In 2009, the Texas Legislature approved $10 million to equip more school buses with seat belts throughout the state. Since then, the money has dissipated and so has the resolve.
Because there was no direct state funding, installing seat belts in the buses isn’t mandatory for school districts.
The Texas seat belt law was approved in 2007 for school buses bought on or before Sept. 1, 2010, to be equipped with three-point seat belts.
However, the law would not take effect unless the Legislature provided money to reimburse districts when the law was to go in effect Sept. 1, 2010, for buses purchased by a school district.
A law for a school-chartered bus would begin Sept. 1, 2011.
While $10 million was approved initially, $7.5 million was cut back due to the 2011 budget crisis.
The remainder went to the Texas Education Agency, which offered about $415,000 in 2011 for the school bus seat belts. The rest of the money was used for other programs after TEA received permission from the Texas Legislature to do so.
The programs that received money were ones that were at risk such as the fine arts programs, the early childhood data collection, early childhood SRI specialists and Student Success Initiative.
In 2010 and 2011, four school districts in the state of Texas were given seat-belt grants: Austin ISD, Ketua ISD, South Texas ISD and Dallas County ISD, according to TEA communications director DeEtta Culbertson. The four school districts received the grant money to install seat belts in the new buses they bought.
A total of 12 school districts applied for the grant but some were not eligible, because they applied for buses, rather than seat belts.
“We had 10 or 12 schools apply and six didn’t meet the qualifications (since) they wanted to use the money for brand new buses and three or four withdrew their applications,” said Culbertson.
According to Culbertson, if they did not use the money, then the money would have been lost completely in 2011 when the budget crisis happened,
Most of the standard-size school buses throughout the state do not have seat belts. About 35,000 school buses transport 1.5 million Texas children daily, according to a report done by the Houston Chronicle.
“There hasn’t been any more money allocated from the Texas Legislature since then,” Culbertson said.
The Killeen Independent School District did not apply for the grant due to the very limited amount of money for the grant. The district wanted to wait and see how the industry would’ve adapted to seat belt use in a bus.
“There were so many liability issues for the district and drivers that were not addressed at that time and have still not been resolved,” said KISD spokesman Shannon Rideout.
Another requirement for the law is that each school district must file an annual report with TEA on accidents involving its school buses.
The information in the reports would include whether the bus had seat belts, the number of students and adults involved in the accidents, the number and type of injuries sustained and whether the injured passengers were wearing seat belts.
In a report done by the National Association of Pupil Transportation, the cost to install seat belts on school buses is an estimated $7,000 to $11,000 per bus.
School bus accidents in the state
In the past five years, 122,212 students have been in school bus accidents statewide. According to TEA bus accident reports, a total of 9,925 school buses have been in accidents.
Throughout the five years of the data, 11,444 bus accidents have occurred in the school years within the period of time. In the reports, numbers are given by state school districts and then specified by each school district in the state.
In June, the most recent school bus accident in the state involved a crash with an Alvarado Independent School District bus and an 18-wheeler truck in North Texas. In the accident, there were eight minor injuries including seven children and the driver of the 18-wheeler.
Statewide seat belt numbers
Throughout the five years of the bus accident reports, from the 2010-2011 school year through 2014-2015, there have been a total of 3,019 students in the state who weren’t wearing seat belts in the accidents.
The 2012-2013 school year, had the largest number of students in accidents that involved buses with no seat belts — 1,123. In the 2014-2015 school year, 275 students were in buses not equipped with seat belts.
Killeen ISD has had 152 school bus accidents in the time frame of fall 2010 to spring 2015 and those accidents involved 1,373 students.
The last school bus accident involving KISD was in May 2016 when a school bus was involved in an accident with a Dodge Nitro SUV. The accident was a head-on collision at 7:45 a.m. on Thunder Creek Drive and Robinett Road. There was one student who was taken to the hospital along with an aide and the bus driver.
KISD has about 12,500 students who ride the district’s 314 buses daily. Currently, there are 74 special-needs school buses that are equipped with lap belts for the students.
“The district has approximately 44,000 students enrolled for the upcoming school year,” KISD spokesman Shannon Rideout said in a statement.
While there are no seat belts on the buses, the district said it will continue to follow the state guidelines and laws that pertain to bus safety.
In terms of concerns of parents regarding the issue of seat belts on school buses, the district has received a minimal number of phone calls, Rideout said.
Copperas Cove ISD
There are 8,200 students in the school district of Copperas Cove with as many as 5.200 students riding the district’s 84 school buses.
The district has not had an accident that has led to the death of a student in the past 40 years, according to Director of Transportation Gary Elliott. In the 2014-2015 school year, there were 25 school buses that were involved in accidents.
In terms of buses that have seat belts, there are 18 special-needs buses out of the 84 total school buses.
“These are buses for exceptional-needs students for which special seating is required,” said Elliott.
There has been discussion about seat belts being installed on buses since the school district’s concern is student safety, but there is a lack of funding.
The school district takes into account other factors in regards to the safety of its students such as the length of time it would take a student who is wearing a seat belt to leave the bus if an accident were to occur.
While there has not been a lot of discussion by parents about seat belts on the school buses, there has been an understanding for the safety record, the bus design and the construction of the bus.
“Compartmentalization is the driving force and students following safe riding procedures are the key,” Elliott said.
The Belton Independent School District had been nine bus accidents involving 334 students in the past five years.
The school district had a total of 10,864 students in the 2015-2016 school year where 5,500 students rode the buses. There are 104 buses in the transportation department, and the buses take 96 routes, according to Belton ISD communications director Kyle DeBeer.
“Safety is the first priority for our transportation department, and it begins with extensive training for drivers and other employees,” said DeBeer.
Even though the district has not had an accident this year, there is a comprehensive review done by administrators, a deputy chief police officer, and a veteran driver.
“Regardless of who was at fault, the follow-up to any accident includes additional training for the driver,” DeBeer said.
In the last school year, there were 1,250 hours of safety training completed by drivers, monitors and crossing guards. The district drivers must maintain current certifications through training, professional development and safety meetings.
“On-board cameras give supervisors a clear picture of how drivers are performing on the road, and drivers’ personal driving records are also regularly reviewed,” DeBeer.
In the district, seat belts are in 23 buses for students with special needs.
There are no plans to add seat belts on the other buses of the district for the upcoming school year, according to DeBeer.
Where did the seat belt money go?
- 2010: $10 million approved by the state.
- 2011: $416,582 grant money, which was given to four school districts.
- 2011: HB4 reduces it by $7.5 million.
- 2011: Transfer to fund fine arts — $376,166; transfer to fund Early Childhood State Certification Readiness System Data Collection — $1,297,000; transfer to fund Early Childhood SRI Specialist — $74,072 and transfer to fund Student Success Initiative — $250,000.
- 2011: $86,180 balance in lapsed funds.