Houston Independent School District updated its student code of conduct for required usage of lap-shoulder seat belts, which takes effect this fall.
The district will take ownership this summer of 60 new buses equipped with the three-point belts, said Houston ISD Executive Director of Transportation Nathan Graf. This brings the number of school buses with the occupant restraint variety to about 150. Graf added that the newest buses will make the district the only one in Harris County to operate regular routes with the lap-shoulder belts.
The buses will be designated for the district’s longest elementary school routes.
Graf said the decision was made to fully embrace three-point seat belts immediately following the announcement last November by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that called for all school bus passengers to buckle up.
He explained that the district was initially interested in applying for Texas Education Association grants for lap-shoulder seat belts tied to a law passed a decade ago that would have required the occupant restraints in all newly purchased school buses throughout the state starting Sept. 1, 2010. But that requirement was contingent upon the state legislature appropriating necessary funds that never materialized.
The TEA grant targeted “high priority” buses operating in rural areas and on high-speed, two-lane highways. But none of Houston ISD’s nearly 1,000 routes fit the criteria. Graf said TEA told the district that additional, future grant money would be made available for a wider variety of districts, but those funds also never came to be.
Houston ISD already operates 430 school buses. Nearly half its fleet is equipped with lap seat belts. Ninety of the 430 have lap-shoulder belts installed. Graf said the district will eventually replace all 430 of those buses with new vehicles equipped solely with the lap-shoulder belt variety. The new student code of conduct also includes language encouraging students with access to lap belts to wear them.
On average, Graf said Houston ISD replaces between 40 and 45 school buses each year with $4 million in district funds and another $1 million in grants. The district said in a statement that the three-point belts are expected to add about $8,000 to the cost of a new school bus.