Whether it's accomplished with a change in regulation or through new legislation, Kansas children who ride small school buses soon may be required to buckle up.
At least that's the hope of Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, who recently requested Atty. Gen. Bob Stephan's opinion regarding the use of seat belts on small school buses.
The opinion cites a federal regulation that says "passengers in school buses . . . with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less should be required to wear occupant restraints (where provided) whenever the vehicle is in motion."
According to the attorney general, the regulation doesn't impose a federal mandate but merely recommends the use of seat belts.
But Praeger would like the state to go a step further.
"I think they ought to be required," Praeger said. "It seems to me the evidence is pretty good that kids are better off being secured."
ALTHOUGH IT'S too late in the legislative session to introduce a bill regarding seat belt use, Praeger said one option would be to address the issue by amending another bill. Or, she said, the Kansas Department of Transportation could address the issue administratively by changing its regulations.
"I think there's interest in the Department of Transportation for doing it," Praeger said.
Another advocate of the use of seat belts on small school buses is Mike Brown, a nurse at Haskell Indian Junior College. He noted that small buses have been required to be built with seat belts since 1977.
Brown also pointed out that both the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have recommended the use of seat belts on small school buses.
"If a car hits a big bus and a small bus in the same location, children in the small bus are going to be subjected to much greater physical forces," Brown said. "Those small buses are more similar to cars than to big buses, and they're actually built on van chassis."
IN THE LAWRENCE school district, some 23-passenger buses and one 16-passenger bus are categorized as small buses. The Lawrence school board, while not requiring the use of seat belts on those buses, has said the district should encourage their use.
Lonnie York, assistant manager at Mayflower Contract Services, which provides the district's bus transportation, said the small buses are used mostly to transport special education students. That includes transporting advanced students to other schools to attend more advanced classes; it also includes transporting students with severe disabilities.
He said if students with disabilities aren't capable of buckling themselves in, a passenger assistant does it for them. He said other students are simply advised to wear their seat belts.
"We're lucky if we get half of them" to use their seat belts, York said. "It's usually the older kids who have a little more resistance to using them.
"But with most of the elementary kids, all you have to say is `Put your belts on,' and they will."