Arkansas legislators passed act 375 requiring that seat belts be installed on school buses purchased or leased after January 1st. State representative Mark McElroy helped introduce the law, following a string of student deaths on school buses in Tennessee and Louisiana.
“Our most precious commodities are our children,” says McElroy, “and nowadays we have seatbelts on lawnmowers. The only thing today that doesn’t have seatbelts are the big yellow school buses. [Seatbelts] save lives, and should be on every bus.”
A petition, and a ten percent vote from elected school board officials is necessary for the school bus seatbelt safety law to go into effect for any given school district. The state doesn’t provide funding for the seatbelts. Each individual community is left to decide if how they want to pay for the seatbelts. Whether it by raising taxes, or cutting free lunch.
Some districts don’t plan to implement seatbelts on school buses. Mickey Long is the Transportation Director for Jonesboro Public Schools, and says school bus seats, are as safe as they can be.
“As long as the student is sitting appropriately. Back to the back of the seat, and bottom to the bottom of the seat, facing forward.”
Long is convinced that putting seatbelts on school buses, will create obstacles for school bus drivers.
“What happens if you have a busload of children, and the bus catches on fire,” says Long, “
you’ve got 50 children buckled in to a bus. How do you think you’re ever going to get 40 or 50 of children off the bus before it burns.”
It would cost local school districts roughly $8,000 dollars per bus to add the seatbelts. Amounting to around half-a-million dollars per year, depending on district size.