Bill set to be re-introduced in 2017 mandating seat belts in school buses

KAPAA — Only six states require seat belts on school buses — California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas.

Hawaii may soon be one of them.

Following the fatal school bus crash Nov. 21 in Chattanooga, Tenn., that took the lives of six children and injured more than 20 children on board, a call to action was proposed.

Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey (D-10, West Maui, Maalaea, North Kihei) announced that he will re-introduce a bus safety bill during the 2017 legislative session to prevent a similar accident from happening in Hawaii.

“What happened in Chattanooga is tragic and we don’t want anything like that to happen here in Hawaii,” McKelvey said in a statement. “Therefore, it is critical to pass this bill and make our school buses safe for all our children.”

According to House Bill 800 HD, all school buses that were imported into the state after July 1, 2010, are required to be equipped with lap and shoulder belts at designated seats on board.

The bill also forces the Hawaii State Department of Education to adopt rules requiring the use of seat belts and for school buses in Hawaii to be equipped with lap and shoulder belt assemblies by July 1, 2020.

“The Department follows federal and state law when it comes to having seat belts on buses,” said Lindsay Chambers of the HIDOE’s Communication and Community Affairs Office. “Federal law requires buses under 10,000 pounds to have seat belts or similar restraints, however, for larger buses (long yellow buses) the decision is left up to the states.”

While the bill won’t be re-introduced until next year, Chambers is adamant that this is an important issue.

“The safety of our students is our highest priority,” she said.

Jason Kuloloia, principal at Kapaa Elementary School, was not aware of the incident that happened in Chattanooga, but said seat belts should become mandatory for everyone to wear, even the children on school buses.

“Everybody should wear a seat belt,” Kuloloia said. “Isn’t that a law that the state makes? They’ll ensure the kids safety. I think it’s good.”

Kuloloia believes school bus drivers need to be more responsible and conscientious of who they’re driving around.

“The bus drivers got to follow the rules of the road,” Kuloloia said. “If everybody just followed the rules of the road, there shouldn’t be that much crashing and accidents. Whatever (the state) can do to provide safe transportation for the kids, they should do.”

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