This year, the Texas Legislature mandated that all newly-acquired school buses be equipped with three-point seat belts. Senate Bill 693 amended Transportation Code § 547.701(e) in response to two deadly school bus crashes involving Texas students. The legislation states that it “is the public policy of this state to ensure the safety of all students by taking every measure possible to protect the lives and well-being of students during transportation on a bus to and from school and extracurricular activities…”
Beginning with this school year, new school buses, multi-functional school activity buses, and school-chartered buses, must be equipped with three-point seat belts for each passenger, including the operator. School buses that are model year 2017 or earlier are not required to install the seat belts.
What if school districts cannot afford the seat belts? The state will not help districts pay for the seat belts, but districts can opt out of the requirement. To do so, the district’s board must determine that the district’s budget does not permit purchase of buses equipped with seat belts and vote to approve that determination in a public meeting. So, while the state mandated seat belts, local school boards will have to make the difficult decision concerning whether they can afford them. This will have to be done publicly. As a result, school boards who try to opt out may face strong criticism and negative press for doing so, especially if their budgets include high dollar items such as new stadiums or high-tech scoreboards.