First off, take into consideration the following:
- More than 450,000 school buses transport 25 million children between school and home nationwide each day. That number represents about 55 percent of the K-12 population.
- School buses travel approximately 4.3 billion miles annually, keeping about 17.3 million cars nationwide off the roads surrounding schools each morning.
- School buses are designed to be safer than passenger vehicles in avoiding crashes and preventing injury.
- According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Association, approximately 24 children are killed in school bus accidents in an average year nationwide. One-third of fatalities occur when a child is struck by a school bus in the loading/unloading zone, one-third are struck by motorists who fail to stop for the school bus, and one-third are pedestrians are killed as they approach or leave the school bus stop.
School buses are equipped with more safety equipment and must adhere to stricter standards than any other vehicle on the road.
But what about the most standard safety part of a vehicle, the seat belts?
The school bus crash in Meigs County early this week has renewed the debate about students’ safety after the driver and a 7-year-old student were killed.
Governor Bill Lee said he expected to have the issue of school bus safety to come up in the legislature next year.
“I’m certain that will likely be brought forth in the leg again, and study why and other places that do that, what’s the data around it, what are the statistics, why the reasons for and not for that from a safety perspective. I’m sure we’ll all make that analysis going forward,” Governor Lee said.
Currently only 8 states in the nation require seat belts on school buses. Tennessee is not one of them.
Following the school bus crash in Meigs County this week, State Representative Susan Lynn plans to introduce legislation to add seat belts as a requirement on Tennessee school buses. Lynn said the school buses for this program must be newer so seat belts can be installed. She said it would cost roughly $8,500 to $9,500 to equip a new bus with seat belts.
But that is in regarding to new buses. What of the ones currently in operation?
Since most school buses are on the road for at least 10 and often up to 20 plus years. it’s unlikely school districts would choose to retrofit older buses at a cost ranging from $7,000 up to $11,000 per bus. It would potentially take years for new legislation requiring seat belts to take effect across a fleet as new buses very slowly replace older ones.
As for now, it’s unclear whether federal standards will change, but states including Tennessee are still free to set tougher restrictions as they see fit.
It is time for Tennessee to now step up and protect students on school buses.
In November 2016, a school bus crash in Chattanooga killed six elementary school students. Debate went on then about the issue but nothing really was done.
The Meigs County tragedy has reignited that debate.
School systems not only must place a helper or assistant on the school buses to assist the driver but the assistant can also help students buckle up if the seat belts are required. Each school system must actively seek out grants available to pay for the installation of school buses on its current fleet and make sure they are on new ones purchased.
For the sake of our most precious cargo, this needs to be addresses as soon as possible and implemented.