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State to conduct 3 years of study on bus seat belts

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Students now starting kindergarten will be in the third grade when a state task force created after a deadly school bus wreck in Huntsville wraps up a study on whether Alabama school buses should have seat belts.

The panel voted unanimously Monday to seek proposals from Alabama universities to do a three-year study using 10 to 15 school buses equipped with safety belts, which would go over shoulders and across laps. The university will have to wrap up the study by Sept. 30, 2010.

Task force member Joe McInnes, the state’s transportation director, said, “Three years seems like a long time.” But state Superintendent of Education Joe Morton, chairman of the task force, said it’s not when compiling data that will help the study group chart the best course for Alabama students.

“Having or not having seat belts on buses is a very emotional issue. We need data,” Morton said.

Gov. Bob Riley formed the Governor’s Study Group on School Bus Seat Belts after four Huntsville students died in a school bus wreck on Nov. 20, 2006.

“It was a tragedy, but out of this tragedy something very position came,” said Huntsville Superintendent Ann Roy Moore, who serves on the study group.

California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey and New York have seat belt requirements for school buses. Texas enacted a law in June that requires buses purchased after Aug. 31, 2010, to have lap and shoulder belts. North Carolina is conducting a study similar to Alabama’s.

The state Legislature has allocated $750,000 to start Alabama’s study. Universities must submit their proposals by Oct. 19.

Morton said the study will involve buses that run urban routes with busy highways and frequent stops, as well as buses that run rural routes along county roads with miles between stops.

The buses will have cameras front and rear to see whether students use the belts and what effects they have.

Equipping buses with safety belts takes more room for each student, and the buses carry about 30 percent fewer students than traditional buses without belts, Morton said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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