Exclusive: Seat Belts on School Buses Going Nowhere, Again

Exclusive: Seat Belts on School Buses Going Nowhere, Again
2001 Seward School Bus Crash Photo: Douglas County Sheriff's Department

Omaha, NE.—You’ve heard it countless times, especially after a school bus crash, “School buses don’t have seat belts,” but they do have one, it’s for the driver—and that’s not changing any time soon in Nebraska.

Once again legislation to require lap-shoulder belts on school buses is going nowhere in the state legislature.

“The (Transportation) committee is not very receptive to it,” State Sen. Robert Hilkemann of Omaha tells News Channel Nebraska.

Interior of Collapsed Seward School Bus

Hilkemann’s bill (LB279), which would have only affected buses bought after Jan. 1, 2018, is the latest in a long series of losing efforts dating back nearly 15 years.

On October 13, 2001 a school bus carrying band members from Seward, plunged 60 feet off an Omaha road injuring 27 and killing four—three students and one parent.

Over the years lawmakers have heard time and time again from one woman who survived the crash: Dawn Prescott. Her 14-year-old son Benjamin died that day and she’s convinced seat belts would have saved him. This is what she told lawmakers in 2009.

“The bus driver that day was the only person on the bus with the option to buckle up. While the unbelted passengers continued moving after the crash, only stopping upon their impact with a seat, the bus’s interior, the ceiling, or another body, the bus driver remained secure. While others were flying like human pinballs, the driver stayed belted. He is alive today.”

State Sen. Robert Hilkemann

For years federal safety experts opposed the need for seat belts on school buses. But that changed in 2015 when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration changed course and backed the restraints.

But cost is still a roadblock. State estimates range from $8,000 to $15,000 per bus.

Hilkemann, who calls that price-tag an “unfunded mandate” is convinced it’s worth every penny and he’s already planning to bring the bill back again next year.

Hilkemann has the same concern Dawn Prescott voiced eight years ago:

“It is not a matter of if another school bus accident happens, but when,” she said. ” And when that next tragic accident occurs, who will answer to the parents?”

News Channel Nebraska reported earlier that the Transportation Committee has also refused to back legislation tightening the state’s texting-while-driving law.

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