Mandatory Seat Belts On School Buses?

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Members of the House of Representatives want school buses to have seat belts and are working on legislation to make it happen.

On Tuesday, a bill passed through the house that would require school districts to buy buses with seat belts starting September 2010. Otherwise, districts would have to retrofit buses they already have with seat belts.

According to a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson, Trooper Eddie Carmon, school bus accidents account for less than two percent of collisions in the U.S.

"They're safer riding in a school bus with this compartmentalization design than any other way," Carmon said.

Carmon said bus seats are positioned close together with high padded backs, designed to absorb the force of an impact, much like that of an egg carton. He said extensive research reveals that the design of seats on buses usually allow space for lap belts and not the shoulder belts.

Carmon said these belts only secure the lower body, leaving the upper body susceptible to internal injuries during an accident, especially in small children. Ironically, while the bill would require seat belts, there is no law that requires students to wear them.

Should the bill pass without monetary appropriations from the state, school districts would be forced to finance the mandate. Bryan Independent School District's Director of Communications, Sandy Farris said the cost would be significant.

"To outfit our buses and buy new buses with seat belts, you're looking at well over a million dollars," Farris said.

Farris said the seat belt requirement could decrease bus capacity that's currently around 60 to 70 students. She said right now, one bus seat can sit three people.

"With seat belts that would reduce it to 48 because you could only put two seat belts per seat," Farris said.

Farris said that means more buses and more drivers. A senate version of the bill is now pending.