School Bus Safety
“The school bus is the safest vehicle on the road. Your child is much safer taking a bus to and from school than traveling by car,” maintains the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), noting that students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking the bus instead of a car.
Why is that?
“School buses are designed so that they’re highly visible and include safety features such as flashing red lights, cross-view mirrors and stop-sign arms. They also include protective seating, high crush standards and rollover protection features,” adds the NHTSA.
However, Tennessee school buses could—and would—be safer, if they were outfitted with seat belts.
Why Don’t School Buses Have Seat Belts?
Seat belts have been required on passenger cars for the past five decades. So why doesn’t your child’s school bus have seat belts?
The argument made by the NHTSA (and others) is that because of a concept called compartmentalization, “children are protected from crashes by strong, closely-spaced seats that have energy-absorbing seat backs.”
The problem is that compartmentalization isn’t much help when a school bus is T-boned or involved in a rollover crash.
For example, eight students were injured and hospitalized after an accident last month in Manchester, Tennessee. (Manchester is in Coffee County, an hour-and-a-half southeast of Nashville; it’s arguably most famous for being home to the annual Bonnaroo Music Festival).
In that case, a vehicle reportedly ran a red light and T-boned the school bus. In another recent wreck, a school bus flipped over in Tallassee, Tennessee (Blount County), which could have been a tragic accident had children been onboard and not just the driver.
Advocates Hope to Pass School Bus Seat Belt Bill in 2018
The good news is that momentum appears to be building towards passing a school bus seat belt law in Tennessee after efforts to pass a law in 2017 stalled. It’s an effort that originally got underway in earnest in the wake of a horrific distracted driving accident in which six elementary students were killed when the school bus in which they were riding flipped on its side.
Rep. JoAnne Favors (D-Chattanooga), one of two legislators who have said they will redouble their efforts to pass a bill, appears to have been further convinced of the need to add seat belts to school buses during a “seat belt safety summit” in Westfield, Indiana, this past summer.
She says she “came away with a sense of urgency” after watching a demonstration in which a semi-truck hit the side of a school bus. Some of the crash test dummies were seat belted and others were not; most notably, one of the crash test dummies without a seat belt was thrown out the window of the bus during the demonstration.
“I think we’re going to have more support than was anticipated,” said Favors in an interview with WRCB-Chattanooga, a reference to concerns about the cost of installing seat belts on school buses.
Favors’ District 28 was the site of the aforementioned fatal distracted driving crash, as well as a December 2014 accident in which two children and an adult were killed in a wreck involving two school buses, a crash in which one driver was reported to have been texting and driving.
As you may know, texting and driving is an issue I am passionate about, as I am all about issues that help keep our children safe. At the moment, only six states—California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas—require seat belts on school buses, with Arkansas now phasing in safety restraints. I hope that Tennessee decides to follow suit soon.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about this issue—or have a loved one that has been injured in a school bus accident—don’t hesitate to give me a call at 615.256.6666. I believe a municipality is liable for failing to place seat belts on its school buses and would be happy to discuss this with you.