At a hefty price tag for local districts, a bill in the Maryland General Assembly would require all school buses registered in the state be equipped with either two-point lap or three-point, lap-shoulder seat belts by July 1, 2022.
Senate bill 183 introduced last month by Sen. James Brochin would require retrofitting current school buses with either ocucupant restraint system, a provision that could make it hard to pass as written. Then there's the fiscal note, which reads that a new law would increase local school system expenditures statewide by a total of $60.8 million from FY 2017 through 2022 to equip all school buses with seat belts by the bill’s effective date.
Beginning in FY 2023, the note adds, expenditures increase each year statewide by $1.4 million annually as part of scheduled annual school bus replacements. Maryland school districts are on a 12- to 15-year replacement.
The legislation, which the Senate held a hearing on last week, also requires school bus drivers to ensure all students under the age of 16 buckle up and forbids drivers from operating the bus when any student is not seated. But the bill does not hold bus drivers or school districts liable for any injury or death if a student is not wearing a seat belt at the time of an incident. The same does not apply to any dealer, manufacturer or distributor if the occupant restraints are found to be defective.
Brochin's bill also extends to school bus drivers wearing their seat belt, but any unbelted school bus passengers would be exempt from paying a $50 fine, which is enforced upon passengers of other vehicles who are cited for not wearing their seat belt.