After tragedy, state representatives call for seat belts in school buses

Photo: WKRN
Photo: WKRN

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – State representatives began calling for seat belts in school buses after the tragedy in Chattanooga that left five young children dead.

Rep. JoAnne Favors (D-Chattanooga) announced Tuesday she plans to introduce legislation this January that requires seat belts in school buses.

Favors also said the entire community is in a state of shock. She went directly to the crash site after the accident happened and noted “it is difficult to put into words how heartbreaking the scene was.”

Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) echoed those sentiments, saying he has asked the legislative legal office to draft legislation requiring all school buses be equipped with seat belts in conjunction with Favors.

“The financial cost will pale in comparison to the potential to save lives. A basic responsibility of government is to help provide for the safety of it’s citizens, especially our children. I hope and believe that others in state and local government will join us in this effort,” McCormick said in a statement to News 2.

Adding seat belts to existing school buses is estimated to cost around $12,000 to $15,000 per vehicle.

The governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, also said it’s time to have a conversation about school bus safety, to bring all the parties to the table to discuss what can be done to make our school buses as safe as possible.

Nashville’s mayor Megan Barry echoed Haslam’s thoughts, saying she supports him in having the conversation.

“I think we need to look at the effectiveness of where we’ve been and where we need to go, and clearly there are some other things we can do in the interim, which is to make sure we have highly trained bus drivers that are well paid and well-trained,” she said. “And that will go a long way to making sure we’re not putting people behind the wheel that may already have a record, that may already put our kids in danger.”

Here in Nashville, Metro school buses do not have seat belts as it’s not required in Tennessee, but each driver starts and ends their day with an inspection.

Joe Bass, spokesman for Metro Nashville Public Schools, said drivers also go through intense training courses for four to six weeks prior to hitting the road.

“It’s part of the process when we hire drivers, it’s a thorough background check – for criminal safety reason, and there’s a thorough background check on driving record as well. We take that very seriously,” he said.

Last year, the Tennessee General Assembly considered a bill that would require seat belts on school buses, but it didn’t pass because advocates couldn’t prove they would actually save lives and because of the cost.

Click here for every story on the Chattanooga school bus crash.