Channel 2 Investigates breaks down which districts have seat belts on school buses

A look at plans to buy new buses

By Tera Roberson - Special Projects Producer, Andy Cerota - Anchor/Reporter

HOUSTON - School bus safety is about to improve for kids after the Texas Legislature voted to require seat belts on all new school buses, but it's going to take years for every bus to be equipped.

Channel 2 Investigates is revealing how many buses in the major local school districts already have safety belts.

Students thrown from their seats, bloodied and bruised in a school bus crash -- thankfully, the images from this accident scene aren't real. They are part of a drill staged last week by Cleveland ISD.

But in September 2015, two HISD students died when the bus they were riding in was hit by another vehicle and fell from 610. They weren't wearing seat belts.

That accident highlighted the issue of safety belts on school buses. And parents, such as Jennifer Aguirre, want action.

"I know that my child's school bus does not have seat belts and that makes me a little bit nervous. I wish that they did," she said.

This year the state Legislature went to work. State Sen. Sylvia Garcia wrote Senate Bill 693, which passed this summer. It requires new buses purchased after September 2017 to have three-point safety belts.

"Some of those parents came to me and said we really should do something. And it makes no sense that we require seat belts in cars, airplanes, even golf carts, but we don't do that for our children, our most precious, precious passenger," Garcia said.

The new law takes effect Sept. 1, but KPRC 2 wanted to know district by district which Houston-area school buses have safety belts right now.

In Alief ISD, 27 percent of the district's 330 buses have lap belts. The breakdown by numbers is of the 330 buses, 96 have lap belts.

In Fort Bend ISD, that number is 23 percent. The breakdown by numbers is: 513 buses, 120 have safety belts.

HISD has 1,113 buses, and 48 percent of them have either lap or three-point safety belts. The breakdown by numbers is: 440 have lap belts, 98 have three-point safety belts.

A representative from HISD said as district replaces buses, they will be equipped with three-point safety belts.

Bill Powell is director of transportation for Cy-Fair ISD. His district has 1,041 buses, 19 percent have some form of safety restraint. The breakdown by numbers is: 116 have lap belts, 84 have three-point safety belts.

"We're hoping that everything will line up eventually and it'll be a cost-effective measure," Powell said.

Powell said districts have to come up with the money to purchase new buses with the required three-point belts, and it will take his district at least 15 years to replace the entire fleet. By then, he says, safety technology and engineering could change.

Another concern he has is purchasing the new buses will come at more than a financial cost. Bus routes may also have to be cancelled to make up some of the funds.

"No district out there really wants to cut service. So, that is a fear that a lot of districts have," Powell said.

Right now, in Humble ISD, 25 percent of the 263 buses have safety belts. The breakdown by numbers is: 64 have lap belts, one has a three-point safety belt.

In Katy ISD, that number is 31 percent. The breakdown by numbers is: of 650 buses, 200 have safety belts which include lap, three- and five-point safety belts.

In Pasadena ISD, 24 percent of buses have safety belts. The breakdown by numbers is: of 417 buses, 97 have lap belts and five have three-point safety belts. Pasadena ISD is adding 20 new buses to its fleet; 15 will have lap belts, and five will have three-point safety belts.

"We always must put our children first when we start talking about getting them to and from school, and when they're in school," Garcia said.

Since there are no special funds to help districts pay for seat-belt-equipped buses, a district can opt out of the requirements.

"I would ask school districts to think twice about opting out. To do everything they can to reshuffle their dollars and get those school buses with three-point seat belts. If you used to buy 10 without seatbelts, well, then maybe you're going to have to buy eight," Garcia said.

Parents such as Kelli Davis say in the meantime, ask questions, personally check your child's bus and talk to your kids about the importance of wearing safety belts if their bus has them.

"It's so important for parents to be educated about the school buses in their district, and the requirements and how those are run and what protocols are taken for their children and the safety of their care, to and from school," Davis said.

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