Federal regulators could be getting on board with school bus safety belts

Posted at 8:18 PM, Nov 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-09 20:18:25-05

RICHMOND, Va. --For years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) promoted safety, but stopped short of requiring buses to have seat belts.

On Sunday, in a speech at the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) Conference, Administrator Mark Rosekind endorsed seat belts (the three point kind) for every school bus in America.

The conference is slated to continue in Richmond, through November 10.

"It was a historic speech," said Julie Cooley, whose company produces Safeguard seatbelts.

Cooley said the announcement was a surprise and that critics should not dismiss the cost.

"It is probably five to seven percent the cost of a new bus," Cooley said.

It was however unclear whether the federal government would require all school divisions to have seat belts on buses.

The announcement was not met with universal praise, and the NAPT failed to fully support the proposal Monday -- and declined an interview request.

Absent a federal requirement for belts, NAPT continued to agree with NHTSA that it is most appropriate if the decision to order seat belts on large school buses were left to the states and local jurisdictions.

"The debate has been going on for years," said Scott Kessler, a bus dealer.

Kessler says his buses are already built so that seat belts can be easily installed.

But he said there remains a debate over whether young kids can buckle up and unbuckle quickly in an emergency.

"Will that five year old be physically capable of getting themselves out in the case of an emergency?" Kessler asked.

Currently, six states mandate seat belts on buses: California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.