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
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
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
(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
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
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 Councilparticularly 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
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
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
22 October 2002
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