Government mandate to include seat belts in 2011

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 23, 2008

Vidalia — Less than one month after a bus accident sent more than 40 Vidalia school students to local hospitals, the Concordia Parish School District is observing school bus safety week.

The week-long call to awareness is meant to bring attention to the need for school bus safety.

And this year’s observance comes on the heels of an announcement that will change the way buses are manufactured.

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National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spokesperson Ellen Martin said new regulations that will dictate seat and seat belt standards will go into effect in 2011.

“We’re always concerned with child passenger safety,” Martin said.

When the new regulations start, the new standard for seat backs will change from 20 inches to 24 inches.

Martin said the bigger seat backs are designed to keep larger students from being thrown over the seats onto students in front of them.

Regulations will also require small buses — those weighing under five tons — to have three-point harnesses to act as seat belts.

“Buses are safe,” Martin said. “But anything we can do to improve the situation is warranted.”

Concordia transportation supervisor James McGee said the district is observing the week of safety with informational meetings for bus drivers.

“We address any issue that could come up,” McGee said.

And while the new regulations are still years away, Concordia will be ahead of the curve when they go into effect.

McGee said of the five new buses the district has ordered, all will have high-backed seats and will be set up to accept seatbelts.

“We want to do what’s best for the kids,” he said.

And while most are in support of the new seat regulations, not everyone is in support of mandatory seat belts on buses.

McGee said he has not seen enough research to make him certain seat belts should be mandatory.

In an accident where a bus flips over or where it becomes submerged in water, it could be difficult for small children to free themselves from the bus, McGee said.

Natchez-Adams School District Superintendent Anthony Morris, like McGee, said he’s not convinced seat belts should be mandatory.

However, Morris said the district will support measures to make buses safer.