There will be a study on the important question of whether Alabama school buses should be equipped with seat belts. A study panel appointed by Governor Riley voted unanimously on August 20th to seek proposals from Alabama universities to do a three-year study.

Some 10 to 15 school buses equipped with safety belts, which would go over shoulders and across laps, will be utilized in the study. The selected university will have to complete the work by September 30, 2010. Why this study would require three years to finish is beyond me.

The Governor’s Study Group on School Bus Seat Belts was created after four Huntsville students died in a school bus wreck on November 20, 2006. Currently, California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey and New York have seat belt requirements for school buses.

Texas enacted a law in June that requires buses purchased after August 31, 2010, to have lap and shoulder belts. North Carolina is conducting a study similar to the one being started in Alabama. The Alabama Legislature has allocated $750,000 to start the study and universities must submit their proposals by October 19th.

The study will involve buses that run urban routes with busy highways and frequent stops, as well as buses that run rural routes along county roads with miles between stops. The buses will have cameras front and rear to see whether students use the belts and what effects they have.

Equipping buses with safety belts takes more room for each student, and the buses carry about 30% fewer students than traditional buses without belts. The school bus manufacturers don’t want seatbelts and have done a good job of convincing public officials that their safety features aren’t needed.

The school systems that will use the buses in the study have not been selected. Based on what we have learned over the years in handling product liability cases, I believe that seat belts should be required. But, I guess we will have to wait for a long time before anything is done along those lines.


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