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Minibus and coach seat belt regulations

Minibus > Regulations

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Update: 1 October 2001

1. Introduction
The purpose of this document is to offer advice to owners, users and operators of minibuses and coaches, on legislation requiring each child to have a seat belt. It gives advice on seat belt standards and answers those questions most commonly asked about the legislation.
It is not intended to be a legal document, so should not be taken as an official interpretation of the law - this is ultimately for the courts to decide. Technical information on retro-fitting seat belts is available in a document entitled Minibus and Coach Seat Belts, Advice on Retro-Fitting Seat Belts to Minibuses and Coaches, VSE 2/96 . Full details of the relevant legislation are shown in Section 20 of this document.

2. Outline of requirements
Legislation was recently made that will require a forward facing seat with a seat belt for each child carried in a minibus or coach, when a group of three or more children are on an organised trip (organised trip is described in
Section 4). For the purposes of this legislation:

  • a child is defined, for this purpose, as a person who is 3 to 15 years of age inclusive;
  • a seat belt is a minimum of a lap belt; and
  • a seat has a minimum width of 400mm.

3. What types of vehicles are affected by the legislation and when will it apply?
The new requirements apply to minibuses and coaches, whether or not privately owned or used for hire and reward.

  • For all minibuses, irrespective of age, and coaches first used from 1 October 1988 the legislation takes effect on 10 February 1997. Coaches first used before 1 October 1988 are required to comply one year later - 10 February 1998.
  • A minibus is a motor vehicle constructed or adapted to carry more than 8, but not more than 16 seated passengers in addition to the driver. (This definition includes less obvious vehicles such as Land Rovers and other similar vehicles that have more than 8, but not more than 16 seated passengers.)
  • A coach is defined as a type of large bus (i.e. a vehicle constructed or adapted to carry more than 16 seated passengers in addition to the driver) which has a gross weight of more than 7.5 tonnes and a maximum speed exceeding 60mph.
  • A large bus which does not meet the weight or speed criteria of a coach is referred to as a bus in this document. This legislation does not apply to this type of vehicle.

Those arranging or hiring vehicles to transport children on an organised trip may wish to seek confirmation of the type of vehicle being provided.

4. What types of journeys are covered by the legislation?
This legislation applies to a journey wholly or mainly organised to carry a group of three or more children on a trip in a minibus or coach.
It is not possible to provide an exhaustive list of what could be considered as an organised trip. However, the key element is whether the journey is undertaken to transport children. School outings, trips by youth organisations and voluntary organisations, where transporting the children is the key element, are all subject to this legislation. A journey to or from school, even when accompanied or driven by parents, and by road from one part of a school to another is an organised trip. However, an organised trip using a normal scheduled service intended for the general population, and which would operate whether or not the children were travelling, would not be included.
Other exemptions include a vehicle being used wholly or mainly for the purpose of providing a transport service for the general public, and a vehicle being used to provide the type of registered local bus service described in paragraph 2 of the Schedule to The Fuel Duty Grant (Eligible Bus Services) Regulations 1985. For the former definition to apply each journey must meet the criteria. For example, this exemption could not be claimed on journeys undertaken by a minibus or coach to or from school even if the vehicle is mainly operated for the general public during the rest of the day.

5. Who is responsible for ensuring that the correct type of vehicle is used?
The driver and his or her employer would normally be legally liable for operating a vehicle which does not comply with the requirements of the legislation. Therefore, before undertaking a journey they should establish whether or not the trip is wholly or mainly for children. The person arranging the journey should also inform the vehicle operator, in advance, that the vehicle is required to transport children.

6. Do seat belts and child restraints have to be worn?
It is important that the seat belts or child restraints which have been fitted are worn. Children should wear a seat belt not only for their own safety, but the safety of others in the vehicle. Parents should actively encourage their children to wear a seat belt. When supervising a trip, parents, teachers and supervisors, should try and ensure that the restraints are worn. A single seat belt must not be used by more than one child, nor should a belt be placed around a child who is on an adults lap.

In the front seats of minibuses, and seats in coaches which are in line with, or forward of, the driver (but not those on the upper deck), it is the drivers responsibility to ensure that:

  • children under 3 years of age use an appropriate child restraint;
  • children aged 3-11 and under 1.5 metres in height wear an appropriate child restraint if available, or if not available, an adult seat belt;
  • children aged 12 and 13 and younger children 1.5 metres or more in height wear a seat belt if fitted and available to be used.

