Earlier this month, the Missouri House approved a bill that would permit school districts to create new revenue by displaying advertisements on school bus interiors and exteriors, and HB 1273 has since been assigned to the Senate Education Committee. But before sending it to the Senate, the House enacted an amendment that bundles in a separate, and equally controversial, issue — seat belts.
This amendment reads, in part, “no advertising shall be permitted on any new school bus purchased after January 1, 2015, unless such bus is also equipped with passenger safety belts for each student.”
In recent weeks, the debate about whether safety belts should be required on all school buses was reignited after a fatal bus accident in Chesterfield, N.J., in February claimed the life of an 11-year-old girl. Subsequently, the National Transportation Safety Board reviewed how seat belt use factored into the crash. New Jersey is one of six states that requires seat belts school buses but one of only a couple that require students to buckle up. In March 2011, New Jersey also became the sixth state in the U.S. to allow advertising on school buses.
According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Texas, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Colorado, Arizona and several others already allow school bus ads. The CCFC website tracks those states, such as California and New York, where legislators are currently considering bills that permit such ads. The advocacy group also notes which bills prohibit specific types of advertising; for instance, “junk food ads and violent or sexualized media ads.”
Under the Missouri legislation, 50 percent of the school-bus ad revenues would be allocated to transportation, while the other half could be spent at the district’s discretion. This bill prohibits advertising that could be considered inappropriate or offensive for children, including ads for tobacco, alcohol or political issues.
Bill opponents argue that corporations already spend billions of dollars every year to market products to children. At least one representative, Rep. Judy Morgan of Kansas City, is concerned that companies will market unhealthy foods to students.
But little has been said publicly about the recent amendment to the bill mandating that school buses purchased after 2015 cannot display advertising unless they also are equipped with seat belts.