The Texas House approved a bill Thursday that would require new school buses built in 2018 or later to be equipped with three-point seat belts -- following a similar move by the Senate in April.
Supporters of the 91-43 decision said the bill would increase student safety, but opponents expressed concern over the cost and questioned whether or not seatbelts would actually make buses more dangerous to escape in a crash.
"If you have to unbuckle panicked kids in a wreck or fire, it will likely take you longer and could result in casualties," one Waco mother told KCEN-TV.
But, a Temple mother said any added safety could help.
"I think it is a great idea," Randi A. said. "It would make it safer for the kids if they are in a wreck."
Fatal school bus crashes are rare. Nationwide, only about 134 victims die in school vehicle-related crashes each year, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. And, of those victims, only eight percent are actually riding in the buses, USA TODAY reports.
A challenge for school districts will be the cost. The proposed legislation does not include extra state funding. And, outfitting new buses with seat belts can cost more than $7,000 per bus.
"While we aren't opposed to the new requirement, it will increase the cost of purchasing new buses," Belton ISD Superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon said in a statement. "If the legislature is going to mandate this, they should also provide the funding for it."
The bill would allow school districts to opt out of the requirement if they cannot afford the extra cost associated with the seat belts. Back in 2009, state lawmakers approved $10 million for optional seat belts. However, not very many Texas school districts actually went and installed them.
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