Local lawmaker introducing bill to add seatbelts to new school buses

HARRISBURG, Pa. — If you drive down the road, you’ll see school buses all across the region. Big, yellow and considered one of the safest vehicles on the road.

“If we can add more safety to it, I’ll be the first one in line no doubt about it,” said DJ Frye who owns Frye Transportation.

Frye is a third-generation school bus owner in Beaver County. He’s heard the topic of seatbelts in large school buses debated for years. The latest conversation is out of Allegheny County where State Representative Natalie Mihalek is introducing a bill to add the three-point seatbelts to all new buses.

“I say it’s sort of priceless when you are talking about the safety of our children. So it’s estimated it would be $7,000 to $10,000 for a new school bus, I’m not looking to retrofit the school buses already in service and it would be starting in the year 2029 or later depending on the timing,” Mihalek said.

Those costs are just the upfront costs, according to Frye. He said the biggest hurdle for the bus companies will actually come from the capacity because right now you sit three kids a seat with seatbelts it takes it to two.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time when you pass a school bus nowadays it’s full. So, if you need 20 buses at the elementary school now you are possibly looking at 25 to 30,” Frye said.

Plus, drivers won’t be able to double up on routes, meaning you’ll need more drivers. Frye said the logistical costs will be passed on to the taxpayers, but the one thing he’d want no matter what for safety is an extra adult to help enforce, because why have the seatbelts if the kids won’t wear them?

“Thirty-seven feet behind that driver, we don’t know what that student is saying, what that student is doing, are they going to have the safety belt on or are they going to use it in a way they shouldn’t,” Frye said.

Frye hopes he can sit down with Mihalek to include his perspective in the bill to make sure it creates the safest situation for all the kids.

“We aren’t looking to make the switch overnight, there would be a long leadup time,” Mihalek said.

The bill is currently still being drafted with the hopes to introduce and move to committee soon.

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