MONTGOMERY — Students now staring kindergarten will be in the third grade when a state task force created after a deadly school bus wreck in Huntsville wraps up a study on whether Alabama school buses should have seat belts.
The panel voted unanimously Monday to seek proposals from Alabama universities to do a three-year study using 10 to 15 school buses equipped with safety belts, which would go over shoulders and across laps. The selected university will have to wrap up the study by Sept. 30, 2010.
State Superintendent of Education Joe Morton, chairman of the study group, said three years may seem like a long time, but it's not when compiling data that will help the study group chart the best course for Alabama students.
"Having or not having seat belts on buses is a very emotional issue. We need data," Morton said.
Gov. Bob Riley formed the study group after four Huntsville students died in a school bus wreck on Nov. 20, 2006.
"It was a tragedy, but out of this tragedy something very position came," said Huntsville Superintendent Ann Roy Moore, who serves on the Gov.'s Study Group on School Bus Seat Belts.
The Legislature has allocated $750,000 to start the study.
Morton said the study will use 10 to 15 buses equipped with lap and shoulder belts. The buses will have cameras front and rear to see whether students use the belts and what effects they have.
Equipping buses with safety belts takes more room for each student, and the buses carry about 30 percent fewer students than traditional buses without belts, Morton said.