Nine new school buses being shipped to Durham Public Schools this spring will be equipped with three-point lap-shoulder belts.
The school district is part of an N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI) implementation project to install lap-shoulder belts on North Carolina school buses.
Derek Graham, DPI’s director of transportation, estimated that about 100 of the state’s 13,000 school buses now use lap-shoulder belts.
Graham said another 100 or more buses, including those to be shipped to Durham, will get lap-shoulder belts this year.
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It costs an average of about $7,000 to equip school buses with the lap-shoulder belts, the kind that are used in cars.
“It’s certainly far from standard,” Graham said.
Pending approval of Policy 6306 by the DPS Board of Education, the use of lap-shoulder belts will be mandatory for all DPS students riding on buses that have them.
Bus drivers would be charged with training students three times a year in the proper use of the belts and the safety benefits of using them.
Drivers would also be asked to remind students daily to buckle up, first in the mornings, while en route if a student takes the belt off and in the afternoon before departing schools.
Students who do not comply with the mandate would be reported to the principal.
There has been much debate about whether lap-shoulder belts improve safety on school buses.
The American School Bus Council (ASBC), for example, contends that school buses, even without seat belts, are the safest way to transport students.
“The children are protected like eggs in an egg-carton – compartmentalized and surrounded with padding and structural integrity to secure the entire container,” according to the ASBC website.
But Graham said the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has come to believe that students are better off with seat belts than without them.
“Every crash is different, but the NTSB is convinced that in most crashes, you’re going to be better off with seat belts,” Graham said.
He said seat belts have the added benefit of helping to control students, which leads to drivers who are more attentive to the road.
“It helps the driver if students are staying in their seats,” Graham said. “That’s as big a benefit as the crash protection.”
Scott Denton, the school district’s assistant superintendent for auxiliary services, said adding seat belts to the new buses, which will serve elementary school, middle school and high school students was a no-brainer.
“I think any time you can improve safety on your buses, you jump at that opportunity,” Denton said.
At Thursday’s 4:30 p.m. Operational Services & Policy work session, the school board will discuss a State Employees’ Credit Union proposal to build housing for teachers on the former Lowe’s Grove Elementary School site in south Durham near Research Triangle Park.
The South Regional Library and a State Employees Credit Union (SECU) branch is already located on the site.
SECU would work with CASA, a developer and residential property manager that specializes in properties for special purposes such as those built for teachers and veterans among other groups, to build the housing development.
CASA would own the development.
Under the terms of the deal, DPS would donate three acres it owns on the site. The property has an estimated value of between $300,000 and $400,000.
Other “deal points,” such as what limitations could be placed on occupants, would be worked out as the deal progresses.