Austin/ Community & Society
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Published on April 13, 2024
Hays CISD Accelerates School Bus Safety Upgrades Following Fatal CrashSource: Unsplash / Elijah Ekdahl

Following a tragic bus crash in Hays County that left two dead, including a 5-year-old student, the Hays Consolidated School District (CISD) is moving quickly to ensure all its school buses are equipped with seat belts. According to KXAN, the district will be accelerating its bus replacement cycle with a plan that involves retrofitting older buses and purchasing new models.

This commitment comes in the dismay of the March 22 accident, where a school bus without seat belts was hit by a concrete pump truck. Megan Owen, a parent within the district, told KXAN that learning some buses lacked seat belts was "a punch in the gut." The board will meet on April 15 to discuss their detailed seatbelt plan, aiming to retrofit 2016 and 2017 buses and to accelerate the purchase of 2025 models.

Meanwhile, the Austin Independent School District (AISD) has taken the opportunity to reassure families that their buses are up to standard. All 551 of AISD's school buses are fitted with seat belts, with most featuring lap and shoulder belts, according to KUT. A total of 20,000 students ride these buses every day, with AISD having received state funding to support the initiative.

Hays CISD's array of safety measures also includes installing cameras and GPS equipment on buses. "They’re saying much sooner than 12 months, basically, we’ll be able to retrofit some of our buses,” Owen told KXAN. An additional push by the district will see transportation elements included in the May 2024 bond measure to further support these enhancements.

In the shadow of the Hays CISD incident, Austin's transportation director Kris Hafezizadeh has ordered a recheck of their buses to ensure the seat belts are functional. He expressed solidarity with Hays CISD, stating, "When something like that happens, the whole nation and the state, we are with them." Hafezizadeh emphasized the collective responsibility to encourage kids to wear the seat belts provided, despite the challenges for bus drivers in overseeing this.

The concrete truck driver involved in the Hays CISD crash, Jerry Hernandez, is facing charges of criminally negligent homicide. He was reportedly prohibited from operating commercial vehicles due to previous drug use, including a positive test for cocaine in April 2023. Hays CISD is working to ensure all its buses have met safety standards, aiming to close any gaps that such tragedies tragically highlight.