The Tennessean offered this opinion today on school bus safety:
The National Transportation Safety Board has shifted its position on the issue, recommending that the addition of lap/shoulder seat belts could enhance safety features already built into the buses, saving more lives.
This is an issue that has been left to individual states to decide. The Tennessee General Assembly should give McCormick’s proposed school-bus-seat-belt legislation a good debate, and then pass it.
Yes, catastrophic school bus accidents are rare, but when it comes to the safety of children, rarity and cost should not be an issue.
Six dead children and more than a dozen injured in Chattanooga makes that point quite well.
The article references the recent tragedy in Chattanooga and notes Governor Bill Haslam calling for a safety review:
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam last week promised he would mobilize state government for a thorough review of the school bus process that would include everything “from how we hire drivers, to how we ensure safety of the equipment, to whether there’s seat belts on those buses.”
Interestingly, in 2015, when legislation was proposed to add seat belts to school buses, Haslam’s Administration expressed skepticism, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel:
Rep. Joe Armstrong says he will continue to push for passage of a law requiring seat belts on school buses this year despite skepticism voiced by officials of Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration and some fellow legislators.
So far, despite attempts by legislators including now-House Speaker Beth Harwell, no seat belt legislation has passed in Tennessee.
Instead, the General Assembly spends a fair amount of time helping districts save money by extending the life of buses. Andy Sher in the Chattanooga Times-Free Press reported in 2014:
School districts that own their own school buses may get some relief as a new bill approved by the Tennessee General Assembly will allow school buses to stay on the road longer.
The bill, which is projected to save local school systems an estimated $56 million in the 2014-2015 school year alone, was given final approval by the House on Monday following its passage last week by senators.
Sponsored by Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, and Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, the bill authorizes the use of conventional and Class D school buses until their 18th year of service. Buses that are older can go beyond that time limit provided they have less than 200,000 miles and are inspected twice annually.
The effort to extend the life of buses combined with the failure of efforts to require seat belts ultimately comes down to the issue of money versus safety.
So, in a state that significantly under-funds schools, districts are forced to choose.
While it is encouraging to see lawmakers and Governor Haslam now examining bus safety, we shouldn’t have to wait for a tragic accident to take steps that could save lives.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport