The NSW government’s move to force school-bus contractors in regional areas to install seatbelts on dedicated school runs and phase out standing has been welcomed by north coast parent groups and lobbyists, but some say more has to be done to ensure safety of students.
In a state first, seatbelts will progressively be installed and standing phased out on almost 1,700 dedicated school services over 10 years, starting this financial year, in a rollout estimated to cost the government around $208 million.
However, buses that run regular services during the day, not only school routes, will not be included in the program, and private buses used for school excursions or events are also excluded.
A north coast-based state councillor for the Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations of NSW welcomed the move, telling Echonetdaily it came ‘after many years by the federation of lobbying federal and state governments to ensure the safety of our schoolchildren that endure three to a seat and standing on our school buses’.
‘We will also now advocate for the federation to lobby principals to only use buses fitted with seatbelts on excursions and events and other outings,’ the councillor said
Greens MP Cate Faehrmann, while calling the decision a victory for regional communities who had fought long and hard for the issue, urged the government ‘not to cut corners in the rollout of the scheme’.
Ms Faehrmann, who is now the lead Senate candidate for the Greens in NSW in the upcoming federal election, said it was ‘important the government doesn’t cut corners when it comes to kids’ safety’.
‘They need to ensure all buses that carry school kids along dangerous regional roads have seatbelts fitted. Where there is a will there is a way.’
Many miss out
She also said, ‘a lot of buses that school children will still travel on won’t have seatbelts’, as there was a fleet of 3,250 buses in rural and regional NSW that operated on school-bus runs.
Ms Faehrmann also said it was ‘a pity the government hasn’t adopted a faster timeframe of five years’, rather than a 10-year transition.
She said that earlier this year she introduced a private members bill into the NSW Upper House that would have seen seatbelts installed on all regional school buses within five years.
‘The School Bus Safety Advisory Committee costed a five-year transition as well as a ten-year transition. A five-year transition was achievable,’ she said.
Ms Faehrmann said, ‘coaches were required to install seatbelts in 1995, while for cars seatbelts have been mandatory since 1972’.
‘The last thing we should be skimping on is safety for our kids when they’re travelling to school or on school excursions.’
A spokesman for Blanch’s Bus Company, which operates school-bus runs in Byron and Ballina shires, referred Echonetdaily to the BusNSW (formerly the Bus and Coach Association), which had issued a press release saying it looks forward to working with the government on the implementation.
BusNSW executive director Darryl Mellish said the decision to limit the phase-in to dedicated school buses only (contract A) was ‘a reasonable compromise taking into account the community views, the costs involved of fitting out all of the rural and regional fleet, and the general high safety levels that already exist’.
Mr Mellish also questioned the cost estimates used in the plan, saying his group was seeking more detail on that and other issues ‘to be able to ensure the smooth introduction’.
He said some of BusNSW recommendations to the government included that the seatbelts should ‘always be inertia-reel lap-sash’ type and that the association did not consider it ‘acceptable for drivers to fit any child’s harness during daily school bus operations’.
The announcement, which will affect more than 60,000 students who travel on school buses across the state, was made by minister for transport Gladys Berejiklian and minister for roads and ports Duncan Gay
The ministers said the government would adopt the majority of the recommendations made by the Independent School Bus Safety Community Advisory Committee’s inquiry into school-bus safety in rural and regional NSW.
Other recommendations made by the committee that Transport for NSW will adopt to improve regional and rural school bus safety include:
- regular monitoring of new and emerging vehicle safety technologies and, where necessary and appropriate, encouraging their use through regional bus contracts
- a new student code of conduct to ensure parents, students and bus operators know their responsibilities when it comes to wearing seatbelts
- encouraging schools to use buses fitted with seatbelts for excursions and other charters
- developing guidelines that outline responsibilities for rural and regional bus operators to encourage students to wear seatbelts when fitted
- developing a standard for designing rural bus stops to improve safety
- reviewing regulations relating to speed limits around buses when school bus warning lights are flashing
- exploring new ways to communicate with stakeholders to improve student safety around school bus zones
- rolling out communication strategies to identify, share and promote good school-bus safety practice.
Full details are available on the School Bus Safety Community Advisory Committee page.
BusNSW says it has sought a meeting with the government over the process involved with carrying out the decision ‘and if the above initiatives have been accepted’.
The association was a member of the Rural and Regional School Bus Safety Committee Advisory Committee and supported its recommendations.
Mr Mellish said that in developing those recommendations, BusNSW raised a number of issues ‘including proper enforcement, poor country bus stops and the need for better training and education programs’.