Amidst increasing concerns over the safety of children on school transport vehicles, a recent decision by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) to ban the use of seatbelt buckle guards has ignited controversy.
Buckle guards are devices designed to prevent the release of seatbelts or make it difficult for children to tamper with them while the vehicle is in motion.
The usage of seatbelt buckle guards has become commonplace in vehicles transporting SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) children to and from school. Many children with SEND have a tendency to play with their seatbelts, releasing them unintentionally, which poses a serious safety risk.
Parents and drivers have generally supported the use of buckle guards as an effective safeguarding measure. However, the recent email bulletin from the DVSA declaring the devices non-compliant with regulation 48 (4) of the Road Vehicle (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 has caused an upheaval among parents, transport operators, and local authorities.
The DVSA's decision has left parents concerned about the safety of their children without the protective measure of buckle guards. On the other hand, transport operators and local authorities are now faced with the daunting task of adapting their vehicles and practices to comply with the ban.
One of the major implications of the ban is the potential impact on the licenses of transport operators. Any operators found to be using seatbelt buckle guards on their Public Service Vehicles (PSVs) risk facing prohibitions, which will be recorded against their Operator License. This record could be taken into consideration by a Traffic Commissioner in any future Public Inquiry, potentially affecting the operators' ability to provide safe transport services.
The ban has prompted urgent efforts to find safe and compliant alternatives to seatbelt buckle guards. The DVSA is actively engaging with various stakeholders, including the Department for Education, Department for Transport, Schools, Local Authorities, and parents, to navigate this complex issue.
However, striking a balance between safety and practicality poses a significant challenge. The ongoing consultations aim to find viable alternatives that effectively safeguard children without compromising compliance with the regulations.
As the discussions continue, the paramount concern remains ensuring the safety and well-being of SEND children during their journeys to and from school.
What is the Legislation?
According to TaxiPlus the DVSA said in their email statement:
“We have been made aware of Public Service Vehicle operators using seatbelt buckle guards.
They are often used on school or local authority transport.
Fitting buckle guards to a seat belt breaches the Road Vehicle (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, regulation 48 (4).
The purpose of regulation 48 (“Maintenance of seat belts and anchorage points”) is to ensure that maintenance is adequate to ensure the safety of the vehicle passenger.
The use of a seat belt buckle guard is a deliberate and intended addition to the seat belt and is not exempt under regulation 48 (5) of the regulations.”
Possible enforcement action
If your vehicle is stopped at the roadside by a DVSA Examiner, and you have seatbelt buckle guards on your PSVs, it is likely that a prohibition will be issued alongside other possible enforcement action. The DVSA’s guidance is simply to avoid disruption to your operations, do not use buckle guards.”