Fleet News

Seatbelt law shake-up aims to cut out abuse

At the moment drivers completing deliveries or local rounds do not have to wear a seatbelt but this is set to change after industry groups responded to plans for change.

The Department for Transport (DfT) issued its consultation document in August asking industry groups to contribute towards a proposal to amend the current law. It received more than 60 responses from local authorities, police, road safety organisations, trade organisations and the dairy industry all forwarding their ideas on what the maximum distance between stops should be before a seatbelt must be worn. Groups were asked to state whether the new law should require seatbelts to be worn after 10 metres, 20 metres or any other distance.

The DfT then announced that the distance should be 50 metres and is now working towards bringing revised legislation into force in March 2005.

The majority of organisations including the Royal Mail, the Police Federation, The Freight Transport Association and the Association of Newspaper & Magazine Wholesalers all felt that there should be no exemption, citing road safety and enforcement as reasons.

However, eight respondents thought that 50 metres is a safe distance while seven respondents want to see it set at 100 metres.

At the other end of the scale, two respondents thought that 1,500 metres was a viable distance, while six groups thought that another measure such as speed should be used to determine new legislation. Some groups have opposed the idea, claiming it would add to the costs of delivery because it might slow drivers down on delivery rounds.

One commercial group which responded to the consultation believes that new legislation could push costs up by more than £300,000.

A DfT analysis of the consultation responses said: ‘Express Network pointed out that making the application of seat belt wearing ‘distance specific’ would add cost to delivery operations if the ‘new’ distance was lower than that currently used.

‘If seatbelts had to be worn between each drop, they estimated that the time to make each delivery would increase by five seconds (to buckle/unbuckle the seatbelt). On a total of 123 stops a day, the additional time taken to perform this action would amount to more than 10 minutes per day per vehicle, costing more than £330,000 a year.’

The DfT called for a review of the current law as the definition of ‘local rounds’ could be misinterpreted.

A spokesman from the Government department said: ‘There is no definition of ‘local rounds.’ We understand the aim of this was to exempt only those who needed to make frequent stops while engaged in making local deliveries or collections such as the door-to-door operations of milkmen, postmen and refuse collectors.

‘However, there is a lack of clarity and many van and goods vehicle drivers firmly believe there is a general ‘trade’ exemption which applies to any delivery, over any distance.’

The DfT, which is hoping to prevent van incidents with the new legislation, sent almost 80 copies of the consultation document to organisations. A DfT spokesman said: ‘Seatbelt wearing surveys by Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) on behalf of the Department consistently show that the wearing rate for van drivers is around 63%, and that for their passengers 55%.

‘TRL calculate that if these rates can be raised to those seen in cars (90% and 92% respectively), then 21 fatalities, 241 serious casualties and 1,040 slight injuries annually could be prevented in vans alone.’

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