New legislation proposed by two U.S. senators - Sherrod Brown and Tammy Duckworth - would require seat belts and other safety technology on all school buses.  -  Image: Canva

New legislation proposed by two U.S. senators - Sherrod Brown and Tammy Duckworth - would require seat belts and other safety technology on all school buses.

Image: Canva

On Aug. 22, an 11-year-old Ohio student died after he was ejected from a school bus. This week, after Gov. Mike DeWine formed a state committee to explore bus safety issues - including seat belts - U.S. senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) announced plans to introduce the School Bus Safety Act of 2023.

Making Seat Belts a Federal Matter

The federal legislation would call for implentation of recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), requiring the U.S. Department of Transportation to require that all school buses include:

  • A 3-point safety belt, including a seat belt across the lap and a shoulder harness to restrain passengers in case of collision.
  • An automatic emergency braking system, designed to prevent accidents and crashes by detecting objects or vehicles ahead of the bus.
  • An event data recorder (EDR) that can capture pre- and post-crash data, driver inputs, and restraint usage.
  • An electronic stability control (ESC) system that uses automatic computer-controlled braking of individual wheels to help the driver remain in control of the vehicle.
  • A fire suppression system.
  • A firewall to prevent hazardous quantities of gas or flame from passing from the engine to the passenger compartment. 

"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," Brown said. "That means passing additional school bus safety measures into law, starting with our legislation to equip buses with seat belts and other safety measures. These are common-sense, long overdue steps to protect kids and make buses safer."

Support for the School Bus Safety Measure

According to a news release from Brown's office, the proposed legislation is supported by the National Safety Council, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Center for Auto Safety, and the National Sheriffs' Association.

"On behalf of the 3,086 sheriffs across this nation, the National Sheriffs' Association is pleased to support the School Bus Act of 2023," said Jonathan Thompson, the association's executive director. "It's important for all our kids to get to and from school in the safest way possible and, as you know, we have seen the horrific aftermath of school bus incidents up close and personal. We thank you and parents will thank you for this."

Bus safety is nothing new to Brown, who championed bipartisan legislation to address tour bus safety after the 2007 crash involving the Bluffton University baseball team bus.

Federal legislation for K-12 school bus seat belts has been proposed before, without success. Fewer than a dozen states have legislation on the books requiring seat belts - and several of those that do require seat belts only enforce the law if it can be funded. 

If approved, the legislation would take effect one year after the rules are issued. The legislation also would include the establishment of a grant program to help school districts purchase new school buses equipped with seat belts or modify existing buses to add the safety equipment required in the act.

Rudy Breglia, a seat belt advocate in Ohio, said he's hoping that the new proposal becomes a bipartisan bill.

"It doesn't matter whether you're Republican or Democrat," he said. "When that bus gets into trouble, you want to have a seat belt. I look at seat belts like I do a fire extinguisher. It's an absolute necessity for avoiding catastrophic loss."

About the author
Wes Platt

Wes Platt

Executive Editor

Wes Platt joined Bobit in 2021 as executive editor of School Bus Fleet Magazine. He writes and edits content about student transportation, school bus manufacturers and equipment, legislative issues, maintenance, fleet contracting, and school transportation technology - from classic yellow diesel buses to the latest EPA-funded electric, propane, and CNG vehicles.

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