HomeSeatbeltsLocal School Bus Seatbelt Grant a Potential Template for Ohio Program

Local School Bus Seatbelt Grant a Potential Template for Ohio Program

One of the 17 recommendations made by a safety working group called by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine following a fatal ejection of a student during a school bus crash in August was to develop a state grant for school districts to implement lap/shoulder seatbelts.

Rudy Breglia, a Ph.D. toxicologist by trade, formed the School Bus Safety Alliance in 2016 with a focus on advocating for the three-point school bus seatbelts. He said a new $15,000 grant his organization is making available to school districts in Lorain County can serve as a template for a larger state program.

While DeWine’s safety working group did not recommend a state mandate on school bus lap/shoulder belts, it concluded in January that the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce should work with the Ohio General Assembly to develop and fund a grant program to help school districts invest in school bus safety features such as, but not limited to, seatbelts. The grant program should be needs-based, the group added.

In March, the Lorain County Commission unanimously approved Resolution 24-167 that establishes a seatbelt program for its 16 school districts.

“I would just hope that upon passing the resolution that the school districts of Lorain County would consider at least equipping the buses that go on field trips and travel around the state at 50, 65, 70 mph, where a crash could be catastrophic,” added Commission President Jeff Riddell.

One of those districts within Lorain County is Avon Lake City Schools, which is one of at least three school districts in the state to have purchased lap/shoulder belts for some of its buses. Avon Lake began testing lap/shoulder restraints in two 72-passenger school buses in 2019 after Breglia successfully advocated for a resolution.

Breglia also successfully advocated for similar resolutions in Vermilion, Sandusky and the City of Lorain.

But Avon Lake Superintendent Joelle Magyar told the working group in October that the district has not purchased any more large school buses with seatbelts because the drivers preferred buses without them. Magyar said younger students had difficulty buckling their own seatbelts, and some high school students couldn’t adjust the shoulder belt.

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation in neighboring Indiana, has had better experiences. School bus driver Catherine Cooper told the working group last fall that mandatory usage by students has improved onboard behavior.

Breglia shared with the commission in March that all school bus drivers have been required to wear seatbelts since 1986, and he wants to see all student seating positions be similarly equipped. Lorain County Commission Vice President David Moore cited working group findings that indicated most school districts in the state already have at least one large school bus with seatbelts. Breglia noted that the statistic instead refers to the two rows in a school bus equipped with bench seats with five-point child safety restraints for younger and smaller size students.

Meanwhile, HB 279 was introduced in the Ohio General Assembly in September that would require school districts including charter schools to purchase or lease school buses equipped with lap/shoulder belts. That bill has yet to advance.

Related: ‘Great Debate’ Reignited?
Related: Ohio School Bus Fatality Prompts Latest Legislation Pushing Seatbelt Requirement
Related: Ohio PTA Shows Support for Seatbelts in School Buses

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