Bus seat belts required under bill

Sara Williams, News Editor

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Junior Prajnaa Jain (left) and senior Anna Starobinets talk about their day on the bus after school. Instead of seat belts, student buses use the compartmentalization method to firmly pad the seats as a safety precaution. Photo by Richard Chu

He was only a child when the school bus he was riding flipped over.

The driver was knocked unconscious, and kids were not able to free themselves from the seat belts that strapped them to their spot.

Bryan Williams, Northbrook manager of First Student, Inc., said in a phone interview that he scrambled to get seat belts off his peers so they could evacuate from the vehicle.

Williams now works with seat belt safety at First Student, Inc., Glenbrook North’s bus provider. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, also known as NHTSA, states currently do not require seat belts to be worn on school buses weighing over 10,000 pounds, such as the yellow school buses used at GBN. Buses weighing under 10,000 pounds, like the white activity buses, also known as minibuses, are required to have seat belts present and worn at GBN.

According to the Illinois General Assembly website, the proposed bill HB3377 plans to mandate seat belts to be present and worn on all Illinois school buses weighing over 10,000 pounds built after the bill is passed.

According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, also known as IDOT, wearing seat belts is not currently mandated due to the compartmentalization method.

In an e-mail, Williams said the compartmentalization method is a form of protection in which thick padding is placed in the bus seats and seat backs. He believes the method is safer than seat belts for a school bus because the method allows for a quicker evacuation.

According to IDOT, the compartmentalization method provides a soft surface to absorb an impact in the case of a crash.

The Illinois General Assembly website said the proposed bill would not use the compartmentalization method. Three-point seat belts, similar to the ones used in cars, would be required on buses that are built after the bill. School buses built before the passing of the bill would not be affected.

Since this bill would only apply to Illinois, a school bus registered outside of the state would not have to comply with the law.

In a phone interview, R.J. Gravel, assistant superintendent forbusiness services at Glenbrook High School District #225, said althoughhebelievesthe bill has merit, it would take several years before the effects would be felt because buses are often used for 10 to 12 years before they are replaced.

Debate coach Stephen Pipkin, who drives the activity buses for the debate program, said he requiresstudents to wear seat belts while he is driving because not wearing them may create a situation in which students could hurt themselves.

Senior Wendy Zhu, who has ridden on activity buses for debate tournaments, said she has not felt unsafe while riding a minibus.

When riding the large yellow school buses, Zhu said she believes there have been times when seat belts would have been useful, such as when her bus driver once drove over a rock.

“When we went over [the rock], everyone kind of fell and like hit the window,” Zhu said.

Williams said he believes requiring seat belts on buses would not create a safer environment.

“[First Student, Inc.] hasn’t had any situations in Northbrook and Glenview where someone was injured because they didn’t have a seat belt [on],” Williams said.

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Bus seat belts required under bill