Report Title:

School Buses; Seat Belts

 

Description:

Requires public and private elementary school children to wear seat belts on school buses. Requires all state contracted school buses to be fitted with seat belts after 12/1/02. Appropriates funds.

 

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

H.B. NO.

110

TWENTY-FIRST LEGISLATURE, 2001

 

STATE OF HAWAII

 


 

A BILL FOR AN ACT

 

RELATING TO SCHOOL BUSES.

 

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF HAWAII:

SECTION 1. The legislature finds that seat belts provide an additional measure of safety in motor vehicle accidents. However, while Hawaii law requires drivers and front seat passengers to buckle up their seat belts for their safety, most children transported by school buses in this State do not have that option, since seat belts are not available.

An extensive study of school bus collisions conducted at UCLA thirty years ago found that lap-type safety belts would provide substantial protection to school bus passengers when seated in high seat backs that had efficient padding on the rear panels of its backrests. Despite these recommendations for seat belts on all school buses, however, relatively few school districts have provided seat belts on school buses, largely due to financial constraints.

While bus safety has improved since the adoption of the 1977 federal standards of twenty-four-inch high padded seats and improved bus structures, thousands of injuries to children occur each year. While opponents of seat belts on buses often cite low injury statistics from a 1989 study by the Transportation Research Board of the National Research Council, these figures do not usually include field trips or private schools. Additionally, the use of school buses to transport preschool-age children is increasing. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that smaller children should "buckle up" and be secured in child passenger restraints when riding as a passenger on a school bus.

Most bus fatalities occur in rollovers, in which a lap belt is the most effective in curbing injuries. Moreover, an overturned busload of children cannot be evacuated quickly. Students suffer both minor and serious injuries to their head, neck, back, and stomach when striking the roof, windows, seat backs, and other students in crashes. A single collision involving students with multiple injuries and fatalities is frequently more than local emergency services can handle.

In addition to safety, seat belts provide another important benefit, namely, educating children as to their use and acclimating them to that use. We are teaching our children a contradiction: if seat belts are so important, why are they missing from school buses? Many safety advocates argue that children should grow up with the habit of buckling their seat belts whenever riding in any motor vehicle. Reinforcing that habit on school buses will ensure greater safety consciousness elsewhere, especially in automobiles. Seat belts will also improve passenger behavior, drivers will be less distracted, and students' use of seat belts in school buses will encourage their use of seat belts in cars.

Many injuries could be avoided if children were required to wear lap belts on school buses. While current federal safety standards do not require a school bus having a gross vehicle weight rating of more than ten thousand pounds to be equipped with passenger safety belts, states or political subdivisions such as school districts that procure school buses for their own use may require and equip their buses to meet a higher safety standard than that established under federal law. Currently, seat belts in large school buses are required by law in three states and fifty-one school districts in thirteen other states.

The purpose of this Act is therefore to require public and private elementary school children to wear seat belts on school buses, and to require all state contracted school buses to be fitted with seat belts after January 1, 2002.

SECTION 2. Chapter 103D, Hawaii Revised Statutes, is amended by adding a new section to be appropriately designated and to read as follows:

"103D- Procurement of school bus vehicles; seat belts. All school buses purchased by the State after January 1, 2002, shall be fitted with seat belt assemblies as defined in section 291-11.6(a)."

SECTION 3. Chapter 302A, Hawaii Revised Statutes, is amended by adding a new section to part II, subpart C, to be appropriately designated and to read as follows:

"302A-   Seat belts required on school buses; civil penalty. (a) The term "seat belt assembly" has the same meaning as provided in section 291-11.6(a).

(b) After December 31, 2001, every school bus used to carry public or private elementary school students upon any public highway shall be equipped with seat belt assemblies for all passenger seats. Every public or private elementary school student on any school bus shall wear a properly adjusted and fastened seat belt assembly while the school bus is in motion. The operator of any school bus shall require each school bus passenger to comply with this section.

(c) Any person who is found responsible for a civil violation under this section shall be subject to a civil penalty of not more than $       for each violation.

(d) A police officer shall not stop or issue a citation to a person operating a school bus on a public highway for a violation of this section unless the officer has reasonable cause to believe that there is another alleged violation of a motor vehicle law of this State.

(e) If the driver of any school bus is found responsible for a civil violation under this section, no state or county department or agency may consider the violation for the purpose of determining whether the person's driver's license should be suspended or revoked.

(f) An insurer shall not consider a civil violation under this section as a traffic violation against the person for the purposes of establishing rates for motor vehicle liability insurance or determining the insurability of the person. An insurer shall not cancel or refuse to renew any policy of insurance for such a violation.

(g) This section shall not apply to a child who possesses a written statement from a physician licensed to practice in this State that the child is unable for medical or psychological reasons to wear a seat belt."

