Connecticut Schools Face ‘Significant’ Costs for School Bus 3-Point Seat Belts

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A fiscal note attached to House Bill 5033 that would require lap/shoulder restraint systems on all large school buses starting with the 2012 manufacturing year shows that school boards could be required to spend between $45 million and $103 million more over the 12-year replacement cycle for new vehicles.

The analysis was recently added to the legislation, which has been placed on the House calendar after passing the joint committee on transportation last month. Robin Leeds, an industry specialist with NSTA, said she expected the full House to re-refer the bill to another committee. Sen. Donald J. DeFronzo introduced HB 5033 in February following the death of 16-year-old Vikas Parikh during a school activity trip in January.

Currently about 6,553 large school buses in Connecticut would be affected by the bill. The fiscal note cited an average new cost of $7,000 to $16,000 per school bus equipped with the lap/shoulder belts, which could result “in significant costs to local and regional boards of education and the technical high school system” over the average 12-year replacement cycle of school bus fleets.

Additionally, school boards could be faced with new maintenance costs of $500 per bus to repair and replace damaged belt and latch systems, or up to $3.2 million annually. Then, there are costs related to reduced passenger capacity, between $82,000 and $116,000, because each new bus would hold up to 12 fewer middle school students and could force schools to increase bus routes or purchase additional buses to make up the difference.

Meanwhile, only a portion of these costs are eligible for state reimbursement, but that means the state would also see its share increase. The DMV would also incur ongoing costs of more than $65,000 to staff an additional state school bus inspectors.

“For the money, how can we make more improvements, or how can we better spend the money for our children’s benefits?” asked Leeds, who presented industry data and an update on the federal requirement for seat belts, which goes into effect for small school buses next fall, and the state bill at an event sponsored by school bus contractor company DATTCO, Inc., for school administrators last week. “What I tried to get across is that we’re not opposed to [seat belts], it’s just for each school district, we want them to have the opportunity to ask themselves if this is the best way to spend their resources.”