Anger at schoolbus seatbelt laws delay

A DELAY in a state government program to roll out seatbelts on school buses has angered south-west safety campaigners.

Nullawarre mother Sue Blake yesterday described the tenuous process adopted by Public Transport Victoria (PTV) as disappointing.

“It seems we are waiting for further consultations and reports, whilst our children continue to travel at high speed on unsafe, unseatbelted buses,” she said.

In 2012 Mrs Blake launched a campaign calling for all school buses built before 1995 to be taken off the road after her daughter Emily was seriously injured in a bus crash.

Public Transport Minister Terry Mulder announced a plan to improve bus safety in July last year, requiring both new and replacement dedicated school buses to be fitted with seatbelts. 

In a statement to The Standard, Mr Mulder said the roll-out would happen after proper consultation with the bus industry.

In a letter seen by The Standard from May last year, Mr Mulder said from mid-2013 PTV would require all new and replacement dedicated free school buses to be fitted with seatbelts, further enhancing safety.

But Warrnambool Bus Lines manager Sam Lucas said he was yet to receive any direction from the state government requiring replacement or new school buses to have seatbelts installed.

“The policy isn’t clear,” Mr Lucas said.

“As it stands, if I ordered a new bus tomorrow it wouldn’t have to have seatbelts installed.”

A spokeswoman for PTV said the department was preparing an implementation plan and consultation stages, which included looking at high risk-rated routes and how the number of school bus vehicles with seatbelts installed could be increased “as quickly and efficiently as possible”.

She said the bus industry would be consulted before the program was rolled out to ensure operators were aware of what was expected.

The spokeswoman said once all outstanding issues identified were “satisfactorily resolved” and a detailed and formal implementation plan was approved by the government and all stakeholders, including bus operators, PTV would be able to begin the implementation process. 

“At present, up to 90 school buses are replaced each year as part of the school bus replacement program and these buses will be fitted with seatbelts once the program commences,” she said.

But Mrs Blake said the PTV response indicated that no changes had been implemented following the completion of a School Bus Safety Study which was commissioned in March 2013 and included a consultation process. She said it also contradicted Mr Mulder’s statement from May 2013.

“Almost another year has passed and still our rural schoolchildren are greatly at risk,” Mrs Blake said.

“The implementation process must happen sooner.”

She plans to contact Premier Denis Napthine, Mr Mulder and the PTV to raise her concerns.

Peterborough mother Christine Norton, whose son travels from Peterborough to Timboon on a school bus without seatbelts, is also angry. Ms Norton said seatbelts were mandated in cars and, generally, no responsible adult would ever consider driving without a seatbelt.

“Yet we’re expected to be okay that children travel every day without seatbelts.”

“It defies belief that the state government believes this is okay. In my opinion, it should be legislated and a provision should be made to assist bus operators.”

Safety advocate Leon Hain said with more than 1400 school buses operating in country Victoria, it would take years to complete the seatbelt program under the government roll-out.

“Some children will start school this year and finish their schooling without having the adequate safety requirements,” the Australasian College of Road Safety Victorian committee member said.

Mr Hain described the program as little more than “blatant, hypocritical contempt” for children’s safety.

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