Tennessee lawmakers push for seat belts on school buses, trainin - WSMV News 4

Tennessee lawmakers push for seat belts on school buses, training for drivers

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(WSMV file photo) (WSMV file photo)

There were no seat belts on the school bus that crashed in Chattanooga on Monday, killing five children.

Many are now wondering if the seat belts could have made a difference.

Former state representative Joe Armstrong pushed for the last two years to make school bus seat belts mandatory across Tennessee.

Before Armstrong, House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, pushed for the measure more than 10 years ago. Her office said she will be asking the transportation committee to evaluate the possibility of bus seat beats when session begins in January.

Armstrong's bill would have made it mandatory for public and private school buses purchased after July of 2016 to have seat belts. All older buses would have had to have belts by 2023. The bill failed as lawmakers said it would cost too much.

"It hurts when tragedies like this bring that legislation back to life," Armstrong told Channel 4 on Tuesday. "Realizing that the state has a $1.7 billion surplus, it seems that it's a small amount in order to make sure our children get home safely.”

Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, went to the site of the crash Monday afternoon after receiving a call from the mayor.

"I was just overwhelmed when I saw the accident," Favors said. "I had no idea. I could've never envisioned an accident like that and children were still trapped inside."

Favors said she plans to help push a version of Armstrong's seat belt legislation next session.

"We will all work together on this. This will be one legislative initiative, one bill that will be drafted. It will be non-partisan," Favors added.

The National Transportation Safety Board this month recommended that school buses put in lap and shoulder seat belts to keep students secure during a ride or possible accidents.

Armstrong said he hopes to see mandatory training requirements for bus drivers in all districts. Currently there are none.

NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said in a press conference Tuesday that the 24-year old driver, Johnthony Walker, had just gotten his commercial driver's license in April and had not been driving long.

School bus drivers must pass written and skills exams to get a commercial driver's license. They must also be at least 21 years old. The Tennessee Department of Safety and approved third-party contractors can issue the exams. But it is ultimately up to driver's employers to check their driving records and offer any on-the-job training.

State safety officials say they will be debriefing after this investigation and will discuss training options as well.

"I see in the very near future that we are going to see training available for commercial drivers' license, which is a good thing," said Megan Buell, spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. "But, right now, we don't have any formal training available and that's countrywide.”

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