ARKANSAS, USA — Seat belts on school buses -- a topic that's been discussed for years. In Arkansas, a school bus seat belt bill went into law in 2017.
Now, one viewer wants to know what's happened since and how many school buses are now equipped with safety belts. Tonight, 11 Listens, gets answers.
Most students begin and end their day on a school bus, which is why one viewer concerned about their safety, asked for an update on the states seat belt school bus bill.
Former State House Representative Mark McElroy of District 11 sponsored the bill, after a 5th grader lobbied him for school buses on seat belts.
"I said ‘well it's so expensive,’ and she looked at me and said ‘well how much is my life worth’ and it hit me to the core then," McElroy said.
That was back in 2014. The bill didn't become law until 2017.
McElroy said it was a long journey, but well worth it. He said the bill drew interest across the country after a national conference of state legislatures.
"They asked could other legislators use this bill,” McElroy said, “and I said if it will save kids’ lives, everybody just use it."
Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board changed its stance regarding seat belts on school buses for the first time, recommending that all new buses be equipped with lap and shoulder belts.
According to the state law, if 10 percent of a school district's electors sign a petition to outfit its buses with seat belts, the district must propose a levy for the cost to buy them and install them. The issue would then be decided by voters during the annual school election.
The other option is for districts to just purchase new or leased school buses already equipped with seat belts.
“You're looking at $3,000 or $4,000 on a $6 million budget, even for a small district."
McElroy decided to take action in his own district.
"I actually carried the petition for the Mcgehee School District,” McElroy said, “and I collected the names and gave it to the superintendent last year in April."
He said the school district decided to purchase new school buses with seat belts, rather than go through the tax proposal. It's one of very few districts to do so.
So far, the Arkansas Department of Education said none of the school districts have implemented a tax to pay for seat belts on school buses.
"It's really sad,” McElroy said. “Of course, the people are going to have to take the initiative. It’s up the public.”
The Arkansas Department of Education Transportation does not keep track of the school districts that have purchased new school buses.
However, THV11 did call these school districts to inquire about seat belts. None of them currently have plans to update seat belts on school buses. However, there are belts on special needs buses for most of the districts.