Hundreds of students across our state boarded school buses last month that were equipped with seat belts. The State of Alabama launched an unprecedented three-year study to determine if the belts make the buses safer. Interestingly, Alabama is the first state to conduct such a study. This came about as a result of the Huntsville bus wreck that killed four Lee High School students in November 2006. Six states already have laws requiring some level of belts on school buses, but there are no nationally set guidelines. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters issued a proposal last November that would expand the use of shoulder belts, but stopped short of ordering that all new buses be equipped with seat belts. Over the years, the school bus manufacturers have successfully lobbied the federal government and have kept safety belts out of school buses.
The Alabama study will be conducted by the University of Alabama at a cost of $1.4 million over three years. Twelve seat belt-equipped buses were purchased for ten participating school systems and six bus aides were hired to assist with compliance among students. Other costs include hiring more drivers and adding more buses. Officials hope to learn the extent to which students will use the belts and their behavior on buses equipped with the restraints. Alabama’s bus fleet is one of the newest in the country and consists of 7,408 buses transporting 373,982 students daily. Our firm is currently involved in the litigation arising out of the Huntsville bus crash. We could have saved the state $1.4 million if they had simply asked Kendall Dunson, a lawyer in our firm, whether seat belts in buses are needed for the safety of our children. The simple answer to that inquiry would have been “yes!” In any event, the study is now in progress and, hopefully, it will result in improved school bus safety.
Source: Associated Press
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