Members of the state House on Wednesday shot down a proposal to eventually require seat belts on all new school buses in South Carolina, with lawmakers concerned about the cost and the potential new requirements for drivers to be responsible for each student.
The measure would have required any new buses bought by South Carolina school districts after July 2020 to have “harness” seatbelts installed. Initially the bill required the same of all buses in state or local fleets, but was scaled back after some legislators and school groups worried about the potential cost.
But the bill — always a long shot due to the estimated $6,300 additional cost per-bus to install seatbelts — was sent back to committee on a voice vote Wednesday amid concerns about the liability and time demanded if drivers are responsible for ensuring each student is buckled up.
“They’re going to have to put the bus in ‘Park’ and put the emergency brake on every time they pick a student up, and go back and make sure they’ve got the safety belt on correctly,” State Rep. Jackie Hayes, D-Dillon, said. Hayes, a high school athletic director, said the additional steps would almost certainly mean longer route times and higher pay for drivers he said are paid by the hour.
State Rep. Gary Clary, R-Clemson, said while the driver is responsible for ensuring all students are secure, the legislation specifically included language clearing them of liability should a student later remove the seat belt.
Clary said he is concerned students are not being transported as safely as reasonably possible. “When you have a school bus accident, there are injuries that occur because there are no seatbelts,” he said on the House floor. “There are very few deaths involved. But if there’s one death that could’ve been avoided, that’s one too many.”
Hayes also expressed concerns about “activity buses” used for field trips and school sports teams. Despite assurances from Clary he did not intend for the language to cover those limited-use buses, Hayes noted the language was vague.