In the rear seats of most minibuses, i.e. those which have an unladen weight of 2,540 kilograms or less, it is the drivers responsibility to ensure that:

  • children under 3 years of age wear an appropriate child restraint if one is available to be used;
  • children aged 3-11 and under 1.5 metres in height wear an appropriate child restraint if available, or if not available, an adult seat belt if one is available to be used;
  • children aged 12 and 13 and younger children 1.5 metres or more in height wear a seat belt if one is available to be used.
  • Children aged 14 years and above must wear a seat belt if one is fitted and available to be used, and are responsible for doing so.

In the rear seats of coaches and larger minibuses there is no statutory requirement for children to wear a seat belt or child restraint, but they should always be actively encouraged to wear them, when they are available.

7. Can vehicles with a side or rear facing seat still be used?
The legislation requires a
forward facing seat, with a belt, to be available for each child. Vehicles fitted with a side or rear facing seat can still be used, but the number of children carried will be limited to the number of forward facing seats with seat belts. For example, a minibus fitted with 14 passenger seats of which 3 are rear facing and 2 are side facing will be limited to carrying 9 children.

8. Can a disabled persons seat belt or wheelchair still be used?
Yes, a disabled persons belt can be used as an alternative to a seat belt. A disabled persons belt is defined as a seat belt specially designed or adapted for an adult or child with a disability, and intended to be used solely by that person.

A disabled persons needs can vary considerably. Consequently, there is a wide diversity of disabled persons belts on the market. These can range from a full harness to an approved adult seat belt with additional features. As such, it is not possible to specify exactly what type of belt would be considered a disabled persons belt and therefore no approval marking is required for such a belt.

The legislation does not apply to children in wheelchairs. A code of practice entitled The Safety of Passengers in Wheelchairs on Buses, (VSE 87/1) is available free of charge from the Department of Transport, Zone 2/01, Great Minster House, 76 Marsham Street, London. SW1P 4DR.

9. Can buses still be used to transport children?
Yes, a bus rather than a minibus or coach, can still be used to transport children. This will still be the norm for some journeys where a bus is the most appropriate form of transport. By continuing to allow buses, it is not the intention that they should replace minibuses or coaches where these would normally be chosen.

10. If buses are used to transport children on an organised journey do they need seat belts?
No, there is no requirement for a bus to have seat belts even if it is on an organised trip. Buses have a different pattern of use and are generally not constructed to have seat belts fitted.
However, if seat belts are fitted it is important to ensure they are installed correctly. In the absence of any specific legal requirements, seat belts should be installed to comply with the European standards for seat belts and their anchorages.

11. What type and standard of seat belt should be fitted?
The minimum requirement is for each child to have a lap belt. This will offer protection against the child being ejected and being thrown around inside the vehicle in the event of an accident. A three point seat belt (lap and diagonal belt) may also be fitted (and for some front seats this is required from new), as it is generally recognised as offering greater protection. However, it must be understood that for some vehicles, especially older vehicles, the only viable option is to fit a lap belt because of the extra technical difficulties involved in fitting a three point belt.

The only realistic way to ensure that a seat belt is safe is to:

  • fit an approved seat belt;
  • ensure that the belt is installed in accordance with the seat belt manufacturers instructions - to provide correct positioning of the belt across the pelvis, and not the stomach; and
  • ensure that the anchorages are suitably strong.

An approved belt will display one of the following approval marks:

  • e, or E representing compliance with a European standard, or
  • the British Standard Kitemark followed by either BS3254: 1960 (no longer issued for new approvals) or BS3254: part 1:1988.
  • It will also have an individual approval number and markings to show the different features of the belt.

When a seat belt is sold separately, it should always be supplied with fitting instructions and, in the case of an e or E marked belt, information should also be provided about the types of vehicle for which it is suitable.

12. What type of child restraint should be fitted?
An appropriate child restraint can be a baby carrier, child seat or harness. It would normally display a BS Kitemark or an E mark. It should also have a label displaying the child's weight range for which it is designed.

