NTSB renews push to add seat belts to every school bus

Rutherford County Schools are implementing more seat belts on school buses after seeing more and more wrecks, Brendan Tierney reports.
Published: Nov. 14, 2022 at 7:41 PM CST
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - The National Transportation Safety Board has renewed its push for every school bus to have seat belts after publishing a report on a deadly 2020 school bus crash in Tennessee.

The NTSB first announced its recommendation in 2018 before the school bus driver and a 7-year-old student were killed in the Meigs County crash. With only nine states now having seat belt requirements, officials said states need to take action to prevent more tragic incidents.

The Tennessee Department of Education does not require school buses to have seat belts. Bills to change the law have been introduced multiple times in the legislatures, but sponsors said schools opposed the requirement.

Robertson County is one of only a few Tennessee school systems to begin installing seat belts in buses since the NTSB recommendation was made. They have been paying for the slow transition of their buses with grants from the Department of Education.

Robertson County now has 25 buses with seat belts, Transportation Director Joshua Hinerman said. The goal is to have all 98 buses eventually equipped with seat belts as new buses are purchased to replace existing buses.

“It’s safety technology that could increase the likelihood of kids surviving if you were impacted from the side or the bus was to flip over,” Hinerman said.

He said the district wanted to make the change to ensure its students were as safe as possible on the bus. They had seen an increase in deadly crashes across Tennessee and this has prevented any serious incidents in Robertson County.

The buses with seat belts have seen fewer behavioral issues because students are not able to move around or stand up, Hinerman said. Students have even come up to him and other drivers crying because they thought a bus without seat belts was not as safe as the new buses with seat belts.

“I’ve not had one parent tell me they object to the seat belts on the bus,” Hinerman said. “It did require the school board to give robust support, so we did change policy. You must wear the seat belt, or you will be suspended off the bus. It’s just like being in a car. You have to wear it or you get a ticket. It’s the law.”

NTSB Project Manager Meg Sweeny said it’s encouraging Tennessee is providing grant funding for school systems like Robertson County to make the change.

“A lap shoulder belt enhances that protection because it keeps the upper torso back and keeps that occupant withing that seat area,” Sweeny said. “We have seen some movement. We have seen some states bring legislation forward as Tennessee did several years ago.”

Sweeny said the NTSB is hopeful more states will add seat belt requirements and also consider other technology, like lane departure warning sensors, to prevent crashes before they happen.

A Tennessee Department of Education spokesperson said the state set aside $3 million for seat belt grants in 2018. Around $1 million had been awarded to districts across the state as of the 2002 fiscal year.

A Metro Schools spokesperson said it does not have plans to add seat belts at this time.

Information about the Metro Schools decision and school bus safety measures can be found on its website.