Seat Belts in SC School Buses?

We’ve often focused on the safety of kids in school, but what about getting there?

South Carolina legislators have pre-filed a bill which would debate putting seat belts in all school buses.

Accidents like this one in Chattanooga, Tennessee which left six students dead have legislators in South Carolina thinking about safety
Accidents like this one in Chattanooga, Tennessee which left six students dead have legislators in South Carolina thinking about safety

They have stop signs, lights, and kids inside.

But what the 190 buses rolling through Beaufort County don’t have is seat belts.

The question is, do students really need to be strapped in?

“What we do know from Federal reports are that school buses are 70 times safer than cars getting students to and from school,” explained Jim Foster of Beaufort County Schools.

So safe Jim Foster from Beaufort County Schools says, there’s only been one fatality in almost 30 years.

That’s a good number. But the others, when it comes to cost, are not.

For the 40 buses Beaufort County Schools owns, it would cost $360,000 just to install the belts.

But most of the school buses Beaufort and all the other counties use are owned by the state.

When you break down that information, South Carolina’s Education Department says that blows up to more than $18 million for the 1577 buses that can just simply add seat belts..

There’s another problem, many buses built in 2011 or before are just too old, and can’t fit the belts in.

Ryan Brown of the South Carolina Education Department says,
“School buses purchased in SC before 2011, and a select number purchased in 2012, must have all seat frames replaced due to the frames being unable to accept shoulder/lap assemblies.  If seat belts and seat frames were installed on pre-2012 buses, the buses would not be able to maintain their original FMVSS certification standards. It would lose some, if not all, of the below certifications if the frames were replaced.

a.    FMVSS 208 – Occupant Crash Protection
b.    FMVSS 209 – Seat Belt Assemblies
c.    FMVSS 210 – Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages
d.    FMVSS 222 – School Bus Passenger Seating and Crash Protection

The liability for the entire bus would then be placed on the state in the event of any failure including structural failures.

Including adjustments for growth and replacements, the total cost for seat belts in all South Carolina school buses would be an astronomical $405 million.

Brown details a series of other issues with the idea:

•    Additional salary cost for drivers: Because drivers would be required to ensure that all students were buckled correctly, this would require more time.

•    Increased route time could impact the 90-minute law: Buckling and unbuckling will require the driver to “assist” the student or wait until each student is buckled.

•    The law as written could also impact private operators: This would require not only the Department of Education’s fleet but other public school districts, as well as privately owned and operated fleets, to upgrade. This could be a very costly endeavor. Cost impacts could be difficult to ascertain due to the wide range of bus types, year models, and owners.

•    Cost to inspect and maintain the seat belts: This can and will add a significant time and labor cost to the school bus inspection process.

•    Increase cost to the seat repair and maintenance program: The seat cover as a part will increase in price as well as the labor to replace damaged covers.

•    Increases in the fleet size: Due to the reduction in seating capacity on a given size bus, this would possibly create the need for additional buses.

•    Build time:  Suppliers would need time to build buses and supply needed seats and belts.

Foster says there’s even more to worry about.

“There’s a practical aspect to this. You have 50 students on the bus and the driver says we aren’t going to go anywhere until every one of your seat belts is buckled, and if there is an emergency, it might be difficult for a student to get the belt off and get off the school bus.”

“And then there’s the problem, potential problem of a foot and a half long fabric strap with a sharp piece of metal on the end,” explains Foster.

All part of the problem..and the questions legislators will face.. if this comes up for debate in 2017.

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