By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Members of the House Transportation Committee were told Tuesday it would cost between $7,000 and $10,000 to install seat belts on a single school bus.
Legislators in a subcommittee hearing explored whether the state and local school districts could afford those costs.
“I have had a lot of people, parents, who are passionate about protecting our children ask about this issue,” said Rep. Tom Miles, D-Forest, the subcommittee chair. “It doesn’t make sense that we are required to have them in our cars, but school buses are not required to have them.”
Rep. Jody Steverson, D-Ripley, said it would be a large cost for already cash-strapped local school districts to absorb. Steverson said the South Tippah School District has 41 buses, meaning it would cost the district $410,000 at $10,000 per vehicle.
But Steverson said student safety is important, pointing out there were 184 wrecks involving public school buses last year.
According to a Legislative PEER Committee report, six states have passed laws requiring buses to have seat belts, including Louisiana, Florida and Texas.
But PEER pointed to an Alabama study that concluded “school bus transportation is apparently quite safe without the belts.”
A three-year study conducted by the University Transportation Center for Alabama concluded seat belts are not cost effective because buses already have safety features built in and most accidents occur while children are boarding or exiting buses. Still, the study concluded seat belts would save about one life every eight years.
Miles said at the very least he hopes to pass legislation during the 2014 session requiring new school bus purchases to have seat belts. He said if seat belts are part of the negotiated package when a district purchases multiple buses, the cost should not be as much of a factor.
Advocates of seat belts on buses also contended they could help control discipline and thus reduce bullying.
Rep. Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, proposed the state purchase the seat belt hardware and teach prison inmates to install the devices on existing buses.