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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

State Highway Safety Officials Want DOT to Reconsider School Bus Seat Belt Funding

Governors Highway Safety Association Wants DOT to Spend Funds on Seatbelts, Not Competing Highway Needs

Recently, the Chairman of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) responded to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on school bus safety. The Association indicated its letter that it was primarily concerned about the funding of the proposed changes. The section that applies to large school buses is the part of the proposal that most concerns GHSA. According to the projected rule, school districts that resolve to add seat belts could apply for existing federal highway safety grant funds to pay the cost of the additional safety equipment. While this use of grant funds is not new, the extra attention on the issue could pressure states to spend federal highway safety money for this purpose instead of using it on many competing highway safety needs.

As proven by years of data from the Fatal Analysis Reporting System, the greatest dangers to children are the areas around school buses, and on the way to and from school. In response, the DOT and states have wisely executed engineering improvements, as well as the Safe Routes to
School program. School buses are an extremely safe form of transportation, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has argued in the past. Each state's crash data demonstrates this.

At the moment, GHSA members guarantee that federal highway safety funds are used in areas that will have the most lifesaving effect. These funds are largely directed to critical occupant protection, drunk driving, and speeding programs. These limited funds might be quickly exhausted if a state is under pressure to spend its federal funding for seat belts on school buses. Maryland, for example, receives roughly 3.3 million dollars annually for its basic behavioral highway safety program. The state could allot that full amount on the school bus improvements and hardly meet the need.

Increasingly, states are establishing data-based highway safety programs that reveal the most likelihood of reducing fatalities. Funding seat belts on school buses does not meet that yardstick.

The GHSA encourages the DOT to rethink this position and if it moves forward, advises Secretary Peters ask Congress for a new funding source in the next highway reauthorization.

To view the DOT's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, visit

The GHSA's comments on the proposal are posted at

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