Public transport is one of the safest and most sustainable ways to travel. Bus or coach travel in Britain resulted in 0.2 deaths per billion km over the last decade, and rail travel effectively zero (as deaths from rail travel are so rare they do not show up in this measurement). By comparison, car travel kills 1.3 passengers, and 2.3 drivers, per billion km .
However, it is still important to look out for your own safety when using public transport. This is particularly important for bus and coach passengers – buses and coaches may be safer than other vehicles, but they are still operating in an unpredictable environment, on public roads. This page looks at some of the risks involved in public transport use and how these can be reduced.
Seat belts keep you in your seat if you are involved in a crash, and massively reduce the chance of serious injury and death. In a crash, you are twice as likely to die if you are not wearing a seat belt . If the vehicle you are in has seat belts fitted, you are required by law to use them . Three-point seat belts offer far greater protection than lap belts, particularly for children .
In the UK, all coaches and minibuses registered on or after 1 October 2001 must have forward-facing or rearward-facing seat belts fitted. Older coaches and minibuses that are transporting three or more children must have a forward-facing seat belt, either three-point or a lap belt, fitted for each child .
In the UK, passengers aged 14 and over are personally responsible for belting up. The driver is legally responsible for ensuring that younger children are using seat belts or appropriate child restraints. However, as the driver needs to concentrate on the road, Brake advises that a second adult travels in coaches carrying children and takes responsibility for supervising seat belt use, so the driver is not distracted.
Buses without seat belts
Buses designed for urban use with standing passengers are not required to have seat belts . It is therefore vital that passengers take care on these vehicles. Always sit if a seat is available; if no seats are available, make sure you can reach a hand rail to hold on to. If standing, keep a safe distance from the doors and the driver, and do not stand on the top deck or stairs on double-deckers. Never lean on the doors or emergency exits as this could cause them to open while the vehicle is moving. When reaching your stop, stay seated until the bus has come to a halt.
Hiring minibuses and coaches
Some coaches and minibuses are only fitted with lap belts, which are not as safe. If hiring a coach or minibus, insist on one with three point belts.
If carrying children under 150cm tall, also insist on a vehicle that has seats that are appropriate to use with child seats fitted. Parents should be advised to bring their child’s child seat and ‘fit and sit’ their child in the seat before the journey. Children are only safe in vehicles if they are in a child restraint for their size and weight, appropriately fitted using the seat belt.
School bus safety
If children are travelling to school on public buses, they should be taught to keep themselves safe by queuing sensibly for the bus, well back on the pavement, and staying in their seats or well back from doors and stairs if they have to stand. They should be taught to respect the driver and other passengers by behaving sensibly, keeping conversations quiet and calm, and not horsing around or otherwise distracting the driver.
If your child’s school has or hires minibuses or coaches to transport pupils to and from school or on school trips, ask to see their specifications for hiring or purchasing vehicles. Insist that the school uses modern vehicles with three-point seat belts fitted, and that they have adequate checks in place for maintaining and repairing these vehicles. See our advice for schools on safe school trips and transport.
 Reported road casualties Great Britain: annual report 2013, Department for Transport, 2014, tables RAS53001 and RAS30013
 Seatbelts: the facts, THINK!, undated
 Seat belts: the law, gov.uk, 2014
 Crash protection for child passengers: a review of best practice, University of Michigan Transport Research Institute, 2000
 Seat belt law: minibuses and coaches, RoSPA, 2005
 The law: Other Vehicles (Buses, Coaches and Minibuses), childcarseats.org.uk, 2014
Page last updated: September 2014