Seat belts on Colorado schools buses? Senate panel thinks so |

Seat belts on Colorado schools buses? Senate panel thinks so

Ed Sealover
Rocky Mountain News
Denver, CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado ” Slow down. Buckle up.

Your parents used to say that to you.

Now the orders may be coming from the legislature.

A Senate committee approved two bills Thursday that would require seat belts on school buses and expand the allowable use of camera radar devices. Both move now to the Senate floor.

Republicans have complained that the proposals are intrusive and nannyist, though two of the three GOP members of the Senate Transportation Committee supported the school bus seat-belt measure.

Democrats and other supporters of the bills say both are necessary to increase safety on the roads. And regardless of their start-up costs, both will reduce injuries and traffic fatalities, saving money in the long run.

Six states already mandate the use of seat belts on buses, and Senate Majority Leader Brandon Shaffer’s bill would require belts on any buses bought after June 30, 2010. Shaffer, D-Longmont, removed a more expensive provision from Senate Bill 29 that would have required school districts to retrofit all buses purchased in the past five years as well.

Both the Colorado Association of Secondary Schools and the Colorado Association of Elementary School Principals spoke against the proposal because of its cost. Basalt High School Principal Kevin Schott said that if new bus costs go up and if the presence of belts reduces the number of kids that can fit in each seat, some districts may cut routes and leave some kids without bus service.

But Rose Swenby, a Longmont woman whose 11-year-old son Kevin died in the state’s last fatal school bus crash 20 years ago, said that saving even one life is worth the extra $11,000 per bus the belts will cost.

“If Kevin had been in a seat belt, he’d be here today. He’d be 31 years old,” a teary Swenby said. “He deserved to not have to go to school, feel safe and then die because of money … If it was your child getting on that bus and not coming home, you’d pay.”

The hearing on camera radar ” devices typically attached to stoplights that take pictures of speeders and light-runners and then mail them to the offenders ” was less emotional but more divisive.

Bill Cowern, a transportation operations engineer for Boulder, said that in the 10 years that the city has used the devices, their presence has reduced violations at a key intersection by two-thirds. Creating long-term change like that would have required a doubling of officers if traditional radar would have been used, he said.

Senate Bill 143 by Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, allows cities and counties to use camera radar on any roadway with a speed limit of 50 MPH or less.

Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, noted, however, that by taking live police officers out of the equation, it eliminates the chance of pulling over someone and finding they have a warrant out for their arrest.

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