KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A bus accident last year in Bonner Springs is changing the way Pembroke Hill School transports students. Starting with the next school year, students at Pembroke Hill will be on buses with seat belts and will be required to wear them.
“We believe the current safety systems built into school buses are effective. Given what our students experienced last fall, we decided that it was important to seek out any possible enhancements in this area,” Dr. Steve Bellis, Head of School at Pembroke Hill, said.
In August of 2013, a bus carrying sixth grade girls from Pembroke Hill toppled over on the ramp from K7 to K32 in Bonner Springs, sending 22 children to the hospital. Some parents we spoke to on Thursday declined to go on camera, but expressed concerns about their children being strapped into a bus if there is an accident. They fear that rescue workers may have a hard time getting them out.
“We haven’t heard those concerns. I think the people see the advantages of the three-point seat belts outweighing any potential disadvantages,” Dr. Bellis said.
An accident investigator also said that the seat belts should enhance transportation safety.
“I think it is a concern, yes, but I don’t think the negatives outweigh the positives, whenever adding seat belts to school buses,” Jamie Lamb with KCPD’s Accident Investigation Unit said.
Previously the seat belts on school buses have been the lap belt that can cause injury according to experts. But these buses will have the three-point harness that is in every car on the road.
“It’s a new innovation in the industry and we have sought out people who have experienced them, have used them at schools across the country,” Dr. Bellis said.
Officer Lamb said it’s not because of safety factors that more school buses do not have seat belts.
“It is very expensive to outfit school buses for 60 students,” he said. “School buses are very, very safe vehicles even without seat belts. They are just going to get better.”
Jamie Shipley with Midwest Bus Sales, who sold the buses that will be used by Pembroke Hill, said the busses cost anywhere from $90,000 to $100,000 and $8,000 of that is for the seat belt technology. Past the financial challenge, Dr. Bellis anticipates that students won’t offer much resistance to wearing them.
“You know, our school motto is: Freedom with responsibility. We will expect the students to exercise responsibility to keep themselves safe,” Dr. Bellis said.
The buses will also have a monitor besides the driver to make sure the students are strapped in. Pembroke Hill is the first school in Missouri to have seat belts in full-sized buses, so they are somewhat of a guinea pig in the school bus seat belt debate.