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Buckling up for possible changes in bus safety

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A new law passed this year could give area school districts the opportunity to partially fund the purchase of buses equipped with seat belts.
The law, which originated as a 4-H project prepared by an elementary student in the Star City School District. Her interest in seat belts on school buses was the result of an accident she and her mother had in their personal vehicle.
The new law allows residents to petition their school board to determine the level of millage increase needed to afford the addition of passenger seat belts to newly purchased school buses. The law stipulates that 10 percent of the district’s electors would have to sign the petition. They would then be able to call for a vote to raise the millage as recommended by the school board at the next regularly scheduled election.
The bill will require all new or leased buses purchased after January 1, 2018, to be equipped with seat belts, if the district votes to approve funding. The seat belts must be in compliance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
Mount Ida Superintendent Hal Landrith stated that he appreciated the law allowing local voters to make the decision regarding the use of seat belts.
School districts can use disciplinary measures to enforce the use of seat belts on school buses. However, students who have disabilities that do not allow them to use the restraints are excused from doing so.
Landrith also mentioned the logistical difficulties that could arise from the use of seat belts on buses. He pointed out that this law would add to the responsibility of the bus driver and would lengthen the time of bus routes due to kids having to get buckled and unbuckled.
He acknowledged the safety benefits of seat belts, but wondered about the practicality of using them. He pointed out that most student deaths occur after the student has exited the bus.
The average increase in costs to a new bus is estimated at $7,000 – $10,000 per bus. Most schools have a bus replacement policy in place that allows for one or two new buses to be purchased at a time.
State Representative Mark McElroy, the co-sponsor of the bill, stated that local control was the only way to fund the implementation of the bill.
If voters in Montgomery County School Districts were to sign such a petition it could take several years to replace all the buses that do not currently have seat belts.
Caddo Hills Superintendent Derric Owens stated that it wouldn’t be fair to have some students riding buses with seat belts while others were riding the older buses without seat belts. He felt if this were passed in his district they would need to retrofit the older buses with seat belts. The cost to retrofit the older buses could cost as much as $15,000 per bus. He stated that some buses are old enough that it would be hard to justify investing that much money in them.
When asked about the economic impact on the district, Owens admitted that it would put a strain on the district financially, but he quickly pointed out that you can’t put a price on the life of a student if a seat belt could prevent their death.
He pointed out that the district currently has a bus with seat belts. The small bus owned by the district is required to have seat belts per federal guidelines.