In the wake of the Chattanooga school bus crash, should we consider installing seat belts on school buses?
Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, a school bus crashed in Chattanooga, Tennessee, killing six elementary students and injuring over a dozen more. The school bus driver, Johnthony Walker, has been charged with reckless driving, reckless endangerment and five counts of vehicular homicide. He did not have any trace of drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of the crash. Mr. Walker was traveling above the posted 30 m.p.h. speed limit and the bus was not on its normal route when the crash occurred. The police believe that Walker lost control of the bus and swerved off the road despite clear and dry road conditions.
This is not Walker’s first accident. Though he only received his commercial driver’s license in April 2016, he was also involved in a minor bus crash in September. The State Department of Safety and Homeland Security records also show that Walker’s license was suspended for a short period of time in 2014 for an insurance violation.
Durham School Services, who employs Mr. Walker, transports over a million children in the U.S. every day. In the past two years the company has been involved in 346 accidents and has been cited 10 times for “driver fitness violations”. The federal report did not indicate if Durham’s drivers were to blame in those 346 accidents. Despite this, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration stated that Durham School Services had a “satisfactory” safety rating.
School bus fatalities are rare for students in the U.S. Between 2005 and 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 53 school-age children died in accidents while riding a “school transportation vehicle”. Approximately 25 million are transported to school each day on buses.
The bus that crashed in Tennessee was not equipped with seatbelts. In fact, there is no federal mandate requiring children to wear seat belts on school buses. Only six states—California, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Louisiana and Texas, require school buses to have passenger seat belts. The National Safety Council and the American Academy of Pediatrics have recommended that passenger seat belts should be installed on new school buses for several years now.
Installing seat belts on school buses is not cheap. The average cost to install seat belts on a large school bus ranges between approximately $7,000 and $10,000. However, the NHTSA estimates that installing seat belts on school buses could reduce the average number of school bus deaths from four to two each year.
Although instances of school bus fatalities are low, we feel that if you are required to wear a seat belt in a car, you should be required to wear one on a school bus. Seat belts save over 13,000 lives in the United States each year and reduce the risk of serious injury by 50 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It’s time to protect the millions of children that ride school buses each day by having them buckle up.