Belt up ... School buses will receive $25,000 per bus to fit seatbelts. TREVOR VEALE
Belt up ... School buses will receive $25,000 per bus to fit seatbelts. TREVOR VEALE

$40 million for seatbelts on buses

RON Beaumont says he will put his hand up for the Federal subsidy for seat belts on school buses announced yesterday. But he has plenty of questions about the new scheme.

School buses in regional areas will be fitted with seatbelts under a new $40 million Federal Government scheme, under which private bus companies will be eligible to apply for subsidies of up to $25,000 per bus.

The Prime Minister John Howard said the initiative would mean at least 375 school buses could be fitted with seatbelts each year.

Creating a safe environment for school children travelling long distances was a federal government priority, he said. "The reason that we are focusing on country and regional bus services is that ... they travel much longer distances," Mr Howard said.

"(Seatbelts) are needed in every school bus, but there is a particular problem as the accident rate suggested ... in regional Australia."

Beaumont's Buses operates country school bus services in the Orara Valley and Eastern Dorrigo area and Mr Beaumont said his first application would be for seat belts for the bus used on the Ulong school bus run, which travels a long distance on a winding mountain road.

But he wants to know what will happen on a 57-seat bus with seat belts when the 58th pupil steps on to the bus, given that the number of pupils actually on the bus varies from day to day and school buses sometimes carry up to 20 extra students, with smaller children seated three to a two-person seat and others standing.

"Who will have to stay home?" Mr Beaumont said.

The announcement comes less than two weeks after Toormina High School student Whitney Welsh died following a school bus crash on Urunga's South Arm Road.

The small school bus, which was carrying seven children, plunged up to 20 metres down a steep embankment after a collision with a car. The 17 year old Year 12 student was thrown from the bus.

Long-time bus safety campaigner Leon Hain yesterday blasted the new Federal plan, saying $40 million sounded a lot of money, but would only cover 20 per cent of the country bus fleet, would take 20 years to cover all buses and represented about a quarter of the cost of a single serious bus accident.

He said 443 Australian pupils had been injured in school buses since 2000, many seriously.

Mr Howard said the government preferred to give the money directly to private bus operators, rather than deal with state governments, and have them 'cream off half the money in bureaucracy.'

But Mr Hain said Federal Transport Minister Jim Lloyd and the Prime Minister blamed state governments, but had refused to clarify and amend the law covering ADR68 bus safety specifications, which exempted school buses.

He said nobody wearing a seat belt in ADR68 buses had died. Mr Beaumont said he would probably be interested in applying for subsidies for newer buses, which are fitted with floors so seat belts can be anchored, but with some of the older buses it probably be more economical to replace the bus.

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