Seat Belt Bill Clears First Legislative Hurdle - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

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Seat Belt Bill Clears First Legislative Hurdle

(Story created: 4/11/06)

Should a child you love have the option of buckling up when they get on a school bus? That was the question raised by a recent NewsChannel 5 investigation. Tuesday, a legislative committee insisted that it is listening.

"Here we are talking about the children of the state of Tennessee and their safety," Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, told her fellow lawmakers.

There, in a House subcommittee, seat belt legislation -- which had appeared headed nowhere -- began rolling through the legislature.

"The state legislature says you have to do it in your car, but they want to put you at risk of getting hurt on a school bus," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Ben West, D-Nashville.

This follows a NewsChannel 5 investigation of a violent school bus crash from which, investigators say, one little girl walked away because she was wearing a seat belt.

"We need to roll our sleeves up and do everything we possibly can and go in the direction of getting seat belts on buses because it's going to save lives," said Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Oak Ridge.

In fact, federal safety investigators say school buses are well designed to protect kids in frontal or rear collisions.

But if the impact comes from the side or in case of a rollover, all bets are off.

Under West's bill, school systems would not be required to buy buses with seat belts.

But it would set up a process that could require them to consider them.

"What changes is we are putting an emphasis on it by this legislation," West told NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams.

"It's saying, 'We want you to do this, local education authority, or you are going to be embarrassed.'"

School bus drivers say they worry about liability.

"If that child does not buckle, who's going to be held responsible?" asked Sheryl Gentry. "Are we held responsible, or is the parent of the child held responsible?"

But lawmakers agree that the biggest bump in the road still may be money.

"Yep, it costs money," Brown said. "Yes, you have to generate some new revenue, but we seem to find money for everything we want to do."

West says seat belts would add about $4,000 to the cost of a new bus. Because seating would be more limited, it could require school systems to purchase a few more business.

The bill now goes to the full House Education Committee.

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

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