Seatbelt scandal

As few as one in ten teenagers here are wearing seat belts on school buses and unless the trend changes a tragedy involving a school bus could happen on Donegal's roads, it has been warned.

As few as one in ten teenagers here are wearing seat belts on school buses and unless the trend changes a tragedy involving a school bus could happen on Donegal's roads, it has been warned.

Garda spot checks are being carried out to highlight the problem and the Donegal Road Safety Working Group has warned the possibility of withdrawing bus passes from students who don't wear seat belts could happen.

The legal responsibility for the wearing of seat belts lies with the vehicle driver when carrying children but Donegal County Council, garda, the Donegal VEC and Bus ireann are involved in a joint effort to tackle the problem.

Five school girls died and 46 were injured in a bus accident in Co. Meath in 2005 and since then school buses were involved in two serious accidents in Donegal where students have narrowly avoided serious injury. After one of the accidents garda expressed concern about the large number of school children that were not wearing seat belts on the bus.

The Donegal Road Donegal Safety Working Group is planning a survey of the number of children who wear seatbelts on school buses in Donegal.

Donegal County Council Road Safety Officer Eamonn Brown says there are no official figures on children wearing seat belts on school buses.

"We would guess that it is about ten per cent and even that is being optimistic," he said.

"It's not fair and we don't expect it to be the driver's responsibility to be enforcing it," he said. "The potential on a school bus for injuries does not bear thinking about and over the years we have had a number collisions involving school buses in service. The potential is always there for students on a bus to be seriously injured. If you look at the eight fatalities in Inishowen being the worst road tragedy nationally - well given the capacity of some of the buses we could very easily have something like that again."

Withdrawing bus passes is an option," he said. "Education is the main tool but there is the potential for the passes to be withdrawn but it is probably not the road we want to do down at the moment and we would want to use the carrot rather than the stick. But that option is there in the future if education fails."

Head of the Garda Traffic Corps in Donegal, Inspector Michael Harrison, said: "We have to remember, we have had accidents involving school buses in this county and it is something we are very conscious of. A huge onus is put on the driver and we are very sympathetic to that. If you have an accident on a bus - if a bus goes off the road - the consequences are dreadful as we have seen from the accident in Meath. We are only doing this to keep them alive."

Acting CEO of the Donegal VEC, Mary Ann Kane, said the problem is that teenagers don't like wearing seat belts on school buses.

"It is not seen as cool in a lot of cases for that age group. We have been trying to get the views of young people as to what would make it more acceptable for them to be seen wearing a seat belt. We have had a few close shaves (with accidents) but we know it is about changing a culture and that is going to take time."