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School Buses

Volume 163: debated on Monday 4 December 1989

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To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what measures are being taken to make school buses more recognisable.

We attach high priority to improving the safety of school children. Among other points, school buses should be easier to recognise. We are proposing that they should be marked with a distinctive sign and we shall shortly be consulting in the usual way. I will ensure that my hon. Friend receives a copy of that document.

That will be welcome news to many of my constituents, whose children have to travel a considerable distance on busy roads to school. What is the Government's attitude to seat belts on school buses?

We already require seat belts to be fitted to the front seats of coaches and minibuses, and we aim for that provision to be extended to all seats on minibuses and coaches. However, it is mainly a matter of education and in some ways, it is up to parents, too, to emphasise the importance of taking care when using public transport.

Will the Minister accept that it is not good enough for his Department to attempt to shuffle off safety considerations on to teachers or parents? Will he accept that there is mounting concern about the safety of children—who often pay fares on school buses—arising from the absence of supervision or seat belts? Will he announce at the earliest opportunity legislation requiring supervision and seat belts for children riding on such vehicles?

The operation of supervision on those coaches is surely a matter for local authorities, as it falls wholly within their remit. The hon. Gentleman implied that we were trying to push the subject off on to parents. It is every parent's responsibility and duty to ensure that children understand safety procedures. The Department of Transport cannot do that, so parents need to do it.

A child in my constituency named Lee Kelly died while alighting from a school bus and crossing the road. As a result, I went to see my hon. Friend the Minister and I am grateful for his speedy understanding and sensitivity. I am delighted to say that on 1 January Devon county council is to initiate a pilot scheme with clear bus signs and flashing lights to see what the effect will be on traffic. My hon. Friend will know that I have put to him a 10-point school bus safety code, which I urge all hon. Members to back and the Department to adopt.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the way in which she led the campaign. I and the Department also congratulate Devon county council. There is nothing to stop county councils taking such imaginative intiatives as Devon has already taken and we shall watch that experiment with great interest.

Is the Minister aware that in the United States, most school buses are yellow and that there is a regulation that those buses should not be overtaken by drivers who come up behind, so that the kids can cross in safety? Having heard about the success of the experiment in Devon, will the Minister consider extending that experiment, or encouraging its extension, and will he look with an open mind at the similar scheme in the United States?

The answer to all three questions is yes. To require traffic not to overtake when a school bus is stopping would mean a major change in driver understanding of roads, but we shall look at the possibility of introducing such a measure.