Dallas County putting seat belts on school buses

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on August 22, 2010 at 10:00 PM

Updated Sunday, Aug 22 at 10:13 PM

DALLAS — Students in Dallas County who take the bus to school may notice something different on Monday morning: seat belts.

The bus operator has been installing restraints in dozens of school buses ahead of a new law that requires seat belts in new school buses.

So why aren't more school districts putting belts on buses?

The deadline to comply with a new law requiring seat belts on newly-purchased school buses is next week, but most districts don't have them.

Dallas County, however, is spending thousands of dollars and making it a huge priority for their buses so kids can buckle up.

The Grant family was holding a back-to-school celebration on Sunday evening, but in the morning, Terry Grant worries about that bus ride for her granddaughter.

"Cars and trucks? All them have to have seat belts. Why not the buses?" she asked.

But most North Texas districts still don't have them, despite a state law requiring seat belts on new school buses purchased after September 1.

The law only forces schools to comply if the state pays for the belts, and — so far — the funding isn't there.

"I think the state needs to put their money where their mouth is," said Larry Duncan of Dallas County Schools, the agency that takes 60,000 kids to school every day. "It looks like there is a concern for seat belts, but there isn't."

Dallas County Schools is one of the few in the state moving ahead anyway, spending half-a-million-dollars a year installing belts on 235 of its fleet of nearly 1,600 school buses.

"I'm no engineer, but I know seat belts add safety; that's why they're required in all of our automobiles," Duncan said. "We're not going to take the cheap way out."

The state is still studying the need, and other bus operators insist that seat belts are a waste of money.

For decades, school buses have been built and designed simply to protect kids without seat belts.

"Until we get these belts in school buses, we're putting our kids at risk," said attorney Rob Ammons.

It can cost $10,000 to $15,000 to add seat belts to one new bus. Critics say there are simply too many buses across the state to retrofit the existing fleet.

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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