The Push for Seat Belts
The task force came up with several recommendations to improve bus safety in Missouri. One included putting seatbelts, like those in a car, into school buses. However, some question the cost and need for belts on the bus.
"Need is a relative term. It's not needed unless something tragic happens," said Fulton Superintendent Mark Enderle.
Patsy Mackley, the Director of Transportation feels safe, even without the seat belts.
"I feel we're so much safer in a bus than a small vehicle," Mackley said.
In 1987, New York became the first state to require lap belts on new buses, but each school district can decide if students must use them. New Jersey followed in 1992, and it requires all students in every district to wear them. In 1999, Florida enacted a law requiring all new buses to have lap belts. Later, California became the first state to pass a law requiring installation of three-point lap and shoulder belts on all new buses, which is the same belts Governor Blunt proposes to use in Missouri.
Out of 23.5 million students who ride the bus every day, an average of 11 die in bus accidents each year.
"In my 21 years in the district, although we have had a few accidents we've never had any injuries on those buses. I think that's pretty typical of bus transportation," Enderle said.
The reason that school buses are considered to be so safe now is through a concept called compartmentalization. That means the space between the two seats is so close, it provides a protective envelope for the passenger. All the seats are padded in foam and that foam takes the brunt of the impact in case there's a crash. Bus driver Mary Parker said this is great in some situations, but seat belts may help.
"If you're hit from the side or the back, the seat does break down and the child is thrown to the back of the seat, but if you have a rollover or a situation where you hit the shoulder, and all the kids will slide, it's a good thing to have the seatbelts," Parker said.
Blunt proposes the state pay the $80 million bill for seatbelts on new buses with money from general revenue funds. However, belts limit how many kids can ride each bus. That means districts will need more buses, more drivers and more gas.
"It would cost more for buses and for drivers, but that doesn't mean we're not going to put safety first," Enderle said.
This means Missouri school districts may have to buckle down to buckle up. Districts won't install seatbelts in buses in operation today. If the proposal passes they would be required on all new buses. Then, each school district in Missouri would decide if its students would have to wear seatbelts.