CHEYENNE, Wyo. — What could be the nation’s third school bus lap/shoulder belt requirement went to a House hearing in Wyoming after passing the Senate by a 23-7 vote.
The bill would require the phase-in of lap/shoulder belt–equipped buses starting on July 1, 2009.
D. Leeds Pickering, state director of pupil transportation, said the department of education is officially taking a neutral position on the law this time around (it has opposed previous measures). The department will be providing information at the hearing. Pickering estimated that it would cost $1.2 million per year over the next 10 to 12 years to replace all of the state’s 1,694 buses that transport nearly 33,000 students to and from school each day.
California requires lap/shoulder belts on all new buses, and Texas has a similar requirement that will not be fully implemented until the legislature allocates funding. At least 10 states are considering lap/shoulder belt laws this year, including Colorado and Nebraska.
Some of the roadblocks that have traditionally halted seat belt legislation appeared to have been cleared in this bill. Unlike many other states, funding is not a major concern for Wyoming. Pickering said any additional costs would be funded through the largely mineral-financed foundation program that currently finances school transportation.
The state also does not have the same passenger capacity concerns many pupil transporters around the nation have voiced. While Pickering said the state would only consider seating configurations that allow either three elementary school-age children or two high school-age children per bench seat in order to maintain capacity, only three of the 48 districts in the state have said they are concerned about potential seating issues.
Liability, however, may be a challenge. While the bill grants state indemnity and protects drivers against criminal charges or civil lawsuits in the event of a crash, school districts could be held liable, Leeds noted.