PICKENS COUNTY — An Upstate legislator currently has a bill in the House that would require seat belts on school buses throughout the state beginning fall next year.
District 3 Rep. Gary Clary (R) pre-filed the bill, H3027, last December at which point it was referred to the Education and Public Works Committee. On Jan. 10, 2017, the bill was introduced and underwent first reading before being sent back to Committee.
Two days later, Rep. Leola Robinson-Simpson, a Greenville Democrat, requested her name be added as a sponsor.
The bipartisan bill has been gaining traction as well as media attention in the wake of the deaths of six children in Chattanooga, Tenn., last November when a school bus crashed into a utility pole and then a tree. Thirty-one others were also injured in the crash.
Clary’s bill is just one of many proposed seat belt laws that have been springing up around the country at city, county and state levels.
In 2015, 12 states introduced bills that would require school buses to have seat belts installed and that November, Dr. Mark Rosekind, administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, came out in favor of seat belts on buses.
“NHTSA’s policy is that every school bus should have a three-point seat belt,” he said. “NHTSA will seek to use all the tools at our disposal to help achieve that goal …”
A short time later, the National Safety Council also recommended that seat belts should be installed on new school buses.
Despite the backing of those organizations and positive public polling on the issue, not one of the bills passed.
A report from the National Transportation Safety Board stated school bus and motor coach travel were two of the safest forms of transportation in the nation with an average of nine school bus passengers and four motor coach passengers fatally injured in bus crashes each year.
“Although much has been done to improve the safety of school buses and motor coaches over the years, the safe transportation of bus passengers, especially students and senior citizens, continues to be a national safety priority. Children and seniors are predicted to be the fastest growing segments of our society, and these groups are the primary users of bus transportation,” the report reads.
Earlier this week, on Feb. 9, Utah HB 132 — that would have required new buses to have seat belts — died on the House floor after being voted down 30-40.
Like the previous failed seat belt bills, critics pointed to the cost of installing the devices.
Even if bills have been shot down on a state level, in some states it has been the school districts themselves who decided to make the change.
Also on Feb. 9, it was announced new buses for Durham schools in North Carolina would have seat belts beginning this spring.
According to a report released by the National Conference of State Legislatures, only six states currently require seal belts on school buses: California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas.
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.