Five new school buses armed with seat belts will hit the local roads in August.
The addition to the New Hanover County Schools’ fleet come as part of a statewide pilot program to better evaluate the devices, according to district spokeswoman Valita Quattlebaum.
In a release sent last week, Quattlebaum said recent studies have shown the seat belts not only improve student safety but also serve to improve behavior on board.
N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s (NCDPI’s) Transportation Services department reports that school bus seat belts have been available for several years, but at a higher cost. Buses with belts cost $93,000 each, $10,000 more than a bus without them, Quattlebaum noted.
“The goal of the pilot program is to begin gathering real-world experiences for the NCDPI Transportation Services,” she said.
New Hanover County is one of just a handful of school districts that volunteered to participate.
“Just like volunteering to test the six-foot stop arms, we wanted to be a part of anything that would improve bus safety,” said Ken Nance, transportation director for the local district. “Even though school buses are very safe, seat belts add another level of safety to riding the bus. Students wearing a lap and shoulder belt can be better protected in some accidents. Furthermore, if students remain seated during the route, the driver is less likely to become distracted by student behavior.”
The new buses will be used at the elementary, middle and high school levels but the district has not yet determined the specific schools and routes to which they will be assigned.
Quattlebaum said bus drivers will be trained on the usage of the seat belts and will then be required to instruct students.
“The seat belts are very similar to those on cars, so most students will be used to wearing [them],” she said. “Studies show this transition is not a difficult one for students to make, but parents and school administrators will have to reinforce the behavior with the students.”