Washington State House of Representative passed legislation to proceed with a study on the cost and feasibility of equipping school buses with seat belts and harnesses.
HB 2369 passed Wednesday by a vote of 87 to 9. It would require the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to analyze the costs and the benefits of requiring each new school bus purchased after December 2017 “to be equipped with seat belts, safety harnesses or other approved restraint systems for all passengers.” The study would include the different seat belt and safety harness options available, the potential pros and cons of each and how much they would cost. But Allan J. Jones, director of student transportation at OSPI, said bill sponsor Rep. Gina McCabe has mentioned three-point, lap-shoulder belts, and previous attempts to pass a law also entailed the three-point occupant restraints.
If the legislation passes through the state senate, OSPI would need to submit its study findings to the legislature by Oct. 15 of this year.
“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as well as OSPI fully support the use of seat belts on school buses. In addition, there are currently funding solutions that would not require school-levy dollars or use state general fund monies,” said Rep. McCabe in a statement on her website. “We should be doing everything we can to ensure our students are safe, on and off school campuses.”
Jones confirmed that the state's top education agency does support moving forward with a study. Seat belt legislation was also introduced in 2004 that died in committe because of the fiscal impact tied to decreased passenger capacity, an issue that has since been solved with current flexible seating technology.
Unlike in most states, if a law is enacted, it would not result in an unfunded mandate. Jones said additional funds would be included as part of the state's funding formula for school bus replacement costs.
Jones also told STN that Rep. McCabe is scheduled to speak at the 40th Annual Washington Association for Pupil Transportation Conference in Yakima, held June 26-29, and to view the latest school bus seat and seat-belt technology at the trade show.
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