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September 12, 2013  |   Comments (13)   |   Post a comment

Wisconsin senator pushes for school bus seat belts

By Thomas McMahon


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MADISON, Wis. — When Tim Cullen was a board member for Janesville (Wis.) School District, he ushered in a policy to require lap-shoulder belts on new large school buses used to transport the district's students.

Now, as a state senator, Cullen is pushing for a statewide mandate. He has been circulating legislation to make seat belts mandatory on all newly purchased buses that will be used to transport schoolchildren in Wisconsin.

“The fact that we are required to wear seat belts in cars, yet allow our children to roll down the road at 55 miles per hour without them, is completely outrageous to me,” Cullen said. “Schoolchildren are injured every year in school bus crashes. It only makes sense to me that we can prevent more injuries by requiring seat belts, especially three-point lap-and-shoulder safety belts that are required in cars.”

Cullen’s proposed bill would require newly manufactured school buses to be equipped with belts, and it would require that passengers wear them. School buses already operating would not have to be retrofitted with belts.

The bill would also create a grant program to help school districts defray the cost of equipping new school buses with seat belts.

Channel 3000 reports that the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) has a policy that opposes mandating seat belts for school buses. A current board member for Janesville School District has proposed a board resolution to ask WASB to change its policy to support belts on buses.

Meanwhile, Allen Fugate, operations manager for Van Galder Bus, which provides transportation service for the Janesville district, told the Janesville Gazette that many students don’t buckle up in the buses equipped with seat belts.

“The high school students absolutely refuse to wear them,” Fugate told the newspaper.


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My first years driving school bus was adamantly against seat belts installed on the big school buses, would suppose a result of excellent employer and state training. When I researched evidence to support my position, and after about two stubborn years trying to prove the industry's position, found myself turned 180-degrees and 100-percent in favor of belts on the school buses. In those years to favor belts on the buses brought horrific attacks from the opposing view. Not so much these days with so many school districts having the safety device installed and finding their benefits go well beyond that of just crashes. These days would not want any of my kids on a school bus not equipped with seat belts. This simple rule applies to school buses not equipped with seat belts: Do not crash that bus!

jkraemer    |    Sep 19, 2013 03:14 PM

Seat belts may be a good idea, but the first problem I have is that for the belt to work, it must be done up. Once the bus is in motion, a child can easily unbuckle the belt putting the driver at a great liability. Where will the courts lay blame when the bus is involved in a collision and a child is hurt merely because at some point during the trip they unbuckled their belt? Drivers don't have the manpower (nor, let's face it...the time) to ensure kids keep their belts done up...and if they're not done up why have them.

Scott    |    Sep 16, 2013 06:51 AM

Once again a politician with little or no real world experience on a particular subject is proposing a legislative action to solve a virtually non-existent problem. With 23 years in student transportation as a route driver, driver trainer and safety manager, it is my firm belief and experience that seat belts will create more problems and distraction for the driver then will be solved. With most school districts having difficulty with financial issue of student transportation, doubling the cost of student transportation will result in the districts curtailing district-provided student transportation and placing students at more risk in less safe means of transportation. I have respect for State Senator Cullen, but he needs to let the professionals in the field address the problem.

Mike Parr    |    Sep 14, 2013 01:35 PM

we have seatbelts in our buses but find that they do more harm thab good. If a bus was to be involved in an accident and the students are wearing seatbelts they could get severe internal injuries

Anonymous    |    Sep 13, 2013 10:37 AM

Everyone here is so right! I do not want my children in a seatbelt to have a driver cut them out in case of fire. I seen a bus burn up, very hot and fast! One of the shop guys was fixing a seat with a hot tool. The bus burned in minutes outside the shop. WOW THAT WAS FAST!Is what I said to myself. And thats what they teach in the 8 hour class for permits in Illinois. And thats what I teach in my classes now. Kids will hit each other with them too. Head Start and Handie Cap and Speciel children do need them but usually there is a aide on the bus.If the children sit the right way in the bus they are safe, than with a seatbelt on. Driver, Trainer, Location Safety Manager

Sherry Summerford    |    Sep 13, 2013 09:34 AM

So many of these posts refer to myths, and oftentimes indifference and excuse-making toward enforcement of the safety device. Agree that the percentage of fatalities are very low, however reduced fatalities is a small part of the benefits seat belts offer where installed on the big school buses. I liked them very much, had no issues, and would want my kids always buckled when riding in a school bus.

jkraemer    |    Sep 13, 2013 09:08 AM

Mr. Cullen, Please take a few days out your schedule and experience riding a bus for a few days. The first issue would be getting everyone to buckle up. With the required high back seats (which are designed to protect from front or rear impact)the driver would have to physically do a walk through to be certain everyone buckles up. The next issue would be in the case of a turnover the driver would have to first cut him/herself loose and then cut 72 passengers loose. In this situation if you would have smoke, fire, or liquids entering the interior you would be in trouble before you get started. Please investigate this before you put a mandate on it.

Todd    |    Sep 13, 2013 08:35 AM

They will become weapons in my city.

Derex    |    Sep 13, 2013 08:20 AM

Seat belts possibly would aid in case of an accident and also aid in preserving self space. However, monitoring the total use of belts would be impossible to visually monitor due to the high backs now in place. A lighted monitoring system would require the driver to take eyes off the road to observe the system. So you know who is not using belts, how does the driver safely go about correcting the situation while in route as it is now obvious that verbal instruction is not working. Further, it would appear that in case of an injurious accident, a problem as to how are all seat belts released and a liability issue surfaces in that some students were belted while others were not....why were not all students belted. Secondly, is the space issue. It would be ludicrous to install 3 seat belts to all seat rows as once you get past 3rd grade and on up the grade scale the physical growth of students varies to the point that two and maybe only one student can fit to a seat row. In our district the principals handle the discipline and one can only imagine their work load increase due to the increased conduct reports from all routes of students failing to observe the seat belt use rule. State Senator Cullen and all governmental authorities dealing with this subject should ride many, many buses, many, many days in order to envision a concept and develop a viable seat belt plan that safely addresses all situations on a school bus. School buses remain the safest mode of child transportation to date.

Richard Adler    |    Sep 13, 2013 07:40 AM

Keeping everyone "buckled up" is impossible without adding a Bus Aide to every route. Who is going to pay for doubling the cost of transportation. Second consideration is that in the event the bus fills up with toxic smoke I guarantee you that the little ones will be trapped and die. Sincerely, Mike Marincic School Bus Driver

Mike Marincic    |    Sep 13, 2013 07:29 AM

I completely understand Sen. Cullen's concern for the safety of the children and I agree. However, buses are designed to eliminate the need for belts. If anyone looks on You Tube for school bus fires, you can see that most buses are completely engulfed within 60 seconds. As a driver, I would not want to have to go throught the bus unbuckling 60 panicking 5-10 year olds. It would take far too much time and possibly cost lives.

Gary    |    Sep 13, 2013 07:02 AM

The Senator apparently has no concept or experience with driving or loading a school bus. Unless you are a midget and weight between 40 and 60 pounds you can't get three seat belts on a school bus seat (capacity if rated at 3 to a seat).

David Vidrine    |    Sep 13, 2013 04:17 AM

How can high school students refuse to wear seat belts and still be riding buses? In our school district, riding the bus is a privilege, not a right. If students don't follow the rules, they can find another way to school.

Terry    |    Sep 12, 2013 05:44 PM

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