Emily inspires campaign for school bus seatbelts

VICTORIAN parent groups are launching a campaign calling for mandatory seatbelts on school buses, especially when travelling on dangerous country routes, to prevent more children being injured in crashes.

The campaign comes after Nullawarre schoolgirl Emily Blake, then 10, was brain damaged in a bus crash on her way home from school in 2009, and six-year-old Shayla Perry was injured last year when a bus braked sharply near Alexandra.

The Australasian College of Road Safety has also called for urgent action, saying even though it was well-known that seatbelts saved lives they were not in use in school buses on high-speed routes in Victoria and New South Wales.

And Child Safety Commissioner Bernie Geary last year wrote to Transport Minister Terry Mulder saying he had received regular correspondence over the past three years from people concerned about the lack of seatbelts in school buses, particularly when they were overcrowded and travelling fast in rural areas.

Emily’s mother, Susan Blake, said her daughter was in hospital for 10 months.

‘‘With brain injury you lose everything, she went back to babyhood,’’ Mrs Blake said.

‘‘She couldn’t feed herself, she couldn’t talk or walk, she couldn’t control her bodily functions.

“It’s a miracle she is actually stringing two to three words together now and it’s three years down the track,’’ Mrs Blake said.

Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said the issue was even more timely given the government this year gave preps free storybooks stressing the need for greater road safety awareness.

She said it was a shame that despite the road safety campaign, Mr Mulder knowingly allowed students to commute on buses unrestrained.

But Mr Mulder said research showed students who travelled by bus were significantly safer than those who travelled by car.

‘‘A report prepared for the Australian Transport Council in 2002 concluded that the implementation of measures such as seatbelts on buses would be very expensive and would not contribute materially to a reduction in the national road toll,’’ he wrote to Mr Geary last year.

The federal government mandated that buses and coaches built or imported after 1995 have lap sash seatbelts following two catastrophic bus crashes near Grafton and Kempsey in 1989, in which 54 people were killed.

However, buses on scheduled routes or those with less than 17 seats are exempt. Buses without seatbelts are being used to take children to and from school in country Victoria.

Parent groups representing children at both state and private schools in Victoria will band together to lobby the government ahead of the 2014 state election to mandate seatbelts. -THE AGE

Nullawarre mum Susan Blake and her daughter Emily, 13, have helped inspire a campaign by Victorian parent groups to make seatbelts mandatory in all school buses.

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