The bill’s author says simply, seat belts save lives. Senator Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) says kids nowadays are buckled up from the day they leave the hospital, but upon boarding a school bus, they give up the very safety measure they’ve grown accustomed to. “The question is not whether school buses are safer than cars, which is one of the arguments you’ll hear; the question is whether school buses with seat belts are safer than school buses without seat belts. I think the clear answer is they are safer with seat belts.”
Opponents also say the money could be better spent in the class room, seat belts create occupancy limitations, kids could use the belts as a weapon, they won’t buckle up anyway, and the bus driver could be liable for injuries.
AUDIO: Senator Cullen acknowledges the many safety features of school buses, but says adding seat belts is the next step. :37
Jim Fey with Wisconsin School Bus Association (and Student Transit of Eau Claire) is against a seat belt mandate on school buses. He cites the stance taken by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). “Since students are at a much greater risk traveling to schools in other ways, particularly in teen-driven automobiles, the agency calculates that a seat belt mandate would actually result in an increase of 10 to 19 student fatalities because they would be in other cars rather than in school buses where they belong.”
Supporters of the bill (SB-304) say, for children, buckling up is a learned behavior. Many are uncomfortable not buckling up.
Fey says the belt use rate among elementary students is pretty high — about 75 percent; however, among middle and high school students it’s low — ranging from 0 to 50 percent.
Lawmakers heard public testimony on the measure in the Senate Committee on Transportation, Public Safety, and Veterans and Military Affairs.