A mere two weeks after an Ohio student was fatally ejected from his school bus, state and federal legislators are pushing for increased safety standards in school buses.
Eleven-year-old Aiden Clark was killed on Aug. 22, when another vehicle collided with his Northwestern Local School District school bus that did not have seatbelts installed for the students. Clark was reportedly ejected when the bus rolled over. He died at the scene, and 23 other students were injured, one critically.
Less than a week later, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced the creation of a School Bus Safety Working Group to examine school bus regulations, crash risk factors, and seatbelts, to name a few topics.
Then, on Friday, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois announced the School Bus Safety Act, to make school buses safer by implementing recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board. Both have long been proponents of adding lap/shoulder seatbelts on school buses.
The most recent bill would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue rules requiring all school buses to be equipped with a three-point seatbelt, automatic emergency braking systems, an event data recorder, electronic stability control, fire suppression systems, and a firewall that prohibits hazardous quantities of fuel or flames to pass from the engine compartment to the passenger compartment.
Final rules prescribing or amending motor vehicle safety standards to require the various safety equipment would be promulgated within a year of a law being enacted. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration would also be required to reimplement and then finalize proposed rulemaking on moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea among safety-sensitive highway and rail transportation positions.
The bill would also create a grant program, to help school districts modify existing school buses to add new safety equipment and to help districts purchase new buses with the safety features.
Related: NAPT Asks Feds for Clarification on Benefits of School Bus Lap/Shoulder Seatbelts
Related: NHTSA-Proposed Automatic Emergency Braking Has School Bus Safety Connection
Related: NTSB Investigation of Fatal Tennessee School Bus Crash Reiterates Seatbelt Calls
Related: Congress Takes Latest Crack at School Bus Safety Act
Related: Sen. Duckworth Highlights Plan to Improve School Bus Safety Nationwide
The bill also calls on FMCSA to complete studies on school buses equipped with motion detection systems and the benefits of driver alert systems that detect if any passenger is not wearing their lap/shoulder belt.
“Parents shouldn’t have to worry about their child’s safety on a school bus, whether they’re traveling to school or a field trip or an away game,” said Brown in a statement. “That means passing additional school bus safety measures into law, starting with our legislation to equip buses with seatbelts and other safety measures. These are commonsense, long overdue steps to protect kids and make buses safer.”
The School Bus Safety Act is Duckworth’s fifth attempt to pass similar legislation. Her attempt in 2018 alongside Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee led to her speaking at the 51st annual conference of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transporation Services in 2019.
In 2007, following the deadly Bluffton University baseball team bus crash, which included 33 players and head coach James Grandey, Brown introduced bipartisan legislation addressing tour bus safety. Then, in 2012, he passed legislation with former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Rep. John Lewis which required seatbelts, roof strengthening, safety glass and many other occupant safety features to be put on all new motorcoaches.
The School Bus Safety Act is reportedly supported by the National Safety Council, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Center for Auto Safety, and the National Sheriffs’ Association.