Return to Headlines

District 49 Buses To Get Seat Belts

A Falcon High School student rides on a District 49 bus during the 2015-2016 school year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued an abrupt change to a long standing school bus safety position late last year.

After decades of recommending compartmentalization, in November 2015, the NHTSA changed the organization's long held position on school bus seat belts. "The position of the NHTSA is that seat belts save lives. That is true whether in a passenger car or in a big yellow bus," said Mark Rosekind, NHTSA administrator in an announcement. "Saving lives is what we are about, so NHTSA’s policy is that every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt."

Prior to that sudden and unexpected policy change announcement, NHSTA’s recommended compartmentalization, a passive form of restraint that relies on closely spaced, high-back padded seats. Compartmentalization has been used on school buses across the country since 1977. Compartmentalization is combined with a large, heavy, high deck vehicle driven by a professional operator. This combination makes it the safest form of ground transportation; nearly eight times safer than students riding in personal vehicles. (NHTSA paper 05-325).
Earlier this year, the District 49 Board of Education made the determination that all future buses purchased by the district will be equipped with seat belts meeting the NHTSA recommendation. Already, five replacement buses purchased in 2016 year are equipped with the new restraint system. 

"This is a long term strategy," said Gene Hammond, transportation director. "It will take many years for our entire fleet to be entirely seat belt equipped, but we have targeted our trip buses, those most likely to travel on high speed roads and into the mountains, as our priority for equipping with seat belts."
The transportation department has also retro-fitted seven other buses with seat belts. Hammond says that six of the district's 12 trip buses are now equipped with the seat belts. 
"We want to assure parents that our buses have not somehow suddenly become unsafe unless they are equipped with seat belts," said Hammond. "Seat belts add an incrementally safer onboard ride to what is already the safest form of transportation. As we make this gradual transition to an all seat-belted school bus fleet, your student may or may not be assigned to a bus with seat belts. This should not be cause for concern."
Hammond says the equipment, maintenance and people make up the three components of school bus safety. "The people component is the most important factor in safety," said Hammond, "Riders’ adherence to bus riding rules, parental and school employee support, and, most importantly a well-trained, professional bus operator ensure our students are safe."
Hammond points to the district's school bus safety record for any families that might be concerned. "Our safety record is extermely good," said Hammond. "Our people take extreme care in keeping our students safe."
Matt Meister