IT'S standing room only on many of the Coffs Coast's school buses and Vicki Aurisch is not happy about it.

Mrs Aurisch said she thought children standing on school buses was a much more urgent safety issue than putting seat belts in the buses.

"At least in an accident they are in a seat and they are not going to become airborne projectiles," Mrs Aurisch said.

The Newry Island mother, who puts her 16-year-old and eight-year-old sons on school buses every morning, says there were no seats available by the time the older boy got on the school bus at Newry Island for the 30km trip to the Coffs Harbour Senior College.

This trip along the Pacific Highway includes Pine Creek, a stretch notorious for serious highway accidents.

Mrs Aurisch said she understood the Busways bus, which begins its trip in Macksville, was full by Nambucca Heads, so some of the students on the bus could have been standing for much longer periods of travel through 90km/h and 100km/h zones, even if the bus itself was only travelling at 80km/h.

The NSW Leader of the Nationals, Andrew Stoner, told the members of the NSW Legislative Assembly recently that the Busways company was replacing 50 late-model, air-conditioned buses on the Mid North Coast with non air-conditioned 25-year-old buses, a decision which had angered parents and bus drivers.

Mr Stoner also said some of the drivers had said some of these buses were 'mechanically suspect'.

Mr Stoner has previously expressed concerns about children standing in aisles, the 'three-to-a-seat' rule for primary school children and the lack of seat belts.

The public relations officer for Busways, Robert Henderson, said Busways had sent 44 air-conditioned buses, some of which were being used only once or twice a day on school bus runs, from the Mid North Coast to Sydney, where the air-conditioning would be used all day for the benefit of passengers.

Six of the 'swapped' buses were in use on the Coffs Coast contract, which covers the region from Coffs Harbour to Macksville.

Mr Henderson said Busways had one of the youngest bus fleets in NSW and the average age of the local Busways fleet was less than 12 years, as required by Government regulation. He said Busways buses had company maintenance checks every 6000km and RTA inspections every six months.

Mr Henderson said the previous owners of the Busways fleet, King Bros, a company which went into receivership, were the only bus owners in NSW which had introduced air-conditioned school buses, so the situation had now returned to normal.

The NSW Minister for Transport, John Watkins, has just released the final report of the Government's School Bus Safety Working Group.

This has recommended that any plan to fit seat belts to school buses should be a national plan by the Australian Transport Council, carried out through the Australian Design Rule process. The report said retro-fitting seat belts in existing school buses 'would not be appropriate'.

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