Bus safety remains top priority
By LPR Staff
When two students were killed and another two injured in a recent school bus accident in Houston, bus safety became a hot-button topic across the State, drawing attention from advocates, politicians, and mostly from parents concerned that school buses are not as safe as they should be.
ng the issues discussed in the aftermath of the crash was the use of seat belts on school buses.
In Houston, the bus was equipped with seat belts, but it was unclear whether the students were wearing them.
In Lockhart, only a fraction of school buses have seat belts – a reality that give pause to some parents, but is of little concern to transportation specialists.
“I’m a big advocate of seat belts, and I would never get in my car without putting on a seat belt,” said Martha Sherwood, Transportation Manager with Student Transportation Services (STS), the vendor that manages bus service for Lockhart ISD. “But in a school bus… buses are built to be safe without seat belts.”
Indeed, Sherwood said, in some cases, seat belts could do more harm than good.
“It would be hard to install seat belts, and monitor those seat belts, that you could use for any child, from the little 5-year-old to the 18-year-old,” she said. “And what we know is that if they aren’t fitted properly, seat belts can do more harm than good.”
In 2007, the Texas Legislature enacted requirements that called for seat belts to be installed on all school buses. However, the Legislature also allowed a loophole that said, because the funding had not been allocated under the Legislative budget, installation would not be mandatory.
In 2009, shortly before LISD purchased a fleet of new buses, the State allocated $10 million to the Texas Education Agency for the seat belts. However, it is unclear whether Lockhart applied for the use of those funds to equip the new fleet.
“I would have to imagine, if there was funding available, we would have asked for it,” said Larry Ramirez, Assistant Superintendent of Administration and Operations. “That was before I was in this position, so I don’t know the result, but I can’t imagine that there was funding and we didn’t apply for it.”
However, he noted, equipping the fleet with seat belts could prove financially out of reach.
The District’s fleet consists of 35 regular buses, nine special needs buses, and five “Pre-K” buses. Only the special needs buses and the “Pre-K” buses are equipped with seat belts. It would cost upwards of $2,000 per bus for the equipment to install seat belts in the others, not counting the cost for the retrofit.
“We make sure that our special needs students are in seat belts, and we have portable booster seats for the small children on the PPCD (Pre-K) routes,” Sherwood said. “Otherwise, buses are really built for student safety.”
Those safety features, she said, include the sturdy, padded seats, which are padded front and back, and placed to create a “box” of sorts, meant to prevent students from being flung about during an impact. Additionally, a higher center of gravity and reinforced body styles help to protect students during possible crashes.
“I think, in the last several years, we’ve only had two incidents,” Sherwood said. “And we have safety training drills to help the students learn about bus safety.”
The safety record, Sherwood and Ramirez agree, is impressive for a fleet that runs upwards of 12,000 trips, over the course of 177 days in the school year.
“I can’t recall a single fatality,” Ramirez said. “And even with my own granddaughter, when [my wife and daughter] worry that they should go pick her up during bad weather or whatever, I tell them that she’s really safer on the bus than she is in a car. On the bus is really the safest place to be.”
More than two-thirds of the District’s student population currently rides the bus to and from school. Additional trips are made for field trips, athletic and academic events, and to transport students to and from the MLC Freshman Campus for classes.
Under District policy, all students that live more than two miles from their campus are eligible to ride the bus. Additionally, students who have to cross FM20, Highway 183, or Highway 142 to get to their campus may register for bus service.
For additional information, visit www.lockhartisd.org, or www.stsbus.com.