A new fleet of Fort Wayne Community Schools buses will come equipped with a safety feature never before seen on district buses: seat belts.
The school board this week approved the purchase of 26 school buses for about $3 million, and three activity buses. Each of the new buses will be equipped with lap-shoulder seat belts.
Each seat in the new buses will feature three lap-shoulder seat belts, which can secure three elementary students or two middle- or high-school students.
Students will be required to wear the seat belts whenever the bus is in motion. District Transportation Director Frank Jackson said bus drivers will inspect each seat when buses are loaded to ensure the students are safely buckled, according to new bus procedures.
Drivers will practice fastening seat belts with students on the first day of school, Jackson said, and a video tutorial clip will be posted on the district’s website. New rules and procedures will also be included in the district’s parent-student handbook.
Students who do not wear the seat belts or who take them off while the bus is moving could face consequences which could include removal from the school bus, Jackson said.
He admitted there will be a learning curve, but safety is at the forefront of the change.
“We want to be patient but we want to be safe,” said Jackson.
Jackson said the lap-shoulder seat belts will help keep students seated and safe when the buses are in motion, and avoid distractions for drivers. He said the seat belts can make school buses up to 50 percent safer and reduce bus accidents.
The seat belt-equipped buses will be rolled out on elementary routes when school begins Aug. 14.
Fort Wayne Community Schools has 255 full-size school buses. Jackson said lap-shoulder belts will only be outfitted in new buses introduced in the fleet because retrofitting older buses with belts could potentially void warranties. He said some buses cannot be retrofitted anyhow.
Jackson said he expects lap-shoulder seat belts will soon be federally mandated.
“We believe that it’s important to be proactive and equip our buses with lap shoulder belts so that we’re ahead of the game,” said Jackson. “We believe that it’s going to be mandatory in the near future from the federal government and so we want to make sure we’re in compliance when that decision is made.”
Fort Wayne Community Schools buses roughly 21,000 students.