WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new national bill from a Tennessee congressman would create federal grants to equip school buses with lap-shoulder belts, among other measures targeting pupil transportation.
Under the “Bring Enhanced Liability in Transportation for Students (BELTS) Act,” grants would be made available to buy new school buses with the three-point restraints or to retrofit existing buses with them.
The legislation, introduced by Congressman Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), comes in the wake of the Nov. 21 school bus crash in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in which six students were killed and more than 20 were injured.
In a press release, Cohen called the Chattanooga crash “a wake-up call.”
“When it comes to protecting our school children, safety must come first,” said Cohen, who is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “To date, only six states require seat belts on school buses.”
The legislator said that when he was in the Tennessee Senate, he sponsored a bill to require seat belts on school buses, “yet it was opposed by the industry and never received a vote in committee.”
In addition to offering funds for seat belts, Cohen’s new bill in Congress would create federal grants to equip school buses with motion-activated detection systems. The legislation would also direct the U.S. secretary of transportation to withhold 10% of a state’s allotment of certain federal-aid highway funds if the state has not enacted a law that requires employers to conduct background checks before hiring school bus drivers.
The bill would also impose a 10% highway funding penalty if a state has not enacted and is not enforcing a law that imposes specified first-offense and second-offense penalties for motorists found guilty of illegally passing a stopped school bus.
Cohen’s bill was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Wednesday. As of press time on Thursday, the text of the legislation was not available. The status of the bill and, presumably, more information will be posted here.