Concern about school minibus safety has continued to gather pace over the past couple of years and manufacturers are increasing their sales as schools trade in their old vehicles for new ones with more safety features.
The most persistent demand is for effective seat belts. Lap belts have been available on minibuses for a long time, but the general feeling is that this does not go far enough. Parents and teachers feel that whatever the statistics say is likely or unlikely to happen in a crash, their children should have the same lap and diagonal-belt protection they have in family cars.
The manufacturers point out that this is not as easy as it looks. Car seat belts are attached to the basic structure of the car. Diagonal belts in a minibus have to be attached to the seats, which means that the seats themselves, and the system which fixes them to the vehicle, must be demonstrably capable of taking the immense load that is thrown on them in a crash.
Manufacturers and converters, therefore, have had to spend research time and money on solving the minibus seatbelt problem. Daf vehicles last year invested Pounds 2 million before it was able to launch a vehicle equipped with lap and diagonal belts. Now Ford, the other big UK manufacturer (as opposed to converter) of buses, has just announced that all of its new Transit buses will be equipped with retractable lap and diagonal belts as from the beginning of April.
Ford's commercial vehicle manager, Mike Platts, says: "We wanted to make sure that we were totally happy with the performance of these belts and that they worked as an integrated design."
Ford currently promotes its Transit buses to schools through the Ford and Barclaycard Minibus Programme. This allows parents who are Barclaycard users to donate their Barclaycard Profiles points to the school, which can then use them to claim a discount on the price of a new bus, up to a maximum of Pounds 6,000, for which 12,000 points are needed. If this sounds a lot, be encouraged by the fact that a number of schools have already had the maximum discount, including the Billericay School in Essex, where the 12,000 points were accumulated by only 39 parents.
Ford minibus programme, 12 Great Newport Street, London WC2H 7JA
Ford - stand 350