By Rick Sallinger

DENVER (CBS4) – It was 1971 when brake failure led to a school bus crash on Monarch Pass killing eight students and a coach from the Gunnison High School junior varsity football team. That led to what’s called the Colorado rack and load test.

Jennifer Okes, the executive director of school finance with the Colorado Department of Education, says it’s critical.

“School buses made and sold in Colorado have an extra safety to insure that the frame of the school bus remains intact,” Okes said.

The crash on Monarch Pass (credit: CBS)

The crash on Monarch Pass (credit: CBS)

That was in place in 1989 when a Boulder Valley school bus crashed, also believed due to brake failure. One student was killed. The frame wrinkled but did not collapse.

The value of seat belts on school buses has been hotly debated for years. Oakes says higher seats placed closer together serve as compartmentation.

“That is deemed safer than many of the seat belts,” she said.

In the Cherry Creek School District, CBS4 asked the opinion of some students who ride school buses.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“I do think they should have seat belts when the bus drivers drive crazy, you never know what can happen,” said Chi’ondra Johnson.

Another student, Christopher Linzy, said he believes seat belts would be helpful.

“You have to brake really hard … people sometimes get hurt … seat belts would be more protective,” he said.

Last year a bus overturned near Boulder, and all survived.

The crash at DIA (credit: CBS)

The crash at DIA (credit: CBS)

The most recent fatality involving a Colorado school bus happened in September at Denver International Airport when the driver was killed. She was carrying Broomfield Legacy’s football team and coaches when the bus smashed directly into a bridge support. Denver police said the reason for the crash is undetermined.

Seat belts are not required on Colorado school buses. There is a rule that the driver must be buckled in and smaller buses under 10,000 pounds must have seat belts, but for the larger buses it is up to each district to decide.

CBS4’s Rick Sallinger is a Peabody award winning reporter who has been with the station more than two decades doing hard news and investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter @ricksallinger.


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