The Rhode Island Senate today approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Adam J. Satchell to phase in seat belts on school buses, and require school districts to adopt implementation plans that include bus evacuation drills.

The legislation (2016-S 2256) would require that all new school buses purchased or leased in Rhode Island be equipped with seat belts for the driver and every passenger seat. Upon the purchase of one or more school buses equipped with seat belts, each school district would be required to prepare a plan for the implementation and use of seat belts, including evacuation drills in case of emergency, within one year of the receipt of the new buses.

Senator Satchell said he introduced the bill because, while Rhode Island has a mandatory seat belt law for passenger vehicles and children are expected to ride in child restraint seats or boosters until at least age 8 in cars, students are left with no safety restraints at all on school buses.

“Seat belts save lives and prevent injuries. While school bus accidents are fortunately not common, a child who is wearing a seat belt during one is less likely to get hurt than a child who isn’t,” said Senator Satchell (D-Dist. 9, West Warwick). “This is a common-sense safety improvement that, in 2016, we really should adopt for the protection of children.”

The requirement would apply only to new school buses, and would not require existing school buses to retrofitted, so it would not place a significant financial burden on school districts or transportation companies.

The legislation includes the requirement that districts with seat belt-equipped buses adopt plans that include evacuation drills to ensure that children are experienced in releasing their seat belts in case evacuation is ever necessary. Senator Satchell also pointed out that Rhode Island law requires bus monitors on all buses carrying children in grades kindergarten through 5, so monitors could also help younger children if they need any assistance with their seat belts.

California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas have passed some variation of a seat belt laws for school buses. In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began advocating for seat belts on school buses across the nation.

Senator Satchell said, besides the direct impact on student safety, having seat belts on school buses gives children a much more consistent message about vehicle safety.

“Most Rhode Island parents are vigilant about buckling up their children every time they get in the car. But it sends a rather poor message to kids about the importance of seat belt use if we don’t give them one on the bus that we make them ride every single day. We want kids to be safe at all times, and to develop lifelong habits that protect them. We should be telling them to buckle up every time they get in any kind of vehicle, and giving them the seat belts they need to do so on the bus,” said Senator Satchell.

The bill is cosponsored by Sen. Paul W. Fogarty (D-Dist. 23, Glocester, Burrillville, North Smithfield), Sen. Harold M. Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence), Sen. Frank S. Lombardi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston), and Sen. Gayle L. Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence). It will now be forwarded to the House, where Rep. Robert A. Nardolillo III (R-Dist. 28, Coventry) is sponsoring companion legislation (2016-H 7155).