On Jan. 23, a Tennessee crash injured one student and a bus driver after a school bus collided with an SUV at an intersection. While there were no fatalities, this is not always the case, with one example being the heartbreaking November 2016 school bus crash that killed six children between the ages of 6 and 10 years old.
Last May, the National Transportation Safety Board approved a safety recommendation that new large school buses be equipped with three-point shoulder and lap seat belts. Despite the obvious safety benefits that seat belts would provide, a Tennessee bill legally requiring them to be installed has failed twice. This can be attributed in part to the high price tag – each new bus with seat belts will cost an extra $10,000 each.
The financial barrier was addressed in August, when $3 million in non-recurring grant funding became available for Tennessee school districts to cover the extra cost of buses with seat belts. For the first round of grants, about $1.3 million was given to school systems in Cannon, Dickson, Humphreys, Overton, Robertson, Stewart, and Williamson counties. As of now, only Robertson and Cannon counties have buses with three-point safety belts on the road.
Another potential method to increase school bus safety lies in a proposed Tennessee law that would increase the penalty for drivers who do not stop for school buses. Today, a failure to fully comply with bus safety rules in Tennessee is a Class A misdemeanor that can result in a $250 to $1,000 fine. The proposed law, which will take effect on July 1 if approved, would upgrade non-compliance to a Class E felony and raise the fine to $500 to $3,000.
Through the combination of accident prevention initiatives, such as increasing driver penalties, and enhanced safety features, such as the installation of three-point seat belts, 2019 has the potential to make significant strides in school bus safety. It is time for Tennessee to make the safety of its children a top priority.