In light of a fatal accident that claimed the lives of two high school students last September, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) announced Tuesday that all new school buses it purchases will be equipped with three-point seat belts, effective immediately.
The announcement comes a week after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration updated its position to recommend occupant restraints on school buses at the National Association for Pupil Transportation’s Annual Summit.
“Safety always comes first — above all else,” said Terry Grier, district superintendent. “School buses are already one of the safest modes of transportation available to students. If NHTSA believes three-point seatbelts will make our students even safer, we will absolutely act on it.”
This makes HISD the first school district in Houston, and among the first in the state to implement such a measure, according to a district statement.
The district also stated that its bus drivers were pleased with the announcement.
“I want to commend the district for listening to the experts, as well as bus drivers and bus attendants, and making a decision that is in the best interest of children,” said Wretha Thomas, president of the Houston Education Support Personnel Union, which represents HISD bus drivers and attendants.
According to the Houston Police Department, the driver of a Buick LeSabre was heading eastbound on the South Loop at around 7 a.m. on Sept. 15 when she made an unsafe lane change and struck the HISD school bus, which was transporting four students to nearby Furr High School. The impact caused the bus to strike a guardrail after veering to the right and plunge from the 610 Loop to the road below. One student died at the scene, while another died later at a local hospital.
Melody Johnson, the mother of 17-year-old Mariya Johnson, one of the victims, has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the school district and International Truck and Engine Corp., the manufacturer of the bus.
According to Johnson, the district did not contact her or her family following the accident, and she learned of her daughter’s death through an automated voicemail.