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Feds Unveil Seat Belt Rules for Buses

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Transportation Secretary Mary Peters Transportation Secretary Mary Peters

For years, parents have expressed frustration that they must buckle up their children in the family car, but school buses don't have the same rules.

Today, the U.S. Transportation Secretary announced plans that could lead to more seat belts on more school buses.

Our chief investigative reporter Phil Williams began investigating this issue more than two years ago.

He combed through the wreckage of what, for one school, ended up being a real-life test of seat belts on school buses.

"The seat belts were on the child who was sitting toward the front of the bus," said Georgia school official Dean Donehoo.

As children boarded this bus, video from the bus shows that a little girl named Brittany chose a seat that just happened to have a seat belt. Out of habit, she buckled up.

Then, just 20 seconds later, as her friend Amber looked out the window, the bus pulled into the path of a speeding train.

"The child who was in the seat belt survived the accident and walked away from it with very minor injuries," Donehoo told Williams.

For investigators, the lessons were clear:

"If a child can survive a collision with a train with a bruise across the belly, then why in the world do we not have seat belts on every single seat?" asked district attorney's investigator Cheri Carroll-Morgan.

Monday, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters rode a North Carolina bus to announce new federal rules.

They would require higher seat backs on new buses. All new, small buses would be required to have seat belts. And the feds would enact rules for states that want seat belts on larger buses, but would not require them.

"We're doing so on the smaller buses because, as I said, they are more crash-prone and more easily roll over," Peters told reporters.

While proponents argue seat belts are needed on all school buses, the secretary's proposal at least offers that states could use federal highway safety money to pay for them to keep such tragedies from happening again.

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