Yorke Peninsula News - Tuesday 15 August, 2006

Seatbelts on buses - no simple solution

By Fiona Rait

Seatbelts on buses - no simple solution

Journalist: Fiona Rait

While the general public outcry is for all school buses to be fitted with
seatbelts after the recent bus crash on Eyre Peninsula which injured eight
children, Don Benbow of Minlaton concedes there's no simple solution. v "We
favour seat belts on school buses but I would not want to be the one to try
and come up with a solution", says Don, of Benbows of Minlaton, which has
been in the bus business for many years.

Don has driven a good many kilometres and seen generations of schoolchildren
safely on and off his buses.

"It's an emotional issue but there's a lot to think about. The cost of
retrofitting older buses is prohibitive. Buses have a limited serviceable
life - 25 years in South Australia.

"What operator would want to spend thousands retrofitting a bus which has
only got five or six years life left?

"What would you do while your bus is off the road being retrofitted? We're
lucky we have a spare one but what about the smaller companies?

Bus operators, says Don, are already dealing with rising costs in fuel.

"It would be about $265,000 for a new bus, plus GST. We operate four buses
so that would be about $1 million. The money just isn't there. It would be
better if the government subsidised the cost of new buses.

"Even then it wouldn't solve the problem straight away - order a new bus
today and your delivery date is 18 months away."

The issue of legal responsibility is another matter.

"Who's going to make sure the students put their seatbelts on and keep them
on? The driver's busy watching the road and can't keep turning around to
check on the kids.

"According to the law, if you're in a car, then the driver is legally
responsible for underage passengers who aren't wearing a belt, but how does
the bus driver make sure 40 or so kids keep their belts on and watch the

Don also says he's heard reports from Adelaide how some operators running
buses already fitted with belts have had them nicked (cut) by passengers.
The inspector checks them regularly and, if any damaged belts are found, the
operator is left with the cost of replacing them.

"What about the chain of responsibility if a student decides to misuse the
belt to hurt another passenger-who takes responsibility?"

The scenario of having to take belts out of buses isn't new to Don either. A
few years back, he purchased several buses which came from Japan but was
required to remove the belts so the bus could be registered.

"It's not the seatbelts which are the problem according to Transport SA.
It's the seat frames and anchorages. They aren't designed to meet Australian

Other issues to consider are fluctuating attendance figures, says Don.

"Sometimes you have a drop off in numbers for a particular route, and then
you're left with a bus which is too big, or it could go the other way and
you have to buy a smaller bus."

While someone else has to come up with the solution to this issue ("I'm glad
it's not me"), Don says there's still a great side to driving a country
school bus - seeing the generations of school students grow up.

"We see them as kindy kids, struggling up the bus steps and now we're seeing
their children starting school."

The word on the street
Maralyn Elliss, Wallaroo, thinks seatbelts on buses "should happen".
"Perhaps the government and the bus companies could go 50-50, then there'd
be less injuries."

Sonia Twartz's (Yorketown) three children travelled to school during their
high school years via school bus. Sonia says we have to wear seatbelts in
cars, why not buses? As an ambulance officer, she would prefer to see full
belts or lap/sash fitted, not just the lap type, which she believes don't
give much protection.

Cathryn Oswald, a visitor from Sydney, says "seatbelts-absolutely. The
government could give a percentage to get started, then the bus companies
could take over."

Safety first says AMA (SA)
Australian Medical Association (SA) Road Safety Committee President Dr Chris
Cain has called upon parents, teachers and community members to actively
campaign to ensure buses used to transport children are fitted with
appropriate seat belts.

"Children must also be educated about their use and required to wear them at
all times - just as they do in private vehicles."

This policy was adopted unanimously by members of the AMA (SA) Road Safety
Committee and has also been endorsed by the Royal Australasian College of
Surgeons Road Trauma Advisory Committee and the Pedestrian Council of

Children are our greatest asset and they deserve all the protection we can
give them said Pedestrian Council of Australia Chairman Harold Scruby. "It
seems utterly absurd that all other motorists and passengers are expected to
wear seatbelts but not children in school buses."

The AMA (SA) has drafted a form letter which can be copied and sent by
parents to their children's school to inform them of their concern and call
for their adoption of the policy outlined above, and is available on the AMA
(SA)'s website
© This work is copyright and is reproduced under licence from