New seat belt laws being prepared

I REFER to Miss Amy Lane's letter (South China Morning Post, March 12), and a number of other letters from correspondents on the subject of seat belts for young children in school buses.

The promotion of road safety including drivers and passenger protection in vehicles has always been a major concern of the Transport Department.

The public may recall that legislation requiring compulsory fitting and wearing of seat belts by drivers and front seat passengers in private cars was introduced in 1983.

The legislation was subsequently extended to taxis, light buses and goods vehicles. The Transport Department is now preparing new legislation for compulsory fitting and wearing of seat belts for rear seat passengers in private cars.

The introduction of seat belt legislation with respect to various types of vehicles requires individual justifications applicable to each type, on the basis of effectiveness of seat belts in injury prevention, public acceptance, and other practical considerations. To meet these requirements, legislation is introduced in a step-by-step manner so as to enable collection of supporting accident data locally as well as from overseas, to educate the public and to conform to international standards which dictate the level of seat belt provision by overseas car manufacturers. The proposed rear seat belt legislation mentioned above on private cars is only the first step on rear seat belt requirement. Extension of the legislation to cover other types of vehicles including school buses will be effected in later stages, similar to that of front seat belts.

I would also like to clarify that there are practical difficulties in fitting seat belts in school buses at present. We have no knowledge of any legislation in overseas countries which require the fitting of seat belts in buses. For this reason, seat belts and their anchorage points are not fitted in buses in the production line of the motor manufacturing companies at present since this is not a requirement in the international market. Seat belts which are fitted on buses by local garages cannot be assumed to be acceptable in the current absence of international standards.

Whilst recognising the importance of seat belts in school buses, the Transport Department, as a matter of fact, has always been engaged actively in the promotion of road safety aimed at all road users including schoolchildren. The safety standards of roads in respect of the alignment, surfacing, signing and lighting are regularly reviewed and upgraded. Accident blackspots are investigated and treated with remedial measures. More stringent requirements are set on vehicle examinations. Control on vehicle overloading is tightened. Driving examinations have been reviewed. Compulsory medical examination of bus drivers is being pursued.

Road safety publicity and education is a continuous exercise targeted at the problem motorists as well as the young and elderly pedestrians. The detection of red light violations by means of cameras was also put into test early this year.

I can therefore assure your correspondents that the Transport Department will continue its dedicated effort towards the promotion of road safety.

Y. C. YEUNG for Commissioner for Transport