SECTION 4. Section 291-11.6, Hawaii Revised Statutes, is amended by amending subsections (a) and (b) to read as follows:

"(a) Except as otherwise provided by law, no person:

(1) Shall operate a motor vehicle upon any public highway unless the person is restrained by a seat belt assembly and any passengers in the front or back seat of the motor vehicle are restrained by a seat belt assembly if between the ages of four and fourteen or are restrained pursuant to section 291-11.5 if under the age of four;

(2) If fifteen years of age or more shall be a passenger in the front seat of a motor vehicle being operated upon any public highway unless such person is restrained by a seat belt assembly; [and]

(3) If between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, shall be a passenger in the back seat of a motor vehicle being operated upon any public highway unless such person is restrained by a seat belt assembly[.]; and

(4) Shall operate a school bus carrying public or private elementary school students upon any public highway unless those students are restrained by a seat belt assembly pursuant to section 302A-   .

As used in this section, "seat belt assembly" means the seat belt assembly required to be in the motor vehicle under any federal motor vehicle safety standard issued pursuant to Public Law 89-563, the [federal] National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, as amended, unless original replacement seat belt assemblies are not readily available. If replacement assemblies are not readily available, seat belts of federally- approved materials with similar protective characteristics may be used. [Such] Any replacement seat belt assemblies shall be permanently marked by the belt manufacturer indicating compliance with all applicable federal standards.

(b) The passengers of the following motor vehicles shall be exempt from the requirements of this section: emergency and mass transit vehicles. Further exemptions from this section may be established by rules adopted by the department of transportation pursuant to chapter 91.

As used in this section, unless the context otherwise requires:

"Emergency vehicle" means an ambulance, a firefighting or rescue vehicle, or a police vehicle while on duty.

"Mass transit vehicle" means a bus, [including a school bus] (but excluding a school bus, charter bus, or sightseeing service bus) with a gross vehicle weight rating that is over [10,000] ten thousand pounds, whether publicly or privately owned, [which] that provides service to the general public or provides special service on a regular or continuing basis."

SECTION 5. Section 302A-406, Hawaii Revised Statutes, is amended by amending subsection (a) to read as follows:

"(a) The department may provide suitable transportation to and from school and for educational field trips for all children in grades kindergarten to twelve and in special education classes[.]; provided that no school bus may carry public or private elementary school students upon any public highway unless those students are restrained by a seat belt assembly pursuant to section 302A-   . The department shall adopt such policy, procedure, and program as it deems necessary to provide suitable transportation. In formulating the policy, procedure, and program, the department shall consider [the]:

(1) The school district; [the]

(2) The school attendance area in which a school child normally resides; [the]

(3) The distance the school child lives from the school; [the]

(4) The availability of public carriers or other means of transportation; [the]

(5) The frequency, regularity, and availability of public transportation; and [the]

(6) The grade level, physical [handicap,] disability, or special learning disability of a school child[, and it].

The department may also consider such conditions and circumstances unique or peculiar to a county or area."

SECTION 6. Section 302A-407, Hawaii Revised Statutes, is amended as follows:

1. By amending subsection (a) to read:

"(a) Any other law to the contrary notwithstanding, except as provided in subsection (e), school bus contracts between the State and a private contractor may be extended for two years by mutual agreement; provided that the parties may agree to extend the contract for an additional two years thereafter. The compensation due to the contractor by the State for each extended year may be increased by an amount not to exceed five per cent of the previous year's compensation. In addition, the compensation due to the contractor by the State for any original or extended contract year may be increased by a reasonable amount for unanticipated inflationary increases in the cost of fuel. If the original contract between the State and a private contractor already includes an option to extend the contract period, this subsection shall apply after the contract option is exercised."

2. By amending subsection (e) to read:

"(e) The contract between the State and the contractor shall include a provision requiring the contractor to equip the contractor's vehicles with the signs and visual signals described in section 291C-95(d) and (g). Any contract between the State and the contractor negotiated or extended after January 1, 2002, shall also include a provision requiring the contractor to equip the contractor's vehicles with a seat belt assembly for each seat in the vehicle. The term "seat belt assembly" has the same meaning as provided in section 291-11.6(a). The contract shall also include other provisions as may be deemed necessary by the State for the safety of school bus passengers and shall include provisions requiring periodic refurbishment of school buses over ten years old."

SECTION 7. There is appropriated out of the general revenues of the State of Hawaii the sum of $        , or so much thereof as may be necessary for fiscal year 2001-2002, for the purposes of this Act. The sum appropriated shall be expended by the department of transportation for the purposes of this Act.

SECTION 8. Statutory material to be repealed is bracketed and stricken. New statutory material is underscored.

SECTION 9. This Act shall take effect on January 1, 2002; provided that section 7 shall take effect on July 1, 2001.

INTRODUCED BY:

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