Wyoming moves toward school bus seat belt mandate

Posted on February 1, 2009

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A bill introduced in the state Legislature in January would require all school buses purchased on or after July 1 to be equipped with seat belts.

Under the legislation, school bus passengers would be required to wear a properly fastened and adjusted seat belt when the vehicle is in motion.

Sen. Kit Jennings introduced the bill after spending time in a fifth-grade classroom at a local elementary school. Jennings visits schools regularly, holding mock assembly sessions with students to demonstrate the process of passing a bill into law.

On his visit to Sagewood Elementary in Casper, Jennings asked students what new laws are needed in the state. One student suggested installing seat belts on school buses to help make students feel safe while riding to school. “When we’re telling the kids to get in the car with Mom and Dad and buckle up, and then we tell them to get in the bus and don’t worry about it, that just doesn’t make sense to me,” Jennings said.

Upon his return to the capitol, Jennings had the legislative office draft a bill, with the approach that newly purchased buses would be factory-equipped with three-point belts, rather than retrofitting the state’s fleets.

The proposed bill would require the Wyoming Department of Education (DOE) to modify school bus equipment standards and notify school districts of the new requirements.

The DOE estimates that the seat belt requirement would cost the state an additional $1.2 million annually.

D. Leeds Pickering, state pupil transportation director, testified to the Senate’s Education Committee on three-point belt-equipped school bus seating now available. He reports opposing past school bus seat belt bills due to the proposed use of lap belts and the resulting loss of passenger capacity. “We could look at statistics going back to 1964 in Wyoming, and we can’t find a problem a lap belt is going to solve,” he said.

However, the DOE does not oppose the current measure under consideration, Pickering said. “In the past, we have opposed [such bills] for very good reasons, in our minds. Those reasons have started to evaporate, so we are not objecting to the bill.”

On Jan. 19, the bill was passed by the Senate’s Committee of the Whole. Next, it was to be sent to the House Education Committee, Jennings said, where it would have to be approved before going to the governor for signature into law.


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