Lack of funding barrier to school bus seat beltsSchool District 833 Transportation Director Gary Dechaine favors having lap and shoulder belts in buses, but finding the money and addressing liability remain a barrier to be crossed.
By: Judy Spooner, South Washington County Bulletin
School District 833 Transportation Director Gary Dechaine favors having lap and shoulder belts in buses, but finding the money and addressing liability remain a barrier to be crossed.
“What no one wants to hear is that there are no state or federal funds to pay for it,” he said.
Even without seat belts, today’s buses are built and operated to keep children as safe as possible.
Seat backs are thickly padded, front and back, to protect kids who might slide forward or backward in a slight mishap.
They are not protected, however, if there is serious side impact or a rollover, Dechaine said. These types of accidents — the accident that killed several children in southern Minnesota this year — are more likely to occur at rural road intersections where cars are traveling at high speeds, he said.
“Lap belts alone are not a good solution,” Dechaine said, because they might cause abdominal injuries if children are propelled forward in an accident.
All of the district’s special education buses have lap and shoulder belts.
New buses can be ordered with lap and shoulder belts but fewer seats will be available for children and more buses might be needed.
In a 77-passenger bus, elementary school students are three to a seat. With lap and shoulder belts, the capacity is 52 passengers.
“There is also a liability issue if any child is unbuckled,” he said. “As hard as drivers try, there is nothing to prevent a child from unbuckling after a driver has made sure every child is buckled in.”
District bus drivers are well-trained in keeping kids safe, he said.
Starting pay is $14.25 an hour and goes up $1 an hour after 75 days.
It’s a good job for retired or semi-retired people and college students, according to Dechaine.
Drug screening and criminal background checks have been routine since the late 1980s.
Driving histories are also checked at the time of employment and twice a year for all drivers in case there are new violations.
No one can drive a school bus if they have been arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol within five years of applying, according to state law.
School District 833, however, will not hire a driver that has had a DUI at any time on their driving record.
“Some people say that that’s too harsh,” Dechaine said. “There are some people who are very conscientious, but we’re trusting drivers to keep children safe. I’m not willing to take that chance.”
Drivers must pass three written tests for a Class C commercial license to drive buses. Training includes 40 hours in classroom and behind the wheel training. They must pass a state exam and road test followed by riding buses and observing trained drivers.
Drivers also get training in how to manage children from Bobby Joson, student safety manager, who oversees adult and student crossing guards.
She tells drivers that every behavior situation is different and that the goal is not to punish kids academically but to change their behavior.
In line with district policy to not reward the good behavior of children with food, Josen gives drivers gift cards to give out.
Judy Spooner can be reached at email@example.com.