Westfield Washington Schools to pilot seatbelts on buses

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School buses drop students off at Carey Ridge Elementary on the first day of school. A new pilot program will provide Westfield Washington Schools with six buses equipped with seatbelts in the next two to three years. (File photo)

School buses drop students off at Carey Ridge Elementary on the first day of school. A new pilot program will provide Westfield Washington Schools with six buses equipped with seatbelts in the next two to three years. (File photo)

Chaperones won’t be the only thing accompanying Westfield Washington Schools students on field trips. The school board of trustees recently approved a pilot program with IMMI, a Westfield-based advanced safety systems manufacturer.

Supt. Dr. Mark Keen said it was IMMI that approached the district about partnering.

“School buses don’t go very fast,” he said. “The construction has always proven to be safe for students. It’s a safer vehicle than any car would be without seatbelts.”

Keen said the pilot program will involve six newer buses to have seatbelts installed in a two to three year period.

“They’ll be field trip designated buses, which go at a higher rate of speed,” he said.

“Today we use our school buses for more than traveling short distances to and from school. We use them to take our athletic teams, performing arts groups, and students on field trips where we are traveling on interstates for long amount periods of time,” stated Nick Verhoff, WWS business director. “We hope this pilot program will allow us to better evaluate seatbelts on buses.”

While school officials know of the benefits of having seatbelts on buses, they are interested to see if there are any drawbacks, such as being a distraction to the driver and use.

“We’ll start buying buses with seatbelts in them and check out all the positives and downsides,” Keen said. “If it’s proven successful, we’ll probably move forward with it.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 600 school buses have been involved in rollover accidents in the past five years and 17,000 students are injured in school bus accidents annually.

“School buses are the only vehicles traveling down our highways at 65 miles per hour that don’t offer the protection of seat belts for our kids. We can do better, and in Westfield, we will,” stated Tom Anthony, IMMI president and owner. “We’re thrilled to partner with the city and the school district. Their commitment to take the next step to better protect kids on school buses is just one more reason why Westfield is one of the best cities to live for families.”

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