Deadly Meigs Co. School Bus crash reignites debate over seat belts on school buses

Posted at 6:31 PM, Oct 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-28 19:54:43-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Meigs County School bus crash that killed a 7-year-old girl and bus driver is reigniting the debate over requiring school buses to have seat belts.

Of course, it's still too early to know if seat belts could have saved lives in Meigs County, but when it comes to other collisions, a former federal transportation expert argues that seat belts can't get on school buses soon enough.

"They do not hold the child in the seat like a seat belt can," said Jim Hall, the former chair of the NTSB, in an interview with NewsChannel 5 Investigates back in 2016.

Hall commissioned a study back in 1999, that showed when school buses are involved in side-impact or rollover crashes -- padded seats alone don't do enough to protect children. Padded seats providing protection is called compartmentalization.

"This myth of compartmentalization is really just a cover so the expense and responsibility of seat belts are not borne by the school districts," said Hall.

Hall's prediction in 2016 is exactly what happened.

Months after a fatal Chattanooga bus crash that claimed seven lives, Tennessee lawmakers considered making seat belts mandatory on the school bus. It ultimately failed because of the millions of dollars it would cost the state.

In 2018, outgoing Governor Bill Haslam offered up $3 million in grants for districts to install seat belts in buses. Only a handful of districts took the offer, including Robertson County.

"If we're driving around in our cars and it's mandatory to wear your seat belts than it should be on our buses the same way," said Margaret Jones, one of Robertson County's bus drivers when they installed seat belts in her bus.

She said back in 2019, if nothing else, the seat belts took a little off her mind. "We don't have to worry if they're going to fall out of their seat if we turn a corner or you know how children get a little rowdy if somebody's going to bump somebody out," she said.

So far, there's no indication if the Tennessee General Assembly will reconsider requiring seat belts on buses.