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Document 52001AE0923

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the "Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Directive 91/671/EEC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to compulsory use of safety belts in vehicles of less than 3,5 tonnes"

OJ C 260, 17.9.2001, p. 30–32 (ES, DA, DE, EL, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT, FI, SV)

52001AE0923

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the "Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Directive 91/671/EEC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to compulsory use of safety belts in vehicles of less than 3,5 tonnes"

Official Journal C 260 , 17/09/2001 P. 0030 - 0032


Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the "Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Directive 91/671/EEC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to compulsory use of safety belts in vehicles of less than 3,5 tonnes"

(2001/C 260/04)

On 19 January 2001 the Council decided to consult the Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned proposal.

The Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 6 June 2001. The rapporteur was Mr García Alonso.

At its 383rd plenary session of 11 and 12 July 2001 (meeting of 11 July), the Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 103 votes to one.

1. Introduction

1.1. The main aim of this proposal is to reduce the inconsistencies brought about by the varied application of Council Directive 91/671/EEC(1) on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to compulsory use of safety belts in vehicles of less than 3,5 tonnes.

1.2. One of the major reasons for the great disparity in fatal road crash statistics for children across the European Union is the Member States' legal interpretation of the above Directive.

1.3. This revision is justified by three main factors:

1.3.1. The 1991 Directive provides for the compulsory use in cars of child restraints on seats fitted with safety belts, but it does not specify the type of system that would be appropriate and allows for the carriage of children without being restrained by an appropriate system where such a restraint is unavailable.

1.3.2. Directive 2000/3/EC(2) requires that new cars be fitted with a label warning drivers of the risk to children restrained by rearward-facing restraints in the event that the front seat air bag inflates, but does not prohibit the use of such systems.

1.3.3. Directives 96/36/EC(3), 96/37/EC(4) and 96/38/EC(5) in conjunction lay down a European standard for the fitting of safety belts to all seats of new minibuses and coaches built after October 1999 and to lorries, but does not make their use compulsory.

1.4. The new proposal for a Directive has three basic components:

1.4.1. it requires the compulsory use on the road of child restraint systems in cars and eliminates exemptions under Directive 91/671/EEC. It also stipulates that child restraints should, as a minimum requirement, meet the technical standard UN-ECE (Agreement of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) Regulation 44.03 or its equivalent;

1.4.2. it prohibits the use of rearward facing child restraint systems on the front passenger seat of cars, unless the air bag has been de-activated;

1.4.3. it requires all users of motor vehicles on the road to use safety belts, where fitted;

1.4.4. it requires that passengers be informed of the compulsory use of safety belts whenever they are seated and the vehicle is in motion.

1.5. The scope of the Directive under revision was somewhat arbitrary and did not take account of vehicle categories defined in Directive 70/156/EEC(6). The proposed revision, however, does take this into consideration and widens the scope to include categories M1, M2, M3, N1, N2 and N3.

2. Background

The Commission, the Council and the Parliament have repeatedly addressed the issue of road safety and in particular passive security. Proof of this is the abundance of legislation in this area, the main documents of which are:

- Council Directive 77/541/EEC(7), of 28 June 1977, on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to safety belts and restraint systems of motor vehicles;

- Parliament Resolution of 13.3.1984;

- Parliament Resolution of 18.2.1986;

- Council Directive 91/671/EEC, of 16 December 1991, on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to compulsory use of safety belts in vehicles of less than 3,5 tonnes;

- Commission Directive 96/36/EC(8) of 17 June 1996 adapting to technical progress Council Directive 77/541/EEC relating to safety belts and restraint systems of motor vehicles;

- Commission Directive 96/37/EC(9) of 17 June 1996 adapting to technical progress Council Directive 74/408/EEC relating to the interior fittings of motor vehicles (strength of seats and of their anchorages);

- Commission Directive 96/38/EC(10) of 17 June 1996 adapting to technical progress Council Directive 76/115/EEC relating to anchorages for motor vehicle safety belts;

- Council Decision 97/836/EC(11) of 27 November 1997 with a view to accession by the European Community to the Agreement of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe concerning the adoption of uniform technical prescriptions for wheeled vehicles, equipment and parts which can be fitted to and/or be used on wheeled vehicles and the conditions for reciprocal recognition of approvals granted on the basis of these prescriptions;

- Commission Directive 2000/3/EC, of 22 February 2000, adapting to technical progress Council Directive 77/541/EEC relating to safety belts and restraint systems of motor vehicles;

- Communication from the Commission of 17 March 2000(12) - Priorities in EU road safety. Progress - report and ranking of actions;

- Parliament Resolution of 7.12.2000 final A5-0381/2000.

