PARENTS are threatening to keep their children away from school unless seatbelts are provided on their bus.

A new contractor was brought in for yesterday's first day back at school to cover the bus route from Aycliffe Village to Woodham Comprehensive School in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.

But parents taking their children to meet the bus were shocked to find that a minibus and a normal bus had been sent to pick them up and the larger bus had no seatbelts.

One parent said: "The council used to send a coach which had all seat belts.

"I couldn't believe that once the minibus was full I was being asked to put my children in danger by letting them travel without a seatbelt.

"Education is the most important thing but I'm not putting my children at risk. I will take them out of school if I have to.

"The council is playing with our children's lives by not providing a safe ride for all pupils - this way some will be put in danger every day."

A spokesman for Durham County Council explained that the usual contractor for the bus route had pulled out of the service at very short notice.

He said: "We had very little time to pick another contractor to run the service until the end of this half term.

"We phoned a lot of companies but most were busy with holiday trips and weren't willing to take on a six week contract. It really was a case of using this contractor or no-one."

But the spokesman went onto say a new contract had been agreed for a different coach company to take over next term but they would provide one 22 seat bus with seatbelts and one 20 seater without.

He said both buses would be regularly used on the Aycliffe Village to Woodham Comprehensive route meaning some pupils would continue to not have seatbelts throughout the school year.

By law, local authorities do not have to ensure all school transport has seatbelts although school coaches must be equipped with the safety equipment.

Buses do not need seat-belts but are covered by stricter speed limits.

Two years ago The Northern Echo launched its School Seatbelt Scandal campaign calling for local authorities to ensure school transport for all children to be fitted with seatbelts regardless of the law.