After a horrific bus crash in Tennessee took the lives of six people including five children many across the nation are raising concerns about safety on school buses most of which don’t even have seat belts. Montana Highway Patrol Cpt. Roman Zylawy says buses are excluded from seat belt requirements by federal law.

"The fact of the matter is the seat belt law in Montana has exemptions and the exemptions are actually handed down to us by the federal code," said Zylawy. "Congress had federal code 49 CFR part 571 and it exempt certain vehicles from requiring to have seat belts. Motor buses, greyhound buses, school buses, motor homes, limousines and taxi cabs are not required."

According to Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction elect Elsie Arntzen, the decision on whether or not buses should have seat belts is complicated, and ultimately rests is in the hands of local school districts.

"We have a lot of interesting ways, some districts purchase their bus and other districts go ahead and contract out," said Arntzen. "There is a cost differential on that, but it is definitely up to the school districts themselves to determine if they are going to retrofit their bus or if they purchase a brand new bus if indeed it has seat belts in it. That is a local decision."

One aspect of bus safety that will likely become an issue next legislative session is better vetting for school bus drivers. A prior audit discovered some Montana school bus drivers had criminal histories and a few even had drunk driving incidents on their records.

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