Durham Public Schools works to add seat belts to all buses

Durham County News

The driver of a New Jersey school bus had his driver’s license suspended 14 times before a deadly May crash, and his license was only reinstated in January.

The school bus crash is one of dozens in the last several years.

Following these incidents, the National Transportation Safety Board is calling for all new school buses to have seat belts.

Durham students will already find the safety devices on at least 11 buses, following a pilot program that launched last year.

“I think it’s a good idea just because of the safety of the children,” explained Joe Harris, the assistant director of transportation for Durham Public Schools.

DPS is working to put seat belts on all its school buses, but officials say it’s proven to be challenging and costly.

“Doing something of that sort would be a major project because every seat within every one of our 241 buses that we run each day would have to have that retrofit,” Harris said.

Upgrading school buses to meet this standard is something the NTSB is advising. Transportation officials say 5 years ago their advice about seat belts on school buses was “too weak.”

Now the agency says they’re not tip-toeing, instead taking a hard stance.

The North Carolina budget does set aside funds to replace buses that have been in use for 20 years or have more than 250,000 miles on them, according to officials with the Department of Public Instruction.

Currently, DPI offers seat belts as an option for school districts buying new buses.

“They certainly have a safety benefit, especially in severe crashes with side impacts or rollovers, but they (school buses) are already, with or without seat belts, the safest way to get to school,” explained DPI’s Kevin Harrison, who says students are 70 times more likely to get to schools safely on school buses.

Harris tells CBS 17 no matter the price, safety will always be key.

“Parents, I want you to know that the school buses are safe her in Durham and we’re going to take care of your children,” he reassured.

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