Law firm Slater and Gordon has issued a mixed response to reports of a State Government plan to modernise Victoria’s school bus fleet with new buses fitted with seatbelts over the next 17 to 20 years.
Slater and Gordon lawyer Craig Lynch, who runs the firm’s Victorian motor vehicle accident practice, said while he welcomed news that the Government appeared committed to ensuring all Victorian school buses were fitted with seatbelts, he was concerned that the scheme would take too long.
“This is a step in the right direction but we have concerns around the timeframes given it is Victorian school children whose safety is at risk,” Mr Lynch said.
Under the reported proposal, Victoria’s 1600 school buses would be replaced at a rate of 80 to 90 a year, meaning school buses would still be operating without seatbelts on the states roads for nearly 18 more years at least.
Victorian school buses in regional areas regularly travel at 100km/h but are exempt from federal safety standards requiring all buses built after 1995 to have seatbelts.
“The idea that regional Victorian students will still be travelling to school on the state’s highways without wearing seatbelts in 2030 does not make sense, especially given they were made compulsory in Victorian cars in 1964,” Mr Lynch said.
“Kids are taught from a young age to put on their seatbelts as soon as they get in a car yet the vehicles that take these kids to school are not even required to have them fitted.”
He said there had been numerous cases of Victorian schoolchildren seriously injured in buses going to and from school and last year an interstate accident involving a school bus claimed the life of a nine-year old boy.
Slater and Gordon has been actively campaigning for school buses to be retrofitted with seatbelts for a number of years.
“There will always be those who cite the cost of retrofitting as the reason why school kids should continue to be unrestrained in older school buses but that argument is purely about putting money over safety,” Mr Lynch said.