13. What standard should seat belt anchorages meet?
To ensure that seat belt anchorages can withstand the extremely high loading that would occur in a severe accident, it is recommended that they are fabricated to meet the European standard for anchorages, even though this may not be a legal requirement in all cases.
The European standards refer to M1, M2 and M3 category vehicles - these are cars, minibuses and coaches respectively. The seat belt loading in an accident is likely to be higher in smaller vehicles, because the deceleration rate is greater. The anchorage requirements therefore vary according to the category of vehicle, but in all cases the loading is extremely high. For testing lap belts in M3 vehicles the load is approximately equivalent to tonne and for M2 vehicles 1 tonne.
Vehicles provided with seat belt anchorages at the time of manufacture should already be designed to an appropriate European technical standard. However, where the vehicle does not have seat belt anchorages, they will need to be fabricated. Anchorages can be located in a vehicle structure, in a suitable seat frame, or a combination of the two.
It is essential that not only the immediate area but also the surrounding area of the anchorage is capable of withstanding any loading by the seat belt in an accident. This is particularly important where the anchorages are not incorporated in a strong load bearing section of the vehicle, such as a chassis member. Where a seat belt is fastened directly to a seat, not only the seat, but also the seat fixing to the floor and the floor itself, must be capable of withstanding the high loads involved. Any hard surfaces, such as grab rails on existing bus style seats, should be well padded to prevent injury to an occupants head.
Users and operators may understandably desire three point seat belts to be installed on the grounds they provide better protection. However, where a suitable upper anchorage cannot be provided for technical reasons, they must realise that a lap belt may be the only acceptable option.

14. How do I get my vehicle fitted with seat belts?
Many modern vehicles already have seat belt anchorages. If this is the case, it should be relatively straightforward to have seat belts fitted using standard retro-fit kits. By contacting either the vehicle, body or seat manufacturer, or one of their agents, it should be possible to obtain the necessary kit.
If your vehicle does not already have seat belt anchorages, the first step is to contact either the vehicle or body manufacturer, or one of their agents. They should be able to inform you whether your vehicle can be adapted for seat belts, and the amount of work that will be involved. They may well recommend an authorised agent to carry out the conversion.
A specialist vehicle converter may also be able to evaluate the vehicle and carry out any necessary strengthening prior to fitting belts, if the vehicle or body manufacturer is unable to assist.
However, some vehicles may require major modifications, such as replacement seats or extensive strengthening of floors. The cost of such alterations must be considered carefully. It may be more economical to purchase a newer vehicle that is already equipped with seat belts or anchorages, or can be more easily adapted to accommodate seat belts.

15. How can I be sure that a seat belt conversion is carried out correctly?
Whether the alteration is simply fitting seat belts to existing anchorages or fabricating new anchorages, it is essential to ensure that any work is carried out by a reputable and capable company - one that will naturally guarantee its work. The seat belt installer should be prepared to confirm in writing that the restraint system is designed and installed to meet the appropriate European standards, i.e. approved belts suitable for the vehicle are fitted, the belts are installed correctly and the anchorages are of an appropriate strength.
For new vehicles, manufacturers are likely to have carried out full scale testing of the anchorages during the vehicles development. This is to ensure that the anchorages are suitable and that the European standard is met. For some more recent vehicles, it may be possible for the converter to upgrade the vehicles structure to the same level of the new vehicle on which tests may have been conducted. This will be subject to advice from the manufacturer.
For older vehicles, solutions may involve full scale testing of the anchorages. However, if this is not practicable some limited component testing should be conducted. It has to be recognised that these simpler tests may be the only viable option, but will not provide the reassurance of a formal full scale test.

16. Do I need to check the condition of the seat belts regularly?
Yes, regular checks, normally at service intervals, but more often if there is cause for concern, should be made on the condition and operation of the seat belts in your vehicle.
A belt should be periodically checked for cuts, deterioration of stitching, excessive fluffing or fraying of the fibres and proper operation of the mechanism. Periodically, checks on the security of the seat belts and the condition of the anchorages are also necessary. Where the seat belt is integral with a seat, the seat mountings should also be checked. Seat belts that are damaged or do not work correctly should be replaced.

17. Do I have to inform anyone I have fitted seat belts?
For operators of public service vehicles and vehicles operating under a Section 22 permit, fitting seat belts is a notifiable alteration. Therefore, the Vehicle Inspectorate must be notified using form VTP5. This is obtainable from the Vehicle Inspectorate and should be returned to the address on the back of the form. There is no similar requirement for any other type of vehicle. All vehicle owners are advised to check whether fitting seat belts affects the conditions of the vehicles insurance policy.

