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12 May 2017, 15:19
A proposed law aimed at making seat belts compulsory on schools buses should be more ambitious and go further, a Holyrood committee has said.
SNP backbencher Gillian Martin has brought forward a member's Bill aimed at making seat belts a legal requirement on all dedicated vehicles taking children from their homes to classes across Scotland, currently carried out voluntarily by 18 of Scotland's 32 councils.
The Scottish Parliament's Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee wants the Bill to be extended to cover buses used for school trips.
A report by the committee also noted concern that the Bill currently does not cover public service buses used by school children as this is reserved to Westminster.
The report states: ''The committee is concerned that these exclusions dilute the aim of improving safety and create inconsistency between the services provided for children across different local authority areas.''
Committee convener Edward Mountain said: ''Safety of children should be paramount and the committee is urging the Scottish Government to make no distinction between travel on dedicated transport from home to school and a school excursion.
''We are urging the member in charge, Gillian Martin, supported by the Scottish Government, to go further with this Bill, and introduce a mandatory requirement for seat belts to be fitted on buses used for school trips.
''The committee was surprised to discover there is currently no UK-wide legal requirement for children aged three to 14 to wear seat belts where they are fitted on buses and coaches.
''Whilst we acknowledge this is a reserved matter, we call on Gillian Martin, as well as the Scottish and UK governments, to work together to make it a legal requirement for children to wear a seat belt on school transport.''
He said bringing a ''cultural change'' to wearing seat belts on school transport is key to the new law, particularly with the ''tough audience'' of secondary school pupils.
He added: ''Our report quotes a school pupil, who said: 'No-one puts seat belts on my school bus as it's 'uncool' and if the driver comes round and tells people to wear them, they just get taken off again once he's driving.'
''The committee wants to see clear guidance and practical support provided by the Scottish Government to help ensure that this vital, positive safety improvement is successfully implemented.
The report also criticises the forecast £8.92 million cost of implementing the new law, which includes retrospective compensation to councils which already contract buses with seat belts, stating the committee ''remains unconvinced'' the costs are ''justified''.
Mr Mountain said: ''The committee is not convinced that the proposed £8.92 million cost of implementing the Bill is proportionate to the task in hand.''