieson MP

  Thank you for your letter dated 22 May which Sub-Committee B considered at its meeting on 10 June.

  We are content with the general thrust of discussions on this draft Directive, but we strongly share your concern about the implications for Community competence and for subsidiarity that you have referred to. For this reason, we propose to maintain the Scrutiny reserve until you are able to tell us what is decided at the Transport Council—particularly on this point.

12 June 2002

Letter from David Jamieson to The Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 12 June. Your Committee asked for a report back from the meeting of the Transport Council on 17 June.

  The Council reached political agreement on the draft Directive on the use of safety belts and child-restraint systems in vehicles. A common position will be adopted at a future meeting after finalisation of the text (ie after clearance of translations with jurists-linguists) with a view to forwarding it to the European Parliament for a second reading under the codecision procedure.

  The UK's concerns about requiring the very smallest of children to use adult seat belts in coaches without adequate research to justify such a move were accepted (point (d) in my letter of 22 May). And there was no attempt to force through a time limit for exemptions for three to 12 year old group in the rear of cars for short and occasional journeys (point (c)).

  On that basis the UK was able to support the proposals. We did however, emphasise our concerns for the over-prescriptive approach and the lack of respect for subsidiarity. In the UK's view, this particular topic is not a single market measure as the majority of journeys affected by the revised Directive would be within national borders. It is more appropriate to have a broad framework at EU level, leaving details of implementation to Member States. Convincing the car-using public through a combination of legislation, sensible enforcement and effective publicity is a better way to ensure compliance with the law. Commissioner De Palacio agreed with much of this but thought the solutions lay in enforcement and penalties.

17 September 2002

Letter from the Chairman to Mr David Jamieson MP

  Thank you for your letter dated 17 September which Sub-Committee B considered at its meeting on 21 October.

  We accept that the Council has now reached political agreement on the draft Directive. We therefore lift the Scrutiny reserve on this document.

  However, although we note the concessions that you were able to negotiate to accommodate the UK review, we are concerned about the precedent that this Directive establishes in relation to the balance of competence of Member States and that of the Community. We fully agree with the Government that this particular topic was not a single market measure, and that it would have been more appropriate to have had a broad framework agreement at EU level leaving details of implementation to Member States.

22 October 2002

11   Printed in correspondence with Ministers 18th Report session 2001-2002 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003