Federal transportation officials push for seat belts on school buses

Posted at 8:45 PM, Nov 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-16 22:49:07-05

SALT LAKE CITY – Federal transportation officials are calling on all school districts to outfit school buses with seat belts. It would require Utah to spend $25 million in taxpayer money, but school officials say they can’t be factored into state’s education budget.

Utah currently has 3,000 school buses in the state. After several crashes involving school buses in other states, parents have been pressuring schools to put seat belts on buses. But school officials say they don’t believe they’re necessary for children’s safety.

Ben Horsley with the Granite School District said the district has toyed with the idea of having seat belts on buses before.

“We can get a lot bigger bang for our buck in a lot of different other places that would improve student safety and educational outcomes as opposed to going in this direction,” Horsley said.

Horsley said there is not enough money in the budget and they don’t believe seat belts are necessary, because school buses are already built with students’ safety in mind.

“It doesn’t necessarily, statistically speaking, improve the safety of our students,” Horsley said. “School buses have tremendous amount of design elements that keep kids safe, and, by and large, you can see the statistics bearing that out in terms of how many accidents have occurred.”

After the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommended school buses be equipped with seat belts, lawmakers say they’re trying to find a way to do it.

“Anyone who’s ever seen a video of a rollover of a bus or a serious accident, we’ve seen video inside the bus, and you see what happens to kids when they’re flying around a bus, I think would argue that they are important and kids certainly could figure out how to do them and I think to keep kids in place is a very good idea on a lot of levels,” said Rep. Carol Spackman-Moss, D-Salt Lake City.

Regardless of the arguments the state budget won’t allow for seat belts or that they don’t keep kids safe, Spackman-Moss said, studies prove they should be considered.

“We know it’s clear that seat belts save lives,” Spackman-Moss said. “We’ve known that for decades. And the loss of life was tremendous before we had laws requiring seat belts.”

While the State Legislature is not currently working on any bills to include seat belts on school buses, lawmakers say they’re going to take the recommendation from the National Transportation Committee seriously and begin discussing it. While this is not a mandate, it is now a strong recommendation from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.