ALL passengers on school buses in Scotland will have to belt up by 2018 under plans that would see control over seatbelt legislation transferred to Holyrood.
The Scottish Government has been given approval in principle from the UK Government to hand the necessary powers over the law to the parliament in Edinburgh.
Ministers will then seek to legislate to ensure that seatbelts become a legal requirement on thousands of dedicated school buses operating north of the Border. However, there are already concerns about how effective it will be unless it is properly enforced.
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Only passengers who are sitting in line with or in front of the driver are currently legally required to wear seatbelts; in minibuses only passengers in front and rear seats must wear them.
Although it is the driver's responsibility to make sure passengers aged under 14 in those seats fasten their seatbelt, teenagers that age and over are responsible for themselves.
Transport Minister Keith Brown said: "We have made this announcement to give local authorities and bus operators time to prepare for the change and I look forward to further discussions with Cosla next month to review the full detail of these plans and consider the financial implications."
More than half of the 2100 school buses in Scotland are already fitted with either three-point seatbelts or lap belts, but 570 have no seatbelts at all.
In March 2010, Natasha Paton, a 17-year-old Lanark Grammar pupil, died when the bus carrying staff and pupils to Alton Towers crashed during a freak snowstorm.
Although a Fatal Accident Inquiry blamed driver Raymond Munro for driving too fast for the conditions, it also concluded that it was likely Natasha would have survived if her seatbelt had been fastened.
The bus industry is likely to question whether drivers will be expected to police the use of seatbelts, while there are also fears that asking local authorities to bankroll the improvements could actually lead to cuts in school bus provision.
CPT Scotland, which represents the bus industry, said it supported any measure to improve safety on school transport.
A spokesman added: "However, at this stage further consideration is required on the full impact of this policy on school transport providers."
Sandy Allan, road safety manager for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in Scotland, welcomed the move.