North Carolina is at the forefront in an effort to make school buses safer. US Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters wants higher seatbacks and seat belts in buses and she made case here in the state today. Her timing was ironic. Monday morning a news helicopter captured frightening images after a car crashed into a school bus in Granville County. Children were on board. Thankfully, no one was injured. Hours later Peters was strapped in on a school bus -- making her way to Morrisville Elementary School -- to tell the nation she wants a safer school ride for kids. Peters said, "Even though statistics show that children are safer on that big yellow school bus than they are walking to school or riding their bikes, or riding in the family car, this community is asking how we can make the ride to and from school, how we can make the ride safer still." Peters announced a federal proposal to require higher seatbacks in new school buses and three-point seatbelts for new, small school buses. "We're doing so on the smaller buses because as I said, they're more crash prone and more easily rollover," one official said. "The feds are now going to require higher seatbacks. We went to the higher seatbacks this year, so we feel pretty good about that." Thirteen North Carolina counties are already experimenting with the seatbelts -- including New Hanover. School districts would have the option of requiring seatbelts in big buses. But at $10,000 a bus the upgrade wouldn't be cheap. The proposal would allow schools to use federal highway safety funds to help with the cost. The public has a chance to comment on the proposal through the federal Department of Transportation. The DOT would have final approval of all the changes. That could take anywhere from four months to several years.
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