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Committee Takes First Step Toward Seat Belts on School Buses

(Story created: 12/1/05)

State lawmakers began tackling the question of whether school buses should have seat belts. It's a direct result of an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation.

The joint House-Senate study committee began its work Thursday by viewing the stories prepared by NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams.

That investigation looked at the issue through video obtained from a deadly school bus crash. In that case, the bus collided with a train. And the one child wearing a seat belt walked away unharmed.

As they watched the video, lawmakers were visibly moved.

"I don't know how anyone after seeing this video, who has kept up with the stories as I have through Mr. Williams and other materials that I have read, could see any other alternative for us as a legislature," said Rep. Phillip Pinion, D-Union City.

Pinion is chairman of the House Transportation Committee. 

Last year, lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a resolution to create a committee to study whether school buses should have seat belts.

That effort was forgotten until questions were raised by the NewsChannel 5 investigation.

Legislative leaders quickly appointed the study committee after they learned of the oversight.

"This all started for us being here today on Channel 5 by Phil Williams," said Rep. Ben West, D-Nashville, who sponsored the resolution to create the study committee.

The committee, which plans to call witnesses for its next meeting, indicated that it expects to work on plans to gradually phase in seat belts on all public school buses.

"It may take a few years to get to 100 percent, but I feel like at least we've got an opportunity here to start it and make it happen," said Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville.

Committee members agreed that the biggest obstacle will be finding the money to pay for the seat belts.

"Watching those videos on this school bus accident has just struck a chord with more," Pinion said after the meeting.

"To me, there is no cost prohibition. We do it. It needs to be done. It saves lives."

More information:
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration position paper -- Defends compartmentalization (the current safety standard)
NHTSA's Report to Congress -- Finds some potential benefits to lap-shoulder belts
National Transportation Safety Board study -- Finds compartmentalization "incomplete"
NTSB investigation -- Report of bus-train collision reaffirms limits of compartmentalization
School Transportation News -- Analysis of seat belt debate
National Coalition for School Bus Safety -- Position of advocacy group
Safeguard -- Web site of seat belt developer
State of Missouri -- Gov. Matt Blunt pushes lap-shoulder belt on new buses

Contact the governor
Contact state senators
Contact state representatives

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