Janesville62.3°

Janesville school buses may get seat belts

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
October 29, 2008
— Janesville school buses could be the first in the state to have seat belts if the school board approves.

Discussions on the idea continued at Tuesday's board meeting, and President DuWayne Severson said he would schedule a vote in November.


Board member Tim Cullen first proposed seat belts months ago.


The board probably would not call for installing belts in existing buses. Rather, all new buses would be built with belts.


Adding belts to old buses costs more, and it raises liability concerns, officials said.


Steve Van Galder of Van Galder Bus, the district's school bus operator, told the board that adding seat belts to a larger new bus would add about $11,000 to the cost.


Adding belts means fewer seats, so extra buses would be needed, Van Galder said. The cost of the extra buses was not available.


A new, large bus with seat belts would cost about $98,000.


The extra cost of belt-equipped buses would become a part of Van Galder's contract with the district, Van Galder said.


Board member Lori Stottler said she wanted to know more about ongoing costs before deciding. She said she would vote no now but would like to reconsider the issue in the spring, after the new federal school bus seat belt standards are set.


At a committee meeting, Stottler asked Van Galder how many years his company had bused Janesville students and how many times in those years a student needed medical attention because of an accident.


Sixty-one years, Van Galder replied. And fewer than five serious injuries.


Board members seemed impressed.


Van Galder cautioned against installing seat belts now and then having to do it over when the government changes the regulations.


"I know seat belts are coming," Van Galder told the committee. "Just do it right. Don't make a rash decision."


It's an emotional issue, but the board should make a business decision, Van Galder said.


Board member Kevin Murray, a firefighter and former paramedic, said prevention is everything in his business. He likened belts to smoke alarms, which most people never need but which save the lives of a few.


"It takes one fatality—then you'd wish you had them," Murray said.


Small buses under a certain number of passengers are already required to have belts.


Van Galder said he replaces three to five buses a year, so it would take several years before the entire fleet had belts.



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