Franklin schools adding seat belts to new buses

(WTHR photo Rich Nye)

FRANKLIN, Ind. (WTHR) – Franklin Community School Corporation is putting seat belts on school buses, not just to keep kids safer in a crash, but to improve behavior during the ride.

"I think it's a great thing for discipline as well as bus safety, where the driver can pay attention to what their number one job is,” said Franklin Community Schools transportation director Doug Dickinson.

Right now, just one general population full size bus in the Franklin fleet has lap-shoulder seat beats. That bus served as a pilot program from March through the end of school. With students belted in, the bus driver recorded a significant reduction in behavior problems, especially among elementary school aged children.

"Once they're in their seat belts and stuff, they tend to talk to the kids around them,” said Dickinson, who reviews on board video of bus rides. “It can still get loud if they're trying to yell a few seats up and stuff. But that's something easier for the driver to deal with than kids being up, on their knees, turned around, yelling at the kids in the back."

The school district recorded 59 disciplinary issues on the bus route during the first 125 days of school on a bus without seat belts. That number dropped to just 23 incidents in the final 55 days of school on the same route on the bus with seat belts. 13 of those violations were for students not wearing their seat belt.

Dickinson says student discipline is the number one reason bus drivers leave the profession. He believes strongly that seat belts reduce bus driver distractions, making for a safer ride for students.
"You wouldn't want to watch a bus driver going down the road texting on a phone, taking their eyes off the road,” said Dickinson. “Well, it's the same situation if they have to keep looking in the mirror. Then they're not paying attention to the road as much as they could be."

All newly purchased buses in Franklin will be equipped with the lap-shoulder seat belts. The lap-shoulder belts are favored over just lap belts, which students can swing and potentially use as weapons. If a bus has seat belts, all students will be required to buckle up.

The lap-shoulder belts add $6,500 to the cost of a new bus. Three new buses arrive this fall, plus three more in early 2020.

"This was one way to keep the students in their seat and safe in regards to if a traffic accident happens, but also to try to decrease the chance of accidents happening by the driver being able to keep her eyes on the road longer,” said Dickinson.

The cost to retrofit lap-shoulder belts on a bus is $10,000. Franklin has no plans for that in a fleet of 70 buses.

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