Parliament: Questions Kelly's Asked

Department for Education and Child Development’s Policy on Seatbelt Buckle Guards – Response

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: The Department for Education and Child Development (DECD) has a policy, I understand, in relation to buckle guards in DECD-funded taxis which appears to contradict the rest of the country. To explain, a buckle guard is a small hard plastic sleeve which goes over the seatbelt release button to prevent a child or young person from undoing the seatbelt while the vehicle is in motion. The seatbelt can be released with the use of any key pushed through a slot.

When you purchase buckle guards, they come with shears to cut the seatbelt in case of an emergency. The shears are designed so that they are not sharp in anyway, so they cannot be classified as a weapon. Buckle guards are regularly used for children, including children and young people with disabilities, who undo their seatbelts while vehicles are in motion, creating a safety risk where that young person is not only unsecured but could interfere with the driver operating the vehicle, of course creating a further risk.

The DECD transport section currently states that they do not allow them to be used for safety reasons, being that in case of an accident, it is not the driver’s responsibility to undo the seatbelt. Rather than seeking a solution to this issue, it appears that DECD is allowing exclusion of a child from school transport and possibly from school as a result. In every other jurisdiction, I understand that buckle guards are allowed by education departments with varying requirements, including parental permission, doctor approval, shears kept in the glove box and signage on the windscreen, with one state not having any requirements at all. There are many South Australian students with disabilities, and their parent carers, who are currently affected by this policy. My questions are:

1.How does the minister justify that DECD would prefer that a child is unsecured in a DECD-funded tax or bus rather than being allowed to use a buckle guard, with cutting shears present in case of an emergency?

2.Is the minister aware that due to DECD’s policy of not allowing buckle guards in DECD transport, children with disabilities may be unable to travel safely to school?

3.Additionally, is the minister aware that as a consequence of this policy children may not be able to travel in DECD-funded transport and parents must be available to take their children to and from school and available to pick them up throughout the day?

4.Is the minister aware that SA Health is a major partner of Kidsafe Australia and that the Kidsafe Australia website itself advertises buckle guards?

5.If SA Health supports the use of buckle guards why doesn’t the Department for Education and Child Development?

In reply to the Hon K Vincent MLC (5 July 2017).

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change): The Minister for Education and Child Development has provided the following advice:

1. In South Australia, all children under 16 years of age must be restrained in a suitable approved restraint that is properly adjusted and fastened.

In South Australia, it is illegal to use child restraints which do not comply with the Australian/New Zealand Standard (AU/NZS) 1754 Child Restraint Systems for use in motor vehicles.

The use of restrictive devices such as a hard plastic buckle guard to cover the seatbelt buckle is illegal, as they do not comply with the AU/NZS 1754 standard.

2. The minister is aware of the policy and operating practice of the DECD transport assistance program. The mode of transport assistance may be financial (car allowance/passenger transport grant) or direct assistance (taxi/bus/access). To access direct assistance a student must be safe to travel with other students and without adult supervision. If the student is unable to travel safely, the mode of support will be financial assistance.

3. If an eligible student is not safe to travel with other students and without adult supervision, the transport assistance offered will be financial. A car allowance is paid based on the distance between home and school for four trips per day (home to school and return to home for morning is two trips). In the 2016-17 state budget, the state government invested $13,207,000 in transport concessions for students and children.

Unlike some jurisdictions, which only provide partial concessions for transport assistance, South Australia provides a full financial subsidy for eligible students to access transport assistance.

4. The minister is aware that SA Health is one of five major sponsors of Kidsafe SA. The device sold by Kidsafe SA is a ‘Hurphy Durphy’ seatbelt buckle guard made from neoprene and plastic. This is the only device permitted by the DECD transport assistance program when used as per manufacturer’s instructions:

‘This product is designed as a protective device and is to be used only when a passenger car seat belt is anchoring a capsule or infant seat. Do not use when seat belt is not being used to anchor capsule or infant seat. Only to be used on a booster seat when the seat has separate harness and buckle.’

5. The ‘Hurphy Durphy’ is not a restrictive device when used appropriately according to manufacturer’s instructions. It may be used when a student is secured by the five or six point harness within their car seat/booster restraint which is secured by the lap sash seatbelt.