LA state law loophole leaves future of school bus restraints in limbo

Published: Nov. 28, 2016 at 10:57 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 29, 2016 at 12:26 PM CST
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SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - The Chattanooga, TN school bus crash that killed six children last week has caused the minds of many across the country to think of safety on school buses and laws involving seat belts.

In Louisiana, every bus used primarily for the transportation of students shall be equipped with occupant restraint systems by not later than June 30, 2004, according to Louisiana Revised Statute 17:164.2.

But only if the money needed to implement them is there.

"It's not mandatory unless the Legislature appropriates funding for it and there hasn't been any funding appropriated," said Louisiana Highway Safety Commission Deputy Director Ken Trull.

According to Caddo Parish Public Schools Director of Transportation Otis Jones, Jr., the funding is not there for Caddo Parish schools.Before he became the director, Jones, Jr. was a state trooper for 25 years and a safety officer for a decade. In all of his years in public service, Jones says he never saw a school bus fatality, seat belts or not.

"The average vehicle will strike the bus lower than where the platforms that contain the students are. With high-back seats and increased structural integrity, that pretty much keeps them safe. It's worked for decades," said Jones, Jr.

According to the American School Bus Council, school buses are designed on a different transportation and protection model than the average passenger car.

"The children are protected like eggs in an egg carton - compartmentalized, and surrounded with padding and structural integrity to secure the entire container. The seat backs are raised and the shell is reinforced for protection against impact."

Jones, Jr. said he wants to put the minds of local parents at ease, quoting the latest statistics from the ASBC.

"Around 57 percent of all the traffic fatalities going to and from school occur with teen drivers. Another 23 percent occurs with adult drivers. Less than 1 percent of all of these totals are school bus-related fatalities," he said.

Louisiana Senate Resolution 122, authored by New Orleans Democratic Senator Troy Carter, was written, "to urge and request the state Department of Education to establish a task force to study and make recommendations regarding student transportation and school bus passenger safety."

Trull says he is a part of the 16-member task force which has been meeting every Tuesday to craft their report to the Louisiana Legislature.

"Make recommendations on improving student transportation safety," Trull told KSLA.

Depending on what the task force discovers, the future of restraints on school buses across the state could be changed.

Trull says their report to the Louisiana Legislature can come no later than January 31, 2017.

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