Cullen calls for mandatory seat belts on school buses

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Staff | September 10, 2013

MADISON--Sen. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) is circulating legislation to make seat belts mandatory on all newly purchased buses that will be used to transport schoolchildren in Wisconsin.

“The fact that we are required to wear seat belts in cars, yet allow our children to roll down the road at 55 miles per hour without them is completely outrageous to me,” Cullen said in a news release from his office.

The bill is similar to a policy that he ushered in while a member of the Janesville School Board.

Cullen said that the Janesville School District is currently the only district in Wisconsin that requires the use of seat belts on school buses, and has now bought 20 new school buses equipped with seat belts.

Only school buses that are manufactured after the effective date of the bill would be required to have seat belts.

A car versus school bus crash in Rockton, Ill., in August caused the bus to tip on its side, injuring five students. The bus was not equipped with seat belts.

“Schoolchildren are injured every year in school bus crashes,” Cullen said. “It only makes sense to me that we can prevent more injuries by requiring seat belts, especially three-point lap and shoulder safety belts that are required in cars.”

The bill requires newly manufactured school buses to be equipped with seat belts, and requires that all passengers on school buses wear seat belts. School buses already operating will not have to be retrofitted with seat belts. The bill creates a grant program to help school districts defray the cost of equipping new school buses with seat belts.

Currently, under federal law, only school buses weighing less than five tons must be equipped with seat belts. Standard-size school buses are more than five tons. Cullen noted that motor coach companies like Greyhound are going in the direction of seat belts. According to the company's website, its newer buses are equipped with three-point seat belts.

Fifty people, mostly children, were hurt in a chain-reaction crash involving four school buses in Indiana on May 22. Video of the crash shows the driver of the lead bus was wearing a seat belt, but the children were not.

In April in Illinois, a school bus collided with a Jeep, causing the school bus to spin around and tip onto its side. The passengers were not wearing seat belts. Twenty-five of the 35 passengers were taken to the hospital. Many of their injuries were broken bones from falling from their seats, including an 11-year-old girl with a skull fracture.

Cullen began circulating the bill for co-sponsors on Tuesday September 3, with a deadline for co-sponsorship of September 11.

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