Michaela Brickley, 10, says it just does not make sense that students do not have the option of buckling up on a school bus.
"If kids want to be safe, they have no option right now," she says.
"We go from one car seat to another depending on our height and weight," Michaela, who has just completed the fourth grade, explains about safety seats for children. "And then we get to the first grade and we are free -- we don't have to wear seatbelts.
"It doesn't make sense."
A news story about a serious school bus rollover accident last fall motivated Michaela to take action. She talked over her mother and then Principal Cheryl Edgar at South School.
Edgar encouraged Michaela to do some research and to contact state Rep. Garrett Bradley, who offered his support. She organized a petition that was placed in the school lobby and also brought the petition to special events. Michaela collected about 200 signatures in all.
Earlier this month, Michaela joined Bradley at the State House where she testified in support of House Bill No. 3429, an act relative to seatbelts on school buses. She brought along a page of prepared remarks that she had expected to read. But the page was collected prior to the hearing as part of the record. However, the straight-A student, who had practiced her speech a lot, was unfazed. She also brought a three-ring binder along with all her research and was able to refer to that during her testimony.
Michaela says the biggest roadblock appears to be the cost of installing seatbelts. She explained that a friend's older sister complained to her that textbooks are out of date and that money for seatbelts might take funds away from other areas. But Michaela said fundraisers could be held to pay for the seatbelts which she has read could cost anywhere from $2 to $10 per rider.
She said a seatbelt demonstration could be conducted on school bike safety day and with principals enforcing the rules, most students would comply.
Bradley said he thinks it is terrific to have young people involved in the legislative process. "Michaela came to me with this idea after talking to many of her classmates -- it is wonderful that the school was involved," he said.
Bradley explained that former Third Plymouth District Representative Mary Jeanette Murray raised the school bus seatbelt issue in the 1990s but it did not get any traction due to the cost.
Bradley, the father of three young children, says he thinks the seatbelt issue for school buses is an "idea whose time has come." He said Michaela's bill has been field with the Joint Committee on Public Safety, which will report the bill out favorably, unfavorably or continue to study it.
Schools Superintendent Dorothy Galo praised Michaela for getting involved in the democratic process. But, she said, "More research would be needed as to whether it would be the best option for us."
School Business Manager David Killory said the new buses that were ordered last spring for use in September will be "seat belt ready" which means the floor anchors will be in place under the floor mats, but no belts have been ordered.
"This is not a matter of cost for us," Killory said. "The arguments for seat belts are pretty clear: They will provide additional protection in the event of an accident beyond the heavily padded student seating area of the bus and they will reinforce the use of seatbelts in all moving vehicles. Some within the school bus industry point to the concern of who is responsible for checking to make sure all students use the seatbelts, who will release the belts in the event of an emergency and will the unused seatbelt pose a safety concern as a possible harmful 'weapon.'
"I am not sure that this latter point is valid although we do have three students to a seat for most of our elementary routes and two students to a seat for our middle and high school routes. The unused third belt could invite some problems for certain early adolescents," Killory said.
Michaela said she has learned a lot by getting involved in an important topic and whether or not the law is passed, she is glad the issue is being considered.
"I have learned that people have different opinions about seatbelts on school buses and I learned to deal with that," she said. "But I think that if they were installed, they would become automatic. After all, we are on school buses two times a day, five days a week."