Safety Belts on School Buses?

By: Gordon Boyd
By: Gordon Boyd

Knoxville (WVLT) -- Would putting seat belts on school buses save children's lives? Three states currently require them, and Tennessee lawmakers are considering doing the same once again. Volunteer TVs Gordon Boyd tells us why the push for safety restraints is harder this session than it has been in the past.

The arguments haven't changed, but the pictures have and budget has. Supporters say with more money available, that puts Tennessee in a better position to buckle up.

"If they turnover, it would hold them in place instead of falling on their heads and hurting their necks," said Ronald Vaught whose grandson rides a Knox county bus to school every day.

Its hard to argue with Vaught and the on-board cameras that have caught school buses around the nation getting in accidents with children unbelted.

"They say it's not worth the safety of one child," says Knox County School Bus Contractor Steve Bean who drives a special education bus that already has seat belts installed. "We know that, but it's going to be the cost of retrofitting these buses. The problem is going to be coming up with the ten thousand dollars to retrofit all the buses they already got."

Both sides cite crash studies from the National Transportation Safety Board. One of those studies cites a crash here in East Tennessee. Eight years ago 16 year old William Blount Sophomore Abby Darden and 51-year old English Teacher Pat Lane died when the driver of their specialty bus tried to make a U-turn on I-40 and hit a semi.

"They've got to make a case," Bean said, "and they've got to show statistics where it would in fact save lives."

Federal investigators says they can't determine whether seat belts, as currently designed, would have reduced the injury
risks in wrecks they analyzed, but design a better belt, they say and it ought to go in all school buses.

"It would change my mind exactly, yes it would," said Bean who feels the state must pick up the tab if they require the restraints.

Lawmakers themselves estimate that the total cost could be more than $300 million when it comes to retro-fitting and replacing the seating space that is lost in the first year alone.

And if the bus companies had to absorb the cost of the seat belts?

"It could very easily drive some people out of the bus business," Bean said, "yes sir it could."

Tennessee's House and Senate bills call for state money to cover the costs of school districts converting their buses. As districts such as Knox County, whose hired contractors own their own buses, the question of who pays is still very unclear.


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