HomeSeatbeltsTexas School District Adopts Accelerated Seatbelt Plan Following Fatal Bus Crash

Texas School District Adopts Accelerated Seatbelt Plan Following Fatal Bus Crash

The Hays Consolidated Independent School District Board of Trustees unanimously approved a new school bus seatbelt plan, which outlines five steps to achieve a 100-percent seatbelt-equipped fleet and includes retrofitting buses with the passenger restraints.

The Hays CISD Bus Fleet Seatbelt was published on April 12, three weeks after one of the district’s buses was hit nearly head-on by a concrete pump truck that veered across the center line. The crash and rollover resulted in the death of pre-kindergarten student Ulises Rodriguez Montoya, 5, and a motorist who was following the school bus.

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The school bus involved in the March 22 crash was not equipped with lap/shoulder seatbelts. Texas has required three-point seatbelts on all new school buses since 2018, when a state law went into effect. Hays CISD said it has purchased new school buses with three-point seatbelts since 2017.

While 109 route buses are equipped with the lap/shoulder belts, the 2011 model-year bus used for the field trip that was struck by the cement pump truck was one of the 15 regular route buses that do not. It also does not have integrated child safety seats, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends for all preschool students who ride in school buses. Additionally, Hays CISD said 87 of its 107 support buses still need seatbelts.

A Hays CISD spokesman confirmed to School Transportation News that all school buses purchased in 2017 and later have both three-point seatbelts and integrated child safety seats on board.

Unanimously approved during the Board of Trustees meeting Monday night, the seatbelt plan states that while Hays CISD is in compliance with the state’s law regarding seatbelts on buses, justified community concern has resulted in the district accelerating the normal bus replacement cycle for a 100 percent seatbelt-equipped fleet, “at the absolute soonest possible date.”

By April 30, all regular route buses and six reserve support buses will have the lap/shoulder seatbelts, as the district is in the final phase of receiving 21 buses that are currently being outfitted with cameras, decals, numbering, and other equipment.

Hays CISD said it is also awaiting receipt of eight additional 2023 model-year buses for general education routes, but no receipt date is confirmed. On April 10, the district ordered seven more regular education 2024 buses, and again no recipe date is confirmed. However, current turnaround time, as noted in the seatbelt plan is 12 months.

The school district also has nine 2017 buses and four 2016 that can be retrofitted with the occupant restraints for $36,000 each, bringing the total to $468,000 needed to complete this phase of the plan. It notes funding could either come from bond interest money or surplus bond funds, but no time estimate is confirmed.

Several buses of the 2013 model year and older won’t be retrofitted as those will be addressed with the district’s normal replacement cycle.

The next phase, which would bring the total of support buses with seatbelts to 64, would be to accelerate the purchase of the newest buses available. Voters approved a bond last year that includes $1.5 million for the purchase of about nine 2025 model-year buses. The district plans to use this money to accelerate this purchase of 21 more buses for a total purchase of 30. Hays CISD added that it will need $3.3 million in additional bond interest or surplus bond money to complete the purchases.

The final phase will go to voters in May 2025. The facilities and Bond Oversight Community would include the minimum purchase of 22 school buses (at least $3.6 million, or $163,636 per bus): 16 additional general education buses to bring the spare bus fleet to the goal of 80, plus six more buses to accommodate the anticipated increase in the number of routes Hays CISD would operate due to growth.

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“We may never know for sure if a seatbelt on the school bus would have made a difference for Ulises. But, if there is even a chance that it would have done so, Hays CISD must do more than is required. And we will,” the plan states. “Hays CISD has never shied from addressing safety concerns, nor has the district spared any expense in terms of providing the safest learning environment possible for its students and staff. That includes the school buildings and the buses.”

The plan adds that while school buses crashes with injuries and certainly fatalities are incredibly rare — Rodriguez Montoya’s death is thought to be the first onboard school bus student fatality in Texas since 2009 — parents and community have voiced concern on the matter. At this report, a half-dozen lawsuits have been filed on behalf of the Rodriguez Montoya family, other students, and at least two teachers against F.J.M Concrete, which employed concrete pump truck driver Jerry Hernandez.

“Hays CISD is aware of the national debate about whether to equip school buses with seatbelts at all, given that buses are designed differently than passenger cars in terms of crash force absorption and that seatbelts may impede bus evacuations in crashes involving fire or underwater submersion,” the plan states. “However, for the district, the debate is moot.”

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