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Washington might require seat belts in school buses

Seattle Post-Intelligencer/Associated Press
OLYMPIA -- Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe pointed to jerky video footage of students tumbling around in an overturned bus as she urged lawmakers to require seat belts in all Washington school buses.

"While school buses are safe, children flying around in school buses are not safe," McAuliffe, D-Bothell, told the Senate Education Committee last week.

"Our children deserve to have safe seat belts."

McAuliffe's proposal drew criticism from industry and government officials, who said the restraints don't necessarily save children's lives. Education officials worried that a seat-belt mandate would put even more pressure on already stretched school budgets.

Senate Bill 6590 would extend provisions of the state's 1986 car seat-belt law to school buses.

It would require all school buses purchased on or after June 30 to include lap and shoulder belts. The move would cost most school districts about $1.50 per child per year. The bill would also earmark $500,000 from the state Highway Safety Fund to retrofit existing buses with belts by June 2010.

Five states currently require seat belts in school buses: New York, New Jersey, California, Florida and Louisiana.

Washington already mandates seat belts in vehicles for special-education students.

"There is a question about whether or not this is even needed," said Dan Steele, director of governmental relations of Washington State School Directors Association. "State dollars for education are already in short supply."

He said the proposal would mean more buses, because the youngest children could not safely use seat belts designed for older students and adults.

The seat belts may also reduce bus capacity, Steele said.