Wheels are turning in the drive to get seat belts on school buses.
A petition on the topic that gained more than 6,500 signatures in four weeks was presented to National MP Jacqui Dean on the steps of Parliament on Wednesday afternoon by its organiser, Philippa Cameron, and Federated Farmers of NZ Vice-President Karen Williams.
The pair were backed by representatives of Rural Women NZ and St John NZ. Both organisations agree with the message that it is unsafe and illogical that parents dropping their children off by car at pick-up points for the school bus run unbuckle their youngsters from legislatively-required restraints and seat belts to get onto buses that don’t have the same basic safety equipment.
Karen said in many rural areas, school buses travel long distances at on winding, gravel roads that are shared by milk tankers and forestry trucks travelling at open road speeds. But it’s an issue in urban areas too.
She and Philippa have heard from bus drivers who are very uncomfortable that they get to wear a seat belt but that protection is missing for the children riding behind them.
“In social media responses, people have told a lot of stories about when their kids were in a (school bus) crash, or when the bus driver had to put the brakes on really suddenly. Children sitting in that front seat have gone over the rails into the footwell, others have smacked their teeth.”
Philippa, a farmer from Waitaki Valley, said in her district she talked to a bus driver who won’t put 5, 6 and 7-year-olds in the front seats.
“That poor bus driver feels responsible for their safety so she puts them further back so they won’t fly through the front.”
Philippa and Karen said they don’t expect overnight change but want to see a plan for staged implementation. That could start with the Ministry of Education requiring, from a given date, that any company tendering for a school route must use buses fitted with seat belts.
Jacqui Dean, who chairs Parliament’s Petitions Committee, pledged to put it before MPs so that information can be gathered and next steps decided.
“In my own district of North Otago, we’ve had buses slide off unsealed roads,” Jacqui said.
“We’ll get Philippa to Zoom in to our committee. I’m looking forward to hearing more from her and finding a way forward. She’s pragmatic – she’s a farmer!”