New state requirement for seat belts on buses

One of the scholastic decisions made under the dome this past session -- requiring school districts buying new school buses to make sure 3-point-seatbelts are installed in them.

The legislature says if a school district's board of trustees decides the budget just doesn't allow for a bus with seatbelts, they can opt out if they have the votes in a public meeting.

Scott Thomas, Director of Communications for Manor ISD says new buses with 3-point seat belts are on the way. "We are buying about 8 to 10 new school buses this semester and that's really to just accommodate the growth in the number of students as well as replace older buses in the fleet," Thomas said.

Thomas says that's about $100,000 per bus and about $8,000 more than a school bus without seatbelts.

"So if you're doing the math, by the time you buy 11 of these buses with seatbelts, you could have gotten an extra non-belt bus for that same cost," Thomas said.

Thomas says Manor serves a high number of low-socioeconomic students so getting them to and from campus is important. "So that means that yeah we've got to have a higher number of buses than other school districts that might have a similar number of students," Thomas said.

Manor ISD has 89 buses at the moment. They're expecting the new seatbelt-equipped models to come soon.

"Every couple of years the state legislature meets and they might throw a new unfunded mandate at us and we've just got to work with it and we've got a great finance department and we're always looking to spend our funds responsibly so that whenever things like this do come up it's not going to roll us too badly," Thomas said.

A 10-minute drive up 290 is the Austin ISD bus barn.

They have 512 buses.  360 of them already have 3-point-seatbelts.  Executive Director of Transportation Kris Hafezizadeh says they started doing it in 2007 when the state provided some money for districts get buses with seatbelts if they chose to.

"Because we saw the opportunity of the funding available we said 'great!'  Let's take the funding we'll also take the 3-point belt," he said.  "We also we believed in it.  We do believe 3-point seatbelts adds additional safety for our safety."

Hafezizadeh says they just kept buying seatbelt-equipped buses after that. "All of our buses are equipped at least with a lap belt.  So anything we've bought since 2007 they're equipped with a 3-point belt," he said.

He says the 3-point-belt is like one you'd find in a passenger vehicle.  It protects the upper and lower body. 

"When they get in the passenger car the first thing you tell them 'buckle up!'  So we want to do the same thing in our school buses," Hafezizadeh said.

By the way the mandate applies to new buses, 2018 and on. 

Districts don't have to go back and retrofit older buses.

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