BUSES operating on Baw Baw school routes will be fitted with seatbelts as part of a state government upgrade to improve regional student safety.
Above: bus buddies. Marist-Sion College student Patrick Mulqueen with Public Transport minister Terry Mulder on a seatbelt-equipped bus to school. Photos by William PJ Kulich.
Seventy per cent of dedicated free school buses will be fitted with seatbelts in five years as part of a wider move to improve student safety.
Speaking to media at Warragul’s Marist-Sion College on Friday Public Transport minister Terry Mulder said principals had been lobbying for the upgrades for several years.
“We’re going to replace 90 buses a year, and they’ll be replaced with school buses that have seat belts fitted, and on top of that we’ll be retrofitting 10 existing school buses a year as well,” Mr Mulder said.
“At the moment we’ve got about 43 per cent of the fleet that has seatbelts fitted to the buses. In the period of five years we’ll push that up to 70.”
Mr Mulder said the ultimate goal was to have seatbelts on all school buses and told The Warragul Citizen the approximately 840 free regional school buses still without seatbelts in Victoria would be upgraded gradually, but did not give a time frame.
“We’ve got to run the program in such a way that we don’t disrupt the bus network,” Mr Mulder said.
“This program has been identified as a result of the audits that have been carried out picking which routes are the most dangerous, and they are the ones that are going to be targeted first.”
Above: belted up and blending in. Mr Mulder and Narracan MP Gary Blackwood caught a seatbelt-fitted bus to Marist-Sion on Friday.
Marist-Sion College principal Peter Houlahan, who was one of many to lobby for the upgrades, said regional buses were more dangerous for students than town buses.
“Out in country areas students come from quite a long way to school and it’s important that when they travel at high speed, unlike the buses in town, through all kinds of weather, that they are able to get to school safely,” Mr Houlahan said.
“I just wanted to make sure that our students, and all students in Gippsland and Victoria, were safe in their travel to school.”
But as for students strapping on the new seatbelts, Mr Houlahan said “we can’t say they do it automatically.”
Mr Mulder suggested schools implement a bus captain system to enforce the wearing of seatbelts.
Upgrades have also been made to school bus pick-up and drop-off points.
“There’s a lot of working being done on the routes in their own right,” Mr Mulder said.
“One of the possibly most dangerous locations is where children get on and off the school bus, so throughout the past few years we’ve been auditing the school bus routes and where we see locations that are not safe those locations have been altered to ensure school children can get on and off school buses safely.
“Last year in Victoria was the first time ever we haven’t lost a child under the age of seven to a road fatality.”
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