The Nashville, Tennessee, Metro city council deferred until the new year a resolution that formally requests the local school board require all new school bus purchases include seat belts.
For now, the council is recommending an impact study be performed on cost and other factors. It will take up the resolution again at the Jan. 3 council meeting.
Introduced by Council Members Karen Johnson and Ed Kindal Tuesday night in response to the Nov. 21 school bus crash in Chattanooga that killed six students and injured dozens more, Resolution No. RS2016-482 does not specify what type of seat belts would be required. Johnson told School Transportation News that both types of occupant restraints are being considered, but she added that lap-shoulder belts have been "shown to improve safety."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, which concluded it's initial investigation into the Chattanooga crash last week, both champion the three-point, lap-shoulder belt.
The resolution reads that all Nashville school buses nearing the replacement age of 17 years old be retired and exchanged for new buses equipped with seat belts. It also says that only one in five of the state’s approximately 9,000 school buses are already equipped with the occupant restraint systems, according the Tennessee Department of Education’s data for the 2014-2015 school year.
Anna Shepherd, chair of the Metro Nashville Public Schools Board, told School Transportation News that as of Wednesday she knew no further details of the resolution as she and other members had yet to read it. But she said "that we as a district should be doing anything we can do to ensure student safety."
She explained that if the city council moves forward with recommending seat belts, either two-point or three-point, it must come with funding.
"It would cost around $12,000 to retrofit each bus we currently have, and down the road we would have to purchase additional buses because we seat belts limit the number of students who can ride any given bus," Shepherd said, despite assertions by seat belt manufacturers and other school districts with lap-shoulder belts which have recorded little if any passenger capacity issues. "Having said all this, the bottom line is that there is no price tag on student safely."
The council resolution mirrors interest in the state assembly, as lawmakers there are considering new legislation that would require retrofitting all school buses with seat belts. Current state code does neither require installation of school buses or their use.