Transportation Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

HB-5033

Title:

AN ACT REQUIRING THE INSTALLATION AND USE OF SEAT SAFETY BELTS ON SCHOOL BUSES.

Vote Date:

3/16/2010

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable Substitute

PH Date:

2/17/2010

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Rep. Guerrera

REASONS FOR BILL:

This bill was raised in response to the death of a high school student during a school bus accident. Towns can currently require seatbelts on their own if they choose. Cromwell, Danbury, Redding, and Wilton presently require buses to be equipped with seatbelts.

Substitute Language, as contained in LCO 2470, strikes the underlying bill and requires that each bus that is model year 2012 or newer shall be equipped with lap/shoulder (3-point) safety belts.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

None Expressed

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Dolly Parikh – Mother of Vikas Parikh who was killed in a school bus accident on his way to a weekend science program. Mrs. Parikh is in support of seat belts in school buses. She testified that those opposed to this legislation say it is a knee jerk reaction and cost versus benefit. However, seat belts in school buses has been discussed for some 20 years at the General Assembly and even if one life is saved by this legislation it is more than worth it.

Dr. David Wilcox, M.D.FACEP – Conn. College of Emergency Physicians – By restraining people in their seats during vehicle crashes, many injuries and deaths can be avoided. Although it is well documented that school buses are a safe mode of transportation, the introduction of seat belts on all school buses will only improve the physical safety of our school children.

Ankoor Desai – Listen to the students that were on the bus, they agree that seat belts on the bus would have saved Vikas Parikh's life.

Students from the Greater Hartford Academy of Math and Science – The students were school mates of Vikas Parikh and were on the bus with him. They spoke in support of the legislation.

Dr. Alan Ross, National Coalition for School Bus Safety – Has helped Florida, Texas, and California legislators with similar challenges.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

CT Association of Boards of Education – The overall safety record of the student transportation industry in CT is remarkable. In CT alone, nearly 600,000 students safely travel to school and home from school each day. Since CT began keeping records in 1972 there has been one fatality involving a student on a school bus. CT's children are safest traveling to school when riding on a bus, due to the compartmentalization design. Mandated installation of seat belts on CT buses will provide no guarantee that they will be used, and would have a negligible impact on student safety.

CT Conference of Municipalities – CCM is sympathetic to the reason behind this legislation. However, if enacted, it would create yet another large unfunded mandate on towns and cities without a proven increase in child safety. There concerns include –

1. Three-point harness belts would diminish capacity of the buses by one-third, reducing seats from three-student capacity to two.

2. Harness belts must be adjusted to the size of the user in order for the belts to provide protection and not cause injury.

3. How will the use of the safety belts be enforced? Will school districts have to employ monitors for these buses?

4. Will seat belts be used as weapons, for illegal restraint, or other such purposes?

5. Who will release young students from the belts in the event that there is a need to evacuate the bus?

They add that 2 well respected national organizations have indicated that the installation of safety belts do not increase the safety of passengers because of the current design of the buses to safely handle impacts at any angle.

Dr. Steven C. Rogers, American Academy of Pediatrics – Traveling by school bus is the safest form of transportation in the United States. According to the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) it is 8 times safer to ride in a school bus than a motor vehicle. The majority of school bus related fatalities happen outside the bus. Also, school bus seat belts installed and used correctly by all occupants will improve the safety of our children but this will require a well planned effort. Resources may be limited and it is unclear from our assessment if putting seatbelts in school buses will have more of an impact than other safety initiatives such as improving booster seat laws or limiting driving distractions.

Christopher Phelps, Chairman of the Portland Board of Education – The problem with mandating seat belts on school buses is the cost involved. School districts do not have the money in their budgets to comply with such a mandate. The expense would divert limited resources away from other areas of school budgets.

Dr. Reginald Mayo, Superintendent of New Haven Public Schools – He acknowledged that we all have a heightened awareness to the issue of seat belts given the recent tragedy in Rocky Hill. The accident was a tragedy, but this bill is not the solution. He testified that it goes without saying that student safety is a top priority for New Haven and all other school districts. We do not know whether mandating the installation of lap/shoulder, or 3-point seat belts, on every school bus in the state will make our students safer. What we do know for sure is that such a mandate will divert millions of dollars away from our other top priority – educating our students.

Mark Makuch, Chairman of the Willington Board of Education – He states that the Board unanimously took the position to oppose legislation mandating seat belts on school buses. He realizes voting against a law “to improve safety of school bus transportation” may be awkward but the truth is that seat belts on school buses hurt children.

CT School Transportation Association (COSTA) – COSTA cited a Congressional Research Service Report saying that 98% of school-age child deaths during school travel occur in other modes than buses, and therefore other safety options could have a greater impact than adding seat belts to buses.

Their other concerns are that the safe evacuation of buses during an emergency would take longer and it is unclear who would be responsible for making sure each student use the seat belts. In this second example, they note that if the driver is responsible, then he or she must leave the driver's seat to check each child. This involves turning off the bus and the exterior “Stop on Signal” lights. With these lights off, students outside of the bus are at great danger. COSTA's final concern is cost, not just of adding safety belts to buses, but of adding more buses to a school system's fleet as 3-point belts reduce seating capacity on a bus by 22%.

Robin Leeds, Leeds Consulting, Noank, CT – While the development of 3 point safety belts has eliminated the safety risk posed by lap belts, it has not made the policy-makers job any easier. School districts will have to accommodate the same number of students, as seating capacity on buses would decrease with 3 point belts. It is also suggested that the bill require the use of the safety belts, as well as require school districts to include training for the proper use and adjustment of the belts. When it comes to enforcement, violations should be up to local school districts and their disciplinary policies. A student who doesn't use his or her seatbelt is subject to the same disciplinary measures as someone out of their seat. It is also important to protect school bus drivers, school bus owners, and school districts from liability for any injury that occurs solely as a result of misuse or nonuse of a seatbelt by a passenger.

There are few fatalities in school buses in this country and most of those would not be effected by the use of 3 point seatbelts because they occur in the direct line of impact with heavy vehicles. However, seat belts on buses would probably reduce the number of injuries in school bus crashes significantly, and nationwide could save one or two lives a year. Most parents would say even a small improvement in child safety is worth any cost, but it is a legislators responsibility to spend limited resources wisely. Instead of a mandate, things to consider might be providing incentives for districts or bus companies or establishing a grant program.

Philip Weiser, Regional Administrator, NHTSA – NHTSA carefully considered the question of whether seat belts should be required on large school buses and concluded that compartmentalization provides a high level of crash protection that precludes the need for a Federal requirement necessitating the installation of seat belts on large buses. States should take into consideration the possible unintended consequences resulting from the increased cost and reduced seating capacities related to lap/shoulder belts that could reduce school bus service overall. This reduction could result in more children seeking alternative, less safe means of traveling to and from school that puts them at greater risk.

Reported by: Edwina H. Futtner

Date: March 21, 2010