The working group formed by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine made 17 recommendations, including a grant for school bus safety equipment. However, the report didn't include a request for a seat-belt mandate.  -  Image: Canva

The working group formed by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine made 17 recommendations, including a grant for school bus safety equipment. However, the report didn't include a request for a seat-belt mandate.

Image: Canva

An Ohio task force formed in the aftermath of a fatal school bus accident last year came back with more than a dozen recommendations in January.

None of them call for making seat belts mandatory on buses.

Gov. Mike DeWine put the Ohio School Bus Safety Working Group together after 11-year-old Aiden Clark was ejected from a school bus and died during a wreck in Lawrenceville. More than 20 other people were seriously injured in the accident.

Recommendations: Safety Training for School Bus Drivers, Parents, and Students

The group made 17 recommendations in its report, including:

  • School districts should identify, share, and encourage bus drivers to participate in professional development opportunities.
  • State officials should create and offer wellness programming specific to school bus drivers.
  • Districts should develop driver performance review policies and conduct annual performance evaluations.
  • The Ohio Department of Education and Workforce should require and provide curriculum for six hours of annual bus driver training.
  • State officials should partner to expand advanced driver training for Ohio school bus drivers.
  • The state should adopt rules requiring school districts to offer school bus safety orientation to students, parents, and guardians at the beginning of each school year.
  • The Ohio State Highway Patrol should work with law enforcement partners to develop training on school bus inspections and the most common safety risks for student passengers.
  • The state should develop and fund a needs-based grant program to help school districts invest in school bus safety features including, but not limited to, seat belts.
  • The state should impose stiffer penalties on drivers who violate traffic laws in school zones and around school buses.
  • The Ohio Department of Transportation should support cities, townships, and villages to assess safety conditions on local roads in and around school zones.
  • Districts should conduct safety audits of bus routes, stops, and school pickup/dropoff sites on school property to reduce safety risks and mitigate the severity of school bus crashes.
  • Districts should engage bus drivers in critical incident response planning and include them in realistic scenario-based critical incident exercises.
  • The OSHP should hold regular school bus stakeholder meetings to identify and mitigate gaps in critical incident responses to school bus crashes and other bus-related security issues.

A Good Enough First Step?

In the report, Andy Wilson, director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, stated that the working group studied issues related to school buses ranging from bus inspections and driver training to technology and lessons learned from past accidents.

“I want to emphasize that despite the tragic school bus crash in Clark County last year, school buses remain one of the safest modes of transportation for children to and from school, thanks in large part to the dedication that school bus drivers have to the safety of the students in their care,” Wilson wrote. “School buses are involved in less than 1% of all crashes in the state, and before the Northwestern Local School District school bus crash, Ohio had not had a death on a school bus since 2010. The goal of the group was not to determine whether school buses are safe but how to make them safer.”

He described the recommendations as “a starting point.”

The effort wasn’t good enough for Dr. Rudy Breglia, however, because it stopped short of pushing for a seat-belt mandate.

In an email addressed to Ohio legislators, Breglia wrote: “With the group’s recommendation, the governor has now passed back the responsibility for enhancing school bus safety with seat belt installation or any other safety changes to school districts while promising a vague grant program. In this serious bus driver shortage environment, where drivers are concerned with liability and workload issues, school districts are surely not going to antagonize their own school bus drivers by installing seat belts that the drivers and other lobbying groups bitterly oppose with or without a grant program.”

He went on to suggest that the lack of a mandate could lead to further fatalities.

“Undoubtedly, in the future another blue-ribbon committee will be formed when the next fatality of an innocent occurs and maybe then leadership will evolve to resolve this issue,” Breglia wrote.

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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