Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed into effect a new law that creates a DMV program to help school districts pay for equipping school buses with three-point, lap/shoulder seat belts.
Beginning July 2011, the DMV will offset a portion of the sales tax that bus companies pay when purchasing new school buses equipped with three-point seat belts. The program will be funded through a $50 increase in the fees paid for restoring suspended or revoked driver’s licenses, commercial driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations. The original version of HB 5033 called for a lap/shoulder restraint requirement on model 2012 and later school buses. But the General Assembly passed last month a substitute bill that gives school districts the choice and a funding vehicle.
“Every parent’s worst nightmare is the loss of a child,” Gov. Rell commented when signing the bill on June 2. “While Connecticut’s school buses have long had a good safety record, the tragic death of a Rocky Hill High School student in a January school bus accident has spurred all of us to look for ways to improve school bus safety. This law provides a modicum of state assistance to districts wanting to add seat belts to their fleet but does not impose a costly new mandate on all districts – striking a good balance between incentive and choice.”
The fiscal analysis performed earlier this year found that requiring the three-point lap/shoulder belts on new buses would result in an average new cost of $7,000 to $16,000 per school bus equipped with the restraint systems, which could result “in significant costs to local and regional boards of education and the technical high school system” over the average 12-year replacement cycle of school bus fleets. Currently, there are 6,553 large school buses in Connecticut.
Additionally, the Connecticut School Transportation Association said that school boards could be faced with new maintenance costs of $500 per bus to repair and replace damaged belt and latch systems, or up to $3.2 million annually. Then, there are costs related to reduced passenger capacity, between $82,000 and $116,000, because each new bus would hold up to 12 fewer middle school students and could force schools to increase bus routes or purchase additional buses to make up the difference.
The new program will run through the 2018 legislative session, at which time lawmakers will hold a hearing on the program and decide whether it should be continued.