FRANKLIN, Ind.– Franklin Community Schools Transportation officials will soon begin testing to see whether seat belts improve discipline and safety on school buses.
A single bus, outfitted with lap-shoulder seat belts, arrived at the district’s transportation garage a few days ago. After it passes inspection from Indiana State Police, it will begin transporting students by the end of the month.
Transportation Director Doug Dickinson says the test should last about a month, and he hopes it will answer several questions about the pros and cons of seat belts on school buses. He says lap-shoulder seat belts can help protect students in a side-impact crash. The main focus of the test will be whether the seat belts improve discipline among students and reduce distractions for bus drivers.
“Bus discipline is a pretty major issue that we have,” Dickinson said. “And it’s not just us, it’s everybody.”
An on-board video from a FCS bus showed a typical morning route for a driver transporting elementary school children in December. While there were no major problems captured in the video, the footage revealed how often the driver had to look away from the road in order to tell children to stay in their seats, get out of the aisle, and stop pushing each other.
“When I view bus tapes, I can see the driver’s eyes,” Dickinson said. “And I can see how many times they have to glance up in the mirror and yell back at students and stuff to sit down, things like that.”
Dickinson believes the seat belts could be in line with recent efforts to eliminate distracted driving among Hoosiers and commuters across the country.
“Usually, drivers will glance back and forth pretty quick,” Dickinson said. “But still, it’s still an issue where their attention is taken away from the road. And that’s their number one job, to keep their eyes on the road and navigate this bus safely.”
Officials at Clark-Pleasant Schools say they’ve seen positive results since installing seat belts on buses over the last few years. The process involves more than simply installing the seat belts, according to transportation director Bob Downin. He says the effort has also included policies and procedures to discipline students who don’t follow the seat belt rules.
While seat belts are unlikely to prevent a fight among older students who bring a growing confrontation onto the vehicle, Dickinson believes the devices could positively influence the behavior of younger students.
Still, the benefits of school bus seat belts have been debated among school officials and parents for years. There are concerns about whether seat belts could make it more difficult to get children off a bus after a crash.
Dickinson says there are lingering questions about students learning and following the seat belt rules.
“How much problem will we have with kids unbuckling their seat belt,” he said. “How big will it be to implement it as far as getting them used to buckling in?”
Dickinson said the cost of outfitting each bus with the lap-shoulder belts would be roughly $6,500 per bus. He says the single-bus pilot program will likely start by the end of February and last for another month. At that time, input from drivers and on-board video footage will be presented to the Franklin Community School board for further discussion.