In 2015, when he was an Ohio state senator, Cecil Thomas tried without success to push through legislation about seat belts on school buses. It didn’t work out back then.
Now, after the Aug. 22 accident in Clark County that led to one student’s death and injuries to many others, the current state representative for North Avondale wants to try again.
“We’ve got to re-energize the interest in trying to do whatever we can as a state to minimize the possibility of children, of a mother getting a phone call … regarding a child that’s been killed in a bus accident,” Thomas said, according to WKRC.
The wreck, which saw a Northwestern Local School District school bus overturn after the driver swerved and was struck by an oncoming vehicle in the wrong lane, led to the fatal ejection of Aiden Clark. The driver of the Honda Odyssey van that struck the bus, Hermanio Joseph, was formally charged with involuntary manslaughter and aggravated vehicular homicide.
The Ohio School Bus Safety Group
The accident prompted Gov. Mike DeWine to form an official school bus safety committee to examine topics such as:
- School bus regulations.
- School bus design, maintenance, and inspections.
- Driver licensing, certification, and training.
- School bus safety technology.
- Crash risk factors.
- Lessons learned from other school bus crashes.
- Alternative transportation and associated risks.
- School bus seat belts.
- Critical incident protocol.
“There is always more that can be done when it comes to the safety of children, and I believe we have an obligation to take a holistic look at the safety of our school buses,” DeWine said. “This group’s review will be thorough, focusing on many different aspects of transportation safety.”
The group includes school bus driver Davida Russell from South Euclid Lyndhurst School District and Robert Widener, president of the Ohio School Bus Mechanics Association.
Recommendations from the group are expected before the year ends.
Legislation for School Bus Seat Belts
Currently, no federal regulations mandate the installation or use of seat belts aboard school buses. Several states require their use, but some of those laws don’t take effect without funding to support installation of the equipment.
In November 2022, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) renewed its 2018 recommendation that states require passenger lap and shoulder belts, rather than just relying upon “compartmentalization,” which involves closely spaced, energy-absorbing padded seats to help protect students. That design has been deemed effective at protecting children, particularly in front and rear-end collisions.