All new school buses purchased by the Houston Independent School District (HISD) will include three-point seat belts, effective immediately, district officials said in a news release on Tuesday.
The HISD transportation department made the recommendation last week, days after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provided new guidance on the issue, updating its position to suggest that students should have access to three-point seat belts.
As previously reported, before a large crowd of pupil transportation officials on Nov. 8 in Richmond, Virginia, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind stated the agency’s new position on the subject: “every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt.”
Although Rosekind did not announce a rulemaking, he did say that NHTSA will study jurisdictions that are currently using three-point belts on school buses, try to determine how to overcome the financial barriers and gather input from state governors.
HISD administration approved the recommendation on Tuesday, making HISD the first district in the city and among the first in the state to implement such a measure, according to district officials. HISD maintains a fleet of about 1,100 school buses.
Texas has passed a bill on school bus seat belts, but it is contingent upon funding being allocated to pay for them, and since it remains unfunded, it has not been enforced.
The district’s decision also follows a crash involving one of its buses in September, in which two students were killed and the bus driver and two other students were seriously injured. After the bus was hit by a motorist, it slammed into a guardrail, and then careened over a freeway overpass. The bus was equipped with lap belts, though it was not clear at the time whether the students were wearing them.
“Safety always comes first — above all else,” Superintendent Terry Grier said. “School buses are already one of the safest modes of transportation available to students. If the NHTSA believes three-point seat belts will make our students even safer, we will absolutely act on it.”
The decision drew praise from district bus drivers.
“I want to commend the district for listening to the experts, as well as bus drivers and bus attendants, and making a decision that is in the best interest of children,” said Houston Education Support Personnel Union President Wretha Thomas, who represents HISD bus drivers and attendants.