3. General comments

3.1. The Economic and Social Committee welcomes this revision of Directive 91/671/EEC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to compulsory use of safety belts in vehicles of less than 3,5 tonnes as its main priority is to improve road safety, in particular that of children.

3.2. However, the Committee believes that the proposal does not pay sufficient attention to raising awareness among citizens and, in particular, parents. These requirements are pointless if users are unaware of the benefits they offer. The Member States should therefore be urged to carry out campaigns to raise awareness of the benefits of using restraints, and, in particular, because of the insufficient attention it has received hitherto, their use for children. In this connection it should not be forgotten that the parents' example is crucial.

3.3. The compulsory use of safety belts laid down in the proposal must be extended to driving in towns.

3.4. The statistics used by the Commission when drafting this proposal were incomplete to say the least and do not cover most of the Member States because of a lack of compatibility. A homogeneous and complete statistics database therefore needs to be drawn up so that useful conclusions can be drawn, positive experiences in the Member States exploited and arbitrary extrapolations avoided.

3.5. According to some recent studies, it is inadvisable for children to travel in a rearward facing child restraint in the front seat when the vehicle is equipped with a front air bag. This applies to most existing restraints. It would therefore seem logical to make it compulsory for the front air bag to be de-activated when children are travelling in the front passenger seat, irrespective of the type of restraint being used.

3.6. However, given that the rate of injury is higher in the front seat than in the rest of the car and considering how difficult it is to activate and de-activate air bags in first generation vehicles fitted with air bags, it would be more appropriate to keep the front air bag activated and carry children weighing less than 36 kg in one of the back seats of the vehicle rather than in the front passenger seat.

3.7. Users could be informed of these restrictions by way of a simple explanatory label located in a highly visible place inside the car by the vehicle manufacturer or distributor.

3.8. This proposal makes no reference whatsoever to the danger to children of other types of air bags, e.g. rear and side air bags. The proposal must deal with this oversight.

3.9. Another important issue is the genuine standardisation of child restraint anchoring methods. The trials carried out by the International Standardisation Organisation (ISO) in this area should be followed closely. Once it has been fully developed, the ISO's ISOFIX system, which complies with UN-ECE Regulation 44.03, should become compulsory in all new cars marketed in the EU.

3.10. The Commission proposal should mention that car manufacturers need to recommend the most appropriate child restraints for each of the models they manufacture.

3.11. The Committee believes it is impossible to assess whether restraints always offer real benefits in large and medium-sized minibuses and coaches as it is difficult to check whether they are used correctly. Real statistics based on proper research are therefore needed, as restraints may unduly increase the cost of these generally popular means of transport but not make any considerable improvements to safety.

3.12. For example, account must be taken of the fact that, due to the structure of category N2 and N3 vehicles and the height of the driver's seat in relation to the ground, drivers of such vehicles are exposed to different phenomena compared with drivers involved in accidents between other types of vehicle, especially in the case of rear impact.

3.13. The Committee opposes the inclusion of exemptions in the future Directive, as people's safety is at stake. Furthermore, exemptions do not encourage the habit of using a safety belt. The Committee can see no reason why taxi drivers should not carry restraints for children weighing 10 kg in their boot. These would then be ready for use when children of this weight travelled in their taxi. This exemption should therefore be deleted from the proposal.

3.14. The Committee believes car manufacturers must incorporate a system of sound and/or light signals to show when occupants are not using safety belts. The ESC therefore calls on the Commission to encourage research into this area and the subsequent installation of such systems in new vehicles marketed in the EU.

Brussels, 11 July 2001.

The President

of the Economic and Social Committee

Göke Frerichs

(1) OJ L 373, 31.12.1991.

(2) OJ L 053, 25.2.2000.

(3) OJ L 178, 17.7.1996, p. 15.

(4) OJ L 186, 25.7.1996, p. 28.

(5) OJ L 187, 26.7.1996, p. 95.

(6) OJ L 042, 23.2.1970.

(7) OJ L 220, 29.8.1977.

(8) OJ L 178, 17.7.1996.

(9) OJ L 186, 25.7.1996.

(10) OJ L 187, 26.7.1996.

(11) OJ L 346, 17.12.1997.

(12) COM(2000) 125 final of 17.3.2000.

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