18. How is the 3 for 2 concession on public service vehicles affected?

For PSVs there is a concession that allows three seated children under 14 years of age to be counted as two passengers. From the 1 May 1996 this concession was limited to those seats that do not have seat belts. This ensures that children in seats fitted with belts each have a seat belt. Therefore, any seat in a PSV, including a bus, that has seat belts fitted will not be eligible for the concession.

19. Is there any other advice available?
Some organisations have already provided advice on the seat belt legislation. These include the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA), the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) and the Institute of Road Transport Engineers (IRTE). Other organisations such as the National Automobile Safety Belt Association (NASBA) and the Community Transport Association (CTA) may also be able to provide advice.
A number of local authorities have produced advice because they operate their own school minibuses and coaches as well as awarding school transport contracts. It is therefore worth contacting your local authority, especially as they may have stipulated certain conditions that need to be fulfilled in their school contracts.
The Motor Industry Research Association have published two technical reports on installing seat belts - but these are more relevant to those carrying out vehicle conversions.
The Department of Transport has produced separate advice to seat belt installers titled: Minibus and Coach Seat Belts - Advice on Retro-fitting Seat Belts to Minibuses and Coaches, VSE 2/96.
Other useful publications by the Department of Transport include:

  • Seat Belts and the Law (T/INF251)
  • Fuel Duty Rebate (PSV 360)
  • Passenger Transport provided by Voluntary Groups (PSV385 rev 11/94)
  • Taking a Minibus Abroad
  • The Safety of Passengers in Wheelchairs on buses (VSE87/1)
  • Drivers Hours Rules for Road Passenger Vehicles (PSV375 rev 6/95)
  • A Guide to Local Bus Service Registration (PSV 353A rev 2/96) and
  • A Guide to London Local Service Licensing (PSV383 rev 11/95).

20. Details of relevant Legislation and standards.
The new seat belt requirements for children are contained in The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 1996, Statutory Instrument No. 163. This S.I. further amends Regulation 47, and adds Regulation 48A to The Road Vehicles (Construction And Use) Regulations 1986, S.I. No. 1078.
The change to the 3 for 2 concession is contained in The Public Service Vehicles (Carrying Capacity) (Amendment) Regulations 1996, S.I. No. 167. This S.I. further amends The Public Service Vehicles (Carrying Capacity) (Amendment) Regulations 1984, S.I. No. 1406.
Regulations 46, 47 & 48 (as amended) of The Road Vehicles (Construction And Use) Regulations 1986, S.I. No. 1078 define the statutory requirements for seat belt anchorages, seat belts and their maintenance respectively. They refer to technical standards in United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Regulations, European Community Directives (EC), and British Standards (BS).

Technical standards for seat belt anchorages are contained in:

  • UNECE Regulation 14, latest revision 03. This specifies position and strength requirements for seat belt anchorages, whether or not incorporated into a seat.
  • EC Directive 76/115/EEC (with amending Directives 81/575/EEC, 82/318/EEC, 90/629/EEC and 96/38/EEC). Generally equivalent to UNECE Regulation 14.
  • Technical standards for seat belts are contained in:
  • UNECE Regulation 16, latest revision 04. This specifies technical requirements for adult seat belts.
  • EC Directive 77/541/EEC (with amending Directives 82/319/EEC, 90/628/EEC and 96/36/EEC). Generally equivalent to Regulation 16, but also covers requirements for installation into the vehicle.
  • BS3254: 1960 (no longer issued for new approvals) or BS 3254: Part 1: 1988. The latter is usually only used for retro-fit seat belts.

Technical standards for child restraints are contained in:

  • UNECE Regulation 44, latest revision 03.
  • BS3254: 1960 (no longer issued for new approvals) or BS 3254: 1960 as amended by Amendment No. 16 published on 31 July 1986 under the number AMD 5210, BS 3254: Part 2: 1988 or BS3254: Part 2 1991, BS AU 202, BS AU 202a or BSAU202b.

Seat belt wearing requirements are contained in:

  • The Road Traffic Act 1988 (Amendment) Regulations 1992, S.I. No 3105;
  • The Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts by Children in Front Seats) Regulations 1993, S.I. No. 31; and
  • The Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts) Regulations 1993, S.I. No. 176.

Details of fuel duty grants are contained in:

  • The Fuel Duty Grant (Eligible Bus Services) Regulations 1985, S.I. No. 1886.

Contact:Department of the Environment, Transport and the RegionsVehicle Standards & Engineering 62/06 Great Minster House76 Marsham StreetLONDON SW1P 4DR
Fax: 020 7944 2069E-mail:

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