Seat belt sound off: Do belts make school buses safer? - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Seat belt sound off: Do belts make school buses safer?


With multiple school bus wrecks this week, East Texans are speaking up about installing seat belts on buses.

Wednesday, two Athens Independent School District buses collided, sending 79 students to the hospital.  On Friday morning, a Tatum ISD bus wreck delayed traffic; school officials say there were no injuries.

Parents are calling for seat belts on their children's buses. Even the kids on the bus, like 8-year-old Leela Coleman who fractured her collarbone in the Athens wreck, say they're not boarding again

"We need to make changes. We need seat belts on buses," says Leela.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says public school buses carry 24 million children every year. East Texas school district officials say seat belts won't make the bus more safe.

"You have to realize, we have a 30,000 pound piece of equipment that is very heavily constructed that is specifically designed to transport a lot of bodies at the same time," explains Tyler ISD Transportation Director John Bagert.

Bagert says the district does have belts and harnesses for the children who are required by law to be specially restrained because of their size, weight or special needs. The rest of the seats will remain without belts.

"Each child compartment is specifically designed to offer the utmost in protection in the event of a crash. They have high seat-backs. As long as the children remain seated properly and facing forward, then that is the safest environment that they can be in when being transported to school," says Bagert.

Bagert says all of the Tyler ISD buses do have the capabilities of adding seat belts.

"We've opted not to use any of those belts or go to the extra expense of putting the belts on the bus because we have not identified any benefits of those belts," he says.

According to studies by the National Safety Council and University of Alabama, installing seat belts on buses would add $8,000 to $15,000 to the cost of a new bus. The same study says the phase-in process for adding those seat belts would take ten years and the average cost to each state would be at least $117 million.

"The safety aspect isn't there. Being good stewards of tax payers' money, we do not see any added advantage to spending that extra money to something that's not going to add benefit to the district or the students that we transport," explains Bagert.

However some parents, like Leela Coleman's mother, Ann, disagree.

"They're not safe anymore. They don't have seatbelts on there," says Coleman.

Still, districts stand by their buses, saying that when it comes to getting to and from school, the school bus is as safe as it gets.

Tyler ISD transportation officials say they have some concerns about putting seat belts on their buses. They say they fear the seat belts would be worn improperly, would be used in fights between children or would make it more difficult for students to evacuate a bus in an emergency situation.

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