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Wednesday, 22 August 2001
Page: 30034

Mrs MAY (7:45 PM) —I am pleased to support tonight the member for Forde's private member's motion that was introduced into the House last Monday calling for the compulsory fitting of seatbelts on school buses. As we have heard, the compulsory fitting of seatbelts on school buses is not required by any of our state and territory governments, yet it is mandatory for coaches to be fitted with seatbelts. The arguments given for the requirement of seatbelts on coaches are the distances travelled, the higher speeds and driver fatigue. I agree that coach travel is undertaken over long distances, but total exposure for schoolchildren is also considerable because of their travelling to and from school five days a week. Some also travel daily on high-speed roads.

The other argument put forward for having mandatory seatbelts on coaches is that coach drivers may suffer from driver fatigue, but there are numerous countermeasures and strategies in place to combat driver fatigue. The same cannot be said for school bus travel. School bus drivers have to deal with stress rather than driver fatigue. Metropolitan bus driving is stressful, and a large number of studies bear this out. The studies show that bus drivers have the highest absenteeism rate, an indicator of not coping, for anyone in a like profession. Therefore we have the likelihood of drivers not performing to their optimum. Bus drivers need to be alert and react quickly, but the very nature of the school bus environment inhibits this because of the competing demands, the distractions and the noise. The environment is far less controlled than that of a coach.

Since 1987, there have been 12 fatalities on school buses, eight in one accident. The students were killed in Queensland in 1987 when a bus went over a cliff edge and rolled over several times. From that same accident there were 23 hospitalisations. I cannot say whether more lives would have been saved if the students had been wearing seatbelts; what I can say is that the students who died would have had more chance if they had been wearing a seatbelt.

I well appreciate, as I am sure many parents appreciate, that the most risky time for a child on his or her way home from school is in the afternoon once the child alights from the bus and is crossing the road. Countermeasures have been put in place to address these incidents at peak risk times by better roads and reduced speed limits. While these countermeasures are working for part of a child's journey, the other part of the child's journey, the bus travel, needs to be made safer. The requirement for seatbelts on school buses would complement these other road safety strategies already put in place to protect our children. Not one passenger wearing a seatbelt has been killed on long distance coaches, yet we have a different standard for schoolchildren. I have to ask why. These are children who are too young to have even learned what position to adopt to lessen injury in case of an accident. I strongly urge the Queensland Beattie government to come on board and introduce legislation to make sure that the mandatory wearing of seatbelts on school buses becomes legislation and is enforced.