Mandatory seat belts on school buses bill goes before committee

By: KLKN Newsroom8@klkntv.com

Seat belts could become a mandatory safety feature of future school buses.

On Monday, a bill went before the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, proposing that seatbelts be required on all buses manufactured—starting next year.

The bill was introduced by Senator Robert Hilkemann, of Omaha, who says it will make school buses safer.

“New studies show 50% of injuries could be prevented if these kids were wearing lap shoulder belts.  Why not do it?” Senator Hilkemann asked.

Opponents of the bill argued mandatory seat belts would pose entirely new safety concerns.

“Some of the research indicates that depending on the accident, seat belts will create a whole different series of injuries to students,” Nebraska Association of School Boards John Bonaiuto told committee members.

“My concern is that in a catastrophic accident, involving a school bus, with 60 or more elementary aged students—which many of our buses in Bellevue carry every day—they would be unable to evacuate students in a timely manner,” said Bellevue Public Schools Transportation Director Rich Casey.

Both sides agreed school bus transportation was safe, but longtime teacher Dawn Prescott says it’s not safe enough.

“All you have to do is watch some of the test dummy videos and see how students in a rollover or a side impact collision are going to get tossed into the ceiling and into each other,” she said.  “Those injuries are catastrophic.”

It was a real-life scenario for Prescott back in 2001.

While chaperoning her son’s high school band trip, the school bus she was riding on plummeted off a bridge into a creek bed.

“Bodies impacted bodies and lay in tangled heaps in the aisles and on the side of the bus—which was now the floor,” she recounted during Monday’s committee hearing.

The wreck killed Prescott‘s son, Benjamin, along with two other students and a chaperone.  Prescott believes the proposed seat belt bill could prevent a tragic outcome like the one she suffered.

“This is my fourth time to testify and I really feel this is my calling to make Benjamin’s memory worth something and to impact the lives of other children so they don’t have to experience what my son did.

Opponents of the bill haven’t entirely dismissed it, but they did ask to see more conclusive safety studies before they consider supporting it.

The bill will have to make it out of committee before it can be debated on the floor.