A Louisiana task force is charged with studying and making recommendations on school bus safety. Photo by Bill McChesney

A Louisiana task force is charged with studying and making recommendations on school bus safety. Photo by Bill McChesney

BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana education and transportation officials have begun a series of meetings to discuss school bus seat belts and other pupil transportation safety topics.

The panel, dubbed the Task Force on Student Transportation and School Bus Passenger Safety, is the result of a resolution passed by Louisiana legislators in May. The resolution called on the state Department of Education to establish a task force to study and make recommendations on school bus safety, including the long-debated issue of seat belts.

The resolution notes that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) updated its policy last year to recommend that “every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt," a stance spelled out by NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind at the National Association for Pupil Transportation’s 2015 Summit.

The Louisiana resolution says that “a thorough review of student transportation and school bus passenger safety should be conducted in light of the [NHTSA] recommendations and with full knowledge of Louisiana data, policies, and laws.”

Louisiana has a school bus seat belt law on the books, passed in 1999, but it is contingent on funding being appropriated to pay for the restraints. Since the mandate remains unfunded, it has not been enforced.

That point was explained to school bus safety task force members during their first meeting in Baton Rouge on Oct. 7 (watch a recording of the meeting here). The group’s members represent various types of state organizations, including pupil transportation officials, school boards, superintendents, PTAs, and highway safety.

Pupil transportation consultant George Horne, who was appointed chair of the task force, gave a presentation in which he explained different types of restraints (lap belts, lap-shoulder belts, safety vests, etc.), the school bus occupant protection concept known as compartmentalization, and the commonly cited pros and cons of seat belts on school buses.

Another presenter, Steve Vales, president-elect of the Louisiana Association of School Transportation Officials, covered alternatives to spending money on school bus seat belts — particularly ways to increase safety outside of the bus to prevent loading and unloading fatalities. Topics on that front included enhancing training for drivers and students, use of universal crossing signals, and efforts to decrease illegal passing of school buses.

The task force is charged with submitting a report of its findings and recommendations to the Louisiana Senate and House committees on education by Jan. 31. The group’s next meeting is slated for this Friday.

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