State Officials Still Undecided about Requiring Seatbelts on School Buses

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A group appointed by Alabama Governor Bob Riley, to determine how to make school buses safer, says it needs more time to determine if seatbelts should be required on school buses across the state. The group is recommending that the state fund a three year study to determine if seatbelts are in fact necessary.

The study will cost the state of Alabama $1.4 million, which will include hiring additional bus drivers and purchasing more school buses. Part of this plan involves having two aides to monitor students wearing seatbelts, to see if these safety restraints are really necessary to keep students safe.

But local school officials say there is a downside to having seatbelts on school buses.

"If a bus wrecks then the children may not be able to get out on their own. Especially your elementary kids... if they panic they might not be able to get out on their own," said Larry Allums, the Director of Transportation for Dothan City Schools.

The seven member group proposing these recommendations was formed after a tragic school bus accident in Huntsville back in November, where four students were killed, and 38 others injured. Alabama Governor, Bob Riley, wants to make sure that every student is safe when they go to and from school.

"What we want people to know, is that every parent that puts a child on a bus with the belts, that they're going to be as safe as anything else on the road today," said Riley

For now the group is against retrofitting all of the states school buses with seatbelts, because members say it would reduce the number of seats on each bus and possibly cause structural damage.

Governor Riley says he plans to tackle this issue during the current legislative session, so that all the funding can be gathered to carry on with this pilot study, at the beginning of the next school year.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also reviewing recommendations to require school buses to have seatbelts, but regulations are not expected to be implemented until 2013.