Seat Belt Buckle Guards – How Safe Are They?
On 9th February 2023 the DVSA issued a “Daily Digest Bulletin” on the subject of seat belt buckle guards. A buckle guard is a component that is added to the standard seat belt equipment of a vehicle, in order to prevent the seat belt being released whilst the vehicle is in motion. They tend to be used by operators for school or local authority transport to ensure children do not unbuckle their seat belts without the driver knowing, which of course would be a safety issue, and would be very difficult to monitor by the driver when the vehicle is in motion.
The 9th February bulletin advised that the fitting of buckle guards to seat belts would breach regulation 48 (4) of the Road Vehicle (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986. This states amongst other things that “…the seat belt and its anchorages, fastenings and adjusting device shall be maintained free from any obvious defect which would be likely to affect adversely the performance by the seat belt…in the event of an accident to the vehicle” and that the seat belt should “…be so maintained that the belt can be readily fastened or unfastened” and perhaps most pertinently; must be “kept free from any temporary or permanent obstruction”
The DVSA appear to take the view that as such, seat belt buckle guards are not compliant with the regulations and in their view, they pose a significant safety risk. They are therefore advising operators not to use buckle guards on pain of enforcement action should any examiners encounter these items at any roadside checks. The main concern appears to be that in the event of an accident or emergency a passenger in a seat with a seat belt buckle guard would not be able to release the belt and get out of the vehicle without the assistance of another person. The threat of enforcement action against operators for the use of the guards was something of a “bolt from the blue”, especially given that many in the PSV industry have been using buckle guards for many years without any enforcement from DVSA officers or the Police, and mindful that local authorities have approved of the use of seat belt buckle guards when providing SEN services.
A further bulletin was released on 17th February 2023 clarifying the earlier bulletin. In the second bulletin the DVSA highlighted their focus on the safety of PSV passengers and stated again the risk that the use of guards could prevent the release of a seat belt quickly in an emergency. The press release goes on to say “the alert was intended to support operators to ensure the safety of their passengers” and that it had wished to “highlight” the potential safety issues inherent with the guards and that the first action by DVSA examiners upon finding evidence of the use of the seat belt buckle guards would be to offer “advice and guidance about vehicle and passenger safety”.
Regulation 48 goes on to distinguish the arrangements required in the case of a disabled person’s seat and so operators will need to consider very carefully whether in each particular case the use of seat belt buckle guards is or is not lawful and safe.
Whilst the DVSA has revised it’s advice on the use of the guards, and although it states in the 17th February 2023 bulletin that it “has no plans to target enforcement action against their use”, the agency is consulting the Department for Education, Department for Transport, Schools, Local Authorities and parents about this matter, so it remains on their “radar” for the foreseeable future.
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