Safety

New Arkansas Law Allows Local Control for School Bus Seat Belts

By Ryan McGeeney
Posted on March 22, 2017
Hannah Alder (far right) watched on March 6 as Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a school bus seat belt bill that stemmed from Alder’s 4-H project. Photo by Ryan McGeeney/U of A System Division of Agriculture
Hannah Alder (far right) watched on March 6 as Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a school bus seat belt bill that stemmed from Alder’s 4-H project. Photo by Ryan McGeeney/U of A System Division of Agriculture

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — What started as a young 4-H member’s scare from a family car accident has turned into a law that gives Arkansas residents the legal framework to ask their local school districts to require seat belts on new school buses starting in 2018.

Hannah Alder, a 13-year-old Star City Middle School student and 4-H member, watched on March 6 as Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed House Bill 1002 into law at the state Capitol.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Mark McElroy of Tillar and co-sponsored by state Sen. Dave Wallace of Leachville, began in 2014 as Alder’s 4-H project.

“I was talking with our 4-H leader about a car wreck my mom and I had been in,” Alder said. “When I had my wreck, it scared me, and I want other kids to be safe and not get hurt as bad as I did.”

Alder, who was in fifth grade at the time, prepared a report examining the number of fatalities associated with crashes involving school buses, many of which do not have seat belts for passengers.

Jane Newton, a Lincoln County extension agent for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture (which facilitates the state’s 4-H program), said she encouraged Alder to present the report to Rep. McElroy.

“I thought, ‘How cute,’ until she got really serious, and I found out she had done her homework,” McElroy said. “That started about two and a half years ago. In that time period, there have been several deadly bus crashes in this region alone. One in Houston, involving a rollover, and one in Chattanooga that was devastating.”

Under the new law, residents can petition their local school board to determine how much of a millage increase would be required to afford the addition of passenger seat belts to newly purchased school buses, and to put that millage increase to a vote in the next regularly scheduled election.

“Local control was really the only way to fund this,” McElroy said. “This lets the people decide — the people who put their kids on the bus every day can decide if that’s something they want to pay for.”

McElroy said the addition of seat belts to a school bus can increase the cost of the bus by about $7,000 to $10,000. Although federal law requires smaller school buses, those with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less, to be equipped with lap-shoulder belts, any requirements for belts on larger school buses are left up to state and local legislation.

Ryan McGeeney is a communication specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Related Topics: Arkansas, seat belts

Comments ( 3 )
  • Bull

     | about 3 years ago

    You have a bus roll over on it's side with the persons weight pulling on the belt then the latch will not release. Lets say you have sixty kids on the bus, thirty per side. The bus is on it's right side. The thirty children suspended by their belt on the left side of the bus will not be able to get free. Throw in an incapacitated driver and a fire. Now you have a real problem. Yes they do jam. I have seen it many times and I do not think it is a good idea to place them on the larger buses. Think about this, if they didn't jam then you would have no need for a seat belt cutter. This has been a problem for many years with seat belts. Now with the driver not incapacitated and able to reach the seat belt cutter to free themselves, they will have to cut thirty seat belts with kicking and screaming kids wanting away from the fire. Remember it can be fully involved in three minuets. Yes this is a grim thing to think about and I don't like it at all. Granted their will be injuries but at least they will be able to escape a burning bus.

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