New Texas school buses could be required to have seat belts

School buses (KXAN file photo)
School buses (KXAN file photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas legislators approved $10 million in 2009 to pay for seat belts in new school buses purchased by districts, but little progress has been made in the nearly eight years since. Legislators are now re-visiting the issue in an effort to make the requirement stick.

Texas approved a school bus seat belt law in 2007, which mandated that school buses bought on or after Sept. 1, 2010, be equipped with three-point seat belts, the kind that strap across the waist and shoulder. But the law wouldn’t take effect unless the Legislature provided money to reimburse districts.

In the first year of the funding program, the state did provide a handful of districts with funds, approximately $415,000 available, to equip their new buses with three point seat belts, but with various budget constraints and few districts applying for the funding, the Texas Education Agency never requested funding in subsequent legislative sessions. The rest of the allotted funds were returned to state coffers or used elsewhere in an agency budget tightened by other public education cuts.

Senate Bill 693, filed by Senator Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, proposes that every new bus purchased in Texas already have the seat belts. Her reasoning behind it, plainly, seat belts have been proven to keep kids safe.

Garcia believes not having seat belts on buses sends the wrong message to students. “We try to emphasize always wear your seat belt but then on your way to school and we are unteaching them and telling them oh no you don’t have to worry that doesn’t make sense, it’s mixed signals,” she said.

Families still recovering from 2006’s deadly bus crash in Beaumont have been helping with the current legislation – hoping it works this time around and that funding will be available.

The original legislation also required school district to report bus injuries to the state, but our investigative team found that was not always happening – even here in Central Texas.

On Wednesday morning, after a public hearing, the Senate Committee approved SB 693.

“New buses equipped with seat belts will get us where we need to be. Though we cannot protect children from all the world’s dangers, we do have a responsibility to do our best in ensuring their safety while they are in our care,” added Garcia.

The bill will now move to the full Senate for a vote.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that previous legislation required a retrofitting of buses, but that was not the case.

In 2015, KXAN compiled a database so you can check your child’s district:

 

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