SAFETY campaigners last night condemned new child seatbelt laws which ignore school buses.

The tough regulations, which mean that children under three years old cannot travel in cars unless they are in a baby or child seat, were unanimously approved by Euro MPs.

Older children under 4ft 11ins will have to use booster cushions, and coach passengers - children and adults - will be legally required to use the seatbelts, which at present are compulsory to fit, but optional to wear.

The changes, due to come into force in three years, fall short of insisting on compulsory seatbelts for public buses, which are used by schoolchildren.

The Northern Echo launched its School Seatbelt Scandal campaign more than two years ago, prompting many North-East councils to build the requirement of safety belts into transport contracts.

Only two local authorities, Hartlepool Borough Council and City of York Council, did not follow suit.

Pat Harris, of the Belt Up School Kids Group, said yesterday: "What we would push for is more use of coaches and mini-buses, and an educational programme to teach everyone - not just children - the importance of wearing a seatbelt."

Conservative transport spokesman in the European Parliament, Jacqueline Foster, said: "The European Parliament has tightened UK car seatbelt safety measures.

"But if the EU wanted to really improve road safety for children it should have insisted on compulsory restraints for one of the most frequently made journeys made by children - the school bus trip."

Most local authorities require minibuses hired for school use to be the kind of coaches on which seatbelt fitment is already compulsory.

But there is no legal obligation for buses hired for a school trips to have seatbelts, and public single or double-decker buses, which schoolchildren use regularly, are not covered by law.

However, North-East Labour MEP Stephen Hughes welcomed the mandatory rear child seats for toddlers.

He said: "There will be no more toddlers sitting on granny's knee or rolling around with the groceries in the back of the car."