U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee questioned why seat belts have not yet been federally mandated on school buses and pushed for action, according to Times Free Press.
A House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing was the scene of the discussion on Tuesday. Officials from both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were present.
Earlier this year, a Tennessee bill requiring seat belts in all school buses purchased after July 1, 2019 met with resistance from the governor and General Assembly. The existence of compartmentalization, the protective nature of the high-backed, padded school bus seats to cushion students in the event of a crash, and the extra price of seat belts were main objections voiced at that time.
However, Cohen brought up crashes the NTSB has investigated in California, New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas, and Missouri and their subsequent conclusion that compartmentalization was not adequate for student safety in the event of a side-impact or rollover. He asked Dr. T. Bella Dinh-Zarr of the NTSB if the agency's recommendation for three-point, lap-shoulder seat belts on school buses still stood. She responded that it does.
Coming back to five reports that found seat belts on school buses “would have saved children’s lives” and that he entered into the hearing's record, Cohen stressed how important the issue is to him, commenting, “The money should come second to the safety.”
“I’ve been working on this since the 90’s,” added Cohen, who urged the NTSB to do more than recommend states “consider” adding seat belts and instead mandate it.
Dinh-Zarr added that investigations of the fatal November 2016 school bus crashes in Chattanooga and Baltimore, Maryland are still ongoing, and that driver screening methods and driver medical fitness are being analyzed in addition to the role lap-shoulder belts could have played.
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