GHSA: Cost of School Bus Seat Belts 'Potentially Enormous and Devastating'

Urging the Department of Transportation to rethink its school bus seat belt funding stance, the Governors Highway Safety Association said it was concerned that the funds necessary for the program would leave little if anything from each state's federal highway safety money for all their competing highway safety needs. Responding to DOT's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on school bus safety, GHSA noted that the greatest dangers to children, as evidenced by years of data from the Fatal Analysis Reporting System, are the areas around school buses and on the way to and from school--dangers that the states and DOT have already addressed with the requirements of strobe lights, stop arms, and similar improvements.

"GHSA is primarily concerned about the potential funding of the proposed changes with limited 402 funds," wrote GHSA Chairman Christopher Murphy for the association. "The impact on the 402 program is potentially enormous and devastating to a state's highway safety program. If a state chooses to use 402 funding for safety belts on large school buses, it could eliminate a state's entire 402 apportionment and still barely pay for the costs of the improvement."

Using Maryland as an example, Murphy noted that the state received $3.3 million in 402 funds in FY 2007, yet the state estimates it would cost $80 million to equip large school buses with three-point safety belts. Such funding could be "to the detriment of other competing, potentially more effective and worthwhile highway safety programs," the GHSA letter says. The group advocates spending highway safety money on the areas it says will have the greatest impact on saving lives--combating drunk driving, improving occupant protection for the general population, and reducing incidences of speeding and aggressive driving.

Moving forward, GHSA suggests DOT Secretary Mary Peters ask Congress for a new funding source in the next highway reauthorization. To view the DOT's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, visit http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov. GHSA's comments on the proposal are posted at http://www.ghsa.org/html/issues/pdf/bus.comments.1.16.08.pdf.

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