Proposal To Install Seat Belts On School Buses Raises Concerns

Every morning, Ocean Springs students who board the school bus are focused on getting to class on time. For Lori Duhon, her main concern is making sure her students have a safe ride.

"My main thing is getting them from point A to point B safely, and I stress that so much. The responsibility that bus drivers have," said Lori Duhon.

Duhon has to keep her eyes on the road and on her precious cargo. Her bus can hold as many as 65 children. She's worried that installing seat belts on buses would only create problems during an emergency.

"If we ever have to evacuate in a real situation, I think panic would set in.  They'd be scared," Duhon said. "And that's why seat belts are scary, because they can't get the seat belt off."

The federal government is proposing equipping shorter buses with lap and shoulder belts. For longer buses, states have the option of using federal funds to retrofit buses with seat belts. Some superintendents are raising questions about the cost.

"Basically, what you're talking about is a large expense on every individual school bus, and possibly transporting fewer kids on the bus, which means the purchase of more buses," said Ocean Springs School Superintendent Robert Hirsch. "However, when you put that in the light of safety of children, that's a small issue."

"I think parents, under the circumstances, can expect longer bus routes because our bus drivers, if that's the case, are likely are going to have to get up as each child boards the bus to verify that they're belted in to reduce their liability," said Biloxi School Superintendent Dr. Paul Tisdale.

Superintendents say school buses are still one of the safest forms of transportation. But if the government orders schools to buckle-up the children, they'll comply.

The U.S.Transportation Department will decide whether to adopt the seat belt proposal, after a 60 day comment period. Click here for more information on the proposed school bus safety rules.