WESTFIELD, Ind. — Local students traveling on activity trips and some home-to-school routes will soon see a new feature on their school buses: seat belts.

Westfield Washington Schools will work with seating supplier IMMI, which is also based in Westfield, on a pilot program to add lap-shoulder belts to six of the district’s newer school buses.

Nick Verhoff, director of business and operations for Westfield Washington Schools, told SBF that the buses will be retrofitted with the restraints this summer. Then, they will run regular routes and will be used for out-of-town sports and field trips, when the buses travel on interstates at higher speeds.

The pilot program is expected to last two to three years. The district will evaluate a number of factors, including whether the students will keep the seat belts on and how the belts will impact behavior on the bus.

“We want to at least have some kind of data that we have accumulated on our own that shows what seat belts can and can’t do,” Verhoff said.

Supporting a local business is another of the district’s goals for the pilot program, he added.

Julie Cooley, IMMI’s director of marketing communications, told SBF that the company is “very plugged into our community, and we feel very strongly about protecting kids. … Westfield is very progressive and family focused, so this partnership made sense all around."

For the pilot program, the school district will cover the cost of the lap-shoulder belt seats, and IMMI will pay for the installation labor costs, which Cooley described as “quite sizable.” Retrofitting is much more expensive than equipping new buses with seat belts, she said.

On Friday, Westfield city and school district officials will hold a press conference to announce the program at IMMI’s Center for Advanced Product Evaluation (CAPE) in Westfield. The company’s crash testing of seat belts on school buses attracted national coverage on ABC News programs last month.

In that and other news coverage, Mark Rosekind, the new administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said that his agency will re-evaluate the issue of seat belts on school buses.

In Indiana, state legislators are also taking on the topic. The General Assembly is considering a bill that would mandate seat belts on all new school buses in the state.

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