Some metro Atlanta school systems are installing seat belts in buses, but Coweta County isn’t among them – yet.
The National Transportation Safety Board released a report in May recommending voluntary installation of 3-point safety belts for school buses after completing a review of fatal rollover crashes in Baltimore and Chattanooga. The 2016 wrecks killed a dozen people, including six elementary school students, and injured 37.
Historically, the NTSB’s position has been that school buses are heavy and configured in a way that provides adequate protection for children. The panel now recommends that all large, new school buses come equipped with lap-and-shoulder belt systems.
Superintendent Steve Barker said the Coweta County School System will watch the Fulton and Gwinnett school districts, which are the only two metro-Atlanta systems currently using the recommended seat belt systems.
“We’re going to monitor and track their success,” Barker said. “Transportation of our students every day is one of the most important parts of our school day. We continue to revisit and review all aspects of our process.”
Barker said driver training and bus maintenance are high priorities. Coweta County Schools completed a new, state-of-the-art transportation facility on Smokey Road last year and increased bus driver pay.
“In my seven years as superintendent and even in the four years prior to that when I worked in the central office, transporting students has always been a top priority and a challenge in a community as large as ours,” Barker said. “We’ve looked very hard at how we can improve efficiency, and an improved bus facility is part of that efficiency. The bus driver pay increase will help us retain veteran drivers and attract people to that position.”
The Coweta County School System offers the option of bus transportation to all of its approximately 22,000 students. Its fleet of buses transport about 15,000 students each school day.
Students will return to school – and buses to the road – Friday, Aug. 3.
“We ask everybody for their patience because our top priority is to get them to school and home safely each day,” Barker said.
The NTSB’s report recommended, but did not require, “voluntarily installed lap belts and lap/shoulder belts...accounting for frontal, side, and rear impact collisions, and for rollovers,” on newly manufactured buses.
Recommended protection systems on new, large buses do not affect capacity, according to manufacturers, and would increase the cost by as much as $7,000-$11,000 per bus.