Durham to get 9 school buses with new seat-belt system

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Some Durham school buses to get seat belts.

Durham Public Schools will be receiving nine new school buses by early summer equipped with 3-point lap-shoulder belts.

"I want the safest possible transportation for our kids," said Scott Denton, the district's assistant superintendent of auxiliary services. Denton has been doubling as transportation director since last year after staff reductions were made.

"I want to go into this thing being committed to having seat belts on our buses going into the future," he added.

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The funds were made available by the Department of Instruction after a meeting late last year. In that meeting, Durham Public Schools was given money for the new buses.

According to state requirements, school buses can only be kept in service for 20 years or once they hit 250,000 miles; whichever comes first. Denton says current buses drive between 14,000-15,000 miles per year and buses hit the mile marker well before the year marker.

When DPI made its decision, DPS had nine buses available that met the aforementioned criteria and those buses will be replaced by the new ones.

"We want principals excited to receive (the new buses)," said Denton when asked which schools would see the new buses in service first. "We want students to ride on our buses and give them a good try. I think we have to go through a real thoughtful deliberation about where they fit best."

Seat belts on school buses have been debated for years, with the majority of the studies focused on lap belts and not the seat belts DPS will be receiving.

According to a recent NTSB study, three-point lap-shoulder belts are far more effective and even recommended. However, Denton agrees he must do his due diligence.

"We have to evaluate how well they work," he said. "It would take some pretty significant deficiencies in the program to change my mind to not have seat belts on these buses moving forward."

It will cost $7,000 per bus to install the new seat belts. Denton is unsure what the cost is for retrofitting the remaining buses. He also says "special appropriations" would need to be made by state leaders if the district wanted to ensure the remaining 251 buses are retrofitted with the new seat belts.

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